With a car, you have variables like the age of a car, the size of the engine, and materials used, carbon fiber vs steel. Then you have variables that you never think about like tariffs on imports and exports from countries that produce parts that go into the cars which also drives up the price. Though video production does not include tariffs, you have things like tax incentives and rebates that can actually reduce your bottom line in ways that will put a HUGE smile on your face.
The production company you choose will have the biggest effect on your cost. At the end of the day, each company will quote you for their production costs and fees. For the same project, one company may charge you $5000, and another may charge you $7500. Production companies that charge more usually do it for one of two reasons. They have filmed a number of projects in that category and feel their expertise and experience warrant the additional fee or they are booked so much that their time is charged at a premium. In general, videos produced in this price range are on the lower end of the video production spectrum. You can get some great footage, original content – edited, simple title graphics and maybe a handful of non-union talent. Talent plays a huge role in the cost of video production. You will see why, next.
Two different categories of talent exist. Union and Non-union. In general, Union talent is far superior. In television and Film, you have what is called the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). SAG is the governing body of unionized actors. To become a SAG member, you have to appear in a SAG signatory project. These projects have a rigorous casting process. Before you are even allowed to audition for a SAG project, you need an agent. Agents are the gatekeepers to opportunity in the television, film, and commercial world. So step one is to impress an agent or manager. Once you have an agent or manager, you have to audition for roles, and you are competing against hundreds of other actors with agents who all had to impress their respective agents to have the opportunity to audition for roles. Step 2 is to impress the casting director. So let’s say 100 actors audition for a role which their agents got them. The casting director takes the 100 actors that auditioned and pick their top 5-10 choices. Those 5-10 choices are then presented to producers and directors of the television, film or commercial video and that team selects their top three choices. Once the top actor is chosen, he or she is then presented to the Network or Studio for approval, then if cleared, that actor receives an offer.
Once you have an agent or manager, you have to audition for roles, and you are competing against hundreds of other actors with agents who all had to impress their respective agents to have the opportunity to audition for roles. Step 2 is to impress the casting director. So let’s say 100 actors audition for a role. The casting director takes the 100 actors that auditioned and pick their top 5-10 choices. Those 5-10 choices then are presented to producers and directors of the television, film or commercial video and that team selects their top three choices. Once the top actor is chosen, he or she is then presented to the Network or Studio for approval, then if cleared, that actor receives an offer.
Conversely, for non-union projects, the audition process is often much shorter. Union projects are more expensive and there are additional layers of checks and balances, whereas for non-union projects, often times the production company, ad agency or even the producer serves as the casting director. Non-union actors can be found all over the web. This is not to say that you can not find great non-union actors, because you absolutely can, especially if you know where to look. I’d even go so far as to say that you can find some non-union actors that are on the same level or better than union actors, but the truth is, Union actors, go through more layers of approval to receive their SAG cards, so if you find a union actor, as a whole, they will have gone through more checks and balances to receive their SAG card.
To give you an idea of what a union actor costs, SAG minimums for an actor are approximately $1000/day, and this is just the beginning of your costs. Every time the commercial airs, the SAG actor must be compensated for what is referred to as USAGE rights. Because a company is using that talent’s likeness, he or she must be compensated for it. On the opposite side, non-union actors working on a non-union production can be hired for a flat fee, and actors residuals will not need to be paid.
Locations change the way people receive and perceive your brand message. Are you filming in a hospital? Are you filming in a small clinic? Do you have to pay for either location? If you own a clinic where you need to shoot a commercial. That is great. You just saved yourself a huge line item production expense. If you don’t own a location where you need to film, be prepared to pay for it. I once received a $10,000 quote to film in a parking lot. Point is, locations can increase the price of production quickly. The production company you choose can help you find great locations for a reduced price. As an example, I once shot at the same 9000-acre farm where they filmed Avengers for $0. Granted I have a relationship with the family and was shooting a short film, but that is an example of how personal relationships can help save you money. At the end of the day, if you can manage, you will want to be inside a quiet, private room, blocked off from everything and everyone. This way, you control the entire environment. If a car passes by and your script does not call for it, that sound will need to be deleted in post-production. Working on a closed set, allows you to control the environment and saves the production company alot of time in post-production. If you have to film on a public street, additional production assistants controlling the flow of pedestrians traffic will need to be hired and you will need to purchase a permit.
Your project’s final destination, it’s intended platform largely determines what equipment will need to be used, specifically the camera. If you are airing your commercial on network television, a particular group of cameras is ideal. If you are distributing your videos on the internet, it opens up a different group of cameras. It takes a lot of equipment to produce a commercial video. Lights, lenses, tripods, dollys, drones, cameras, gimbles, extension cords, reflectors, gels, monitors, and let’s not forget sandbags. Those heavy bags of sand keep heavy and expensive lights from tumbling over on set. The size of your production will determine the amount of equipment you need. The more talent you have on set, the bigger your equipment list will be and the amount of work that needs to be done in post-production increases drastically.
Lighting a set, framing your pictures, and blocking out shots, also commonly referred to as cinematography is an art form. Established production companies understand this and know how to manipulate light, and create environments that will give your project a visually stylized look. The strength of your lights, accessories like diffusers and gels, and focal lengths of your lens all contribute to a mood, a look. Cinematographers choose equipment with a final look in mind. The summation of these variables is why industry professional’s work looks amazing and established production companies charge a premium for their time and expertise.
The cast makes or breaks every project. It’s why every major production works with established casting directors. Equally important to know, the cast will also make or break your budget. We talked about the difference between Union and non-union talent before, but let’s talk about how poor casting can destroy your video production. Casting is subjective to a degree. Your personal experience and bias shape your opinions on what an acceptable actor cast for a role should look and sound like.
Casting directors work on hundreds of projects week to week which opens them up to a wider, macro view of the world. They cast different talent, that comes from different backgrounds almost daily. This diversity allows them to make informed decisions as to what a particular character should look like. They constantly search for truth in the eyes of a character. Listen for subtle social quirks in a actors voice which breath life and truth to the backstory of a character. Casting directors are trained to choose the right actor for each role. If you try to take that responsibility on, you run the risk of not choosing someone that truly emotes the character you need to move the story forward. Stories that are distributed to the masses need to appeal to a wide audience, this is why choosing an experienced casting director is a great idea. Without the right actors playing their part, you run the risk of your story missing it’s intended target. Choose an actor that will help you convey the story you need to share.
Visual effects is a process during post-production that can double, or triple the costs of your video production. When you hear about big budget films costing hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s largely due to the production’s VFX. 2D animation, 3D scenes, photo manipulation, stop motion. All of these specialty effects run tens of thousands of dollars, per minute. If you are looking for simple text font to grace your video commercial, that is an easy thing to produce and the cost for production will be significantly less expensive. If you are looking for complex artistic effects, it will cost you.
I will say this. If your video needs VFX, the last thing you will want to cut costs on is VFX that carry the story forward. When performed and executed well. VFX can help a $10,000 production punch 2-3 times above its weight. It’s why we brought a gentleman onboard at Bolt that built the VFX worlds out for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Whether you need a 15-second spot or a 30-second spot, make sure you work with a production company that has a track record of producing good work. The extra money you may need to pay them will be well worth it. Consumers today are very well informed as to what looks and sounds good and I am sure you have seen those commercials that don’t quite look right. We spent year’s building the best production team so we can pass that value on to you.