The advances in video production technology in recent years have been astonishing. The introduction of 7D cameras into the consumer market has changed everything. Now it’s possible to capture gorgeous HD footage for a fraction of the cost of even a few years ago. These developments are truly amazing and have put the power and beauty of broadcast quality HD equipment into the hands of the masses. At last we are all Stephen Spielberg!
But along with the advances in kit there seems to be a growing perception that with the right equipment, anyone can start a video production outfit from scratch and compete with established production companies. Not a bad idea in itself by any means – but there seems to be something missing. I wasn’t sure what the missing piece was exactly until I read a recent article entitled: ‘How to start your own video production company’. It listed in detail all the top level equipment you would need in order to film and edit a commercial video. So far so good, but that was the end of the piece. I turned the page looking for more – there was none. Nothing about pre-production, directing or scheduling. Nothing about producing or post production – nothing at all, zip, zilch. For me that sums up precisely the agreeable illusion that readily available kit and editing software has propagated – that all there is to it is kit and software and perhaps an eye for a great shot.
It got me to thinking that, ten years ago, video production companies were specialists in their field. They invested in editing facilities, tape decks, camera and sound gear to the tune of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. That barrier to entry preserved their enclaves of expertise, and maybe, just maybe some of them got a little bit complacent and started charging rather too much and delivering rather too little. So it goes.
But these days many of those production companies are under siege. Amateur or freelance videographers armed with a semi-decent DSLR and a laptop running Premier or Final Cut are able to undercut the established production houses viciously and tempt many a commercial enterprise away from expensive experts into the realms of the one man jack-of-all-trades.
Now, change is good – disrupting the old guard, nothing against that, and offering a better cost alternative to clients is exactly what should be happening as a result of all the new kit. But there are flip-sides to this – for example, one freelancer sales technique is to quantify video costs in terms of the length of the final video. As a result we find we are often asked to provide a “rough ballpark” figure for “a two minute corporate video”. With very little to go on, we will pull together an indicative cost, only to be informed by the prospect that they can get a two minute video produced by another outfit for a fraction of our cost.
The problem is that the length of the final video, as a cost indicator, is meaningless. A five minute talking head will involve a half day shoot, in one location, one camera, simple lighting, no music composition and very minimal if any title graphics. A 30 second commercial on the other hand can involve a director, multiple locations, actors, extras, three broadcast cameras, music composition, motion graphics and colour grading. The two videos are very different in their approach and costs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, not if you want a good quality video that will reflect your brand, product or values accurately. Video production is about telling a story and it’s an art that can’t be learned from the instruction manual of a DSLR. So if you’re considering commissioning a video there are a few questions to ask when comparing quotes:
Will the camera and lighting kit used give that premium feel that I would like to reflect my company or will it look like my holiday video? Many videographers hinge their offering on the strength of their image making, but don’t be led down the garden path.
Will the focus of the video be on the subject, or will it be on the reflection of the camera man in the window behind him? We’ve all done it – but only once, a long time ago, at college. Experience is key with video production, it is a minefield for the unwary.
Will I be able to clearly hear our CEO talking, or will his voice be masked by the background hum of the train station next door or the bus going past? The need for proper sound engineering is easy to overlook, but nothing will kill your video deader than bad sound.
Will I receive a composed audio track that fits and complements my video? Will I own the copyright for it, or will I have cheap or even free library music that may be used by my competitor, and that can leave me open to licensing problems in future? There’s no way around it, composed music does cost more. But it will always work with your video, can be amended and adapted to your satisfaction and you will own it outright. Once you have commissioned one piece, it is easy to remix it for additional videos and this will drive the overall cost down.
Will the edit produce a professional seamless video that accurately communicates the message or will our Sales Director appear to jump about after his mistakes to camera are cut out of the video? A sure hand in the edit suite is paramount, a videographer can be a great cameraman or a great editor, but few are both. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t freelancers out there that are extremely competent at creating a good quality video – some are better than some video production companies – so it’s not about the size of the company necessarily but the skill, expertise and above all experience of the individual. Our suggestion would be to carefully check over their previous work, find out who their clients are and what they have to say. Do they get repeat business from the same client? Is the sound good? Are all the videos alike or is there fresh thinking in each? Compare proposals on what’s actually being offered, don’t simply focus on the bottom line, and beware of anyone that seems all too happy to quote on a video “by the minute”.