Video Production Costs
How much does in cost to make a video?
The usual but not very helpful answer to the question ‘how much does a video cost?’ is ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Although each video production is a unique creation, there are some factors that are common to all productions. A common fallacy is to think that a 10-minute video will cost half as much as a 20-minute video. A production budget is made up of a number of elements and by understanding how the money is spent you can better judge what is important for you. The following notes are intended as a very rough guide to video budgeting.
Some clients like to work with an advertising or design agency. The agency normally selects a production company and oversees the whole project. This is the usual method for TV commercials and big budget corporate productions. A good agency can add much to a production, providing a coherent overall design and ensuring the client’s corporate image is enhanced. Often, an agency will be the creative driving force behind a production, initiating storyboards and writing scripts.
Costs and fees Some agencies have hourly rates, billing the client (£75 - £450 per hour would be typical) for the time they spend on the project. This charging method is transparent but fees can escalate if things go wrong or if the client changes its mind (this has been known!) Alternatively, agencies can add a ‘mark up’ to the production costs (17% - 50%) and include all in-house costs within that mark up.
The Production Company
Most production companies are small businesses employing a skeleton staff and relying on freelance crews and facility companies. Usually, the bigger the company the higher the overheads but you do have the reassurance that there should always be someone available to help in a crisis. A surprising number of successful production companies are, in fact, single producers working from home and using a large network of freelance technicians.
The producer can be compared to a house builder, working with the script or treatment (a word picture of what the video will look like and its aims and objectives) to ‘build’ the video, rather as a house builder works with the architect’s plans.
Costs and fees Expect to pay about £30 - £90 per hour for a producer/director (more for TV commercials) and lesser fees for Production Assistants and Assistant Directors, if required. Sometimes a ‘production fee’ is charged to cover marketing costs, insurance and administration. Scripts and/or storyboards might cost about £2,000 although, depending on the type of production, they are not always necessary. Treatments are vital and, if property researched, can take many hours to prepare. Sadly, most clients expect them to be part of the pitching process so their true cost is hidden and, if the pitch is unsuccessful, borne by the production company’s existing clients. A wise client will select a company first and then pay for a Treatment before committing to a full production.
The norm is a 2-person crew (camera and sound) shooting on DVCAM or Digital Betacam with a small lighting kit and a sound kit. But recent improvements in camera picture quality have narrowed the gap between the semi-pro camera costing £4,500 and the broadcast camera costing £40,000. Consequently, perfectly acceptable productions can be made with the cheaper equipment at a fraction of the previous cost. But you still have to use skilled technicians to get good results so this may not be the right choice unless you are working on a very small budget. Some shoots will require special locations, large lighting rigs, camera cranes and additional production personnel. Often the producer will double as director.
Costs and fees Typically, a 2-person crew with broadcast standard equipment will cost from £700 - £1,400 per 10-hour day. A single technician with a semi-professional DV camera can be as little as £350 per day. Of course, the production company will usually add 20% - 50% to these costs to cover overheads and profit, unless it is charging a separate ‘production fee’.
Other extras include travel, accommodation, meals, tape stock and overtime. If a camera crane or a large lighting or sound rig is required costs will increase, as more specialist technicians will also be needed to operate this equipment.
Presenters and Actors
If a video requires performers or presenters it is usual to hold a ‘casting session’ where there is an opportunity to meet a number of candidates to determine who best meets the needs of the production. However, sample tapes are readily available if casting is not considered necessary. Where a separate voice-over is required CD voice samples are available and artists can be booked by the hour.
Costs and fees Well-known presenters (currently appearing in television programmes) often charge £3,000 or more per filming day for corporate work. Other presenters and actors normally charge £250 - £600 per day and non-featured extras about £90 per day.
Actors do not usually charge for a casting session if it is held in a central location (e.g. London) Voice artists charge about £250 for a 60-minute session and a suitable sound studio will cost about £150 per hour.
Editing, Graphics and Music
The process of editing the recorded material and preparing any graphics that may be required usually takes about 2 or 3 days for each day of filming but much depends on the type of material, the number and complexity of graphics and effects required. Because of computerisation, many production companies now have in-house post-production facilities, which can help to keep costs down. Any music used must be licensed through MCPS, an organization whose members write music especially for TV, film and video use. Alternatively, a composer can be commissioned to write music for the video or ‘royalty paid’ music can be used, where the purchase price of the CD includes the owner’s right to use it in any production. Commercially released music can only be used with the permission of the author and performer. Of course, you can always steal the music but if you wouldn't’t steal from a neighbour why steal from a musician?
Post Production Costs Editing rates vary considerably. A production company with its own system might charge £400 per day whereas you would pay about £2,000 per day in a top West End suite. Much depends on what video format is being used and the complexity of the edit. Commissioned music can cost from £500 to £3,000 for a 10-minute video. Library music (MCPS) rates depend on how many copies are made, type of use and the territory required. A 10-minute corporate video using 5 minutes of music will typically cost £750. ‘Buy out’ music is often provided free of charge by the production company but choice is rather limited. Commercially released music can be expensive and complicated to licence. Copyright ceases once a composer has been dead for 70 years but you still have to pay the performers.
Depending upon the scale of the production there can be many other costs: studio hire, set design and build, aerial platforms, stunts, special effects, costume, make up and much, much more. But that is really beyond the scope of these brief notes.
So how much does a video cost? In 1967 Film User magazine published an article about corporate film budgets. It said that that a corporate film cost about the same to produce as the price of a house. In 1967 the average house price in the UK was about £4,000 – today the same house would cost £163,000. Clearly, this is one rule of thumb that no longer applies! The main thing to remember is that the more complicated the production and the more people involved, the more it will cost. Like most things, you get what you pay for but there is no point in paying for what you don’t need.
© Chris Pettit, Just Film 2008 (revised 2011)