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Why is Video So Expensive?

With iPhone stepping up their video "game" and other fun cameras making visual content more and more accessible these days, how are folks in the video industry still able to justify charging what they do? Honestly, I don't blame you for wondering...the shoots can get spendy. But, we're not just pulling numbers out of the air, we promise (ah-hem....full disclosure: I own a video strategy/production company). But, like most specialities, video can be a bit tough to understand. So, here is an attempt to break things down. 

1. Gear: when you hire a professional, you are also (depending on the shooter) renting their gear for the day. I've directed shoots in the past where gear alone (without someone to operate it) will total well over $20,000 to rent (yes, for a day), so when I bring my heavy-hitting pals like Scott Hoffman to a shoot, you're honestly getting a deal when it comes to gear, since he includes a bunch of that uber fancy stuff in his "day rate." 
"What is tough to explain, is that when you hire someone with 20 years of experience...my day rate isn't just an hourly rate for my time. It's taking into consideration that I own $250,000 in gear, as well. And not only do I own it, but I've researched it, tested it, and have backup gear to make sure we maximize every second of the shoot." -Scott Hoffman

Scott brings up a good point, backup gear. Let's talk about that a bit.

2. Your Butt is Covered: ever wonder why most photography packages for weddings come with 2 photographers instead of just one? Or, why professional photographers at sporting events have an extra camera on their hip? Well, usually they have two different lenses with different focal lengths (read: zoomed in or zoomed out) ready to rock, but also...backup. Yup, even these spendy pieces of equipment break. At the WORST TIMES POSSIBLE, haha. And, it's an unwritten rule in professional production land that it doesn't matter if we're getting paid 3k or 30k for a shoot...we always want to make sure we have backup gear, because we understand that getting everyone needed in place on a different day, would be a nightmare. So, if it ever looks like we're packin' way more gear than we need, it's because we are. In order to make sure that we won't have to reschedule the shoot, due to a gear situation. Because we'd rather front the cost up front to have backup gear, instead of risking a shoot reschedule - because that means more work for our clients, producers, talent, and everyone. Boo hiss. Backups are important! This also saves you money in the end, because coordinating another shoot day can be...well...hell. And it happens more often than you think. We're always (well, most of the time) just really cool about it, ha!

3. Efficiency: for 8 years it was my job at WCCO-TV to write, shoot, edit, direct, and make the magic happen for 6 promos (little commercials about the news) per day. While training in professionals for this job, it would take them twice as long. Yes, professionals. A person who is a novice? It would take them probably 2-5 days to do what I/my fellow specialists can do in 2 hours. Many production folks are used to wearing multiple hats, and changing direction quickly. This is why it's (shameless plug) possible to hire someone like me, who will put together a team of 5 people that can do the job of 10 people. Yay, half the cost for you. More fun for us. Another item in the efficiency category is storage and file transfer options. Harddrives aren't cheap, friends. To the cloud! But, still-we need to make sure all of our media solutions are reliable, so most of us spend well over what is "necessary", to make sure we're not in a pinch in the future.

4. No Distractions: poor production quality isn't *always* such a horrible thing. I mean, look at Blair Witch Project. But, think about what the filmmakers were trying to do there. Distract you. The last thing you want is something detracting from your message. With the average digital attention span of only 7 seconds, most viewers don't have time for things like: flickering video, horrible audio, hums in the background, shaky cameras that make you sea sick, or graphic design that is so tough to read it looks like your uncle Larry scrawled something across the screen with a sharpie. We'll help you cut through the clutter and relay what you're trying to say.

5. Outside Perspective: we've all heard the stats...8 gajillion seconds of video (OK, I'm slightly exaggerating) uploaded to the internet each millisecond. How the heck are you going to get someone to give you the time of day? Well, depending on how seasoned the professional is...we've seen most of the tricks out there. Visual storytelling is what we love and live for, so allowing us to give you outside input from a creative and prospective viewer position, holds value. Heck, I had professionals give me feedback for my own launch video, and they were honest, "Try that line again. But less, weird." Cool. Done. That was easy. Of course, it's more than just changing a line here or there. We just want to make sure that your objectives are driving the ship, and it's easy for us to tell you if, as humble, normal, video viewing/making professionals...we think you're hitting the mark or not.

photo: Jonn Robinet

photo: Jonn Robinet

6. Resources and Time: today I spoke with an awesome gentleman from an agency in town who was looking for a certain type of photographer. I knew right off the bat, that my style didn't match. But, sent him the names of two people I knew were a good fit. Researching things like that takes a lot of time, and is a lot of guesswork if you don't know the professional personally. That 20 minute phone call could have saved someone a full day or two of research, and when it comes down to billable hours, we all know time is money. Good content producers know other good content producers, even if we have different styles, prices, or skill sets. It's the same reason why I would go to my accountant to ask for a bookkeeper, instead of calling around in the yellow pages (do those still exist?). Trust. The nice thing about the folks I work with, is that most of them are my friends as well, so we trust each other, and do favors for each other. Little things like discounted gear rental, location scouts, and quick idea-bouncing sessions. To make sure things on shoot day are as fun and effective as possible for the client. Man, that sounded gross and "sales-y" right? Meh, it's the truth. We like you guys.

7. All That Legal Stuff: Insurance for your gear? Check. Insurance for on-set liability? Check. Insurance for everything else under the sun? Check. Oh, don't forget health insurance, dental, and all the things. We've got it covered. With great gear, lights, and shiny things...comes great responsibility. Which, means shelling out extra moola every year to make sure everyone is safe on set...or anywhere near us, for that matter. (And yes, this is one of the expenses that caught me a bit off guard when I jumped recently. You guys, being responsible for the lives of people is stressful. Yikes.)
Oh, and taxes! I remember cutting checks for contractors back in the day when I worked 9a-5p, and thinking, "Whaaaaa? They get how much!?" But, I didn't think about the fact that they had to take taxes out themselves. Sometimes those who are hiring us see the initial "check", and assume that's how much money we're taking home. (haha, so funny. No.) :)

8. Unaccounted for Time: us production/creative folks are silly. Half the time we only bill a "day rate" for the time it took to actually shoot your content. What you don't see on the backend, is the time we spend sitting at our computers, uploading, compressing, and re-uploading footage so you can actually watch it on your 1997 Dell Computer without crashing it. This can take hours. Depending on the codec and footage type, even longer in some cases. We don't tell you about this, because we are a proud, proud, bunch. We want you to think we are magicians and that we can upload video with our wands and fancy spells. Another thing we do a lot of? Analyze. Video professionals working at a top level analyze everything. I've already spent nearly 10 hours going over in meticulous detail with my two crew-mates, a shoot that is only going to take 5 hours total to shoot. Why? Because (can't say it enough) we LOVE the dance. We love putting things together, and we want to know that when we get there, we can unload and unleash our creativity. No details to hash out as we are setting up, that is all done by the time we get there. We're on the same page as far as style, tone, direction, positioning, etc... Did I bill those 10 hours to my client? Nope. Did the two subcontractors I hired? Nope. Not, technically. But, I guess you could say it's one of the reasons why our day rates are what they are.

9. Good Chemistry: a good producer (head honcho of the shoot) knows how to assemble a crew, and this takes a lot of time when it comes to getting to know the individual subcontractors in town. A certain videographer or sound engineer would be perfect for one project, but perhaps not another - just based on personality types. Voila! Producer = On-set Matchmaker! And ya know what that means? Your talent will be more relaxed, instead of being creeped out. Well, we might creep them out a little. But, sometimes that's fun, right? No? *jazz hands*

In conclusion, we're basically looking to make visual experiences enjoyable and easy to navigate in the production process. Because, the easier we make things when we're working with cool folks, the better the chance that we'll get an opportunity to make more magic with them again down the road. I mean, we LOVE doing this. But, we're in it for the long haul. After all, one-night-stand clients are everywhere, but most of us are looking for that super cool long-term relationship when it comes to storytelling (shout out to @Garyvee for the metaphor). D'awww...video romance is in the air. Thanks for reading.


ps. Not sure if you should hire a crew or not? It's not always the best decision (shhhhhh...don't tell the other production folks I said that!) Here is a post about when it makes the most sense shoot things in-house.