As digital storytellers, we probably hear this question most often in working with new clients. Quality video in the past has been inaccessible to small businesses whose success didn’t rely on it, but the expectation for not just a video, but video(s) as a primary platform has risen insatiably across all business sectors of late.

The trouble is that it’s as vague as asking how much a car costs. Well, what do you need it to do? Does it need to seat 2 or 7? Does it need to go 100,000 miles or a million? What’s under the hood – how fast does it go or how much can it pull?

The cost of a video is measured in more than dollars per minute, or per second for that matter, and for us it always comes back to the same question: what does it need to accomplish?

That said, the whole point of a post like this is to be helpful, and that’s just a bunch of qualifying gobbledygook. Here are 5 driving questions to ask when planning your next video project that will help you narrow in on costs. We’ll start with the more affordable qualifiers and work our way up:

1. How many shoots and how long will it take to capture what you need?

This one’s a broad question, but on-set production is the single most expensive per-second-cost you’ll have when making a video. That’s because you’re paying for multiple crew, cameras, audio, lighting equipment and the hidden costs of downtime and political capital from disrupting the everyday flow of business.

Even on a production that requires only a small crew, if your schedule demands multiple shoot dates spread across several months, you’ll notice a steeper cost because of the time it takes to prepare, travel, load-in, and load out each time.

Pro Tip:

It’s always most affordable to condense shoots to a high saturation in the fewest days possible with those days being close together. You’ll notice significant savings if you can help a production company to realize these ideal circumstances.

2. How many hours (or minutes) of footage will the editors need to sift through to make the cut?

Often times, we will arrive to a shoot to have the client say, “Hey, can we just throw in one more interview? We have a customer in today who said they could share their testimonial too!”

It doesn’t really sound like a big deal, and we most often comply because after all, it’s just another 20-30 minutes on set. The trouble is, the editor then will need much more time to watch through clips or sift transcriptions, identify sounds bites and edit down the additional material to fit within the creative plan. You can count on anywhere between two to ten times the length of the captured footage as time necessary in the edit suite.

Pro Tip:

Only ask for the locations, people, content, etc. you want to see make the final cut in a video. Yes, it’s true that overshooting creates more options and sometimes a pleasant surprise, but efficient planning is always more cost-effective in the long term.

3. Will the video require paid talent?

If a video will require talent to deliver a repeatable performance, take direction, speak with nuance and not come across as outrageously cheesy, then you’ll want to pay them. And thankfully good talent isn’t too expensive, typically well under $1000 for a speaking role day job if you work locally with non-union talent. The bigger the city, the more talent you have to choose from, so oftentimes local agencies will look to Chicago or Detroit, although GR has a growing talent pool with some great little agencies we can recommend.

Pro-Tip:

Unless you’re trying to develop an internal spokesperson or personality, it’s usually a good idea to work with paid talent on creative/ad shoots instead of leveraging people from your team or personal network for free. No matter how outgoing someone is or how many theater classes they took in high school, memorization and consistent delivery of lines over multiple takes is much harder than it looks. Plus, free talent has a tendency to not show up. Paid talent always shows up.

4. Does it need to reach a lot of people?

If so, nevermind the cost of production because your ad buy is where the real costs will be. What’s more, thanks to Facebook’s new algorithms, it’s nearly impossible to get the organic reach you want by kicking off with just a few bucks. Get ready to throw down thousands if you’re looking to reach 10s or 100s of thousands of good views.

Pro-Tip:

Without an overarching marketing strategy, a video is just a tool. When applied to the right audience, through the right media, at the right time and with the right saturation, that’s when the magic happens.

5. Does it need to go viral?

It won’t! So phew, there’s a load of pressure off. To date, the only people who have intentionally planned, executed and pulled off a “viral” video are superbowl advertisers, and even then, with their millions of dollars, they’re batting about .001.

Ok, So what’s it really cost?

So that’s it. Five questions to help you think critically about pricing out your next video. That said, here’re a few ballparks based on what we’ve seen working across West Michigan to help you get started in budgeting. Naturally, everything’s a range and in no way represents a guarantee of cost, performance, yada, yada, yada…

Genre Finished Video Cost

Live Action

  • Docu-style / Basic Event Capture $100-$1k / min
  • Corporate Talking Heads & B-Roll $2k-$3k / min
  • New Product / Explainer (with VFX) $3k-$4k / min
  • Creative Advertising (broadcast length) $7-$10k+ / min

(or higher for high profile work)

Animated/Motion Graphic

  • Flat style Animation $1.5k-$3k / min
  • 3D $5k+ / min

(highly variable on detail, animation)

Multi-video / Series Rates Assume 20%-30% savings