Hi Steve-

You sometimes say that a certain video doesn’t cost much. But I don’t have an idea on how much anything in video should cost.

Can you give us some guidelines?

–Jason Black

This will sound at first like a non-answer to a good question, Jason, but the truth about video is that it can cost as little or as much as you want to spend.

For example a big feature film might cost $1 million per minute. That same $1 million might only buy you :30 seconds of an action-packed Superbowl commercial.  Or you could use it to produce 2 episodes of a one-hour cable TV series.

On the low end,  you might only spend a few thousand dollars on a 3 minute book video (if you ask for help from all your friends!)  Or $50 and a dozen bagles to hire a local film student to shoot the sales video for your bakery.

The answer to what your video should cost is really about what it should cost for you.  You can find a great camera person in most markets for $600 a day– or you can shoot on your iPhone for free.  Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to help figure out what your video should cost:

1)  What’s your win, and what’s it worth?  A TV show running on Discovery has a bigger financial upside than your high school short film.  But it isn’t always about the money.  Your passion project may pay off in satisfaction or career development even if it doesn’t make a dime.  What’s your return on investment if it works– and your risk if it doesn’t?

2)  What budget does your idea demand?  A high-end web piece for high-profile company will be seen by thousands– maybe more.  Your bakery video by hundreds.  What kind of production values will you need to stand out?

If your network TV script calls for blowing up a building, you may either have to actually blow up a building or do the explosion as a digital effect.  But if this is a high school film, you might “blow up the building” with a loud offscreen explosion (free) followed by debris raining down over your dumbfounded lead characters as they stare at the offscreen “hole” where the building used to be (nearly free).

The corollary to this question: How can we do brilliant for less?

3)  How much have you got?  We all yearn for the Superbowl spot or major motion picture– but not everyone (okay, not most people) can command those resources.  And nobody has as much as they’d like– not even on a big feature. How much money is there for your project?

4) How much can you get?  Does the boss like the idea enough to pay more for it?  Will people donate on Kickstarter?  You hear entertainment-types talk about spending OPM, or “other people’s money.”  Whether or not someone else will give you money can be a great (but very harsh) test of how good your project really is.

5)  What are your resources besides money?  I had some great friends help on my book video.  They brought professional skills to the project, and they did it for fun.  Who do you know who can help you?

Bottom line:  Everyone, from feature filmmakers to student filmmakers, has to budget their projects.  The more projects you do, the easier it will get.  And the better you get, the more resources you’ll be able to assemble for your next project.

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