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  • Tom Brooksher

Lights, Camera, Action: Using Video in eLearning (Part II)

Last time, we discussed the technical costs of creating video for your elearning course, including videography, lighting and editing. But what about the costs of actors and other expenses you might face?

Talent is probably a blog post unto itself, so let’s hit the high points. First, don’t use amateur talent. It doesn’t matter how funny Fred from marketing is. If he doesn’t have a reel (that is, clips of his performances) and professional head shots, he shouldn’t have a speaking role in your training video. You can always use Fred as a non-speaking extra, though—which may also be a way to appease your boss, who has always fancied herself as a star waiting to be "discovered."

You’re already spending a lot of money on a professional video crew, but that doesn't mean you should skimp on talent. You don't have to use highly paid stage or screen union members, but there are plenty of aspiring actors in every community with real talent and experience. They’d love to do a training video so they can add a few clips to their reel.

Whether or not to pay the talent is up to you and them, but even a little stipend will help you find better actors. How much you pay is typically a function of how long you'll need the actor to be on the set, as well as how many lines they speak.

Another factor determining your talent cost is how the video is going to be used. You would pay more if the end product was going to be seen by millions of people on TV. But since this is a training video with a limited audience—often, consisting of the employees in one company—a wide reach isn’t typically a factor.

For example, we typically pay each actor a minimum of $50 and as much as $750 per shoot. A fee of $50 would be for someone who has to be on set for only an hour or two and has only a few lines. A fee of $750 would be for a major character participating all day (and sometimes, multiple days) and appearing in virtually every scene with lines. We don’t typically pay non-speaking “extras” or company employees.

If you need real experience running equipment or performing a task, you may need to cast engineers or technicians from your company. Show them doing the work but let a voice-over professional describe what they’re doing. While simply being on camera is easy, speaking on camera requires a professional to come across as a professional.

Other expenses

Finally, there are miscellaneous expenses; costumes, props, makeup and hair styling, food, and travel expenses. These are pretty straightforward. If your actors will be wearing normal clothes, they’re usually fine bringing their own, even if they need multiple outfits. But if you dream up a script with a wizard and a bunch of oddball characters, you’ll likely spend some money on costumes.

Similarly, props aren’t usually a big factor. More often than not, you’ll want to use actual equipment and materials that your company can already provide. But there's always that cool magic wand or crystal ball if your script gets creative.

Professional makeup and hair styling are often optional. If there aren’t any special requirements for your actors to look a certain way, chances are they don’t need additional makeup, if they can apply their normal makeup for the day themselves, or a hair stylist. But if you’re going for a particular look or have environmental factors that need to be neutralized, you can usually find a competent hairstylist who also does makeup to be on set for part of the shoot. The cost should be $250 or less.

Since food is one of the most important things in life, it’s not surprising that it’s the single biggest factor in determining whether your video shoot will be good or not. When I’m in charge of creating a video, there will be food on the set. Food is a practical consideration; if it’s available, the crew and talent will usually be happy to grab a bite and keep working. But if you don’t, and you have to stop production for everyone to go out for lunch, you can easily lose two hours—and the cost will be much greater than the food budget.

Not surprisingly, travel can be a major expense if you need to send your crew and talent to a unique location. But most often, you’ll be shooting locally and won’t have any travel expenses. If you have to travel to a different area, consider hiring crew members who are local to that area (rather than taking a crew with you). It’s easy to find professional videographers in any major city—and most minor cities—by doing a web search. You can review their demo reel and screen them in advance. That way, you can be relatively certain that you’ve hired professionals who can do the job.

Finally, one caveat about videographers: With the cost of video equipment coming down quickly, and the appetite for “event videos” increasing (such as at weddings and parties), a lot of so-called “professionals” these days are really event videographers with little experience shooting industrial or elearning videos involving actors and scripts. My advice is to avoid event videographers entirely, unless they can show you several examples of work that are similar to your project.

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