(this article appeared in American Cinematographer magazine, October 1983)
At a time when the average feature cost less than $3 million, HTWWW 5 nearly $15 million budget was big news. It was, in fact, the third largest cost for a film (in adjusted dollars) in MGM history, behind Gone With The Wind and BenHur.
But the MGM motto, "Do it big, do it right and give it class," paid off. The film was also the third biggest grosser in company history, taking in over $45 million in its initial release. The same show would cost over four times as much today.
The biggest expense was $2,204,000 for 13 stars and 10 costars. Second largest was studio overhead. Although only a small part of the movie was shot at the studio, overhead was $1,590,000. Third was $1,228,000 for location expenses, such as feeding a crew of about 200 plus the cast during filming in Kentucky, South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, Northern California, Utah and Arizona.
More than $1 million went into transportation. For example, the covered wagons were filmed near Montrose, Colorado-and had to be hauled from Hollywood - 1,100 miles away - on flatbed trucks. Then a road had to be built from Montrose to the location site.
Another $1 million plus was spent on props, livestock and drapes. Props included an 1840 vintage Erie Canal boat. Livestock included 875 horses, 500 steers, 200 sheep, 160 mules, 50 oxen and 1,200 bison. About $350,000 was paid to the directors and their staffs.
Other expenses included set design ($164,000), construction ($490,000), studio operation ($686,000), camera costs ($500,000), film processing ($480,000), sound ($216,000), music ($349,000), lighting ($304,000), wardrobe ($177,000), tests ($61,000), title rights ($350,000), screenplay ($270,000), bad weather and accidents ($400,000).
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