Skystorm's Post Production Supervisor, Warren Williams, and Senior Editor, Jason Chamberlain, unpacking the SAN. …
Budget Cuts That Are Killing Your Video
“Time is money,” said Benjamin Franklin. Time costs money and money buys time—this is the way the world of business operates, especially in the entertainment industry. While someone may have an incredible vision, a vision cannot be realized without the proper resources. Budget cutting must be done wisely and strategically to not kill the entire concept of the project.
In the first installment of our budgeting series we addressed budgeting issues that commercial production crews will face, but what about the budget cuts a client needs to worry about? Skystorm Executive Producer, Rob Micai, talks about how to make sure your final video is just as amazing as your original concept.
How much do you and the client discuss budgeting before getting started on production?
Budget is one of the first questions we ask when facing any new project. We can quickly establish the reality of the situation and start planning our creative accordingly.
Open discussions about a project’s goals and what it takes to achieve them are healthy in building trust between a client and a vendor. Seasoned producers looking to create the best product and build a long-term relationship are more interested in seeing your money go on the screen than paying extra people to show up on a shoot day. If the positions aren’t necessary, they shouldn’t be in the budget. If they are listed, chances are they are there for a good reason. Once productions are delivered successfully, a level of trust is established and less time is generally spent on budget and creative decisions for future projects.
How would you help a client understand what areas of video are most important not to go “cheap”?
Clients shouldn’t have to worry about things like crew or equipment – that’s our job. It’s important to work with a production company that they trust because it’s the experience that the company has that allows the budget to be finessed without affecting the final video
Once the right message points and budget are approved, maximizing production dollars is on us, and along with creative storytelling, it’s our passion. Being creative logistically is as invigorating and vital to us Producer / Production Manager types as being creative with the concept.
At Skystorm, we present our clients with a line item budget. Occasionally, but not often, a client may say “let’s lose this crew member to save ‘X’ dollars.” Producers should be able to easily explain what the consequences of losing that person might be. For example, a client may ask to cut a person from the lighting and grip team solely because of the line item cost. However, the amount of time to light a scene, or set up a dolly track, or to enhance safety on the set, may cause the client to sacrifice one or all of those items. To achieve the same results without having that person may cause overtime (that could cost more than having the “extra” person.)
When it comes to production projects, what do you think are some budget cuts in production that you should not take?
Clients should invest in development/pre-production as well as post production to have a better end product. Fail to plan, plan to fail.
In a crowded space of 24/7 video content, shrinking attention spans and the pressure to create “sharable” content it is easy to want to push out a video as quickly as possible. Taking time to formulate a concept, style, and a unique message is the first place companies shouldn’t skimp on the budget if they want a successful video campaign.
Production, with its cameras, lights, and talent, is exciting. It is usually the part of the process that clients are most eager to talk about. However, development and pre-production are equally, if not, more important, as the final phase — post-production. Story lines and the vision come to life in this phase. The best results often come down to pre-planning and then having great editing choices to pick from. Clients should plan on scheduling and paying for multiple rounds of changes during the post process.
Are clients able to have a say on the limit of rounds of changes during the post process?
The number of rounds and types of changes can be negotiated at the start of the project to lessen the chances of surprises.
Feedback is important and will add to the post schedule and budget if it isn’t discussed up front, as will rounds of approval/changes from higher-ups, the legal department, the client’s client, etc. It’s always best to plan ahead and have the flexibility to not run out of money, or time, or go over budget to deliver the project properly. Where Skystorm is different than the typical production company, is that we are just as invested in the outcome as the client is. We are very flexible about what each video may need, even if that is a few extra rounds of review without billing additional hours.
A place that I often see post-production getting bogged down is when a client is to provide assets for the project. This can be anything from high-resolution logos, a style guide, archival footage, stills, correct spelling of names and titles for lower thirds, or pre-approved music tracks. If possible, it’s best to get as much if not all of these materials before post-production begins.
Why is post production also not an area not to skimp on?
Visual effects, graphics, and animation quality are certainly stages where budget cuts are very costly.
They are finishing steps that can take a well-crafted story, well-acted scenes and beautifully shot footage and make them look amateurish. For one example, if creative requires 3D Photorealistic flames, this is a complicated, but achievable ask. To make fire feel like it’s “in the scene,” the modeler/animator/compositor must understand the way fire moves, how and when particles like smoke and sparks are created and determine the right intensity and movement of reflective light and shadows on both the subject and background.
But, there seem to be many cheap and quick ways to achieve decent visual effects…
Slapping template effects on to a project without these extra steps will likely lead to disappointing results.
Although, an additional expense any pre-viz work done before production and post will save time and surprises. These can range from storyboards to wireframe animations to animatics. High-end graphic design regarding font choice, color selection, and layout/placement will add polish and professionalism to the videos that call for them. Dated transitions or graphic effects can cheapen the look and ROI of otherwise strong video presentations. Finishing steps in post-production that should have a place in the budget for quality projects are sound mix, sound design (if sound effects or atmosphere sounds are used) and color grading.
You said that a client shouldn’t worry about equipment in terms of budget, are there exceptions to this?
Equipment items are tools and should be treated as such. The people who operate them are where clients will see the most value.
Throughout the process, experience often equals speed, safety, and quality results, and that is great for clients and producers alike. From being in the industry for many years, I would suggest to clients that they should be wary of people selling them based solely on the latest “toys.” Knowledge, work ethic, and talent way outweigh the benefits of the newest gadget.
So what you’re saying is that a huge way to “kill” a project’s concept is by not hiring the right people for the equipment.
The internet is jammed with videos captured on the latest, highest resolution cameras, but without appealing compositions, intentional movement, proper lighting, and crisp, clean audio, the videos could be virtually unwatchable.
Resolution, HDR, image quality, proper lighting and sound equipment considerations are extremely important, but they are only part of the picture. Crew members that have been around for awhile have been paid a lot of money over time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. They will usually solve a problem before it becomes an issue. They can create equipment packages that make sense for the budget, schedule, and logistics of a shoot.
You don’t want to be the job where someone new to the industry tries to figure out how to use his/her new camera.
In recent years many tools have entered the market that saves time and delivers top-notch quality and efficiency. If an experienced professional recommends equipment that is unfamiliar, it’s entirely acceptable for a client to ask what the benefits are. There may be quality, time, and creative benefits to new types of gear, but trusting the skills and expertise of the person using them should be a deciding factor.
The client and vendor should be aligned on the creative vision, budget and deadlines before discussing hardware.
Rob Micai has produced, written and directed compelling stories for industry leaders: Disney, Nickelodeon, Chris-Craft, Subway, Marriott and more. Rob served as Co-Producer on the Universal/Vivendi feature release, “Letters to God” and as Production Supervisor on the dramatic feature, “To Write Love on Her Arms.” Rob’s style is contemporary and imaginative. He has traveled the globe fulfilling his passion for storytelling on projects big and small. He brings productions in on budget and on target without limiting artistic or creative integrity.