Should I shoot my marketing video on a sound stage or on location?
When planning a live action marketing video, one of the discussions you’ll have with the creative agency or video production company is where to shoot it. Often, it’s very simple. If you’re showcasing your awesome office, then that’s where it’ll be. Or if it’s an outdoor shoot or some very specific place, then it definitely will be on site. Likewise, if the concept is a white background or using a green screen for keying in an image, then it’ll most likely be on a stage.
Then there are those times when it’s not so straightforward. The video is set in a place that could work either way. For example, a generic office cubicle or a bedroom, etc. In such situations, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of the various location options, and then choose depending on what works best for your concept, vision and budget.
Here are the factors to consider when deciding to shoot your video at a studio or on location.
The cost is of course the primary reason one is chosen over the other. Depending on the concept and available resources, one may be more cost effective.
The main question here is: What’s easier, build a set or actually rent and go to one?
For example, in this lifestyle marketing video we produced for Exaclyme, there was a dance club scene. We actually tried to source a club for the shoot, but it was very expensive even during non-operating hours. Also, you’ll see several location shots in the video including a beach that we shot near Santa Cruz. Since we only had one day with the actors, we had to find a club that wasn’t hours away from this beach location. That meant it had to be near Santa Cruz or San Jose, but the clubs that were willing to let us shoot (and looked somewhat decent) were all located in San Francisco, which meant another hour lost for driving, which would all add to the expenses. In this situation, it was much easier and cost effective to rent a stage for three days (one day for set building, one day for the shoot and one day for strike).
Another example is this explainer video we made for Sococo. The main issue here was the number of different locations. Again, we had all the actors for one day only, which meant we couldn’t spend time driving around from set to set. Instead, we rented a large stage and built several sets next to each other. We also used the studio’s conference room for one of the scenes.
If the location is simple enough, it’s often much cheaper to rent an actual place than to spent time and money building sets on stage. There have been many shoots where we rented an Airbnb and shot in different parts of the rental. For example, in this promo for Gong, we shot several actors at an Airbnb in the morning, and then drove to an office location in the evening. As in the earlier examples, we only had the actors for one day. It was a long day, but we didn’t have to build any sets and ended up being much cheaper than renting a stage for several days.
Cost is important but so is the look and feel of the scene. And some sets just won’t look right or it’ll require much more work designing (or a Hollywood budget). Using the Exaclyme again as an example, the night club scene works for this small segment of the video, but if you re-watch the video, you’ll see it doesn’t quite have the same feel as a real thriving night club. And there are no long shots – we would have loved to show a large dance floor with a sea of bodies grooving to the music and swirling around our heroes. But alas, we had to settle for these tighter shots.
If a certain look or feel is a primary factor in getting your marketing message across, then shooting on location is the way to go. Again, that’s assuming you don’t have a Hollywood budget.
Finally, as we briefly touched on earlier, logistics is another factor. If you’re in L.A. or other place with several stage options nearby, many of which have fixed sets, then it will often make sense to shoot on a stage. If the location is difficult to get to, or you’re restricted by time and don’t want to spend hours in traffic, then you’ll choose the easiest option. This may sound like common sense, but it’s curious how time spent in commute or set-up at each location is often overlooked during budgeting or pre-production.
Finding a location is usually one of the enjoyable parts of making a video. Kind of like looking for a new apartment or house, there’s some excitement when viewing pictures or touring places. But it could also turn quickly into a stressful situation. Hopefully, by assessing each option with a step-by-step process, it’ll make things flow much more easily.