When Britney Spears‘ video for “Work Bitch” dropped last week, the thing that caught the most attention about it was its reported $6.5 million price tag. That budget, if it were accurate, would make it the second most expensive music video of all-time, behind “Scream” by Michael and Janet Jackson. We say “if it were accurate” because, almost immediately, people began questioning the veracity of the $6.5 million budget, and director Ben Mor was forced to admit to MTV that “it’s not even a fraction of that. It’s 200 percent absolutely false and it’s almost embarrassing to say. The video absolutely did not cost that much.” So, how much DID it cost?
No one at Britney Spears’ label is talking, but VH1 Tuner reached out to three music video directors that we’re acquainted with to have them weigh in on this subject. All three are independent video directors that have worked on videos financed in part by major labels at one point in their career, so they have a keen sense of what it would cost to execute a video on the level of “Work Bitch.” Due to the sensitivity of the information that they shared with us, we are withholding their names so they don’t suffer any negative career ramifications, but that doesn’t make the info that they shared with us any less fascinating.
Between the three of them, these directors estimated that the video almost certainly cost somewhere between $800,000 and $1.2 million to shoot, significantly short of the $6.5MM number that was floated by Planet Hollywood. Below, you’ll find each of their three ballpark estimates that led to these budget ranges, as well as how much money that the labels could have potentially saved had they been hired to do the work. Take it away!
ANONYMOUS DIRECTOR 1:
ESTIMATED BUDGET: $1.2MM
So after thinking about the video I reached the conclusion that the video probably cost around 1 million dollars. My guesstimate is $1.2M. Because it was a desert shoot (at least for one of the days), because of all the props and wardrobe, because of all the VFX and beauty work but mostly because “it’s Britney, bitch.”
Just the fact that Britney is the artist made the video more expensive by about $250,000. A big chunk of the budget goes to her glam squad (hair and make-up people, stylists, wardrobe and all of their assistants), with around at least $50,000 going to beauty work (digital clean up and perfecting of Britney’s face and body) if not more. Being the superstar that she is, she would get the same treatment as a supermodel, and they all get extensive beauty work done in high-end commercials.
But also because it’s Britney, the product placement could have been in the order of $100,000, which is money that was saved by the production. So good news there.
A desert shoot means porta potties, star wagons and trailers. Not to mention 2 days of travel pay for the whole crew of about (I’m estimating here) 60-80 people.
If I had directed the video, in this stage of my career, the artist wouldn’t have been Britney and also the job wouldn’t have been union, because I’m not a union director yet. I could’ve done the color grading myself or had it done for free with favors or for $3,500 by one of the best in the business. While this video’s color grading was most likely around $10,000.
The VFX, with the exception of the CG sharks, which don’t come cheap (and these were pretty good by music video standards), I could’ve handled myself, including the beauty work, saving the production about $80,000. I would’ve also edited the video, so that would’ve saved 3-5k.
So let’s knock off 90k out of the budget, but for a smaller artist we wouldn’t have gotten the product placement, so we’ll add the 90k back in. Catering would drop considerably without the massive glam squad and paying non-union crew of 40+ people would also make the video cheaper.
To sum it up, I think that if I had directed this video, with the artist not being Britney and the crew not being union, that version of this video could’ve cost between $600-800k. Because at the end of the day it’s still a massive video, with a ton of expensive equipment (camera rigs such as a technocrane and all the massive amounts of grip and electric gear), 8 dancers and 9 models, HMU (hair + make-up) and wardrobe and styling for all of them, dressing of 6 different “sets” and sheer number of crew involved to pull it off.