Big-budget films
March 15, 2006 6:48 PM   Subscribe

How could the film "Brazil" have been made with only $15 million? Was that amount of money thought of as exorbitant at the time of its production (1984)?

And if so, then how have big-budget films managed to become so much more expensive to produce since then?
posted by jimmy to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
A lot of money spent on big-budget films isn't spent on things like film and props, it's spent on transportation, catering, location scouting, etc. If you don't have that much money but you have a crew who believe in you, you can cut a lot of corners. $15 million is more than enough to make a decent movie even now.
posted by bingo at 6:56 PM on March 15, 2006

Just off the top of my head, big-name stars (De Niro, fr'instance) occasionally work on projects where they love the script, or the director, or the character they're being asked to play, for a lot less money than when they're asked to work on something typical or boring.

Also, what bingo said.

Finally, it would appear that Terry Gilliam actually brought this movie in on-time and on-budget, as improbable as that may sound given his current reputation. So evidentally, whether or not it was an exhorbitant amount of money, it was certainly enough.

also magic fairy dust was utilized. however, this is just a rumor
posted by davejay at 7:02 PM on March 15, 2006

posted by davejay at 7:03 PM on March 15, 2006

Yes, $15M was a lot of money to spend on a film in 1984, especially one that had as limited an audience as Brazil.

As bingo said, you can still make good films for that "little" today.

Much of the $ spent on films goes to, in addition to what bingo said, stars. Numerous name stars make $20M per picture these days.
posted by dobbs at 7:04 PM on March 15, 2006

In the 1980s, the average film budget was over $18 million.
posted by junesix at 7:04 PM on March 15, 2006

junesix, the full quote there is "The average ticket price at the beginning of the decade was about $3, and over $4 by the end of the decade, while the average film budget was over $18 million." I supposed it's open to interpretation (I'm too lazy to google for more data), but to me it reads like the average was $18M at the end of the decade. It has pretty much risen steadily since. I do remember huge deals being made about the budget of Ishtar (so much so that reviews only focused on that--to me, it's one of the funnier movies of that dreadful decade (movie-wise)).

In addition, much was made of the projected $60M budget of T2, which was made in 1991 (it ended up costing closer to $100M).

I remember in the early 90s (1990, probably), Spike Lee and Scorsese talking about how ridiculous it was that it was difficult to get a low budget (sub 20M) film approved. Studios were convinced no one wanted to see them.
posted by dobbs at 7:14 PM on March 15, 2006

You need to get yourself a copy of the 3-disc Criterion version of the film. There is a LOT of supplementary information about the financing and business-end of the making of Brazil. It's worth seeing the multiple edits and listening to the various commentaries.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:15 PM on March 15, 2006

Well, that's almost $30 in today's dollars.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 PM on March 15, 2006

Also, consider the above-the-line costs on this film -- as in, there weren't any (well, nothing significant). DeNiro, yes, but clearly this was an "art" project, not a mainstream one. Nobody else above the line was a truly significant figure at the time.
posted by frogan at 9:30 PM on March 15, 2006

Consider that Aliens was made for $18 million at about the same time.
posted by neckro23 at 9:57 PM on March 15, 2006

It was also cheaper because it was made in the UK
posted by A189Nut at 12:13 AM on March 16, 2006

dobbs: Right, but at the beginning of the decade (1980), the average film budget was $11 million. So $15 million doesn't seem that out of proportion in 1984/5.
posted by junesix at 1:25 AM on March 16, 2006

how have big-budget films managed to become so much more expensive to produce since then

James Surowiecki (Wisdom of the Crowds) goes into the economics of Hollywood blockbusters in this Slate article.

Nowadays, there's a whole lot more that goes into the budget for a Hollywood blockbuster. Along with the excessive cost of production, there's exorbitant actor salaries and intense marketing. It seems overblown until you realize that Hollywood isn't interested in steadily pumping out low-cost small-revenue films but instead gambles on blockbusters that generates revenue in foreign licensing, DVD sales, games, merchandise, and promotional tie-ins. You need a big budget movie to attract that type of income. The studios would rather gamble big on 100% returns from a $100 million film than 100% returns on a $15 million film. At least with the $100 million film, even if it doesn't turn out to the be expected blockbuster, the studio still rakes in huge profits from alternative income (licensing, DVD, games) whereas a $15 million film is all-or-nothing at the box office only. Big budget films often also have the assistance of German tax shelters which can offset a huge portion of a film's budget.

Slate has a huge collection of Hollywood economics articles if you're interested in the subject.
posted by junesix at 1:55 AM on March 16, 2006

I think one hint for explaining the rising expenses of film is to look at explosion of names in the credits in recent years. For skilled trade labor it's not bad money if you can get it. $10,000 to this specialist and $30,000 to that specialist adds up real quick when you have 3-4 units working simultaneously.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:38 AM on March 16, 2006

not to mention the "need" for ridiculously expensive cgi these days...

as you can tell from that movie models are cheaper and can look just as good as cgi...
posted by MonkNoiz at 1:36 PM on March 16, 2006

The answer is clearly that Terry Gilliam is an amazing SOB.
posted by cellphone at 2:46 PM on March 16, 2006

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