How Much Does It Cost To Make A Documentary? | Newbie Film School (2022)

If you plan to make a documentary, you must be pondering whether you can afford it. If you approximate the cost it demands to make the documentary, wouldn’t it be wonderful. So let’s talk about how much does it cost to make a documentary.

By industry standards,a documentary costs between $750 -1250 per minute of the duration. However, you can easily make a low-budget documentary under $15000. A big-budget documentary can run beyond $2 million in production.

But, when one poses the question, it is only fair that you give them a good answer. In this case, there is no definite answer since there are many aspects that determine or influence the cost. No wonder some are achievable for free. Others cost peanuts, whereas others mean having to break the bank.

In this article, our focus is on the various factors that lead to discrepancies in the cost of multiple documentaries.

We will also look at the average price of making one and how much to expect from the final product after the distribution stage. With such answers, it becomes easy to determine whether you have what it takes to make one in the first place.

Also, your documentary budget will determine if it is a viable project. So, let’s dive into how much it costs to make a documentary and much more.

Documentary Budget

Just like any other budget, a documentary budget entails the approximate cost of producing the entire thing. It will differ from one documentary to the other because of the following reasons.

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  • The Level of Quality

Just like any other product out there, a high-quality documentary comes at an additional cost. Therefore, if you want an excellent story, sound, flow or look, you should be willing to spend more on that top-notch quality.

The fact that the sky is the limit in terms of film quality means you could end up spending as much as you can to achieve it. In most cases, the quality of the documentary is directly proportional to the amount of money you spend on it. However, never make a mistake of exceeding what you can afford because it will eventually have repercussions as you try to balance the expenditure and sales.

Also, don’t assume that you can’t reach your audience when working with a tight budget. People will overlook quality when you have an original, gripping, and thought-provoking documentary, no doubt.

Quality demands more money because you need to settle for the best gear. The equipment will make a huge difference in audio and visual quality. Equally important, the professionals need to have the experience to operate such equipment.

  • Your story’s scope and scale

How many people will you need for your documentary? Would there be a need for events, and how many will they be if the answer is a yes? How much time do you need to tell the story? What’s the number of locations that you will need for the same.

The higher the figure of these questions is, the more you should expect to spend. If there is a need to travel for long, then that’s an additional cost.

  • Third-party copyrights

A need to use material you don’t own may arise when making your documentary. You may want to use photographs and films by other people. Background music may also not be your original song.

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To use them, it goes without saying that you will pay for the license. Again, that means digging deeper into your pocket.

  • The necessary amount of editing

Editing is not just essential but also takes a huge chunk of any documentary budget. Since there are no or little rehearsals, a documentary’s reality aspect makes editing necessary for a great final product.

What people say or do is out of control, and as much as it is exciting, it could quickly become a problem. Usually, documentaries don’t have seasoned actors. The players are real. They are naïve in front of the camera, and sometimes in investigative documentaries, they are oblivious of the cameras. So, all you do is shoot, shoot and shoot. Random footage piles up to a ton of extraneous work for editors. This has an effect on the costs as well.

Since you have your initial plan, you will need to edit it accordingly to achieve what you were looking for from the beginning. The intense review and evaluation require strenuous efforts, time, and money.

Therefore, expect one documentary budget to be different from the other because of such factors.

The Average Budget of a Short Documentary?

The rule has always been for producers to spend approximately between$750- $1250to produce a footage a minute long. If that were to be the case, creating a short documentary ( under 20 mins) documentary will require under$15000 – $25,000. However, average quality is never enough most of the time. Consequently, you will need to spend more, ranging from$1000 to $10000for the one-minute footage.

How much does it cost to make a 30-minute documentary?

According to the industry’s unspoken rule, a 30 minute documentary should cost between$ 25000 to $40000. But depending upon the production quality, we know that the approximate cost can soar much more than that for every finished minute of a video.

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It can be anything between $1000 and $10000, so you can estimate thebudget of making a 30-minute documentary will cost between $30000 to $300000.

After all, the length of a documentary is directly proportional to the cost of production. However, the total cost figure can’t be a constant because of the other factors discussed above.The cost of public television documentary can be anything from a few hundred thousand dollars to $1 million.The budget can be subdivided into several categories as follows.

  • Shooting Budget

To shoot, you need lighting, cameras, locations fee, travel costs, and crew, just to mention a few. The price is approximately$1500 – $ 2000daily if the number is small. Nevertheless, that can be only the hourly rate if the crew is large. The cost may differ depending on the crew’s experience and the amount of time you will spend shooting.

  • Editing Budget

You might need to hire a professional editor, and their fee can be anywhere between$1000 and $2500daily. Sound effects, soundtrack, and graphics mean more money. It may also be necessary to pay for rights to use third-party clips, footage, or music.

  • Distribution and Marketing Budget

Once the documentary is ready, distribution follows, and hiring a distributor is the best approach. There is also marketing, which can be in the form of posters and trailers. There is also social media marketing, and it is not free either unless you do it yourself.

How much does Netflix pay for a documentary film?

So far,Netflix doesn’t have a specific amount of money to pay filmmakers for a documentaryfilm.They have an algorithm that automatically determines what you get.

They hardly buy rights from individuals but instead do to distributors and aggregators.

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Netflix prefers purchase rights for some time. It is important to note that they pay more for exclusive rights than in the case of non-exclusive agreements.

How much do documentaries really sell for?

If your documentary costs $100000, you should at least sell it for $200000. However, it would help if you always strived for 3X -4X of your costs becausedocumentaries may not sell quickly unless you have been commissioned. So, it is better to have a nice buffer between the making costs and the selling price.

The truth is that as much as you can make money from a documentary film, it is usually not that much in most cases. How you distribute them determines how much sales you will make.

One of the options is uploading it on YouTube, where you get paid from the ads. Vimeo Pro and Amazon’s likes pay you depending on the people who watch it.

VOD and DVDs, primarily through distributors, are also a great option. The best options are clinching a broadcast deal from the likes of Netflix, TCM, and HBO. You get to make money depending on your audience’s size, sales, views and subscriptions, and the value of each.

Final Words

How much does it cost to make a documentary? You now have an idea of such a question. You also know how the cost differs from one film to the other.

When making your documentary budget, you have an idea of what to include as well. How to sell and what to expect solely depends on viewership and downloads in most cases. But, keep in mind, these are not hard and fast rules. It also depends on your negotiation skills.

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FAQs

How much does it cost to make a documentary film? ›

Documentary budgets can range from $30,000 to $1.5 million, depending on the film's duration, scope, and experience of creative team/crew. In some rare instances deferments are essential to start filming or capture respective core elements of the story before the Production Company has received any funds.

How long does it take to make a documentary film? ›

While 'feature' documentaries can take a year or more to produce, most shorter form documentaries can be finalized in as little as 2-3+ months, in three phases: Preproduction: Research and writing, interview and location scouting, scheduling shoot days. This will take approximately 4-6+ weeks. Production.

Is it profitable to make documentaries? ›

Of course documentaries can make money, but maybe not much

As a general rule, documentaries are not big money makers unless you're Michael Moore. Of course there are always exceptions, but depending on your subject, there usually is simply not the mass audience for documentaries like there is with fiction films.

How much does it cost to make a 15 minute movie? ›

Usually, an average short film costs between $700 to $1500 per minute. But if the story demands a more significant production, the budget can quickly shoot up to $25000 per minute.

How much is a 30 minute documentary? ›

As a general rule of thumb, producers assume an average cost of $1,000 per finished minute for a short film. So, if you're planning a documentary that is in the estimated length of 30 minutes, you can potentially anticipate an expense of $30K.

How much do documentary filmmakers make? ›

As of Sep 24, 2022, the average annual pay for a Documentary Filmmaker in the United States is $58,698 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $28.22 an hour.

How hard is it to make a documentary? ›

Documentary filmmaking is a difficult challenge, so you'll need a fire-breathing spirit to get you through. You should find a topic that you are passionate about and tell its tale in order to communicate your point of view. Look for a beneficial topic and think about how to build a story that your audience can enjoy.

How long should it take to edit a documentary? ›

However, as a general rule, ADE suggests that “for an average documentary, a good rough guideline for scheduling is: 1 month of editing per 10 minutes of finished content,” or six months for a 60-minute film and nine months for a 90-minute film.

What makes a successful documentary? ›

A good documentary shows people from a different perspective than they're used to seeing in the media. It opens people's minds and hearts to the struggles of other people in the world. It makes people question the way things are and the way they should be.

How do I sell my documentary? ›

Sites like Vimeo and Youtube are a great place to actually release the documentary. , which matches your film to video streaming sites; and IndieReign, which equips filmmakers with tools to self-distribute and sell directly to their fans. You can find more avenues for DIY distribution at PBS.

Do filmmakers make a lot of money? ›

Depending on experience, most film directors earn between $250,000 to $2 million per project. New directors typically earn between $250,000 to $500,000 per film, while studio film directors earn about $1 million per movie.

Where can I pitch a documentary idea? ›

Cable television networks like the History Channel and National Geographic are always looking for new content, features, and series. If you can find a connection (it's not impossible, they're always looking for new pitches), these networks are great places to pitch documentary concepts and ideas.

How much does it cost to make a 20 minute documentary? ›

The rule has always been for producers to spend approximately between $750- $1250 to produce a footage a minute long. If that were to be the case, creating a short documentary ( under 20 mins) documentary will require under $15000 – $25,000. However, average quality is never enough most of the time.

Do short films make money? ›

Short films, whether they are being shared online or through film festivals, are most profitable as a calling card that will get you more work. Look at it as a resume, but for your film career. Every short film you write, direct, produce, and -most importantly – share will lead to more work.

How long is a typical documentary? ›

Documentaries come in all lengths, from two-minute web videos to six-hour or longer films divided into episodes in a documentary series. Most last between one and three years and run less than 100 minutes. How long it takes to shoot your documentary depends on the size and scope of your film.

How much do networks pay for documentaries? ›

Original programs are developed by the network specifically for its audience, and the network owns those programs. For example, OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) is reported to pay between $80,000 and $150,000 for US rights for features that are acquired for the Oprah Winfrey Documentary Club.

How much does an independent documentary cost? ›

There are a number of factors that go into the cost of producing one, from the crew size to the equipment needed. While the cost of making a documentary can vary widely, it typically ranges from $5,000 to $500,000.

How do I sell my movie to Netflix? ›

If you have an idea, game, script, screenplay, or production already in development that you'd like to pitch to Netflix, you must work through a licensed agent, producer, attorney, manager, or industry executive, as appropriate, who already has a relationship with Netflix.

How much do documentary writers make? ›

The national average salary for a Documentary Film Writer is $59,114 per year in United States.

How do you submit a documentary to Netflix? ›

"Netflix only accepts submissions through a licensed literary agent or from a producer, attorney, manager, or entertainment executive with whom we have a preexisting relationship. Any idea that is submitted by other means is considered an unsolicited submission...

How do documentaries end? ›

The ending of the documentary usually brings some kind of resolution to the questions and conflict established at the beginning of the film. It is often helpful when writing your documentary script to consider how the documentary will end before trying to write the beginning and the middle.

How much do Youtubers pay editors? ›

Freelance video editors typically charge a per-hour, or per-day rate. Professional rates are circa $30 to $150 an hour based on experience and specialism. Few editors charge per minute of edited video as production complexity varies so greatly.

How much time do Youtubers spend editing? ›

Editing is one of the most time-consuming aspects of running a youtube channel for sure! Editing will take more or less time depending on how particular one is about audio, color grading, timing, etc. Most professional editors will say about 1 to 1.5 hours per minute of edited video, and that's about right.

How long does it take to edit a 1 hour video? ›

How long does it take to edit a video
The length of the videoThe minimum time it takes to editthe maximum time it takes to edit
1 minutes video1 hour1 day
2 minutes video1 hour 30 minutes2 days
3 minutes video2 hours 30 minutes2 days and a half
4 minutes video3 hours 30 minutes3 days
6 more rows
24 Nov 2021

How many types of documentaries are there? ›

What Are Documentary Modes? In 1991, American film critic and theoretician Bill Nichols proposed that there were six different modes of documentary—poetic, expository, reflexive, observational, performative, and participatory—each containing its own specific characteristics.

What do you call the person in a documentary? ›

Documentarian Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster.

Do subjects of documentaries get paid? ›

If you are a documentary filmmaker, you NEVER pay anyone for participating. NEVER. If you are making a commercial release fiction film or entertainment this is a different issue. But a documentary takes us into the world of journalism, and journalism has certain rules and standards.

How much does Netflix pay for independent films? ›

On top of that, they also had to get a lot of low-budget or indie movies, most of which never became part of film history. After doing some extensive research, we know that Netflix used to give around $40,000 and $60,000 to low-budget works at the time.

Can you make a documentary about someone without their permission? ›

You might think that you would own the rights to your life story. It is YOUR life after all. But the reality is, anyone can produce a story or biography about you without asking. Permission is not required to portray a real person in a work of art such as a film, book, or other media format.

Who is the highest paid actor? ›

As of August 2021, Daniel Craig was the best-paid actor worldwide with an estimated income of 100 million U.S. dollars after, earlier that year, Netflix bought the rights for two sequels of "Knives Out" (2019).

Who is the highest paid director in the world? ›

Top Grossing Director at the Worldwide Box OfficeBETA
RankNameWorldwide Box Office
1Steven Spielberg$10,640,014,065
2Anthony Russo$6,843,333,916
3Joe Russo$6,843,333,916
4Peter Jackson$6,536,773,156
78 more rows

How can I start film industry? ›

How to get into the film industry
  1. Consider getting a bachelor's degree. ...
  2. Craft your resume. ...
  3. Compile your portfolio. ...
  4. Maintain a professional website. ...
  5. Search for shoots in your area. ...
  6. Contact local camera rental shops. ...
  7. Get involved in local productions. ...
  8. Consider searching for work in a film production hub.

How do you pitch a documentary to HBO? ›

How can I submit an idea for a movie or show to HBO? We do not accept submissions directly; all submissions to HBO must come through an agent.

How do I find a documentary maker? ›

Contact some local hospitals and find out if there are any film crews already working on videos relating to health care. Hire a documentary mentor here on Desktop Documentaries. Join a filmmakers chat room such as the D-Word, Creative Cow, DVXuser or a documentary filmmaker's LinkedIn group and pitch your project.

How much does a 1 minute video cost? ›

With production rates ranging from about $1,000 to $10,000 per finished minute, you can expect to pay somewhere between there for your 1 minute video. A good rule of thumb is to budget about $3,000 for a 1 minute video. Keep in mind that the 1 minute video cost will dramatically increase for complex videos.

How much should a 5 minute video cost? ›

Depending on the type of video, pricing generally range anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 per finished minute. It's better to refer to averages when creating your budget, so a safe estimate for 5-minute videos would be $3,000 per finished minute. Overall, it depends on what you want to see on that screen.

How much does it cost to make a 2 minute video? ›

A 2- to 3-minute professionally produced corporate video typically costs anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000. Most production companies agree that the average cost of video production is usually around $1,000 to $5,000 per finished minute, and we agree that it is a good starting point to consider when budgeting.

How much should you pay your actor? ›

Actors made a median salary of $43,760 in 2020. The best-paid 25 percent made $60,760 that year, while the lowest-paid 25 percent made $28,080.

Can short films make money on YouTube? ›

Creators who meet the criteria can make anywhere from $100 to $10,000 based on viewership and engagement of their Shorts, which can be up to 60 seconds in length. The $100 million YouTube Shorts Fund will be distributed through the remainder of 2021 and into 2022.

How much does it cost to shoot a documentary? ›

Documentary budgets can range from $30,000 to $1.5 million, depending on the film's duration, scope, and experience of creative team/crew. In some rare instances deferments are essential to start filming or capture respective core elements of the story before the Production Company has received any funds.

How do you pitch a film to investors? ›

How to Pitch to Film Investors Basics
  1. Research films similar to yours and see who funded them.
  2. Send materials in advance.
  3. Set the call.
  4. Know your proposal and numbers.
  5. Tailor the pitch to each investor.
  6. Make the investor feel special.
  7. Instill confidence.
  8. Don't pressure investors - make them want to write you a check.

How do indie filmmakers make money? ›

That might range anywhere from production-related jobs like cinematography, production sound, ADing, producing or production design, to post jobs like editing, sound mixing, or working in distribution, marketing or at film festivals.

What does HBO pay for documentaries? ›

A high-end documentary can cost from $100,000 to $2 million to make, and the top price a network will pay is in the high six figures to $1 million (HBO is rumored to have paid well above that rate for “The Jinx,” an exception.)

How do you prepare a budget for a documentary? ›

Treat your documentary like a narrative and plan, plan, plan.
  1. Write a business plan and budget. ...
  2. Apply for grants. ...
  3. Host a crowdfunding campaign. ...
  4. Seek corporate sponsorship. ...
  5. Get in-kind donations. ...
  6. Write a script & shotlist. ...
  7. Hold a casting call. ...
  8. Make a production schedule.
4 May 2020

What does PBS pay for documentaries? ›

Documentaries are eligible for production or post-production funding and must be intended for public television broadcast. Awards typically range between $15,000 and $50,000.

How do I pitch a documentary to Netflix? ›

If you have an idea, game, script, screenplay, or production already in development that you'd like to pitch to Netflix, you must work through a licensed agent, producer, attorney, manager, or industry executive, as appropriate, who already has a relationship with Netflix.

Where can I pitch my documentary? ›

Cable television networks like the History Channel and National Geographic are always looking for new content, features, and series. If you can find a connection (it's not impossible, they're always looking for new pitches), these networks are great places to pitch documentary concepts and ideas.

Where can I sell documentaries? ›

Sell your Documentary Online
  • Vimeo on Demand. Make more money from your videos by selling directly to your fans.
  • Mubi. MUBI is an ever-changing curation of beautiful, interesting, incredible films.
  • KweliTV. ...
  • iTunes. ...
  • Indieflix. ...
  • Gumroad. ...
  • Google TV. ...
  • Films for Action.

What makes a successful documentary? ›

A good documentary shows people from a different perspective than they're used to seeing in the media. It opens people's minds and hearts to the struggles of other people in the world. It makes people question the way things are and the way they should be.

How long should documentaries be? ›

Feature-length documentaries range roughly between 45 minutes and numerous hours. The Academy Awards defines the line between a short and a feature-length film at 40 minutes, while the Sundance Film Festival places the cutoff at 50 minutes.

Do documentaries need a script? ›

Documentary filmmakers create non-fiction films (both short films and feature films) that present a truthful storyline in cinematic form. Much like a narrative film, any type of documentary you make will require its own documentary film script.

How long does it take to edit a documentary? ›

However, as a general rule, ADE suggests that “for an average documentary, a good rough guideline for scheduling is: 1 month of editing per 10 minutes of finished content,” or six months for a 60-minute film and nine months for a 90-minute film.

How do you plan a documentary? ›

10 Steps on How to Make a Documentary
  1. Conceptualize Your Topic and Find the Story. ...
  2. Select Essential Camera Equipment for Making Documentary. ...
  3. Plan The Production and Story Structure. ...
  4. Create a Budget. ...
  5. Make a Shot List. ...
  6. Secure Legal and Copyright Permits. ...
  7. Schedule the Shoot. ...
  8. Start Shooting.
1 Jun 2022

How much does it cost to license a documentary? ›

How much does movie licensing cost? Movie licensing pricing can range from $300 to $2,000+ depending on a number of factors. Some factors affecting the licensing price can include the number of people in attendance, location, application, revenue generated from ticket sales, and the film being displayed.

How much does Netflix pay per show? ›

We're going to answer that here. Netflix doesn't publicly disclose its deals, but from what we managed to gather around the Internet, Netflix is currently paying between $100 and $250 million for blockbuster movies, while popular TV shows with multiple seasons have budgets that range from $300 to $500 million.

How are most documentaries funded? ›

Awards from festivals, grants from foundations and gifts from wealthy donors help, though these need to be pieced together to move a project forward. Funds from these types of sources tend to come through after someone else has backed your project.

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