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Unprecedented Cost Breakdown for the $600K Web Series 'Video Game High School'

Freddie Wong, the namesake of his FreddieW YouTube channel and co-founder of Rocket Jump Studios, directs or collaborates on some of the coolest original content on YouTube. The FreddieW team also contributes to YT’s Node channel, featuring work from their brethren-in-arms Corridor Digital, who also produce a volume of great original stuff on the ‘Tube. Rocket Jump’s cumulatively feature-length web series Video Game High School was a substantial undertaking, the first for FreddieW and co at such a scale, and produced for over $600,000 (just the first season) — subsequently, Freddie and Rocket Jump have done something virtually unheard of by posting a full budgetary breakdown.

Here’s the first episode of the web series, featuring action, humor, a lot of production value, and a cameo by someone you may recognize from elsewhere on YouTube:

And the next in the series, for good measure:

Here’s a brief (if you think this is lengthy, see Freddie’s full post) excerpt of Rocket Jump’s infographic, breaking down the 9-episode first season of Video Game High School. And my is it an infographic — designed with help from Danger Brain:

Two thirds of a million dollars may seem pretty steep a budget for a web series — but when you consider that this project equates to a full feature film in scale and length, it’s actually quite a shoestring arrangement. Below is the full breakdown, but again the infographic is much easier on the eyes for this info.

We set our Kickstarter goal at $75,000 and blew our goal out of the water by raising $273,725. Of that $273,725, $222,498.92 went into the production of VGHS (While Kickstarter and Amazon take 5-10%, we found that an additional 10% was not accounted for due to declined credit cards). In the next couple of weeks we plan on breaking down all the challenges and lessons we learned from running and successfully fulfilling a large-scale Kickstarter project.

With the final costs reaching that $636,010.71, spanning 277 days back to front, 167 cast and crew members, and sport over 36 million views not counting BTS material, here’s where the money went on Video Game High School:

  • $21,000 — Story Development and Pre-Production
  • $43,612 — Art Department and Design
  • $26,080.89 — The cast
  • $123,507.01 — The Crew (note that the directors accepted no salary to maximize budget reach — a gesture of true dedication)
  • $22,979.32 — Meals and Craft Services
  • $47,917.04 — LA Location Fees
  • $18,463.13 — Stunts
  • $9,790.64 — Camera (Rentals, Related Gear)
  • $16,728.48 — Production Equipment (including many practical effects material)
  • $25,987.39 — Transportation
  • $116,874.95 — Post Production (VGHS has almost half the VFX shots of Skyfall
  • $4,151.38 — Production Office
  • $100,000 — Additional From Partners (sponsorships, friend-companies)
  • $59,918.48 — Kickstarter Fulfillment (shirts, DVDs/Blu-rays, posters, and so on, with a total postage/shipping cost of $25,000)

Here’s a very impressive graph scaling costs to running time:

These guys made it happen, and the material is nothing short of great. It’s entertaining, funny, and exciting as anything coming out of Hollywood. VGHS is another deep notch on the belt of the independent creative, and what dedicated, hard-working visionaries can accomplish in our modern media ecosystem. You gotta love it — and you also have to love the openness displayed here. To our knowledge no such costs breakdown has been produced by web series creators for a project of this size — so a lot of credit to Freddie and the whole creative team behind Rocket Jump and co. for bringing this forward as well.

Be sure to head on over to the Rocket Jump Studios website to check out the rest of the breakdown.

Links:

COMMENT POLICY

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  • This show wasn’t really my cup of tea (probably appealed mostly to the teenage crowd), but it was impressively well done.

  • Great info, thanks to you, and to them, for sharing it

  • $22k on craft services?
    Really?

    They couldn’t work out a cheaper way to feed people?

    • Thanks for reposting this. It does seem steep that 22k was spent on meals and craft but to be honest that needs to be done right on a low-budget production. Especially a low-budget production with many extras, crew and stars. Hopefully it wasn’t all towards pizzas (which I doubt), but that figure doesn’t suprise me at all. Food costs and food is important.

    • If they don’t pay all the actors, what’s gonna keep them on the project?
      Free food.

    • That actually seems like nothing. Feeding 167 cast and crew members for 277 days. That’s like 85 bucks a day @ 23K. And who knows how long each day was.
      Hopefully with getting the show on a SOD like Netflix, they can recoup the funding for a second season and still keep the budget at this amount or less.

      • yeah thats definitely not a good calculation for how craft broke down. but the point remains – don’t cheap on food. its tacky.

    • Probably you have never shot a production with a cast and crew, it does cost a lot and its extremely important for your crew to keep working happy, especially when you are not paying them well. I had a small shooting with 8 people ( cast and crew) and among them I had to deal with gluten free, allergies, vegetarians this brings an additional cost to it, plus transportation, stocking and more.

    • Always, ALWAYS feed your crew well. Good luck on your production when you find that “cheaper way to feed people”.

  • This is rather awesome info.

    There is always so many things that is easy to forget when budgetting.

    I think I just saw the episodes pop up on netflix aswell. Only seen the first episode on the web.

  • This is awesome, very generous of them in posting this info, I wonder about kickstarter, they got $273k then you leave 10% fee, plus 10% of declined credit cards, plus $60k you have to spend to manufacture and ship all the perks you promised, what a hassle.

  • DIYFilmSchool on 12.20.12 @ 10:40AM

    Congratulations to Freddie on his project. There are some numbers I feel could have been moved around a little more efficiently, but if this article is the extent to which he made the figures public, I won’t be able to know for sure.

    On a slightly different note, I feel bad for the 10% of credit cards that were declined. I wonder if some people did that on purpose. That was my initial thought about it. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that people would do something like that deliberately. But of course, I’m assuming that’s the case.

  • 100,000 – Additional From Partners (sponsorships, friend-companies)

    I don’t understand that one… it sounds like a investors GIVING money, not costs…

    • They explain on the full article, it’s basically everything their sponsors brought to the table ( locations, vehicles, props, etc), although it didnt come out of their pockets , they felt it should still be considered as part of the total budget.

  • Honestly, I don’t understand how anyone makes any money off this. Sure, its great for a few key principles who get the reward of a significant credit on their reel which they can use to get future work, and its potentially though not certainly monetizable. If YouTube does in fact charge the $20 CPM they promised for premium content, rather than a normal $2 CPM, maybe you can break even, and maybe Netflix is throwing you something. But how do you do post for $120k; and how is that sustainable. That’s what it costs to edit 1-2 commercials. It sounds like editors, VFX artists, etc… are getting completely hosed on their rates.

    • Freddie, Brandon and Co. edit and do their own VFX.

      • Right, I’m aware, so as I said, not sustainable and they’re getting hosed on their rates. They’d need to generate several hundred thousand in profit in order to fairly compensate equity partners who played a crucial role; directors, VFX talent, editors, composers, etc… It sounds like at a minimum there were at least 5 guys, and if you include the VFX team they partnered with closer to 10; 50k for your contribution to a feature over the course of nearly a year is extremely low, and would necessitate between 300k and 500k of profit in addition to whatever investors they have needing to get their money back. Is that there? I don’t know.

        Also, if you’ve ever directed anything you know how much of a pain it is to go from doing high level creative work, to doing low level compositing etc… not to mention no one should ever edit material they were on set for. So again, to me while these numbers make sense for a one time test, they don’t make sense for a project which allows for you to divide your focus on to new opportunities as well.

        I am interested in the viability of this as a business model; but right now I don’t see it. Hard production and post costs are way too high, and frankly, the quality is not that good. Sure this appeals to teenagers etc, but this isn’t Walking Dead or Skyfall level content. And before you say that’s not a fair comparison to make (of course its not), I’m not the one who tried to compare the work favorably to that; they did so in their infographics.

        By putting this information out there, however, they’re exerting a negative price influence on budgets and I think its important to figure out exactly who isn’t going to be eating in this new model should studios attempt to adopt it. The way I see this, is a proof that the concept doesn’t really work, so they’re using it as a PR and advertising piece to attempt to monetize themselves through social value / fame, etc… It’s the .com / web 2.0 business model, build something cool in the short term, attempt to create implied value through social network effects, and hope the business model comes together later.

        I’m not being critical here. I’m interested to follow their progress. I just don’t see it, and won’t be producing this type of content personally. I can see the numbers for comedy, reality, and live event, but I don’t see it for narrative fiction, particularly fx based narrative fiction. I’m looking for someone to say “hey, no, you’re wrong this is sustainable and here’s why” not just that they do a lot of heavy lifting themselves. That just means they’re willing to work on the cheap. That’s not sustainable in a capitalist world.

        • There are a lot of things you can bring down on.

          Sorry but a lot of real heavyweight commercial directors aren’t really skillful in anything except communication and selling themselves. Nowadays you actually need to have a multitude of skills to pull stuff off. Directors who direct and edit are a real boon. Because when you really understand editing and directing and how shots come together, you will quickly save a lot of money and time.

          Bad directors will blow episodes completely. A second season Walking Dead episode was completely ruined by one director and they had to reshoot stuff and save it in editing. Now if you get a director who actually understands what they are doing (understands compositing and editing) then you will get way far.

          There are a lot of stupid places where cash goes because people just aren’t skilled enough in all areas of filmmaking.

          FreddieW has actually been making money off of youtube for a long time, this was just their next logical step.

  • I somehow got the full production breakdowns of “the village” and “sign”…now THAT was interesting and telling…

  • soooo, massive commercial failure?

    $536,000 paid out (taking out the gift in kind stuff from partners)

    $222,000 raised through kick-starter

    36M views on youtube generating roughly $120K. Unless they are getting a dif rate for “premium” content

    They’re still out roughly $200K :\

    Is Netflix and merch sales going to make up the difference?

    Trying to see the financial viability of what they did and what it cost, considering they didn’t pay themselves or charge for their own production equipment in that estimate, it seems like you couldn’t make a living producing web content, regardless of it’s production value.

    I know there are associated income streams from this type of business. More traffic means more clicks, etc….but that gap would seem to be a pretty big one. What am I missing?

    BTW, I was a kickstarter supporter and I loved this series!

    • Dont forget they released it first at their own website Rocket Jump where they also collected advertising money and not having Youtube as a middleman, plus merchandising and all. I also see this series being a test bed for their upcoming productions, if they didnt do enough money on this , they will probably to on the next one. To be honest this is already more commercially successful than 98% of indie features out there.

      • Um, your logic doesn’t work for me… If they didn’t make money on this, isn’t that an indicator they won’t make money on the next either?

        • Well, think about that: Now they proved they can do it, it will attract more sponsors/investors next time, also it was the first time they released something outside of youtube (Rocket Jump) although it was successful probably few tweaks can be made. Their audience is bigger and they have now the experience they need to step up a notch again. Does the logic make sense to you now?

          • they proved they can generate a loss of $200,000 on a project, and this is supposed to attract attention from investors?

          • Branded sponsors and branded content wouldn’t be focused on “profits”, it would be focused on views. They got 36 million views, and that’s all a lot of companies will need to see in order to sign on for the next one.

    • Frederik O. on 12.21.12 @ 7:07AM

      “36M views on youtube generating roughly $120K”

      Are your crazy??? In what universe is that true? You get roughly 500-1000 $ for every 1 Million views. Imagine if this is true, then the best youtubers with 2 billion hits would have made more then 10 Million dollars.

      • There are no youtube with 2 billion hits….Gangnam style is the biggest of all time and it’s only at 985 million. From all the online sources that state youtube payouts…the posters who are “YouTube partners” which rocket jump & freddie wong most def are, make about $3300 per million views…so that would be about $120,000.

        Where did you get your numbers from?

        • Frederik O. on 12.21.12 @ 2:45PM

          “There are no youtube with 2 billion hits”

          no, I mean combined on their channels. For example Smosh has 2 billion views and Ray william Johnson.
          Or look at Shane Dawson. After moving to Los Angeles he moved back to his hometown complaining that the rents in L.A. are to high. Freddy and Brandon shoot with a Red Scarlet and with a Sony F700, if your calculations were true, then they could easily afford a Red Epic…
          I know that there are sites that claim that you get for every 1 million hit 3300 dollar but seriously, who knows, maybe they are right maybe wrong. They are multiple sites on the internet that doubt these high numbers.

    • The short answer is “Yes.” Sales, licensing, and merchandising make up that difference.

  • I love the breakdown he provided, but I would have loved to get the full breakdown, like Louis CK did.

    I think there are a lot of people would are contemplating producing and distributing their own content, but without the full facts (including income or at the very least, income potential) I think maybe people will stay on the fence.

  • I’m not quite sure I understand the YouTubers who put this much money/effort into a short film, video, or series for a Web channel. $600K? Holy SH!T. For that series, I was thinking $10K max, lol.

    There are some talented guys on YouTube, but I don’t understand why they don’t take that money and make a real short film. Like something without ridiculous special effects that can actually win an award at a real film festival?

    Or maybe some of them will someday. I really hope they do.

    For example, instead of making silly YouTube videos, why not make a short film, and submit it to the LA Film Festival. If you win an award there (and many other festivals), you’re eligible to submit to the Academy Awards (The Academy MuthaFu*kin’ Awards) for the “Live Action Short Film” category….You see where I’m going with this.

    That’s how you start a career in filmmaking. But maybe that’s changing.

    Does anyone pay attention to the talent on YouTube, or is it just teenage fanboys and people who like to watch EPIC FAIL videos? LOL

    • You thought that series would cost 10K? It has dozens of extras, a speaking cast of over 50 people, and as many minutes of action as any major blockbuster this year.

      Winning a reward in a film festival for a “serious” film is not the way to get into the film industry. Besides that it almost never happens, its just not the way it works anymore.

      But most importantly, we made the exact show that we wanted to make. A goofy comedy action show with touches of John Hughes and Freaks and Geeks.

      I would take doing another season of VGHS over a “real” short film any day of the week. We did our best to make a heartfelt comedy blockbuster on a 1/100th of the budget. I think we came pretty close :-)

      Anyways. Thanks for posting the breakdown. Love hearing people talk about the show whether they dug it or hated it.

      • While I agree that shorts and festivals are kind of old hat, I haven’t seen any of the hardcore well-known web content creators go beyond the web in the way say Lena Dunham has after grinding festivals for years before Tiny Furniture. And, when web hits do turn into major opportunities (Fede Alvarez for example) you’ll almost always be able to trace their history back to a life of grinding in the actual industry, not on the uncharted outskirts.

        What I REALLY want to comment on is that graph putting VGHS on the same page as THE WALKING DEAD. Kudos to your followship (not even a word) and being able to tap your audience for your budget… VGHS is a far stretch from THE WALKING DEAD and most syndicated narrative shows.

        It’s great for web content, right up there with Mortal Kombat and The Halo Series–belonging rightfully on that graph, but there’s a reason why TWD costs what it costs.

        Releasing the budget breakdown in this way is a good advertisement, though. Some of the lower tier execs searching for a new cash cow and/or a fresh start will look at it and think dollar signs.

        Also, if it sounds like I’m a wee-bit jealous, it’s ’cause I am! =D Beat ya to it.

        • We’re referencing Walking Dead because it happens to be one of the only shows we can get any kind of ballpark numbers on – it does us absolutely no good to try and guess at show budget numbers. If any of you have verifiable numbers on a more appropriate show, I’d be more than happy to incorporate those into the infographic.

          Also, you make a mistake in assuming that we want to “go beyond the web.” We strongly believe that web content is a new medium like television before it, and like cinema before that. If we went back in time to the turn of the 20th century and looked at the nickelodeons and Edison’s shorts of men doing backflips and horses running, it would be similarly easy to write off cinema in favor of the theater.

          Does anyone pay attention to the talent on the Edison short films? Or is it just teenage fanboys and people who like to watch EPIC FAIL videos? LOL.

    • Ben Howling on 12.20.12 @ 7:24PM

      IMO, their approach is much better than making ‘a real short film’. They’ve got multiple levels of experience behind them, plus a devoted audience.
      1) They’ve got a feature length production under their belt. Future investors (serious investors) will prefer to know they’re dealing with people who have had experience on that front before, as opposed to a rookie.
      2) They’ve got a successful web series under their belt. With the changing dynamic in broadcast and entertainment, these guys are on the front line of the next wave of productions. If you’re a successful brand, looking to explore branded content with a legit online web series, then these guys have to be in the mix of potential candidates.
      3) They’ve got a devoted, and strong fan base which they can use as a selling point for bringing investors on in future.
      4) The experience these guys would have gained from a production this large is priceless. You would literally have to work your way up several ladders to gain exposure to the details they would have been dealing with. Whether or not they were a financial success doesn’t matter – they’ve got experience, and the financial burden didn’t burn any bridges that lead to the pool of real production investment.

      I think what these guys have done is nothing short of amazing.

      • Freddie has been invoked in feature films before. A little research goes a long way.

        Some people don’t want to do features. It looks more like they’re trying to go where real money is, television.

        • I was discussing the merits of their approach in a general sense…. I don’t really see what point you’re trying to make that’s relevant to what I said.

          • “They’ve got a feature length production under their belt…”

            I thought “They” meant this actual team. I didn’t realize they meant “everyone in the world”.

            Got it now.

          • Ben Howling on 12.22.12 @ 5:35PM

            “They” (aka freddiew and corridor digital) are the example. The subject is the experience they gained from their approach. The subject can be applied to everyone who is tossing up between spending $600K on ‘a real short film’, or on a feature length web series.
            I’m sorry if this confused you, but it’s only the comments section of a blog, so I didn’t prepare a slideshow or notes for people to follow along.

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