July 13, 2023
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Full Budget and Income Breakdown of Moon

Chris Cullari
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Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009) is a stone-cold classic of low budget sci-fi cinema. 

Released in an era of challenging, thought-provoking films like Primer and Donnie Darko, Moon (2009) rose above its peers and stayed relevant through its grounded world, mind-blowing twists, and a stellar performance from Sam Rockwell.

But how did director Duncan Jones bring his big vision to life on a relatively tiny budget? And how much did the film recoup for its investors? Let’s take a look.

The story of Moon

Moon (2009) tells the tale of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) and his life on Sarang, a moon base where he’s the sole employee. His lonely, three-year mining shift is about to come to an end when he starts to experience terrible headaches and strange hallucinations. 

Instead of returning home to his wife and daughter on Earth, the truth about who Sam really is and what he’s doing on the moon starts to unravel.

It’s tough to say too much more about Moon (2009) without spoiling its surprises and charms, but if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.

The creation of Moon (2009) began when Duncan Jones approached Sam Rockwell about playing the villain in a script he’d written called Mute. Sam wasn’t interested in the role (though he would later cameo in Mute when it was made for Netflix), and asked Duncan about playing a more blue collar role instead. 

This sent Jones down the rabbit hole with a writer named Nathan Parker, and the pair would emerge with a script that combined the twisty, high concept thrills of The Twilight Zone with the grounded sci-fi of classics like Outland and Silent Running.  

Sam (Rockwell) was thrilled by the idea of playing Sam (Bell), but how were they going to get such a difficult movie into production without a major studio ready to step up and fund it? 

To this point, Jones had only directed commercials, and even though his father was David Bowie (the Man Who Fell To Earth himself), no one was eager to throw Moon’s budget at Bowie’s relatively unknown son.

Despite these hurdles, Jones and commercial producing partner Stuart Fenegan were able to put together $5 million to spend on Moon’s budget. It went on to make $10 million in theaters and another $5.8 million on home video. 

While Moon’s box office haul might not seem worth celebrating in an era of billion-dollar smash hits, it more than tripled its production budget. 

Not bad for an indie sci-fi film with a first-time director and no “traditional” movie star.

Budget breakdown

While Moon’s box office defines it as a success, one wonders exactly how Moon’s budget was spent to create such a winning picture. As with most films, the details of Moon’s budget aren’t public. A little digging provides some interesting clues as to how it was spent. 

It’s important to note that Moon was written to be about as low budget as a sci-fi thriller set on the moon can be. It all takes place in almost the same location - the Sarang base where Sam lives and works. 

Not only are there very few locations, there are very few people in the movie at all. While the cast is sneakily larger than the one name on the poster, these roles still wouldn’t cost production much to fill.  

Duncan Jones has stated that the Sarang base itself ate up about a third of Moon’s budget. While many low-budget film sets consist of only a few walls and no ceilings, Jones felt he needed to be able to shoot 360 degrees, so the entire base (90 feet long and 70 feet wide) was built in a studio in Shepperton.

The Full Budget and Income Breakdown of Moon - Wrapbook - Moon Base
The Sarang base design in Moon (2009). SOURCE

The crew would load in every morning, shut the doors, and be sealed inside the claustrophobic environment that Sam Bell worked in every day. This helped everyone tune into the reality that they were creating on screen.

One of the other benefits that building the entire base provided was that it allowed the filmmakers to save time by pre-lighting the entire set so it was ready to shoot when the cast and crew arrived in the morning. 

As anyone who’s worked on set knows: time is money. The more time spent, the more you have to pay your crew – much less when overtime is involved.

While Moon’s budget for the film’s exteriors isn’t known, Jones elected to create them with miniatures as opposed to CGI. The finished images were touched up digitally and processed with effects in post-production.

The Full Budget and Income Breakdown of Moon - Wrapbook - Sarang Base
The exteriors of the Sarang base in Moon (2009). SOURCE

Sam Rockwell, the star of the film, probably didn’t eat up too much of Moon’s budget since he was thought of as more of a character actor at the time. Whatever money was spent on Sam was well worth it. His performance anchors the entire movie and was a draw that helped Moon’s box office totals.

The Full Budget and Income Breakdown of Moon - Wrapbook - Sam Rockwell
Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell might be the film’s best special effect. SOURCE

Finally, the film shot for 33 days, meaning just over $150,000 was spent each day. Even at the time, this was a somewhat luxurious schedule for a low budget indie movie, but the time and effort was rewarded by Moon’s box office receipts. 

Where did the money come from?

While details on the source of Moon’s budget are scarce, there are hints scattered around the internet. Duncan Jones mentions in at least one interview that Sony picked up the film for distribution before it was shot, which afforded the production a certain amount of money.

While it’s unlikely that this distribution deal funded the entire $5 million Moon (2009) budget, it probably constituted a good chunk of it. Jones has also mentioned that once the financing was set and the film’s budget was complete, they found they needed more money for SFX.

Jones was able to get in touch with Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler, who had a reputation for putting money behind first-time British directors. She helped fill out the FX budget and helped get the script into the hands of the supporting cast. 

How did they use the money creatively?

Duncan Jones made excellent use of his creative friends and partners to stretch every dollar that went on screen. Their clever saving and penny-pinching at this stage ultimately contributed to making Moon’s box office haul all the more impressive when compared to its budget.

This process began with writing the role of Sam Bell for Sam Rockwell. Writing with his lead actor in mind allowed Jones to shape the character to Sam’s strengths, meaning less time would have to be spent finding and shaping the character on set. 

Duncan Jones also turned to his long term collaborator and flatmate Gavin Rothery to design the beaten down, hard sci-fi spaces of the film. The two shared a vision for the world of Moon (2009). 

This meant they could spend their money collaborating on the look and feel of those spaces instead of hiring expensive artists who might go off in the wrong directions.

The Full Budget and Income Breakdown of Moon - Wrapbook - Semiotic Standards
Gavin Rothery’s graphic designs and semiotic standards for Moon. SOURCE

The result was a look that pulled from their favorite 1970s sci-fi films; something that felt handmade and “looked like it was designed by Tonka.” Jones elaborates: 

“Between Gavin’s concept artwork and what Tony Nobel (Production Designer) brought having been on those old sets—whether it’s buying Ikea cutlery trays or using mesh plastic from gardening shops—they were able to source, spray paint and put insignia on things to make them look sci-fi. It was about how to make it feel retro but also do it on a budget.”

In addition, Duncan Jones also used his good friend Gavin as an unlicensed stunt man (not something we encourage!). As Gavin details in a blog post called “The Unknown Stuntman”:

“As we had pretty much no other choices, I ended up being the spaceman in Moon doing all the stuff that looks in no way dangerous at all on-screen but actually is. Sorry Mum if you're reading this, but when we were actually filming your little boy was a half-inch mis-step from falling ten feet and smashing his delicate, human face to bits on scaffold poles and the concrete floor.”

While we recommend reading up on how to hire and work with professional stunt coordinators, this was definitely a smart way for the filmmakers to get the most bang for their buck. 

Wrapping up

Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009) is a classic case study in how even filmmakers who seem like they have it all need to make the best use of their limited resources. 

Whether it was smartly writing to an actor already interested in the part or designing sets that could (literally) be held together with duct tape and still look impressive, Duncan Jones proved he had the chops to be trusted with larger budgets. 

After Moon’s box office exceeded expectations, Jones would go on to make massive studio movies like Source Code and Warcraft. To set you off on your own filmmaking journey, we’ve put together a guide on how to create your own film budgets.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Chris Cullari

Chris Cullari is a writer/director based out of Los Angeles. His most recent film, THE AVIARY, is available for streaming on Paramount Plus and Showtime. You can find him tweeting about monsters, pro-wrestling, and horror movies.

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