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How much does it cost to make a documentary?

I am involved with others on the creation of a new documentary series.

I wondered how much it cost to make the Animals of Africa by David Attenborough (each episode) that is from hiring a researcher, through to the film production.

Certainly the documentary that we plan will involve film people here in the UK, flying to remote places overseas to film other people.

  • Hiya, wildlife documentaries are notoriously expensive and so are now generally co-productions with many broadcasters. Depending on the quality of the results you're after, could be a million or so per show for a series, somewhat higher for a one-off. Lots of footage for those shows uses very high tech kit over weeks and months of filming mixed with studio and captivity shots.

    Of course it could be less, depends entirely on the shoot style, content, etc., but if you want Attenborough style you're looking at the very top tier of world class productions.

    11 months ago
  • 2 million cold hard pounds an episode apparently.

    11 months ago
  • The Attenborough films are not only about as big a budget as such type of docs can cost but are also consequential to deeply entrenched expertise and operational infrastructures that benefit from decades of evolution. Something that even the richest American film corporations can't match. Whilst the BBC share costs through co-producing with other major entities it's significantly the BBC who do all the actual producing.

    Fortunately documentary films don't always have to match the aspirations of these BBC films by not even trying to.

    Lawrence writes of filming other people rather than making a film about wild animals. Technicality a much cheaper challenge even if not necessarily any easier.

    It's another "how long is a piece of string" question with as ever the devil being in the detail.

    11 months ago
  • These are useful comments, but how much on average do channels like discovery and National Discovery expect to pay per episode? A figure was suggested recently of £75k to someone I know.....

    Of course it does depend on the experience of the team, doesn't it!

    Then how long should a documentary per episode last for - 45 minutes or longer - how long does a public audience watch?

    How much do you think Food Matters cost to make per episode?


    The Secret Life of Chaos


    Of Hearts and Minds

    Equally how much does pre-development cost ie getting the content, writing the script and researching.....

    11 months ago
  • It varies. A channel tends to start by guesstimating the value of the concept based on whatever metrics matter to that channel - advertising, kudos, PR, hitting license requirements. You want to know about any particular channel, try and take people to lunch.

    There aren't many fixed rules re length, except that if for TV, you can fit at least one of the main time slots.

    As to costs, you need someone on your team who knows enough about production costs to do IF THIS THEN THAT line budgets, to enable you to have sensible discussions with anyone who might give you money.

    People who might give you money, they know this math and they want to see that you are ballpark correct ESP if you are pitching above your previous slate. I once reviewed a budget for a movie - great script - and right away the "care and feeding of elephants" number jumped out at me. I knew nothing about the care and feeding of elephants but a few calls later and I knew it was out 10 fold. How much do you think I trusted any of the other numbers after that?

    If that had been in a pitching doc, the channel would have very politely decided that your concept was not quite the fit they were looking for right now. And you would walk away with no idea what really killed you. (And this of course is some way down the line after a number of meetings in which they loved you, loved your team, loved your concept....until they didn't).

    Also - unless you are pitching as relatively new to the game, so modest concepts and low budgets, they will want to see that key people - the producer ideally - have worked at, or near, the level you are aiming at and that other people are clearly appropriately professional.

    If you are brand new, make something for the festival market at your own expense. You absolutely need the "this is one we made earlier" simply to prove that you can make anything.

    So, look at your team and ask yourself what could someone reasonably trust you to deliver? Think of projects that fit that and try and get some meetings.

    11 months ago
  • Presumably the people with whom Lawrence is involved with in developing this project are primarily investors, or if not in some way film professionals. The projects mooted suggest significant scale which suggests that those involved have some means. If it's a serious intent I'd suggest spending a little on research and development. The R&D resource that's created can be 'banked' for future reference for other prospects too.

    11 months ago
  • I found a fund to do it John, and have a film producer with experience in motion pictures, and we were just talking about the figures required for a documentary. We are largely governed by the distributor, who is suggested that we make it for a lot less than I expected per episode.

    I came up with the idea of the series by a random person connecting to me on linkedin.

    Please note that I cannot take on any new projects for funding, unless I get a retainer. But not taking on anything else till mid February.

    11 months ago