by Stephen Haskin
"Every market has different prevailing prices for outside talent and every company has different ways of costing internally. With careful planning, using your unique costs, there is a way to get your production costs in line so the next time your boss asks you "How much?"you can give an educated estimate."
Video. Do you love it? Do you hate it? It doesn't matter. As developers or designers of eLearning, video is an increasing part of the work we create. You already know that. Usually you get a budget, one that you know is too small to work with. You do what you have to do to make your budgets work.
Making video in the eLearning space might have the same parts as a Hollywood production, but it's not the same on many levels. In eLearning, we have to work harder and smarter to make our productions make sense to our learning audience. Truly, the hardest question to answer when we get an idea (or are told to get an idea) for a video is, "How much will it really cost to make?"
Will it be the video of your dreams or your nightmares? A storytelling video is a very different project than an actor or subject matter expert (SME) talking to a camera, whether it's made with the camera in the lid of a laptop or in a studio. Even if it seems simple, there are a lot of moving parts to keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out how much to budget for your video production. Here are ideas that can guide you so you can "Make it work!"
What's involved in video production
Creating video is a process. Your cost for video production will be different from my cost of video production. It comes down to where you are and what's involved in your particular production; for example, how much equipment to rent or buy? How many actors?
The list of needs can be almost endless. Everything you do costs your department, company, or yourself money and time. When it comes to video production spending, you need to spend those hard-to-come-by production dollars wisely, with as much of the expense showing on the screen as possible. Since there are so many factors to consider when you're calculating how to develop your video and cost it out, I'll probably miss a few, but here's my list.
DIY or outsource?
When you get a script or idea, the first thing to consider is this: are you going to make it yourself or are you going to hire a company or individual to make the video? In the past, video production companies have mostly quoted the “price” of a video by the cost per finished minute. The production company would look at the script and figure out how much to charge including their markup. Changes are extra. If a script has several locations away from your office, there are transportation, set-up, and equipment charges along with other costs over and above your own costs. If you’re lucky and you work at a corporate campus, it’s a little easier as there are lots of free locations to select. You still have to allow time to move the equipment to your location(s), unpack, set it up, light the set, and block your actors (establish where they are on the set and where they move). Even with a script, sometimes there’s still too much speculation in figuring the costs exactly. With some knowledge of how to think about production process and costs, you’ll be getting more and more accurate as you are involved in more video productions.
This is the most important part of any video production. Let me give you a few words about pre-production decisions before I lay out the actual steps. Most of the decisions you make in pre-production will show up in your finished product. Here are some of the questions to think about and decisions you will be making as you do your pre-production planning.
What is the first major decision after you have your script?
Are you going to shoot “on-location”?
Do you need actors?
And perhaps the most important question of all: do you already have an approved budget, or do you have to submit a budget? If you’ve already got a budget approved, you still have to do the budget part below. The budget is more than numbers. It’s a roadmap to how you’ll spend your money so you make the most of it on the screen.
The steps in pre-production are:
Sidebar: 4K Video?
I don’t know anyone in the eLearning space who needs to shoot or play back video at 4K resolutions. Right now, 4K or UHD (Ultra HD) is a marketing buzzword that TV set and camera manufacturers are using to sell new or upgraded products to a mostly stagnant market. While there are now many different cameras and TV screens that can record or view 4K, nobody is using 4K to stream or display video. Not the TV or Cable networks. Not the Internet companies. Nobody. (Well, a few claim they do, but try to find it!) And do you really want to know what IT thinks about something they will see as yet another bandwidth hog, although H.265 neatly takes care of that issue? 4K doesn’t or shouldn’t enter the pricing equation for video-content creation. So let’s take 4K out of the mix. The hidden added costs are its really long render times even using today’s workstations. And face it, we really can’t afford a render farm. Even a tiny little two- or three-machine render farm.
A lot of the production I do doesn’t involve actors. It certainly makes my life easier. As a director who has worked with many actors, both professional and “regular” people (as in non-actor), I usually prefer to make non-actors comfortable in front of the camera and let them be themselves. It can be way more fun and it’s far less expensive. Whether you’re using actors or not, you have to think about how you will set things up and that’s not just your physical set.
This is the most important part of any video production. The day dawns bright and clear, or rainy or snowy as the case may be. The night before the shoot, you’ve checked all your gear:
You have all your equipment checked out and ready to go, so now all you have to do is go to the location. Maybe your office? Maybe somewhere else? Wherever, get there early. It always takes longer than you think to set up the first time in any location. But since this is about costs, let’s get into the costs of production and where they can bite you.
Production costs and potential budget-buster points:
If you've done your preproduction homework, then your production set will play out easily and smoothly—except there's always something that will go wrong. Any and all of the costs you came up with in your pre-production scheduling and budgeting can go awry if you haven’t thought about them. Video rarely goes according to plan all the time and you do have a contingency plan, correct?
This is the most important part of any video production. (Sorry to keep repeating myself.) Post-production (post) takes the most hours. You won't even get to this point unless you've done the first two parts well. Post is tough to figure. There are a few rules of thumb, however. I generally plan about 10 hours of editing and working on things in After Effects, etc. for every hour I spend in production. Your results may vary. However, if you're shooting characters or talking heads and not scenes, you'll probably be closer to three-to-five post-time hours per production hour. It all depends on how creative you're going to be or can be because of time constraints in post. The minimum I recommend for budgeting post is a 6:1 ratio of post-production to production. If you know you're going to do many things in post, then figure 10:1 and you'll be safe. If you’re going to hire a post house to edit your work, you might want to get them involved as early in the process as possible. If you’re shooting a production with actors over several days, deliver the video or the memory cards to them every day. What you see at the end of the day happens in post, no two ways about it.
Conclusion (and an apology)
You might have noticed that I wrote that each section is the most important part of a video production. And indeed, they all are. You plan your video in pre-production; you shoot it during production, and bring it to life in post-production. The only place you might be able to slide a bit is in pre-production. And then, only if you're shooting in a studio with known talent and doing a talking head.
If you were thinking when you started this article that you’d be able to exactly cost out your video, I'm sorry to disabuse you of that thought. There is no secret formula. There are no such things as exact costs. Every market has different prevailing prices for outside talent and every company has different ways of costing internally. With careful planning, using your unique costs, there is a way to get your production costs in line so the next time your boss asks you "How much?" you can give an educated estimate. P.S.: It never hurts to pad 10 percent or so into your costs. That can give you a leg up on the unforeseen and you know there will be things that pop up all the time. It's the nature of making video.
PROCESSING, PLEASE WAIT...