If you are passionate about starting a video production company or video production business, launching this new venture will be the most fun and challenging thing you have ever done. You need to buy the right hardware, software, procure a great staff or crew then you will need to market yourself and your services. Before you start to market your services, remember, you first need a great reel to show potential clients what you are capable of. Check out our reel on our Bolt Entertainment homepage. Producing video content is an art form full of details that shape stories, build momentum, suspense, and leaves your audience feeling like they have connected with your story and its characters.
If you are like many other creators in internet land, you have a dire need to tell stories. Let’s first take a look at the hardware you will need.
I am sure you have heard this a million times, ‘The camera you use is not important. It’s the story that matters.’ Well yeah, but if your camera has horrible dynamic range, your story is going to look like crap. Today, with smartphones containing built-in 4k cameras, you can shoot an entire feature film on a smart device. People have shot full-length feature films on less. I didn’t say they were any good and keep in mind, smart devices can cost $1K so the technology packed into the device can produce a high level of quality. Does it compare to a Black Magic Ursa Mini Pro 4.6 v2, or an Arri Alexa LF? Absolutely not. What these last two cameras have that the smart device does not have is a high dynamic range, the ability to shoot RAW, and professional grade low light performance and a host of other things. But let’s talk about dynamic range first, because that is the most important thing here. When you take your footage into post-production, you want to have the ability and option to work with footage that, if not shot with perfect exposure, you still have the ability to pull the colors out of the footage that you want. Let’s take a moment to talk about color, because this is an often overlooked detail in video production and I have seen a lot of new aspiring directors and filmmakers make the mistake of not color correcting and color grading their material. Making sure skin tones are correct and your video does not skew to an awkward color cast is extremely important and often times is a sign of the director or production company being a professional or newcomer. The only exception is when color choices have been purposefully chosen to skew unconventionally for creative purposes. As a general rule, here are some of the industry standard cameras that we like which are used in professional environments.
Are their other cameras out there that shoot great images? Sure. Sony’s FS7 shoots amazing quality images, some would argue that the image is too sharp, but if you like that kind of look, the Sony FS7 camera is for you.
Keep in mind that the prices above are for the camera body alone. You will, at the very least, need to purchase a camera lens separately.
So now you have already chosen the main tool for your video production business, the video camera. In theory, all you need is a camera lens and you can start shooting epic video content. The truth is, you will need a few more things if you want to shoot top quality content. More on that to follow. This section is all about the glass that will give your project a distinct look.
Think about lenses like character traits. Some are funny, some are fast, some see the big picture, others know how to block out background noise. Your camera lens won’t make you laugh, but choosing the wrong one, just might make you cry. Many professionals suggest that your first video lens is a 50mm and it’s not a bad option. 50mm lenses are close to the angle of view that humans have so for that reason, it’s a great starting point. Depending on how you like to create art, more methodical or if you like to tinker with many focal lengths to find your voice, it will determine the right first lens for you. If you are just starting out, personally, I’d recommend a great entry level professional video zoom lens. Zoom lenses give content creators the ability to choose various focal lengths quickly. Say you printed your shot list and the entire afternoon calls for tight shots, so now you have your 50mm on set. You are in a 20 x 20 room, the scene is lit perfectly. You shoot your first take. . .NAILED IT. Now you look over your shoulder and see a beautiful lead-up shot that you have to get, but you need a wider lens to capture it. You can’t back up far enough to get the shot you are now desperate to capture on camera. Having a great zoom lens, say a 24-70mm would serve you well. If you are a one-person shop, you need to pack light and need one great piece of glass that serves multiple purposes in various scenarios.
If you have a little more coin to spend on great glass with fixed focal lengths, here is my absolute favorite lens set and the picture can be viewed above at the beginning of this section.
For me, Cooke lenses have a soft and cinematic feel which gives pictures an old world, high-end quality. The pictures look like they have years of character pre-built into each frame. Other great lenses I love are:
Leica R Elmarit
Often overlooked in a new video production business is high-quality sound recording hardware. This is the last piece that makes up the foundation of your video production company. When you are looking to spend your budget on production tools, these are the three you should always focus on first. Worst case scenario, you can learn to hold a camera using your body as leverage and create a stable environment to hold your camera and shoot great video. There are various levels of sound quality and as I am sure you have learned by now, the better the quality, the more it will cost you, but fear not. Of all the tools you can purchase that increase your production value, this is the area that is the least expensive and you will get the biggest increase in production value for the amount of money you spend. Let me give you an example.
There are various degrees of awesome when it comes to high-end video production cameras. An entry-level camera will cost you 1300 USD. It will shoot 4K, have 13 stops of dynamic range, shoot 120 fps and produce a beautiful image. But, Hollywood feature films and TV shows would never use it as an A or B camera…maybe, not even a C camera. Can you shoot a full-length feature on a $1300 camera, absolutely, but the high-end cameras have a few tools that the lower end cameras don’t have, and when you start digging into the details, this is where the more expensive cameras, the $35,000 and up camera bodies offer that extra detail, that added production value that makes the more expensive cameras worth the investment. But for less than the amount you spent on your entry level cinema camera, you can purchase the industry standard Sennheiser MKH-416
shotgun microphone. This microphone has been the industry standard in Hollywood for years and is still used on your favorite feature films and Television shows. The next time you watch a tv show, I’d like you to close your eyes, and just listen to the audio. Listen to the quality of an actors voice. The highs, the lows. Listen to the sound design, the foley. Notice how clear everything sounds? Most of it is shot on the Sennheiser 416. This microphone has a 40-20000 Hz frequency response which allows it to reproduce the rich bass and high-end sound our ears are conditioned to hear.
If you want to produce content on par with the best production companies in the world, this is your best bet if you do not have $150,000 to spend on video production equipment and at the end of the day, a great image is a great image and if your sound quality is there, I promise you will be well on your way to producing a great film, television show, corporate video, or commercial. Well, at least it will look and sound good. Story and the quality of your actors are also good, and if you need help there, give us a call, we are happy to find a way to work with hardworking, determined professionals. For additional information on how actors can make or break a project, make sure to read our article titled, “Casting talent. Secrets to every successful commercial or broadcast production.”
If you don’t have the capital to invest in a professional microphone for your video production business at the moment, I get it. You are not alone and don’t worry. There are many solutions out there that will work absolutely fine while you are getting started. The easiest and most efficient solution is to use your cellphone. Most smartphones today have an audio recording app and it can record fairly good quality audio. One tip I would recommend is to find a way to make sure your phone is close to your talent’s mouth when you start to capture sound. The further away the device is from your talent will decrease your audio’s production quality. When you don’t have the capital, you have to be creative, which isn’t always a bad thing. It makes you come up with solutions, and at the end of the day, that is what production is all about. Finding the right solution. If it were me, I’d probably try to build a boom pole similar to what the pros use and hang it just out of the frame, just like the pros do it. Whenever you have a problem and need to find a solution, check out how it’s done in a professional environment, it will inspire you to find a solution to capture the best quality your budget will allow.
A prosumer solution is finding a great stereo voice recorder like the Zoom H1n or F1n Field Recorder. For the price point, the Zoom H1n packs way above its weight class because it offers the ability to record in stereo and has a microphone input so you can add a lav mic when your talent is moving around. The Zoom H1n also has a 1/4 inch screw where you can mount a microphone handle and then harness that system into a boom pole. Again, when capturing sound on set, your goal is to get your audio recording device as close to the talent as possible while keeping all hardware out of the frame. So, if you are a one-person production crew, you will need to come up with creative solutions. A proline microphone stand could be a simple solution. Sound professionals typically recommend you use both a shotgun microphone and a lav microphone on talent so you or your post-production team member can choose the cleanest audio track in post. For professional jobs, I also recommend using this method. In the event, one device peaks, loses power, or some unforeseen event occurs, the other sound recording device will be your saving grace. For lav setups, Zoom’s F1n is a great entry-level prosumer option.
If you want to steer closer to the professional sound quality but not spend as much on the microphone, the Rode NTG3 is a fantastic microphone. In a blind test, a number of working video professionals could hardly make the distinction between the Rode NTG3 and Sennheiser 416. The Rode comes in at around $700 for the microphone. It is also important to mention that most professional shotgun microphones require phantom power which means an external power source will need to power the microphone. Most professional cameras provide phantom power so the only additional expense you will have is buying XLR cords that run from your camera to the microphone. Depending on your scenario, you may need sound recorders for your shotgun microphone. If you are in a controlled studio environment, you may be able to get away with running a 10′ cord from your camera to your microphone, but as you start to work in more professional environments, external recorders that provide phantom power are the way to go. It’s cleaner and oftentimes delivers more power to your shotgun mic which gives you cleaner audio without the background noise when working in post-production. Zoom, Tascam and Sound Devices all make great sound recorders that produce phantom power.
You are in the home stretch and ready to edit your masterpiece. Post-production professionals like and use different editing suites for various reasons. For the longest time. Final Cut 7 was the gold standard in television, film and commercial post-production. But with the boom in digital cameras, editing platforms are rapidly changing and old editing tools are being rethought and redeveloped for a more efficient workflow. There is no doubt that Black Magic’s Divinci resolve is the go-to color tool and their all in one post-production suite has become a personal favorite of mine, and that is saying a lot. I have worked on every major suite on the market. Avid, Adobe, Final Cut and now Black Magic. Full disclosure, I am not a VFX wizard so I do not have a comprehensive review on Black Magic’s Fusion vs Adobe’s After Effects or Nuke, but I employ some of the best VFX artists in the world and can tell you Fusion composites, paints and creates/manipulates particles as well as any program in the market. One thing I will say is that most professionals are partial to one platform or another. The truth is, many of the top platforms can deliver the same product, the difference is how you get to the final result. Once you have mastered one system, often times artists will not want to learn a new system because of the time it takes to learn and master the software. But for me, any software that can edit, color, mix sound and create VFX without having to bounce files out and send to different post-production modules is a winning formula, so for that reason, I’d highly recommend looking into it. If you are just getting started, it will save you a lot of time.
Hopefully, you have shot some videos already and edited a 2-3 minute reel of your work. If not, it’s ok. I am going to walk you through the process and what this reel means to you, your company and what a potential client is looking for. A reel is your production company’s resume. It’s your business card. It is a 2-3 minute video of some of the highlights from the body of work you have shot through the years. If you have not shot much, go out as soon as you finish this article and film. Then go out tomorrow and film some more. Film as much video content as you possibly can until you feel confident you have enough material to edit together a 2-3 minute reel that you can post on your website and send clients you would like to work with. The reel should show everyone the type of work you like to do. Whether it’s narratives, commercials, action, corporate videos, documentaries, reality shows, beauty – whatever. Make sure your demo reel shows the type of work you are going after and this will give potential clients a general idea of your shooting style and help them decide if they would like to work with you or not. Without a reel, it is hard for someone to determine if you are a good fit for what they are looking to produce. As an example, if a Law Firm is looking to hire a company to shoot a 30 second commercial for them and your reel is mostly reality video, it might not be a good fit. If you have mostly wedding videos on your reel and a producer is looking to hire a production company that shoots feature films, it’s probably not going to work out. That producer will more than likely hire a production company they know shoots feature-length Narratives.
Whatever your goal, shoot content that serves as an example to show someone you are more than capable of producing high-quality content and deliver exactly what they need. At the end of the day, video production is a service. Whether you are providing entertainment, information, or a memory keepsake, at the end of the day, you are producing a video to tell stories. The camera, lens, microphone, and editing software are the main ingredients to your success, everything else is icing on the cake, they are added bonuses, additional tools for your production tool kit that will make your production more dynamic. But if you are starting out, don’t worry about those things just yet. Buy a decent tripod with a smooth pan/tilt head, set your camera on top and find your voice with your equipment. Once you find your voice, read Part 2 which dives into some of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets.