Production equipment is a difficult topic to cover given the diverse range of company needs, budgets, shooting locations, product offering, goals and internal expertise. If you spend some time, you’ll find plenty of sites out there that discuss specific pieces of equipment, what you’ll need to get started, how important certain features are, and what you shouldn’t compromise on when purchasing this equipment. This is fantastic but if you’re starting from scratch and have no budget, or are trying to justify an increased budget for your video program, how can you make that happen with the least amount of cost to you?
I do want to say upfront that I will not be nitpicking and breaking down the nuances of cameras, bulb types or why wired lavalier microphones are better than wireless ones. These assertions are subjective and every situation is a little different. “Windows is better than OS X as a post-production operating system.” See, subjective and if you had an opinion on my lavalier comment then you’re probably a DP and you already know what works for you which is important. Lastly, it’s important to remember that your production equipment isn’t 100% responsible for increasing product conversion in your video program. Your videos still need to connect with your customers and meet their needs, so you need to make sure you’re spending the right amount of time in your pre-production planning. I’ll touch on this more in the conclusion.
Okay, so here is what I did. I reached out to churches, community colleges and a production equipment rental shop. These are three institutions that typically have professional equipment around for very specific purposes. When I contacted each one I had a very clear goal and told them exactly what I wanted:
“I am a specialty furniture designer and want to shoot 15 videos of my smaller products and put them on my website. I want to invest in my own production equipment but I would like some experience first using professional equipment to see what I can do with these videos. I know exactly what I want the videos to look like but I will need someone to set everything up and shoot the videos for me. I’ll be in front of the camera talking about my products so I think this could be a neat learning experience for everyone involved. Can you help me out?”
Churches know the value of video to evoke emotions and drive action so here is what I found. Churches operate under a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit status specific to religious, educational, charitable and scientific organizations. Their assets and facility must be tied in and used only in a fashion that coincides with their 501(c)(3) status so the key word here is educational. I didn’t find one church that would allow me to borrow their equipment or even pay to rent it (nonprofit, duh but I still asked). I was able to find a church that would let me shoot on site if their A/V guy was available during the week, and if someone from the congregation (ideally from the youth program) wanted to learn about the process of product video production that they could then use for the church down the road. I got a green light on both.
They had a Canon XF105, several fluorescent soft boxes and a decent wired lavalier microphone as well as a good backdrop, and misc. grip equipment. They also had a large, quiet room to shoot in. All the equipment probably ran around $6,000. I was able to get a hold of some okay pro equipment, shoot in a large quiet location with help to set up and organize the shoot for free. I also met some very nice people and built some great new connections.
Not everyone you come in contact with at a church will be savvy about their tax status, what it exactly means and how it can interact with a for-profit business, nor do they want to be educated on it. All the information I received, I got through friendly conversations. Ask a lot of questions, be clear about what you want, and the benefit the experience can provide them. Most churches are pretty large empty spaces during the day all week long so if they can use their space in a helpful way then they’re willing. It took some time but I got what I was looking for. With the proper pre-production planning, I could roll in there and shoot 15 awesome product videos and be on my way.
I called some colleges and found some interesting opportunities right away from their digital media department. One particular junior college has a certificate program in film-making with a heavy concentration in post-production. They are currently creating a larger program to include more classes on production but they will be focused on traditional formats such as documentary filmmaking, talk shows and interviews. Product videos for the web sounded cool to them. After only two phone calls I was told that I could shoot product videos in their studio, with their equipment using their production students to help with setup and shooting. All for free. I wasn’t given a list of their specific equipment but was assured it was all professional grade. I didn’t have a chance to go the studio last week and check everything out (spring break), but I don’t think the head of the production program would lie to me. Also, not one college would let me borrow or rent their equipment to shoot on site. I did find out that the director of the production program won a grant and will be receiving a Red Epic-x Pro Collection. If you’re not familiar, Red cameras shot the latest OZ movie, along with The Hobbit and the Man with the Iron Fists. Basically, $50k in equipment headed to a Junior College with a brand new production program. It doesn’t get more pro than this.
Of the all the colleges I contacted I found out that what really peaked their interest was the real world application of production in a way that they weren’t 100% familiar with. Surprisingly, I had to explain what product videos were, and that I didn’t want to shoot 15 commercials but once they got it, it worked. The best part was student engagement. I was able to speak with a few students and they were happy to help for free in their free time if they could use the videos in their reel or on their YouTube pages. BONUS: They also handled post production for the same price, free. This was by far the most lucrative and opportunity driven institution to work with.
The Rental Company
I reached out to one photography shop and gave them my speech. I was advised that I could rent a Sony AX2000, Lowel Core 55 lighting kit, Senheiser EW-100 mic and all the grip equipment I’d needed for $300 a day. I was also told that if I rented on Friday, I had to keep the equipment until Monday. So I could pick up close to $7,000 in equipment at 6:00AM Friday morning and shoot until Monday at 12:00PM for $300. When I asked about help, I was advised that his consulting rate was $50 an hour. He could walk me through the entire setup on-site and would stay as long as I needed. In short, I could have a consultant and shoot with him all day Friday then continue to shoot all weekend in my space for $1,000. If you feel your pre-production planning needs help then this would be the best bet since this consultant would spend the day planning your shoot with you.
You can be as ignorant as you want, and let them fill in gaps. It is easier to learn from the photography shop. Their job is to educate because at the end of the day, they want to sell you that equipment. Also, you may need to remind this type of consultant that these videos are for the web and not for a commercial or documentary. I’ve found that letting an artistic videographer do their thing can result in 7 minutes of amazing footage when you only need 2 minutes that you’ll then cut down to 60 seconds.
The college was the only place I found that would take on post-production work for free. With the church and rental shop I had to figure out post production myself. I posted an ad on Craigslist and found I could get my 15 videos edited for $100. At your shoot, have a laptop with you and a portable hard drive with at least 500GB space and a USB multi-card reader to transfer the raw footage from the camera. You may need to transfer files a few times during the day. The hard drive won’t cost more than $100 and the reader won’t cost more than $30. Also, depending on who is handling post production, the hard drive may need to be formatted for OS X or Windows before you transfer the footage from the camera as well.
Many of the concerns I come across with companies are issues of investment into their video program and its assets because of unmeasured ROI. The bottom line is that production equipment and committing to and launching a successful video program is expensive. My goal here was to find a way to get at least 15 videos up to a site for as inexpensive as possible so I could measure the marginal increase in product conversion to justify either an initial or further investment into a program. Not only did I find a way to do it, I networked with some very cool and interesting people. Even as an established full-service consulting video commerce company, Video Aptitude is already developing the relationships I made when putting this post together. The largest cost to getting started is your time.
Lastly, you need to spend time in pre-production planning. Lucky for you, I am speaking on this topic on a webinar tomorrow! Register here: Video Production – Refining The Pre-Production Process
This is the second webinar in a three part series on Video Production I am doing with Kenna Hurd of Liveclicker. You can access the first part here: Video Production – Getting Started Producing and Acquiring Video Content
Pre-production planning is especially important with the methods above because with each institution on set you’ll need to maximize time and know exactly what you want your videos to look like before you even step in front of the camera. Many of the people you’ll work with in this capacity will know how to work the equipment, but still need to know if you want product close ups, what kind of shots you want etc. Have a storyboard ready and take notes during the production to save time and help your guy/gal in post-production.
If you know you want an internal production program, my ultimate suggestion is to hire a director of production (DP) or work with a consulting company to build this program. They should be able to put a budget together with equipment that works best for you and your brand based on your space, location, internal assets and goals using their expertise and experience.