11 Reasons to NOT to make an IMAX art film in your basement: #4: “It’s Foolish”

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Who’s the more foolish: The fool, or the fool who follows him?
Obi-Wan Kenobi

#4: “It’s Foolish”

So, I did a semi-scientific test at a little after midnight last night that will probably get several painful punches in the arm from my good friends. My theory on April Fool’s jokes is they have to be early and they need to be crazy but close to the truth.

It was not until comment #12 that my good friend Lisa busted me. It worked because, well filmmaking in general is pretty foolish, so bailing on “Outside In” is probably more sane than sticking with it (see reason #1 again).

A book I once read on indie filmmaking (which I can’t remember the title or author) had a section “Do you have the stomach for indie filmmaking”. It had a quote that “if you can picture yourself walking into a bank, withdrawing $1,000,000 in small bills, carrying it outside, dousing it gasoline and then setting fire to it, you’ve go the stomach for indie filmmaking.”

So yeah, even on the lowest of lowest budgets, filmmaking is not cheap. You can write a novel with a $1 pen and $1 notebook. You can draw or paint a masterpiece with $10 in supplies. But despite people who claim to make a movie for nothing (pure marketing hype), even the sorriest feature length film requires thousands of dollars in gear, supplies, food and more.

And if you get the all for the free, well that’s the same as someone just giving you the money.

One of the most interesting things I first learned about IMAX filmmaking was how few real IMAX films were made. And by real IMAX films, I’m talking about films shot and released in 15/70mm film specifically for IMAX theaters.

I had been a filmmaker in the midst of the digital revolution and an explosion in the amount of films being made. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of shorts and tens of thousands of feature films are now being made every year. Even Hollywood in tight economic times is still making hundreds of films that costs tens or hundreds of millions.

So how many IMAX films a year? Well, the average you can usually count on one hand. In fact, the IMAX world is completely backwards from the low budget indie world. The indie world is “easy to make a film, bazillions of films made and nearly impossible to get it to screen theaterically – think winning the lottery odds”. The IMAX world is “nearly impossible to get a film made, very few films made, but relatively easy to get into theaters once it’s made.”

Why are so few IMAX films made? Let’s get back to the parking lot of flaming george washingtons. One of the first calls I made to learn about filmmaking was to IMAX post guru Rick Gordon of RPG Productions. He had some insightful and helpful things to say about the realities of IMAX filmmaking. The first is some basic math if you want to shoot a basic standard IMAX project.

  • There are just a few IMAX cameras available. Camera rental is about $12,000 – $16,000 a week.
  • Film stock will run $2 to $3 a foot to buy, process and reduce for viewing/editing. You will likely shoot 150,000 to 250,000 feet (double that for 3D). Yeah, that’s half a million bucks in film stock, processing and work prints.

And then you have to edit, post, color correct. And even if you skip the above and do a computer animated piece aka “Outside In”, well you have a digital negative on your computer that must be output to film. Rick provided a standard quote for IMAX filmout.

burning money in the parking lot

Yeah, that’s not a typo. So you can see that you generally need a million dollars or so — even if everybody works for free and you spend nothing else on the film. To make matters worse, IMAX films are show in mostly non-profit venues like science centers, aquariums, planeteriums etc. Each one is individually operated and does their marketing for IMAX films. As both Rick Gordon and James Hyder pointed out – IMAX filmmakers don’t get rich or famous – it’s all a labor of love.

So the percentage of box office that a typical IMAX filmmaker gets, again, you can probably count on one or two hands. Million or millions of dollars to make? Pennies coming back to you? That does sound foolish indeed 🙂

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