Thoughts on pricing video projects

Regular readers know that I am making a big push into video work. I find video an interesting way to tell stories, I like the fact that multiple senses are used in that story-telling, and of course, the publication photography business is moving that direction. I have had very positive reaction to my video “Cafe,’” which shows a locally owned and operated coffee place. One such response was music to my ears and lead me to write this blog entry.

I have been thinking about this because of my upcoming workshop on narrative video storytelling. To learn more about the workshop, go to Momenta and sign up!! You know you will learn 10 times as much from this workshop as compared to reading these short blog posts. The workshop is different compared to all my others because I only teach this video class once a year.

The response that made my day was “What would you charge to produce a video similar to that of The Cafe if you were asked?” The short answer is “that depends…”

The long answer is much more complicated. Pricing any kind of assignment, whether involving still or moving images, is invariably a complex endeavor. The questions I would pose to the client-to-be would largely be the same whether the project involves still or moving images (with a couple exceptions which I will outline at the end.)

Starting questions:

How many locations are involved? Each location adds more production costs, AND has the potential to dilute the client’s message by making the final video too long and complex. This is very important because the average web video is three minutes or less, to accommodate people’s ever shortening attention spans. The goal of keeping the final video short and “on message” is key!

My goal is to make short, dramatic, story-telling videos using ambient sound, dramatic compositions, careful use of focus, tight editing, minimal text and lots of atmosphere so the viewer experiences the story as if they are right there. These videos are different than a more conventional video which will often run for many minutes with a long list of products or capabilities or personnel that the client is featuring. These shopping list videos may cover all the bases but they often lose their audiences because they are so long.

How many people are to be included? Again, the fewer the better! Too many organizations make videos as ways to placate the people in authority. this approach makes those powerful people happy, but it also bores the audience to tears. People, places and things that may be important to the client may NOT be visually compelling and thus maybe they should NOT necessarily be part of the final videos, since they can drag down the quality of the presentation.

How much advanced planning does the client do so I can use my time most efficiently? If I am burning time researching venues, organizing permissions, etc., I get less actual video capture work done per working day.

How available by email/phone is the person in the position of authority in the client’s operation that I may need to reach while I am working in the field? I need this because I may need to check in with the client in case I have to change something if a given shoot/ location/topic does NOT work out!

What I find works best is for the client to write a first draft of a topics/ideas/shoot list. I take a tour of the places(s) we will be working, meet the people involved and get a first hand introduction to the entire story that we are trying to tell. I keep notes on what I think will work and what challenges I expect. Based on my experience in knowing what makes a good VISUAL narrative, I give the client feedback on the shoot list and then we go back and forth tweaking that list till we get it right.

The shoot list is essentially a loose agreement in terms of which visuals, locations and people will be included. It is also an agreement on how we plan to get the video to make the right points about the client, how I will get access to venues on the shoot list, the length of the finished pieces, etc., etc., etc. The shoot list tells both me and the client what is to be included (or not included) in the final video.

What exactly are the videos going to be used for? How long should the final videos be? The wise client often has multiple length videos such as short videos for the web and longer videos with more detail for in-house use and presentations.

Does the client want still images? I can make still images during the video shoots. I often make frame grabs from the videos for my clients to use, still images that are 1920 x 1080 pixels, which is more than enough to be used on the web or at a small size in printed brochures. If larger images are needed, I can create high res still images, but shooting separate stills instead of just making frame grabs will slow me down and mean less video shooting per day/venue.

Once we have these questions sorted out, we make a contract which details all the issues noted above and some issues that will be explained below. We also agree, in writing to the fee, the payment schedule, the rough shooting schedule, the editing plan and the revision schedule, etc.

Up to this point, the questions I ask in order to calculate a fee are largely the same ones for a still or motion project. This is the point where the two diverge.

For video projects, I continue and ask, what text if any will be used? I need to know what if any credits, names, descriptions, etc., are to be included as “on screen” text to identify people, places or things in the final video(s.)

What are the client’s ideas about sound? After scouting out the story, I have plenty of my own ideas, usually involving a mix of ambient sound and brief interviews. I strongly prefer to avoid so called “talking heads.” Voice-overs, where interviewed people narrate, answer questions or fill in details are just as effective without the deadly dull (and very static) talking head. In the best videos the audio and the video each add something to the finished product. Talking heads use TWO channels while they usually only conveying one thing so they are a wasted opportunity. My videos are driven as much by the visuals as by the narration and the surest way to break up that visual drama is to drop in a talking head.

If the client wants a music track to be the base of the sound, do they have something in mind or should I find it? The former approach costs less since I will have to charge for such research. Client supplied audio must be music which the client has the legal rights to use. The client needs to verify, in writing, that they have the legal writes to use any such music.

Speaking of audio, will the client want the sound track to be in different languages? My Italian hotel client wanted the same video promoting their hotel to be made in Italian, German and English. The original was recorded in Italian. A friend of the client, a German speaker, read the text of the original Italian narration in German. I dropped that audio into the German version, displacing the original Italian. For the English version of that same video, I did the voice over.

The editing process is the final step and the one that requires a high level of understanding between me and the client.

I present an an initial version (edit) of the video(s) that will be equal to or usually longer than the time that was initially agreed to in the contract. That “rough cut” video will be offered to the client within 7 days of capture, though usually much sooner. I do this so both parties can agree to the need for, scheduling of (and payment of) any “additional” shoots. Once the client sees and accepts the rough version of the video, the client also agrees to pay the final fee.

The client will be able to make only TWO revisions/suggestions per each video. Each revision can involve changes to the order of the video clips, revisions of the audio, changes to the text on screen, etc. Any requests for additional revisions after two rounds will be billed to the client as additional editing time.

Any requests for additional content that require new video capture will be billed to the client as additional shooting days. These additions need to be agreed to, in writing, before I start any such “additional“ shoots.

The client will be supplied with one copy of each finished video, output as an MOV file, 1920 x 1080 in size in an H264 codec. (This a very high quality format that is well suited for conversion to other video formats, including for use on the Internet.) Additional versions can supplied subject to negotiations and payment of the agreed upon fees.

Finally, the last factor in any pricing calculation is what is the usage? As in, how long is the video to be used, in what formats, shown via what media, etc.? The longer a client uses my video and the more outlets that the same video goes out in, the more value the video adds to their business.

Is this for a small local business just starting out or is this for a large corporation with outposts across the globe? Is this for a non-profit group or a for profit corporation? I do not charge based on how much money the client has, but rather how much value does my video offer the client. A multi-national corporation using a video has the potential to generate large revenues with any such video. As the producer of that video, as the person adding value to their business, I deserve a share of that gain. A smaller business will not generate as much income from my video, so I will price it accordingly.

Once I know all that information, only then can I answer the question “What would you charge to produce a video similar to that of The Cafe, if you were asked to do one?” Without all the information, I would be doing little more than speculating. That approach is bound to leave me unhappy and my client dissatisfied. Worse than that, a less than ideal video is the result and that does a similarly less than ideal job of telling their story (and demonstrating my talents.)

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