**Warning** This post became much longer than anticipated, to skip to the shot-in-the-dark numbers, scroll down to the image of the meat grinder.
We’ve been using a great service called HitTail for the last year or so, which gives you a basic idea of where people are coming to your website from. It keeps track of the words and phrases people search for when they come across your site. One of the top phrases people search on is “Video Production Rates.” Lately though, I’ve seen that phrase replaced with “Cheap Video Production” or something to that effect.
We’ve also noticed that the number of quote requests that don’t result in a job has started to rise; not dramatically, but there has been a definite increase in the number of potential clients asking for “quick quotes” on their projects… who eventually decide against doing a video at all. This isn’t a unique experience for us, I’ve had a couple of conversations with other video geeks who are seeing the same things. Here’s what I think is happening: Video production is something most people don’t have any experience with, but it seems like it should be easy (and therefore cheap) to do, after all, you can just get a $200 video camera at the local electronics MegaMart, and let your computer do the rest. It can’t be THAT hard, I mean YouTube has millions of videos, what could just one cost?
Tom Clifford had a great post about a year ago on his Director Tom blog titled “Hey! How Much Is A Pound of That Video?” that addresses the complex world of quoting a video production.
There is no magic answer to how much a video costs because telling video stories is a handcrafted art form. Every film is unique. No two films are alike. Each one is a “limited-edition collectible painting.”
I did the Google search for Video Production Rates. There are a lot of video production companies and/or freelancers out there, and each one has a different way of estimating the cost of a video production; some have set-in-stone packages, some take a “Chinese menu” approach, others set day rates. As far as I can tell, our rates are in line with those that are published by some of our colleagues. Some are lower, some are higher, some are way more complex than they need to be.
So I’m assuming that people are turned off by the cost of producing a video for a couple of reasons:
- because it’s a lot more expensive than they assumed, or
- because they didn’t know the right questions to ask, or
- because they weren’t asked the right questions by the production company.
As Tom pointed out in his post:
Here’s the answer: there is no answer.
“But, hey Tom, what about that ‘$1,000 a minute’ rule of thumb that everybody keeps talking about?”
Sorry. Urban myth, legend, fairy tale. If I had a dollar from everybody who believes that, I’d be a millionaire.
In other words, it’s hard to tell. There are so many variables, it’s almost impossible to tell.
- What part of the country (US) are you in?
- Who’s writing the script?
- How long will the finished video be?
- Do you need actors?
- Do you need a voice over artist?
- Will we need a makeup artist on set?
- What are the lighting conditions in each location?
- Do you want music?
- If so, what music?
- What’s the story you want to tell?
- Where will this be shown?
- How fancy-schmancy do you want to/need to get with graphics?
- Plus about 200 more questions…
Sure you could hire the neighbor’s kid to borrow his dad’s HandyCam, shoot a bunch of footage, and splice it all together with some nifty effects in iMovie; or just search Google for “cheap video production” and hope for the best, but a word of warning, this is what you may get.
So What Does this Mean For Me?
Here’s how you can get a useful, ballpark estimate on what producing that video for your company will cost: call a couple of production companies, and tell them you’re looking for a ballpark estimate for your budgeting process. They won’t bite (well, we won’t bite, I can’t promise that for some of our colleagues). Talk to them. Get estimates. Simple, huh?
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind for your conversations:
Set aside a block of time for this process. It is not a quick process, it’s not a difficult process, it just takes a little time. The more time you can spend up front, the better the idea the production company can get, and the better the estimate they send you will be.
Be prepared with an idea of what you want. This doesn’t mean you need to know everything about what you want the final production to look like, just know what you want the final production to do for your business. In other words: know why you want to do a video. To paraphrase Director Tom, what’s the story you want to tell? Know what you want the video to do, and the rest will fall into place.
Be prepared for ambiguity. A good production company will probably flood you with more questions and options than answers.
Understand that any estimate you get…is an estimate. If the parameters of the production change, the costs will more than likely change too. Again, the proverbial “good production company” will let you know when your boss’s great idea for a little change to the video will completely throw your budget out of whack. But just in case, always follow up any changes with: “How much is this going to cost?”
Understand that the lowest estimate may not be the cheapest in the long run. We’ve all been in business long enough to spot the lowball quote. (An aside: shouldn’t they teach you about that in college or something?) Sure it’s tempting to go with the production company that’s 30% lower than the rest of the estimates, but take a look at what they are actually estimating. They’ll usually lowball you on the estimated editing time, and by the end of the post-production process, that number magically grows. Of course they’ll tell you it’s because the estimate didn’t include “so many changes*” and that “everybody*” charges extra for “changes*.” (*These come from actual conversations with some of our clients, by the way)
Director Tom (what can I say, I’m a fan) had another, more recent post titled One Email No Video Client Should Ever Write that sums it up much more succinctly than I have:
The simple solution, of course, is to pickup the phone and call a producer. Share your idea to see if your vision can be turned into an opportunity.
A Quick and Dirty Ballpark Estimate
For those of you just looking for a wild stab in the dark kind of number, your video will cost between $5000 and $30,000, with a margin of error of +/- 75%. Like car shopping, it will cost more than you think, but here’s how you sell it to the boss:
For a Sales Video:
Figure out what it would cost to hire a team of sales people to travel around to all of you potential clients and make presentations to them… it will be cheaper to do a video.
For a Safety Training Video:
Figure out how much it would cost to bring in a consultant to give a safety training seminar (in exactly the same way each time), every time you have a new hire, and every time the current staff needs a refresher course… it will be cheaper to do a video.
For a Corporate Image Video:
Figure out how much it would cost to send the CEO around to all of your potential clients to give a brief synopsis of what sets your company apart from the competition… it will be cheaper to do a video.
For a Live Event Video:
Figure out what it would cost to run that event every time you need someone to see it… it will be cheaper to do a video.
You get the picture. Now give us a call, tell us your story, and we’ll help you tell it to everyone else.