Sometimes, creating a video series can feel a lot like going on vacation: everything is new and exciting but has the potential to land you wildly over budget. (Those extra gelatos, er … days of shooting add up, you know?) And while you can ballpark your total financial investment for a vacation — and your series — you can’t always account for unexpected costs. Fortunately, like any great getaway, you can see new sights, enjoy the process, and stay within budget, as long as you plan ahead and stay disciplined.
To teach you how to create a series with an external crew while on a budget, we’ve asked Chris Chi, the lead producer at Jetz Media, for his thoughts on how to keep costs down during pre-production, production, and post-production. Ready to get whisked away to the island of cost-cutting? Let’s check out what he had to say.
Your best opportunity for saving money is during pre-production. Since you have to pay your crew and actors by the day — and going over by just one minute means you’ll have to pay them overtime wages — making each of your days is crucial for staying on budget. In other words, you need to fully understand your space, lights, creative direction, and talent before filming starts. Here are some quick tips for keeping costs down when you hire a crew, scout locations, rent lights, and finalize your creative direction.
Ideally, you should aim to hire a director, director of photography, sound producer, and gaffer (i.e., lighting technician and head electrician) who are all aligned with your creative vision and direction; any arguing or push-back will be a big time-suck once you’re on set. And if you find you have extra room in your budget, you could hire a grip (i.e., someone who can handle the camera equipment) and a production assistant to fill out your crew. Once your team is in place, run a meeting where you make a plan for the shoot — scheduling each day down to the minute to keep everything on track.
When you hire a director of photography and a sound producer, work out a deal with them that stipulates they’ll scout locations for free. Sometimes, high-end professionals will charge you for scouting if you don’t set something up beforehand. That can add up pretty quickly. So, once you have that worked out, ask your sound producer to scout your locations and see if you can realistically record audio there. You don’t want to be scrambling to find new locations on your shooting days because the sound is poor.
“A lot of things can go wrong on set, but if you prepare for them, they won’t be a problem.”
Along the same lines, you should do a walkthrough of your space with your director of photography ahead of time to anticipate all the variables that can spring up when you shoot. A lot of things can go wrong on set, but if you prepare for them, they won’t be a problem. Plus, the director of photography needs to figure out how to light each scene and how quickly they can set the lights up. This will also help them figure out what lights to rent, saving you from wasting money on lights that you don’t need — cha-ching!
Unless you’re making a Hollywood film production, you probably don’t need to rent a three-ton or five-ton grip truck. (A grip truck is essentially a truck that’s chock-full with all the lighting you can imagine for a shoot.) Instead, you can just rent the lights that the director of photography says they need after scouting, especially if you’re doing an interview series. By doing so, you’re avoiding additional costs, because most rental houses will also make you hire one of their drivers with a special license to drive the truck.
If you’re creating an interview series, it’s a good idea to send the script and questions to your interviewees ahead of time. This’ll ensure that they understand each episode’s creative direction, are on-board with the plan, and can send you any additional talking points they want to cover during the interview. Once you’ve got that locked in, plan to capture one-liners, or “wild lines,” that you can stitch into your videos during post-production — like an interviewee’s company’s slogan. It’s always better to have an excess of footage than not enough.
While there aren’t as many opportunities to save money during the production phase compared to the pre-production phase, you can still cut costs by respecting your crew’s creativity and even their diets.
You hired your production crew for a reason and it’s best to let them work their magic. Giving them space also allows them to turn the production into their own creation, which gets them more emotionally invested in the project and brings out their passion. Monitoring and dictating their every move wastes time and causes arguments that waste even more time. Give them the overarching direction and get out of their way. However, make sure to rein them back in if they ever veer off course.
“Let them work their magic.”
Though it might be tempting, don’t buy high-fat, high-carb food like pizza — sorry, pizza — for lunch. Your crew will become lethargic and it will slow things down. Spending a little more money on healthy food to keep people energized throughout the day will save you money at the end of your production.
During the post-production phase, laying down the ground rules with your editor and backing up all your raw footage and audio are the most effective ways to keep costs low.
When you negotiate drafts beforehand, you’ll be able to tell your editor exactly how you want to change each draft, which makes things more time- and cost-efficient. If you don’t specify how many drafts/revisions they’re willing to do, they could charge you for any additional edits they complete.
Hiring a crew and creating a video series might seem like an expensive endeavor, especially if you’re hit with unexpected costs and tight deadlines. But if you can prepare for both, your production will operate smoothly and affordably. So, grab those passports, put a tiny umbrella in your seltzer, and get all the stages of your production plans in order, because you’re about to go on a series-creating trip.
Have you hired external resources to help you shoot a video series? We’d love to hear more about it. Drop us a comment below to share your experience.