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.
ANONYMOUS DIRECTOR 2:
ESTIMATED BUDGET: Between $900,000 and $1.2MM
I would go ahead and say the rumors surrounding the new Britney Spears, “Work B**ch” music video are completely false. There is no way that video cost $6.5 Million to make. If I had to make a somewhat educated guess I would say between $900,000 and $1.2 million.
Even though $6.5 million is a pretty outrageous number, this was still an expensive video to make because it is Britney Spears after all.
First off one of the biggest costs to this production is going to be Britney’s glam team. She will most certainly have a very large and expensive hair, makeup and styling department just for her (that’s not including the dancers and other actors in the video). On top of the glam team on set, there is most certainly special effect work done in post production to her makeup and making sure her body looks as good as it was 10 years ago. The post production FX glam work could be $35,000 to $50,000 alone.
On the production side you have to deal with getting a cast and crew out to the desert for a day (at least). That includes union crew travel fees, trailers for Britney, catering, honey wagons etc. They also used some massive gear like a techno crane which can cost $20,000 a day to rent and operate. There are numerous sets which all had to be designed, built and dressed. There is FX work with the sharks swimming around her and some mannequin heads exploding, all relatively expensive things to accomplish.
You also have insurance to pay for which could cost a few hundred thousand alone.
The camera and lenses could cost them around $10K per day on what was probably a 3 day shoot using the Arri Alexa or the Red Epic.
There is product placement in the video though so that would cut your costs down by $100K depending on the deal.
It’s hard to just guess what a video cost by looking at it because who knows how clever the producers and their team were with getting things on the cheap. Maybe the rental house owed the producer a big favor and got them the camera package for free, who knows. Maybe Britney promised to sing a private show to the FX guys daughter if he did it for free. You never know (ok that one is far fetched).
I can say one thing for certain though. This video did not cost anywhere near $6.5 million to make. If the video did cost that much, I need to do whatever I can to direct a Britney video. That would mean the director alone walked away with about $650,000 for his work. That’s a pretty decent payday.
ANONYMOUS DIRECTOR 3:
ESTIMATED BUDGET: $800,000 to $900,000
I think this video actually cost around 800-900k to produce and if I had done it, maybe 300k. Britney exponentially increases costs bc for an artist of her magnitude, you factor in her personal choices for glam as well as for the high end post work required for her image. Here’s my best guess:
Location/ Set Build – desert, pool, stage build, peep show/ strip club, vegas hotel room = 100k
Production Company fees – 150k
Insurance/ Contingency = 50k
Below the line union Crew = 60 people; apx 150k
Car = product placement less 90k
Dancers/ Models = 25k
Choreographer = 15k
DP – 50k
Director = 75k
Colorist = 600/hour; 5k
Technocrane/ camera/ grip/ electric package – 60k
Glam – high end hair & makeup for Britney + for rest of cast – 70k
VFX (sharks, explosions, fire) – 35k
Post – 80k
Accommodations/ Travel/ Catering = 100k (this is Britney so everything first class)