Mini Series Budget
The budgets of true story and biography miniseries that have between four and six installments are between $9 million and $30 million. A deeper look at "Alias Grace", "Wormwood", and "Madoff" is below.
The three miniseries I identified are all historic or biographic in nature; however, "Alias Grace" is Canada-based rather than U.S.-based. I chose to use this miniseries as an example because it is very similar in theme and style as the proposed miniseries about Miriam Makeba. I also chose "Alias Grace" because Anna Paquin, who stars in the show, commands approximately $275,000 per episode on her current show "True Blood," while Kerry Washington earns $250,000 per episode for "Scandal." as these two actresses receive similar pay for their work in television series, I believe the budgets for the miniseries would also be similar.
"Wormwood" was chosen because it is U.S. based and set in a similar time period as the civil rights movement. Therefore, I felt it would require similar sets and costuming. However, I also chose "Wormwood" because its budget was about half that for "Alias Grace," so I assumed "Wormwood" is on the lower end of the budget spectrum for 6-installlment miniseries, while "Alias Grace" appears to be on the high side.
"Madoff" was selected first, because it is U.S. based and second, because it is one of the few 4-installment miniseries for which I could find a budget. As I wanted to provide a budget for both 6-installment shows and 4-installment shows to illustrate the differences in budgets, I decided to use "Madoff," even though the only aspect it has in common with a civil rights miniseries is that it is also based on a true story. The inclusion of "Madoff" allowed me to provide a range of budgets for historical or biographical miniseries and calculate an average cost per installment for planning purposes.
Although this miniseries was filmed in Canada, it offers a similar type of show as the planned miniseries about civil rights activist Miriam Makeba. Even though the request preferred U.S.-based series, I included "Alias Grace" because of its similarities in theme and style. For instance, as the Miriam Makeba show will be about a woman fighting for her civil rights, "Alias Grace" is about a 19th century woman who found her rights as a woman suppressed and who "either abetted the murders of her boss and his housekeeper/lover, or was sacrificed by Victorian moralists for being a little too free, a little too desirable." The miniseries stars Anna Paquin and is written and directed by Sarah Polley, who said although she's wanted to make this miniseries for more than 20 years, she "wouldn't make it unless she got the right budget [$30-million]. And she meant it."
Budget: Between $14 million and $15 million
This is a U.S.-based miniseries that aired six episodes on Netflix in 2017. The miniseries follows the true story of U.S. CIA scientist Frank Olson, which puts it in the same biographical genre as the miniseries about Miriam Makeba. Olson, who was "believed to have died after being slipped LSD as part of the agency's top secret Cold War program MKUltra, which focused on mind control," may have actually been killed as part of a conspiracy to prevent him from revealing government secrets. Another similarity between "Wormwood" and the Miriam Makeba miniseries is the time period, which would suggest this budget would be appropriate for the types of sets and costumes to provide authenticity to the show. "Wormwood" stars Peter Sarsgaard as Frank Olson and is directed by Errol Morris, who is well-known for documentaries like "The Thin Blue Line" and "The Fog of War: Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara."
Budget: $9 million (estimated)
Starring Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner, the 2016 miniseries "Madoff" chronicles the infamous "Ponzi" scheme executed by conman Bernie Madoff. It delves into the "dynamics within Madoff’s family and the motivations and mechanics behind the massive fraud he engaged in, which cost his clients billions of dollars." Like the proposed miniseries about Miriam Makeba, "Madoff" is based on a true story and stars a relatively famous actor and actress. While it is not set in the same time period, it is a U.S.-based show. "Madoff" only has four installments, so it represents the lower end of the cost spectrum for a miniseries such as the one planned.
By examining the budgets for "Alias Grace," "Wormwood," and "Madoff," we can calculate an approximate average budget per episode, which may assist in determining a budget for the Miriam Makeba project. In total, there were 16 installments between the three miniseries (6+6+4). Using the high budget estimates for "Alias Grace" ($30 million) and "Wormwood" ($15 million), and the estimated budget for "Madoff" ($9 million), we can calculate the average cost per installment to be $3.4 million ($30 million + $15 million + $9 million = $54 million / 16 installments = $3.375 million, rounded to $3.4 million).
We can also say, then, that an average 6-installment miniseries would have an approximate budget of $20.4 million ($3.4 million x 6), while an average 5-installment miniseries would have an approximate budget of $17 million ($3.4 million x 5), and a 4-installment miniseries would have an approximate budget of $13.6 million ($3.4 million x 4).