Answer: … Oh, You Have No Idea.
Ages. You’re grandchildren will never live to see the finished piece.
Just kidding. Kind of. The reality is, every project is unique, so the timeline for completion is also unique. Of course you understand that it will take longer to shoot a two-hour documentary than it will to shoot a 45-minute corporate video. But how long each takes will vary based on several factors.
Do You Require Animation and/or Graphics?
Even though a lot of that can be done during the pre-production phase, it can still take a lot of time. And, if you require revisions, it will take longer still. Do you need special effects? Most of those will have to be taken care of during the editing process. Again, depending on what you need and how many revisions are required to give you what you’re looking for, this can add days or even weeks to the process. What about audio sweetening? Do you have to re-do some of the scenes because of audio problems, and can they be done through sound booth recording (reasonably fast) or do you have to go back to the location to get the track, or even re-shoot the entire scene? Does your video rely heavily on outdoor shoots, and did the weather cooperate on the shoot day, or do you have to reschedule? Did your on-camera spokeswoman contract some hideous disease that makes her look like her face is melting? (If so, are you willing to reimagine your project and turn it from a product shoot into a horror short for Youtube? There’s big money in those projects these days! Just saying…)
Production Scheduling & Production Coordination
It really boils down to production scheduling and production coordination. After reaching a solid agreement on what the project entails, you and the production company can work out a schedule. Once the major details are finalized, they should be able to give you a semi-solid schedule in short order. We say semi-solid, because every responsible video company will add in some pad time in case there are unexpected delays. You can check out this blog post to get an idea of what a basic production schedule looks like. Also realize that it may take some time to deliver the final project if you need it on multiple outlets, or if the basic infrastructure isn’t in place to support your plans (i.e. your website has not been updated for optimal video presentation on multiple platforms).
Of course a rush can be put on many projects, but understand that it comes at a price, especially if outside contractors like animation companies will be under the gun. Bottom line: go into the pre-production phase and any discovery meetings with a solid idea of what you want, and when you need it. Be upfront with the production company. Don’t be afraid to shop around if the first company you meet with can’t get the job done when you want it, but also be aware that some companies will be long on promises but short on delivery when it comes to tight schedules. Plan ahead, and understand that if a company says “no” then you shouldn’t take it personally. It may be your project, but it’s their reputation on the line, and no production company wants a slapdash video floating around with their name on it.