Tuesday, 5 July 2011

How much should my web video production cost?

The question; how much should my web video production cost? Has been asked by countless businesspeople in companies ranging from, small start-ups to large multi-national blue chips. Although of course, a blue chip making a mistake in this area is a lot better placed to rectify, than a start-up.

Ultimately the first question will lead to another; which corporate video company should I use for my production?

The problem that I think a lot of smaller to medium sized businesses have, is that when they want to produce a web video, either for promotional purposes or instructional they haven't got a clear idea of how expectations can effect costs.

For example, I, on countless occassions (and I'm sure I'm not the only corporate video company out there who has experienced this) have had a potential client show me an example of the video that they've seen, liked and want to emulate, only to be told that the budget is £X.

Guaranteed £X is usually in the region of 7 to 10 times smaller than the budget of the video they are looking at.

This phenomena is not just restricted to the business world, I've had dozens of music artists over the years send me links to Jay-Z videos and other high production value, high cost productions and then tell me they want the same done for £700. When the videos they're looking at have cost sometimes in the tens of thousands of pounds.

This is probably in part, because a well made, slick music or corporate video will have all the elements blended together in harmony, from the dialogue, to the music, to the shots on screen, the edit, everything will be made to look as if there has been hardly any effort at all put into the production.

Mostly however, the lack of knowledge when it comes to a video production budget, is down to the fact that most of us have never been involved in a video production, so have no idea as to what it should cost.

So, how best to budget for your video? Well the only way to do that is to have some understanding of what it takes to get your 3 minute web video onto your site and also understanding what sort of quality you can expect for a particular cost.

Let's imagine that I have a business which sells an online financial service and I've decided to make a web video showing how the site works and the benefits of my services over my competitors, I have about a £1500 budget, but no idea as to what this can get me.

I have a strong sales pitch and want to use that in my script, OK great, now I watch a video on youtube and see a company similar to mine with a great promotional web video, it has site demos with snazzy motion graphics, and live action mixed in, I decide that I want something like that.

The first thing I need to think about is, how many different elements went into making this video? Well the video is 3 minutes long and it shows their website on screen and the site is being navigated while there's a voiceover. However the website isn't just static, when it gets smaller and moves to the left of the screen, there's another screen next to it with 2 actors.

Behind the two screens there are more graphics, relating to the product, the actors can be seen acting out the script in 5 different locations and in one of the locations another actor pops up. The video ends with a stream of graphics flying back into a web page, showing my competitor's website.

Right so how much should I have to pay to re-create something like that?

Let's break it down:

  • The screen capture and motion graphics to show the website in action
  • The motion graphics for the website and live video
  • A cameraman/director to film the actors
  • An assistant
  • A camera
  • 3 wireless mics
  • Lights at least 3 medium sized heads
  • A production vehicle
  • Food for crew and actors if shoot takes more than a few hours
  • 3 actors
  • A voiceover artist
  • 5 different locations
  • Branding logos and motion graphics for the end
  • An editor to put all this together
  • Time - It's going to take time to shoot in all those different locations, possibly days, depending on how far apart they are, how complex the script is and how good the actors are.
So suddenly the video doesn't look that simple or that cheap anymore, so I have a few choices, I can change my expectations and whilst keeping the essence of the video, I'll take out some of the costlier elements. Because after all my budget was £1500 and I can see that I'm not going to cover all of that and get a decent outcome, or I can look to do something else entirely, or I can increase my budget.

Let's explore the first option, doing a less costly version, so; what should I cut out and how much will that save me?

I can only know that, if I have at least a rough idea of how much the video cost, and my guess is my competitor won't  be so forthcoming with that information.

OK here's a rough guidline to how much these things cost, obviously different web video companies will value their work at different rates, but I'll try and give you ballparks.

We can view the motion graphics as one element, the more snazzy and eye catching the motion graphics and animation, the more likely that someone other than the editor will be tasked to do the job. Anyway I know that whoever does it, it will probably take at least two, possibly three days to create. Also, if I go to a big web video company with lots of producers and editors and such, their rates are likely to be higher as the company will take a cut out of their freelance sub-contractors' fees.

So 3 days of motion graphics will cost between £750 and £1800 at the rates of £250-600 p/d, depending on who I go to.

Then there's the cameraman and or director and assistant, my fictional video looked very pretty photographically so I'm going to say there was one of each, there were 5 locations though 2 of them looked like they could have been in the same place.

So four locations, I'm assuming they're close to each other, but that's still a day £500 for the director £350 for the cameraman £200 for the assistant, brings it to £1050.

The camera and sound equipment will cost another £300 and the lights another £500

The script was well delivered so I'm going to assume my 2 principal actors where on at least £400 each for the day and my bit part guy was on £200, that's £1000.

Not forgetting the voiceover artist at £150 per finished minute of voice. 

Then the editor is going to have to log all the footage and edit it, there's going to be about an hour of footage per location, so even a quick editor, who is going to have to do at least some of the motion graphics is going to take at least a day, that's between £250 and £400.

OK I haven't even got to sundries yet but I know that the main elements in this web video are going to have to cost at the very least £4300. So now I can see what the most costly elements are, I can now look to get rid of them or modify them to make my own video within my budget.

The first big expense I can really cut into is the voice over, I can do this myself, I know the script so it can be done quickly, that's just saved me £4300 - £450 = £3850.

Right; what's next? Actors do I need them? Well I can write a good sales pitch playing one part myself, then I'll pay an actress to be the customer. So that's just saved me £3850 - £600 = £3250.

OK now we're getting somewhere, the next big expense is motion graphics, I can still take elements I like from my test video, but I need to talk with the production company show them the graphics and tell them that my budget is limited and that I can afford no more than a day's wortth of motion graphics.

This should get their creative juices flowing knowing they've got to find a clever way to simulate what I like about the video whilst keeping costs down and it'll also give me an idea of how close I can get to the feel of the video with my budget. That's saved me a potential minimum of £3250 - £500 = £2750.

My next big expense is the lighting, the director and the assistant, if it's shot in my nice bright office or one that I can borrow or rent cheaply for a few hours, then minimum extra lighting can be used, like portable interview lights. So that's saved me £2750 - £500 (director) - £200 (assistant) and - £250 (lights, I'd expect to pay a bit for interview lights) = £1850. If I cut the actress I can get down to £1450, so now I'm totally on budget.

Now because I've only taken a few hours to film and my motion graphics are simpler, then I might even be able to save a bit on the editing, however now I'm at a budget that is affordable and I've got realistic expectations on the content of the video, I still expect it to be excellent quality and I'll still expect to use it for some time to come, but now I'll know I'll have excellent value for money and I'll be able to make my choice of video production company based on realistic expectations and budget.

Obviously the scenario above is completely fictional, but hopefully that's given some insight into what goes into making a web video and how much it should cost and that in turn will go some way in helping you choose the right corporate video company.

Double R Productions website