Why does video cost what it does?

 
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Quoting out video production projects is frustrating for everyone.

Our clients often see proposed costs as much higher than they’d anticipated.

Conversely, we try to scope out projects for as low a cost as possible.

At the same time, there’s more video than ever being produced. People watch over 1 billion hours of YouTube on a daily basis. There are 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. There are over 2.5 billion smartphones in use around the world, all capable of creating video.

As result, there are two competing tensions in the video quoting process:

  1. Clients don’t understand why videos cost what they cost to produce.

  2. Video content seems ubiquitous, fungible, and inexpensive.

If anyone can make a video, then why does it cost what it does to produce?

This page is not intended to justify the value of video content. We believe you wouldn’t even be talking to us if you didn’t believe video had some for your company. It is meant to show the factors that go into making videos and how those factors affect the overall output and cost of production.

Before going into the different kinds of video and what goes into each of them, let’s define some terms. And as a general rule, if we need to use more people for more time, our costs will go up.

  • Creative Concept: The ideation process of coming up with the whole idea and point of your video. This can take one or more people up to several days.

  • Scripting: If there is voiceover or actors, then a script is needed. Depending on the length of the video and amount of research needed, this can take several days plus several more days for revisions.

  • Storyboarding: After the script is approved, we make a storyboard to show how the creative concept and script will translate together to a visual medium and plan out shots. This will generally take up to one day.

  • Preproduction: This step is vital for making a video. It encompasses the selection, planning, and acquiring of EVERYTHING we need to make a video. This includes casting actors, finding locations, getting equipment and props, and planning out everyone’s time, travel, and the general way a video will be shot. This can take one or more people up to several days.

  • Art Direction: This is an ongoing function, generally assigned to one team member, for creating and overseeing the overall style and substance of a video. This will take one or more days from one person.

  • Acting: Actors are another expense for a video. Depending on the creative concept, there can be none or there can be several.

  • Equipment & Crew: Again, depending on the creative concept, the video may need more equipment (and thus more crew to operate it). Different types of equipment include more microphones if there are several actors or people being filmed, lighting, more cameras, etc. Equipment and crew are an expense no matter how long or short a video. A short video requiring a lot of equipment can cost much more than a long video that requires little equipment.

  • Travel Distance: Depending on the creative concept and video requirements, we may need to travel to one or more locations. This affects the video costs.

  • Video Filming: The actual filming is run by the director of photography. Depending on the creative concept and a host of other factors, this can span on or more days.

  • Editing: Simply editing the video together into something usable is a time-consuming craft. Depending on the creative concept and length of the video, this can take one or more people from one to several days.

  • Post-Production: Depending on the creative concept and length of the video, post-production can be pretty simple or quite involved. This step includes sound editing, sound mixing, and color correction. It can take one person one to several days.

  • Animation: Animation can be a huge part of a video or totally absent. There’s fullscreen animation, in which the video is just totally animated. There can be animated sections of a video mixed in with live action. There can be animated parts like motion graphics on top of live action. There can be animated lower thirds. Title and end cards also fall under animation. Depending on the scope, this can take one or more people a few days to a few weeks.

  • Voiceover: Voiceover is another expense for a video, if used.

  • Music Selection: Music selection can be an expense for a video. It’s also part of the process that takes time to do.

  • Final Cuts: Videos are often cut into different lengths and formats for use across different channels. If your video is meant for just one channel (like YouTube) then this part is pretty brief and simple. If the video is meant to show on TV, on several web platforms, and in physical locations, this step can take from one to several days.

 
 

Total Amateur: Free

Let’s start with the most basic type of video. Everyone has a smartphone, thus everyone has a video camera, thus everyone can make a total amateur video.

Just because a video falls under the “total amateur” label doesn’t mean it’s bad or that it can’t be effective. We’d wager that the majority of viral videos were probably shot in vertical (shudder) on a smartphone camera. And those racked up millions of views. Who wouldn’t want that?

Well, it all depends on the outcomes you want out of the project. First, most viral videos like the “Yodeling Walmart Kid” (Mason Ramsey) go viral for essentially random, unpredictable reasons. In this case, Ramsey has gone on to achieve real world success so far, landing a recording contract, national tour, and over 2 million Instagram followers. However, he literally won the lottery of YouTube virality, his two minute YouTube video being the scratch-off ticket among the 777 million minutes of video uploaded to the site every month. If a video goes viral on that scale once a month, do you want your video to have 1 in 338,500,000 odds?

This isn’t to say that video shot on an iPhone can’t be successful. If you’re an Academy Award-winning director with over three decades of experience filmmaking, then you can shoot a feature length film on your phone in a few weeks. You do have an Oscar, right?

If we were to make a video like this, it would cost very little but generally have a low chance of succeeding. It is possible to make a phone camera video work very well, but it would be part of a larger creative concept and marketing strategy, and now we’re spending time and money.

 

Basic Interview: $

A basic interview video like this is probably the lowest-cost video Congruent makes.

Don’t confuse this “basic interview” with more highly-produced interviews (more below). There’s nothing intrinsic to the interview format that makes it low cost. It all stems from the creative concept.

Interview-style videos look pretty casual, but they do have creative concepts. For this video, we didn’t know a lot about the subjects so we wanted them to talk openly to the camera. It didn’t require a script or much, if any, storyboarding. It’s just a few 3/4 talking head shots and some easy-to-capture B-roll right where we filmed the interviews. This type of shoot needs less preproduction work — but it does need some to coordinate the right people on camera, find locations, and gather equipment.

The “basic” element of this video mostly means that it doesn’t require much extra equipment than what Congruent already owns, no actors are used, and it has very basic animation. The editing and post-production are all pretty simple for the creative concept and length of the video.

 

Bio Video: $$

A bio video like this is one possible step up from the basic interview.

The rough idea of it is is similar to the basic interview: a subject talks to the camera, interspersed with B-roll footage. The difference in this case lay in the creative concept. For a bio video like this, we wanted to tell a more intimate story. This type of storytelling calls for getting to know the subject very well. This includes learning pretty much exactly what we wanted to say, finding the perfect place for them to say it, and creating an art direction that supports the storytelling.

Following from the creative concept, this video’s preproduction work was significantly more. We had several meetings and calls with Tony, the subject of the video. We also scouted locations to find a good setting and to block out shots.

To capture the look we wanted, the equipment and lighting requirements were a bit more for this than the previous video. The shoot location was also a good distance from us. The editing, postproduction, and music selection work was more involved.

 

Explainer Video: $$$

This fully-animated explainer video involved a lot of work.

Full-animation videos end up being costly because every element needs to be drawn and animated. But in order to effectively tell the story behind vAuto’s new software release, the creative concept called for this treatment. We needed to communicate a ton of ideas in a relatively short time, while keeping the viewer engaged and nodding along with the points vAuto wanted to make.

This video needed extensive scripting, storyboarding, art direction, and voiceover. Finally, the video’s length contributes to its overall amount of work and cost. With all that said, we turned this video project over in just a couple weeks, to great client satisfaction.

 

Involved Interview: $$$$

The first two videos and this one are all “interviews”, but they all call for different budgets. Again, the creative concept dictates the scope of the video, and thus cost.

Perdue Agribusiness wanted a video that would help convince their corporate board to increase investment. After much collaboration, we settled on telling their story using a mix of historic footage, extensive animation, and interviews.

Even though the output of the video resulted in the same interview style as the first two, just like the second bio video example, we knew exactly what message we wanted to capture. This didn’t call for a script but we did need storyboarding and a lot of preproduction work. In order to make sure we communicated exactly what the client wanted, we had to plan out every part of the video.

Art directing all of the elements was a big part of the process. We also had to rent equipment and travel some distance to capture all the footage. There was a lengthy editing and postproduction step. Combined with the animation mentioned above and music selection, quite a lot of technical work went into making the video long after all the footage had been captured. Finally, a length over four minutes pushes up the amount of work and cost of the project.

 

Brand Anchor: $$$$$

The client for this video, a lawyer group called DWI Guys, came to us with a challenge. They wanted a brand anchor video that would communicate their unique point of view on handling legal cases and also rehabilitate the brand from its previously lower standards.

After a brief meeting with the stakeholders, we spent a significant amount of time crafting a powerful creative concept to lay out their new brand strategy in a maximally effective way. This concept was storyboarded and approved by the client.

The concept necessitated extensive preproduction work. During this time, we cast multiple actors, scouted, found, and rented multiple locations, rented new equipment, and hired extra crew to run the equipment. All of this preproduction still resulted in a lengthy day shooting video.

After the above process of planning and capturing the video we needed, there was extensive editing and postproduction work. The client was so pleased with the final video that wanted multiple cuts to show on different formats.

 
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Obviously, there’s a great range work that goes into making every video. The videos above are meant to illustrate the range of costs, which is often difficult for clients and people outside the industry to understand.

The format, length, and style of a video are almost never the absolute reason why a video costs more or less. The last video — the brand anchor for DWI Guys — is the shortest of the above videos, but had the largest budget. Similar videos that feature interviews and B-roll can cost very different amounts. More equipment makes costs go up, but you can’t necessarily just make costs go down by telling us to use cheaper gear.

The final word in how much a project will cost is “intent”.

We used the phrase creative concept in every video above, even pointing out that a totally “free” viral phone video should have one. The creative concept collects our vision, storytelling, art, science, research, and understanding of a client and their goals. This concept is the representation of our creative intent going into the project. Switching out different aspects of production is not as simple as substituting a milkshake for fries in a combo order.

We’re very proud of the work we do, and we work as hard as we can to meet clients’ budget expectations. Hopefully this page has given some extra clarity into the video production process.