How Much Does it Cost to Make a Documentary Film

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How Much Does it Cost to Make a Documentary Film?

Baseline estimates for a single minute of finished video content tend to run in the range of about $1,000 to $10,000 or more depending on so many factors.

If you’re considering a documentary film and trying to budget accordingly, the first recommendation is to think about the total length and the anticipated production needs prior to even considering what you could estimate your total price per finished minute may be. Budgeting out the expenses associated with producing a documentary film can really be challenging. We’re answering one of the most common questions we hear, “how much does it cost to make a documentary film?”

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What’s the Average Cost of a Documentary?

First, let’s take a look at the potential average costs associated with documentary film production. From there, you can use these figures to begin budgeting out the expenses associated with your own film. 

As a general rule of thumb, producers assume an average cost of $1,000 per finished minute for a short film. So, if you’re planning a documentary that is in the estimated length of 30 minutes, you can potentially anticipate an expense of $30K. However, estimates like this overlook some of the key factors and expenses involved in producing the baseline costs of a documentary such as:

  • The actual level of quality desired for the finished product. More graphics, animations, or just generally higher quality professional shooting will certainly add to your final expenses.
  • The talent used for your documentary. Certainly hiring professional actors will add to your expenses compared to a documentary that features only amateur presenters.
  • The scope of your story. If your documentary film requires on-location shoots in multiple areas over multiple days it will definitely cost more than a single location documentary film.
  • The amount of editor involvement required to finalize the film. Editing is both where the film bottlenecks tend to be and where a lot of the final budget tends to get held up. The more editing is required, the more the film will cost. Consider this when you start exacting changes on the film outputs that you see from the editing department.

Here is a promo for a Documentary we filmed

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Creating an Accurate Documentary Film Budget

With so many fluctuations, how can one possibly answer the question, “How much does it cost to make a documentary film?” And, more importantly, how can this question be answered in advance of the project taking place so that an accurate film budget can be produced? 

A good rule is to use a higher starting price for your cost per finished minute of film. For example, we like to estimate at least $3,000 per finished minute as a starting point. This way there’s a lot more of a buffer in place for the various added expenses that are almost certain to come up. If you’re looking to produce a television worthy documentary, consider the average cost per finished minute closer to that $10,000 estimate or higher even. With these figures in mind, that same documentary that we originally said could cost about $30K for 30 minutes will not cost you between $90,000 and $300,000. 


The best way to create an accurate documentary film budget is to call Beverly Boy Productions and get a free quote on your documentary film project. This way you’ll have a good idea of what to expect in terms of expenses associated with the actual quality outcomes that you expect for your film. The call is free and there’s no obligation!