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By Sean Montgomery, filmmaker

“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?

In thinking about commercials I’ve seen recently that really stuck with me, I immediately thought about GE’s “Ideas are Scary” spot. Personally, I love this video and its art direction – despite the fact that others may find it oddly disturbing. Overall public opinion of this piece is polarizing at best.

Often times, agencies will produce work that they know full well will stir the pot a little. In this case, GE paints the picture of a callous world where humanity is downright cold and rejecting… everyone except for, of course, its own kindhearted staff. But that’s a discussion for another day.

The point of this blog is to estimate how many Franklins were dropped in the making of this commercial. (Hint: a lot)

Truth be told, it’s really difficult to accurately predict how much this video cost. In my mind, I could see this project costing $50k just as easily as I could see it costing $200k. Other than the creature design, there’s nothing to suggest that a high-end agency was *necessary* for the end result. There are no stunts, crazy camera movements, or celebrity cameos (but you can’t argue that Gary Busey would have been an excellent addition). An experienced boutique production studio could have executed it just as well. I’m assuming that GE, however, isn’t in the business of searching for those “diamond in the rough” studios and are likely perfectly fine with spending an extra $100k to hire a creative team with a proven track record.

I’m going to estimate that, in total, this piece cost approximately $150,000. Here’s how I’m figuring that:

The creature design was, no doubt, the most time-consuming part of the process. I’m willing to bet that an artist was hired to present many sketches of the “idea monster”, in all three stages of its life. This likely took 2-3 months and probably accounted for at least $25,000 of the above figure.

Once the creature design was finalized, another special effects team would have been contracted to physically create it – build the costume, if you will. The infant monster is either CGI or, more likely, a puppet rigged for simple movements. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect this all to be another $30,000.

So now we’re at $55,000 … and we haven’t even shot anything. Let’s dive into the production crew. I’m going to assume that this was all shot in 2 days – a realistic expectation for most commercials, so crew costs will be factored in at their daily rate times two.

This is a national campaign, so any director is going to command at least $10-15,000. His/her DP will probably make $5,000, which puts us at $75,000. The DP may come with a camera package, but perhaps not. Most high-end commercials are currently shot on either the RED Dragon or Alexa, which are about $1,000 per day.

Then you’ll need, at a bare minimum, a Producer and an Editor. Each of these people could have made $2,500 to bring our running total to $82,000. Some PAs or interns were probably on-set too, if only to snap lots of Instagram selfies with the idea monster. I would have.

There’s a handful of background extras in each of the scenes, and even though they don’t speak, it’s hard to imagine they weren’t paid something. Even if you paid them all $50 (a conservative guess), you could still rack up a bill of $2-3,000. There will also need to be food available on set for the two days. While I can often be sufficiently motivated by a supply of cool ranch Doritos, this production company likely provided a real meal to its crew. Between actors and food, it’s fair to assume we’re now at $87,000.

Locations were surely not free, either. We’ve got a hospital, a busy street corner (which may have been closed off to actual traffic), an alley, a few building interiors, and finally a theater stage. Estimated fees: $3,000.

Now we come to music. This spot most definitely does not use library stock music, so an original composer would have been hired, along with an audio house. Again, this is a national commercial, so the rates are rightfully inflated. I figure the music cost about $10,000. We’re now at $100,000.

Finally, we have the agency costs, which are always substantial. It’s hard to predict exactly how many people at the agency were assigned to this project, but I figure there was a copywriter or two, several art directors, and an account manager to handle the billing. If you know anything about working with high-end agencies, it’s easy to think of them charging $50,000 for their involvement in conceptualizing this spot.

As previously stated, I think this commercial could have been executed for $50,000 in total, if a small but very talented studio had been hired to do it.

As the owner of such a studio based in Pittsburgh, I specialize in doing just that: finding ways to produce cinematic, broadcast-ready work without all of the overhead. Check us out at, and don’t be afraid to say hi if you want to chat about your next project!

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