Including Kickstarter funds, to date we've spent ~$189,699.32 on the film, around $70,000 of which has been personal investment. This doesn’t include deferred compensation / salaries, as I’ve continued to work unpaid on the project to date to ensure that every dollar in can be leveraged for services I’m not able to perform. We’ve been extremely judicious with the money spent to date, leveraging the funding to complete not one but two strong rough cuts for two separate films [the Expedition film and The Happiest Place].
For reference, the average hour-long PBS documentary has a budget of $500,000+. Here are two more reference points of friends films that are directly comparable (they are both hybrid character-driven and essay films):
"Chasing Ice" / Director Jeff Orlowski / Sundance premiere / $1.3 million dollar budget; 6 years to make
"Connected" / Director Tiffany Shlain / Sundance premiere / $1.5 million dollar budget; 8 years to make
The budget (following) was crafted in careful consultation with seasoned producers (Carlton Evans, Karen Everett, Andrea Chung) who have produced several documentaries and who are well aware of what it takes to make a great film. The tendency is often to under budget, which can cripple any chance that your film will have the resources to actually get across the finish line - or to have a meaningful life. For reference, here’s an informative article on the importance of arriving at an appropriate budget for your film from a decorated personal documentary filmmaker.
Here’s a link to our proposed budget for The Happiest Place:
You’ll see that I’ve split the budget into three phases for post-production / finishing / and marketing as well as a budget for the final pick-up filming.
You’ll note that I’ve included a salary for my services in this budget. We’ve reached a point in the project where it’s no longer sustainable for me to continue work on the film without any compensation. Doing so would mean continuing to extend the delivery date for the film significantly as I share time between paid work to help cover Rachel and my basic expenses and time on the film.
After your initial review, I’m more than happy to walk you through any of the line items to talk about how we arrived at the numbers or respond to any questions that you might have.
PHASE 1 BUDGET:
The phase 1 budget below represents the projected costs of editing over the next 7 months in preparation for a Sundance premiere. Note that licensing / music / sound / etc. (Phase 2) don’t necessarily have to be finalized for submission and acceptance to a festival but will be required for premiere and distribution.
PHASE 2 BUDGET:
The phase 2 budget below is essentially triggered upon confirmation of our festival premiere. These include all of the costs associated from taking the film from fine cut / picture-lock to finished film.
PHASE 3 BUDGET:
The Phase 3 budget is primarily geared towards marketing and distribution. Note that many of the costs, including things like Errors & Omissions Insuranceand even some of the distribution and marketing costs may be able to be deferred until the event that the film is picked up for distribution.
The production budget will allow for us to do some essential pick-up filming for Act III of the film and help to support our pick-up filming during the return trip to Bhutan.
As a standard practice, we’ve built in a 15% contingency fee to allow for the inevitability of incurring unexpected costs.
There are two primary options for receiving additional support for the project.
We can receive support as a tax-deductible donations through our nonprofit sponsor, The Documentary Fund. The Documentary Fund takes a 5% fee in exchange for acting as a fiscal sponsor.
Apart from direct donations to the film that aren't channeled through The Documentary Fund, this is the quickest and easiest way to support the film.
We can also receive funds directly as a donation, but they wouldn’t be tax-deductible.
We can also receive the support as an investment. Doing so would require creating the proper legal framework for outside investment in the project as, as of now, we have yet to take any investment. Typically, as investment comes in it buys points in an investment pool. As money comes into the project, investors would be the first to recoup their investment + an 8% - 15% premium, usually after deferred salaries are paid. After the investment pool recoups in full and receives their premium, additional income would be allocated on a pro rata basis across other equity holders in the project.
It should be noted that, for many documentary films, the prospects that the film recoups in full and turns a profit is quite slim - though most certainly possible. In this sense, most investors in documentary film see the effort mostly as a leveraged philanthropic activity.
That said, I’ve been doing research on the economics of self-distribution, and it IS possible to actually make good money on films that speak to a targeted niche audience through the proper distribution strategy. I’m in contact with Chris Ruffo of The Documentary Foundation (who has been a fiscal sponsor for the film) and learned that his last documentary, Age of Champions, earned almost $1.3 million dollars since its launch -- a lot of which came through self-distribution channels (educational sales, iTunes / online downloads, DVDs).
Given the attention and interest in the subject of happiness and in Bhutan / Gross National Happiness, I feel that the film has a very targetable (and yet sizable!) market and, with it, exciting sales potential.