I've been producing, directing, and editing corporate videos for over 20 years. Now I'm starting to get requests for infomercials. Having never done one, I'm a little hesitant especially when it comes to providing a cost estimate. Can anyone give me some pointers for producing an infomercial? How long is the actual 30 minute infomercial? Do you build in space for commercials?
Let's say we the client wants to do an outdoor infomercial featuring a product designed to improve your golf game. All would be shot on a green at a golf course. How would you arrive at a budget? What would you include and not include?
Lastly, something I'm running into very often is how do you provide a client a cost estimate without seeing a script? For example, I have a potential client asking about shooting a new product video. Part of the project would be writing a script, then shootting the video. How do you provide a cost estimate?
We have produced many of national Infomercials and here is how we do them.. 1. They are 28:30 and you own all the time, no comercials. 2. The production costs run from 800 a finished minute to $2500. most of them run around 1500 or $45,000 per show. However we have done simple ones for about $25,000. Now this includes writting, shooting, and post work. If you are not writing the script then it would be cheeper.
If there is no professional script, it's more expensive. Because it's harder to produce something that won't be a miserable failure.
The lower-tier type clients, the ones with no real experience in broadcast media, will make a lot of assumptions about how things are done that aren't necessarily true. For example, they will believe in having a real treatment and script created first, they will wanna just go out on the links and give their sales pitch that they are already accustomed to doing, only it's in front of a camera. And they wanna pay like that's how the real thing is done.
But creating an engaging pitch on-camera is a very different thing, requires a very different dynamic. If you watch enough of these infomercials, you find that the best ones break down the time and subject matter to really make things flow more like an actual program, that has detailed, commercial-like pitches interspersed, for the call to action (asking for the order).
This means you really have to figure out an overall story arc to the piece, and even if you are using "real people" to tell that story, you have to give them some "character development" during the course of the show... just like any other piece of entertainment programming. Otherwise, your program looks like Ralph Kramden's "Chef of The Future" bit. Without this, someone flicking thru the channels will watch as few seconds of the informercial as it takes to figure out what is being sold, make an instant value choice, and likely move on to another channel. See, you just wasted thousands of dollars, because you couldn't hook the viewer and get them to see that this product is something they need/want. You can't buy 30 minutes of air time and just run the same 30-second commercial over and over in it as a loop, and hope that works. You need more. You need story. You need to develop a message that locates and pre-qualifies the customers, that makes them identify with the need your product fills. Your product requires more customer education than a 30-second spot can deliver.
To put all those narrative and sales elements together, in such a way as to retain the viewer's interest, involve them, and reinforce the advantages of the product being sold, requires a real honest-to-gosh writer, who does research, then creates a creative treatment, from which the script and budget are derived.
The client, especially a first-timer, perhaps will not understand all of this right away; to them, TV is magic: you push a button, there it is, all that is required is a camera of some type and the entire program just pops into being like Athena sprouting from Zeus' forehead. They won't immediately grasp the lighting and sound requirements of a location shoot on a golf course, the mechanics of multicam coverage or single-camera technique and shot breakdowns. They will be amazed how long the shoot takes to execute. Editing is a mystery to them.
You have to take all of this into consideration when planning the bid for the job. What elements are they bringing to the table? Have they done all the due diligence of this creative treatment stuff and production of a real script already, and are just coming to you for the actual execution? Or is it the more likely scenario; they have no clue about any of that stuff, and are coming to you to give them the end-to-end solution? Then you gotta charge more, way more, because obviously you're doing way more work. You are not just a D.P. at that point, you are producing, and so much more.
[Mark Suszko] "They will be amazed how long the shoot takes to execute."
I find this and the editing time the toughest to explain to newbie clients. They may jump to someone who submitted an unrealistic lower bid. It happens to me all the time doing corporate work. They go with the bid that fits their incorrect assumptions. This seems to have become much more common with the advent with inexpensive DV cameras. I don't blame it on the cameras at all. You can do very nice work with a PD-170 or a DVX-100A.
Somebody with a camera and willing to work at a loss because they don'thow to run a business puts in a bid that works out to $250 a day and the client can't understand why you're over $1000 (paying for a sound recordist, gaffer and assistant and 2 camera people and you thought you were low balling!).
I had a RFP to a real estate (how to flip) video who thought $300 a day was way to high for a 10 hour day!!!!! Told him I couldn't come close to a price that low. I found out he hired someone for $150 a day. A few weeks later (after an obviously disastrous job) he put out another RFP with more realisting lighting and audio requirements and STILL CLAIMED $300 a day was too high. He now knew what he needed based on his bad experience so he expected for more at similar rate. He found someone! These kinds of clients are a bane to the industry (and the people working for such rates).
I find if you break down the costs in great detail (what you're charging for each crew members and their job description) it helps. Many newbies really do appreciate getting the thing demystified and also learning that paying more to get it right the first time is actually paying less in the long run and more profitable for them.
Think of it as shooting a TV show where the subject appears to be about the "thing" the product is used for. In your case the show would be "How to Improve Your Golf Game" with xyz Clubs. As the Instructor shows the student, they highlight the features of each club and how they're so much better than other clubs. Then you create 30 seconds spots selling the club. The intent is that the viewer feels they're getting an educational show and the spots sell the product they need to achieve the goal. It's not the only style but it may hold the viewer longer and build the desire to buy.
Hmmm, sounds like a lot like the Home Makeover shows I'm seeing these days. Ever notice how a single "supply" store is featured prominently and many of them include "let's go shopping to get the supplies" segments.
Yes, there is more than one way to structure these. The real old-fashioned percursor to these was that a single advertiser would buy all the time for a movie or show, and interrupt at intervals for 2-minute stand-up pitches. As a tiny tot, I would spend weekend Tv time watching "Flash Gordon" serials on WGN, all edited into one long complete story, and hosted/brought to you by spokesman Lyn Burton, "your TV Ford Man", who would pitch three or so different card/station wagons on each break. When he was feeling his oats, Burton would ad-lib some really surreal segues from the cars to the clay people.
Nationally, this technique was popularized by Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom", where Marlin Perkins, the host, would come on for a transition in the story of some animal and their habitat, and draw out similarities between their needs and your need for reliable insurance coverage, then they would go to an actual spot, and get back to putting poor Jim Fowler in jeopardy being stalked by Hyenas, while host Marlin 'supervised' from the safety of a hovering helicopter....
Around the holidays, thankgiving, Christmas break, etc. local advertisers would often 'sponsor' showings of classics like Wizard of Oz or 'it's a Wonderful Life". "Life" was a popular choice for this, because it was in the public domain and thus cheap to show, plus had a built-in audience. Then they'd break every 20 minutes or so for several minutes witht hehost company, like PBS pledge drives.
Our local cable station, and most I figure, has one channel just for marketing local stuff. In my town, one of the big car dealers does an extended "talk show", where they go out to local locations and tape actual segments about people and events, using the dealership lot as the home base. The car-related segments are done as in-depth interviews, where they quiz a salesman all about a certain car, and he/she walks you through all the features, etc. Each episode has a theme they try to work around.
I don't know how well this works today, unless you're actually desperately car shopping. Myself, I can't watch it or more than a couple minutes.
The best informercial I ever saw, was one I watched all the way thrugh even though I had no interest in the actual product. It was for some exercise machine like a Bowflex, might even have BEEn a bowflex. The producer had created an actual, engaging story, about motocross racers. Our protagonist was looking for some "edge" to help him win races, and a pretty friend suggests that if he built up his upper body more, he would be able to have better control and stability of his bike during the motocross races. Between typical music-backed workout montages, that included actual user tips on how to target the exercises for the particular results, of course, he winds up finally winning the enduro in the end. It was all just terrifically executed, which is why I kept watching it.
I agree, that was one of the best infomercials I ever saw. Higer production values than many high-budget features. That was created by a group up in Portland, Oregon (name escapes me now) that I worked with once. The fellow who wrote that infomercial one was the best thing about that company. He quit shortly before I shot a MetRX spot for them. The shoot was a complete fiasco because they had no script. I believe they folded soon thereafter. Just goes to show ya how important the writer is...
You might consider breaking it down to two seperate estimates. One based on so many hours writing the script, and the other for production based on the approved script.
You might also check to see if the broadcaster requires closed captioning. I know in Canada, all infomercials require it, not cheap.