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The algebra of estimating production time

Every video requires a unique combination of resources. Not just time resources, but personnel, logistics and equipment. It is also important to include the experience-level of all the participants. Is the person appearing on camera a seasoned pro or is it their first time? How familiar is the producer with the content? Does the shooter know the camera?


There are a myriad of variables that factor into how you budget production time. How noisy is the environment? Will you be using lights? What type? Are you inside? Are you outside? Is the person moving or stationary? Are you in an office, a lab, a store, a studio, or a back yard? Is the location down the hall or across the state? Early morning, noon or night? To budget your time you need to have a solid understanding of the logistics.


With this in mind here are a few approximations of the different phases of video production. Your mileage may vary.


I usually allocate at least ½ a day for preproduction. This includes time to research the topic, line up my location, crew and equipment. This is when I identify and organize the resources I may need (specific technical things like a generator, lights, camera, food, transportation). I do any pre-interviews (in person or on the phone) and I scout the location. Finally I write up a story synopsis, shot list and shoot details that I can circulate to all the participants.


If I am doing a video series, a complicated profile or story on location this time may expand. If the video is next in a series of 20, and I have already done 15 of them then the time will shrink.


If the video is a simple interview with no additional cover footage, shot on location where I work with no travel I allocate about 2 hours for production. 30 minutes to gather and check the gear, 20 minutes to set-up for the interview, 20 minutes on camera, 20 minutes breaking down the gear and 30 minutes putting the gear away and transferring my media.


If the video is an interview with cover footage shot at one or two close locations then I allocate about 4 hours. Any driving will expand that time.


If the interview is a profile of someone or of a company I allocate between a day and a day-and-a-half. This is dependent on how many interviews and how many locations. For a nicely produced package I usually anticipate about a day of shooting per 2 minutes of finished content. My shooting ratio is usually between 15-1 and 20-1. In other words, I shoot 20 minutes of material for every minute of content.


While studio shoots are easier to manage, they have their own time commitment. Usually the lighting and set-up take at least an hour to get right. If it is a single camera interview the allocation of time is similar to a field shoot. If it is a multi-camera production the preparation becomes far more complicated.


Subject matter videos can be produced very rapidly (for a deeper understanding of how to create Great SME content, click here). Getting a SME series started can be somewhat laborious, but once you have determined your format, your on-camera talent has the experience of creating a few videos, you have locked in your graphics and branding, and you have identified your content focus they can be created in 30 minutes. SME videos are often very formulaic and are what marketing teams use as content back-fill in their production calendar.


Depending on the length of the completed interview, how much cover footage was captured and the granularity needed in your transcription of the conversation, logging the video can take anywhere from 30 minutes to all day.


For videos where the content is presented as being “live”, a studio talk show, executive or SME video for example, you may only need to note the in and out points. If you are creating a case study with many interviews with multiple stake-holders in the approval process, you may need complete transcriptions. Experience helps you determine the required granularity of your logs.


If you are the photographer and will be editing your content, you will probably not need to log your cover footage. But if you are handing your script off to an editor you will need specifics for every sound bite and video sequence. This includes time-code (or time-stamp) in and out points and the source file’s name.


With all these variables I usually allocate at least a day to write a 2-3 minute video. Usually I break it into two half-days, with a rough draft at the end of day one and a rewrite when I am fresh on day two.


Complicated videos, including case studies, profiles and expository pieces, usually take at least a day per 2 minutes of length. Most productions allocate two days of editing for a 2-3 minute video. The additional time is for smoothing out the edit, color-correcting the footage, mixing the audio, adding graphics and final output.


Simpler videos like an executive briefing with Power Point slides, a SME video with a screen capture from a computer, or a straight-forward talking head can usually be edited in 2-3 hours.


When budgeting for editing I usually allocate twice as much time as I think I will need. Editing is a vortex of opportunity and failure. Equipment crashes, files need to be converted to the proper format, software needs to be updated, you want to pursue a great idea for restructuring the story, you spend hours fiddling with the audio trying to remove an annoying hum in the background or you need to adjust every shot because it is too dark… There is a reason why there are no clocks in casinos and edit bays. Time is suspended and it always takes longer than you anticipated. Because of this somewhat glacial time frame it is best to be pleasantly surprised that you finished early than slamming into a deadline or blowing apart your schedule because the edit for one story runs long.

If editing becomes a consistent impediment to staying on schedule then it might be best to honestly evaluate your production path. There are a slew of options available for streamlining the editing process. I have worked with many organizations, training staff members in their editing software as they work to refine the skills necessary to craft their story. It also might be wise to see if you can shift the work load with staff members concentrating on mastering different phases of production. It is likely you will have one or two people on your team who quickly take to the craft of editing. In those cases it might be wise to re-balance responsibilities where some do a preponderance of the work in the field and others do the majority of the editing. I also have many clients who leverage services like Candidio, companies that use the cloud to remotely edit your videos from their  headquarters. These organizations have a set fee for editing a package, and can help your organization concentrate on the parts of storytelling where you excel.


It is also worth noting not every employee finds satisfaction mastering editing. That is a polite way of saying many folks just don't get it. That is fine. Not everyone is wired for every phase of the craft and editing requires a unique combination of attention to detail, muscle memory, concentration and previsualization.

© StoryGuide 2016