At a startup, you do not have the ballast of a global brand to carry around. You can do something offbeat and lo-fi and just see what happens.
From the newer-faster-cheaper pop-up-shop style video studio companies that can be enlisted to help, to simply pointing an iPhone camera at your co-founder and having him or her speak with credibility about what you are creating, there are low-cost and effective options.
Even the startup that wants to launch with a high production quality to match a luxury or aspirational brand can hire a top-notch specialist in exchange for equity in your company, or use emerging marketplaces (tip #6, below).
Here are guidelines from insiders for making great video on a budget:
1. Know Thyself, Know Thy Market
Most producers interviewed for this piece emphasized the importance of self-awareness over any technical capabilities. "We always want to make fun, cool videos, but it needs to appeal to the customers you are going after," says Arthur Micah Ross, executive producer at MR MR Studio. "Once you figure out who you are, and who you are going after, it makes your job easier. That discovery process is really important."
That process includes being clear about your target market. "We've had mom and pop gyms who think that their audience was that of Equinox," said Hope Horner, founder and CEO of Lemonlight Media.
She points out that video is not one of those things where you can necessarily get a do-over. "If you don't spend the time on the front side, it can create a very messy situation on the back side."
2. Be Your (Geeky, Adorable) Self
Jonathon Triest, who is a managing partner at Ludlow Ventures, is both a venture capitalist and a semi-professional goofball.
He has differentiated himself from competitor VCs by rapping on video, as well as documenting his drive to work with his co-founder in Carpool.vc. He is also the producer of Computer Show, which is a way of showcasing new companies through the lens of an awkward 80s talk show.
It's all insanely silly, but Triest says that's the point: "There are plenty of people who are not interested in our approach, and they find it childish and say 'Who are these losers?' But it's great if they come to that realization before we talk to them. It saves everyone time."
It also saves money. Triest says: "Beyond the cost of the GoPro and gas, we have no other expense."
3. Amateurs over Auteurs
"Everyone's overall expectancy of video quality has diminished," says Ross. "People are okay with watching video that's not shot on 35 mm film, or the highest digital camera."
But, he says, the aesthetic needs to match your brand: "Yes, if I saw a Tiffany's commercial for jewelry that looks kind of rubbish I'm not going to trust the brand. But if I see Dave and Mike who invented a backpack, and they shot it, and it looks DIY and amateurish, I might trust them even more."
Of course, the minimum standards still apply. Watch tutorials on things like three-point lighting. Rehearse beforehand. Review your work, and get a second opinion to make sure you are on brand and on point.
4. Audio Quality Counts
You might be able to get away with shooting with your cell-phone, but the audio quality is a smart place to invest.
"I have friends that make micro-budget features. The quality of the video can be scruffy and the lighting can be a little off, and that's fine. It can even be cool," says Ross. "But when the sounds terrible, I'm totally distracted."
Ross recommends a minimum amount of research to find a mic to mount on top of the camera, if the subject is not going to be too far away. Or, if you are filming someone who is speaking to you from across the street, you need a wireless mic.
5. Get (the Right) Help
There are a lot of marketplaces for videography and editing talent, such as SmartShoot and ProductionHub, which connect professionals to consumers. "Those are certainly less expensive," says Horner. "But it's kind of a dice roll."
One option, if you want a nicely produced video by a tested production company, is to trade a small slice of equity in your company for some of the cost of the video. Sandwich Video, whose client list includes Airbnb, Uber, Warby Parker and Slack, has been a leader in this kind of setup.
6. Speak in images
Sending along example videos and images, and telling the producer why you like them, will go a long way to explaining what you like, visually.
Communication of your vision and brand aesthetic is critical anytime you are working with video producers. But words can often fail to convey what you are seeing in your mind's eye.
"A 30-second video is worth 1.8 million words," says Horner.