Space Movies and TV
If launch costs are above about $800/kg, an orbital movie studio is
significantly more expensive than shooting movies on earth, so one
might imagine the occasional shuttle IMAX movie, like we have now
(CSTS, section 220.127.116.11.1, page 251).
Once they get to about $200/kg to $800/kg, then an
orbital movie studio could cost-competitive with what movie companies
now spend to shoot on location in expensive places
(CSTS, section 18.104.22.168, page 252).
TV shows have less money, although TV special events are
potentially more promising.
General Market Considerations
One common suggestion is that special effects will eliminate the
need to film on location (in space or on earth). I don't know what
can be said about this in a rigorous fashion, but zero-g and 1/6 g
would appear to be hard to simulate (for example, the zero-g scenes in
Apollo 13 were filmed in a microgravity aircraft),
and it is not clear that simulated landscapes (of the moon, etc.) can
One overview of documentaries is "Making Money
from a Documentary", Artemis Data Book, section 3.4, including
some numbers for revenues (in interpreting
those numbers, keep in mind that those revenues must also cover
marketing and distribution (maybe 1/3), theater expenses (maybe 1/3),
and non-spaceflight production expenses).
If one can put on a major event, with very large viewer interest,
one might expect to be able to sell TV rights for something in the
range of what NBC paid for the 1996 Summer Olympics ($456 million,
according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, 22 Feb
1996) or the 2000 Sydney games ($705 million
world-wide). Of course, most events will have a
smaller draw than the Olympics. For additional thoughts on events see
the section on space athletic events on the Entertainment page.
Weekly TV shows operate on much smaller budgets, maybe something
like a set budget of $1 million or so per episode.
TV news has been known to fund spaceflight, but I don't have
numbers on what TV news budgets typically are or other considerations
(such as lead times or what have you).
One good source of information on movie budgets is Variety
(they don't publish on the web, but they do have a CD-ROM which would
seem to be informative although I haven't seen it). A moderately successful movie will tend to earn
about $50 million for a studio, out of which
they need to pay production costs, etc.
- Cost (see above).
- Customer-friendliness (lead times, red tape, &c). I don't
have any hard information on this, but I trust that moviemakers would
have expectations in this area which are high by the standards of the
current space industry.
- Availability of scripts. Money people in the movie industry start
with scripts and work backwards to production costs, rather than the
other way around ("The key variable is the number of scripts are [sic]
available that could use such a facility", from CSTS, section 22.214.171.124.3, page 246).
- 2000: TV show pays $20 million for ride to Mir, according to "NBC
to release 'Destination Mir'", Florida Today Space Online, 13
- 1999: Yuri Kara's plan is apparently still on track: see "Russian
director plans movie aboard Mir space station", Florida Today Space
Online, 27 Jun 1999.
(As it turned out, he didn't get it lined up before Mir reentered).
- 1997: Russian filmmaker Yuri Kara would like to film a movie on Mir.
See "Lights, camera, liftoff - it's Mir, the movie", Florida Today
Space Online, 5 Nov 1997, and "Mir movie gains financial support", Florida Today Space
Online, 23 Dec 1997. Note the lack of specifics on whether this
project has attracted funding.
Six months later, it is still unclear whether the project is going
anywhere: "Russians not giving up idea of filming a movie on Mir",
Florida Today Space Online, 17 Jun 1998.
- 1997: The CNN news network considered sending a reporter to Mir
("CNN's John Holliman headed for visit to Mir?", Florida Today
Space Online, 29 Oct 1997).
- 1990: A Japanese journalist flew to Mir for $12 million (source:
"CNN's John Holliman headed for visit to Mir?", Florida Today
Space Online, 29 Oct 1997).
- See also: proposed or actual flights by John Denver, Dennis Tito,
Helen Sharman (1991, UK, Mir), and others on the tourism page - the breakdown here is whether
they were going for their own enjoyment or to produce some kind of
movie/TV product (a potentially slippery distinction, but there you
This page is part of Jim
Kingdon's space markets page.