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Production
A Definitive Guide to Video Production Costs
Jul 26, 2018

“How much does a video cost?” is usually the first question a marketing team asks when planning to produce a video. But if you’ve ever done the due diligence of asking multiple production companies for estimates, you might end up even more confused than you were when you started.

Three different proposals may vary by tens of thousands of dollars, which can leave you wondering how the same video concept can have such drastically different budgets.

This confusion usually leads you to consider two options:

  1. Go for the least expensive option - especially if it’s an explainer video or testimonial video.
  2. Reconsider if it’s worth hiring a professional video production company at all and try to produce it internally instead

There are several reasons why choosing the least expensive video production company or doing it yourself might backfire.

However, before we get to that, the truth is that understanding video production costs doesn’t have to be confusing at all.

What You Need in Order to Understand Video Production Costs

Understanding video production costs becomes surprisingly easy if you have a basic grasp of two things:

  1. Key Cost Drivers: The major cost drivers that impact the overall video production cost.
  2. Production Phases: The different stages of producing a video and the specific costs within each phase.

Most of us see only the end output, usually a one to two-minute video. What isn’t visible are the various behind-the-scenes activities that every production company performs while creating a compelling video - one that your audience will truly love and that will help you bring in lots of new customers.

In this article, we’ll give you insider knowledge on what goes into a video budget and explain all three of the above elements, without getting too technical.

Once you do understand these elements, you’ll be able to:

  • Appreciate the differences between multiple proposals.
  • Determine which proposal will deliver the maximum value and ROI for your business goals.
  • Decide on the budget you should allocate for your video.

We’ll discuss all this in detail, but for a moment, let’s return to the question of why your company should hire a video production company and not attempt to produce it internally.

The Impact of Quality on Video ROI

Have you considered the following questions?

How much reach and engagement (views, likes, shares, comments) do you want from your video?

How do you want your audience to perceive your brand after they have seen the video?

How many customers do you want the video to acquire for you?

You want people to watch your video, share it, and talk about it. You also want your video to build trust and encourage people to become your clients or customers.

For all these things to happen, your video has to be worth it.

After all, your video has to compete for attention against the millions of videos uploaded and shared on YouTube and other social channels every single hour.

If your video is a TV commercial, it gets harder. It will have to compete with big brands with million dollar budgets.

Do you think a low-quality video can really do that?

Data: The Impact of Low-Quality Video

According to a Brightcove study, 62% of people will develop a negative impression of your brand from poor-quality video content. 23% will hesitate to purchase from that brand and 60% will be dissuaded from even engaging with that brand on social media.

Not great news, right?

Your video is a reflection of your brand. Going for a low-cost video could actually turn out to be extremely expensive because of the number of potential customers you could lose.

A high-quality video produced by a professional production company is an investment - whether its an explainer video, testimonial video, commercial or a crowdfunding video for kickstarter. A powerful video will keep bringing you traffic and customers for years.

Less Expensive than Adwords or even SEO

Yes, it’s true.

Video marketing, in terms of your monthly marketing spend, is actually not expensive at all.

For example, let’s say you invest $25,000 in creating a web video for your product.

It’s likely that you’ll keep using that same video for quite some time - possibly three years or longer.

That means that your proportionate monthly marketing expenditure on video production is only about $700 per month. That’s less than what you would pay each month for Google Adwords, Facebook ads or even for hiring a content writer to produce SEO-centric articles for your blog.

In those three years, the video will drive continued traffic from social channels, and if it’s hosted on your website and landing pages, it will increase conversions and drive more leads.

The Maximum Value

You’ve learned it’s best to avoid the cheapest option. However, you don’t have to take the most expensive option either. Instead, look for the one that delivers the most value.

Once we’ve taken you through the key cost drivers, production phases and line items costs, you’ll be better equipped to gauge which budget actually delivers the most value.

Key Cost Drivers in Video Production

Here are the key cost drivers that determine the cost of video production.

  1. On-Camera Talent (Actors)
  2. Number of filming locations
  3. Number of production days
  4. Length of the video
  5. Experience and expertise of a production team (director and crew)
  6. Technical complexity
  7. Quality of the equipment
  8. Usage Rights

Many of these drivers are interdependent. For instance, technical complexity impacts the number of production days, equipment quality, etc.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these cost drivers.

1. On-Camera Talent

Talent includes actors, models, voice-over artists, and other people who make appearances in the video. The more experienced and well known your talent is, the more they will cost.

2. Number of Filming Locations

Shooting a video in the office can get the job done for many B2B companies, but most B2C businesses need to carefully choose film locations that fit the script and impress their audience. Location-based expenses include location rental fees, costs for arranging shooting permits, parking for cast and crew, etc. If you plan on shooting at a unique or luxurious location, all these costs go up. If you shoot outdoors, bad weather can sometimes cause shoot delays and incur additional costs.

3. Number of Production Days

Video production professionals and actors all charge by the day. Equipment rentals, location fees, etc. are also charged on a daily basis. (There’s a common misconception that video production services are charged by the hour, which is incorrect)

The more time your video takes to conceptualize, shoot and edit, the more it will cost. The key factor that impacts the number of production days is the technical complexity of the script and the number of shoot locations.

Commercials need more detailed scripts, are often shot in multiple locations and are certainly more complex than interviews. Consequently, they take far more time to plan, film and edit and are typically more expensive.

4. Length of the Video

Longer videos requiring more footage would mean more shoot days for actors, crew, equipment rentals, locations, editing and more. All these would translate into a higher cost.

5. Experience and Expertise Level of Production Team

Every video project involves a producer, a director and a crew that includes camera operators, makeup artists, light and sound technicians and more. Experienced directors and producers will have higher day rates and they will also engage a more talented crew as part of the production team - which will also increase the production costs. We’ll break down all of these costs in the following section so you know the range of what you should be paying.

6. Technical Complexity

More complex and higher quality videos require superior equipment and more experienced talent to execute all aspects of the video production.

For instance, a video shot in a moving car will usually require special camera rigs and more setup time than something shot in a studio. Similarly, complex visual effects need more work and you’ll need a more talented visual effects artist and team. None of the above are necessary if you are shooting a simple corporate video or a training video for internal consumption, but are worth considering when beginning any video production.

7. Equipment Quality

The quality of your video will depend on the equipment you use to produce it.

We’re not just talking about cameras and lenses. Other components of your video production toolbox include audio equipment, lighting, tools to shoot moving scenes, and much more, depending on your video’s concept.

When you’re shooting a commercial, you’ll obviously need better quality equipment than a quick social media video - and hence a higher video budget.

8. Usage Rights

Where will you distribute the video?

Is it meant for consumption internally within your own company? Or will you be hosting it on the web? Or perhaps on TV networks?

Internal or web videos usually won’t incur any additional charges for usage rights, however, talent and directors will charge you higher rates for distribution on TV.

Production Phases

Understanding the stages of production will give you a far better understanding of the process of video production. After reading, you will know the activities at each stage, who performs these activities and what equipment is used. This will help you clearly understand the different costs involved.

The three stages of creating a video are:

  1. Pre-Production
  2. Production
  3. Post-Production

Let’s look at each stage in detail.

Pre-Production

Several activities need to be executed before the shoot - all of which are considered billable time. Every key department head, such as the director, producer and director of photography, will need a set amount of days to plan the shoot. These will be billed in the budget as "prep days.”

Let’s take a look at some the different activities that take place during prep days.

Concepting, Scripting and Storyboarding

Your video needs to fulfill certain business objectives – increase brand awareness, acquire more customers for the company and so on.

How well your video fulfills these objectives depends first on two things - the concept and script.

A powerful video script will speak to a specific customer problem or aspiration and offer a clear solution. It will also be authoritative, entertaining and present a specific call to action.

The creative team, comprising of the director and possibly a writer or creative director, will have discussions with your team to ideate and finalize a video script. After the script is ready, the director will typically proceed with creating a storyboard. However, more straightforward corporate video production projects like testimonial interviews usually don’t require storyboards.

Casting

If you’re shooting a promotional video for TV, the producer would typically hire a casting director who would hold auditions to select actors who match the specific requirements of your video script. However, in videos with a lower budget such as a kickstarter video production, the director or producer would probably take care of casting by themselves.

Crew Selection

Most producers work with the same group of crew members, such as directors of photography, light and sound crew and so on. If your video has requirements that are outside the norm, then they would recruit and select the necessary crew members for the production.

Location, Rentals, Permits

During this stage, location scouts will look for locations that are a good fit for the script. They will also handle all of the paperwork required to secure city permits. For low-budget videos, the producer might look for a suitable location by themself.

Scheduling

In this stage, the producer and director will put together the overall schedule for the project as well as the shot-by-shot schedule for the shoot day(s).

Tech Scout

Key members of the production team spend time on the filming location in advance to plan out the shoot. This is called the tech scout.

A tech scout is necessary to reduce the overall cost of production, by planning ahead and minimizing mistakes on the day of the shoot that may lead to a longer shooting schedule.

Shoot days are the most complex and expensive stage of the entire video production process. The whole team - actors, directors and crew will be present on set. Their day rates are billable, in addition to equipment and location rentals and many other costs. And if you go into overtime (typically anything over 10 or 12 hours), then overtime rates come into play.

The greater the number of shoot days or overtime incurred, the more expensive your video becomes. That’s why a production team takes steps to be as prepared as possible for the shoot day.

This includes planning camera angles, blocking out scenes and so on. Actors might also rehearse the script. If the video contains any stunts or choreography, stunt-coordinators and choreographers will rehearse the sequences before the shoot day.

The time that directors, actors, etc. spend on the set during prep days is also billable. However, because it is a very stripped down portion of the crew, with little or no equipment, it is much less costly than a full shoot day.

Since tech scouts help the production run more quickly and efficiently on the shoot days, the overall video production costs are reduced.

Production

Production refers to the actual filming of the video. During this stage the key costs you need to budget for include:

  • Day rates for actors
  • Day rates for the crew
  • Location rental
  • Equipment rental
  • Transportation and Parking
  • Meals

Let’s take a look at the different roles in a production process. Every team member mentioned below would charge a day rate.

Director - Around 10% of total budget

As we’ve mentioned earlier, the director is involved in concepting and scripting during the pre-production process. During production, they would are charge of bringing the creative to life on camera. Different departments such as Camera and Art would be reporting directly to him or her.

If your video is a larger project, the director will also have an assistant director or two working under him or her. These ADs oversee the more granular aspects of the shoot.

Director of Photography - $500 - $2,500/day+

A small video project can be executed with just one or two people on the camera crew. However, when you’re shooting a commercial, you would need a bigger camera team under the supervision of a director of photography.

The director of photography is in charge of all camera work and lighting. They determine the best camera angles, decide which cameras and camera equipment is required, and execute all visual aspects of the shoot.

Other camera team roles include:

AC (Assistant Camera) - $300 - $600/day

The AC and 2nd AC assist with camera, lenses, etc.

Focus Puller - $300 - $600/day

Maintains image sharpness on the subject or action being filmed during the shot.  Oftentimes this is performed by an AC.

DIT - $500 - $1,000/day

The DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) downloads footage and ensures backups are kept, as well as handling all data management.

Gaffer - $350 - $700/day

The gaffer is in charge of the lighting equipment.

Best Boy - $300 - $600/day

The best boy is the gaffer’s assistant.

Key Grip - $350 - $700/day

Does the work of setting up special equipment, camera movements, etc.

Best Boy Grip - $300 - $600/day

The key grip’s assistant

In addition to the day rates of all the crew members above, costs for the camera department could also include rental of:

  • High-end cameras
  • Cinema lenses
  • Equipment for shooting moving scenes
  • Grip trucks (trucks pre-loaded with lighting gear)
  • Drones for aerial photography

Production Designer/Art Director - $450 - $1,000/day+

The production designer and/or art director takes care of on-camera art such as the set, props, wardrobe and makeup. This team could include:

Set designer/dresser - $300 - $600/day

The set designer is in charge of designing and set dressing the set. Set designers may incur additional costs such as rental expenses for the different kinds of props that are part of the set such as furniture, decorations, backgrounds and so on. Depending on the complexity of the commercial, the set designer may also have assistants and helpers assisting them with preparing the set.

Wardrobe - $400 - $1,200/day

This person chooses the wardrobe and dresses the actors. Expenses here would also include wardrobe rentals or purchases.

Makeup Artist / Hair Stylist - $400 - $600/day

The makeup artist and hair stylist prepare the actors for camera. On smaller shoots, sometimes this role is handled by one person. Hair and makeup products the artists provide would also have to be purchased or rented from the artist, called a “kit fee”.

Sound Recordists - $500 - $1,500/day+

Sound recordists oversee all of the sound recording during the shoot. A single person is usually enough for this role because many sound effects are added in the post-production phase, but occasionally the sound person may have a boom operator who holds the microphone over talent while they operate the recording equipment.

Sound recordists usually bring their own gear. In addition to their day rate, they typically charge a “kit fee” for their equipment.

Additional Expenses

If the video is shot at multiple locations, the entire production team will have a “company move”  - incurring transportation, parking, meals and sometimes accommodation costs.

Post-Production

This is when the raw footage comes together to bring your video to life. This is commonly referred to as editing, but there’s a lot more to it. Let’s have a look at what this involves.

Editing - $500 - $1,000/day+

During a video shoot, the production team films from several angles and shoots multiple takes of the same sequence. But which of these takes should you use for the final cut?

Choosing the perfect combination of camera angles and takes to produce a beautiful video is a sophisticated art - and that’s the job of the editor.

Editing is about taking raw footage and turning it into a story that people genuinely enjoy.

Visual Effects - $500 - $1,000/day+

If you want 3D animation or complex effects, you would typically need a visual effects artist to create these effects in a high end VFX program.

Music - Varies

The cost of adding music can vary widely. Do you want to compose your own track for the video, or are you happy with a far less expensive option like a royalty-free music track? Alternatively, if you wish to play a well-known musician’s track, you would need to get permission from the musician or label as well as pay usage rights.

Voice-Over - Varies

Many commercial videos have voice-over talent narrating the script. Voice-over costs are treated similarly to on-camera talent, and may incur additional usage fees based on where the video runs.

Coloring - $500 - $1,500/day+

Professionally shot videos look far better than those shot by an amateur videographer for one crucial reason - coloring. Colorists add color tones to the video in line with its theme and message.

For simple videos, this is something that the editor would probably take care of. However, commercials always require the services of professional colorists. Good colorists are expensive, but for companies planning to shoot TV commercials, it’s a smart investment.

Markups

Every video production company also has to make a profit. Most production companies typically add a 15% to a 30% markup on these costs and you should also account for that in the total cost of your video budget.

It’s all about the ROI

Creating a good video can seem expensive, but it’s also one of the most effective marketing investments you can make. Good videos can have a higher ROI than any other type of marketing campaign.

Now that you have an idea of the different cost drivers and elements that go into video production, you should be in a far better position to determine the value that you get from a particular proposal and pick the right team to work with on your next video project.

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