A Common-Sense Checklist for Your In-House Video Starter Studio

Rich Fahle, Founder, Astral Road Brand Media

[This article is the second in a three-part series on creating your online video strategy and creating your own in-house studio. Click here for Part 1, and here for the introduction.]

So you’ve made a case for online video. Armed with your own confidence, a few suggestions from last week’s post, and perhaps a partner or two from the blogosphere, you’ve successfully cobbled together one or two small video campaigns by any means necessary and taken a big step forward for your brand. Now that you’ve piqued the interest of your company leadership, it’s time to take things to the next level with your own in-house studio.

On its face, putting together the budget for an in-house studio can seem complicated. Before I understood the requirements and technology, I outsourced all video production for my company, including equipment rental, crew costs, editing, even compression. But after just a couple of shoots—and with only a little bit of experience under my belt—it became obvious that I could save tens of thousands of dollars annually by bringing production in-house. After outlining on a simple Excel spreadsheet the significant cost savings we’d realize to do it ourselves, it was a no-brainer for my CMO to green light the move to a startup in-house production setup.

What follows is a basic checklist of what you’ll need to get started, with some suggestions and recommendations to help you on your path to online video self–sufficiency. For the purpose of this article, I’ve focused on entry level budgeting, but it should go without saying that there are higher-end options for each one of these important line items.

Camera and Camera Equipment

Your cameras are the centerpiece of your studio and, outside of the videographer/editor him or herself, the most important investment you’ll make. Prices for cameras have come down considerably, with very good, professional- grade, hand-held cameras now retailing in the $2,000-$3,000 range, considerably less than the $7,000-$10,000 prosumer cameras of just a couple years ago, or the $30-50,000 broadcast video models from a decade ago.

Research is required to best fit your individual needs, but a very good, affordable camera recommendation would be the Sony NEX-VG10 (approx. retail $2,000), with its interchangeable lenses and ability to merge the rich colors, enhanced light sensitivity, and shallow depth-of-field of video DSLRs with the shape, size, and functionality of a camcorder. The Panasonic AG-HVX200A, better known as the Panasonic P2 (approx. retail $3,500), is a bit more expensive, but still affordable camera option for your new studio. One camera is all you need to begin, though as you proceed, you’ll surely find reasons to add a second, or even third camera for larger shoots, reaction shots, and other needs.

Your camera will require some other basic equipment, including extra battery packs and chargers (approx. $125 apiece), tripod (approx. $200), and camera bag for safe transportation of your investment (approx. $100). Memory cards vary depending on the type of camera you go with and storage size you choose, but should be at least 16GB, and more likely 32GB or 64GB in size (approx. $100 to $800 apiece, depending on camera type.)

Camera and Camera Equipment Total: $3,000 – $4,000

Audio/Microphones

Regarding audio, it’s recommended that you have both a wired and wireless package for either scenario. Each microphone has their specific benefits and uses. For people-on-the-street style interviews or single-person video, a dynamic microphone like the classic Electro-Voice RE50 or Sennheiser MD 46 (both approx. retail $150 – $200) are workhorse recording devices that have earned their stripes among reporters for years. For wireless packages, go with a pair of lavalier microphones to start, and build from there. Prices vary wildly, but a decent starter wireless lav from Sennheiser, Shure or Sony can be bought for $500 apiece. Regarding shotgun microphones and boom poles, field mixers and the like—as you grow, you’ll certainly desire these as add-ons, but they’re not required to get your studio off the ground.

Microphone/Audio Total: $1,200

Computer and Video Editing Software Package

You’ll need a computer with plenty of processing power and a decent set of speakers to handle the rigors of online video editing. Mac vs. PC is a matter of choice, and often not a personal choice, but rather the choice of the company IT department tasked with maintenance and upkeep of all company computers. I prefer editing on a Mac, but my company was a PC company, and the transition to Mac while building my in-house studio did pose some challenges for our IT department when equipment needed maintenance. It also required that we add a computer purchase to our in-house studio build. If your company is a PC company, you can avoid the new computer purchase line item in your budget by editing on one of your company’s existing PCs.

Regardless of which you use, there are editing software packages that work with either. Final Cut Pro (approx. retail $1,000), is a fantastic editing platform for Mac users, while the Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 (approx. retail $800) is a full-service editing solution for the PC crowd. Both are very good and require some training and expertise to use. On the positive side, both Premiere and Final Cut now make it easier than ever to publish to the web, with built -in encoding settings for publishing straight to the web, including Youtube and Vimeo.

In terms of editing space, any available small office where you can close a door will work, but from experience I can tell you that a cubicle will do in a pinch, with low volume levels so as not to bother your neighbors.

Video Editing Software Total: $1,000

3-Point Lighting Package

Making sure your video looks good often comes down to video lighting basics. The best place to start is with three-point lighting, which consists of, as you might imagine, three lights: the key, the fill and the back. Together these serve to wrap your subject in light, creating shadows that define the subject, such as a person’s face, without overpowering it. Learning how to use lights will bring your productions to a new, more professional-looking level, and basic three-pointing contains the building blocks of nearly all lighting.

Large softboxes from a company like Chimera can be purchased for $200-$300 apiece with accessories and help create a softer light for key and fill lighting. Tungsten backlights run in the $200 range with, while light stands run approximately $100. Reflectors and other accessories are also helpful, but as in many of these categories, the more you know, the more you will be tempted to spend. Remember our mantra: Start small while you learn the basics, and then grow organically.

Lighting Package Total: $1,200

Video Storage Drives

As soon as you begin shooting video regularly, you’ll find that your archive is growing rapidly. You’ll need a place to store your video. As you grow, you may want to consider more sophisticated content management systems, but to start, I recommend G-Technology G-RAID or Lacie Quadra high-speed 1 TB or 2 TB drives that operate at 7200 RPM or above (approx. $300 each), offering the best and fastest way to store and utilized video for editing. Regardless of the brand you choose, make sure all video is safely backed up!

Video Storage Drives Total: $300

Video Production Staff

Obviously, the last and most important line item is staffing. As I was initially given a small budget to launch my team, I built strategically, and in stages. For our startup in-house studio, a multi-tasker is key. The first hire should be on the technical side—someone that can operate a camera and edit. As online video expands and becomes more integrated with your overall brand strategy, you can expand your staff with one or more producers. In the last part of this series next week, we’ll discuss the staff in more detail.

An In-House Studio for Less Than $10,000

In total, our equipment budget to get our in-house studio off the ground is less than $10,000. Our largest line item is our additional staffer, but even including the human resource cost, we’re still looking at a grand total that equals far less than you’d spend on externally-produced video shoots throughout the year—and without the valuable learning that comes with doing it yourself and the ability to be as flexible and agile as truly great online video requires.

Next week, we’ll examine how to identify the right type of programming for your brand, including live streaming and other forms of community-building opportunities, as well as the specific staffing needs you can expect as your commitment to online video grows.

Attention Video Production Professionals! What are your suggestions for starting up? What equipment recommendations do you have? We want to hear your stories and suggestions!

Rich Fahle is the founder of Astral Road Brand Media, a brand platform marketing agency for authors, artists and content creators of all types. He is the former Vice President of Content, Digital Outreach and Entertainment for Borders. Email Rich at rfahle@gmail.com or follow on Twittter @richfahle.

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