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Dispelling The Myth: Video is Hard, Video is Expensive

For many companies without internal video departments, video can be seen as expensive and difficult. Producing a video should never be difficult and it can be quite inexpensive.

First, let’s discuss the difficulty of producing a video. If you use an in-house video production department or an outside vendor, their job should be making the process as painless as possible. If this is not your experience, then the wrong people are working on your videos.

If you’re trying to make videos yourself, without the benefit of years of film school, video can still be easy. There are a few key concepts to the process whether you’re going it alone or working with a video producer. If you’re working with a good outside producer you shouldn’t have to think about any of these things, because they should all be handled for you by any competent professional producer.

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The two most important things to consider when making a video are:

1) Who is my audience? 2) What do I want them to take away or remember from this video?

Understanding your audience helps you know what language to use. It helps you know what things you can skip over – because the audience already understands them – and what things you need to explain from the beginning, because the audience doesn’t have your knowledge of the subject.

People have a limited attention span and a limited ability to remember things. So keep your “take-aways” to a minimum. What are the most critical three things that the video needs to convey? You can discuss other things of course, but those things should really support the three main thoughts. Or maybe it’s only a single main thought. Have every sentence and word that you write and every visual support that thought.

Video is a simple medium. It is at its best when trying to convey just a few simple thoughts. Do not complicate things. Do not use the same language that is in the sales brochure, training manual or company handbook. Writing for video is a different thing than writing for the written word. It has to be understood on the first pass. You can’t go back and re-read a difficult sentence.

When writing for video, write like a third grader. You can still discuss complex technical or sales issues, but the language needs to be short, simple sentences. When you write for video, you need to read the sentences out loud after you finish writing them. Seriously. OUT LOUD. You’d be amazed at how difficult it is to read some sentences aloud. And if you really want to see if what you wrote is good, read it out loud to someone else. When you read things aloud to someone else you become conscious of what you wrote in a way that you aren’t in any other way, and that is a very good thing.


Kill all extraneous words. Be brutal in editing. Keep sentences as short as possible. Make ideas flow from one logical step to another. Keep the video short. Videos on the web rarely exceed three minutes. There are services that track how long people watch web videos, and the audiences for videos longer than that drop off precipitously after three minutes. If you HAVE to go longer, try to keep it under seven minutes. Do you know how long a three minute script is? It’s exactly as long as this article is from the beginning to right NOW. About a page and a half. That’s it. Can you tell your story in a page and a half? If not, start trimming the fat. And remember, there’s a lot that you don’t have to explain in the voice over or by an on-camera presenter because it’s actually better to let the VISUALS say what you want.

With a script written, have the script read by some of your intended audience if possible. Have it read by some of the stakeholders. For example if the video is supposed to cut customer service calls, ask the customer service reps to read the script and point out any problems.

The next step is to figure out the best way to illustrate visually the things in the script. Having a “talking head” rattle off an entire script is a massive waste of the power of the medium of video. Think about the best things to SHOW at every word or at least for every sentence of the video.

The next thing to do is to collect all those visuals that you need to illustrate the script. It can be as easy and inexpensive as shooting them with a camera phone. Seriously! Just please make sure to hold the camera horizontally so that the image you’re capturing is wider than it is tall, like a TV screen. You can support things visually with stills that your company has already collected for a brochure or website, but moving video is better. You can also use text to convey certain portions of the script, but if you do that too much, it’s basically like a PowerPoint presentation and we all know how fun they are. If you use text, try to use very few lines per “page” - between three and five lines – and few words per line – maybe six to ten words. You don’t need to “see and say” with the text. The text should just be a visual reference, so you don’t need every word in a sentence that is spoken in the script. Just a summary of each point. Clearly, you’re going to get much better looking video if you rely on professionals to generate this footage, but there’s no reason you can’t create useful video yourself with something as easy as your phone or a point-and-shoot camera that shoots video as well as stills. Make sure to get good closeups. Try not to be too shakey. Use a tripod if possible. Think about the lighting. If possible shoot near a big open window if you’re indoors. The light from a window will look better than overhead lighting. Or use a worklight (like from Home Depot) to light from the front.

If you are going to record the sound yourself, you should really get a little USB microphone. Or if you’re going to use the mic on the camera or on your phone, then make sure that the camera is as close to the speaker as possible and that outside noise is kept to a minimum. It’s amazing how loud air-conditioning sounds or the hum of a desktop computer.

Editing is a little difficult to get into in a short article, but there are plenty of programs for Mac and PC to do simple editing. On the Mac, iMovie is a great choice. On either platform I’d recommend Adobe Premiere Elements for editing. Just lay down your on-camera “talking head” or voice over narration audio from beginning to end and then start covering with all of the video you’ve collected.


Clearly, the easiest way to keep the cost down is to shoot it yourself as I described above, but as with anything, hiring someone whose specialty is creating compelling video is obviously going to get you a better product.

The thing to remember with video is that almost any video can be done at almost any price. When clients ask me how much a video is going to cost, I ask them “How long is a piece of string?” It depends. It’s like housing. I can give you a mansion for $25 million, or we can get you a cardboard box and a sleeping bag for $25.

Determining the budget for a video is usually a case of managing client expectations and explaining the costs of specific line items.

To get a good idea of budget, look at other videos from competitors or similar projects. Most competent video professionals can give you a pretty decent idea of how much that video cost to make. If that price is too much, you might have to readjust your expectations. When I bid projects, I usually give my clients a “blue sky” budget where cost is not really a factor and we create the perfect project. Then I provide a budget where I can deliver on the client’s expectations but try to keep costs down. And finally, I provide what I think is the minimum budget for delivering on the basic concept of the video. In each of these budgets I break down the line items, explaining the differences in cost and what each line item delivers. Then the client can see what they’ll be losing in the lower budgets. In the end, we end up combining parts of all three budgets usually. This helps set a reasonable expectation of quality and lets the client be part of the management of costs.

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The biggest things in producing a video on a reasonable budget are to have a clear goal for the video; a clear understanding of what the process will be to get there; and to make sure that the real decision makers are involved early in the process so that costly changes are not required late in the project.

More articles by Steve Hullfish:

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