Wondering how long does it take to make a movie? Then you have come to the right place!
There are not many creative pursuits that are as complex as making a movie. It’s one thing to have the idea for a story. But then the script has to be written, key people have to be sourced, and then shooting begins.
Of course, shooting length alone can vary wildly depending on the project. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope famously took just 100 minutes to shoot and was done in 10 minute long continuous scenes. Whilst James Cameron’s Avatar 2 was announced as in production in 2010, with filming beginning in 2017 and not expected to be completed until 2022.
In this article, we’ll look at the average time it takes to make a movie. As well as all the different elements that have to fall into place before a movie hits the box office. Sound good to you? Let’s get started!
To really consider the question of how long does a movie take to make, we first need to consider the timeline involved and which steps need to be taken.
Broadly speaking, the timeline of movie-making can be broken into 3 main brackets:
However, before you even get to pre-production, there are multiple steps that need to be taken.
Firstly, you need a story, a script, and financing. If you’ve ever wondered what a movie producer does, they are involved from very early on right up until the end of the process and this is one of the most crucial parts of their role.
They first identify promising material for development and hire people to develop that idea. Either polishing an existing script or having a screenwriter develop a fresh script for the project. The producer then takes the completed script and leads pitches to secure financing for the movie.
This process can take years or months depending on the project. Quentin Tarantino took 5 years to develop the concept and story for Kill Bill. Whilst Sylvester Stallone took just 3 days to write the script for the first Rocky movie.
When the above is all in place, you typically have an announcement. This is when it’s made public that a film is going to be made.
At this point, details can be pretty thin. But it’s either that the mainstream press is made aware of the intention to make a movie, or if a script has been optioned by a major studio.
Once all of the above is in place, you enter the pre-production phase. Pre-production is very operational. Here is where the producers, director, production manager, cinematographer, and other key department heads create a plan for the movie.
Of course, they need to think about casting and who is going to play which roles. But they also need to think about hiring film crew, setting a budget for the movie, and setting a schedule that they will shoot too. In some cases, they’ll even establish a target release date during this period and coordinate marketing strategies to that effect.
For those wondering how many people does it take to make a movie – of course, there are lots of factors, but on average around 500 people will be involved in a film.
From a time perspective, according to an analysis by Stephen Follows, the average film usually spends 146 days in the pre-production phase.
Once pre-production is over and the schedules, budgets, cast, and crew have all been agreed, the project moves into the production phase. Also known as shooting or Principal Photography. This is where the actual footage is recorded, actors in front of the camera, and busy sets.
The shooting of a movie and the length of time will of course depend on the film. Factors like the movie run time, the number of different locations, and even the budget will all play a part in determining how many weeks and months are needed to capture the film. Avengers: End Game took 5 months to film. Whilst lo-fi horror classic The Blair Witch Project was filmed in just 21 days.
There are also unforeseen circumstances that could cause a movie’s Principle Photography to be extended. For example, when Back to the Future was first cast, Michael J Fox was unavailable due to scheduling issues and so Eric Stolz was originally cast and began working on the movie.
However, partway through the principle photography, director Robert Zemeckis realised that Fox would be a better casting and made the change. Meaning that all of the shots that had already been taken with Stolz needed to be re-shot with Michael J Fox instead. This substantially increased the timeframes and added an additional $4 million to the budget.
According to Follows’ analysis, the average shooting time for a modern movie is around 106 days. For animated films, this is generally longer. Especially if the animation is hand animation or stop-frame or as in films like Isle of Dogs as opposed to computer-assisted animation such as Finding Nemo.
Once you’ve wrapped your movie, you then need to go into post-production. This is arguably the most important stage and often takes the longest.
You have the editing where you are cutting the movie scenes together, but you also have to fix any holes in the script. This means potentially re-shooting bits where you have problems, special effects, colourisation, sound and music. Trailers and promos also need to be developed.
So, how long does post-production take, and how long does it take to edit a movie? Cutting the scenes together is actually a much smaller part of the process as the director and writers will generally have a good idea of what cuts will be going into the first edit. But, it’s all of the additional bits that follow that really add the time.
When considering how long is post-production, the Cinemaholic indicated an average of 6 months. Whilst Stephen Follows’ analysis suggests a slightly shorter average period of 301 Days.
In conclusion, a movie is a huge project. Once the script has been optioned by a studio, there is a period before the work can begin which is on average 309 days. After that, the averages are 146 days in pre-production, 106 days to shoot, and 301 days in post-production.
So, how long does it take to produce a movie? All in all, you are looking at an average of 871 days from announcement to release – just under 2 and a half years. Obviously, this is just an average and each project will have unique timelines based on the specifics of that film. But, it is a big undertaking however you slice it.
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