CREATIVE ACCOUNTING

The Puffy Chair (Dir. the Duplass Bros., 2005)

$15,480

Most films cost millions of dollars. Like the film we profiled last April, they often entail multiple writers, dozens of sets, expensive lead actors, and, sometimes, professional squirrel handlers. These films start with a pitch and evolve—regardless of scale—with the financial backing of major production companies. However, to give our readers a more representative view of the full range of the creative industries, we also bring you smaller-scale productions.

Unlike big-budget films, some other films start with the “available materials”: What can we write a story about that doesn’t involve expensive effects? Which of our friends wants to help us with a movie? What clothes do they already have in their closets? Where can we shoot that will be film-friendly, i.e. not charge us location fees? The following budget, for Jay and Mark Duplass’s The Puffy Chair (2005), started with those principles.

One of the most expensive arts, film requires costly tools: quality cameras, microphones, and lighting. Thus, to embark on this movie there were a few prerequisites: a van, a digital video camera, a boom mic, and a light kit. To keep down costs, some gear, props, and wardrobe were purchased, but they were returned after shooting.

Keep in mind that the following numbers do not include the distribution or advertising costs, which for most films make up a significant portion of the budget. (Advertising alone often costs half of the total production budget.) Thus, once The Puffy Chair was selected for the Sundance Festival, the costs increased. But, because the production costs had been kept so low, at that point the filmmakers knew they would make a profit.

When comparing the budget below to the eighty-page, $18 million budget we showed you last year, there isn’t really much in common. This budget lacks insurance costs, producers, actors’ unions, set dressers, extras, grips, assistants, even directors. But perhaps its brevity is as revealing as the exhaustive major motion picture budget.

—M. Rebekah Otto

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

M. Rebekah Otto lives in Berkeley, California. Her interests include nineteenth-century medicine and education policy.

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