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How long is a piece of string?

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Jaymags
How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 5, 2007 at 7:42:44 am

Quick query for the herd,

I've been editing a feature length doc now for a month. Originally the client wanted 60', and suggested four weeks for the edit (!). I thought this way off beam - and suggested 6-8 weeks as more like it. There are some 25 interviewees (many speaking a foreign language, hours of archive and pictures to be rostrumed.

Their production quality is high, and organisation seems a little low. The script is very much in the rough stage - new interviewees have been added, and some of the existing ones are not as lucid as would be hoped, so they're not going to make the cut.

Now I'm thinking that even 8 weeks might be pushing it. So, my question to the cow - How long would you expect to have in order to cut a 90-100' complex documentary for cinema release? Any ideas?

Your thoughts would be gratefully recieved...



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Tim Wilson
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 5, 2007 at 9:42:30 am

I've read interviews with a whole lot of actors who regret agreeing to a part without a final script. Changes are inevitable, but you don't know what you have until you have it.

[Jaymags] "The script is very much in the rough stage - new interviewees have been added, and some of the existing ones are not as lucid as would be hoped..."

Eek, eek and more eek. First, note that I'm not ranting at you. I'm ranting at the producers who've put you in impossible situation.

There's no way on earth to even begin to estimate this. Other than time, you don't have any other targets! Even for the interviewees, the question is approach.

We've had this argument here before, but I'm a HUGE fan of having a script, or at least an outline, of the whole project. You don't want to script all of the interview --- and you CAN'T script the interview answers or it's not really an interview. But you have to get the producers to pin down targets: where is each interview going? What do you need each interviewee to cover? Without that in hand, you can't even guess how long an interview session should take. You can't know how much footage you'll need so you can't estimate hard costs either.

There's also shooting style. I've been reading about Errol Morris, who's made Academy Award nominated and winning documentaries (Fog of War won most recently). With that one, what started as a single one hour interview turned into 2 two-hour interviews in two days....and then into 7 months of interviews off and on. He's done single interviews upwards of 12 hours.

Even doing nature docs, I rarely shot more than 10 or 15:1...for a single subject. If you're doing that for 25 interviewees, and the final length for each interview is 5 minutes, you'll have an hour of footage in the can for EACH. Add set-up (lights, camera), getting them comfortable, repacking the gear, you're easily looking at 3-4 hours.

Each.

Or a fraction of that. You just can't know.

So I recommend pushing back on the producers. Say that you're ready to outline your strategy, costs and time as soon as the project targets are locked. If the target moves, so will your numbers. If they can't buy into that, eek eek and more eek.

Others will surely weigh in, but there's me.

Good luck!

Tim




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Mike_S
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 5, 2007 at 10:15:59 am

I can't see any basis for agreeing to a fixed fee rather than a weekly rate for this one ...


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Jaymags
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 5, 2007 at 10:26:12 am

Oh no, no fixed fee Mike! I'd run a mile from that - I don't EVER do fixed fees. Golden rule.

No, this project is shot, each interview is about an hour, some more some less. There's maybe 60 or 70 hours of footage so far, captured and logged (to a grater or lesser extent) with more to come. I suppose my query is too nebulous really. I'm just looking for a yardstick to judge - my client doesn't have a bottomless pit of budget, but at the same time wants to make their programme as good as possible. I have a weekly fee (and a number of hours for that) that I don't go below, certainly on the fee - hours wise, I'll put out if I like them, if I beleive in the project, if I've goofed... many variables, but always letting the client know what's a 'freebie'.

I'm looking for something along the lines of 'We'd consider X weeks normal for a 90' feature doc' so that either I can say to them 'Fine, you need to do far more pre-prep to make the best of my time' or 'look, you're waayyyy off beam here...'

Thanks for all the input so far...


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Del Holford
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 5, 2007 at 12:54:15 pm

I've worked on finishing a documentary where the producer/editor worked for three years off and on to prepare the documentary for finishing in HD. We did the finishing in about a week using Discreet fire. Another project on local survivors of WWII (amazing how many Bataan Death March survivors live in Charlotte) took almost a year to off-line and three weeks to finish in HD. Every project has many variables: how much is B-roll for covering talking heads? How much graphic work has to be added? The less organized the producers, the longer it will take to achieve a good program because no matter how good you are at helping sort it all out, their vision has to become clear enough for you to catch it and use your skills to communicate it to the audience.

As you indicated, you need to have a serious sit-down with the client and explain the realities. Your project looks like it will take months, not days, to realize. Best of luck.

Del
fire*, smoke*, photoshopCS2
Charlotte Public Television


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Jaymags
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 5, 2007 at 1:43:04 pm

Thanks Del!

I've been fortunate in my 15-odd years - I've always worked with clients who either a) have a pretty accurate grasp on what's achievable or b) trust me to do same!! This is really the first where the scale of the project and the expectation of the client are at such odds. Just needed to be reassured that I'm not going mad, and the industry hasn't changed *that* much since I took a holiday... I'm sure it won't be a problem...

Thanks again


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Scott Davis
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 6, 2007 at 5:01:23 pm

[Jaymags] "This is really the first where the scale of the project and the expectation of the client are at such odds."

A really wise woman I worked with once said, "Stress is when expectations and reality don't agree."


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David Roth Weiss
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 7, 2007 at 5:02:19 am

[Jaymags] "There's maybe 60 or 70 hours of footage so far, captured and logged (to a grater or lesser extent) with more to come."

And, let me guess... I'll bet the producers on this one have also told you that transcriptions are too expensive???


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Nick Griffin
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 7, 2007 at 11:13:36 am

There comes a time when you have to decide what you want to be in life.

"...25 interviewees, many speaking a foreign language, hours of archive and pictures to be rostrumed."

"The script is very much in the rough stage - new interviewees have been added, and some of the existing ones are not as lucid as would be hoped..."


Do you want to be the editor (with a small e) THE Editor (with the capital e and 'THE' up front ? Do you want to be the Producer/Editor? Or do you want to be Superman and fly in and save they day?

So if you're the editor or Editor why isn't this the job of the project's Producer, or his or her designated producer(s)?? Seems to me like they are asking one hell of a lot and YOU, my friend, have made the mistake of letting them think that this is realistic and do-able in a very small number of man hours.

What you need to do NOW is write out on one piece of paper what you expected the project to be and on another piece (or as many as it takes) write out what you can now see it has become. Sit down with your client and go through this comparison. Offer politely to resign now, being paid only for the time you have spent organizing it for the next sucker (ooh! I mean Editor), but attempt to re-negotiate based on the new reality. Perhaps show them how with window burns (uggg!!) or a 2nd smaller system, they can do much of the work that gets you back to the project you thought you had booked in the first place.

Good luck, Jaymags. We feel your pain.


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Jaymags
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 8, 2007 at 8:01:02 am

[Nick Griffin] "YOU, my friend, have made the mistake of letting them think that this is realistic and do-able in a very small number of man hours."

I can see I've given you that impression... and certainly, I thought it was more advanced and less of a size than it is. When the project was first mooted I think that it could have been manageable, but like Topsy it 'growed and growed' till it became the 'doc that ate Paris'. It's not so bad, they've done burns and transcripts, it's just the story that needs the honing, and I'm happy to be in the driving seat - storytelling is what I do best - but it was really more to do with timescales, what is realistic. The client is great, very amenable and ultimately if I say 'This ain't gonna happen in X weeks' they'll listen. There has been no pressure, just an expectation (or rather an assumption) that has been off-beam for a while now. I don't forsee any problem in re-alinging their expectations, as I said I don't do fixed price, so ultimately either they'll find the budget or not. Its just good to know I'm not way off the mark - for some time now post budgets in the UK have been squeezed beyond sensible to the realms of the seemingly impossible by certain companies (Sure we can cut a half-hour show in a day! Oh, you want it onlined too? Hey, how 'bout I shove a broom up my **** and I'll sweep up whilst I'm doing it?!) so one's sense of reality can get a little skewed. Suffice to say I don't work for those companies any more... ;-)

Thanks for all the advice!


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Scott Davis
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 8, 2007 at 6:14:49 pm

[Jaymags] "Hey, how 'bout I shove a broom up my **** and I'll sweep up whilst I'm doing it?!)"

I'm definitely stealing that one. Same things is going on over here in the US of A.

Scott


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GaryAlan
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jul 14, 2007 at 4:01:28 am

If you don't have a script, at least have an idea in your head with a plan. An old trick I learned at ABC from the old pros was to ask your questions with the answer you want inside the question. Such as "so, you don't know the exact number of people unemployed in your area?" Nine times out of ten they will answer, "Yes, I don't know the exact number of unemployed people in our area".

And stop the interview after you have what you wanted to get. If you get into a situation where you are not getting the answers you need, go off on another area and come back to that question later when the the person seems to talk more freely and is comfortable with you.

Gary


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grinner
Re: How long is a piece of string?
on Jun 12, 2007 at 2:56:41 pm

I average about 500 hours per one hour documentary in post, fwiw.
If it's just cuts with bites and some b-roll, it can be done in as little as a week but I suspect thats not the case. Your best bet is to not quote a flat bid at all on this and just stay hourly. This way, their creativity stays o their dollar.



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