Video is an expensive industry. Production and post production rates range from $50-$250 or more an hour. Creative and talented people don't come cheap, nor does their equipment.
Creating a video company, department, shop, etc. is an intimidating task because of the cost of equipment. You are spending serious money getting started. I am going to show you how to get a professional shop up and running on a realistic budget of $10,000. Heck, I may even beat that price.
Producing high-quality results with a well thought out selection of low-cost equipment can seriously increase your profit margin while you build your company and reputation. Down the line, when you have a successful business, you can always upgrade your gear as dictated by the demands of paying customers.
Let’s break equipment down into two categories: production and post production. Production equipment is what you'll need on a shoot. post production equipment is everything you'll need to edit the videos.
Note: I am not being paid to endorse any of the following equipment, software, etc.
This should be the most expensive piece of equipment. The best editors out there can only make bad video look so good.
I recommend the Sony HXR-NX5U NXCAM. Why? Mainly because of it’s cheap tape stock. It shoots on SD cards that are only $25 each compared to camera that uses SxS cards that start around $500. And there's one other bonus to SD cards that will be discussed later!
2. Tape Stock
If you got the NXCAM you can pick up a 2-pack of 32GB SD cards for $70. That’ll get you between 3-8 hours of footage depending on the record quality you choose.
3. Extra Battery
Don’t forget about an extra battery for your camera. Your business is hosed if something happens to your one battery.
There’s no need to get fancy here yet. You can grab a basic tripod for $125. If there's an extra $40 laying around, get a dolly attachment to it. This may sound like heresy to some but invest in this piece later once you get the first few projects done and have some money coming in.
5. Lighting Kit
Even the most "natural" of videos need lights. Three lights are mandatory but I recommend getting a kit with four. Why? One will break or a bulb will go out. Now you have a spare and don't have to wait weeks with only two lights while the new part or bulb gets shipped in. And yes this JUST happened to me, but luckily I had my extra light. It’s also helpful to have the extra light for lighting a green screen. If you’ll be doing a lot of outdoor shooting you’ll want to grab a reflector too.
6. Budget Green Screen
There are a variety of green screen kits that are in the $100-$250 range. You can also pick up a bright green sheet from a fabric store and a couple of $5 clamps from your local hardware store.
7. Lavalier (Lav) Mic x2
Pick up two sturdy, battery-powered XLR lav mics with all the trimmings (windscreen, clip, etc.). If money permits, buy one that is wireless.
A decent shotgun mic comes with the Sony HRX-NX5U NXCAM so no need to get one yet. Depending on the types of videos you’ll be shooting you may need to invest in a boom mic as well.
Post Production Equipment
The most expensive purchase outside the camera will be the computer. Yes, it's not as portable as a laptop but it's half the price and at least 33% more powerful. There's also no need to purchase an external monitor for editing. I run a 21.5” 16GB 2.9GHz standard iMac and have zero hardware issues running programs like Avid and After Effects.
Make sure your computer has at least 8GB of RAM. Feel free to trick it out with solid-state drives and whatnot but the only other required piece is a keyboard with a number pad (for use in After Effects, Avid, etc.). Sorry but currently this is only offered as a USB keyboard, not a Bluetooth one.
Here's that bonus I mentioned in the Camera section. The SD cards require no deck or camera with the iMac. Slip it into the SDXC port and it loads like any other drive. And if you're editing in Avid it has a simple AMA workflow.
2. Adobe Creative Cloud
Despite grumblings about the end of boxed versions of Creative Suite, this is the way to go whether or not you use Premiere. You need Photoshop and After Effects. If that's not enough of a selling point Media Encoder, Bridge and it seems like 100 other mostly useful apps come with it as well.
It's $50 a month or $30 for people owning CS3 or later. The best part is that you can use it on any computer because it's a digital license.
Cost: $50/mon ($600/yr)
3. External Hard Drives
Local digital space is cheap. Stock up on a couple 2TB external USB3.0 hard drives. I had success with the Fantom hard drives.
Remember, get set up for what you have now. There's no need to sink $10,000 into a media storage system when you have three clients. Everything can be moved over later. Just make sure you backup your media and footage to a second hard drive.
Once your video is shot and edited you need to get it to your client for review. There are a few ways to do this, I’ve done them all, but the simplest one I found is ScreenLight. It’s affordable, has numerous pricing plans, is month-to-month and offers a free 30-day trial.
Cost: $12-$149/mon (Let’s say we do the $49/mon plan for a year. That’s about $600)
5. Video Editing Software
If Premiere isn't your editing tool of choice you have to make a decision. There are countless blog posts on this already but some to choose from are Avid, Final Cut Pro, Vegas, and Smoke which all vary in price.
We're all about getting you up and running in this post. All the editing tools listed above offer a free 30-day trial. Use it to the last day while you save up the revenue you get from finishing projects.
Above we set up a fully-functional professional shop for $9,675 before adding editing software outside of Premiere.
Once your business is running, clients are coming in, projects are being completed and revenue is being generated, then it’s time to start upgrading your equipment. When you then go out and purchase the $12,000 camera, you still have a reliable backup camera and all it’s accessories.
Let me know what other bargains are out there and if there’s any other essential equipment I left out.