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Estimating edit fees

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GregEstimating edit fees
by on Dec 1, 2005 at 4:14:34 pm

I've had this problem for many years. I find it difficult to estimate how long a project will take to edit. There have been projects where I've booked a facility for 3 days only to need 2.

Now as I run my own business, whenever I provide a cost estimate to a client who needs editing services, I wonder if I'm painting myself into a corner. Usually at the time of the estimate, I have no script yet I provide a detailed estimate for shooting and editing. If aprospective client asks for a quote on a 15 minute marketing video I may estimate 4 days of editing at my rate.

Here are my questions:

How do you folks deal with editing estimates before a video is shot?

How would you deal with hiring a freelance editor after you've provided your cost estimate? Let's say I want to make $25/hr off of my freelancer. My own rates are $65/hr. Do I ask the freelancer to do $40/hr or do I raise my rates to $90/hr?

What if the project takes longer to edit than specified by me? Can I charge the client more? How do you go about that? Thanks for your help.

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Seth BloombaumRe: Estimating edit fees
by on Dec 1, 2005 at 6:12:44 pm

IMHO you establish a shop rate for editing, and that's the rate whether you're editing or a freelancer. In other words, the rate is market-based, not cost-based.

If the client is directing only provide estimates and charge actual hours. Make that clear in your agreements. In this situation the client is really responsible for hours worked.

If you are directing the edit, provide early estimates then quote only from scripts or not at all. (graphics are different and frequently require quotes, but you need specs to quote).

There really is no possibility of a quotation without sufficient specifications.

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Craig SeemanRe: Estimating edit fees
by on Dec 1, 2005 at 10:12:32 pm

Clients need to both budget time and money on a project.

Another way of handling is give a base amount of time in your contract. At your rate you could quote
$2600 for a week (40 hour week) of editing including revisions (if you think the job will take a week of post based on the preliminary description. Then they have a budget and time constraint to guide them. If after seeing script and other post production requests, you can then respond that they may need alter complexity of graphics and change script to meet the budget or they need to fill out a change order for more time.

You make clear your initial quote is based on a skeletal concept description. NEVER stick yourself in a "flat rate" situation with so many unknowns. If you've overestimated you can always reward the client with a 10% discount on early payment/completion.

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Seth BloombaumRe: Estimating edit fees
by on Dec 1, 2005 at 10:51:59 pm

Craig, I appreciate what you wrote.

However, I would never use the word "quote" until I had specifications. Until then, I would use the word "estimate". An estimate is a guess which can always change as more information becomes available. A quote can only change if there is a change in specifications.

But I think we're on the same page about not painting yourself into a corner, I'm just super-sensitive to the words, and I want to make sure my client understands the difference too.

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Craig SeemanRe: Estimating edit fees
by on Dec 1, 2005 at 11:24:58 pm

I understand what you're saying about quote vs estimate. Yes one should use estimate by and large.

I've run into circumstances where the client wants a FIRM number at what, IMHO is way to early a stage. If they want a lock an the dollards then you have to also give them a lock on the time. This forces them to make elimnations or pay for overages/overtime.

It's also important to talk about deadlines and changes in them even if it doesn't affect total hours. I've had clients who've had deadlines move to an earlier date so the 40 hours that was stretched over 2 weeks became 1 week and you've already booked some hours for other projects during the week they want.

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Seth BloombaumRe: Estimating edit fees
by on Dec 2, 2005 at 12:09:08 am

Totally agree with you on that, Craig.

Those darn clients (whoops, that's another topic). So often when a client wants a firm quote I end up making up my own specs for their project, and spitting that back to them with the estimate. The real stinker about post estimates is that usually you're not in control of the actual hours - it's the client.

As to the client who wants 80 hours of work in 5 days, or 40 hours when you've already booked 25 hours... there aren't a lot of alternatives. Someone goes on swing shift, or ???. For a one-person band it's even harder.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Estimating edit fees
by on Dec 5, 2005 at 5:20:30 pm

Back in the 80's when editing was linear and puppies were the oldest animal, I would take the amount of footage already shot, and double that tape time plus add one or two hours to figure the minimum for a simple on-line session, one where I was well-prepared with a paper EDL and graphics and etc. all pre-made. From that I could calculate a rate and a markup. It worked ok for a while, but that was strictly for low-end work.

Today the situation is very different, and you're asking how to budget with almost no known fixed items.

If you are a one-stop shop/one man band, where you are editor, graphic designer, etc. I suppose you could charge the same hourly rate no matter which function you were performing. Figuring how long it takes is like one of those mathematical expressions, where any three points combined, define a plane in space. The area of that plane is final cost. Let's see if we can define three points. Another version of this is called the "iron triangle" or "golden triangle" : you can have it fast, good, and cheap, but you only get to pick two of these at a time, any two, but ONLY two.

One solid point you can always count on for creating our "plane" is the client will have a "drop-dead" deadline where something must be ready to show the final audience. We can back-track from there to know the maximum number of days available, obviously. Max number of days lets you decide how hard to work on it - will you need to run longer or double shifts? At what rate? Will this job preclude other, ucrative gigs, or is the pace lazy enough you could even work other jobs in-between? Having a delivery "date-certain" lets you look at the calendar and decide where roughly you need progress payments and milestones to happen.

Point two: If footage has alreay been shot, like I did in the 80's, we can come up with a rate based on the number of hours, with a fudge factor mark-up that depends on the complexity of the job. High-precision compositing or CG animation rendering means more hours per finished hour than straight documentary cutting, so the more demanding job will have a larger percentage added to it. So if we know the amount of footage, or the nature of the footage and a rough running time for the finished product, we have some sense for guessing point 2.

Examples: Single-camera Lecture/speech editing to powerpoint cut-aways? Closer to the 2Xrealtime plus an hour or so figure for post from my youth. Dramatic re-enactments? With real actors? 3x realtime. With company "volunteers"? Six times realtime. Shot simultaneously on 2 cams? Bring the realtime X factor down a bit from six because you are more likely to have usable cut-aways, but then add back some time on the front end for extra time digitizing, plus the cost of more storage. That's how I work it when trying to get a rough ballpark number. The more professional the talent, the more time is saved in shooting, because scenes are repeatable and consistent, and post time is reduced because you don't have to work so hard covering errors. Pro talent costs more up front but saves more on the back-end. When I have to use non-pro talent doing dramatic stuff, shooting 2-camera is the only way I can get reliable, consistent takes and cutaways. But I've upped the camea rental costs, and may even have to add the cost of a second operator. Now your calculator is grinding away...

Point three: we can work the problem from the available funds side. If they tell you the project cannot exceed x amount, this lets you make a lot of decisions about the technical execution you will throw at this. It's hard to get clients to commit to a figure up front like this; naturally, when they as "how much?" and you say "how much you got?" they expect if they answer truthfully, you will automatically demand that full amount.

It's up to you to explain, using the automotive or house-builder analogies, that there are numerous ways a thing can be done, and available budget dictates what kind of special details and features get left in or taken out. A Yugo and a Maybach can both get you across town, and in traffic, both do it at about the same speed. The extra features and details in the Maybach make the difference in the cost. Two houses; each keeps the rain off your head, what makes the difference in size and price? When they understand your strategy on execution depends on a general level of funding, they might open up and tell you what their boss said the not-to-exceed number is. You can then tell them if this is a practical number or not, and what the trade-offs will be at that price level. If they agree, you can work back from that figure.

I find what helps at this stage is to also mention that you will not be demanding full payment up-front: that we usually work these things in three steps, with payment at each progress point. The idea of a refund for unused days is also an atractive concept to mention at this point. I explain to the clients that this gives them the control to stop the project and walk away at any particular stage if they are not happy, or the situation changes, and not be out the full amount of money. They like to feel in control of the project as much as possible; you can't blame them since you are doing all the work and they are nominally bystanders, and they have to ultimately serve this product up to some boss of theirs.

If there is no script, no script treatment, no footage yet shot, it is just too early to have a meaningful conversation.

You might explain that once there is at least a treatment, you can figure out roughly how many days/hours it will take to shoot, and what extra costs for travel, sets, expendables, staffing, special effects or unique lighting are needed... from the figure of shoot days you can extrapolate the duration post "might" take, barring complications or fixes that may need to happen.

Inexperienced clients want to skip things like creating a treatment and get right to the sexy stuff like saying "roll 'em" and pushing t-bars. I always stress to them that making changes on the piece of paper, before we start *anything*, costs them nothing, indeed, saves them lots of money, but once we commit to shoots and editing, change becomes expensive. You don't build much of a house without first drawing up the blueprints, after all. The fee for change orders in mid-edit is your insurance policy for not under-bidding the job. Know who signs the checks ultimately at the client's company, insist that that is the only person who can sign-off a change order. This keeps the project in control.

Otherwise, you may go thru hours or days of (sometimes stupid or wrong) changes to please the fellow sitting on the couch behind your console, only to find out the guy who's PAYING for all of this never approved that stuff and hates it and won't pay for it and wants you to put it back the way it was before... for free.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

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Peter HitchcockRe: Estimating edit fees
by on Dec 18, 2005 at 2:42:52 pm

Charging by hour to me seems the best way for the Editor and the Client.
On average an expierienced Editor with equipment is about $150 an hour.
Long term projects or returning clients could be less.
Its a good idea that there are no suprises so a finished minute without changes could be quoted as a rough guide other cost could be included Music, Narration, sfx, mix. Plus dubs
Motion graphics and other Effects such as animation should perhaps be quoted.
Job to be done within a time frame. Charges for backups storage could apply.Peter

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