Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Platypus

Sorry for the lack of posts – sometimes I feel like I have run out of things to say, so I just go back to the classics.

The music video industry is in an odd place these days, where it is neither fish nor fowl. Budgets have dropped (see, I told you this was a classic) but the expectations have not changed. And I don’t mean just the expectations of what will end up on screen, I mean all the other stuff as well.

A label brief came in for a female pop/R&B artist. She is a star, but not a mega-star. The label is going to spend $140,000 on the video – and that included all of the typical budget items like insurance, travel, closed captioning for the final video and glam for the artist. The artist lives in Atlanta and the artist’s glam squad types reside in New York. None of that sounds crazy but if you look a little deeper – that 140k starts looking pretty tiny.

Someone is going to have to travel. That is money right there – and the director probably lives in LA (since most of them do). We will get into travel costs in a second, but since we have a triangle – glam in NY, artist in ATL, director in LA – there is no real way to avoid traveling somebody and putting them up in pricey hotels.

Shooting in Atlanta is okay – not great but okay. The crews are decently priced but not known for working particularly fast or efficiently. Locations in the ATL are reasonably priced, but limited in the kind of look you can get. New York has great crews and great locations – but all that stuff is really pricey. New York shoots are always hard and end up costing more than you would think because of unions, rules, restrictive permitting process and so on. LA is usually the best option for shooting – but in this case it also requires the most travel.

Where to shoot is a foundation decision, and it would be a lot simpler if the production could get glam people in LA rather than the artist’s preferred NYC crew. Trust me, there are hair, wardrobe and make-up types aplenty in Los Angeles.

Let’s dive into the hard costs that the production company has to look at when they are budgeting this job, and lets assume the shoot ends up happening in Los Angeles. And all of this number crunching goes hand-in-hand with the creative process – the idea for the video needs to be a good one AND it has to be affordable. But for now, let’s stick with the money. Budgets are not my area of expertise, but here are some educated guesstimates on “what it cost.”

Budget – 140k

Production fees – 37k
Artist travel – 4k
Glam squad fees – 15k
Glam travel – 5k
DP – 5k
Film, processing, telecine and edit – 15k
Camera and lights – 5k
Crew (including their taxes, insurance and food) – 25k
Close captioning and other fixed costs like dupes – 2k
The total so far – 113k

That leaves 27k for the creative good stuff like -

Location fees and permits
Art department
Dancers, extras, etc.





Okay, lets go through those numbers again with a bit more detail

Production fees – 37k
The typical breakdown is 10% for the director, 3-5% to the director’s rep, 5% to the line producer and 10% to the production company to pay the exec producer, head of production phone bills and so on. The 37k assumes that these costs will equal 27% of the total budget – a relatively conservative estimate.

One might think – Why do all these people have to make so much money? The director has been writing on a dozen different ideas for many artists – none of which have turned into a job, except maybe this one. The director certainly deserves to get paid – they may not work again for a while and Chris Brown is no longer talking their calls. The exec producer at the production company has been working with this director for years. He has been trying to get him/her a good job, but they haven’t worked in a couple months. These fees are covering all that work. Ditto for the rep who has been pimping the director all over town – the rep surely has earned her (and it probably is a her – sorry Tommy) money.

Artist travel – 4k

This is a conservative estimate. The artist is going to fly first class and stay in a top notch hotel in LA. If the label/manager doesn’t talk them out of bringing cousins and hangers on, it could get much, much worse. This also includes town cars and the like, but not mini-bar charges.

Glam squad fees – 15k

Not exorbitant at all for high end types – and we are assuming they are, other wise Miss Diva ain’t flying them in from NYC. Three departments – hair, make-up and wardrobe with one lead and one assistant each. Five grand per is not a wildly huge amount.

Glam travel – 5k

See artist travel above. Let’s hope we can keep the hair expert from finding out the artist is at L’Hermitage while the glam people are slumming at the Sofitel.

DP – 5k

This might be a bit high, but remember the label and manager are going to want super high-end beauty for this clip. No way the label signs off on the director’s buddy from film school as the DP so they can save some cash. The label has a list of DPs they approve of and good luck getting them to order something not on the menu.

Film, processing, telecine and edit – 15k

I am not sure of these numbers, but they are not very negotiable either. This is the kind of beauty-oriented job that the label is definitely going to want 35mm film and not digital video, no matter how much “Video Nerd Monthly” claims that film is dead. No one is going to shoot with a high end DP and then go cheap on the telecine/colorist. The big variable in here is how much of the glam/beauty “clean up” work they want done. That is on top of the expensive make-up, DP and telecine beauty work.

Camera and lights – 5k

Once again, not sure of these numbers – but I do know it would be MUCH higher if the creative calls for things like motion control, techno-cranes, steadi-cam or other technological goodies for the camera department.

Close captioning and other fixed costs like dupes – 2k

Not much to add here.

Crew (including their taxes, insurance and food) – 25k

This number could slide and move a LOT – depending on overtime and other factors. A “big” set would require more lights (see above) and tons of people to hang them. A roof-top shoot would tire out everyone by forcing the crew to lug stuff up and down the stairs. Overtime is the bogeyman here – wasted time could turn bad really quick.

The total so far – 113k

Stuff NOT included above –

I’m sure that many of you are looking at these numbers and shaking your heads at the insanity of the “old model” for music videos. The dollar amounts can get pretty crazy, sort of like what the Pentagon pays for a toilet seat and all that.

This kind of fantasy-meets-reality industry hijinks must happen all the time in videos with $8k budgets as well, I just don't know much about that world. Up-and-coming directors understandably salivate over the prospect of six-figure budgets, but probably don't realize the nonsense that comes with that high octane world. Money solves some production problems, but it seems that the expectations grow way faster (and shrink slower) than the budgets do.

Even as the market has changed, there are many, many jobs that the label wants treated in this “old way" with extras and luxuries all around. Why does the artist have to have those particular make-up people? Why not take a chance on a younger DP with an up and coming reel? Why not make the label commissioner fly coach and stay at the (perfectly reasonable) Farmer’s Daughter? Good questions, but anyone who knows the label biz – knows they are questions with no answers.

There are plenty of directors that could make a whole handful videos for this budget, but their reels don’t have enough of the high-end glamorous beauty work to earn them this particular job. Maybe there is someone who could do this job by using a different technique (smaller crew, shoot on video, etc.) but that kind of “outside the box” thinking probably won’t fly on this VERY inside the box kind of job.

Remember, this is not a video for an indie band, or someone with an edge – this is for an old school kind of artist (even if the singer involved is only 23) so the old school approach is in full effect. When the label wants beauty and more beauty for their artist (and that is probably the right choice here).

This kind of glamorous video (for someone like Mary J Blige) was made in 1998, and they probably spent $600k on it. Now that is an even crazier amount of money, but at least they could afford to hit the target they were aiming at. Back then, at least the reality matched the expectation. Now the labels hand directors a squirt gun and an Amtrak pass and expect them to come back with grizzly bear (and get upset if the director asks for water for the squirt gun).

Is the music video world a land of lean and mean production budgets with people pulling favors to get things done on a tight financial leash – or is it a world of rented Escalades, and two bedroom suites? The only wrong answer is to choose both.


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Comments:
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So much money. You could be making a small time horror film on that budget.

I wonder if the musicians, thought more about their own shelf life if they might not invest better? Especially the pop stars since shelf life is what defines them anyway.

All said, that platypus was a nice addition.
 
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