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Feature film production

A 2001 case study of production costs

The cost of making an Australian feature has increased significantly in the last eight years or so, according to the Film Finance Corporation Australia (FFC).

In 2001, the FFC commissioned a study to explore the changing costs of production in Australia. The study investigated how much it would cost in 2001 to shoot a feature originally made in 1993 – The Sum of Us, starring Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson – considering only the standard production costs (‘below-the-line’) and leaving aside the more variable ‘above-the-line’ costs for key creative personnel. Russell Crowe, for example, would certainly cost much more now than he did pre-Gladiator.

Results show it would cost at least 68 per cent more to shoot the film today, with below-the-line costs rising from $2.07 million in 1993 to $3.36 million in 2001. Costs would jump to $4.26 million – a 112 per cent increase – if the shoot followed today’s more rigorous filmmaking practices.

Re-budgeting The Sum of Us

The Sum of Us was selected for the research as it was a mid-range feature film in terms of budget, with no elements likely to produce difficulties in the comparison, such as computer-generated images or big sets. It was a location shoot done in a reasonable timeframe (six weeks) and without any distortingly big line items.

Anne Bruning, a highly experienced production manager who had prepared the original budget for the film, was commissioned by the FFC to re-budget it using 2001 prices, line by line. Bruning then added in the extra costs that would be mandatory under today’s safer and more professional filmmaking standards to arrive at the final increase of 112 per cent.

Areas of particularly significant growth included:

  • location costs, including council fees, security fees, facilities and cleaning up, which rose by more than 380 per cent;
  • equipment, including such areas as camera, grips, lighting, sound and stills, where costs increased by an average of 177 per cent;
  • rentals and storage, including for art department and office, construction, toilets, cleaning, and editing facilities, where increases averaged 81 per cent;
  • fringe costs relating to wages, including cast and crew overtime, night and other loadings, where costs increased by more than 150 per cent.

Source: Film Finance Corporation Australia (FFC), 2001.

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