Producing E-commerce Video: Tips to get started with low budget, midrange, and high-end video production


By John Weaver,

By John Weaver,


Everybody’s doing it.  So can you!  Improve your conversion rates!  Make more money!  Impress your colleagues!   The future is NOW!

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaah.  Not so easy, is it?  There are many difficult decisions to make in the transition to using video on your site.  You have to consider your marketing strategies.  You have to coax your IT into developing the ability to use video (or work with a third party solution).  And, of course, you need CONTENT.

It’s that third point I’d like to talk about – both now and in future posts.  As a former indie filmmaker, Production Assistant, and now the In-House Video Producer for, I have knowledge and experience that you, the person charged with bringing video to your company’s site, may benefit from.  Keep in mind that this is an open forum and everyone is free to add their own thoughts and experience to the discussion.

OK, enough preambles – on to today’s topic:  “Where will your videos come from?” 

Here’s a simple formula for you:  video production= time + money + experience.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you come up short on all three variables, but the decision has already been made, so you need a plan of action.  Let’s break it down into three approaches: low, mid, and high-end.

Low Budget

Balance of Variables:  Lots of Time, very little Money and Experience

Anyone with a camcorder, a computer, and an Internet connection can put videos online.  Yes, it’s that simple.  Here’s the workflow:

1)      Point camera at subject and hit ‘record’

2)      After recording, connect camera to computer using digital connection (firewire or USB) or analog connection (for older cameras – will need analog to digital interface like Pinnacle’s “Dazzle”) and capture the footage

3)      Edit video with free software – Microsoft’s “Movie Maker” or Apple’s “iMovie”

4)      Upload to YouTube

5)      Embed video on your site

That’s it!  You’re a hero – collect your accolades and saunter out the door.  Sure, the video looks darker and grainier than a ‘70s horror flick, the audio sounds like it was recorded in a boiler room, and the poor administrative assistant you put in front of the camera looks like she’s about to faint, but at least you have video.  This is a means to an end, but it’s not going to win you the respect of your peers.

If this is the only route you can go, then I suggest you make the most of what you already have around you.  Do you have a photographer on staff?  She can help you set up lights and frame the subject.  And, hey – what about that kid in the warehouse…isn’t he in a band?  I bet he can help you get better audio.  Got a graphic designer lying around?  Tap him to make a graphic that can be inserted into the video.  Being thrifty simply means finding creative solutions to your challenges.

Midrange Budget

Balance of Variables: Lots of Time followed by equal measures of Money and Experience

OK, now you’re serious about your video content.  You recognize that video production requires specific skill sets, a fair amount of financial investment, and a lot of time.  You know how you want to use video (on the product detail page), what your message is (we have the largest selection of x), what your budget is, and a timeframe (video needed by beginning of Q3).  Now you need a video producer (the ‘experience’ variable).

A good producer not only understands the technical and artistic aspects of video production, but also knows how to use those tools to meet your needs.  You’re going to want someone who can listen to – and understand – your marketing strategy and make suggestions that fit on all levels.  And finally, you want a producer who understands that she is working for YOU – not her own artistic integrity.

The next big question is, “Do you hire a producer full time or bring him in as a 1099?”  Well, take a look at your strategy.  Do you have an unchanging product line?  Do you just want product videos?  Do you know exactly how the final videos will be displayed?  Then I’d suggest contracting a local producer to plan, execute, edit, and deliver the videos.  If, however, you have a constantly changing inventory, plans for a variety of videos, and a long-term video strategy, then you may wish to consider hiring a producer full time.

When contracting a producer, you’re going to pay a premium for the services.  Depending on how big the shoot is, the costs that may factor in include: producer’s fees, day rates for any crew she brings in (camera operator, lighting crew [grips/gaffers], audio, and production assistants), equipment rental, catering, location permits/fees, editor fees, post-production studio time…

Hiring a producer to be a permanent member of your team means adding someone to payroll – but think of it as putting him on retainer.  You get an experienced person to be a part of your team and someone you can call on at any time to generate ideas, create content, and build your strategy.  If you choose this route, consider hiring a person with broader skills such as being able to also run the camera, set up the lights, and do basic editing.  Now you’re making an investment!

Of course, by hiring a producer, you will probably also need to invest in some equipment.  Your new producer is going to need a computer capable of handling video and graphics editing, as well as the proper software.  She’s also going to need basic production equipment: a digital camcorder, light kit, microphone, and other odds and ends.  There will be a lot of up-front costs, but consider this: a decent camera rents for $250 a day, but you can buy the same camera for $4500, and ‘pay it off’ after 18 days of shooting.  Pretty sweet!

High End Video

Balance of Variables: Lots of Money, Not much Time, and no Experience

OK, you want video – NOW.  You’ve got the money and a basic idea of what you want, but no time to interview and hire a producer, let alone get all the pieces together to start making video in-house.  It’s time to call a Production House!

This is similar to the mid-end approach of contracting a video producer, but on a larger scale.  A Production House is essentially a team of experts whose entire focus is creative production.  Depending on who you go to, you’ll not only find video experts, but also marketing experts, graphic artists, web designers, copywriters, etc.  They will be a well-oiled machine with established relationships and workflows, and probably an impressive demo reel of work done with local celebrities and large international brands.

They are also their own business and, while they will listen to you and do their best to deliver content you like, you may find that some strongly believe in doing things ‘their way’, and not necessarily yours.  And what if Coca-Cola comes knocking on their door with a local campaign and a huge budget?  I’m not saying you’d get brushed off, but, come one, where’s their focus going to be?

In the end, going with a Production House is probably the quickest, albeit most expensive, way to get great looking and effective video content.

So does this help you at all?  Does it create more questions?  Let’s keep this conversation going – leave your comments/questions below.  I’ll check in to try and answer you, but I’d also like others to chime in with their experience and thoughts.  To use a hot catch-phrase: let’s crowd-source (or is it cloud-source?)

Tune in next time when I talk about building efficiency into your video production workflow!

John Weaver