The World’s Next Dumb Screenwriter

I run into quite a few people in the industry that claim to be screenwriters or indie filmmakers. They usually have an idea to make a vfx or animated film that’s on par or better than what top companies like DreamWorks and Pixar produce.

At some point I beg to ask how they will produce such a film with such little finances. The answer always seems to be the same:

I’ll get a bunch of cheap students to work for free!

Well, I was forwarded the video above of a reality TV show in Canada where entrepreneurs pitch a business idea to some top business brass people. The screenwriter in the clip pitches an animated Christmas movie for about $2 million and gets his ass thoroughly handed to him.

I got an idea for a movie. I call it Deception.

It’s a film about a desperate screenwriter who implants his idea in the minds of animators through a ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff to get them to work for peanuts. It’ll be directed by Chris Nolan. No not that Chris Nolan, just some guy in school with the same name. He’ll probably work for free right?

Soldier On.

13 Responses to The World’s Next Dumb Screenwriter

  1. n says:

    We could debate the quality, but cheap students working for free has done very well for Bill Plympton, Chris Landreth and countless others.

  2. citizen says:

    @5:50 – “Oh, I plan on getting top animators, but I don’t plan on paying the top salaries that someone who is established is going to command”.

    Really, Paul? You can actually stand there in front of professionals wearing that stupid hat and say,”I’m going to hire new graduates with little or no experience and pay them little or nothing. I’ll make sure this project is doomed from the get go.” Top animators – top of their class, indeed! Calling army of free interns, here’s your shot to get into the industry! Just ask Mom and Dad to cover you for another year.

  3. Tom says:

    Even 10 million would only get him about half way. Does he know that a render farm alone cost 1 million?

    Cheapest film made to date I think is TMNT and that was 20 million in China. I think a feature can be made for less than 100 million. However, he had is head way up is a** because 2010 would have been a crazy schedule on a 3d feature. Even live action with no visual effects that would have taken an act of god.

    To anyone who wants to listen,
    1) It takes at least 3 years to produce an animated feature
    2) The budgets are usually around 100-250 million depending on the studio
    3) The return is a gamble, you would be lucky to make what you spent if you are not pixar
    4) You are not pixar!
    5) Pixar has a band name, even if there films suck (a few did) you still wont get the cult followers of pixar to go to your movie unless its REALLY REALLY good.

    6) You need more than animators to make a 3d feature! Ill list a few:
    – Visual Developement Artists
    – 3D Modelers
    – Riggers
    – Animators
    – FX Artists
    – Lighting Artists
    – Pipeline TD or Generalists (people who put the glue together)
    And all the overhead management such as:
    – Producers or Department Managers
    – Supervisors for all departments

    You are looking a minimum of about 40 people to even get the first 30 min made in one year.

    The building alone to put the people would cost about 1million to keep the lights on for a year.

    As I always do, I put way more in the post than people care to read. Those are my thoughts.

    • Tom says:

      – Director
      – Layout Artists
      – Storyboard Artists

      Sorry, missed some🙂

      And god, the voice over of William would be about 10-20 million for sure… So yeah, I will look out for this project and avoid it like the plague!!!

      • citizen says:

        But what if he had the Christmas Spirit? Maybe he would do it for free? … right?

      • bunny says:

        I believe you don’t have experience in an animation studio, or you are being very disingenuous with your facts and figures.

        I agree, there is no way an animated feature could be created with a budget of one million, but it could with the right organization at twice that.

        Current budgets are simply ridiculous. The top budget was only $10 million at the top studios two decades ago. Because of scheduling decisions and marketing decisions, it was Disney that blew that standard budget out of the water.

        The real costs of animation have actually reduced in the past 20 years. Most animation created is actually done around the world in cheaper independent studios for hire. This is a development that has taken hold since the mid 80’s. They work pretty cheaply and have a LOT of experience. In fact, more experience than most American Animators.

        The building you have priced is for a mid sized city in a main street location. You could get one story of an office block for about that price for a year. Most animators are family men though, and do prefer to work closer to home. Not to mention that that is first world pricing. If your studio is based in Mexico, India, the Philippines etc. (areas where you can find cheaper animators) you will pay significantly less, you can set up on the edge of a city to keep costs down and Animators closer to home… Not to mention, that if you use a series of independent studios, they already have their own premises.

        You missed a few specialist positions in your list, but you fail to mention that many of them only work part time or freelance on a production.

        You also fail to calculate the output accurately. I can take a team of TEN animators, and TEN supporting artists/specialists, and create top quality (Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks) animation and finish 40 minutes of footage in that year… based off a 48 week year. I would fire every one of your 40 lazy American Animators if they only produced 30 minutes in a year between them.

        Hardware is a joke. Well your renderfarm is. One million for a renderfarm these days. Yeah, if you are working on hardware prices a decade old. The project dictates what your renderfarm will be. You can actually create animation without a computer… you know, with pencil and paper. You can use systems that utilise graphics card hardware to keep machine numbers low if you are willing to make a lot of sacrifices (THIS is what my current project is using to push out frames at a very pleasing rate), you can cut your expectations a little and refuse to do sub surface scattering (or at least reduce it), or you can go whole hog and build a serious renderfarm… OR, instead of building your own, you can hire one from one of many renderfarms for hire around the world. Animal Logic from Australia comes to mind. Those people who created Happy Feet and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. They were hiring out their renderfarm to Weta Digital when the renderfarm at Weta Digital was not quite up to the task of rendering graphics for Lord of the Rings.

        So, even though I do agree with a few of your points, and I could add many more doubts to your list, I do not believe you are portraying the situation accurately. I believe the truth falls somewhere between pie in the sky and doom and gloom.

  4. Tom says:

    Well, I assure you I have been in the industry for a long time. And my numbers are simply numbers of what would be considered minimum costs in the LA area. Of course you can make a movie in the middle of no where for much much less. But you would be pulling teeth to get the required talent pool.

    You missed the point entirely. The point was, to get a feature film made 1 million will barley get you in the door.

    Before you start analyzing everything, it was simply a small list of what I could remember off the top of my head. People, like this guy, tend to think all you need is a few animators and you can make a feature.

    What you are talking about is making those lousy films that everyone hates to see. Name one film made outside the U.S. that has made more than a Pixar hit film or Dreamworks hit film that is animated.

    Though, those studios have faults, the point is you will find it very hard to make a successful feature animated film on a small budget these days. No matter how you slice it. Most TV episodes budget between 500K-2million an episode. I know the legend of the seeker, not very well known, had a budget of 1 million per episode.

    I know for a fact (a recent film made) paid 40 million in advertising alone.

    I do know the real prices of render farms because I was involved with the purchase of the last render farm made for a major feature.

    1 million wont get you far. But it will get about 100-250 hosts. You probally are checking the retail price of a host. Studios purchasing large amounts of hosts tend to get big discounts on the hardware. And 500 hosts = about 500 * 2-8 cores; most companies dont buy the fastest CPU from the manufacture. They tend to get slightly slower procs to get more cores rather than speed. Another piece I left out was the cost of the infrastructure to house the renderfarm. You need massive cooling requirements, large storage requirements (netapp’s), etc. I was simply stating you “could” spend 1 million on a renderfarm and not get very far.

    Again, I think you missed my point entirely. I was not trying to build a studio in a post. I was simply bringing some numbers in to illustrate the fact with even a 10 million dollar budget you would not get you very far.

    “Teenage mutant ninja turtles” was about 35 million to make overseas (looked it up). And I believe “Despicable Me” was around 65 million.

    Yes, I agree, the animators in this industry tend to be very lazy. I am not an animator. Maybe that will give someone a clue to my identity now.

    As an animator you cant just push buttons, you need to also put emotion into your animation. And great animators are still hard to find. Much of the studios outside the “US” can push buttons, but they have yet to prove they can produce an emotional/well animated, textured and lit, successful, feature film on a low budget.

    Most studios sacrifice quality first for speed. Especially the studios overseas.

  5. Tom says:

    “Most studios sacrifice quality first for speed. Especially the studios overseas.” – I am only making this statement for 3d animated features, visual effects tend to be a different story.

  6. anon says:

    there is a school in Vancouver called LostBoys learning that has openly worried that their students won’t be able to work for free on the school projects if there was a VFX union.

    http://www.vfxcommunity.com/index.php/topic,14.0.html

    shameful

    • union worker says:

      I can’t post on the site. And I don’t want to sign up for yet another site. However, I would not be worried as a student. Since they still have internship clauses if unionized. In fact, they win in the end since companies can only have you as an intern for a period of time. And you get paid for what you do. Rather than companies taking advantage of employees.

      If a company people to do work for free, then they should not be in any business. When your pipes burst in your house, does the plummer come over and do the work for free?

  7. Bunny_Hunter says:

    @ Bunny: Think twice before you say something. You think you can take a team of TEN animators from the west? I dont know what country You are from, but I would like to know what big project have you delivered? China did TMNT…. Result FAIL….. The only move done in India released worldwide “Alpha & Omega”….. EPIC FAIL. Its all about quality vs Quantity. There’s a reason why movies by Pixar /DW work. I’ve worked in the best Indian studios for good 6 yrs So I know how work is done in that part of the world. Its all bout getting stuff done on time without emphasizing on the quality.For me You are like the frog in the well. You think you know it all? Get out and see the REAL world. I came to Canada 4 Yrs back. Trust me, Its a completely different world here.

  8. […] going through is no different than what other VFX shops go through. VFX CEOs should do some time on Shark Tank to see if  a business model that depends on free government money would survive the first segment […]

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