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What Should I Know Before Hiring a Professional Video Production Company?

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Hiring a professional video company can be intimidating. If you aren’t a video expert, you might feel out of your depth. How can you really tell whether the company is going to work well with you? How do you know if the company is reputable, or if their work is subpar? While you can look at their portfolio, that doesn’t always tell you the whole story.

Here are some of the most important questions to ask.

What exactly will your company do?

Different video companies handle different things. Some of them are going to take your idea and your script and run with it. Others are going to create a video script for you. Still others will do your marketing and distribution, and may even figure out your buyer personas before they even begin shooting. Thus, you really need to know what comes included with each company’s services.

This is also an excellent opportunity to learn more about the process. If you’ve never shot a video before, you may be uncertain about the process, and you may not know exactly what you’re looking for. As you talk to video production companies, you’ll get a better feel for what’s going to occur. Ask them to run through their entire process from start to finish, and you may find that you have more questions.

Do you have a demo reel?

A demo reel will give you a feel for what the company can do. Most company demo reels showcase the best of their work, and the different styles that they’ve worked in. You may get some ideas for your project.

If you don’t see anything that’s even vaguely similar to what you want to do, that might be cause for concern. Some video companies specialize in a certain style or framework, and deviating form that might not be successful. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve what you want; it just means that they haven’t done it so far.

How much is it going to cost?

Make sure you have a quote that doesn’t include any hidden costs, but understand that some video productions are complex enough that a static quote may not be possible. When it comes to a simple, in-house video that can be animated or shot within the company, they should be able to get your a relatively low amount.

But if you’re going to need to shoot outside with permits, hire actors and actresses, or engage in other more complicated things, they may not be able to tell you the full costs. Instead, they may need to give you a range.

Most videos are going to cost about $1,000 per minute, but of course that’s very variable, and depends on the type of video. An intricate animation may cost much more, and a very basic video may cost less. Since the costs can vary so significantly, it’s also very important to get multiple quotes to narrow it down.

Remember: with video, you get what you pay for. If you pay a lower amount, you can essentially expect that you’re going to be getting a lower quality production. But a lower quality production isn’t necessarily bad. With every video, you need to make sure that you’re paying for what you really need. A T.V. commercial will need to be higher quality than a random behind-the-scenes video.

As well, it may be that you’re more concerned with speed. A fast video may be more expensive, while a slower video may be cheaper.

How will my rates be broken down?

Sometimes your rates cover things like equipment rental, which means it could vary depending on the amount of time you actually spend on the project and whether the production company already owns the equipment needed to complete the shoot. Other times, a company may simply charge based on project, or based on their own rate. Regardless, it helps you to know how they’re charging, as it’ll help you anticipate any increases in cost.

You should also ask them how much of the work is covered within those costs. Is it the entire project? Or are you going to have to separately pay actors and actresses? Are you going to need to license music separately, or is that included in the cost already?

If there are a lot of hidden costs involved, that’s a sign that this company may not be reputable to deal with. The company should always be clear upfront about what you’re paying for, and should know that a layman may not know about the additional costs that are involved.

Will I own all rights to my finished product?

Generally, a company will offer full rights to a finished project after it’s completed. That means your company officially owns this product now, and you can do anything you want with it. Some companies are also going to be able to offer you raw footage, which is the footage that came directly form the cameras.

But some won’t give you raw files; it really depends on the company. Sometimes you may need to pay more for the raw files, rather than the edited files. There’s a reason for this.

Video companies have to protect their reputation. Raw files often don’t seem to be of the highest quality, because they haven’t been edited at all. Someone might look at these files and deduce that the company isn’t very good. This is why companies protect their raw files; photographers do the same thing. But with an additional fee, a video company can produce raw files, which you might need for future projects.

If you can, getting raw files is often ideal. It means that you’ll have the rights to B-roll that you could use in the future. You might be able to scavenge things from these files for a long time to come to utilize in future marketing material.

How long will the shoot take?

Often a shoot will take longer than someone thinks that it should. It’s not going to take an astronomical amount of times, but it’s something that can’t be rushed, and it’s important to get everything right. Still, your company should be able to make a timeline and tell you roughly when the project will be completed. If it goes over, there should be some kind of mitigation in effect — otherwise the project can go longer without any recourse from you.

And, of course, it’s not just the shoot that you should be asking about, but also the pre-planning. The entire project isn’t the shoot; the shoot is just the most expensive aspect of the project. You have to know how long it’s going to take from start to finish, and finish should be the final, delivered product rather than just the drafts. Video projects can be very lengthy, some of them running into the months. You don’t want to be tied up in a project that seems interminable.

Will I need any permits?

If you’re going to be shooting outdoors or in an otherwise public place, it’s likely that you’re going to need permits. That means that you should contact the city as soon as possible to get those permits. It’s best not to leave it until last minute, because it can take some time to process.

On the other hand, if you’re going to be shooting in an indoor location, you often don’t need permits. The simpler your shoot is, the more likely you are to be able to avoid any additional expense.

To get a permit in Phoenix we go through the Phoenix Film Office. Contact your local Film Office to get a permit for your commercial shoot.

Ask the company whether they’re handling the permits or whether you need to take them out yourself. Sometimes you may need to do some of the management of the project on your own, while other, full-service companies are going to handle everything for you from start-to-finish. And, again, you’ll get what you pay for.

Below is an example of an apartment complex that we were required to get a permit in order to shoot a commercial for our client SmartRent.

Do you have any reviews or testimonials I can look at?

When customers finally find a great company to work with, they often want to sing its praises. If the company doesn’t have any positive reviews or testimonials, that’s a sign that they might not be as good as they seem. You should always look for a company that’s well-liked by its existing clientele. Even if a company doesn’t have any negative reviews, it might not be a joy to work with.

Additionally, search for the company online and see if they have any negative reviews. If they do, ask them about it. The company should be able to explain the negative review. Every company is going to get negative reviews from time to time, as some customers are never satisfied. What’s important is that you should be able to ask the company to justify these reviews. If you see them responding unprofessionally to negative reviews, that’s a bad sign. If you see a lot of negative reviews that mention the same thing (such as going over budget), that’s also a bad sign.

When vetting different video production companies, you should take a look at all the above, and question the production company you’re working with as thoroughly as possible. You’re likely investing multiple thousands of dollars, and it’s important that you protect your investment. Compare multiple production companies and select the one that meshes best for you.

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Article by Joe Forte, owner and producer at D-Mak Productions, a Scottsdale video production company specializing in producing corporate, commercial, digital and branded media content.

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