Everyone wants a video. Every startup wants a two minute wonder that shows off their next big thing and every event wants to be filmed and recorded, rightly so. With the huge amount of tech startups in London, and the vast quantity of events there are every day of the week to support them, you'd think that a videographer like me would never be out of work. Unfortunately this isn't the case.
Whilst everyone would like their events filmed, not everyone is willing or able to pay. The problem stems from a lack of understanding about how much good video production costs and why.
Video production isn't scalable, not really. There are some ways to make efficient use of crew time, with cramming as much into one shoot as possible, but that doesn't make up for the vast amount of pre and post-production time that's needed for a big project. The bigger the shoot, the longer it stays in post production. Time is the big commodity here. Although you can theoretically get a project finished 3x faster with 3 editors, the cost would remain the same as having one editor working for 3x as long. Editing is billed at an hourly rate and all editors work to the same rate. In reality, of course, having 3 editors working on one project might actually increase the time it stays in post-production due to consistency and cross over issues.
Film and video equipment is expensive and whilst there are constant technological advancements unfortunately they only tend to drive the achievable quality up and not the price down. One Canon XF305, which is my go to camera for most event and documentary production, costs just under £5k for the camera alone. This doesn't include extra battery packs, storage, lens adaptors, tripods, microphones or cables. This is just for one camera, if you wanted a multicam shoot for more choice of angles, you've got to invest another £5k or so in another camera. Wireless mic kits are inordinately expensive too, costing from £400 for a standard Sennheiser G3 kit.
When you start working on a quote for a client, to produce a video, the first thing you do is make a note of what equipment you need and how many days you need it for. You then rent out equipment for the shoot to the client at a market rate, even if you own the kit. This is the only way to ensure that you'll eventually make back the huge investment required to start out in video production.
Sceptics out there will point out that a decent DSLR, with video recording capabilities, costs less than £1k for a camera, lens, tripod, recordable media and a Rode Videomic. Surely it would be more cost effective for a regular event to buy one of those, put it at the back of a room and hit record when needed? On, off, stop, go, point where something's happening. Can't be that difficult, right?
DSLRs, in Europe, have a recording limit of just under 30 minutes per clip, which is nowhere near long enough to record hours of talks at most events. You can perform firmware modifications to get around the limit, thanks to Magic Lantern, however this can't get around the 12 minute/4GB clip limit you'll reach with the FAT32 filesystem that these cameras use. Without extensive modification and investment, DSLRs aren't suitable for event video production. They're great for red-haired YouTubers who like to indulge in ego-driven vanity projects, but not for much else.
Crew costs are the biggest expense in video production, everyone needs to be paid for their time after all. Most freelancers bill for half and full day shoots, not by the hour, they'll also include consideration for their commute to the shoot in their rate too. Skilled crew members are in high demand and have often undergone a lot of training and experience. You're paying a crew member not to mess up. With event recording you have one shot and take at the job, there aren't any do-overs, you can't ask Jeff Lawson from Twilio to re-announce his new European fund because you didn't have the shot in focus. Most good freelancers have one or two jobs a week, so they have to consider all of the time they're not working and take those into account for their rates too.
Pre-production is the often forgotten about cost of video production. For each quote request that comes in, a bespoke response is created. Each shoot has different crew and equipment requirements. Time has to be spent researching the hire costs for the kit, the crew required and available for the shoot and then an estimate on how long it's going to take to edit the project. Additionally other issues pop-up like risk assessments, insurance validity, contracts of commission, organisation of transport and couriers for equipment (have you ever tried to carry 6 cameras and a live streaming kit on the tube? Don't). There's also rigging and derigging time that could stretch to a full day's work either side of an event depending on their requirements.
Each video project you work on requires hundreds of gigabytes of data, if not terabytes, and whilst HDD storage is getting cheaper and cheaper, each project needs to have at least 3 copies of all files on different HDDs, in different locations, for backup purposes. Projects then aren't often deleted for up to a year, because no doubt a client wants to revist it at some point or loses their copy of the assets. Essentially each project needs its own three hard drives. Removable storage media is also required for each camera and sound recorder too, along with their redundancies.
Finally we come to post-production. Post-production is billed at an hourly rate. It takes into consideration the skill of the editor required and the tools needed. There's basic editing of a sequence, which consists of cutting clips together and making it flow nicely. Once the image is locked down titles can be added, depending on the requirements a few hours in a video imaging package like After Effects might be required to animate title sequences and lower thirds. With the titles added the video then gets sent through grading, which compromises of basic colour correction and image control for stylistic purposes. The whole project is then sent into an audio editing programme for the sound to be mastered. Once all of this is finished, the entire project is rendered out into various deliverable formats for the client and the web.
The hardware and software required for video editing and rendering is expensive, this investment is taken into consideration by the editor when they're working out their hourly billing rate. Any revisions are then, of course, billed at an hourly rate too. The more changes a client requires, the more expensive the project.
Working with cash strapped startups and event organisers, who come from the tech sector, I can understand why they have a hard time justifying to themselves the costs demanded by good video production. In comparison a web startup has very little initial costs, with a standard spec laptop, some off the shelf text editing software and cheap server space. You could bootstrap your two person startup for half a year for the amount it costs for one video. However if tech events want good quality event video, capturing their talks, demos, presentations and showing highlights of what went on, or even live streaming to the web, they really need to work out how to either monetise their content, or secure enough sponsorship to properly cover the costs.
I love producing videos and covering events. There's not a sector I enjoy working in as much as the technology one. If you want a reasonable quote for high quality video production please drop me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org