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  • Writer's pictureArbor Group

The Dreaded Question

The most dreaded question that all production companies and independent video producers face is: “How much is this going to cost?” It is always a confounding challenge because it goes to the heart of what we do; producing very custom, hopefully effective and creative, moving messages. There are no quick formulas or tables for a quick response to the cost question. It’s the eternal production conundrum. Providing too high of an estimate can immediately scotch your chances. Giving too low of a budget can make you appear amateurish or desperate or both.

The most flippant answer many producers would like to say is: “How much aesthetics do you want to buy?” This question is accurate but it is only a part of a very complex query. While many agencies or frequent consumers of production services know, there are huge price differences between employing a notable, national spot production company located on a coast and your small local, two-person company. While both ends of this cost continuum can produce something serviceable to the core message, there should be little question that one will look decidedly different than the other. Most importantly, the cost question goes to the heart of the ultimate client’s expectations.

So, how should a producer proceed? As usual, it is all about effective communication.


- “Who is the intended demographic of this piece?”

- “Is it for the general populace or a finite, perhaps captive audience?”

- “Where will the project reside or be distributed and what is the expected shelf life?”

- “Can the client cite any similar examples or looks that they find compelling?”

- “How important is the aesthetic level to the client’s identity?”

- “Has the client purchased production services before and have some awareness or institutional knowledge of production and attending costs?”

- “How big is the organization?”

- “Who are their competitors and what are they doing?”

It’s impossible to ask too many questions.

By far the most difficult budgeting challenge we have found is making sure a client fundamentally understands that production is akin to the ultimate, customized manufacturing process. The costs are very much driven by how much equipment, people and hours you put into the production bucket. Perhaps we could create a decent look with just a cameraman and a monopod but think about how much more compelling the imagery would be with a full lighting crew and a better camera mounted on a jib. Can this project satisfy all the above questions with a simple prosumer camera like a 5D, or do we need to employ an Alexis with primes? Will the edit require motion graphics or multiple, drawn-out client reviews? The solutions to these questions are myriad and every element of the bucket - preproduction, production and postproduction can be custom configured to almost infinite ends.

You can’t ask too many questions.

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