How Long Does it Take to Make a Movie?
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Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope took all of 100 minutes to film. Meant to be filmed in real-time, Hitchcock planned every minute of the film, from moving sets to extended takes. Where most feature films need thousands of takes, the 80-minute Rope needed just 10, and that’s because reels only held enough film for 10 minutes of shooting.
Making a movie is more than just filming, though. Pre-production and post-production can take months or even a year, or longer, if you consider marketing. All of this time doesn’t take into account the time it takes to write a screenplay for an adaptation or an original idea.
Although it’s a pretty open-ended question, let’s go over some rough estimates and explain where all of that time goes. Of course, movies can range in time depending on the quality of the film, if any rewrites are necessary, the (ahem) fussiness of the “talent,” and so on.
We’ll just concentrate on the usual pre-production, shooting, editing, and other post-production tasks that are standard. There are going to be differences in a 90-minute movie and a three-hour epic. Even movies of the same length can differ greatly depending on the content.
One thing to consider when trying to figure out the amount of time it will take to film a movie is to look at the screenplay. In Hollywood, the creation of a screenplay is very regimented. Margin, indents, and even font type are standardized. This establishes a standard baseline: one page of screenplay equals about one minute of screen time. The average amount of time it takes to get one usable minute shot multiplied by the number of pages plus average setup and teardown time will give you a rough estimate of total shooting production time.
Pre-production is a crucial time that can make or break a project. Once the script is finalized, the producers, director, cinematographer, production managers, and other department heads get together to create a blueprint of the movie. Shooting schedule, hiring the cast and crew, setting a budget, and so on, are set during this time.
Even a release date can be considered during pre-production. Filming a movie is a lot like building a house – everything from the floorplan to the cabinet hardware is discussed before the building begins. Yes, decisions can be changed along the way, but, to extend the analogy, this is how the general contractor sets his price, the needs for labor get assessed, and the materials get selected.
Like a house, many factors go into how long pre-production lasts. A two-bedroom bungalow won’t need quite the schedule a 4,000 square foot home does. The same goes for movies – a 90-minute rom-com that can be shot just about anywhere won’t need the planning a 150-minute epic does. However, pre-production on average lasts between three and four months.
An effects-heavy film like The Avengers: Endgame will differ from a movie like Braveheart. Even though both films had a run time of three hours and two minutes, the Marvel movie took five months of principal photography while the Mel Gibson production was shot in just over four months.
Lawrence of Arabia took 16 months for principal photography in the early ‘60s and Gandhi took six months to film in the early ‘80s. Locations, special effects, and even technology play a part in how long it takes to shoot a feature-length film.
At the other end of the spectrum, The Blair Witch Project only took eight days of principal shooting while Clerks was filmed over 21 days straight. It should be noted that all of the movies mentioned here were critically and commercially successful.
Time varies for animated films because there are a few different ways to film an animated movie. Using computer-generated imagery (think of most Pixar movies) takes less time than stop-motion (“Isle of Dogs” or “Coraline”) or hand-drawn animation (Disney movies of yore).
However, animated films differ from live-action or a combination of the two. For example, does making Dora appear to spring from one jellyfish to another in Finding Nemo count as filming or an effect? For stop-motion films, does filming only mean when the individual shots are taken, or does it include the time it takes to slightly alter objects being filmed?
In any case, animated films take much longer than live-actions. While pre and post-production take roughly the same amount of time, it can take anywhere from four to seven years to complete a 90-minute animated movie. And that’s with a whole army of animators!
This part of the production takes the most time, up to a year or more, especially if there were problems during filming. That’s why pre-production and having a strong producer is so important. They keep things on-schedule and on-budget. If those two aspects keep changing, chances are, the movie won’t be as good or “fully-realized” as it otherwise could have been.
After principal photography has wrapped, the clock starts on post-production. This is when the editing takes place, any necessary re-shoots get shot, Foley artists go to work on sound effects, and the finishing touches are applied. If we go back to the building of a house, consider this the installation of flooring, cabinets, and getting it painted.
There’s still work to do, however. Marketing, including trailers that were made before shooting wrapped, commercials, screening for critics are all things that can make or break a mainstream movie. And if the film in question is slated as an Academy Award hopeful, it will likely be released near the end of the year.
This way it will get heavy press coverage all in attempt to remain fresh in the heads of the voters. For smaller films, it’s during post that they hit the festival circuit, hoping to earn awards, get some media blitz, and drum up the interest of buyers and distributors.
A good producer understands everything that goes into making a movie, from pre to production, to post. But it takes time to get the experience and skills it takes to become a producer on a feature film. Film Connection can help you get the foundation you’ll need to know what it takes to make a move from A to Z.
From Start to Finish
If accepted into the Film Connection For Film Production and Editing Program, you’ll be placed inside a working studio to learn just about every facet of the industry from your mentor. This person is a professional in the field and will help you learn how to set up lights, run cable, work with actors, and everything else that goes into production.
Film Connection programs last from six to nine months, meaning you’ll get the training you need on an accelerated timeline. Translation: There’s no time to lose playing on your phone or showing up late! In this industry, a willingness to put in the hours, do everything that’s asked of you, and making good on the promises you make means everything.
If that sounds like you – and you want to learn how to make movies of your own – apply today.