One of the first questions that potential clients ask is, “How much will it cost to produce my video?” While this sounds like an easy question for a video production company to answer, it actually is one of the most complex. It’s kind of like asking a house painter how much it costs to paint your house. Unless he’s seen the house and know the full extent of the job, his answer could range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. It’s the same with video. There are many questions that need to be answered before a video producer can prepare a firm bid. I always start with some basic, but vital, questions.

First, who is the audience for the video? This immediately lets me know what your expectations are. There’s a huge difference between a quick product demonstration for YouTube versus a high-end marketing video designed to be shown at a national trade show.

Second, how long should the video be? Most web videos and marketing videos are best kept short. The audience is usually busy and impatient, and it’s likely they’ll watch the video on a mobile device. Anything over about 3 to 5 minutes will likely be tuned out. If you need 15 minutes or more to tell your story, that’s fine. However, this type of video is best shown to a captive audience that is being paid to watch it… like a mandatory gathering of employees watching a safety or training video.

Next, how many locations need to be filmed and how many interviews are there? Setting up and taking down our camera and lighting gear for a particular location or interview takes time and could potentially mean that the shoot will last more than a typical 10 hour day. We do travel nationwide for some productions, so if we’re shooting in multiple cities, travel days must be accounted for.

Are we writing the script, or will the client provide a finished script? We love writing scripts. It gives us the chance to learn about your business and become intimately familiar with the story. However, researching and writing takes time. And once we’re done with the first draft of the script, you will probably want to make revisions. We need to budget for the writer’s time for the research, writing and rewriting.

Will the video require a professional narrator? Professional narrators bring a wonderful element of quality and gravitas to a production and set the mood for the video. In a way, they become the voice of your company. Narrators charge based upon how long the script is (in minutes.) Generally, we will audition many talented voiceover artists and present you with our top two or three for you to choose. If a video doesn’t need narration, it’s generally because we can string together answers from the various interviews into a coherent story. This brings up another potential cost… transcription of the interviews. For a very short piece with a couple of brief interviews, we can generally bypass this step, but for a video with numerous interviews, it’s a few hundred dollars well spent, because transcription is cheaper than having our editor go through the footage and pick out soundbites manually.

Are there complex graphics or animations needed? We can easily create simple text graphics and animations for most videos, but if you need an animated logo or a technical animation designed to illustrate a complex process, we will need to budget for an expert animator.

Finally, how long will it take to edit the video? Most short videos can be edited in a few days. The first day usually consists of the editor organizing the footage and becoming familiar with it. He will also build the “string-out,” which is the basic structure of the video in our editing system. It won’t contain anything but narration and soundbites from the interview at this point, but it’s crucial in establishing pacing and seeing how long the video is actually running. This is where we make sure that the story makes sense and that all of the content flows perfectly. After finishing the stringout, the editor starts adding all of the b-roll shots and begins building the rough cut for your approval. Finally, after you approve the rough cut (or we make changes based upon your input,) we perform the final sound mix, add music, and add color correction to bring out the best in all of the video clips. When complete, we can provide you with a master video file and copies of it that are custom tailored to your final distribution method.

This is our process for determining the scope and cost of a video production. It’s also the reason why it is almost impossible for us to give an instant answer to the question of how much a production costs. Next blog post, I’ll plug in some numbers to the equations and show you the potential price range of a typical production.