I’ve seen a few topics on Quora recently, asking how expensive it is to make a promo video. The answers vary, but all involve using an outsourced shop and range between $10-$150K.


One skill I have developed while working at Firespotter is making promo videos really fast, cheap, and effective, without the help of an outsourced shop, usually with a crew of 1-5 people. Cost varies, but is always between $0-$2K. The most successful ones having been the cheapest.

Having just burnt the jets to get this video done in a weekend, the process is fresh in my head. Here are some tips for executing a solid video on a short timeframe, without spending a lot of money:

Concept First

If you don’t have a concept to shoot around, you’re dead in the water. I never start working on a video unless the general outline has solidified in my head. Most of these tips will assume that you have an idea to work with. If you can’t think of something, then you probably shouldn’t be making a video in the first place.

Rent on a Friday

If money is super tight, rent the camera. If you rent on a Friday, most shops will call the weekend “one day” and you’ll get the gear for two days for the price of one. If you’re buying, the most cost effective camera, all around, for a startup to purchase is probably a Canon 6D. I personally use a 5D, but the 6D is cheaper and has just about the same video specs. If I could only pick one lens it would be the 35mm f1.4 for someone with experience, the 24-105mm f4 for someone without. It’s worth investing in some audio gear as well as most cameras have absolute shit when it comes to onboard audio input quality.

Find Someplace Crazy

This is one of the easiest ways to make a video appear more professional or awesome. Basically just get out of your house or office and find someplace unique that works with your concept. If you’re in San Francisco, you’re in luck. There are countless locations that read on-camera as exotic. Use Google Satellite to scrounge for interesting looking places.

A Small Effective Team

First, someone has to be in charge. If you’re going to move fast, decisions can’t turn into long discussions. Someone needs to have the final word and be ready to deliver it quickly.

You only need one person to make an awesome video, but the sweetspot for me is generally around 3-5. Ideally you have:

1) People that have some experience being on camera. If I am going to spend extra money anywhere, it’s here. People that are comfortable being on camera are crucial on shoots that need to happen fast. Actors are ideal. 2) A generalist that can handle a lot of gear. You only need one person to handle your camera/audio. This person should probably be you. 3) The Free Safety. Basically someone that can handle the unexpected glitches and speed bumps that inevitably will occur. This can also be you.

Learn After Effects

This is the intimidating part that is actually really easy. My weapons of choice are Premier and After Effects. If you have any experience with Photoshop or other Adobe programs, After Effects is actually very easy to learn once inside. It’s basically Photoshop with a timeline and keyframes animation. If you can wrap your head around that, you can learn the basics in a weekend I promise. This is another easy way to make a budget video have really high production value.

Use Evernote

There are a lot of crappy “film” apps out there. Nothing is better than a well organized Evernote Notebook. Each of my shoots has its own Notebook with separate notes for script, gear, shot lists and a brain dump area for thoughts as they come.

Promote Separately

Generally I like to promote the video separately from whatever the video itself is trying to promote. There are two reasons for this: 1) some channels are just more tailored to media content, and will post videos but not say, mobile apps. A place like fstoppers for example. 2) If you time it right, the video can generate additional press, as opposed to being lumped in with your launch. Also, you don’t want to be emailing people about more than one thing.

A Word on Efficacy

OK sure you can do a video for cheap, but is it worth it in the first place? This question probably warrants another post, so I’ll make it so. The short answer is yes, but it depends*

*More to come.