Learning to Stay on Budget From the Greatest Filmmaker

Making movies is expensive. It's harder than you think to go from an unlimited budget to one of just a few million dollars. Sarcasm aside, what can we learn when a giant of cinema tries to shoot a masterpiece on budget?

Cinema Tyler's latest video essay on Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, The Real Futuristic Art and Locations Kubrick Found for A Clockwork Orange, delves into Kubrick's process for scouting and shooting while working on location. 

I'm a big fan of Tyler's work. I watch his essays for pure entertainment. There is also a lot to learn. In this case, Tyler outlines how an auteur like Kubrick made the most of his budget to create one of the greatest dystopian films ever made. 

Having just released "2001: A Space Odyssey" to dismal box office returns (there is clearly no accounting for taste) after five years of development and filming, Kubrick was keen to work on a project with a smaller scope. Kubrick created almost everything for 2001 from scratch. There were no interplanetary starships or moon bases to film on so Kubrick had the sets designed and constructed. A mammoth and expensive undertaking.

Shifting gears from the £10.5 million budget of 2001, Kubrick started work on the comparably modest budget of £2 million for A Clockwork Orange. In an effort to keep his budget down, Kubrick decided to shoot on location instead of on set.

Tyler outlines several ways that this helped to rein in the budget for A Clockwork Orange. For filmmakers, the main theme seems to be spend your time over your money. Scout, research, and plan should be your mantra.

Clapper from A Clockwork Orange, author's photo.

More specifically, I'd outline the individual takeaways as:

  1. If there are real places that work for your story, use them. There is no need to construct a set that replicates reality. Spend your time looking for locations.
  2. Sound technology is much better than it ever has been. You may not need sound stages or the ability to synch sound later if you can record as you shoot.
  3. If you have a motif in mind, spend time researching ways to bring it to life using ideas that already exist. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Find artists to collaborate with.
  4. Be flexible when creating your shooting schedule. Take the time to plan out your days so that you can shoot everything in one location, even if it's shot out of order, before moving on to your next location.

Who knew you could learn budgeting from someone like Kubrick?

Images are author's.

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D Haskell's picture

“ Having just released "2001: A Space Odyssey" to dismal box office returns (there is clearly no accounting for taste) after five years of development and filming, ”

Where’d ya get this? 2001 was huge at the box office... it made a million in 5 weeks, which was a lot at the time.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

It's my understanding that it took 2001 until it's re-release in 1971 to make money. Kubrick would have been starting work on A Clockwork Orange under the disappointing box-office of 2001 through '68 / '69.

D Haskell's picture

It made $21.5 mil in 1968 alone - double its budget - and was 1968’s second highest grossing film. It was a huge commercial success for Kubrick.

Your points about film production are still quite good tho! Thanks for posting.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Could you share your link for BO returns. What I’ve found shows WAY less for 1968 / 69. Often adding in the rerelease numbers to the 68 numbers as if it was one single release.
I’d be happy learn!

D Haskell's picture

Wikipedia for this one -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_in_film
Which cites a book called The Hollywood Story by Joel Waldo Finler. There's another book citing the same info on the 2001 page.

I'll look at my text books from the class I took on Kubrick in film school. But the general sense of 2001 was that it was a big success. Interestingly, ALL of Kubrick's films made money, thought the break even point came much later for some.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I agree. It was certainly a success. No debate there. My impression was it took until the 1971 re-release, and that most numbers we see today are inclusive of that rerelease. I'm going to dig out some old Variety or whatever and do some adding. Also, I'll go into storage and find my Kubrick bios.
Thanks for engaging!

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

I'm sorry Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. Would you care for some Ultra Violence?

paul aparycki's picture

you seem to be out of touch with "reality"

sound recording? yeah . . . the tech was NOT the same back then as it is now

to a lesser degree, plan out your days . . . well, weather forecasting is not the same either. Now it is frequently spot on, not so 40 years ago.

and, Kubrick didn't find artists. He was famous/notorious for his ultra-precision. He knew what he wanted . . . he sourced immediately to those who could deliver (or try to) . . .

unlike some "columnists"

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

You’ve established your viewpoint well. Thanks for your feedback.