How much does it cost to make a video?

This is probably the most common question we get. How much does it cost to make a video is like asking how much does it cost to build a house? It is hard to answer because of the many factors that go into building a house, mainly: location, size, and materials. Is it going to be in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles or New York City? Will it be a tiny house or a seven-bedroom mansion? What would you like to build it out of? Answering these three big questions will help determine how much a house will cost. Similar questions apply when talking about creating a video, documentary or film, just the context is a bit different. Calculating costs to produce a video, mostly depend on the following three things: The length of the project, type of video to be created, and craftsmanship.

So what are the options? You can commission Steven Spielberg to produce your commercial or you can make a free video using your smartphone and then there is the third option which is everything in between. There is a lot you can do in between these spectrums and here are a few key factors, that construct the equation for the big question of ‘How much does it cost to make a video?’ and hopefully, help your company make an informed decision for the best return on investment on your video production:

Length of a video

The longer the train track, the more expensive it is to build, which is a big element in promotional video production costs.  The length of a film determines a huge chunk of the cost factor. The longer the video, the more hours it requires to plan the project, create and film the scenes or shots, review all the acquired footage, edit it, sound perfect it, color correct it, review for errors and manage the final video. In short, a lot goes into making a good promotional video, so the longer the project the more there is to do.

Tip: If planning a video for the web, short and sweet is the preferred method for the short attention spans of today’s viewers. Longer videos, have their space and can be strong powerhouses, but it is important to fully understand why you are making the video or film, to make an informed decision on its length.

Creativity, Experience, and Expertise

When picking a professional to work with like; web developers, engineers, contractors, you pay for creativity and expertise. This is the same for any videographer, cinematographer, video producer or film production company. The spectrum here is as follows: You can find a student just out of school with little experience but willing to produce a video for very little, or hire someone or a company who has extensive knowledge of not only the creative aspect of your video but also the market positioning of your promotional video and how best to tell that story. Who you choose should align with the company’s mission and goals, so that there is a clear understanding of objectives. The producer or production company producing your content must know how best to represent and tell your story for the biggest impact.

Tip: If you need something cheap because that is your budget, and have room for possible errors, then find a student who needs to build a portfolio. It will be a win-win for you both. But if you are seeking to have something that will look and sound professionally made, hit hard a target marketing goal, then investing in an experienced person or company with relevant video production expertise will yield exponential ROI. How much you value the hair on your head and balancing the wiggle room for errors is a hard one.

Kind of Video Production

Producing documentaries versus scripted content (narrative films and commercials) are quite different in the method of creating them and calculating their video production cost is different.

Documentary video production will require large amounts of research, to create a treatment and are mostly unpredictable, you never know what will happen and you must be open and ready for the unexpected.  Documentary production includes event coverage, current news, and putting faces to data. Crafting an engaging story or following a subject to tell a story is a skill not to be taken lightly. Editing a documentary is a longer process than a scripted project. Because in the editing room, the documentary story gets crafted and the actual script gets written.

Producing a scripted commercial or video has a different methodology to it, it is almost reverse. Research is done, a treatment is created (same so far) then a script is written, then a storyboard is drawn, then casting of characters is decided, then wardrobe and locations are chosen. Then the filming happens, then it goes to the editing room and then the script gets readjusted. To give an idea of storyboards, here is the storyboard I drew for the Healthiest, you will see that many elements are true to the video, but some changed in the editing room.

There is a famous saying that sums this up well – “In a scripted narrative the director is God, but in a documentary God is the director.”

Crew Stamina – Documentary filmmaking requires a strong crew that can withstand the extremely long hours needed to capture pure moments. Documentary filmmakers are almost a different breed of filmmakers. I’ll write more about this in another post.

Tip: Understanding the kind of video you want to produce, is important when working with your chosen creative agency or production company. Make sure you understand your target market and are talking to them in a way that would warrant engagement.  Save time and money by getting a deep understanding of the goal of the video. I speak more about targeting the right audience here.  The more you know about your target market, the more effective your video will be – increased ROI makes a happier boss ;). Take the necessary time in this very important pre-production phase.

Editing and Graphics

This is where the magic happens, where the nuance and styles get established. Craftsmanship is key. Editors spend endless hours rearranging footage, trying various options, to create a cohesive story that has clear messaging while being both moving and engaging. It is an art form. The more graphics that need to be created or animated, the longer it takes. Animation can take an infinite amount of time, (and money) depending on complexity. The more complex processes like 3D animations require teams working together to create the right movement, lighting, and shadows.

Tip: It is hard to separate graphics from the editing process, and as video demand increases, so does the demand for quality graphics. Some videos get away with simple crafty graphics and others require being completely animated from start to finish. Animation costs can run from $120 an hour to $350 an hour depending on the complexity of the animation, which definitely influences the bottom line of the promotional video production cost.


The range of cameras are diverse and technology is constantly changing. There are camcorders for a few hundred dollars, to DSLR for a few thousand, Cini and Full HD for a few tens of thousands. Top of the line Red Dragon and Arri cameras can get super expensive, so how to choose?

Tip: You should be able to notice the difference on the final medium you show your video. If you plan on showing this video in a movie theater, then higher resolution 4K are definite contenders to consider. If you are creating a video that will be shown mainly on the web and maybe at a few presentations, then mid range cameras are good. Video files get highly compressed when streamed on the web and many details seen on ultra high-end cameras,  get lost in the optimization process for the web.


Experienced production companies with have an array of equipment to create artistic shots to enhance the video message. It can be a dolly, jib, sliders special tripods and so forth. If you are planning difficult shots that need extra special equipment like a huge crane, be prepared with a fat budget, because this will balloon your promotional video production cost. Equipment also includes proper microphones, wireless lavs or specialized boom microphones and lighting equipment. Lighting equipment also known as grip – is a world of its own. This can be simple soft boxes to KinoFlo Kits to a full truck of fun lighting accessories.

Tip: The more equipment needed for a shoot, the higher the budget and the longer it will take to go from location to location, but also the better looking the footage will be. Obviously the more locations and the more equipment the longer it will take to film. The fewer days you have to film the tighter the budget, and the happier your boss becomes.

Take it all in

All the above should be taken into consideration when asked ‘How much does it cost to make a video ?’ and therefore there is no one answer, only more questions to get to the most accurate promotional video production costs.

For those junkies out there, who love ballpark figures: It can cost approximately $900 – $1,500 per edited minute for the lower mid-range budgets and up to $5,000- $50,000 per minute for higher range video production and commercials. It can go even higher if you bring Spielberg on board.

Tip: Take the time to fully understand your goal. Be clear on what you want to accomplish. With the goal in mind, come up with a solid budget that you can work with while reserving some resources for marketing and distributing your promotional video project.

When a client comes to my desk with a set budget and I fully understand the goal we end up making magic because how you use the budget is all about creativity.

Unleashed Productions is an eco-creative agency and video production company with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and coming soon to Sacramento.