The Actual Costs of Film

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Here is some information on the actual costs of film. For a comparison of film and high end digital costs please see “Film or Digital”

Film and processing is normally charged by the foot. Super 16 film is just single perf 16mm film and costs the same to buy, process and transfer.

A standard roll of 16mm film is 400’ long and runs for about 11 min. at 24fps.

A standard roll of 35mm is 1000’ long and runs for about 11 min at 24fps. 400’ rolls are also available.

Film can be bought from directly from Kodak or a number of resellers. Resellers buy unused film from productions that bought too much and resell it at a discount off new prices.

The following terms are used by resellers.

Factory sealed or unopened – Just like it sounds, the roll is unopened and has the original tape on sealing the can.

Recans – Film was opened by the camera assistant and loaded into a film magazine but was never shot and put back in the can and resealed. In 16mm this usually means a full 400’ roll or close to it. In 35mm it usually means anywhere between 400’ and 1000’ and is priced depending on the footage. A good reseller sends recans to the lab where they clip off 5’ and process it to be sure the film stock is not fogged and is labeled correctly. Recans are usually substantially cheaper than unopened film.

Short ends – partial rolls that were left over at the end of the day or when there wasn’t enough left to do a complete take. In 16mm or 35mm short ends are usually anything under 380’. These are also sent to the lab for testing by the reseller. This is the usually the cheapest way to buy film but running time per roll can be limited and reloads more frequent. This can be a problem especially in day exteriors when you can’t control the sun and are trying to do as much as possible.

Approximate film prices follow. To figure out your film stock price you need to decide how many rolls you are going to need. A good way to estimate this is by deciding on a shooting ratio (the amount you shoot compared to the amount in the final project) I have found that commercials generally take 1-2 rolls. For independent films a good shooting ratio is 4 to 1 or 5 to 1. A 90 minute movie shot at a ratio of 4 to 1 would need about 45 rolls of film. At 5 to1 the same movie would need about 54 rolls of film. Since time is precious on a independent film (there never seem to be enough shooting days) keeping the ratio low really helps keep the days reasonable and costs down. Actors seem to like not having to do lots of takes too.

Here are some approximate film prices for color negative
16mm
New from Kodak $216.40 per 400’ roll (11 minutes).
Unopened from reseller $150-$200 per roll
Recans $100-150 per roll
Short ends $0.18 – 0.28 per foot (about $65-$100 per 400’)
Discounts are available if you order a large quantity or are willing to use older stocks. Kodak gives a good student discount on 16mm.

A good estimate for a 90 minute movie shot on Super 16 recans at a 4-1 ratio would be $5,600 for film stock if you pay $125 per roll. If you are willing to use short ends this cost would go down.

35mm
New from Kodak $863 per 1000’ roll (11 minutes)
Unopened from reseller $750 per roll
Recans – Prices can vary a lot here. Typical recan prices are $300- $400 per 1000’ roll. I have several times bought 1000’ recans of 5219 Vision 3 stock for as low as $180 per roll. Short ends (rolls under 400’) can be even less, making 35mm competitive with the cost of 16mm. Since so much 35mm gets shot there are often bargains available.

A 90 minute movie shot at a 4-1 ratio would cost about $13,500 for film stock if you pay $300 per roll for recans. This could go down if you are willing to use some short ends or just happen to find a better deal.

Now lets consider processing (developing the negative)

I work with several labs that charge me about $0.16 per ft. This can go down to $0.12 per foot if I give them a large quantity like 45 rolls.

For the feature example above processing would cost about $2,160 for 16mm or $5,400 for 35mm.

For a typical commercial that shoots 1500’ of 35mm processing would cost $240

To get your film onto video for editing you will need to do a film to digital transfer. If you want dailies as we shoot the film lab can do a one light transfer for about $0.16 per foot. However I generally prefer to do a supervised transfer on the off days of a shoot. This costs a little more but insures that everything looks the way I intended it and is usually cheaper in the long run because you never need to transfer again.

Supervised transfer is billed by the hour so the cost is the same for 16mm and 35mm. Cost can vary a lot here too with prices ranging from $200-$500 per hour depending on where you go. You can generally transfer to HD 720P, 1080I or 1080P to tape or directly to your hard drive. Discounts are available especially if you are doing a feature and need over 10 hours.

Supervised transfer typically takes about twice the running time of the film so in the feature example above transfer would cost about $4,125 at $250 per hour.

Most commercials can be transferred in ½ to 1 hour for about $225-$450.

Remember that you can transfer to any format so you can use your existing postproduction workflow. If you are making a theatrical feature shooting 16mm or 35mm lets you make prints directly from the original negative saving many thousands in digital intermediate and digital to film transfer costs.

Typically on low budget productions (Under $250,000) film stock, processing and transfer cost is about 10-15% of a films budget. This is usually made up for in equipment savings, shorter days, less overtime and meal costs and post production savings. For bigger budgets film stock, processing and transfer is an even lower percentage of total costs. Film will look better than any other format too, even if you just complete you project on digital.

I have shot low budget 16mm features with budgets under $40,000. If you want to shoot film I will do everything I can to make it work for you. I can help you do a complete budget for your film at no charge.