Bidding for Series of Low-Budget Technology Corporation Videos
It seems to be the trend these days that when corporations hire video producers, what they are really looking for is someone who will do everything (storyboarding, camera, editing, delivery in file format ready for the web) -- and after a very long time of having no work, I am going to try to take on a contractor project for a series of videos for a tech company for a person I worked for before at another company. (I wasn't a video producer the last time I worked with him; I was more like a project manager for all media projects.) This company is planning a YouTube channel, so they want to put up as much content as possible. The short videos in this series (three 90-second videos to start) are to be shot hand-held, and be fairly rough (to have a sort of "home-made" quality).
This series probably sounds fairly simple to active videographers, but I have mostly done sound work rather than camera work (except for informal family events), it's been years since I've edited, and I will be borrowing a camera that produces AVCHD files; and I'm working on a Windows computer, so there are some technical issues I have to work out. (I found software for file conversion and editing.) However, I'm determined to take this on.
Sorry for all the detail, but I definitely want to give a quote where I don't low-ball (despite my being rusty) -- I would just like to know if anyone there knows what the going rate is for this type of "one-man band" approach to video production. (I would really like to factor in another person who could at least act as an assistant, to help with equipment, etc., in order to make things run more smoothly -- but they will want me to take it out of what I'm making.)
Thanks in advance for any advice regarding the bid.
Those times of having no work are indeed frustrating. However, I caution you. Having work, but working at a loss is worse. I'm a one man band videographer whose been learning about qualifying the clients before taking on jobs. Being realistic, a very high proportion of prospects looking for a one man band are looking for dirt cheap work, not just a good deal. Learning to evaluate your prospects is essential for your business to survive, let alone grow, in this troubled economy.
You mentioned working for a guy previously at that tech company. I'd try to find out from him what kind of budget they had in mind before going too far in trying to land the job.
Working at a loss can be worse than no work, unless you are trying to gain some experience. Even then, if you are trying to gain experience (and make valuable contacts), doing pro bono work for certain charities might be more valuable in the long run for building your business. Hard to say.
I'd try to find out if the client has a decent budget for the project. Learning to politely say "no thank you" when an adequate budget isn't there is an important skill to master.
Roger makes some good points.
Regarding your other questions...
The Producer need not do ALL the services him or herself: just the ones s/he is best at, then you do the smart thing and first budget for, then fund, then hire the skills you need but don't have. That's a Producer: the chief organizer, the Admiral. Admirals don't stand watch at the helm, and Producers are not always the Director of Photography. There is no shame in renting gear you need but lack; in fact it is usually smarter to go that route than buy a lot of stuff that sits around un-used and depreciating most of the week.
My bigger worry for you is the talk of making the videos look "half-fast" to give them a "home made" "Authenticity".
These are too often code words for:
"We don't understand or value quality, nor do we think we can achieve it, so we don't try".
"We were fooled by very professional work that implies a casualness, the same way we think night shoots are cheaper because you don't need to budget for lighting".
Don't compromise on the acting talent or the sound; that's my first dictum. Good actors don't cost you money: they SAVE you money. People will endure crappy looking video as long as the sound is perfect, but never the reverse.
Your clients may be behind the curve a bit on the lack of production values thing for YouTube. A lot of the most popular YT posters these days actually have been UPPING their production values, adding real or virtual sets, better lighting, graphics, and most of all, pro SOUND.
So even though they want it to *look* "casual", budget and shoot it as if it was more "serious". You can downgrade quality raw footage in post, but upping the quality of badly shot raw footage is expensive.
Thanks for your quick reply. I did ask the executive (my main contact who I have worked with in the past) what his budget was, but he said there wasn't one -- I don't know if that's really true (it's likely it could be -- this is basically a start-up) but I would think there is a certain amount of money he has to spend on marketing promotions, specifically for the YouTube channel. I used to work for him on an hourly basis and for those days -- back in 1999-2000, tech companies were of course more generous.
But this will be a lot of work, and frankly, I'm no "spring chicken." This is really a young person's job (and there are plenty of hungry 20-somethings out there to welcome this kind of opportunity), but I really have to see if it's something I can do -- since these opportunities are so few and far between (and I've always had my best work situations from previous contacts; of course this is true for everyone). This could be a good thing (an ongoing project) if I play my cards right, and give a reasonable quote with perhaps a caveat to revise the quote if it turns out to be more work than originally described -- I think there may be room to negotiate.
Do you happen to know what the going rate is for this type of work at tech companies?
Honestly Marianne, it's practically impossible to find a "going rate" in this business, at least in my area, for what one man band video producers, videographers, or whatever you call us charge. It's all over the place. There are threads here on the Cow on how to come up with an hourly rate to base your charges on.
However, from the companies that do the hiring, the going rate seems to vary based on how these companies are going. Are their revenues going up, going down, or are they on the verge of going out of business.
You mentioned the prospective client is a startup. That's a red flag in my book. How well funded are they? Lot's of dreamers consider themselves visionaries until they get into cash flow trouble.
I'm no spring chicken either. If I hear big talk, lot's of "projected revenues..." coming from a prospect, I get very cautious. I remember, Greenspan's comments on "irrational exuberance" a few years ago.
People that really understand business budget for expanding their business. No budget equals no understanding of the realities of business.
A meager budget can be a hopeful sign. At least that type of client is budgeting, has some concept of business realities.
Thanks again for your reply. Actually, I should have mentioned that although the company is a start-up, it has been around a few years, and just received a big investor contribution, so I would say they are doing pretty well (planning to hire 100 new employees very soon). I hear what you say, though. Believe me, I've worked at different levels of companies -- most of which were surviving on investor money. This company actually seems to be making money, with a solid (and happy) customer base.
That said, is there a ballpark range you can think of, that you can pass along to me?
I can't really add anything to what David and Mark said. I used a formula in the business and marketing forum to come up with my base rate. Then I estimate the amount of time & effort required. Then come up with a written quote.
Don't forget the hassle factor. Whatever you do, don't let the client think they will get unlimited revisions for a set fee. Write up an estimate for them. Spell it out. Even when you do, some clients will try to get unlimited revisions without paying for your time. Some are just uninformed as to what is involved in video production. Others are grinders.
When they talk about wanting hand held, natural look, I immediately think they want cheap or free work.
There are online apps that help you to track time, manage projects, write up estimates, handle the invoicing. Be professional in your approach.
Pitch for a good daily rate - one that you'd like. They can always try to negotiate you down (only VERY few negotiators will ever think to build your rate up to make your service sustainable.)
Make sure to allow for your equipment and materials costs. You should be able to edit AVCHD slickly on a fast Windows computer with a decent graphics card with premiere, edius, vegas - even MS's free Movie Maker for that homespun look they want. But you may need to (hire or) buy a new computer, second hard drive, big graphics card and second monitor, decent speakers, camera, microphone, software, maybe a soft portable light or two ... and those costs need to be covered.
Your IMDB credits suggest you have a lot of talent, and while it's easy to lose confidence in fallow periods, remember that: a tech company would be lucky to get your best efforts. If they can think they can do it as well and cheaper, they will; so try to give yourself time to make the stuff distinctive, quirky, appealing to their (geeky?) customers so that if they do try another route they see worse work ...
Until I "retired" to start my own production company, I worked for many years in a large corporation's marketing department where internal "clients" would ask for a shoe-string production because they did not budget the project and did not understand basic production requirements or costs. It was my job as the internal producer to convince them that whatever was produced needed to present the company well. If the production looks "homemade" then managers should not be surprised if customers think their products are homemade as well. I recommend you challenge your former workmate to consider what message he (or she) really wants to send customers about they products they sell. If they care about brand equity, they should listen to your recommendations that you only do work that you are proud of and they should do the same. Shooting an entire production without sticks is almost a guarantee that you won't want other potential clients to see your production.
Good, cheap or fast. Pick one. Hopefully they'll pick "good" and understand it will not be cheap or fast. That is not to say that you cannot produce something good at a very reasonable rate, since you are willing to work for less to get things started, but don't sell yourself short either. Since you said you worked there, you should have a good understanding of their products, customers and markets and be able to write a script that is on-target. That is valuable experience that is worth a lot and should give you a big advantage over others who may low-ball an estimate to get a foot in the door, and then drive everyone crazy because they can't produce a script.
No one wants to suggest what a "going" or fare rate is for your project because most of us have good corporate clients who value professional work and are willing to pay "pro" rates which is what we need to keep us in business. At the same time, we may choose to do the same work for a smaller client at a greatly reduced rate for various reasons, if business is slow. There will always be students and others wanting to get started who will underbid projects just to get some work. Still, your time is worth something and you want the finished product to be a promotional piece for you, not something you'd later be embarrassed to show another client.
I suggest you start an estimate by setting an hourly figure that you need to earn to make this worthwhile for you. Script writing may not be as much per hour as videography, but certainly more than "meetings, coordination and research" time. You'll also need to estimate production costs, like camera, wireless mike, lighting and grip equipment rental, a production assistant, etc. You could start by asking an experienced PA in your area what their day rate is and use that as a determining factor in what to charge for your time. You should certainly earn more per hour than the PA you hire.
Here is another caveat: I always bill expenses in ADVANCE and will not turn over a final edit to the customer until the expenses are paid. That helps you keep your income and expenses separate for tax purposes, too.
I agree with Mark that good sound is critical. You cannot get by with an on-camera person recorded through the camera internal microphones. Invest in or rent a lavalier package if your camera the unbalanced XLR audio inputs. Good lighting is the next most important factor in my opinion, and that will take some planning to make sure you have the equipment and help you need getting it set up.
EX1R; EX3; nanoFLASH; FCP 7; 17" MBP, MacPro Quad, Matrox MSO2,CS5
I wanted to bring up one other thing because David's post reminded me of it.
If they say they want low production values because consumers will believe the claims in the sales video are more "authentic" because its "viral" - this is very dangerous ground to tread. You can google around for what happened to Sony when they tried to create a Christmas Holiday "viral" PlayStation ad that was supposed to look "home made". Viewers saw thru it pretty quickly, then the whole thing turned ugly because the viewers felt insulted and disrespected. So-called viral hits are notoriously unpredictable to create, especially on purpose.
Look at it this way: Billy-Joe and Donny buy your company's product and like it so much, they "review" it on their YouTube channel. They are just a couple of guys, so nobody bats an eye at the horrible production values, because really they are mostly watching it for one particular shot, or because Donny eats bugs on camera, or whatever his schtick is.
A staffer from your company cannot do the exact same thing and get any plausibility because it is obviously a conflict of interest and the audience knows it, right away. To get the buy-in to the "viral" requires surrendering much of your control over how the message is presented and whether it is a good or bad message.
Much better for a corporate spokesperson to play it straight and not pretend to be an outsider, with an outsider's perspective. Respect the audience. That's not to say the corporate spokesperson can't have fun with the message... as in "Will It Blend?". But the presenter there is being honest, and note the production values are not bargain basement either.
If these are to be "catalog videos", (A presenter holds or models or shows the product while reciting some factoids about it, that's as old as broadcast TV itself) ...which is a popular category...., doing those too cheaply just hurts the credibility of the company: "They must not be doing too well, if this is the best they can do". People want to feel good about their purchases, that they made a smart buy from a smart, successful company. Its all about the nonverbal symbology and visuals, what they call the "semiotics". Does what they see, jibe with what they hear?
Ask the client what the overall sales goal is. Are they wanting to get to 100,000 in sales? A Million? If that's the goal, what fraction of that cash amount are they willing to INVEST in the production to ensure they get that number? Five percent? Two? One? Zero point five percent - one half of one percent of the gross, to guarantee you sell a million? What's the amount they have to play with?
Once you know that number, now you can start figuring what, if anything you can do with that as the budget. Immediately, some avenues will be closed, but others may suggest themselves. Such as, if you can't afford production, make it a contest where viewers do the productions and send them in. That's cheap AND authentic, but will they be any GOOD? Will they say what you need them to say?.
Not to sound negative, but are you really qualified to do this job? I realize you're out of work and this is a good opportunity, but it doesn't sound like you're ready to step into this role as a contractor.
Just because someone loves gourmet food and owns a gourmet oven, doesn't make them a gourmet cook. Would you want someone cooking a meal for your boss if they ate gourmet food and owned an oven? Basically you have experience with audio work, but have not shot nor edited video. I can only imagine how this may turn out.
This company may be talking low quality (home-made look) but I bet they won't be happy with that approach. As Mark said, YouTube videos have grown in regard to production value. These videos will represent the company. A poorly produced and shot video will leave a poor impression about the company on the customers.
Kudos to you for stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new. But maybe you should hire a one-man band for the first one, so you can learn the ropes. Perhaps you should be the assistant for that one.