Opinion: NYU’s film production allotment isn’t enough

With rising production costs, NYU should financially support their student filmmakers to level the playing field and help them reach their greatest potential.


Vedang Lambe

(Illustration by Vedang Lambe)

Sebastian Zufelt, Staff Writer

The privilege of attending NYU’s Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television gives access to a greater pre-professional education than anywhere else. Students in Intermediate Narrative Production have to fill out a production book, which constitutes the majority of their homework for class. In this Google Drive folder, directors must assemble all of the components of their films as though they were professionals — signed agreements with filming locations, talent release forms from actors, safety plans in case of an emergency on set and more. There is no tolerance for cutting corners. Students are also given access to industry-grade gear, such as cameras and lights. However, this professionalism seems to end when it’s time to budget. 

Although I am an ardent supporter of micro-budget filmmaking and believe filmmakers can make great movies no matter the cost, young filmmakers attending an institutionally supported program should not have to resort to nickel-and-dime planning. Simply put, there are multiple reasons for which the production allotment of $750 is not enough and should be raised. 

The $750 — which, according to students, was only recently increased from $500 due to an additional allotment for COVID-19 precautions  —  is not enough to fund a professional production. Intermediate films are capped at eight minutes in length, meaning that students are allotted about $94 per minute of film. To scale up to, say, an 88 minute feature film, that would equal a budget of $8,250. This is much less than the budgets of the independent feature film productions we aspire to make ourselves upon graduation. The Screen Actors Guild considers a micro-budget production, its lowest financial tier, to be anything made for under $20,000. Hardly any films are being made at this budget, as the average film budget in America, according to the Nashville Film Institute, is between $100 and $150 million. Even the recent low-budget hit “Shiva Baby” was made with a budget of around $200,000. Given the current allotment amount, the budgets we are receiving as film students at NYU aren’t scalable to the real world of the industry. We are being trained in fantasy and set for failure.

To give a sense of how quickly a film’s budget reaches $750, I’ll share with you my personal budgeting experience. For my film this semester, I’m planning on having 16 people on set, cast and crew combined. We’re planning to spend more than $500 on feeding the crew for two days alone. The other third of the allotment quickly gets taken up between a myriad of production costs, ranging from permits to technical equipment — everything costs money.

If you want to film somewhere beside your apartment, you’ll likely have to pay a location fee, as well as insurance for that location. Filming in a park? You’ll most likely need a permit, which also costs money. The only thing that most student film sets aren’t spending money on is labor. Cast and crew are usually expected to work for free in exchange for a good meal on set and the potential to be part of something greater, according to students in NYU’s Film & TV Program. If everyone on student film sets were paid, budgets would immediately jump into the thousands of dollars. 

One might suggest that students should raise money for our films, something professional filmmakers occasionally have to do. However, the wealth gap in the Tisch film program presents some issues. One way independent filmmakers raise money is through friends and family. Some students could easily put up a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo or Kickstarter and quickly pool funds from their extended contacts. But not all artists are independently wealthy.

With a bill of over $30,000 per semester, it’s not feasible for all students to ask their families for additional financial support when they’re already paying to attend Tisch Film. Some kids have rich parents, be they nepo babies or children of parents with high income jobs, and they can afford to buy cameras and lighting rigs in place of the NYU equipment. At the very least, the allotted fund should be raised for an equitable opportunity to make a film in the most professional sense.

Contact Sebastian Zufelt at [email protected].