In a recent client meeting, the stark reality of soaring production costs was underscored by a marketing manager's candid remark: "Production is so damn expensive now."

This sentiment resonates widely among marketing professionals who grapple with the dilemma of maintaining high production values within budget constraints.

And with Christmas coming up, and filled with festive generosity, we thought we’d offer NZ marketing managers a few suggestions, and hopefully a bit of hope.

Contagion Production Shot

Know When to Walk Away

The first step in addressing this challenge is acknowledging your budget. Whatever the figure may be, the production budget is fixed (and approved by the CFO), and a crucial aspect is avoiding ambitious ideas that exceed that budget. Crafting a realistic idea within budgetary constraints ensures a successful outcome. It may seem obvious, but If you have $50k, don’t write a $60k idea. The only way to achieve it is by cutting corners.  The secret is to write a $30k idea and then make it well.


Making the Budget Count

So how do you make your budget go as far as it can? Well, there’s no one answer.

At Contagion we do a lot of the production in-house because 1) we can, and 2) we’ve got the necessary skills and equipment to back it up. By writing, directing, shooting, editing and in some cases, animating, in-house, we can control costs, maximise budgets, and make your money go as far as possible.

The key to this is planning every shot carefully. This avoids mucking around on shoot day trying to work out what works best. Strategic planning saves costs, so plan your shoots meticulously, ensuring you capture all necessary visuals in one go. Efficient use of time leads to minimised expenses and reduces the need for extensive post-production work.

Another smart but obvious trick is to opt for locations that are easily accessible and don't require expensive permits. Unless you truly need to shoot in Tahiti, consider shooting in-house or at a location that offers free access for your team. My house has been used for a couple of shoots. Why? Because not charging for a location fee was the difference between the shoot going ahead or not. Anything to help. Ask me nicely and I’ll consider it again.

Of course, we don’t, and can’t, do everything ourselves. If and when a job is beyond our scope, we look outside: production companies, freelance photographers, videographers, sound recordists, and editors.

These good folk all need to make a living, and it’s not in our interests to drive their fees down to the point where they can’t make that living, but we can still negotiate to some extent. Most if not all will give clients a discount on multiple productions; this is because it takes less time to produce a series of videos rather than producing a series of multiple adhoc videos over time. Production houses can retain economies of scale in bulk production and pass on the savings – this is because pre-production tasks, filming and post-production tasks can be executed over a shorter period.


Editing matters

A skilled editor is worth their weight in gold. They can transform raw footage into visually stunning content, save an average shoot, and even breathe new life into your existing content. Skilful recutting and reframing here and there allows you to repurpose old content, ensuring you get the most out of your investment (Just check you’ve squared away any talent fees first).

Talking of talent fees, you get what you pay for. If your shoot is dependent on Sam Neill, then you need to pay what Sam Neill charges. If you can’t afford that – and you probably can’t – start again. There are many wonderful actors out there who will enhance your script, but negotiate the usage up front. If your video is licenced for online use only and you decide you also want to stick it on TV, be aware that the talent now has the upper hand, so expect a whopping fee for the additional usage.

What happens if you can’t afford an actor, let alone Sam Neill? Look around the office. If you have a charismatic co-worker who is extremely comfortable in front of a camera,  consider using them for the video shoot. We’ve done many shoots with staff, their children, spouses and even pets dogs, but you have to be aware of their limitations. Avoid anything with the subtle nuances actors can deliver. If your co-workers say they can’t laugh or cry on demand, don’t ask them to act out a script that requires them to do so. You’ll end up crying instead. Ask them to do things they can do naturally. Like walking a dog through a park, eating a bacon sandwich, or pretending to do some work.

If you want to avoid talent fees altogether – or any production costs at all – look at stock libraries. There are many to choose from, and they offer a vast array of high-quality visuals at reasonable prices. With proper selection and customisation, stock content can be tailored to reflect your brand's uniqueness. All you need is a good idea and a skilled editor. Here at Contagion we’re pretty confident we can make any piece of footage seem relevant. It’s all in the writing and editing.

User-generated content is still alive and well, and shoots don’t come much cheaper than that, so encourage your customers to contribute. UGC not only strengthens your brand-community relationship but also provides authentic visuals. Turning customers into brand ambassadors is the holy grail of marketing, but the quality of the content is out of your hands. It may be good. It may be appalling. It’s a roll of the dice, so be cautious.

And finally, there’s AI. You’re already using it to write your presentations. Why not use it to create your visuals? There are many platforms out there to choose from (we like Midjourney), and while the results aren’t perfect every time, who really is? AI-generated visuals allow you to create any scene you imagine, with any fictional character you desire. So no talent fees again. The downside is that any image you create is non-copyrightable, so your competitors could, if they so wished, steal your image outright.


Helpful summary

In conclusion, the complexity of rising production costs necessitates a multi-faceted approach. By adopting the right strategies, Marketers can achieve exceptional visual content within budget constraints. Having a knowledgeable partner, such as Contagion, can further streamline the end-to-end production process. By combining technical expertise with experience, Contagion helps clients navigate the challenges and achieve cost-effective, high-quality video content.

And we do it all with a smile.


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