One of the primary considerations for any project is video production budgeting. Whether you are a business, organization, or individual, the budget must be carefully planned, adjusted, and understood by all parties involved in order to plan a realistic filming goal. There’s an old joke in Hollywood where someone asks, “What’s the budget?” The punchline response is, “How long is a piece of string?” The joke being that nobody really knows, suggesting that it’s sort of a catch-22.
That’s not exactly true, though. Often, clients working with film production companies have a set amount of money that they can spend and this sets the parameters of the project. With that information, the film production team can plan accordingly and shoot the project. In other cases, there might be some flexibility as production gets underway. Either way, it’s important to have an understanding of what factors determine film budgets before jumping into video production.
How Much Does Video Production Cost?
It depends. A film production budget ultimately depends on the scope of the project, which comprises many elements like locations, number of actors, length of the film, effects, editing time, etc. The first step with any film production is to articulate your idea in very specific terms down to every minute detail. This will help determine your budget because it will allow you and the film production team to reasonably estimate time, team, equipment, and other necessary elements.
If you know you have $20,000 to spend and not a penny more, then the team will have to work backwards from that number to hit the mark. Obviously, the more money able to be spent the better, but that doesn’t mean that certain projects can’t be made for much cheaper without compromising quality. It all depends. The more you can envision your end goal, the easier it will be to determine an appropriate budget.
Video Content Creation
The three phases of video production that can impact the budget are pre-production, production, and post-production. Each of these steps usually include many components that, depending on the scope of the project, could affect the budget considerably. In a previous blog on a pre-production checklist, I detailed numerous elements to consider prior to production, each of which can impact the budget. Let’s look at a few.
A script is the written document that includes all of the information you need for your production. This could include dialogue, set pieces, locations, and even ideas for music or audio. You can certainly attempt to write a script on your own, but paying a professional writer is a worthwhile investment. The writer may have a set hourly rate or you could negotiate a flat fee for a finished draft. The length of the script will correspond with the length of the video, which will impact cost. Typically, one script page is roughly one minute of screen time. The more complex the project, the more drafts may need to be written to get it right. If you do hire a writer, try to find someone who is genuinely interested in the project and who fully understands your vision.
Another factor that your script should highlight is the number of locations for the shoot. Simply put, the more locations, the higher the cost. A new location means more time with setting up and breaking down equipment. It also means more time for the crew on set. And the crew needs to get paid. In a previous blog, I discussed some of the pros and cons of shooting on-location vs. in a studio. If you’re trying to stay within a tight budget, the fewer the locations the better. This may mean scheduling multiple interview subjects to be at the same place on the same day. A studio can be helpful for productions such as this. Shooting on-location may require paying for permits and battling certain environmental elements. Each of these factors can impact the amount of time and money spent.
Depending on the project, you may need to hire actors. Depending on the age, experience, and length of time needed, the cost could range considerably. You want the talent to be compensated appropriately and to be comfortable. In addition to payment, this means feeding them. Factor in meal-time and other comforts on set that will need to be purchased. The better the experience the talent is having on-set, the better the performance you are likely to get from them. Always try to compensate your talent for their time.
Wardrobe, Props, and Makeup
Actors also need to wear clothes (usually), so factor wardrobe into your budget as well. If your script is already written in detail, it should explain what is needed. Before going out and spending money at a high-end clothing store, see what you can get for free. Ask friends or check online to see if people are giving items away.
In addition to certain clothes, you may also need props. Again, look through your own cluttered basement or ask family and friends. You’d be surprised at what some people have stuffed away in their homes. You can also look online for people looking to get rid of things. The key for much of budgeting is to only use what is absolutely necessary. If you can get away with one key accessory, that will be cheaper than three or five. Use only what is necessary to achieve your final vision.
You may or may not need to hire a makeup artist, but if you’re producing a low-budget horror film, it would likely be a requirement. Professional makeup artists can add realism to your characters, alter age, or just make people pretty for the film. Depending on what you’re going for, a makeup artist could be helpful.
Depending on the type of video you want to shoot, you may want to hire a professional video production crew. If you’re shooting a social media video for your Tik Tok account, it’s probably not necessary – you might be able to pull it off in your bedroom. I outlined various considerations for shooting on your own versus hiring a crew in a previous blog. If you’re making corporate video or feature-length film, the right crew will be absolutely necessary.
The bigger the production, the more roles there will be. It may include: producer, director, writer, director of photography, audio recordist, assistant camera operator, production assistant, hair and makeup, or gaffer. Again, it all goes back to your vision for the project and the end goal. If you’re working with a tight budget, you may be able to work with the producer to cut a few corners, but this will run the risk of sacrificing the quality of the production. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and a solid crew is no exception.
Once you’ve completed your pre-production checklist, written your script, hired your talent, bought your wardrobe and props, and hired your crew, you will need to move onto the production phase of the process. The producer and crew should have already set up a shooting schedule that outlines each day’s objective. The fewer the days to shoot, the lower the cost. The fewer the location changes, the lower the cost.
If you’ve budgeted accordingly and everything goes perfectly, then great. But, there are numerous obstacles that can impact a film shoot. Flexibility during the production phase is a must. Weather can halt an on-location shoot. Talent might fall ill and be unavailable. Flights can be canceled. Each of these curveballs can alter production, so it’s important to have contingency plans for such events. The producer and crew may opt to change the objective for the day if certain elements fall through. This may or may not negatively impact the budget, but it’s important to understand that it might. It is always better to over-prepare than under-prepare for a video production shoot.
Post-production is a huge part of the filmmaking process that is often not fully considered as much as it should be in video production budgeting. Once production ends, the real fun begins. Again, if you’re making a thirty-second commercial, the post-production work will likely be a lot less than if you’re producing a thirty-minute film. The longer the project, the more time an editor will need to work on it. This means going through footage, making cuts, and piecing things together to make them work. It takes some trial and error and a whole lot of time.
Hiring a Video Editor
Depending on an editor’s experience, they may charge you anywhere from $25/hr. to $100/hr. Keep in mind that paying the cheaper editor will not always end up saving you money because they may make amateur mistakes that end up taking them more time anyway, so it may even out. The editor may also need to add titles, subtitles, or different effects to the film. This will take time and should be factored into your budget.
You may also need to hire other professionals to enhance your film. A colorist can perform color correcting and grading, which affects the color, contrast, and exposure of the image. If you’ve ever seen a side-by-side of an image before color correction and after, you know how important it can be. Color grading can impact the atmosphere of the film, so it may also be a worthwhile investment.
Music and Post-Production
Another worthwhile investment that’s usually completed during post-production is music. If you think about it, audio is half of a film, so sound/music is super important. You can reach out to an existing artist’s label and inquire about purchasing the rights to a song. They usually want to know about the project, so tell them. For our documentary, Refugee: The Eritrean Exodus, we used original music from WaveRadio, but also contacted the band The National for their song, “Sorrow.” The song fit so well over a particular sequence that we knew we wanted to try to use it. And they said yes!
If you don’t want to purchase the rights to an existing song, you will need someone to produce original music. This means finding a suitable performer, renting studio space, and hiring a sound engineer to record and mix it. Whatever you decide, don’t underestimate how vital music can be to your video project.
As you can see, there are many elements to consider for your video production budgeting. The pre-production phase is vital for forming your overall vision, writing a script, and determining what elements you might need. This includes talent, crew, and what locations you will be shooting at. Once you are in production, you should have a shooting schedule with specific objectives for each day. Things can certainly change, but hopefully you will hit your mark and not need to spend an extra dime.
Once shooting ends, you’re on to post-production where the real fun begins. Unless you are an editor, you will need to hire one. An experienced editor is worth the investment because they will know how to make better decisions quicker. This is helpful when you’re paying for their time. You may also opt to use a colorist to enhance the image. And lastly, music can play a crucial role in tying everything together. Whatever your budget, keeping these elements in mind will help you form your vision and see your film project through to completion.