A very simple way to get a good idea of the average salary per hour is by analyzing some of the most common documentary titles. You don’t have to look all the way back to 1980 to find a number which makes sense for your story, just look through the history of documentaries and look at what films have averaged the most money per hour.
It should be noted that all of these numbers are based solely on salaries for documentary feature films. This is simply because the most common types of non-feature films (documentaries) make significantly more or less than feature films in a given fiscal year. So this will not apply to your short film as you will be making many more films in your film festival run than you will any one month.
Note that there are many additional factors which affect the financial numbers (tour times, budget, etc…). For more information on how we came up with all of these numbers, click here.
Are we making enough to live on?
As you can see from all those numbers from 1980, it actually is much more difficult to make a film in the United States than just about anywhere else. When you factor in all of the tax codes, the cost of travel, rent, food, and so much more, it becomes increasingly difficult to make a film which is as financially feasible as it might be in other countries. There are many films which, by the time they are done, have had to change their business model as a result of all of the costs and complexities of doing business in the United States. We are lucky to have a very flexible business model which allows us to use our budget as the foundation of film production.
What kind of film do we make?
So as you look at all of the different variables of filmmaking, make sure you remember that you are creating your story. Yes, there are many variations of genres within the genre of film, but for the sake of this guide you should focus on one aspect or approach to filmmaking that you feel is important to your film and perhaps to you personally.
This can also be quite helpful when you’re trying to decide where to focus your budget for your film, and the best way to help you decide where to focus it is to look over some of the most commercially successful films of this past decade or so and the different types of films that they produced. For example some of the films that we use as an example here, “Saving Mr. Banks,” and “12 Years A
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