Two of the most common questions asked about video production is "how much" and "how long?" In two previous blogs, we tackled, "how long," and the first part of, "how much." In this blog, we do a deep dive into "how much," and the differences between a $3.5K, $8K, $20K, and $40K production.
We compared asking how much it costs to produce a video to asking how much a car costs in the previous blog in this series. A Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are both electric cars with steering wheels, air conditioning, power windows and locks, headlights, seats, seatbelts, and places to store your cargo. However, you could buy three Nissan Leaves (Leafs?) for the cost of one Tesla Model S Performance.
Video production works the same way. You can get a compelling video without a significant investment, but there are compromises made when you lower the price.
For comparison, we'll use the same interview-style video, approximately two-minutes long, with b-roll, motion graphics, and lower-thirds used in our previous blogs.
If you only have 30 seconds, this table covers everything you need to know.
The Deep Dive
The Crew for Production Day
Lower Cost: At the lower end of the spectrum, the production will have a crew of two or three people on production day. There will be, at the minimum, an executive producer, who will likely also be your cameraperson and a production assistant that will aid the overall production. If there is a third person, it will probably be a dedicated camera operator or a sound engineer.
Higher Cost: At the highest end of the spectrum, the production could have a crew of 15 to 25. First is the producer or with smaller agencies, the executive producer. This person oversees everything that happens on the shoot. There will be a gaffer, who is the lead technician for lighting and electrical. The gaffer may hire one or two assistants, called best boys or grips. Best boys are second in command to the gaffer. If there are two, one focuses on electrical, and the other focuses on cameras (deployment, connections, wiring, mounting).
An interview-style video could have two to three camera operators, and each camera operator could have the support of a focus puller or a grip. There will be a sound engineer and at least one boom operator that supports them. The boom operator holds the microphone over the talent, makes sure the location remains constant, and keeps the microphone and boom out of view of the cameras. The sound engineer will manage the recording of the non-sync audio and is responsible for its clarity and quality.
There will be a makeup artist and hairstylist (sometimes the same person) for the talent appearing in the video. There could be a property master who manages props, and a wardrobe person if there are clothing changes to be made. There could be a production assistant for cue cards or a teleprompter, called a script wrangler. For talent with specific riders, there could be a requirement for an assistant to provide support.
If the video requires a lot of b-roll in different locations, there could be a second unit with an independent producer, camera operator, gaffer, grip, and production assistant.
Lower Cost: The essential equipment to create a quality video includes at least one full-frame camera, a quality tripod with a floating head, three studio lights, and an external microphone. It is possible to shoot with two, one, or even no lights, for example, if you're outside on a sunny day. Still, even then, a good reflector is typically needed to take shadows off of the face, and you may need some scrim cloth to reduce glare.
A big camera doesn't mean a good camera anymore. Mirrorless cameras are small and can take images that rival or even exceed more substantial and expensive gear. Additionally, it is easy to argue that the cameraperson is more critical than the camera itself.
Quality lighting is also easier to manage. LED lights providing more compact solutions that are durable, don't require much electricity and don't generate talent roasting heat. However, lower-cost LED lights may not produce the best light, and without diffusers will be harsh and create shadows.
Higher Cost: While you can create a quality video with a $2000 mirrorless camera and a $500 lens, the highest-end productions require 8K video. A Red Cinema camera body costs $55K, and you can spend a lot more. Glass (slang for a lens) from Leica or Arri can cost $30K, $40K, and more. Higher price lenses create the illusion of more depth of field, separation of your talent from the background, and can better bokeh (blurred backgrounds and objects).
Depending on your needs, shots could require steady cams, gimbals, booms, cranes, sliders, or tracks. All of these tools create motion versus the fixed shot on a tripod. Many production companies will rent this equipment because it is difficult to amortize the cost of owning it.
Individual microphones in high-end production can cost thousands of dollars. Digital non-sync audio equipment (not recorded on the same device as video) can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Then there is lighting, diffusers, reflectors, and scrim.
Whether your production is low end or high end, your agency has to rent equipment or amortize the cost of the gear they own. That cost is either embedded in the estimate or broken out. There is no right or wrong answer, and at Badon Hill Group, we list our equipment fee separately if any are incurred.
Lower Cost: The easiest way to lower costs without having to make a significant compromise is shooting in a single location. When you add locations, you add complexity and additional requirements for crew and equipment. Another way to lower costs is by shooting in a conference room, office, or open area versus renting a studio. Your producers will want to scout any location to make sure that there is adequate space, power for equipment, and that they can control sound and light.
Higher Cost: On the other end of the spectrum, a higher cost production will have multiple locations, shots in studios, and could require the construction of sets or other temporary structures to support your vision. For complex projects, there could be additional film crews at different locations, carpenters, and set designers. For a high-cost interview video, a second crew may follow the talent for a day, or more, as they do a variety of activities.
Lower Cost: A lower-cost production will capture minimal b-roll, which is secondary content, usually recorded without sound. It could be a couple of minutes of the talent walking down a hallway, pretending to talk on a phone, using a computer, or interacting with other employees. B-roll helps tell a story visually, helps hide cuts in editing, and makes a video more attractive to the audience. Even if an interview-style video is 60 or 90 seconds, the current generation of watchers needs dynamic content to keep their attention.
Higher Cost: A higher cost production will have more b-roll, in more locations, and of higher quality. There may be a separate person for doing screen captures and walk-throughs of software or cloud products. If your video shows tangible goods, there could be studio shots on a turntable, in a lightbox, or for consumer packaged goods such as food, the preparation, and consumption of the product. B-roll could include drone shots, steady cam, and action cameras. Commercial drones require a skilled pilot with an FAA license, while steady cams need experienced operators. Action cams may be simple, but you can't adjust them once the action starts. It takes a skilled operator to know where and how to mount one and what settings to use to get useful content.
Lower Cost: Lower cost production will use sync audio. That means that the audio and video are recorded concurrently to the same device. The upside is this makes post-production easier, may eliminate the need for a sound engineer and boom operator, and requires less equipment. The downside is a slight reduction in audio quality. For an interview-style video of a single person using a single camera, this isn't likely a significant issue.
Higher Cost: Higher cost production will use non-sync audio. Non-sync audio is audio recorded to a separate device from the video. Non-sync audio adds a layer of complexity to production but opens up more options in post-production. Post-production editors know how to put the audio and video together so they "sync" when played back. Badon Hill Group prefers to produce using non-sync audio, even for lower-cost productions.
Lower Cost: With less total content, camera angles, and b-roll, it is easier to edit a more economical video in post-production. The client will have a very active role in identifying the audio parts that best support their message.
A single editor handles post-production editing the audio and video, creating basic graphics, and doing some necessary enhancements. There are usually three rounds of edits after assembly: a rough cut, a first pass, and a final cut. Each round of edits requires less work from the editor. Post-production could take weeks to complete as it moves through the agency's queue.
Higher Cost: On the other end, post-production could require a team of editors, specialists, and technicians. The audio could have a different group of editors. Foley specialists, who create sound effects, could be employed. Post-production could be expedited, even the same day for certain situations.
Artists that specialize in visual effects, animation, and motion graphics could be required. Musicians may be needed to compose a score, lyrics and perform it. That will require a recording studio and another group of technicians.
Colorists, people that specialize in doing color correction and improving the physical appearance of your talent, could be brought in during the final phase of editing. These are specialists that use additional software and their knowledge to make your last cut pop.
The client may have minimal input on the first draft, called a rough cut, with the executive producer owning the story. Additionally, if the raw video is 8K, powerful workstations will be required to process the video. A top of the line Apple Workstation costs $50K.
There will likely be multiple editing sessions with client meetings. The different components, such as motion graphics, soundtrack, and foley, may be approved independently, and reapproved after the rough cut.
Process in General
Lower Cost: Simply put, the lower the cost, the more the client will own and the less project management will be available. At the lowest end, there won't be a script. Instead, the client will supply questions to ask the talent, and their responses are assembled into a statement. Additionally, there may not be any spoken word content, with a video relying only on creative commons music and video images.
Higher Cost: At the high end, the agency will be heavily involved in the pre-production phase. They will work collaboratively to create a script, a storyboard, an order of shots with detailed descriptions, and a call sheet (among many other resources).
We hope this series has provided insight into why it is so challenging to answer the question, "how much does a video cost," with no additional input. A good agency will spend time scoping the needs of the client. They will take a do no harm approach, providing a realistic quote only after they fully understand the client's vision.
If you're new to video production for your business or in your role, you should ask clarifying questions. Develop a clear understanding of what is and isn't provided, and where you can make compromises to meet a price point.
Have more questions? Contact Badon Hill Group at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to share best practices with the business community.