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How much does it Cost to Make a Documentary Today?

One of the most popular film genres at this moment are documentary films. Netflix publishes new documentaries every couple of days. So, you too might be wondering: how much does it take to make a documentary these days? Some might judge it to be an expensive or tedious endeavor. Obviously, every good video product requires an adequate investment of time and budget. But how much exactly do you need to plan for?

Types of documentaries

There are different types of documentaries: social issue documentaries, event-led documentaries, character-led documentaries and more. They have one thing in common though: they all provide a strong way to tell a story. They dive deeper into a topic and into specific cases than could be achieved by a news report. How much can a social issue documentary cost you?

In general, the cost will depend largely on the project’s length. Short-length documentaries for instance are primarily exploratory, for example diving into the world of street food in your city. They typically last between 2 minutes until 30 minutes. Depending on the exact length and overall production costs, this project will require a budget from 5.000 to 20.000€.

Feature-length documentaries are typically produced for and distributed in cinemas or TV channels. Therefore, their duration ranges between minimum 40 minutes and maximum 90 minutes. With feature-length projects, it is possible to deep-dive into the topic and give the audience a detailed and in-depth insight into a specific issue. The budget required for this kind of project typically ranges from 20.000 to 500.000€.

Process of creating a documentary

As any other project, the production involves three stages: pre-production, production (filming) and post-production. For feature-length projects, the total process can take up to years.

Pre-production includes all planning stages and the organization of the project. This is the right time to draft the creative concept and to set up a schedule for the project. At this stage you also need to determine the budget and locations, collect the funds, organize the crew, set up interviews, etc.

Production is the process of filming itself. Documentary scenes can involve interview scenes, travelling scenes etc. This is also the stage where all the b-rolls (secondary visuals) are shot and collected.

Finally, in post-production the final product will be achieved. This is where assembling the footage, professional editing, music and graphics come into play. At the end, a well-crafted, balanced and compelling product will be the outcome.

Cost-factors in making a documentary

As was explained above, different documentaries vary greatly in length and style. As a rule of thumb: the more minutes in length, the more euros in budget. But duration is not everything, of course. Quality depends on several other factors as well.

Some projects require special filming equipment. The cost involved in hiring special gears can add up quickly. Editing, graphics and music can also increase your bill drastically, especially when they are going to be outsourced.

The size of the crew working on the project will also influence the total cost. Each crew member will have to be paid and reimbursed for their transportation and food. Don’t forget that the right size of crew will ensure that the project can run smoothly and be finalized on time.

Hiring a documentary filmmaker

There are several options when you want to hire a filmmaker for your documentary. Due to the cost factors mentioned above, your total costs can vary greatly. If you prefer to go with an independent filmmaker who works with a small team, your costs will be comparatively low. The other option would be to go with a well-established and renowned production house, which will raise your costs in turn.

Before hiring a professional, it is best to already have an idea of the budget you would like to dedicate to the project. Afterwards it is important to have a filmmaker of your choice based on trust. Together you will discuss all creative aspects and necessary questions upfront. Don’t shy away from contacting different professionals to compare if necessary. Aside the cost question, it is mainly a question of trust and having the same vision for the project.

At Ghost Pictures Production, we are more than happy to sit down with our prospective clients and take our time to talk in-depth about your vision for your project. Documentary is our absolute passion. And we want to share that with you! We are 100% independent and offer complete transparency of costs regarding your documentary project. Feel free to contact us at any time for a free consultation regarding your documentary!


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