“So you are into video production? You know, I have an ad I would like done.” Every time I hear this I immediately know what is coming next. Time slows down and then they ask, “How much would something like that cost?”

This would be the part in the movie where the frame freezes, right at that millisecond when the expression on my face turns to exasperation, which is right before I quickly fix my face and my attitude, quell the urge to blurt out, “$1 million!” and instead tell the truth which is “I don’t know.”

Now I am not a fan of the phrase “I don’t know” because usually every time I hear it, it is said with finality and what the person actually means is “I don’t know and I am not about to find out.”

Rest assured, however, that when I say it, I do want to find out more because I want to help you and I want you to consider all the things that go into a production and affect the bottom line, so I start asking questions.

The first thing I want to hear about is your concept. If you have a concept then I can begin to piece together the elements you may need. If you have a script, it is even better because then I can take that off the quote, providing you don’t need a re-write. Please do not, however, try to script your piece yourself just to save money, especially if writing is not your strong point. Just like going to the doctor, if you do not have that skillset please leave it to the professionals.

So much goes into determining the cost of a production and the concept helps us to figure out the many variables that all eventually add up monetarily:

Production Time

As they say in showbiz “time is money” and there is nothing truer than that statement. The majority of your expenses on a shoot incur an hourly or daily fee. So the more time it takes to shoot, the more it adds up cost-wise. Some productions are quite simple and may only require 6 hours to shoot while others due to everything that has to go into the production based on the concept can take days. A common misconception is that what we see as the finished product onscreen can be filmed in a small amount of time. Some people even average a couple hours when they try to estimate the possible production time. What they don’t think about however is:

 The setup time (this includes camera and lighting setup, set décor and props setup, hair& makeup and wardrobe, tests and rehearsals).
 The fact that many angles are sometimes needed to capture the scene.
 The fact that mistakes will be made during takes.

All these things cannot be done in an hour. I usually average 3-4 hours at least for each scene inclusive of setup.


Your crew makes the production happen and your concept lets us know what crew you are going to need. Is this a production where there is talent? If so, you may need hair and makeup. Does the talent speak on camera? If so, you need a sound operator. Is it a large shoot that requires production assistants? Do you need an Art Director? Does the concept require aerial shots? Because this would mean hiring a drone operator. Is there an animation component to this video which means bringing on the animator? When hiring crew you also have to consider the expertise of the crew member as this would also affect what their day rate might be. You are going to pay more for a person who has been in the game longer and has an admirable track record. And while some may baulk at paying more; the understanding is that you will be getting a top-notch and quality service.


Much like budgets, all talent is not the same and this is based on their experience as well as their popularity. If you hire a well-known actor/model, that will be reflected in their bill. This is because you will be hiring a person who:

 Is a professional, therefore they are always prepared, and they show up to do the work.
 Is trained in the area (whether formally or informally).
 Has undeniable talent.
 Has tons of experience working on set.
 Is a recognisable face with a fanbase or following that you want to tap into.
 Has qualities that you want to associate with your product.

These are things that an inexperienced or little known actor/model cannot bring to the table entirely. And compensation most times is based on this.

Outside of expertise, also note that the scope of your project also affects your talent cost. A Narrator reading a 30-second script would be paid less than someone reading a 5-minute script. Also, a model appearing in an international campaign would be paid more than one in a national campaign.


You’ve hired your crew but what tools do they need to make this production happen? Based on the look you want to achieve for your production you may require more equipment or even sometimes less equipment that “packs a punch” in terms of what you can get out of it.

In production, the equipment that is used is quite expensive and therefore it is best and cost-effective to rent your gear. But the more you rent, the longer you rent it for and the quality of the gear determines the cost.


So you have three scenes to shoot and you have set each scene in distinctively different locations….this is going to add up. Teams opt for actual locations for the authenticity of a space and in some instances to eliminate the cost of having to set up a replica of a location. Imagine the cost attached to setting up a restaurant location on your own. This would include the purchase or rental of a space, tables, chairs, bar, cutlery and crockery, lighting fixtures, trays, food carts, décor, etc. In some cases, it would just be better to pay a location fee to shoot at an actual restaurant.

Additional things to consider as an expense at any location are:

 Props
 Electricity (you may have to rent a generator if you can’t run power from the physical location)
 Tents, tables, chairs, porta-potties (especially needed for outdoor locations)

We think it is important for potential clients to be aware of the elements that go into a production. For them to understand that what you see onscreen involves many moving parts all with a pricetag. And without knowing what your concept is, it is difficult to give even a ballpark estimate.

While your concept dictates all that goes into the budget it is understood that most clients, if not all, have a fixed amount of money to spend on their productions. It helps when in that situation that you tailor your concept/script/story to suit. As a production company, our job is to give you what you want but we also pride ourselves at managing client expectations and reworking the plan to fit within the budget while still delivering the message.

Take a look at these two restaurant ads and see if you can determine what the cost might have been, and which one might have cost more.

(By Kerri Birch)

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