Posted On: September 29, 2013
If you want to drive a video producer crazy – ask them how much a video costs to produce.
For fun, I googled the question and glanced through the first 25 responses. Here is a very unscientific survey of the answers:
• Depends (9 responses)
• Videos can start at $1,500.00 but can cost 5, 25, 250K or more (5 responses)
• Videos start at $1,500.00 per minute (3 responses)
• and this one’s a gem – if you are willing to put up with videoratis, a 3-minute video could cost 3K.
So what’s the right answer? Well, basically, all of the above.
Video Costs: A Brief History
Ironically, professional video production costs have held fairly steady for the past 25 years. In 1990, a professional cameraperson with a basic camera package charged $1,200.00/day. That held steady until the advent of HD, when the figure jumped to $1,600.00/day. A soundperson in 1990 charged $500.00/day, today $600.00. Those aren’t just Toronto numbers, they are consistent in major markets around the globe. Throw in a director, scripting, editing, graphics and audio mix and a video with a 2-day shoot would have cost roughly 25K in 1990. Today – that cost is pretty much the same, for a professionally produced video that looks like it could run on television.
The Technology Explosion
One of the huge drivers in the cost equation is the proliferation of prosumer cameras and digital editing technology. A young film school grad with 5K worth of gear can shoot and rival the quality of a professional crew using 150K worth of gear. It’s possible to find young producer who will write, shoot for a couple of days, and edit a video for 5K. The results can be spectacular, just check out any GoPro ad if you have any doubts.
So, if you are purely cost driven, why not go with the young film school grad. There are certain obvious reasons, walking into the president’s office with a surfer dude carrying a GoPro isn’t really a good career move. If you are looking for a television-quality, 60 Minutes style of production, it’s logical to hire professional crews that actually work on TV. Most professional freelance crew bounce between TV, corporate and commercial work, so it’s not a stretch to produce this type of work.
Interestingly, while many young producers and shooters can match and even exceed the quality of professional crews, they have an Achilles heel: story. While young producers can wow you with cool Instagram images, constructing a concise, reasoned argument is a real journalistic skill.
5K, 25K or 250K?
By extension, a professional television crew isn’t going to deliver spectacular crane shots or aerial shots. If you want spectacular, you begin to move into specialized skills, usually found on commercial productions or movies. Those skills can be expensive. If you are using a helicopter at a $1,000.00/hour you might want a grip who knows a thing or two about working with helicopter mounts.
Well, we’ve produced 5K videos, 25K videos and 250K videos. We do a lot of not-for-profit work, sometimes gratis and often for low costs. To do that we’ve gone with the young producer model – with one important difference, matching a young talented producer with an experienced producer. The grey beards introduce basic story discipline, and the young hipsters introduce new tools and approaches. Personally I love my GoPro. I’ve mounted it on a paddleboard, pretended I was 22 and the results have been spectacular. Learning goes both ways.
Video Costs: The Real Questions
Asking how much a video costs is a valid question, but there are even more fundamental questions to ask before you begin a production:
• Why a video? Do you even need a video? What are you trying to communicate? Would a cool power point presentation work just as well?
• How does would this video fit in with your website, your presentation or your overall brand strategy? Would a cool 5K video work, or do you need more of a professional look & feel? Maybe a commercial quality production is necessary.
• What is your distribution strategy? How are you going to actually get this video seen? If you can’t answer that, it doesn’t matter if you produce a 5K, a 25K or a 250K video – it’s a waste of money.
So how much does a video cost? Really, it can cost anything. You can shoot and post a video with your iPhone for the cost of your time. Or you can spend 250K for a commercial. Both approaches have their place.
It’s more a question of which approach fits your company and your strategy.