How Much Does Video Production Cost
  • December 17, 2018
  • Merideth Melville

Asking how much a video costs, is akin to asking an architect how much a house costs. Although the architect designs the house, works with the trades who build the house, partners with the engineer who ensures the integrity of the house, and collaborates with the client who pays for the house – an architect cannot answer this question quickly with a simple number.

That’s because the architect needs to understand what kind of a house you want to build. Is it a simple structure (think Yurt) or more elaborate (think castle) or perhaps something in between (bungalow, ranch, she-shed, four stories with an elevator or log cabin)?

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Then there are the materials being used to build your dream-yurt (or castle). Are you interested in brick, concrete, steel, straw, wood, metal, fabric or glass?

And so, it is much like asking a producer how much a video costs. Like the architect, the producer (who many times is also the writer) designs the video, works with the trades which help make the video, partners with the DP/Director of Photography, Gaffer (lighting expert) and Audio folks who ensure the integrity of the video and collaborates with the client who pays for the video – the producer cannot answer this question quickly with a simple number.

That’s because the producer needs to understand what kind of a video you want to make. Is it a simple video (think photographs to narration) or more elaborate (think animation) or perhaps something in between (photographs, video, soundbites, motion graphics with researched script)?

Then there are the materials being used to produce your dream video. Do you need interviews conducted with many people at various locations on different days? Do you need to shoot b-roll during business hours in large facilities? Do you want to use actors and not “real” people? Is there art direction required? Props? Rental cars?

And what about post production – the editing of your video? Do charts and graphs need to be designed? Do existing charts and graphs need to be re-worked? Do you want a celebrity to narrate the piece? Would you like animation? How elaborate is the motion graphics “design” of the video? Will “needle drop” (licensed) music work? Or do you want the video to have a sound design with original music? Was the piece shot to a tight, approved script? Or is it more “organic” - forming the narration (the message) of the piece from various interviews and sound bites?

The old “one thousand dollars per minute” way of replying to this old age question, “How much does a video cost?” isn’t reliable.

Why? Because a three-minute video requiring more shoot days, more crew, more production gear and non-linear editorial (no tight, approved script) will cost more than a three-minute video that can be accomplished in less days, less crew, no special gear and quicker “paint-by-numbers” (i.e.: tight, approved script) editing time.

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Just like in a house, the more complicated and time consuming the production and post-production work, the more expensive the video.

Having a number in mind (even if it’s a “this is the top range of our budget”) number helps the producer design the video and provide you with an estimate that’s more accurate than one where the producer has no idea what your budget is.

You might feel that providing a range (or even the exact amount if you know that) for the budget of the video is giving too much information – providing a way for the producer to “pad” the estimate. But any good, experienced producer will use this information to provide not only an estimate that closely fits your financial cap, but also includes everything required to pull off your vision of what the video needs to be.

The producer can deliver a “brief” that outlines the basic vision of the video that accompanies the estimate. This helps support the numbers (and is a starting place to review the creative discussed).

It doesn’t mean the estimate will not exceed a client’s budget. In the early stages of creative and budgetary negotiation, the estimate is a living document that changes as the “creative” is discussed and revised (mostly to fit a budget that is acceptable to both parties).

When the budget changes, so usually does the brief. During the pre-production stages of your project, maintaining an open dialogue with th e producer about budget, end goals, availability of personnel and locations vital to the messaging of the video and internal support of the project is vital to its success.

A good producer is a good listener (and a good enforcer). That’s what Houston's top video production company, Boss Media’s “Boss” is: “Tough, tender and tenacious, Merideth uses her talents for the good of the client with a constant eye towards detail and measured results.”

When building a house, the client may want an elevator but after finding out how much it will really cost to push that button to the third floor, decide that stairs will work just fine.

You may want to shoot locations in three different cities, but when the producer adds in travel costs for the crew, decide to choose just two to tell your story.

And just as any capable producer does (solves problems & stays within budget), a good architect will design such an amazing staircase, you won’t regret not having that elevator!

Merideth Melville

Merideth Melville got her start writing and producing entertainment documentaries for the original Travel Channel. That work took her to Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Bermuda and Borneo. From there, she jettisoned to NASA, where she ran the Motion Pictures Division (responsible for all the pre and post onboard films) during the Shuttle years. She then worked with Houston-based Zen Film for many years before starting Boss Media.