Why movies cost so much, or: If Kevin Smith can do it, I can do it

During the last week, whenever I’ve had a few spare moments, I’ve been researching the cheapest and easiest ways to acquire the gear I’ll need to shoot the movie Felicity is writing for me. I’ve already got the camera, which lent me a false sense of confidence. I had never really thought through all the things I’d need on an actual shoot; I just sort of assumed the camera would be the most important element and that everything else would sort of be found lying around the room.

Of course, I’ll need a good tripod for the camera. Something with a nice fluid head so I can get smooth pans and tilts. That’s a good chunk of cash right there. And I don’t want just boring stationary shots, so I’ll need to cobble together a homemade Steadicam of some kind. I’ll spend maybe $20 and a Sunday afternoon doing that. Some sort of vehicle mounts will be necessary too, for interior and exterior shots of moving vehicles. Another Sunday afternoon and maybe $50 there. I have at least one overhead shot in mind, so I’ll need a camera boom at least ten feet long. Some nice rigid metal pipe, a ball-bearing or two, some string, and some ingenuity will take care of that for under $50. Lighting, of course, is a necessity. Once again, Home Depot to the rescue. I’ll pick up a few halogen work area lights and rig some barndoors for them. Flattened FedEx boxes will make nice reflectors. A hundred bucks, maybe less, and the boxes are free.

So far so good. Now I’ve got a variety of camera mounts for various shooting situations, and some passable lighting for when natural light won’t do the trick. Next I need sound, since the on-camera microphone picks up too much background noise. For this, we’ll need a good shotgun condenser mic with a foam windscreen and a boom to mount it on and a person to operate the boom. The mic will run almost $300, the boom I can rig myself, and maybe I can bribe my little brother with pie to be my boom operator. No sweat. But what about shots where the framing is too wide to allow the use of the boom? What about when the actors are inside a moving vehicle and the camera is mounted outside? We’ll need wireless mics for that. Now my budget is nearing $1,000 and I haven’t even started thinking about props or locations or food for the actors.

Granted, $1,000 is cheap for a movie, but when you consider that this is the sort of movie where I trick my friends into working for free, use their houses as sets, sneak into locations to shoot without a permit, and use unlicensed music for the soundtrack in the hopes that if I don’t sell the movie nobody will sue me, that’s a lot of money. Now imagine a movie with actual paid actors, a real crew, equipment that the director didn’t build himself in his garage, etc. It’s easy to see how budgets quickly rise into the millions of dollars.

Once again, I’m having second thoughts about whether I really want to try to get into this business. But then again, I figure if a fat, lazy comic book geek like Kevin Smith can make a movie, then so can I. Right?