The Actual Costs of Film

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 few resellers. There are very few resellers left anymore so usually Kodak is your best bet. Resellers buy unused film from productions that bought too much and usually resell it at a discount off new prices. To find current resellers an internet search is usually your best bet. Try searching for “Film Stock recans” or “Film Stock short ends.”

The following terms are used by resellers.

Factory sealed or unopened – Just like it sounds, the roll is unopened and has the original tape 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 should be 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 should also be 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 as of 5-27-22.
16mm Color Negative
New from Kodak $220 per 400′ roll (11 minutes).
Unopened from reseller – expect at least a 20% discount. Short ends – expect at least a 50% discount. Kodak gives a good student discount on 16mm and this is usually your best bet. Film will have to be ordered by someone with a student ID.

A good estimate for a 90 minute movie shot on Super 16 at a 4-1 ratio would be $9,900.00 for film stock if you pay $220 per roll from Kodak. If you are willing to use recans or short ends this cost would go down.

New from Kodak $792 per 1000′ roll (11 minutes)
Unopened from reseller $600-$700 per roll
Recans – Prices can vary a lot here. Typical recan prices are $300-$600 per 1000′. Short ends (rolls under 400′) can be even less, making 35mm film stock competitive with the cost of 16mm. Since more 35mm gets shot there are often bargains available. It pays to contact several resellers and find out what they have and get some prices. Prices are often negotiable especially if you are buying a lot of film.

A 90 minute movie shot on 35mm at a 4-1 ratio would cost about $35,640.00 for film stock new from Kodak or $18,000.00 for film stock if you pay $400 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.

Film can often be bought on ebay, sometimes at good prices, sometimes way overpriced (more than Kodak charges). Do not buy film on ebay unless it is substantially cheaper than Kodak. Short ends should be less than half of Kodaks per foot price. Since this film is untested and from an unknown source it makes sense to do some research before buying. Try to find out how old the film is and how it has been stored. Film should be kept in the fridge for long term storage and fog level and grain increases after a few years, especially high speed stock. Stay away from stock that Kodak no longer makes as this are often very old. Any film that you buy on ebay should be tested at the lab prior to use to be sure they are labeled correctly and are not exposed. Have the lab check the fog level to be sure the stock is not too old. High fog level means poor blacks, less saturated color and more grain.

Kodak currently makes 4 color negative stocks, 5203 / 7203,  5207 / 7207,  5213 / 7213,  5219 / 7219. These have been in production for over 10 years. Any older color negative stocks not listed here should be considered too old to use even if stored properly. Fuji and Agfa stopped making color negative long ago and these too should be considered too old to use.

Now lets consider processing (developing the negative)

Processing and video prep (leadering and cleaning) at the labs I use usually costs about $0.18-$0.25 per ft. This can often be negotiated down if you give them a large quantity.

For the feature example above processing would cost about $3,600.00 for 16mm or $9,000.00 for 35mm at $0.20 per ft.

For a typical commercial that shoots about 1000′ of 35mm processing would cost about $250.00

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. You can transfer to 1080P at most facilities. 2k, 4k or even higher resolution film scans are available at some postproduction houses at additional charge. Most transfers are done directly to your hard drive. Data scans are also available where the color timing will be handled later.

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 $250-$500

Remember that you can transfer to any format so you can use your existing postproduction workflow. If you are making a theatrical feature and want to make film prints, 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 $500,000) film stock, processing and transfer cost is about 10-20% 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. Shooting film will give you the beautiful look of film too, even if you just complete you project on digital.

I have shot low budget 16mm features with budgets under $60,000. 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 if I am shooting the movie.