So How Much Did it REALLY cost to make ‘Plot Device?’

Jul 7, 2011 5962 6 Share
Aharon Rabinowitz
Aharon Rabinowitz
In Episode 57 of  Red Giant TV, our behind the scenes look at our film ‘Plot Device,’ I mentioned that we did the 9-minute film on a very limited budget. Nine days and over 400,000 views later (even more if you count all the bootleg sites), and we’ve been asked a lot about that. The film obviously has a big budget feel, and some people are skeptical. When I told Red Giant that I wanted to make a short indie film to show off Magic Bullet Suite 11, I was given a budget of $10K to make it happen. And that’s exactly what we did. We really wanted to create the indie film experience – limited time, limited money. Red Giant spent about $9K at our end. It covered props (some built by the amazing Neil Hoppe), costumes, some actor and crew salaries, & food for cast and crew.  Director Seth Worley and his team worked VERY hard to stretch the budget, and they did a great job. FWIW – I was explicitly not allowed to go over that budget, and we actually had to scale back from the initial plan to make it work (Ex. We dropped a very funny martial arts section I REALLY wanted). Personally, I think the film is better for it. But OK – what about equipment? Doesn’t that cost money? Our Director, Seth, had access to a lot of expensive gear – a Canon 5D MK II, a Canon 7D, not to mention lighting, camera rig, tripods…etc. I tend to not think too much about that stuff, because as an animator, I don’t charge my clients by the equipment I already own and use, but by my time spent creating things for them. However, since people have asked, here’s a list of what was used on the shoot, along with Rental Costs:
  • Canon 5D MK II – $450
  • Canon 7D (for overcrank) – $150
  • Sennheiser Shotgun Mic with Boom Pole – $150
  • Zoom Digital Audio Recorder – $45
  • Two Arri Lighting Kits – $450
  • Red Rock DSLR Field Cinema Rig – $150
  • smallHD Monitors – $150
  • Chroma-Key Fold-Out – $50
  • 2 C-Stands – $75
It’s a lot of expensive gear – if you OWN it, but, as you can see,  you can rent the gear we used for under $2K, for the time in which we used it. You saw in the Behind the Scenes episode that we also borrowed stuff from Digital Juice and Vid-Atlantic – stuff which comes to around $2K total as a purchase, but which would also be rented from a video rental company for significantly less, if you chose to use them (or something like them). As far as paying people for their time, the $9K covered some of that. But given the limited budget, we had a true indie experience – any good indie director has friends in the industry they bargain with or get help from, for their films. Also, exploiting the undead for business, as it turns out, is a legally gray area we took advantage of. The laws are not clear if an undead American has any rights. They do enjoy their brain food, though, that’s for sure. Some of the work was volunteered by friends of mine or Seth’s or by fans of Red Giant – such as the 3D modeling by Rob Redman, and the cartoon stuff at the end by Andrew Embury. I have been known to do the same on friends’ cool projects. Frankly, there are plenty of hungry young animators out there that will work on a small project for minimal pay to help build their reels, and while you may not get the speed and quality of our guys, you can do fairly well if you can manage people that are new to the industry. Don’t get me wrong – our guys were top notch, and did their work with talent, skill and speed – the latter of the two, newcomers are likely to not have. To make it easier on them, we also supplemented by giving away software (as payment) to key people on the project who had to put in a lot of time. They basically gave up some money for something else that they needed. In the real world, it’s the equivalent of helping someone out on their project in return for their help on ours. They work as DP on your project, and you lend them gear for theirs – that sort of thing. The music and most of the acting was done by the Director’s family and friends, like his incredibly talented brother, Ben Worley. That’s the way you do it.  In fact, any indie film person who is not willing to beg borrow (but hopefully not steal) from people they know to get a project done, probably isn’t going to get much done. For the most part, Seth did all the editing and VFX himself, while I helped out with color for part of it. There were no teams of editors and VFX artists cutting this thing.  Seth had I license of Magic Bullet Suite 11 on his system, and that costs $799. All of the work was done on 1 system. But let’s say this film cost  triple what we actually paid. Even that cannot explain away the incredible quality produced by Seth Worley in Plot Device. At the end of the day, a director, even on a limited budget, can produce amazing stuff if they have talent and the right set of tools – something we proved with Plot Device. If you have not watched “Behind the Scenes of Plot Device,” directed by Jeff Venable, do it NOW! You will learn a ton. Even I, having worked with these guys, learned a ton from it. About working on Plot Device, and keeping the cost low, Producer (and Props Master, and actor) Neil Hoppe had this to say: “$1670 is the full price you’d pay to rent the package we used, and that’s if you don’t own a single piece of gear, have any friends, or get the rental house to swing you a deal for the massive rental package. And if that’s the case, maybe you should be looking for another line of work. Or start much, much smaller. “This was a super-ambitious project with a ton of moving parts. It couldn’t have been done if we didn’t know what we were doing, which comes from experience. And honestly, for our team, experience working together on numerous smaller projects. It’s taken Seth and I 3-4 years of working together to get to the level of comfort and communication that we have. You can’t beg, borrow, buy, rent, OR steal that.” ALSO NOTE: The jeep used in the film was Seth’s Car growing up, and is now Ben’s. Not sure if we should add that to the cost. But Seth assures me that  given it’s condition, it’s current value is $23.76.

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  1. hy!!
    what kind of lenses did you use for the cameras??

    thanks flori!!

  2. Which program/plug in did you use to make the horizontal light flares seen in the sci-fi part? Thanks!

    1. Aharon Rabinowitz July 17, 2011 at 11:06 am

      Uke – We used a combonation of Knoll Light Factory and in camera flares. Watch the behind the scenes episode of Red Giant TV to learn more.

  3. Where did you film Plot Device? Was this filmed in Nashville or surrounding area?

  4. A lot of the time the question, “How much did it REALLY cost?”, is a knee jerk reaction to an extremely lot budget amount, because a lot of people now or perpetrating the notion that unless you have the latest gear, your film can’t compete in today’s market. So a lot of people won’t even start a project unless they’ve got the newest gear; story has taken a second bill to the equipment. People still try and argue that El Mariachi couldn’t have cost what Rodriquez says it did.

    For me the fact that Plot Device was brought in for under 10k is great incentive to go out and create something.