Why is videography so expensive?

Last summer I graduated from the Broadcast Production Masters in IADT. Since then I’ve transitioned from primarily working in radio, to filming and editing events. I’ve worked on everything from christenings to concerts, art documentation to theatre promotion, short films to music videos. Over and over again, clients are surprised at the cost of services (even cut price, chance of a lifetime, ‘just this once’ services).

Here are my current rates.

Two things are in play here. One, the market for videography is still not well established in Ireland. For many clients it’s their first time dealing with a videographer. Two, lots of people (from established photographers, to folks who just got a nice camera for Christmas) figure they’ll turn their hand to videography – offering to shoot their friends and family at ultra low, or even no cost.

I thought I’d take the time to explain why videography costs so much. Hint – it doesn’t.

The Cowboy Factor

zzzz21frFilming is not photography. There are a host of factors that need to be taken into account filming a live event that just aren’t there when taking photographs – from the 180 degree rule to choice of recording codec, from handing aperture changes in motion to dealing with interference from the refresh rates of lighting. Filming isn’t 24 times harder than taking a photograph, but it is harder.

Think of it like this – imagine you’re asked to take a photo of a friend. Now imagine there’s only one shot left in the camera, and they’re moving, and the light is changing, and this picture is important to them – maybe its capturing the most important moment of their lives. Now repeat this one hundred times and you’ve got some idea what it’s like to make an event video.

Note – this isn’t to denigrate the artistry or complexity of photography. The best photographs are as complicated to setup and certainly as artful as any film shoot. It’s just that when it comes to capturing real time events, in varying conditions, with high expectations, there are more factors to be juggled when shooting video.

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When you’re filming on your phone, or in the automatic mode on your camera, or just in great lighting – many of these problems disappear, often at the cost of the quality of your final image.

So yes, your friend can do it cheaper, or for free. If the end result doesn’t matter to you, by all means use them to shoot your big day. If they bake too, you could always ask them to make the wedding cake!

Not F**king up

When you hire a professional, they use professional gear, including but not limited to SD cards, hard drives etc. They also engage in a professional workflow – duplicating and backing up footage as it’s shot, on site and off. This is all to ensure that your project or event doesn’t disappear. That sound is recorded as well as picture. The final edit is there next week, or even next year, when you need it in an emergency and have lost or deleted your copy.

It’s a lot more work than you think

When you’re hiring someone to make you a video, much of the work they do is invisible. This can include, but is not limited to – equipment assembly and disassembly, logging footage (loading it into the computer, labelling and checking each file, backing up etc), reviewing clips, editing, re-editing, colour grading, rendering (squeezing out a final file), and reviewing the export.

Any one of these steps can go wrong in a hundred ways. Rendering alone can take hours on a complicated project, even on a fast computer. There is no such thing as a ‘quick edit’, or a ‘small change’, since changing one element of a video requires re-rendering, then checking over every other element of the newly exported video. Counterintuitively, a short video (say a 30 second advert) can take MUCH longer to make than a long video (for example a single shot of an event).

I could write an entire article listing the intricacies of editing – which depending on the specifics required by the project (the number of clips, number and type of cameras, whether takes are mixed, the different kinds of media involved, synching speech, cutting to music etc) can be enormously involved and time consuming. This is why videos produced by friends or ‘for free’, can take months to appear, never get finished at all or be very disappointing when they do finally get done.

Equipment is expensive

Here is my current filming kit. Here is the gear I intend to buy over the next year. Filming equipment is expensive, really expensive.

The camera is in some ways the cheapest (and arguably least important) element of a filming setup. It’s a support system for the lenses, monitor, microphone, and accessories. One that requires lighting, fast media, and a faster computer and external hard drives to edit its output.

Right now, my gear is close to the most basic setup with which professional work can be done. It’s my experience and eye that differentiate the final product. Even so, my current setup cost several thousand euro to build up. Each time it’s used, it faces wear and tear, and more than almost any other freelance industry – each year it must be upgraded as standards improve and new equipment becomes available.

In addition to a reliable, decent quality camera and editing computer, there are numerous non-obvious yet expensive elements to a pro-filmmaking kit, including things like…

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  • High quality Lenses (600 euro up each, used).
  • Lens adapters (200 euro up).
  • Variable ND filters (100 euro up).
  • Camera cage (100 euro up).
  • Remote follow focus (150 euro up).
  • Gimble (750 euro up).
  • External multichannel sound recorders (500 euro up).
  • Wireless lav microphone kits (800 euro each).
  • Second camera, for multi-angle shoots (800 euro, used).
  • Monitor (200 euro up).
  • Matte Boxes (100 euro up).

The list goes on and on, and whats more, it varies per job, meaning that one setup will not suffice for a varied workload.

 

Experience

Imagine, you’re on a plane to Thailand. God forbid, as my mum likes to say, you have a heart attack. The call goes out, is there a doctor on board? A hand is raised in first class. The off duty doctor races back towards the hell that is economy and begins to [INSERT 7 YEARS OF MEDICAL SCHOOL TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE HERE]. You survive. What saved your life? Was it a stethoscope?

baby-doctorIt was your doctors education and experience. The training (and more importantly hands on experience) of a videographer / director of photography, is what makes their work worth paying for. In my case, I’d been filming and editing web and short films for over a decade before I decided to turn professional, and embarked on an expensive masters degree. I’d also been working as a radio producer writing, producing, recording, and editing programmes (many of which are directly transferable to what I do now). It’s the thousands of hours I’ve spend on and off sets, shooting, rigging, editing, grading, watching tutorials, reading manuals, and generally learning, that you’re paying for when you hire me. Not just my gear.

Freelance work

Videography, sound recording and editing are for the most part freelance work. That means that the day rates charged have to support the living expenses of the videographer while they look for work and on the unpaid days that will arise for even the most qualified and popular videographer. Like all freelance work it’s paid at a slightly higher rate than full time work, at least in theory. In practice, videographers work for below their official rates all the time – usually for charity campaigns etc. This places additional importance on being paid properly for professional work.

Additional Expenses

Other things can add to the cost of videography significantly, from additional staff (to provide B roll, sound recording, makeup etc), to equipment rental and transport. These costs vary by event, but they can mount up. They’re frequently invisible to the client, as they’re accounted for in the initial quote provided. Sometimes these costs are swallowed in order to help establish a working relationship, or just ease what can be an onerous burden – for example when shooting for artists or charities. In the end they still have to be paid. This may sound obvious – but it bares repeating: You wouldn’t ask a lawyer, builder, plumber or taxi driver to do their job for free. Why would videography be any different?

Conclusion

Hopefully this gives a bit of context to videography pricing – and a hint as to what a great deal you’re getting when a professional does offer you a discount.
Baring in mind all of the above, videography in Ireland is incredible, arguably unsustainably, cheap. Compare the price of filming a wedding here (about 1,000 – 4,000 euro), with the prices for the same service in the US. Now get in touch, and hire me!

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My two final Radio Programmes – Coming Soon

Probably my final two radio productions (at least under the sound and vision scheme), were both completed last year. By coincidence they’re both coming to air really soon.

Download: The Listening Stage and Mic Drop Trailer

Each year, legendary radio dramatist Roger Gregg teaches a unique intensive course in radio drama. The Listening Stage follows students of The Gaiety School of Acting’s radio drama course, as they pursue their hopes and dreams of fame. This fly on the wall doc embeds us in Roger’s annual weeklong workshop, introducing actors to the exciting world of audio theatre. The course culminates in a live performance of a radio comedy. We follow the crafting of this production from initial script reading to rehearsals, to the development of sound effects and music, the creation of memorable characters, all the way through to the final performance. Taking a look, for the first time ever, behind the curtain of this legendary drama school’s radio drama workshop.

Broadcasts: Saturday March 31st: 9pm, on Newstalk 106-108 FM.

You’ll also be able to stream the show from Soundcloud, or download it from the Dead Medium Podcast right after broadcast.

Mic Drop is a new one off drama, starring Adam Tyrell, fleshing out the play of the same name that debuted to critical acclaim at the ‘Scene + Heard’ Festival in Summer 2017. This one-man show tells the story of Irish web entrepreneur Perry Pardo. Perry is the living embodiment of the new Ireland. A working class boy made good, Perry moved to San Francisco to make his fortune, and now he’s back to teach a room full of eager listeners how to replicate his success. This satirical business seminar rapidly descends into a dark exploration of contemporary Ireland, as Perry’s hard partying catches up with him and he undergoes a breakdown – revealing his background and failings through fragments of story and song. In the process Perry reveals the anxieties and hypocrisies that can underlie the success stories of Irish entrepreneurship, and the dark side of wealth.

Broadcasts: Tuesday 17th April at 2PM, on Phoenix FM.

You’ll also be able to stream the show from Soundcloud, or download it from the Dead Medium Podcast right after broadcast.

In The Dark coming to Dublin

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Two Summers ago, I was lucky enough to attend the first ever Hearsay Audio Festival. If you haven’t heard of the festival, it’s a unique chance to enjoy the most inventive, avant garde and creative audio from around the world. The festival is also a hella chill break, as it’s held in the bucolic idyll of Kilfinane, Co Limerick. One of the highlights of the first Hearsay was the short doc contest run by Bristol based BBC crew ‘In The Dark‘ (and not just cause I won ;). In The Dark run uniquely joyful listening events in a wonderful variety of locations from crypts to eerie forests . At last years festival they setup a shop full of curiosities, each of which was paired with a story. Visitors plucked an object from the shelf and were passed an MP3 player containing an accompanying story. Mine concerned an urban myth about an underground group of students who got their kicks climbing into tumble driers and experiencing the spin cycle!

AIRPI have invited In the Dark to Dublin, for what promises to be a unique listening even at the Unitarian Church. In The Dark will be playing a selection of stories for the start of winter. Highly recommended!

When: Saturday, November 5 at 8 PM – 10 PM
Where: Dublin Unitarian Church
How Much: 10 euro or free for AIRPI members.
More info.

Podcasting Workshop – August 13th

a4 podcast workshop

When: Sat 13th Aug,  10-5pm (with 1 hour for lunch)
Where: A4 Sounds, St Joseph’s Parade, Off Upper Dorset St, Dublin 1
Cost: 60 Euro
Book here

I’m running a one day podcast workshop this August in A4 Sounds. This two part workshop will cover everything you need to create, upload and promote your own podcast. We’ll provide an overview of the history of podcasts, and the current state of the podcast market. You will learn about different podcast hosting and distribution options, how to track downloads and what it takes to get a podcast into iTunes ‘New & Noteworthy’ category.

This workshop is suitable for anyone wishing to create a podcast or improve how their podcasts are created or distributed, and requires no special technical expertise.  Whether you already have a podcast you’d like to improve, or are just a keen fan with an idea, this is the workshop for you.

What will the workshop cover

Part one of the day will be an overview of podcasting, covering different ways podcasts are made and distributed, and moving onto all the major monetisation routes – from advertising to Patreon, paid downloads, app purchases and more.

We’ll look at various hosting options and podcast creation pipelines, from self hosting with WordPress or Libsyn, to all in one services like Zencast, Soundcloud, ACast and audioBoom.

Part two will cover the process of creating a podcast, using free and low cost tools. Participants will work together to record, edit and distribute a podcast. They will learn through hands on practice, how to submit to the most popular podcast directories and apps.

The facilitator will be available after the workshop to answer further questions and technical issues that might pop up with your first attempts at making a show.

Materials Required:

Participants to bring along:

  • Previously recorded programmes they wish to podcast
    OR ideas for a show they’d like to create
  • Laptops to follow along with the practical portion of the class

A4 will supply all other necessary equipment & materials.
Continue reading

Storytelling Through Sound – Course

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I’m teaching my first course in A4 Sounds, this coming February. The six week course, ‘Storytelling Through Sound’ won’t focus on sound engineering, but instead on exploring the role of sound in multimedia artistic practice. No experience necessary. Details below!

Aimed at storytellers in all media, from writers to filmmakers. The goal of the class is to start thinking about sound in a new way: As a basic tool of storytelling. The mechanics of a medium, it’s limits and unique capacities, it’s textures and its intrinsic qualities are all key to making the most of it as a creative artist. This course will examine ways of using sound to tell a story – ways of treating sound as a first class citizen in multimedia work. We’ll be listening to some of the best sound design and aural storytelling from radio, sound art and cinema. We’ll explore the various relations to the listener possible through the medium, and what sound can add to other mediums.

Cost: 60 euro
Kicks off: Feb 9th, 2016.

More info & booking.

Paraudolia Part 2 [Mechanical Blasphemy]

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A companion to Paraudiolia 1 (a piece composed as part of Bluebottle Collective’s ‘Hibernation Radio’ project), Paraudiolia Part 2 deals with degeneration in a cosmic context – the personal and collective dementia experienced as we flail beyond our capacities. This is a series of works employing musique concrete, anonymised interview and reflexive writing, to reflect on disillusion.

This is an episode of the new Dead Medium new podcast. This will be a best of show, including drama, interviews, sound art, comedy and gonzo ‘journalism’. We’re on itunes now, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed here.

Download: Paraudolia Part 2 [Mechanical Blasphemy]

Cheap video equipment for sketches and short films

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Over the past few months I’ve been working on ideas for sketches and short movies. Radio is great and all, but the audience for radio comedy is limited and for radio drama, practically non-existent. With that in mind, I’ve been developing some scripts and shooting a couple of test shorts – one of which has made it out into the wild. I’m lucky enough to have some extremely talented friends who’ve amassed cameras, lights and sound equipment and aren’t afraid to use them. That said, I always feel nervous using other folks equipment – if it breaks I’ll have to replace it, and feel awful, and I still won’t have my own camera. Plus, you always learn more when using (and having to pick) your own equipment.

After a few months of ferocious poverty, I’ll soon have a trickle of cash coming in from my latest drama series for Newstalk (more to follow on that, mucho excited). Now’s the time to pick up some very basic video recording equipment. Ideally I’m looking for an easy to use setup that has non-awful picture quality, steady shots, usable battery life, and decently long recording time. Since we’ll be recording sketches, it needs to work in ‘low light’ (in other words, inside a normal house, without additional lighting). And since I work in ‘the arts’ I can’t spent too much on the whole dealio. After buying a bunch of crap over the years I’ve figured out two things 1) you really need to try before you buy, or failing that ask people who regularly use the same stuff 2) the ‘best’ equipment is the equipment you can best use, not what can theoretically do the most in perfect conditions in the hands of an expert. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat around on film sets while the DOP fussed with a camera and the light died – complex camera setups make simple things very much harder and longer to make.

I already have a decent sound recorder (the Zoom H6) and mic (Rode NTG2) , which I use for radio work. I also own a cheap DSLR I picked up in the states a couple of years ago – the Canon Rebel T4i (known in Europe as the 650D). Right now I only have the ‘kit lens’ it comes with, which sucks for video, especially in low light. The Canon has a whole bunch of limitations. It doesn’t like to record for more than about ten minutes at a go. The battery dies after maybe 30 minutes of video. It’s slow to focus, even with a good lens. And it’s relatively complicated to use. So here are the options I considered.

Options

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1) GoPro Hero 4 Black
+ cheap steady rig available
+ lots of shooting possibilities due to tiny size / simplicity
+ tiny and easily set up
+ up to 2 or 3 hours battery life
+ numerous accessories (e.g.: batteries, mounts, mic inputs, super long 12 hour batteries)
– really expensive, distortion needs to be corrected in software
– video is washed out

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2) Better video equipment for the Canon – a better film lens, better memory card, longer lasting batteries, and a cheap ‘steadicam’
+ by far the best video quality
+ cheap batteries and lenses available
+ cheap steady rigs available
– much more complicated use
– slow to focus
– limited shot length before overheating / hitting the camera’s file size limit
– good lenses are expensive

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3) A point and shoot camera or camcorder
+ reasonable image quality
+ relatively inexpensive
+ really easy to use
+ reasonable sound in the camera
– point and shoots have very low battery life
– difficult to steady
– looks like video
– difficult to import video for editing

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4) A cheap android phone with a good camera
+ cheapish
+ also a phone
– limited memory (32 gig max)
– shooting a lot could wear out the phone
– battery life
– cameras aren’t good until you hit a pretty pricey phone
– phones break, crash, and get grumpy when wet.

After chatting with a bunch of friends, including camera geeks and comedians who regularly shoot sketches and shorts, this is what I’ve decided to pick up.

What to buy

1 * Sony HDR-CX405 camcorder – 215.00
– This tiny camcorder seems to work unusually well in low light, gets a couple of hours video on one battery, it can transfer video via wifi, and has very good depth of focus and good onboard sound. Hopefully it’ll be perfect for simple sketches.

1 * Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens – 134.00
– This ‘nifty fifty’ lens has a really low f.stop, which the camera geeks assure me means it’s great for low light. It’s also got a quiet STM motor, for less jarring and noisy focusing. It’ll help me learn to shoot video better on the DSLR, and perhaps be good enough for making shorts – although issues with staying in focus, and more complex setup means we’ll probably not use it for sketches, at least at first.

2 * replacement T4i batteries – 20.00
– Cheap, if slightly dodgy batteries should greatly extend recording time on the Canon.

1 * 64GB Class 10 SD card – 35.00
– A cheap if slightly low spec memory card. Should be fast enough for video recording on both the Sony camcorder and the Canon camera.

1 * low cost steady cam rig – 100.00
– This ultra cheap steady cam thingamejig is a little bulkier and heavier than I’d like, but it should work with both the camera and camcorder, and let us do handheld shots without too much horrific shakiness.

Thanks

Thanks to Sean Burke, Seb Dooris, Shane Conneely and Orla McNelis for all the advice.