Why a $500 CAD budget is bull

Escape From City 17 budget (ala Kill Bill)Ever since it came out, all the major bloggers in the web video field have been going crazy about the online release of Escape From City 17. The CGI, effects and camerawork are extremely impressive, but as a Half-Life fan I was disappointed that it was just visuals and no real story other than, quite literally, the escape from City 17. That said, though, the creators have admitted on their YouTube video description that they shot without a script, and that the production was only made to test out new post-production techniques. Lack-of-script critiques aside, all the leading web video reporters have been going ape-shit at the $500 CAD budget that creators Purchase Brothers reportedly spent on the production (Story links: Tubefilter, NewTeeVee, Tim Street). Obviously this sounds impressive, but there's a LOT of factors that we all need to keep in perspective.

Rudy and I have often boasted that we made Galacticast for $0, or for the price of pizza*! (Har har...) But the reality of the situation is that we've spent tens of thousands of dollars purchasing equipment, costumes, props, etc. over the years... without paying countless friends/actors who've worked for, at most, pizza.

*Note: The road to professionalism is lined with pizza.

Over time, Rudy and I have become well-versed in the real cost of producing professional scripted web series and, let me tell you, it's much more than $500 CAD/video. In fact, in a blog post made last year, Kent Nichols explains how it costs $6000 USD to make one episode of Ask A Ninja. The Purchase Brothers admit that they count costumes and guns as the bulk of the budget, so here's a list of people that probably worked on the production without getting paid**:

  • Actors/Friends/Crew - I'm guessing there were at least 4 of them
  • Editor - Experienced, but unpaid
  • Cameraman - Again, experienced but unpaid
  • CGI animator - Has obviously been working A LOT of hours on this
  • Voice actors - To provide voiceover (walky-talky scene)

**Note: A lot of these people probably wore a lot of hats to make this video... which is fine. But, considering the video was shot "last year", think about how many unpaid hours they've put into it.

Next is a list of important expenses that were not included in the budget***:

  • Travel - They flew from Toronto to Seattle for the shoot. If they had at least 4 cast/crew, the travel probably cost at least $2000
  • HD Camera - Probably originally cost about $5000
  • Boom mic - Not to mention the boom operator
  • Computer with editing, modeling and SFX software

***Purchase Brothers admitted in an interview that they already owned the equipment, so it wasn't included in the budget. Makes sense, but I'm curious if they initially paid for the equipment out of pocket like Rudy and I did on Galacticast. Also, they're still not taking into account the cost of travel, why is that? Even if they own their own airplane, they still have to pay for the gas.

Just so we're clear... I'm not saying that this insanely-low budget is a bad thing, I just want everyone to be clear that this was an amateur production made by professionals. And, as such, we can't all budget our videos to be $500... so going ape-shit over how low the budget was is completely premature.

Even when Rudy and I were in full season of Galacticast and weren't paying ourselves or our actors a dime, we still had to pay our lawyer (who looked over countless contacts we received for licensing deals), our accountant (because once we started making money, we had to manage our company taxes), and our HD camera loan (plus insurance). We also had other big expenses like buying lights, a green screen (and stand), laptops, editing and SFX software, costumes, props, catering, promotional material, etc. That certainly brought our budget higher than $500/episode without paying anyone who actually WORKED on the videos (writer, director, actors, editor(s), producers, etc.).

At this point in our business, we're looking into the details of hiring REAL actors... as even our best friends in Los Angeles are union members. One thing we've learned in our research has been that even if you want to make a video for free without any union actors, the State of California has their own law... it's called minimum wage. And if you expect everyone to work for free, you may get in trouble if the State finds out.

At this point, You: "Casey, why are you getting so down on this?"

The reason is simple, Me: "Sure, you can say your budget is super cheap... but remember that it's only cheap because you're not paying anyone or taking all expenses into account. When someone comes along offering you x-amount for licensing or buying your content outright, you'd better know what your REAL budget is... otherwise, you could be agreeing to a contract paying end's meat, or less."