$500 YouTube Video Gets Director $30 Million To Play With From Hollywood

from the seems-a-bit-much dept

cram writes in to let us know of a filmmaker/post production guy in Uruguay who spent a grand total of $500 to make a 5 minute “robots attack the world” movie that he put on YouTube, and, in response, has now been given tens of millions of dollars by a Hollywood production company to do something more significant:

There are a few things that are a bit unclear from the story, which alternates at points between dollars and pounds, so you may question the validity of the details. However, watching the video is quite compelling, yet again. We’ve seen other top amateur films with amazing special effects made on the cheap, and this is another one to add to the pile. Hollywood keeps insisting that it needs to produce $200 million movies, and studio insiders, who like to hang out in our comments and dismiss amateur special effects as being worthless, will — of course — mock this as being nothing special. And, sure, you can definitely see that the quality of the $500 effort is not the same as a big budget Hollywood film. But it’s not that far off. And what can be done today for $500 couldn’t even have been matched by Hollywood’s bigshots a decade ago. Just think what an amateur and $500 will do a decade from now? And then explain, again, why we’re going to “need” to produce $200 million special effect bonanza movies again?

In the meantime, congrats to this guy, who turned $500 into a chance to play around with a lot more (though, not $200 million). It’s difficult to turn that sort of opportunity down, though it would have been even cooler to see what he could have done on a smaller budget as well.

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Comments on “$500 YouTube Video Gets Director $30 Million To Play With From Hollywood”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: hoax?

Oh, how hard is it to believe that a guy spent $500 to make a Youtube video in his spare time and then some big shot movie producer from Uruguay (who’s in LA) saw it, and thought that it was so cool that he just gave the guy $1,000,000 and a budget of $43,200,00 to make a movie with “Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi.

OK, that douse sound like a visual effects owner’s wet dream.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: hoax?

Well, if you wanted to give away 50M movie-making “scholarships”, why not go to a film school and start handing them out to the films of the top directors? Wouldn’t that be a way safer bet than using a random Youtube video guy? If it did happen that a guy made a $500 Youtube video and now he’s in this position, there sure are a lot of unknown steps in between:
1. make youtube video for $500.
2. ???
3. get $50m to make the movie with Sam Raimi.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: hoax?

I was actually half agreeing with you. The scholarship idea is much better, the guy owns a visual effects shop, and if this guy can make that kind of movie with $500 why would they pay him a million to make a movie with a $42 million budget.

It’s possible that this all happened and it all happened that quick, but what are the odds?

This is still a damn good example of giving your work away for free to sell other works, even if it is some mass conspiracy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: hoax?

Totally agree.

$500 of purchases + several hundred man hours curiously costed at $0/hr. Assuming that all the hardware we see was CG, and all the extras volunteered or were taken from old archive footage or were also CG (unlikely) then we still have the time spent designing the robots, etc etc.

$500 is just the actual cash handed over to buy stuff, presumably ? Time, actors and and the electricity and heating in the home he used as production premises don’t count etc etc.

Did he compose the music too ? Or was that donated royalty free ?

I hate the way people’s time is never included in these stories. You might give your time for a labour of love but people who do this for a living need to be paid.

Hey, if you don’t count the labour, do you know how cheap Office 2007 was to develop ?

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 hoax?

It could easily be done for $500. I could do that kind of video quality with my $120 1080p hand held. Everything else is just editing. I’d also bet that he only had like 4 or 5 extras and the rest were edited in. But, we must keep in mind that he already had the software to do all of this.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 hoax?

Nicely done though … seems to be the same 25-35 people over and over again, unless you see their faces, then they seem to not show up again. The camera style is the same as the early episodes of the new BattleStar Galactica where the camera shakes as the vipers fly by. The building blow ups are all trangular in form. All the explosions are along a line, vertical or horizontal. The top of a building blows up not the whole building.

I can see how this could be done with a 1080p camera and a laptop. So a hoax? it could have been done by ILM, but I tend to want the best of humanity.

So lets do the Will Smith movie independence day over with this guy as the director. His movies cost was 5 minutes for 500 dollars … or … 100 dollars a minute. The movie independence day had a budget of 70-75 million it was 145 minutes long at this directors price of 100 dollars a minute … thats $14,500 USD. No wonder they want him for the next spiderman movie!!!! Talk about cost savings!!

Lets not talk about people finding out how cheap these movies can be made for … lets just hire him so he doesnt tell anyone else …

Richard (profile) says:

I've always been skeptical

of the budgets for CGI special effects anyway. CGI ought to be cheap it’s just computation – which is cheap these days anyway.

Ever since I first worked of real time image generation – over 25 years ago I’ve failed to understand how the film industry managed to waste so much money doing things that I knew could be done for much less.

Have a look at the povray hall of fame for many examples of low budget effects.


Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: I've always been skeptical

The reason it’s expensive is render time. In order to render at super-high resolution for the big screen, on a deadline

But if you’re not on a deadline….

and the youtube video isn’t super high resolution

and the super high res only generates about a factor sixteen – still only takes you from $500 to $8000 not $200M

Felisha says:


$500 isn’t a lot of money when you take into account that most software that a person uses like 3D studio Max or others will be more than $500. There is some wonderful films that are being done on open source platforms as well but usually not this good. You also have to take the time to conceive, model, shoot, render, composite, and final post is all very time consuming. At $5/hour this person would have to do it in about 100 hours not counting software, hardware, or camera costs. A big budget film while sometimes over the top has a time frame in which they have to get the movie done in and involves hundreds of people. Look at the credits at the end of the movie sometime. Those credits don’t even count the hundreds of uncredited people on the back.

Kudos, to this person for a well executed short. I hope that he does well in the future.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Money

“$500 isn’t a lot of money when you take into account that most software that a person uses like 3D studio Max or others will be more than $500.”

That’s a one-time fixed expense. It’s not accurate to simply tack that cost entirely onto a single project, unless that’s the only project you’ll ever do. If you’re a serious hobbyist, you’ll have already purchased something like this anyway, so it’s probably not accurate to figure that cost into the budget at all.

:) says:

Colin Levy


Great kid lots of very good tutorials to make some very cool effects working in the new short film from the blender foundation.

And the special effects to bad he don’t have the one that he imitates the nightcrawler on x-men that one was cool.

C’mon is not that difficult to do it.

I did camera tracking to change car plates in some videos of some friends that didn’t want to get in trouble so they could post those and I’m not a film maker.

The part that gets me is animation I just don’t have the eye to see how things move, but if it is to put static things in film I can do it and it doesn’t take much time.

Charles Vestal (user link) says:

$500 on what?

Saying this film was made for $500 is pretty disingenous. If you have donated/volunteer actors, free time from the filmmaker in his off hours, presumably equipment and software being “loaned” from his day job, you are looking at a significantly larger chunk of change. Still probably less than 20k all told, given the cost of consumer equipment capable of this level of effects, but why would this cost $500 and not be totally free? Because it sounds better to be a cheap professional than to be a hobbyist.

:) says:

Renderfarm DIY on the cheap.


To get great results you don’t need thousands of machines.
And with Graphics cards reaching processing speeds on the order of super-computers(CUDA) people don’t need that much to get really cool effects.

It will cost you $10.000 today to have a very good farm that can render realistic scenes in a day.

Anonymous Coward says:

The thing that is never calculated in these costs is human time. It’s a $500 movie with about $50,000 worth of man time, and an unknown amount of software and computer time, etc.

Cost is a very relative thing.

Avatar is a great example. $300 million dollar movie, and a few years from now, the expensive software that was designed to do it will likely be available for a few thousand dollars. The cost of developing cutting edge stuff is much higher than any of us can imagine. Replicating it a few years later isn’t anywhere near as expensive.

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Avatar is a great example. $300 million dollar movie…
I’m putting donuts up to say this movie shouldn’t have cost so much.

In relation to Hollywood’s charge for per-hour use vs. the normalized rest of the world, this “$500” would be turned into “$120,000”. It’s very conceivable to produce a movie for far, far less expense than what “Hollywood” does it for.

Mike’s position on why Hollywood feels the need to spend so much is a little misleading, for it’s generally the “unseen” costs that inflate a movie’s production cost.

Hollywood is notoriously expensive. Try billing a top-name actor in a movie, as an example. Is any actor worth more than several hundred thousand dollars to “act”?

I’m betting what we’ll see in the future from Avatar is students taking a new approach to movie visualizations, rather than story. Avatar, from what I’ve read so far, is more about the scenery than the story, retold again as to be typical.

While many believe 3D to be the “wave of the future” for movies, I can’t agree. No matter how well a movie is made or its expense, if people don’t like it, “3D” means nothing.

Ishtar, anyone? Or how about Howard the Duck? Even Speilberg himself has a stinker with A.I..

I enjoy Cameron’s works, and this alone makes me want to see Avatar, but if this is nothing more than a glorified mecha anime plot, I will be disappointed regardless how expensive it was to make.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The 300 million includes 15 years of work to not only make the movie, but also to develop and create the tools to make it. That included a system that allowed the cgi backgrounds to run and for the filming of actors to be done in a manner that the director can see them working together, to make sure the live action makes sense and fits in.

The next movie made with the same technology will be much cheaper.

Mr $500 movie made his cheaply because he is using technology who’s development has already been paid out by others over time. Instead of hiring a team to create 3d modeling software, he uses a package he already bought for something else (so the cost doesn’t appear in this movie) that didn’t cost him more than a week’s pay for a good developer) and thus, his costs are lower.

If you add up the development costs of the products he used (to make it comparable to Avatar in that regard) I suspect his movie would be in the tens of millions for cost, rather than $500.

Sort of like buying an old car for $500, and then expecting the dealer to sell you a brand new one for the same price.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you add up the development costs of the products he used (to make it comparable to Avatar in that regard) I suspect his movie would be in the tens of millions for cost, rather than $500.

Sort of like buying an old car for $500, and then expecting the dealer to sell you a brand new one for the same price.

The development costs aren’t included when you buy even a new car – then it would cost $5 Billion.

However in Graphics most development of new rendering techniques has been done by academics – who then publish the results in ACM TOG, Computers & Graphics and/or present them at SIGGRAPH or other conferences so everyone can just use them for free. Now if the movie industry had had to pay for all that work….

:) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Want to see a link to a game of pac-man?

Augmented reality was not developed for this movie, it has decades of development and I doubt the money came from the movie industry.


And there is the fact that there is open source tools to create augmented reality apps.



Nice try though.

jsf (profile) says:

$500 Amount is Misleading

If the story is true congratulations to whoever made this. It is kind of interesting and pretty well done.

Even if it is true however the $500 amount is VERY misleading. You can not make a video like this for $500. Given the quality of the video I would expect that the camera(s) used cost more then $500. Plus you have the cost of the PC(s) used to created the CGI and do the editing. And unless he used only open source software there is A LOT more the $500 worth of software used.

Now doing a video like this for a real cost of only a few thousand dollars I can believe, but you don’t make this using a $500 laptop and it’s built-in webcam.

jimbobalu (profile) says:

Story Line

The story line is not that compelling. Why is it aliens invade shooting chemical rockets, which they can only carry so many of but keep magically reloading, and why do they bother destroying buildings when they just go to the center of town and join up to explode destroying said buildings again??? I really didn’t find the effects that compelling or believable.

Nick says:

Missing the point

I spent 10+ years in the animation & vfx industry.

(a) In a big budget movie, most of the money goes to the talent, not the effects people. Duh.

(b) yes, some movies like Avatar involve developing new technology, but most don’t. Saying that this guy didn’t budget for developing the fx tools he’s using is bogus.

(c) if you can call in favors you can easily rent a good enough camera in Uraguay for the budget. Assuming the people were donating their time and he already had the software, this was probably the biggest expense.

(d) the cost of rendering is way overblown. Yes, it’s far quicker to do YouTube resolution (I would guess he actually did 16×9 NTSC) than film — it’s 1/4 or less of the number of pixels. But bear in mind he had no particular deadline and rendering power is pretty cheap these days. What did he care if it took 6 months to render? Where you get in to big rendering bills is when you need a lot of hi-res frames in a very short space of time.

(e) After talent, leeches (sorry, producers) and unions, the biggest source of cost in a Hollywood production, is the clusterf*ck that is a typical hollywood schedule. Everything is always a rush and that costs more. Doing it on your own timeline is a much much cheaper proposition.

The guy clearly has talent. The budget is realistic for what he did as a passionate/skilled amateur (and I only say amateur because he’s not an official Hollywood type).

Scaling that to a Hollywood-style production will be tough. I wish him luck.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point

(a) In a big budget movie, most of the money goes to the talent, not the effects people. Duh.

Funny. I wrote that on a recent post, and one of our regular commenters, who works for the movie industry insisted it was the other way around. He pointed to the effects budget on Spiderman and said it was much more than the talent.

Freedom is Freeloading says:

Re: Re: Missing the point

Funny. I wrote that on a recent post, and one of our regular commenters, who works for the movie industry insisted it was the other way around.

No, I did not insist it was “the other way around” as that would be just as stupid as the comment I was replying to. What I DID say was the largest costs of a movie depends on the movie. “paying for stars” is not automatically the highest expenditure despite your assertions to the contrary.

Avatar and Spiderman are far from the only examples where the visual effects budget exceeded the casting budget. (The Matrix, 2012, The Hulk, District 9, The Day After Tomorrow, Star Trek etc) When you actually have to pay people for their work, and you don’t have half a decade to stretch out production, things get expensive fast.

What a surprise.

Tom Black says:


So the guy made an effects-heavy sequence that looks okay for a small investment. So what? It’s meaningless without a story of some sort to make you care about what’s happening. The shots tell us nothing about the relationships. They don’t express any awareness of actual filmmaking technique. This is little more than an effects reel and as such it’s successful, but to hand a larger budget over to a guy who can cheaply composite silly-looking robots into footage is a bit ridiculous. Of course, stranger things have happened.

Fentex says:


There is no way that cost only $500. Such a valuation must ignore the cost of labour and certainly the cost of plant and equipment used in rendering the effects.

The extras in the scenes may have volunteered their time, but it isn’t reasonable to not count what it would cost to pay for people when comparing production with a professional show.

It’s a fun little piece, and a great way to demonstrate ones prowess as a producer, director and special effects artist.

And a strong argument about the quality of art not depending on ridiculous quantities of cash – but I don’t think it helps drive the points home by using distracting figures that invite argument over their veracity rather than consideration of the film makers success.

jezsik (profile) says:

A more interesting question ...

So, that’s what a hobbyist can do for pocket change, eh? What can he do with a few million? Well, a much more interesting question would be “How much would it cost Hollywood to produce that clip?” I think the biggest problem facing traditional filmmakers is a perception that you have to throw money around like a chimp flinging feces if you want to get anything done.

Matt says:

didn't you read the original story?

This guy took several years to make this, not several months. This is an old story. He didn’t buy 3D software, he self-admittedly pirated it. He used Maya and Soft Image, if I remember correctly. He shot the footage with people who volunteered, as is often the case when making small independent projects like this. He taught himself everything that he knows, and as far as owning a visual effects company, he most likely works out of his house, and has a staff of one – himself. He was not a successful VFX creator. He was just a guy who could do a lot with a little. Now he has a lot to work with, and likely he’ll do something even better than this.

For those of you that think VFX doesn’t cost a lot of money, you seem to think that studios making big movies use stock footage, or pre-made 3D models. They don’t. They make everything from scratch. Building a believable 3D model takes a boatload of time, no matter how good you are. Lighting a 3D scene, texturing and shading, adding kinematics, skinning, and animating movement that looks real all take a boatload of time. Sure, he spent several years doing this, so if he valued his time in dollars, he probably spent the equivalent of $150k making this movie. But he didn’t spend that. He used his FREE time. It’s called free time because it doesn’t cost us anything. If you are any good at filmmaking, you too can make a movie for $500. If you want to get paid for your free time, then don’t go into the movie making business. You have to give away a lot of your free time before you see a $30M paycheck.

Good for this guy. Even if he sucked (which I don’t think he does) he still got the deal that every pissed off person on this board wishes they got, but didn’t. Don’t be jealous. Go out and make your own awesome video and spend the time promoting it until it goes viral and see if you can make your own name. But don’t be a hater.

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