Why Estimating Your Video Production Cost is a Lot Like Buying a Car

by Gregg Litman June 28, 2016
June 28, 2016

Believe it or not, I get asked many more questions about estimating the cost of video production than I ever get asked about storytelling styles or production techniques. I’d like to think people understand that visual storytelling is a complex set of skills that takes years to learn and couldn’t possibly be covered in a brief conversation, but I realize the truth — video pricing is confusing. Prices vary from company to company, and video to video, so how do you make sense of it all?

I always say that it’s a lot like buying a car. Once you understand that some brands cost more (and why), and realize that much of the price depends on the type of car and options you decide to add on, it gets much easier to both estimate the cost of video production and ultimately decide what kind of car (or video) to buy.

Here’s why estimating video production costs is like shopping for a car.

What brand are you buying?

Is it a Toyota or a Tesla? We all know that different kinds of cars come at very different price points. Same with video production. For starters, a professional crew costs more than a friend with a camera (or using your own iPhone). And a big, fancy commercial production house will charge a lot more. Just like a Lamborghini.


Video Production Cost

Why the difference? Quality and dependability, just like a car. When you hire our team, you’re working with an experienced producer and videographer (and an agency that has won 3 Emmy Awards). When you hire the fancy commercial production house, you’re getting a big crew with fancy gear and a sizzle reel full of glitzy commercials. And we all have experience with big productions.

But when you go with a friend, or decide to do it yourself, you might get what you pay for. That’s probably good enough for a quick post on Facebook or Twitter, but do you really want to take a chance if you’re showing the video at a big event, or putting it on your website? That’s when it’s worth paying for some extra power under the hood.

What size do you need?

Are you buying a midsize car or a minivan? Every car line has different sizes and different price points, and videos are no different. In general, the length of your video (or combined length of all the videos in your project) will determine the cost of your video production. After all, you’re paying the crew by the hour, and it takes more time to shoot and edit a lot of video than a little.

If you’re looking for a benchmark, some people actually use $ 1,000 per produced minute. But while that’s a nice-sounding guideline, it’s not completely accurate. A highly produced, multi-character, 3-minute video might cost way more than $ 3,000, and a simple 10-minute recording of a a speech should cost much less than $ 10,000. So it’s more complicated than that. Just like a fancy sports car will cost a lot more than a much larger minivan.

In other words, size matters. But so does story complexity. And many other production factors.

How about options?

Car Options | Video Production CostLeather seats, a sunroof, and a fancy stereo. We understand those cost more on cars, but how about video production? Our options are things like extra interviews and extra characters. Renting a sound stage, bringing in extra cameras and lighting also add up.

Since so much of the production costs relate to the time it takes to do different things (and the number of people doing them), it’s easy to see that it takes extra time to shoot (and plan and log and produce around) extra interviews, and it clearly takes extra time to travel from one location to another.

These are often the elements that turn a good video into a great one, but they will also drive up the cost of your video production. Weigh the value of the extra characters or locations. How much will they add to the story. Then make your decision, just like you would with car options.

Be sure to take a test drive.

Can you imagine buying a car online? Sure, many people do. But I bet all of them test drive a similar car at a dealership before making their final decision. Same with video. You can do all the “shopping” you want, but you absolutely need to look at samples before making your final decision. And don’t just settle for a “sizzle reel” with the company’s best shots. Ask for samples of the type of video you want to produce.

Different videos require different styles and experience, and the only way to make sure there’s a match is with your own eyes. If the samples aren’t available online, ask. If they aren’t available at all, run. Your video production is probably too important to trust with somebody who’s trying to learn it on the fly.


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