Deciding to Hire a Film-Maker for the Alter Video

The launch plan for Alter includes making a promo video. With the app approved it’s the final thing left to do before release. Ideally I would have started working on the video sooner, but with the work schedule available for iOS projects I had to defer both the teaser page and video until after submission…

Why make a video?

There are a lot of app producers who consider the production of a promo video almost essential. It certainly feels like promo videos play a critical role in the launch of apps, but for my situation it’s difficult to know how essential.

What is easier, is to agree with is the almost part. There are many successful apps that don’t have videos. Just take Marco Arment’s podcast app, Overcast as a recent example. Undoubtedly a successful launch – without a promo video.

When it comes to how much you need a video and how good that video needs to be, I think there are a bunch of factors involved. Such as: the type of your app, the scale of your app, the other components in your launch plan, your reach within the development and press community…

Following my own reasoning, Alter is arguably closer to the ‘low-production video, if a video at all’ end of the spectrum.

But then, how does one break out?

With the time, tools and skills available to me I want to approach each aspect of the development with the mindset to do the best job I can.

Even with a small app, like Alter, my feeling is that a video will enhance the launch. The thing I’m making will be better for it, regardless of the size of the launch. I want to do it.

Video options for a small budget?

Given the small budget I have [1] – my original intention was to produce something using the simulator. The inspiration came a great guide on producing a video on a budget, written by Joe Cieplinski. It’s based around capturing the shots using the simulator and then putting the production together with a bunch of other, accessible tools. I was going to follow that guide…

Unfortunately, the simulator doesn’t fit my needs for Alter. The key workflow that I want to convey is:

The user receives a text message (or email), looks at the content and thinks “to do list”. They copy the text, paste it into Alter, and now they’ve got one. Problem solved.

Mail and/or Messages aren’t available in the simulator. A video for Alter needs to capture a real device.

Hiring a film-maker.

Having decided that filming is required, I had two options:

  1. Do it myself with the people and tools available.
  2. Get help with the equipment and/or filming.

Based on some experience of trying to film on-device action with the equipment I have available (another iPhone), I decided to use someone who knows what they’re doing and hire [2] film-maker friend, Dan Gregson.

Note: I do think it is possible to get reasonable results on a low budget using something like an iPhone, if you can restrict and control the environment, limit the scene(s) and interaction, etc.

However, I saw this as an opportunity to produce something good; to make a promo video that has the feel of a ‘trailer’. For that you need the right equipment and someone with the talent to put it all together.

Returning to the issue of budget, and the notion that the scale of the video should reflect the scale of the app/launch, hiring someone in this situation is only a possibility because the film-maker is a friend. Otherwise, I’d find it very hard to justify/risk a larger investment.


  1. My budget is essentially nothing. Our current apps don’t generate money; there isn’t anything to re-invest. Whilst I’m trying to produce something good with Alter, I can’t rely on monetary success. Paying a lot of money for a professionally made video would be too big of a risk.
  2. Dan’s an indy film-maker / camera operator and a friend. Whilst there is some money changing hands, you’d call it mates’ rates.
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