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How Much Does A Live Explainer Video Cost?

As business relationships continue to move to the Internet, finding new and creative ways to connect with your customers is vital. That’s partly why live explainer videos are all the rage these days (think Dollar Shave Club or Airbnb). While animated videos are great, and they serve their purpose, live explainer videos are perfect for people-oriented companies that need to connect with viewers on a personal level (think medical service or fitness center). Live explainer videos can be an important tool in your marketing arsenal when it comes to putting a face on your company and showing customers and potential customers that you have a personality. But creating a great live video isn’t always cheap, and it can be helpful to understand where the costs are going so you can make the tough decisions on how to spend your marketing money.

Why Should I Spend All This Money On A Live Explainer Video?

For live action explainer videos there can be dozens of people working on the project and hundreds of hours spent fine-tuning the whole piece. The temptation is to start nitpicking all the different expenses and asking whether the different elements are really necessary. There may be ways you can save a few bucks here and there, but at the end of the day, you’re building your brand and your image. You want people to understand who you are and why you should be listened to. Having a poorly executed video may hurt more than not having one at all. So make sure to do it right and don’t be afraid to put a little extra effort into it. Caveat: Don’t just throw your money at the wall to see what hits… unless you have a lot of money.

As you choose a production company to work with, it’s helpful to understand where the expenses are and why they’re important. You might even find yourself in a scenario where you want the budget increased in order to include additional elements. Below is a list of some of the possible expenses for a live action video.

A List of Possible Expenses For A Live Action Video

Concepting and scripting is one of the, if not the, most critical steps of the process. This step determines the ultimate success or failure of any video project. Sometimes you may want to write the script yourself. Sometimes you may want someone who has more experience in this realm to do it. Either way, this takes time and money, but it’s imperative that you don’t skimp at this stage of the process.

Project Management
It takes time to organize projects. It takes time to write emails and make all those phone calls. The crew needs to be booked, equipment reserved and information given to everyone involved in the project. Specific projects might even require specific equipment or crew members with a special expertise. Time needs to be taken to understand the script and all the necessary elements involved.

While I wouldn’t call this a major expense, it is an important step. Sometimes a script requires a specific style. And you may want to storyboard it out to make sure that everyone involved in the project understands what to expect. It isn’t a great feeling to show up the day of the shoot and find an elephant on set when you thought there was supposed to be a horse. This has to have happened at some point right?

Location Scouting
Experienced location scouts and managers can cost a lot of money. They know the area and often have a book of locations and contacts that can get them in doors otherwise closed to the general public. Want to shoot on a train or in a museum? They can pull the strings necessary. Want to see photos of a hundred houses in a 70s Ranch style? They can get it done. This happened to me once. Even if you don’t have a dedicated location scout on the shoot, someone has to take the time to find the locations, convince the owner to let you shoot there, get the necessary insurance, etc.

Of course you then have to pay for the privilege to shoot there. A small house costs less than a large one. A cash-strapped family might be more willing to let you use your place than one with a busy schedule. A restaurant needs to make up for lost income. Local governments will charge you to shut down the street or sidewalk. And shooting at a public building like a museum or train station might even run you $10,000 an hour. This also happened to me. Soundproof stages also cost a bit of moolah. You could spend anywhere from $500 to $5,000 for a stage that accommodates your needs.

In some cases, you might be offered to shoot at a friends place for free. At first blush, this sounds great, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Opening up your home for a live video production is a big commitment requiring a large chunk of time and a large number of strange, dirty, and noisy people in your house. It works out better for everyone if there’s a little cash involved – that way you can shoot on your terms without feeling guilty for “invading” someone else’s home.

This should be obvious. Having that specific look or having someone who doesn’t freeze up on camera every second take is why you pay for experienced talent. Beware of using someone in-house. The pretty/handsome receptionist might not read as well on camera as they do in person, and your well-spoken CEO might freeze up and stumble over every other line. Agency talent can be expensive. SAG actors cost even more. And of course it takes the production company time to do the search and provide a curated list of options.

This should also be obvious, but sometimes people think it’s just one guy/gal behind a camera working all that magic. Sometimes in docu-style videos or testimonials this could be the case, but often even those videos will have crews of 3-5. The list of people on set is long and every position deserves respect. Some projects may not require as many people, but each person adds their value to the overall quality of the piece. In no particular order you might run into some of the following people: Director, Producer, Line Producer, Executive Producer, even more Producers, Gaffer and assorted Grips and Electricians, Art Director and assorted Stylists, Wardrobe, Makeup, Sound Operators, Camera Operators, Specialized Camera Operators, Drivers and Production Assistants. The list gets longer the larger the shoot.

Cameras, sound gear and lights aren’t cheap. For example, a basic lighting package might run a few thousand dollars, and a nice camera, like the RED, may start around $20,000. Not to mention microphones, lenses, recording devices, and much more.

It can cost a pretty penny if you need to build a set from scratch.

The Edit Room
It takes time to edit the piece. It takes time to color-grade the piece to perfection. It takes time to create custom graphics. It takes time animate and composite all the pieces. And then it takes time to incorporate the dozens of revisions that inevitably come down the pipeline.

Stock music can cost money. Sometimes quite a bit for that perfect song. Avoiding muzac and old-school MIDI granted 8-bit is all the rage these days) tracks can sometimes be pricy. Custom created music can be even more.

Other can sometimes be expensive. And you never know when it will pop up. They seemingly appear out of nowhere, but they’re always critical for your videos success. Plan for other.

No Really, Why Should I Spend All This Money On A Live Explainer Video?

Okay, so you’ve heard about all the expenses and you’re thinking, ‘That sounds a little excessive for what I’m doing.” I know where you’re coming from. I really try to keep costs down on the videos I work on. But I’ve also been privy to many a shoot that starts cutting every line item, and before you know it, you end up with an expensive home video that no one can be proud of. Not a home video, but your video might end up looking like this.

Cutting Video Production Costs

Sometimes you can make a great video on the cheap. And sometime it requires a little more cash to get your concept going. No matter what, you can be smart with where that money goes. This requires a little bit of knowledge about the process as there isn’t one single way to cut costs. Except maybe working with your old college roommate’s friend who’s really into French New Wave Cinema – nothing against the French New Wave – and plans to shoot it all vérité on their handicam. It also helps to work with video production professionals who you trust and can build a relationship with. Their experience can help guide you and if you know their portfolio and trust their judgement, this can be indispensable. Shameless plug? No – just the truth. Having a little knowledge of your own can then aid you in discussions with them.

Bottom Line – How Much Does A Live Action Explainer Video Cost?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably expecting a specific number for how much a live action explainer video might cost. Of course, the answer is that it varies, especially depending on the experience and portfolio of the company or individual you’re working with. Agencies cost more than production companies, and production companies cost more than working with a film student. That being said, I would be wary of the quality of anything that costs less than $5,000 unless it is a quick and dirty testimonial. Even a simple direct-to-camera video can cost a bit to make it look good. My recommendation for a startup company with a little marketing money and a product they think will go far would be to spend in the $20,000- $40,000 range for a quality live action explainer video. If you’re a bit more established, don’t be afraid to spend in the $50,000-$100,000 realm. It’s your image and your brand, and often the first thing people see when they visit your website, so make sure you do what it takes to make a great first impression.

Written by Andrew Freer