Why is Video Production So Expensive?
Well, if there was an easy answer to that question, you wouldn’t need to read this article.
On a more serious note, there are a lot of costs associated with creating the best video possible. And even though we live and work in a time where video work is more affordable and more accessible than it has ever been, creating high quality video content is still a large investment. When people ask us how much a video costs, they’re often hit with a case of sticker shock. By explaining what makes a video expensive, we hope to clear the air surrounding one of the most confusing parts of the video production process: budgets. For the purposes of keeping this article short enough to read without falling asleep, I’ll be focusing on costs associated with production itself.
First off, there are two important factors that affect the total cost of a video:
- Number of locations: In general, the more locations your production requires, the more days it will take to shoot.
- Shoot length: The more days it takes to shoot, the more man hours it will require, and therefore, the more it will cost.
Here’s a breakdown of where the money goes in a production budget:
Director, Producer, Director of Photography (DP), Gaffer, Grip, Sound recordist, Production Assistant (PA). These people are the core of a well-oiled production crew, and they’re almost always required on set. Generally speaking, the bigger the crew, the more expensive the video will be. If you’ve ever sat through the end credits of a superhero movie, you know what I’m talking about.
Regardless of crew size, one thing stays the same: Good people cost money.
Because a lot of our videos don’t involve dialogue, they tend to be more cost effective. For instance, if the actor doesn’t have to speak, it gets a lot easier. That being said, if the video calls for a character with a very particular set of skills, the cost increases. There’s a direct correlation between the size of a budget and the quality of talent. If the talent is represented by an agency, the production has to pay the agency fee (generally 10-20% of the base fee). If the talent is a member of SAG-AFTRA (union), published rates (and rules) must be followed closely.
Hiring a solid casting director to find the right person for the job is an invaluable step of the process, especially when a lot of dialogue is involved. Casting directors have a vast, encyclopedic knowledge of local actors and actresses, and they can help you find the best possible talent for your video. More often than not, they can connect you with someone you wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.
If you want to use a celebrity in your video, make sure you get your money’s worth.
You can technically shoot with pre-existing lights and an iPhone, but this is the video equivalent of putting a six-year-old football prodigy in an NFL game and hoping they won’t get squashed by a linebacker. If you want to compete, you need professional gear. Standard procedure is to rent gear from a rental house—for us, it’s Midwest Grip & Lighting and Camera Department.
Production Design/Art Direction
It doesn’t take an army to make a room look aesthetically pleasing, but it sometimes takes an army of pillows. Sometimes you need to see all of your options before you can choose the right decoration for the scene, and all props needs to be purchased or acquired before you step foot on set. Speaking of sets, if you’re building one, be prepared to deal with the costs of that. It’s not as expensive as building a house, but it still takes a decent amount of dough to bring your vision to life.
Location, Transportation, and Set Costs
Unless you’re shooting in your mom’s basement, locations aren’t free. Even if you are shooting in your mom’s basement, you might need to pay up. It really depends on how easy-going your mom is. But I digress.
If you shoot in a house, you normally have to pay a fee, and if damages occur, there needs to be a budget for that. The same is true for studio space rental. If you use a business during working hours, you’ll likely have to compensate them for the business lost during a shoot day. If you use a business when it’s not in business, everybody wins.
Where the location is located is also a factor to consider when creating a budget. The further away your location, the more travel costs there will be. If it requires extensive travel via car or plane or hovercraft (especially expensive), that has to be taken into consideration.
A well-stocked craft services table is perhaps the most important part of keeping set morale high, and high morale has a significant impact on the quality of the production. Don’t skimp on snacks and meals, and make sure there’s always a pot of fresh coffee. On lower budget productions, a PA can handle this duty. But at a certain point, you need to find a reliable craft services person. Our favorite craft person is Pam Ford. Pam’s the best!
The best thing to do to ensure a smooth production is to leave some breathing room in the budget to insure against epic accidents. Here’s a list of nightmare scenarios that contingency can mitigate: lead actor getting the swine flu, dropping the camera in a lake, having a light fall two stories onto a parked car. Contingency should not be overlooked when creating a budget—as Murphy’s Law states, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
When it comes down to it, producing a successful video is an investment. Making it a smart and effective investment—a video that yields results—is where we can help. We work with budgets ranging anywhere from $5k to $200k, and we are here to help you get the most effective video for your dollar.