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Understanding Video Production Pricing

How much does it cost to hire a production company to make a video? There’s tremendous variation in pricing out there, and you can get vastly differing bids for the same project. How come?

The answer lies partly in the communication process. One production company might ask different questions about what you need than another company. It’s important, therefore, to know what you want before getting a bid.

Let’s look at the components of video production, find out where the variations are, and solve the “pricing mystery.”

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How much does it cost to make a two-minute video?” as though there’s a standard “cost-per-minute.” But length has almost nothing to do with cost. The biggest factor affecting cost is simply this: The amount of labor that goes into the making of the video.

Case in point: a commercial—a mere 30 seconds—is one of the most expensive videos to produce, because of all the labor, whereas an hour-long lecture could be one of the cheapest.

What then are the factors that impact cost?

Cost Factors in Pricing a Video Production

In corporate video, there are two main approaches to production: the scripted production, and the interview-based project.

Interview-based video verses Scripted
An interview-based video involves planning what the video will be about, then—in advance—crafting questions based around the video’s topic (often in order to elicit a particular response). The answers are then edited and fine-tuned to tell the desired story. The interview approach is effective for an “about us” video, customer testimonials, or even a homepage video. It’s cheaper than the scripted approach because it involves fewer steps and therefore less labor.  Here is a good example: Smith Root.

A scripted video may include some interview material, but will likely have voice-over narration recorded separately, which necessitates fees for the talent and for time in a recording studio. The script is based on meetings and research and will likely involve several revisions. Then a “shot list” is developed—a list of every shot to be captured to match every line in the finished video.  A storyboard is used when shots must be carefully choreographed, as in a commercial. A production schedule is created around the shot list, laying exactly what is to be filmed, in what order, and over how many days. Filming typically takes longer, because you need footage to cover every line of dialogue and don’t have an interviewee’s talking head to fall back on.

Setting, Casting and other factors
Another decision that affects pricing is: will it be shot on location or in a studio? If the video is to be shot at your location, it’s usually cheaper, but other conditions should be considered: will there be customers and employees on-site? Do you need special lighting equipment for an indoor shoot? How noisy is the filming area?  If you decide on a studio shoot, do you need to construct a set and rent props?

Additional price variations include whether to use actors or non-actors (actors must be paid, and a casting session adds to the timeline); whether you need motion graphics or animation (labor-intensive and therefore costly); and whether you need creative support or are coming up with the concept and writing the script yourself (be wary: scriptwriting is a specialized skill set and a good writer with scriptwriting experience is worth their weight in gold).

Number of Days

Two major elements affecting budget are the number of days it will take to film your project and the size of the crew. If you’re getting wildly differing bids on the same project, this is an area to examine.

Some companies employ a “gun-and-run” shooting style using small DSLR cameras, which can capture footage fast with minimal crew. Other companies use high-end cameras and take time to light each shot before filming it. The second approach means a larger crew and more days to capture the footage, but the results will match the effort. Ask yourself, “Which approach best reflects my brand and the type of video I’m making?” If you’re making a commercial or a branding video, go with the higher-end company; if you’re doing a few testimonials or a viral video, then gun-and-run might be appropriate.

Knowing these variables will hopefully enable you to compare apples to apples when weighing the bids for your video project.

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