Why do commercials cost so much?

I’m working on an ad campaign at the moment, and it’s an interesting break from the more traditional film, television, and new media stuff I’ve been doing over the years.

I forgot that 10 years ago when I got my first “break” in the business, it was working on a couple of commercial sets in Seattle.

I never went back to working on commercials after moving to Los Angeles. Not that there were some points where financially, I wished I could have, my energy just never really worked in that direction.

Now that I’m at least being a tourist back in the commercial biz, I find that a lot of people in the business hate what they’re doing, or just seem to be totally deluded about the importance of advertising (or the creative that goes with it).

The more I examine it, the more convinced I am that the exorbitant costs of producing commercials is more a product of self-loathing than it is based in any rational logic.

The director’s who’ll create a feature film and spend a year or more of their life on it for $50k, or even DGA minimums of $300k, and won’t take a commercial for less than $10k PER DAY. There are a number of commercial directors who do movies at $5m for a year or two of their lives, and demand $50k a day to shoot commercials.

The producers – who on the feature and television sides often work tirelessly for years to see a project through, often with paydays that average out to less than $100k/year for the years they put into a film (again, this is referring to the 1% at the top, not the averages by any means), and their commercial counterparts who arguably know less about real filmmaking, pricing themselves at $50k for a month of work.

This reaches all the way down the line too. Cameramen that I could hire on features and TV for $500/day or so, won’t set foot on a commercial set for less than $700/10 – meaning that in the guaranteed overtime of a commercial set due to noodling by a tent full of ad agency execs, his day rate will come close to, if not over, $1000 for the day.

Watching the actions and words of some people in the commercial business, it’s clear that a lot of them hate advertising and commercials as much as the average non-industry person does. They know deep down that what they create is an uninvited, often infuriating intrusion and a meaningless distraction in the world at large. And in order to make it ok, they try to make sure it generates enough money they can buy their souls back.