How Much did that Video Cost? By David Dvir, Photographer/Videographer
“How much does a video cost?” is the most common question we get. So, we’ve asked video creators to identify a video they like & let us know what they thought it would cost to produce. The only catch: IT’S NOT THEIR VIDEO (so all posts are merely an estimate by each video creator on what they thought a similar video might cost). Enjoy the series!
So, how much did that video cost?
”Cog” made an impression on me when it was released in 2003. I don’t want to say it inspired my own career because my career has somewhat spawned from chaos more than design. But since I build the same type of machine for a living it certainly resonates with me, greatly.
It was commissioned by Honda to put a new take on advertising for their Accord. The commercial was beautifully thought out and executed and the result is over two minutes of eye candy that is hard to look away from.
The costs for such a machine can pile up pretty quickly. Unlike most productions, these machines require weeks or months of pre-production. The type of pre-pro that we’re talking about is a bit more intense rather than typical, in the sense that it takes a team of creative and brilliant members to piece together the ideas and ensure they’re executable. It’s a lot of work and to get a result like “Cog”, this process cannot be rushed.
Next is the execution. You need to build these machines in a studio as they can’t be shipped or moved. It just doesn’t make sense. So you’re spending weeks, or again months, in a studio building this on set. These tasks can be arduous and tedious. The number of people involved with building these machines can be staggering, which sometimes makes life worse. With how particular these machines are, it’s important that everyone knows every detail of the build and takes into consideration how segments will interact with one another. I would estimate they were in studio for a total of 6 weeks building this machine.
The last significant cost would be filming. It’s safe to say they spent at least a week filming this. Even if they got lucky with an early take working they would have wanted a few options to choose from. It’s most likely the case that a full 7 days of shooting would have been needed (these machines tend not to work and require copious amount of takes to end up with something usable). The amount of precision required to pull off a one-pass shot like this is immense and is generally the reason these machines tend not to work very often.
I’ll start back with pre-pro. Given the complexity of the video I’m going to estimate they spend about 10 weeks working on ideas and organizing all the required elements in order to begin building the machine, as well as story boarding and communicating with the client/agency. Likely a small team was involved with this; something like 4-10 people/specialists from various departments including Honda execs. Let’s say they average wages of about $1,500 a week - and we’ll average them to about 7 people. We’ve got $1,500 x 7 x 10 weeks = $105,000 in just wages (we’re definitely missing other costs here, though).
Building the machine: I still think 6 weeks is fair - but now we’re incorporating some construction crews, raw materials, vehicles (the stars of the video), and of course a set to work on. Let’s say that they used about 10 labourers at $750/week, $15,000 worth of raw materials and 2 Honda Accords. If they were fortunate they could have found a studio to work in for about $8,000 a month, and about $800 for insurance during that entire time. So…
$1,500 x 7 x 6 weeks for our original team = $63,000
$750 x 10 x 6 weeks for labour = $45,000
$15,000 raw materials
$80,000 for 2 Honda Accords
$8,000 x 1.5 months for studio space = $12,000
Totals to $215,800.
Finally, filming. We’re going to need lighting, grip, crew, craft services, camera and we’re also going to include sound design and editing/colour into this portion to make it a bit easier.
Crew: Director, AD, DoP, 1st AC, Steady-cam operator, PM, 3 gaffers, art department (and I’m probably forgetting a bunch) - $30,000 total for the week.
Gear: lighting, grip camera support about $15,000 for the week.
Editing and sound design: $10,000.
And let’s not forget our studio for another 2 weeks (filming and tear down): $4,000
Our labourers $750 x 5 (only need 5 of them for shooting) x 1 = $3,750
And our creative geniuses $1,500 x 7 = $10,500
With all 3 segments adding up to $397,050… dang.
Personally I’ve never quoted anyone that high, but at the same time I’ve never delivered that calibre of video, either.
I think that’s a very reasonable amount for such a video and wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually much more in the end. To say that it could be done for cheaper would be a lie. While there are potentially some spots to save money, I believe you’d be sacrificing something along the way. Inherently these machines are expensive but as we can see in “Cog”, they can be totally worth it.
David Dvir is a Toronto based photographer/videographer who specializes in Rube Goldberg machines - one of, if not the only, specialists of these types of machines globally.