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Business aspects Re: [TCML] Giant 13M Eye Candy

David Rieben wrote:
Hi Phil, all,

Yes, I was thinking the same thing as to the cost
of such a "project". Of course I have no idea what
the total final cost would be and I'm sure that Jeff
isn't going to share any of that kind of info with us.
However, I'd suppose that by the time you consider
all the fancy NEW system components along with the
time, labor and expertise that is going into the cre-
ation of this system, the transportation for the coil itself
and all of the support crew to and from Beijing, including
food and lodging and/or expense accounts, you'd have to
be looking at several million US dollar$ !!

David Rieben

And one should distinguish between the "estimated cost", the " actual cost", the "bid price", amd the "actual amount paid", which, in the entertainment industry are all likely to be different.

I imagine most of us on the list could, after sitting down with the catalogs, figure out what it would cost to buy the materials for a coil, brand new. And, then, you could probably figure out how long it would take to build it (work hours wise). Note that we hobby types tend to spend longer building a coil because you're improvising to use something you found cheap. If you just buy what you need, in the form you need it, it's a different process.

Then, you need to allow for a place to build it, tools (I note that Jeff has a forklift.. something essential for building big stuff.. ), relationships with vendors who provide useful services (machine shops, etc.).

Shipping to China? I assume you put all the stuff in one or more containers, and it's around $2K to ship a container anywhere in the world. Then you'll have the container loaded on a truck, and pay some mileage fee (used to be something like $.50/mile, but I'm sure it's easily three or four times that now), but you could look that up in a catalog too, or get a bid from a trucking company.

And then there's the usual "running a business" kinds of things to factor in. taxes, insurance, cost of money (you have to pay for stuff before you get your money for what you're building, and most small businesses don't raise working cash by selling stock.. you borrow it from the bank, and recently, that has been a royal pain.)

When I was in the effects business, we did our pricing fairly simply..

We'd take the cost of materials (including spares) and add the cost of labor (we'd use $25/hr and double it to cover taxes, insurance, etc), and add the cost of any special unique expenses (rental of equipment, travel, shipping, etc.). Then, we'd double that. That's the number you'd quote to the production company. You'd get a deposit from them of 50% (solving the working cash problem). When the job is done, you invoice them for the balance (adjusting for changes in things like rental equipment, but the labor and parts were bid as fixed price, with changes if the shoot ran an extra day). They'd whine and complain of poverty, and you'd wind up taking 90%.

The "doubling" the estimate provides the cushion for unexpected expenses (which always occur) and pays the overheads, business taxes, liability insurance, etc. It's not perfect, but if you stay reasonably busy, it works out. Also, in the effects business, all the workers are essentially contract day labor.. nobody gets a salary, so if there's no job in the shop, everyone goes home, and you turn off the lights.

Some effects houses have a secondary line of business selling some sort of product, or renting specialized equipment, which allows them to have a continuous small stream of business to pay for someone to answer phones and keep the front office open. For instance, there's a guy named Matt Sweeney who makes specialized air guns that shoot hollow pellets used for all sorts of "bullet hit" effects (fill the pellet with fuller's earth, and you get little puffs of dust when it hits). He sells and rents these "Sweeney guns", as well as actually doing effects. The company where I used to work, Reel EFX, makes fans and the Diffusion Fogger. Several other firms rent out specialized rigs (often ones they built for a job) like water dump tanks, big fans powered by V8 motors, pivoting platforms with hydraulic cylinders to actuate them, "flying rigs", trebuchets, etc.

Jeff's operation is fairly unique, and somewhat different from D.C. Cox's Resonance Research. He's got a specialized niche catering to live shoots and effects work, while D.C. does more permanent displays (although I'm sure they've both done both kinds of things). It's not like the worldwide market for tesla coils is huge either. This sort of specialization is generally a good thing. There's enough idiosyncracies in the business, both in knowing what the customers need and in just creating the thing your selling, that it takes a while to get the combination successful (need a big artificial tornado? Talk to Reel EFX.. others build tornadoes, but nobody else can make the tornado "hit the mark" for the camera, and provide the support personnel and infrastructure tailored to a shoot)

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