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How much do I need to make a blockbuster film?

With the summer film season in full swing, some of you may be wondering how much money you need to make your own blockbuster film. After all, with the latest Batman adventure, The Dark Knight, earning almost $200 million in the first few days of its worldwide release, who wouldn’t be tempted to make a film and retire on the proceeds?

 

The story

Every great blockbuster requires a good story, of course, so your first challenge is to buy the rights to a decent tale. It’s probably best to avoid a sequel: the story rights for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, for instance, cost $14.5 million. Even so, when you find a story you like expect to pay well into seven figures.

The screenplay

You then need a writer - or a team of writers – to create your screenplay. Good screenwriters with successful film credits to their names will charge you anything from $1 million to $10 million.

The director

Go for a director straight out of film school and you’ll pay peanuts (in Hollywood terms this means under $1 million). But it may be best to play safe and get somebody who has experience in making the screen come alive with dynamic camerawork and dazzling special effects. When you make your appointment with such a director, be prepared to sign a cheque for $5 - $10 million.

The star

This is where your budget can easily get out of control. Before you enter talks with an actor’s agent, you may want to take a course on negotiation so you can haggle skilfully. You’ll also have to bite your tongue and stay calm when the agent asks you to pay $12 - $20 million plus a substantial sum for the star’s “perks” plus a percentage of the film’s gross profits.

The baddie

Once you’ve agreed a deal with the star, don’t think you can relax when it comes to the fees for the other cast members. You’re going to need a baddie – every blockbuster has one – and you may well decide to follow the trend of employing a British actor for this role in the mistaken belief that a Brit is cheap. “Cheap” is relative, and British actors are generally less expensive than American stars. But bear in mind that Alfred Molina received $3 million to play Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.

Incidental expenses

The incidental expenses for a blockbuster film mount up alarmingly but you can’t really avoid them. You need co-stars ($3 - $4 million); extras ($250,000 - $400,000); the all-important visual effects ($10 - $70 million); a music score ($2 - $5 million); and a production team with associated costs ($45 - $85 million). Perhaps “incidental expenses” isn’t quite the right phrase to use!

The end result

If you’re extravagant, all of the above can leave you with a total bill that tops $200 million. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, for example, cost an estimated £300 million.

But it can all be worth it. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End has made more than $960 million since its release in 2007. It still falls short, however, of 1997’s Titanic, a film with a worldwide gross of $1,842,913,795.

That said, not every blockbuster is a guaranteed success. Last year’s The Golden Compass cost $180 million but to date has made just $70,107,728.

Let’s hope that your blockbuster film fares better than The Golden Compass. If not, with any luck you’ve taken the advice of an experienced accountant and not used any of your own money. This way, your investors bear the financial loss and all you need do is keep out of their way…

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