It makes perfect sense that this comes up so often. Any potential client will want a baseline number before he or she puts too much energy into an untenable project. You can’t evaluate how well a film fits into your budget without at least getting a ballpark figure.
Production companies aren’t trying to be difficult when they answer this question with questions of their own. The simple reality is that any conscientious filmmaker will need to know a fair amount about you before he or she can give you a valid estimate. Depending on your needs and your vision, costs can range anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000 and beyond.
This clearly isn’t the most helpful response, so we try to narrow the possibilities down a little.
There are a million moving part associated with creating a film, and all of them can take more and less expensive forms. While we can’t give you a one-size-fits-all number, we can demystify these various factors. Once you understand how they work, you’ll be better-equipped to weigh your needs and judge the size of your undertaking.
This isn’t an exaggeration – pre-production is where you figure out how to successfully reach out to your target demographic and foster support for your ultimate objective. The decisions you make are what give consequence to every aspect of your video: the core message, the presentation, the most suitable style and content.
With less expensive firms, you’ll often find that they focus solely on videography and don’t put very much into pre-production, but this is a trade-off that comes with serious consequences.
It all starts with extensive research as the firm learns your organization inside and out. At its most thorough, this can include touring your facilities and speaking with management, staff, participants, volunteers, students, alumni, and donors. Whatever the approach, the team takes notes and gathers as much intel as they can. (We call this the Discovery phase, while other firms have their own terminology.)
Next, it’s time to synthesize all this data and boil it down to discover your essence. We’ve been told by clients that this step has actually led them to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of their work, its aims and results. The outside perspective can shed new light on something that’s become familiar and everyday; it is this crystallized message that will live at the heart of your film.
Finally, these abstract ideas are translated into an actual plan. You’ll get what you pay for when it comes to the talent and creativity involved in the development of your concept and script. There are, however, always practical costs as well: scouting locations, creating a shot list, identifying the talent, prepping the right interview questions, even creating a filming schedule.
The more thorough and better prepared your team is, the more efficient and cost-effective filming will be. We don’t recommend skimping on this phase because it will only lead to inefficiency down the line, where mistakes cost more.
Depending on how smoothly things go, pre-production usually lasts anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks. If you already have a clear sense of your vision and goals, this will certainly give your production company a head start.
Production – when all the actual filming happens – tends to be the most expensive phase. This is because it involves all the specialized equipment and most of the intensive labor. Production days are long and bring together together a wide group of in-demand, highly skilled individuals.
Depending on where and what you’re trying to film, you will need different cameras, lighting, sound gear and more. Location can also be expensive in and of itself – are you using your own facility, or will there be rental costs? Are there multiple locations or events you need to capture? How many production days will this take?
The size of the crew can vary as well. If we’re going to be filming students learning in a classroom, this generally requires no more than a two-person crew. But if we’re going to build a classroom and hire actors to fill it, you’re looking at people to handle set design, props, makeup, and more. This approach calls for a large and quite pricey team.
In any case, if you do pre-production right, you can still find ways to keep costs down.
Production tends to last no more than a few days.
Once the raw material has been captured, the video needs to be assembled piece by piece. The editing team sifts through the footage with an eye for the strongest soundbites and the most expressive transitions. This is the creative work that molds your story into a stimulating, meaningful narrative; the editors determine the order and pacing of every moment, simplifying and modifying until your message seems to arise effortlessly from a seamless whole.
Beyond the base cost of an editor, depending on your needs, you may also require a graphic designer for advanced titling, an animator for any animation, and a composer for creating a custom soundtrack.
It’s worth noting that non-custom graphics, animations, and soundtracks are available for purchase from many online vendors and that the costs are considerably lower than producing custom materials (expect to pay $20 to $500 per item depending on its quality and your intended use). Finding a suitable fit isn’t always a possibility, but it’s worth a look, given the potential to cut costs.
Once the film has been completed, additional time is allocated to respond to client feedback and make adjustments accordingly. All the final touches that go into your ideal film happen in post-production. On average, this phase lasts 6-8 weeks.
But now that you understand what you’re getting for your money, it should be easier to get a handle on where your film falls on the spectrum, from minimalist to extravagant.
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