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Why puppets cost so much…

This year has already been super busy in regards to puppet orders. I think the new Muppets movie has really started a resurgence in puppetry. But sometimes the price of a custom made puppet will surprise (and scare) potential customers.

After providing a quote, I had one customer say that they could go to a Scholar’s Choice store and pick up a puppet for a fraction of what I quoted them. Another customer asked me why my puppets are so cheap compared to other puppeteers they asked quotes from. In this day in age of mass manufacturing and the culture of “something for nothing” I believe it is our role as puppet builders to educate the client as to why our puppet cost “X” amount of dollars…here are my reasons:

1) The Design of the character- Am I building a 7 foot ape or a 14inch mouse puppet? Do you want blinking eyes? Is the character furry? Do I have to build a unique wardrobe for the character? The design of the character will define (to some degree) the overall price.

2) Materials- This one is a biggie. Some people don’t understand why I don’t sell puppets under $50. Here is my breakdown of how much materials cost:
-Reticulated Foam- $260 per bolt (tac on $60 for shipping)
-Poly Foam- $17-$25 per metre
-Faux Fur- $17-$45 per metre (depending on length and quality)
-Antron Fleece- $17-$24 per metre (including shipping)
-Incidentals- Doll eyes ($4 per pack), half globes ($25 for a pack of 8), latex gloves ($25 per box), contact cement ($45 Barge after shipping), thread ($3), wood dowel ($5), brass rods ($8 each, usually need 2), soddering wire ($15), electrical shrink wrap ($10), Fabric for mouth ($5-$10 per metre), sharpies, razorblades, cutting board, gasket rubber, wood, rivets, hammer, pliers, vice…coffee 🙂

Obviously I don’t charge the full amount for incidentials but I add a small percentage in to cover the cost of these materials.

3) Deadline- Do you need the puppet in a day? If you do, it’ll cost you.

4) Labor- Yes, I need to get paid too 🙂 It usually takes me 3 days (30 hours or more) to build a custom puppet. Even if I was to charge (bare minimum) $15 per hour, you are looking at paying at least $450 just in labor costs to start. The art of hand crafting has been lost. Many people don’t realize the amount of time and effort it takes to hand sew an entire puppet by hand, hand dye fabrics, and basically create a memorable character from a bunch of supplies.

5) Other underlining issues- I inform customers that I work at a fulltime job, thus allowing me the flexibility to pick and choose the projects I want to work on and the ability to cut some of the price down. Other puppeteers rely on puppetry to put food on their table, thus they may need to charge a little more for their work. I relate Puppet Building to any other trade- some contractors will charge more than others for the same job.

6) Experience- A puppeteer who has been in the industry for 30 years, and has an amazing portfolio may charge more for a custom built puppet compared to a first time builder who’s trying to break into the business.

Customers are also very confused as to why some prices vary from puppet builder to puppet builder. The art of puppet building doesn’t follow any regulatory rules. There are many different materials, methods and stylings to get the end result the client wants. When a customer asks me what to look for in a puppet builder I tell them that each puppet builder differs in regards of the final product and that one puppet builders standards of the finish product maybe different then my standards; not to say that my standards are “higher” or better, just different. So it is important for the customer to educate themselves on the puppet builders style and see which one suits their needs.

Usually once I explain these points to a customer they are a little bit less stressed about the whole process.

I wrote this post a week ago and was scheduled to post it today. Yesterday, (ironically) Frank Cesario- a young puppeteer, addressed these issues in a recent video. He seemed very frustrated with the whole process and the fact that customers don’t understanding why puppets cost so much. It was great to see how open he was about the topic and that his issues are echoed by many puppeteers, including this one. 🙂