Friday, June 26, 2009

Costing Entry Level Video Business

There is no single appropriate selection of tools of the trade to enable the enterprising video services provider to start a business. Tools run the range from free to cheap, simple to complex and affordability standards for one individual will be too high or too low for another.

Also, the perceived look of a professionally equipped independent video services provider is a subjective one. Tastes too vary for each individual wanting to start a video production business. Some will "settle" setting aside pride for practicality while others will go into hock for the latest and greatest, even purchasing equipment that may never be used on a single, solitary gig. Still, there's no single right or wrong way to enter the business of independent video production.

What I am about to propose is an equipment list and costs that, IMHO, includes the basic tools a serious independent professional video services provider will need to do a better than adequate job out the door. This list is by no means definitive - there are always incidentals, gadgets and tools that will come to mind over time, adding to the arsenal of an experienced professional.

And last, the following list could be considered, perhaps, the TOP of the low end. It is certainly not the cheapest, nor necessarily the best tool set for the money, but by and large I believe overall it is the easiest route to acquiring, editing and producing quality video product for the client.

While my approach is Apple/Mac based, there are alternate, more affordable but not necessarily more simple solutions in the PC environment, and software to boot. I remain convinced, however, that the iMac with OSX and its included DVD and video editing software is the easiest and quickest out of the box approach to editing video.

That being said...

iMac starts at $1,199 video editing and dvd creation software included in iLife

SD camcorder Canon GL2, $2,000 new; $1,500 used
HDV camcorder Canon HV30/HV40, $689 to $850 if you shop around

LitePanels Micro Light, $350, or less (or more, if you really want more light)

Rhode VideoMic shotgun, $150, or less, if you shop around

Zoom H2 digital audio recorder, $179, or less, if you shop around

Manfrotto (formerly Bogen) tripod, $105 to $500, or more, but you don't really need more. There's always Sachtler, starting at $1,400 and worth the price but way more than you need to spend for camcorder support.

Headphones - Sony MDR 7502, $50; Sony MDR 7509HD, $200; Sony MDR 7505, $85; or Audio Technica ATH-M30, $70, ATH-M50, $139.

Batteries, 3-hour bricks run $80 and up, depending on your camera. Belt batteries are OK, I've used them extensively, but they are heavy and no longer the must have option long-record-time needs.

Also, assorted miscellaneous cables for connections to/from your various digitizing, audio recording and editing components, say $150.

The above list will get you started.

You will also want a web presence of some kind. Service can run you south of $30 a month, and there many free/cheap options for developing a web site, blog or other means for advertising and marketing your video company. For a cost, you might consider utilizing iLife's iWeb software and an annual MobileMe account, $99.

Optionals include:
A brace/bracket system for the HV30/40, around $150 or so, and enabling you to attach your wireless mic, LitePanels, or other, on-camera light, and other accessories, as well as perhaps a...

Beachtek audio adapter, DXA-2s, about $180; DXA-6A, about $280

A USB mic for narrative recording in the studio, $50 and up.

An audio mixer...
Behringer, $109 and up
Mackie, $249 and up
Alesis, $299 and up
Tascam, $299 and up

Many will say a wireless mic system is NOT an option, and I do not disagree, but I included it under optional because there are elements of independent video production where you can possibly get by with the camcorder mic, or the Rhode mic mentioned above.

Wireless mic systems from Azden, Audio Technica, Shure and Sennheiser start around $250 and can go well over a thousand dollars. Many systems in the $300-$500 range are very serviceable. Do some research into frequencies as some mics on the market will soon be obsolete due to changes in frequency availability. You'll want to move above the 700+ range for sure.


Do not overlook the montage/video projection arena in providing video services. When I originally entered this market my total investment came to more than $5,000. And I still paid the investment off in less than six months after focusing on video projection services as part of my business operations.

Today, you can come well under $5K, perhaps half or less.
Projector: Epson EX50, $650

Player: WalMart cheapie, $35, or less

Powered speaker system: Samson, Fender, Bose, $700 and up; less if you purchase one of the many offerings in portable PA systems, just know that your audio quality will not be as good, nor your audio capacity/range as broad.

Da-Light projection stand, $250, or less; again you can "get by" with even a cheap wooden tv table, but I strongly suggest something sturdier and more stable - accidents happen and I swear people go blind as they come near projection equipment on stands.

The Screen Works t-stand 6x8 foot model front projection screen weighs in at $800, or less. There are many other options but The Screen Works will always be my go to company for screens of any size, shape, description or price.

Projection services = $2,435!

Another future (or sooner) acquisition will be at least a 1x3 DVD/CD duplicator, $350 or less; CD/DVD capable printer for inserts and disc graphics, $200 or less; external hard drives for project storage, often under $100, depending on capacity, and the prices continue to go down, not up, for huge storage capacity HDs.

So, to round things up and off I will use the lesser of any above pricing for totals.

Acquisition: $1,673, or less if you shop around.

Editing: iMac, $1,200, cables, etc. $150

Total = $2,873 + $30 a month for web marketing = $3,050

Optionals: (that will soon become things you can't live without) = $739

Future Business Options: Projection services = $2,435; DVD duplication, printing, project storage = $650

Final note: If you wanted, and could come up with the resources, you could spend a total of $6,874, or less if you shop around, and start up a virtually full-service video production company.

Are there other costs? Of course: business cards and other support/marketing forms; tax, business licensing, DBA, legal costs, etc. These and other elements such as various insurance premiums, maintenance, repairs, emergency purchases and more can run your expenses of entering, doing and maintaining your video business another $1,000 and probably closer to $3K.

Even so, with some investment of time, researching of instructional resources, determination and growing experience, an initial investment of under $10,000 to start a business that can become profitable in less than a year makes independent video production one of the least risky business investments available.

Even at $10K, this is 1/10th of what you would have spent 20 years ago; 1/2 of your probable investment 12 years ago; and still a significant savings over what you would have spent for the same/similar tools less than 8 years ago. Many of the old timers in this industry continue to pay on their original investment, trying to sustain a business based on equipment that is now slow and sadly antiquated.

You can come in well under my figures, but again I have to say that the easiest way to invest today and start working (making money) tomorrow would include a serious portion of the equipment listed above.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2009, Earl Chessher


Jupiter Leo said...

Great post, very insightful and honest. Much appreciated :)

Anonymous said...

FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 2009

You say; "I don't disagree" - does that mean you agree? Sorry a local talk show host says this all the time and it drives me batty!

Anonymous said...

Thank you ! it was very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Are motion graphics etc a very common necessity now a days?

CorElAnn said...

Motion graphics? I suppose it really depends on where you want to go. If you are more into the computer graphics, animation arts arena, and less into video acquisition/editing, or if you are going to focus on high end commercial/corporate work utilizing motion graphics elements along with video production, then you're going to have to up your investment.

You'll need a much more powerful computer, a much higher level of related software for motion graphics work, and possibly a higher quality production camera to obtain the images you will need to acquire.

So, motion graphics? Yes. Or no, depending on where you want to take your business, invest your money, and acquire your skills.