How to Hire a Video Production Company
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
In the 21st century, video is ubiquitous. Whether we intentionally search for it, or not, we are surrounded by video—on our commutes, at home, and in public spaces. In 2018, Zenith reported that the average person viewed 84 minutes of online video content a day (and that's only the stuff we choose to view). Going hand-in-hand with this huge demand is a phenomenal amount of video production. Again the variety of these productions is massive from advertising/marketing to informing/education and, of course, arts and entertainment, to name but a few. Thus, at some stage, people from almost every field will interact with the video production process.
As many of us are not filmmakers or video professionals, we must know how to hire the right team to accomplish our vision. Although this sounds straightforward, that is far from the case. Video production is a multifaceted process, requiring a wide range of conceptual and practical skills to arrive at a vibrantly successful final product. Quite frankly, some projects are deemed a lot to handle even by video professionals can you imagine how somebody without video experience will fare.
In this post, we will examine how to bridge the gap and work collaboratively with a video production team, creating a smooth workflow towards obtaining your ideal video. To do so, we'll provide an all-encompassing rundown of video production, exploring the various modes and their histories, followed by our best practices for finding and collaborating with a video production company.
What is video production, anyway?
We could go one of two ways to answer this question. We could be specific, arguing that video production is only the creation of digital moving images, which emerged into the popular sphere during the 1980s. This would include anything from tape and DV to DSLR video production. Alternatively, we could define it, mainly, as any moving image production. This second answer is far simpler. To be honest, as the vast, majority of images we consume nowadays are stored in video formats (regardless of whether they were originally shot on celluloid film or as video) one could argue that even when we go to the cinema we are watching video, not film.
As such, video production encompasses almost the entire medium of cinema/moving images. Thus, like cinema, it includes many varying approaches that we could break down into functional video (news footage, marketing materials, how-to videos, etc.) or artistic video (film, music videos, video art). But, of course, more often than not, the divide between function and arts are blurred, as movies are made for revenue, news footage is rearranged into video art, and marketing materials present unique and exciting ways of selling a product. You can see this blurring of lines most easily by looking at any recent advert. What does it tell you about the product? Does it tell you why it's useful, or maybe it proclaims to be less expensive than the alternatives? Strangely, it usually doesn't and instead promotes a brand feel or ideology, most often tapping into a basic emotional impulse. To take the most blaring example, Coca Cola's popular and successful "Taste the Feeling" taps into two fundamental social desires, suggesting the soft drink can satiate them. First, it suggests you can palpably taste the feeling of happiness, thus increasing your mood in doing so. And second, as has been the trend in Coca Cola advertising since the 1940s, the Cola's marketing implies the drink is a social phenomenon which will bring people together.
Of course, both of these promises are fallacies. Food or drink, in itself, is unlikely to consistently raise your mood, or bring you a better social life. However, through innovative multi-media marketing, dominated by video production in the 21st century, we are peddled and mostly convinced of the idea that a product will change our lives far beyond the boundaries of its immediate effect.
Similarly, most modern businesses use similar techniques to create brand awareness and brand identity. Apple is synonymous with sleek and professional, NASA with aspiration and endeavor, Nike with confidence and freedom, and the list goes on. Although these ideologies are somewhat contained within their products/output, I would argue that our association with a company is almost always through their media output—or the media output of others!
Video advertising has been suggested to be far more effective than traditional forms of marketing. Not only do they provide a more extensive window to demonstrate brand ideology, but way back in 2008, research by DoubleClick already suggested that video advertisements were 4-7 times more effective than traditional image-based advertising. And in the 12 years between then and now, given the rise of internet culture, online streaming and social media, video production has become a more suitable and effective means of sharing information. We can see this clearly as an incredible 74% of internet traffic in 2017 was related to video content!
Given this rise, we now see a profound change in the video content landscape, with video production being rampant across advertising, information, and entertainment networks. Which makes it baffling that 42% of businesses are still not taking advantage of the power of video, especially when video advertising is shared 1200% more than text and links combined (according to Forbes) while Havas reports that 84% of people expect brands to create content actively.
Of course, statistics only get us so far. Still, given the fact we can all vouch, first hand, for the pervasiveness of video content, it's importance and prevalence is entirely undeniable. If you are a business trying to sell a product—from music to furniture—creative, unique, and bold video production is a sure-fire way to transmit your products to the world.
A (brief) History of Video Production
As we have discussed, there are many, many forms of video production. There are far too many to review them all; therefore, we will pick out a few of the most common; film, animation, music videos, commercial/advertising, and a passion of mine, video art.
The history of cinema is easily the most fundamental precursor to video production, as most of the staples of video production were explored and developed within celluloid film's first 50 years. Although the general discussion of film's history often aims its sights at Hollywood, the history of cinema is a global one—finding its origins and growth across the entire globe.
Although we could trace back the origins of the medium, conceptually, to the Middle-Ages, film as we know it emerged in 1888 with Louis Le Prince's Roundhay Garden Scene, a simple, but revolutionary, 2.11-second film of a man walking in a garden. Le Prince's 16-lens camera captured the first known example of cinema, however until recently, this title was held by the Lumière brothers who invented a single-lens camera (much closer to the cameras we use today). In 1895 they presented their films to the public, solidifying them as giants of film history.
The film industry grew through the early 1900s, becoming an important cultural form of entertainment and expression. As processes of color and sound were introduced, film production sharply increased in complexity, with new and alternative approaches endlessly being created and developed.
It is essential to consider how the outside world has shaped the landscape of film—just as the rapid rise of the internet and online sharing has shaped video production. One of the earliest examples of this is how World War Two developed and became a defining moment for many worldwide cinemas. In Europe, the desire for wartime propaganda created a relative renaissance in the British film industry, with films like 49th Parallel (1941) and In Which We Serve (1942) becoming a substantial commercial and critical successes. The USA and Germany saw similar trends, with several Nazi propaganda films directed by Leni Riefenstahl retaining, to this day, their reputation as hugely important historical-aesthetic objects. Furthermore, after the war ended in 1945, both Britain and the USA saw cinema attendance skyrocket, resulting in a landmark year of profits for the industry. In 1945, British cinemas had 30 million weekly admissions, which is astonishing, considering the population was approximately 48 million!
However, the end of the war also marked a turning point for much of the world's cinema. India and Japan saw many of their most seminal works surface in the decade after the war, from Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy (1955-59) and Raj Kapoor's Awaara (1951) to Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) and Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952) and Seven Samurai (1954). South Korea and the Philippine cinema saw similar Golden Ages emerge post-war. These, among the widespread uptake of cinema in many other nations, quickly found their way back to Europe and Hollywood, serving as prime inspirations for filmmakers in the decades to come—spearheaded by the radical overhaul executed by the New Hollywood movement.
Leaping forwards again to the late 2000s, the introduction of streaming media platforms from YouTube to Netflix has granted the ease of sharing media across cultures. And, given the 165 million hours of viewing Netflix pulls in per day, the production of video content has never seemed more relevant, meaningful, and competitive as it does today.
However, with the wealth of modern equipment continually creating higher fidelity imagery at lower price points and given the relative ease of managing and editing digital footage, the ability for individuals to achieve high-quality visuals becomes more accessible year on year. Meaning that the marketplace to hire a video production company is far more diverse than ever before, allowing for those looking to hire a production team space to find their perfect match.
Film animation is largely considered a sub-category of film, but due to its nuance and unique production process, it is worth considering it as it's own phenomenon here. The history of cinematic animation goes back almost as far as cinema itself, with the first few stop-motion short films emerging in the mid-1900s, with Le Théâtre de Bob (1906) and The Haunted Hotel (1907)—produced in France and the USA respectively. The first animated feature, contrary to popular belief, was Quirino Cristiani's El Apóstol (1917). Popular culture erroneously points to Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as the first animated film, which emerged 20 years later, but quickly became a worldwide success.
Although many in the avant-garde, from Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter in Germany, Len Lye in Britain, and Norman McLaren in Canada, pushed the medium of animation in fascinating directions mainstream animation remained within the boundaries of a set few styles until relatively recently.
The popularisation of Japanese Anime worldwide since the 1970s, among many other key players, resulted in animation becoming much more commonplace, and playful, for the general populace. However, since the co-opting of computers into cinematic animation, numerous hegemonic styles remain dominant. But many vibrant examples of feature animations such as Promare (2019), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), or The Red Turtle (2016) display that the medium is still alive, well, and potentially in a better place than before.
Film animation is an important component to consider when hiring a video production company. It requires a particular skillset to execute well, often resulting in the outsourcing of much work—even Disney has historically outsourced much of it's animation to India and Japan! However, this outsourcing is hugely valuable to the production workflow, as it means you can attain professional animators and culturally specific styles without needing to be in their direct vicinity. And, given the prevalence of animation in commercial and music video production, that is hugely important.
Musical short films also date back to film's genesis, with it becoming a popular form in the 1920s. However, music video, as we know it, was developed and popularized by MTV (initially called "Music Television"). MTV rose to prominence in the 1980s. Although the channel's primary focus was initially just the broadcasting of music, the chain quickly realized the logic behind broadcasting music videos and promptly added music video to its lineup.
By 1992 MTV began to credit video directors alongside the musician and song credits, promoting the increasingly auteur-driven state of the medium witch continues to this day. Early giants like Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze, Hype Williams, and Michel Gondry all rose to prominence in this time, but have been eclipsed by YouTube based directors such as Cole Bennett or Zia Anger. Here it is hard to overstate the importance of YouTube, and video streaming, as a platform for music video sharing—due both to its free and immediate nature plus its capacity to generate buzz and launch careers.
When examining music videos, one must also acknowledge that, often, both the music and the video components run secondary to the primary objective of selling a particular persona of the musician, an image that results in the sales of their music, merchandise, and peripheral products. In other words, It's easy to argue that there are hidden agendas in music videos that have little to do with the music or the video. Thus, similar to what we discussed earlier and what we will notice regarding commercials, the music video often tries to create a state of mind in the viewer that correlates directly with the musician's persona. For example, Cardi B's sexualized bad girl, FKA Twigs' in-betweens, or Aphex Twin's bizarre frenetic energy all create a fictitious world and aura of supremacy around the artist.
Advertising has been a mainstay of human civilization since practically the dawn of time. There is evidence of Egyptian papyrus, posters, and signs acting as commercial sales messages, and even some critics suggesting we can find remnants of advertising in rock art and cave paintings. However, for us and the discussion of video advertising, our first point of contact is the series of Bulova pocket watch video commercials. In essence, arguably one of the earliest moving-picture advertisements. Of course, video advertising has come a long way since then. Resulting in the clean, polished, to-the-point, and memorable commercials we see daily, before nearly every piece of online content, we see a video advertisement. Due to the diversity of locations, we find advertising commercials; there is a vast array of commercial types, lengths, and styles to accommodate everything from the 5-seconds YouTube bumper ads, to a 3-4 minute ad in a cinema. We can break these different types into a few clear categories; (1) In-stream, (2) out-stream, (3) interactive, and (4) in-game video advertisements. The last two are quite self-explanatory, so we'll focus on in- and out-stream. Here, the stream refers to other video content. In-stream video ads play before, during, or after other material, while out-stream ads are the content in themselves. For example, an in-stream ad will play before, during, or after a YouTube video, film, or the like while an out-stream ad will not be directly preceded or proceeded by any other content.
The main form we're all exposed to is likely to be in-stream advertisements, so let's explore them a little further. Here are two more distinctions. (A) Linear in-stream ads run outside of the runtime of the content you are trying to watch—either at the start (pre-roll) or end (post-roll) or interrupting the content's runtime for the duration of the advert (mid-roll). Each of these three forms has varying success, with pre-roll receiving the most attention and post-roll, inevitably, receiving the least. Again, the best example of this is YouTube, with adverts bookending videos, and often stop the video for a short ad break. We also have (B) Non-Linear in-stream ads, which play at the same time as the video you are attempting to watch, for example, in the corner of a video, or side-bar of a web-page.
With all this terminology behind us, it's just essential for us to remember that video ads come in many different forms, functions, lengths, and audiences, so it's important to tailor each advert to fit a specific circumstance. Customization can be as simple as creating alternative cuts, of varying length, for different situations—but obviously, the more these different versions are planned, the better suited they will be to the desired context.
Video art, using the true definition of video as digital images, grew in prominence in the 1960s, spearheaded by individuals like Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell working with videotape using, generally, consumer equipment. Video art continues to evolve to this day, and given the endless introduction of new and improved video technologies, the possibilities are growing by the day.
"The term video art is almost as inclusive as the word film, as it encapsulates an extensive range from live-action video recordings, computer-generated content, synthesized video footage, footage of performances, animation, and, to be honest, anything created with artistic intent."
Video art is unlikely to present the need to hire a video production company; therefore, we will stop our discussion of it here. However, it's important to consider the potential of video as an exhibition piece in both a gallery (high-art format), as well as in (what's generally considered) lower brow formats of advertising. But, again, who is drawing this line? Who says a commercial has no place in a gallery?
Finding the Right Video Production Company
Before even looking for a video production company, it is beneficial to pin down what you are looking to produce. If you're looking for animation, VFX, stunts, or a specific style, specific companies will be more suited to these needs. As such, it's a good idea to mock up a video brief, even if it's only rough. Moreover, if you start this early, you can quickly adapt it into a deliverable summary, which you can convey to the company of your choosing.
Within a brief, you should layout:
An overview of your company (products, goals, success).
The video's target audience.
The tangible objective of the video.
A rough timeline of production.
The concept of the video (including the video's message, style, mood, theme, and further specifics).
With this in mind, there are eight key ways I would suggest ensuring you find a company that works for you.
Review Their Body of Work
Most apparently, here is the question of whether their style suits your vision for this video? If you love their animation work, but you are looking for a live-action video, it's probably not the best idea to hire them for this project. But amongst those that somewhat fit your brief, it's inherent to consider whether you have creative similarities, if their output is varied, flexible, and filled with exciting new ideas. Are their videos sufficiently polished? Does it appear that every element has been given sufficient attention, from camera and sound to text and motion graphics?
Furthermore, do they have experience in your field? Again, you wouldn't necessarily want to hire a pharmaceutical advertiser to sell a luxury car.
Here, also make sure you don't just judge them on their Demo reel. This reel will, of course, be a selection of their self-proclaimed best work. It's vital to search out full commercials to get a complete idea of the company's quality and breadth. So, although a demo reel is a good indicator, it should not be your only point of reference.
Does their Price Match your Budget?
This is, of course, a no brainer. But it's easy to get carried away while looking at an extremely desirable company. So make sure that you are not shooting too high or too low, try and find a company that will use your budget, but use it well.
Remember, video production will often also help to bring in revenue, so it is worth getting it right, but that said more money doesn't always equate to a better product.
Understand their company workflow
Will they need to outsource a lot of work, or do they complete the video entirely in-house? Is everything included, or will there be hidden costs for editing, casting, or VFX?
Here, you just need to make sure that they offer what you need, and that all those services won't put you over budget. Your brief will really help you out here, as additional costs for VFX, animation or extensive stunts will all add up.
Video Production Company or Marketing/PR Company
With additional components in mind, it's worth considering what you will do with the final product. Is the video the end goal, or do you aim to use it as an advertising tool to bring in more revenue? Advertising and social media management are time-consuming endeavors, so if you/your company do not have the time or capacity to manage these aspects, it may be worth broadening your scope and searching for a Marketing/PR company which would take care of those aspects, on top of producing the video.
Furthermore, some video production companies may include this in their price tag, but it's imperative to discuss these things upfront as, again, this would increase the price.
Can they work on your time scale?
Video production companies are often hectic, and production is a long process. As such, it's vital to consult with the company whether they'll be able to execute your product by the time you need it. But, as customers, we have to stay reasonable, as no-body can produce a video overnight.
Don't get hung up with just any local agency. There are so many options out there, so ensure you shop around and find both the best value and the best match for your video brief.
While searching, be sure to review their previous commercials but also look at reviews and, if at all possible, talk to a prior client about their experience. Similarly, word of mouth is an excellent method of discovering good, reliable production companies. If you know others who have commissioned videos similar to yours in the past, get in touch with them and see who they used, why they were qualified, and pick up any tips on working with production companies along the way.
Are they easy to communicate with?
When you first get in touch with a company, how did they respond? If they responded quickly, with enthusiasm for your project and guidance on how to move forward, it is generally a good sign. As you will likely be working quite closely with this team (or a member of it) for an extended period, communication must be clear, smooth, and mutual.
Do you feel confident that these people will be able to realize your vision?
Once you've narrowed down your search, it is essential to feel confident in the people you are hiring. This, although often reduced to a gut feeling, is an amalgam of your experience with their company—from liking their work, hearing good things about them, having enjoyable encounters with them, and believing that they can accomplish your project. Make sure you feel comfortable before committing to anything and, if you have any doubts, approach the company directly concerning your doubts, as I'm sure they want you to feel comfortable as well.
Best Practices on Working with a Video Production Company
Once you've done your homework and found a suitable production company, you need to establish a good working relationship. Here you'll find a few pointers to make that process a little easier and, hopefully, obtain the exact product you are looking for.
Refine Your Brief
One of the first things you'll need to do with your video production company is to give them a clear brief of what you are looking for. If you completed the draft brief from the previous section, you will just need to refine this further. And if you've yet to get started, consult that list above to get started.
Here it's fundamental to give as many details as you can. Don't worry if your idea isn't clear, or you're not sure how you can present the idea; just offer as much information as you can. This is especially important if you have a clear but complex idea. If you can't articulate it, try describing it to a friend and see if they can understand it. Then pitch it to the company if you have time include any rudimentary drawings to help with visualization. For illustration's sake, if I say my video is about (a woman walking down a road with her dog and a plane suddenly crashing in front of her), we both have the image of a shocking call to attention. But what sized dog, where is the woman, what demographic is the woman, what kind of plane, what type of road are we on, are we seeing the rest of the destruction caused by the plane? So many questions can arise, so simple sketches can help clarify your ideas.
So the more you can describe your ideas, the better, but be ready for creative developments from the team, as they will likely have several concepts to make the product even better.
Ensure communication is open and constructive
Make sure you both feel comfortable to criticize and bring new ideas to the table constructively. This will help the project immensely in the long run. If you can spend some time with the company, understanding what they are doing and where they're coming from, avenues of communication can become much more relaxed. And, as with most things, the strongest relationships often build the best content.
In line with excellent communication, ensure you are honest with both your company and yourself. Feedback on an idea or concept is often difficult to both give and receive, but if your approach is honest and transparent, the results will undoubtedly be closer to what you want. And, of course, don't forget that they want to get the best outcome for you too.
Be Actively Involved
If you can, active involvement is a sure-fire way to ensure the product is as close to what you want/need. Giving a project to a team and then walking away will often result in them needing to interpret the deeper intentions or meanings of your brief. But if you are involved personally, you can help iron out these uncertainties and help race towards the product you envisioned.
Don't Compromise Vision for Budget
If the video is done right, it will almost always ensure some revenue down the line, so make sure it is done right the first time, as to ensure you won't need to fork out a videography budget again in the near future. That said, do remember that a more expensive gig doesn't mean a better one, so ensure you are sticking within your defined budget unless there are clear reasons not to.
Plan for Long Term Collaboration
Video production is, often, an endeavor that needs to be refreshed now and again—adverts become out-dated, individuals need to make more films, etc. So, if you nail your first gig with a company, you can bet that they would be willing to take you on again. Building a healthy long-term relationship is significant because, as we stated before, the best work often comes from strong working relationships.
Common Traits Amongst Great Video Production Companies
As with many things, the leaders in the field of video production often share several traits. Here are a few of them to consider:
Passion for video
It's usually a great sign when video producer lights up at the thought of commencing a project.
They have a reputation for delivering content in a useful and timely manner.
Most will provide a friendly and involved point of contact to mediate your interaction with the company. This allows for an inclusive approach, providing you with constant honest feedback on your project, and helping you to stay involved with the process.
All great video production companies will be transparent with costs, as to not hit you with any hidden fees.
A good brand reputation
Many successful video production (specifically advertising) companies have solid long-term reputations. However, don't let reputations fool you into spending more than is necessary.
A back catalog of varied and successful work displays the company's aptitude for video production.
The personalized touch
Great production companies will make you feel valued and wanted, and, often, not like a customer. This client-first approach can help to build excellent working rapport and will usually result in rave reviews, recurrent collaborations, and many, many happy clients.
Time to Start the Search
Given the vast history of video production and its many ends, it is more important than ever to understand how to get the most out of video production. Throughout this post, we have explored many angles of how to find and collaborate with a video production team to reach your desired goal.
Now that your informed, it's time to search for the video production company that suits your next project. Remember to start by writing out a rough brief—to get your ideas settled and down on paper. Finding the right video production company may feel as daunting as climbing a mountain, but with the information from this guide, hopefully, it is much less intimidating.