Why Video Costs What it Does

May 14, 2017


Asking how much a video costs to produce is kind of like asking how to cook?


How to cook what? Scrambled eggs or Thanksgiving dinner? Let's start with a scrambled egg. In the video world, a scrambled egg is a one to three minute promotional video shot with a single videographer/editor - one or two interviews, no special graphics or effects. 

I am going to tell you how this production process works and what costs are involved so that you can feel good about making this investment for your organization. 

It is true that anyone with a smart phone can create a video. Our phones take really good photos and there are lots of apps that let you cut together a fun watchable video.

This is great for social media posts, absolutely. 


But I am talking about a polished and professional video you are proud to share when seeking grants and thanking donors at your annual fundraising gala. 


Everyone works a little differently, but this is my process. I am going to use the video I shot for Children's Hope in Action (CHIA) as a reference as I walk you through the steps.







This may sound obvious, but the planning stage is the most crucial. What story are you trying to tell? If we just start filming without a plan, we end up with a mass of footage and often nothing useful. 


The key questions are:


- What problem does your organization address?

- What impact should your video have?

- What is your call to action?


Click here for the full thought starter questionnaire I send to my clients. 


Once we have settled on your story, I like to create an outline. This will likely change drastically once we start filming, but it is a starting place.


Here is an example of the first page of an outline I did for the CHIA video. 

You can see that some things I stuck to and some things are quite different, but I had a guide to keep me on track. 


Once we have an outline, I further break it down into storyboards. I think about each camera angle I want to get and find a reference so that I don't forget when I am in the middle of a busy shoot.


I also make a list of my interview questions. Here is one of the stoyrboards from the CHIA video. 


Planning in this way helps you have a clear idea of what you are going to be getting and it allows me to work very efficiently. This process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. 




Now that we have a plan, it is time to load up the equipment. I know its boring to hear, but camera and sound equipment are pricey. 


The shot on the left was taken with an iPhone, the one on the right was taken with a Sony A7S with a SLRCine 50mm Prime Lens. Both nice shots, but the one on the right looks like a professional image. 


Most organizations like to tell their stories with interviews. You probably rarely think about it, but the the sound can make or break a video. Here is a clip where you can hear the difference in the sound recorded with and without professional sound equipment. Which would you rather show at your next fundraiser? 



Most videographers own their own equipment and our fees include the rental of that valuable camera and sound equipment.





We have a plan, we have all the proper equipment, let's make some movie magic!


During our initial conversations we will have decided on how many days we are actually going to film. If you are located nearby we may come for a few hours for a few days - if we have flown half way across the world and are staying with you on site, we will probably film every day. 


Throughout each shoot day we will try to stick with a schedule for completing all of the storyboards but also allow for some time to let things happen organically. It always takes a bit of time for anyone to get used to having a camera in their face and it is worth easing in to get the best results. 


When possible, I like to try to edit a little bit each night so that I can make sure we are getting everything we need. At times I may ask to redo an interview or just redo certain parts that weren't clear. If I wait to do this until I get home, its way too late!






When we finish filming and its all "in the can" as we like to say in the biz, it's time to see what we got. The files are large so that they will be beautiful even on your 55" TV so it takes many many hours to download from the camera to the computer. 


After the footage is all downloaded and organized, I spend several days shaping and molding it into something resembling the initial outline. There will be hundreds of clips, so finding the perfect moment when she smiled or that great bit where he summed it all up perfectly takes a lot of time. 


Once I have a rough cut ready, its time to get your two cents. This is often a fairly long version so that you can see what we have to work with. The look and sound of the footage will be raw meaning exactly what it looks and sounds like when it comes out of the camera. The image is very flat and the sound may be too loud or soft in sections. This gets refined in the final step, not to worry.


We will work together to shape the interview and footage to your liking. You give me notes and I go back and rework it. This back and forth happens three times over about a two week period and then we call it locked. 


Note that most videographers also own their own computers and editing software. Our fees also include the rental of this expensive equipment as well. 






Now that we have locked the edit, its time to make it pretty. The footage needs to be color corrected - professional cameras shoot very flat images so that you have full control over the final look. Think incredibly precise (and time consuming) Instagram filters.


The photo on the left is raw and the right has been color corrected. 




I talked about the importance of sound above but that was how the sound is recorded. Sound Design is also very important and is a serious skill. They give Oscars for this. It is not a skill I possess or even attempt to understand. For every minute of sound it takes about an hour of staring at a control panel like this:



It is worth every penny to hire a professional sound designer to work their magic. Here is a comparison of a scene before and after it was sound designed.  



Most videographers I know outsource the sound design. It is a complicated skill that most of us haven't focused on mastering. The overall fee for the video would include this outsourced cost. 





Music can honestly be the most important thing. One of my favorite examples of how music can affect the mood of a piece is this YouTube video where someone recut the trailer for The Shining to the song Solsbury Hill making it seem like an uplifting family movie. Music drives emotion. Brilliant!



The search for the perfect music can take a long time and music isn't free. Unfortunately you can't just use your favorite pop song as background to your video. Youtube, Facebook and Instagram have cracked down big time on illegal use of music. Their bots can tell when you have used copyrighted music and they will take it down immediately.


The fee for your video should include a music license. Most descent music tracks for web videos are going to run between $50 and $100. Its worth it to not get stuck with one of these after all your hard work.





Ok, now that everything is beautiful, everything sounds great, and everything is legal, its time to get you the files. You are going to want versions that look great on your website (high-res version), as well as on all your social media platforms - smaller file for Facebook for easy loading, square format for Instagram so nothing is cut off. You will also want versions with subtitles added as most people watch video on social media platforms with the sound turned off.


This part is a little tedious and takes a bit of time to allow for the exports but it is a crucial step to get right. If your video doesn't load right away, you will loose your audience quickly.



Awesome! Now you have beautiful moving/funny/informative video that is going to reinvigorate your current donors/customers and attract all kinds of new attention as well!


To recap what went into the creation of this major marketing tool:


Videographer/editor (+/- 3 weeks of planning, shooting, editing)


Camera Rental and professional cinema lenses


Professional sound recording equipment


Professional editing equipment and software 


Legally cleared music rights


The thought of not having to do it yourself








Well, here is an answer you probably won't like. It depends.


As you now know, there are so many variables that go into filming. How many interviews do you want included? The more people we interview, the more days it takes to film and the more days it takes to edit.


Are you located in a remote part of the world that takes time to get to? Or are you local to your videographer?


Do you want drone footage? 


Are you hiring someone who has years and years of experience and major advertising campaigns on their resume? Their rates will reflect that experience. 


The cost for Do Good Films to produce the CHIA example was about $10,000 - excluding travel to Vietnam from New York and food and accommodation while I was in Hoi An.


This rate is definitely on the lower end for video production but this was a very simple shoot. Do Good Films is still a new company and I felt like this fee was commensurate with my experience. If you bid this project out to 5 different companies, you would likely get 5 different bids.


I hope this has been helpful! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I will be happy to answer them. 


If you are interested in working with Do Good Films, I would love to talk to you about your project! Email ashley@dogoodfilms.com








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About the Author

Hi, I'm Ashley Bearden, a digital film and television producer based in Brooklyn, New York. In my 15 year career, I have had the opportunity to work on projects as varied as series for Anthony Bourdain's Explore Parts Unknown, The Onion, and The Sopranos. As an antidote to the stressful world of commercial production, I produce promotional content for non-profits and social enterprises through my production company, Do Good Films. Connect with me on Instagram and Facebook!

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