What Does a Video Cost (and Why)?

The very first question many of our clients ask is, “What do your services cost?” Some ask for a rate card, an à la carte list of costs for each of our services. Invariably, we respond by asking them to approach the problem of designing a video from a different direction by first focusing on design needs and not on cost.

What Does a Video Cost (and Why)?-2We are not indifferent to our client’s need to estimate cost. There are, however, a near-infinite number of ways to design a production and each design decision has an impact on the budget. There are simply too many variables to come up with an accurate estimate without first understanding the goals of the project and the communication needs of the client.

Shooting and editing video is only the most visible part of what we do. The real value that sets our team apart is our ability to engage clients in a discussion of their communication goals and to work together to design a production that meets both those goals within their budget. This, of course, takes trust, something that may be difficult to establish with a new client. It also means not treating video production like a commodity; the gear we own and use is not what defines us as a company or as visual artists; it’s how we use our gear to serve the ideas we develop in collaboration with our clients.

What Does a Video Cost (and Why)?-3Many of the questions we ask a client as part of the process to help them focus the intent of their video are described in our white paper, A Baker’s Dozen Questions to Ask About Your Video Production. Various techniques for story development are discussed in our white paper, Script Development at Flying Moose Pictures.

What do you want, what do you need, and how can we say that with images?

Here is a list of important steps in development:

  1. Client Contact: Project development is most effective when we connect with a client representative who has a deep knowledge of the project goals and with the authority to make decisions. Often, however, our initial client contact is a “junior associate” who has been tasked with “getting some video” but cannot effectively engage us in the detailed conversation necessary to design the production.
  2. Define the Project: The very best way to produce the highest quality, most effective, and most economical video, is to engage us in a discussion to define the project. This is not unlike the relationship between and architect and a builder. Just as it would be unproductive to ask a contractor for an estimate without first working with an architect to design a house, it is ineffective to ask us for a cost estimate without first designing the video. Inevitably, some clients do not accept this argument and continue to demand an estimate without sufficiently defining the project in advance. We sometimes lose these clients to another production company that is more willing to lowball a job based on only sketchy details. On occasion, clients who are unhappy with the results of a low ball estimate have returned to us and asked us to pick up the pieces of a failed production.
  3. Define the Edits and Deliverables: Edits are different cuts of the video for different applications, for example, we might make one edit with an opening title sequence for a DVD and another edit, without titles, for insertion on a web page. Deliverables are the actual types media we deliver. For example, a trade show kiosk might require a DVD, a website needs a particular compression format, and a broadcast station may ask for High Definition video delivered via the Internet.
  4. Define the Visual Style: We send links to videos in our own portfolio as well as to links to other videos to establish a common vocabulary for a discussion of visual style. We encourage the client to send us visual reference; examples of previous work for their company, video links, and still images.
  5. Two ways to estimate Research: We collaborate closely with our clients to help them better understand their visual communication needs. This collaboration is at the heart of what sets us apart from our competitors.
  6. Script Development: Scriptwriting is a process that develops and focuses the goal of the video and the finished script is a blueprint for the entire production team. Without a script, we can only make a very rough estimate of the cost of a production. See our White Paper on Script Development for details about that process.
  7. Ballpark Estimate: Nearly all of our estimates are for a fixed price for a fixed set of assumptions. If the number of assumptions is excessive, we call our proposal a “Ballpark” estimate, implying that there is a high chance that the final cost will be different than the estimated cost. When assumptions do change, we issue a Change Order for the client to approve. The more opportunity we have to engage our client in designing their video production, the better an estimate we can make, and the better the chance that the estimated cost is the same as the cost of the final production.
  8. Development wraps with approving of the script, rough storyboards (if necessary), budget estimate, schedule, and a technical specification of the video.


Projects can be divided between those in which quality is the most important factor and those in which working within a predetermined budget is most important.

  • When quality is most important: We were hired by a medical device manufacturer who needed video documentation of surgeries throughout the United States. They could have hired local crews in those states, however, Flying Moose was already familiar with the client’s needs, trained in the challenge of shooting the surgery, and had a good working relationship with the company. Consistency and quality were more important than a modest increase in budget and the additional expense of flying our crew to the locations was justified.
  • When working within a predetermined budget is most important: If working within a predetermined budget is most important, then the best course of action for a client is to give us their budget number and let us determine what services we can deliver for that price. This is far more efficient than having us guess at your budget and design a production plan that may be too expensive or too economical to meet the true needs of the client. Of course, we will need to know how the client arrived at their budget figure and their expectations for the production. Clients always get the best service when they trust us with truthful information about their spending limits.
  • Comparing Production Plans, Not Just Price It is essential for a client to see past the budget numbers and to compare creative approaches and production plans as they compare bids. Clients need to compare, at a minimum:
    1. How much creative development is included in the proposal?
    2. Has the production company taken the time to truly understand your needs? Have they collaborated with you to focus production that meets your needs and budget?
    3. How many shoots are included, for how many hours, and with what size crew?
    4. How many iterations of editing are included? For example, we typically allow for a Rough Cut, Fine Cut, and Final cut—three opportunities for clients to review our work in progress and to ask for changes.
    5. The schedule: Is there a detailed schedule listing all the important milestones for the project? Is it clear when you will be approving elements that will then be fixed? (i.e. cost money to go back and changes)
    6. Lastly, does the delivery schedule match your needs? We can usually speed up delivery of a project, though delivery time has an impact on cost.

Details, Details, Details

What Does a Video Cost (and Why)?-6Finally, here is a link to an excellent discussion of the detailed costs for many of the components of a video production. It was written by our collaborator Jimm Fox, President of One Market Media; What does a web video cost? 25 Factors (with prices) that affect video production costs. There are a near-infinite number of variables to consider for your production. This white paper has discussed many of them. We look forward to collaborating with you to design a production that meets both your goals and your budget.