How much does it cost to make a video?

This is the big question: How much is it going to cost to make a 90 second video?

My standard answer to this is that a video will cost you about as much as a car. You can spend $200 on a video but you’ll probably get better results with $5,000 if you have a tight budget and you’re just looking for something to get around. Your average consumer is probably going to look in the $30k to $45k range with people on the higher end prepared to spend $200k. And of course, prices go up to $2 million and beyond. It all depends on your expectations and what you plan to do with it.

There are two ways of looking at pricing. The first is to consider the cost of the materials and labor and then presume the consumer will pay enough to cover the cost of both.  For example, if the camera costs $150 to rent and the filmmaker charges $10/hr to operate it, you can say $200 for a short 5 hour shoot is perfectly reasonable.

The second school of thought is that the video is only worth what the customer is willing to pay. If you want a video done for $100 and you are able to find someone who is willing to agree to those terms, then that’s the value of the video.

The latter makes sense when operating in economies of scale. If you shoot three videos a day and you can divide the $150/day cost of owning or renting a camera across multiple clients then it makes sense to do this. For example, when you hire an Uber, the daily costs associated with car ownership is divided across many clients.

The other time when the latter makes sense is when the filmmaker is starting out. When you hire a film student or someone developing their skills, the filmmaker is essentially eating the cost of ownership as an investment in themselves and as the customer, you would be taking a risk.

Professional filmmakers operate more on the former theory of labor value because they understand that their experience is what brings value to a project, more so than the materials. They also understand that most projects will take up to 10 or 12 hours to complete, especially when considering packing the equipment into the car, driving to the location, setting everything up and reversing the process at the end of the day. So, unlike an Uber driver, they don’t plan on economies of scale. Not by the hour, at least. This is why professional filmmakers charge by the day and a day is 10 hours plus overtime.

If a filmmaker offers you a special half day or hourly rate, it’s because they like you and your project. If you get such a deal, do not assume they will always operate this way with you.

The low end of video services starts around $200 or $500.  At this rate, the filmmaker is probably supplying a camera, some sound equipment and some lights. If you ask, they will likely supply an itemized budget which includes materials and labor.  More than likely, they are not charging you to develop the concept for the video. When I was starting out, I often heavily discounted my editing labor or included it for free.

Filmmakers at this rate are still developing their skills who are basically charging you a minimum wage rate of $10-15/hr plus materials. You can luck out and get a tremendous filmmaker at this rate just like you might get a car for $500 that suits your needs but you will likely need to try out many filmmakers before you find the one that delivers more value than you pay them. And in most cases, you’ll have to hire them before you know.

I created this Little Psychic Shop video for $200. I mostly took the job for fun but also business was going pretty slow and I needed something to try out my new lights and have something unique in my portfolio.

The professional video services start around $2,000 to $5,000. I qualify professional services as hiring someone who understands the value of everybody’s time and plans accordingly. A professional is someone who understands that if the CEO of a company takes 30 minutes out of their day to appear in a video, that there is value in that.

Filmmakers who charge this kind of money are likely beginning to think of their creative services as an asset and billing for the time spent developing the concept and writing the script. If the filmmaker is still developing their portfolio, they might be taking that extra money and putting it right back into your video by renting better lenses or hiring crew members such as a key grip or sound mixer.

I created this Pillow Homes video for about $4,000. At the time, it was the most expensive video that I had ever produced so I turned around and put most of the money right back into the video. I hired key grips and rented some lighting equipment.

The actors are company employees. The voiceover and script was written and paid for by the company’s marketing team.

By contrast, I produced this video for eBay with a similar budget. At this point, I am able to do more with the resources I have available. By this stage, my experience has a multiplier effect on the value of the equipment because I can quickly read the room and get vision in my head for how the shots will edit together.

The standard rate for an internet commercial starts round $35k to $50k. It could be more depending on what kind of editing is involved. This is the rate at which you’re hiring a production company rather than a solo filmmaker. And they will be hiring actors and makeup artists in addition to bringing on production department heads such as a director photography or gaffer to manage a camera team or grip & electric team to tackle technical jobs such as how to deliver a flattering  soft light throughout a scene.

My production company Filmless produced this video somewhere in this range for a boutique hotel company in Seattle. The space was “free” to use although we had to take into consideration that by using the space, we were depriving the company the ability to rent it out to someone else so there were some opportunity costs to consider.

We hired a dance choreographer and two professional dancers and hired a local grip & electric (lighting) company. You’ll notice smooth camera movement throughout and at the 57 second mark, an overhead shot. These shots are typically a collaboration between the camera and grip teams who must build rail or track and build rigging to hold everything up.

This is where you really start to notice exponential increases in the cost of video production because each crew member will charge bout $500 to $850 for their labor alone. Rates could go higher as they add on kit fees (materials) for things like monitors and trucks to carry everything. And as you bring in more crew and equipment you really need to start thinking about insurance, workers compensation and accounting costs.

Actors start asking bout distribution and usage rights. In other words, if you plan on using your commercial on the internet, in stores, on TV or other video platforms, they’re going to want a cut. It’s not just that they  are greedy, professional actors know the the wrong kind of visibility could limit their ability to get work in the future, so they have an interest in controlling their image. Brands and casting agents might not want to put “the potato chip boy” in a commercial selling high end real estate.

Before you know it, you are paying $200,000 and beyond for a 90 second video. You’re no longer hiring  production company to make  video, you’re hiring a creative agency to tell a story.

Filmless produced this video for a boutique agency that was contracted by two giant brands to create an in store experience for their customers. We hired an art director to follow a very specific stylesheet to bring all the set decorations and wardrobe to house we rented in Venice Beach. We also payed the city of Los Angeles a decent bit of money for the permit.

At this stage, you can expect to see a crowd of non-filmmakers crowded around  monitor and obsessing over every inch of the frame. People asking if the tone is just right or if the lighting should be adjusted just slightly or if the body language of the actors is expressing just the right thing. They’ll say things like “one more time, for reals this time.”

I mentioned two different theories of labor into calculating the cost of a video but there’s  third theory that I like to use. This is where you might pay $500 for a light rental and not feel pressured to use it because actually, the natural sunlight coming through the window is doing great but if a cloud comes in, we can always use it.

This is where, you’re spending more money on preparation and contingency planning because you understand that the value of the video is greater than the sum of labor and materials because you’re also considering the cost of failure and wasting time.

A wedding only happens once. The Super Bowl only comes once a year. A video done right by tomorrow is much more valuable than  video with less restraints. You’re going to want to hire the right filmmaker to get the job done right the first time because sometimes the cost of making mistake is greater than just doing it right.