10 Secrets To Slashing Production Costs





By Collette Liantonio,                                                         President Concepts TV Productions


In these recessionary times, every advertiser wants to know how to cut the costs of producing a direct response commercial. Thanks to advances in digital technology (every 5-year-old has a broadcast quality camera), the hard costs associated with ‚“filming” have decreased substantially.

Everyone owns a video camera, but they have yet to replace the talented DP, the lighting director who makes your product come alive.

Everyone can ‚“write,” but few can write a compelling script.

Everyone can create a YouTube spoof, but few can create a commercial that can persuade the consumer to reach into his pocket within 60 seconds and purchase your product instantly. Experienced DRTV producers can deliver truly astonishing campaigns that measure results in millions, even billions, of dollars.

So how does one cut costs? Here are seven simple tips that can slash your production costs.

1. Less is more.

Shoot on a white cyc wall. Shoot every demonstration, every testimonial and every product beauty shot on a clean white background. Use elegant graphics and you have a simple, upscale ‚“art-directed” spot as elegant as an apple iPod. One simple studio set up ‚Ķ no costly location, no cheesy attempts at demonstrating 101 product uses.

2. Enter the ‚“Land of Make-Believe,” also known as the virtual set.

Shoot on a ‚“green” screen and use ‚“jump backs,” libraries of graphic backgrounds that visually complement your product. Or shoot empty living rooms, laboratories, offices, cityscapes and superimpose the actors you shot on a ‚“green screen.” These virtual ‚“sets” are also available through stock film libraries at greatly reduced prices thanks to digital advances.

3. Skip the orchestra.

Unless you’re selling music ‚Äì and that is a dying business ‚Äì the background music should be just that. Background! Use a needle drop from your producer’s music library and pay the much more affordable license fee rather than paying for an original music score.

4. Set building is so yesterday.

Why buy when you can rent a house? Find an attractively decorated home with large rooms and a mellow homeowner and for a few hundred dollars you can demonstrate most household items efficiently and affordably – except in the state of California where each homeowner believes his bungalow should command a $5,000 location fee. While spacious bathrooms and kitchens can be rare animals, a few well placed ads in libraries, supermarkets and Craigslist can yield a set that rivals any Hollywood sound stage.

5. Save money by NOT using friends and family.

Your niece is adorable, but her Mom does not want to take her out of school until 4 p.m. the day of the shoot resulting in overtime. Your sister believes she should be paid half the profits for her cameo appearance. Your daughter does a ‚“deer in the headlights” freeze on camera and wastes an expensive hour of shooting time, and friends and family cannot endorse your product legally. In short, leave casting to the professionals.

It really pays to negotiate all terms and conditions before you shoot. You may hire an actor to appear in just one scene for your direct response commercial but today more than ever, chances are that actor will appear in the web spot, on the package and possibly in a print ad. Negotiate all rights up front and you won’t be held hostage for additional monies when you have a successful spot.

Unless you are hiring a bona fide celebrity, the cost of talent should not break the bank. And think long and hard before you do sign a celebrity…the cost can outweigh the return on investment if the celebrity is not the ideal representative for the product.

Hire the best demonstrator/host available and reward his performance with a bonus based on sales. Remember to negotiate all rights to TV, home shopping appearances, and international rights.

6. About those testimonials …

Nothing sells like a sincerely satisfied user. Real people in real situations sell products, but it’s very time consuming to develop or gather a group that is willing to endorse your product on camera. Come to the negotiating table with those testimonials and save the producer the labor intensive task of searching for them and you’ve saved a bundle. But don’t scrimp on unretouched ‚“before” and ‚“after” shots. They are the magic moments in any beauty or fitness infomercial and worth their weight in gold.

Testimonials are the lifeblood of the infomercials. If you spend the time and money to develop those satisfied users before you select a producer, the process is much less costly and the producer can make the final selections.

7. ‚“Ask the Man on the Street”

Go to your local mall, indoor or outdoor, or set up a camera and microphone on a busy ‚“Main Street” or coffee shop (make sure you acquire permits or permission from the merchants) and try your products out on passersby or shoppers. The genuine responses from first time users will provide authenticity. Just be certain to acquire releases and use the proper disclaimers in the commercials. It helps to bring a few production assistants to wrangle the shoppers. Signage, balloons and a make-up artist should create the necessary buzz to attract a variety of curious demonstrators.

8. Prepare properly for ‚“Tweaking”

Some of the most successful spots require a ‚“tweak” or two. Maybes it’s just a price point change or maybe it’s a new premium or giveaway at the end of the spot, but those changes can be very costly if not prepared for early on, as in before you shoot and before you record the voiceover. To save money on post production, plan to shoot different product configurations and bonus items at the time of the initial shoot. Therefore, if you want to test an ‚“A-B” split you can easily re-edit a spot with an alternate ending. Voiceovers should be recorded with many different price points so you can re-test later without re-recording expensive audio artists in expensive audio recording studios.

Producers who constantly work with crews and studios, actors and voiceover artists can negotiate the best rates using experienced producers is less expensive in the long run.

9. Shorten the approvals process

Again, thanks to the wonders of technology, the entire process of editing can be streamlined with a radically shortened timeline. Now instead of the ‚“back and forth” between client and producer for approvals, the client can virtually attend the edit session in real time via Skype or ‚“IChat.” The savings in time and travel is formidable and it helps accommodate long distance clients (it’s a free service internationally).

One of the best ways to reach consensus is to create detailed storyboards in advance of a shoot. Although you provide clients with a script or blueprint, it’s always an eye opener to realize how differently people interpret ‚“the visuals”. It helps with talent selection, prop selection, location, and graphic elements.

10. Hire an experienced producer who works with other experienced professionals in DRTV.

Any commercial production can only perform for you if you have the right media placement, the right Web presence, the right telemarketing service and the right fulfillment company. Remember, if the phone isn’t answered or the URL isn’t ‚“live” when you air your spots, you will not get a refund. Add up the media money spent and the cost of the commercial that no one viewed. There will be no ROI and that’s an expensive commercial!