One of the most astounding facts of cinema is how long it takes to produce a movie that runs an hour and a half. How could something rather short in time take years to produce? How long does it take to make a movie? In this article, we’ll break down every phase of the filmmaking production process. We’ll also take a look at how long each phase typically takes in the production of a standard Hollywood studio film. From the birth of the concept to the final cut, here is every phase of the film production timeline.
How long does it take to make a movie
Development (~2 years)
Every film starts with a concept. The concept of a story may come from a screenwriter, director, or even producer. To develop this concept into an actual film, a screenplay needs to be written. If the concept does not originally come from a screenwriter, a writer is typically contracted to write a script or at the very least a treatment.
Throughout this development phase, the story and screenplay are refined through collaboration between the screenwriter(s), producer, studio, and/or director. Typically, after a reasonable script is produced, the producer of the project takes on meetings to secure financing for the film, because without a reasonable budget, a film cannot get made.
The entire development phase of the filmmaking process varies substantially. It all depends on various elements. Was the script contracted out to be written by a studio? In this case, the development phase is shorter since financing is less of an issue. Was the script written and bought? This situation may be more difficult and take longer to fund the film.
As it pertains to Hollywood studio films, the average time for development was around 800 days. Again, this varies between movie genres. This graph created by StephenFollows.com shows how the length of the development phase depends on the genre of the film.
Once a working script is produced and enough financing has been secured to move forward, a film project can then move into pre-production.
Pre production timeline
Pre-production (~ 3 to 7 months)
Before any lights are turned on, any camera speeds, or any director calls action, preparations have to be made. This phase of preparation is called pre-production. How long does pre production take? Before we dive into that let’s analyze what it involves.
Creatively, pre-production involves script rewrites, creating shot lists, creating storyboards, and other forms of pre-visualization. Check out this example of a storyboard from Pacific Rim pulled from our list of the best movie storyboards.
Hiring crew members and department heads begins during this process. Location scouting and final locations are locked down. The casting process commences for every role in the film. If a film is being shot in a studio, sets are also constructed during this time. Wardrobe and props are gathered and/or created as well.
During pre-production, a production schedule is also created. This dictates the day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month time schedule for the rest of the production. In our video series Making It, we breakdown the process of creating shooting schedules, call sheets, and obtaining film insurance.
While this may sound like a whole lot of action, department heads are directing the various pre-production checklists simultaneously. On average for a typical Hollywood studio film, pre-production takes anywhere between 90 — 210 days depending on the genre and scale of the film.
Once all preparations are done in every department, pre-production is finished and principal photography can begin.
How long does it take to to shoot a movie
Principal Photography (~1 to 4 months)
Principal photography is the phase in filmmaking during which the film is actually shot. How long does it take to shoot a movie? First let’s get an understanding of what this entails.
This means on-set production for however long it takes until the entire film is shot and can be brought into post-production. This ties in various aspects of filmmaking such as cinematography, production design, and film direction.
Principal photography is a demanding and strenuous phase of production. Every day of principal photography costs money. Every type of film crew member has a day rate, every actor must be paid for the days they are on set, food must be provided, gear must be rented, studio spaces are paid for, and it all adds up.
Let’s take a real look at this stage by looking behind the scenes of the making of The Matrix Reloaded. This behind the scenes video below shows the various aspects that go into principal photography.
During principal photography, production must be as efficient as possible to minimize the cost of production. On average, Hollywood studio movies are shot within 30 to 120 days with outliers falling below or above this range. The length of principal photography depends greatly on the scale, genre, and length of a film.
Once everything is shot and the director yells, “That’s a wrap” the project finally moves into post-production where the footage can be edited.
How long do movies take to film
Post-production (~7 months to 1 year)
Many think of post-production as simply the editing phase of a film. While this is true, there are many other elements that go into post-production. Once the edit of a film is locked, meaning no other cuts need to be made based on the director and sometime’s studio’s approval, various elements need to be added.
More and more films are utilizing VFX or CGI in their films. The more VFX used in a film, the longer post-production takes. Some movies depend entirely on VFX for every shot and can take years to complete.
Most films also have tailored music created for the film known as a film score. Film scores are typically made based on the edit of a film for timing and emotional impact reasons and are a part of the post-production process.
In addition to music, sound design is added during post-production. Sound design includes sound effects created by Foley artists. The film score, sound design, and dialogue of a film all then need to be mixed so that they all integrate well with each other in the final cut.
Finally, every shot of a film is color corrected and color graded. This means certain colors are enhanced or manipulated to adhere to a director’s vision and the desired tone and mood of a film.
The entire length of the post-production process varies greatly on the amount of VFX needed in a film. On average, the post-production phase of a typical Hollywood film will take between 250 to 350 days. How long do movies take to make? The answer may largely depend on this phase of filmmaking.
How long does a movie take to make? Again, it depends. Narrowing down how long a typical movie takes to make can be quite difficult due to a number of variables such as genre, scale, and support.
But given all of the phases of production, an average Hollywood studio movie from beginning of development to the end of post-production typically takes around 4 to 5 years to produce.
Again this time frame is relevant toward Hollywood studio films. The movies you hear about in major theaters typically follow this production timeline. However, independent film production timelines vary greatly because of longer development times and often shorter principal photography timelines.
A deeper dive into Post-Production
A solid chunk of making a movie is spent on post-production. What is post-production? Who is involved and what is executed? Why is it so important? We answer all these questions and more about post-production in our next article.