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Family Docs?

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John Nelson
Family Docs?
on Dec 24, 2007 at 2:07:55 am

Just wanted to ask if something like this is in operation for higher income families and, if so, what's being done about it, any ballpark pricings and what kinds of marketing is being done?

Many thanks,

Make money (and love, of course) not war...

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Randall Raymond
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 26, 2007 at 1:54:03 pm

[John Nelson] "Just wanted to ask if something like this is in operation for higher income families and, if so, what's being done about it, any ballpark pricings and what kinds of marketing is being done?"

High or low income - these often are initiated as funeral videos - especially for grand-parents. I have a friend who does them. Constant work, quick turn-around, ok pay for the time - he delivers a looped DVD. Check with your local funeral homes - do the first one for free and let your local funeral director see for themselves how much people love them. He gets $250 - for about 4 hours of work. Basically, just a slide show set to music - but he has developed a nice template.

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Mike Cohen
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 26, 2007 at 3:22:03 pm

the best kind of family docs are the ones you do for your own family. I spent about 40 hours on one for my grandparents' 60th anniversary.
There are a few companies doing non-funeral family videos if you look on Google.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 26, 2007 at 4:55:36 pm

Are there rich families around that would pay well to have docs made? No doubt. What would they pay? Based on what I see on MTV's "My Super Sweet 16", I would say there is no upper limit. You could probably hire Gondry to direct it, if they had the cash. How hard would you have to work on it, what would your expenses be like? The greatest expense there might not be technical, but in cracking the social network to get the shot at the job in the first place.

Such work comes mostly thru referrals, IMO, and not from cold-call salesmanship. You get picked because they ask their circle of other providers like caterers and event planners and private club secretaries and friends who've done it already. I think you'd also want to know, going in, how "hands-on" these folks want to be in controlling what you're doing. If they are really fussy micro-managers, you're going to lose a lot of time, and you want to budget for that. No way I'd work with people like that on a flat fee basis, it would be hourly. It usually should be, anyhow.

My gut tells me you also want to get a meaningful advance on the project to cover your out of pocket production expenses and time spent on the job, because you're going to be working without completing the project for some time. Should the patron decide they don't like how the doc is going, you can easily get yourself into a grinder situation unless you contracted for regular progress payments.

Personal story:
At a wedding anniversary party for my inlaws, my sis-in-law had paid a local guy a lot of money to make a video slideshow. It was really horrible. Very much like the infamous "Star Wipe" sequence from The Simpson's episode with the Ned Flanders Dating video edited by little Lisa Simpson, where Homer insists every transition be a star wipe, because "why have hamburger when you can have steak?".

The guy just randomly threw down photos in no kind of sequence, each up for the same 7 seconds, regardless of content, theme, chronology, or context, then applied random DVE moves and transitions, and for a sound track, just played the first 18 seconds a piece out of thirty songs, again, with no consideration for context or anything. This magnum dopus cost sis in law over a grand for sure. If you were watching me watching this, I looked like I was Malcom McDowell undergoing the Ludovico Technique from "A Clockwork Orange". My wife's arm was sore later from where I was unconsiously gripping it, the reverse of when she was in labor with our first kid. Yeah, it was that traumatic of a viewing experience for me.

The inlaws thought it was awesome.

They turned to me at the end, knowing I do some kind of television for a living, and said: "That was GREAT! Did YOU make that?"

I startled myself and everyone around me with how fast and loud I said NO! (more normally then)", that is, um, no, I had nothing to do with that, someone else has to take the, um, credit for that. Well, look at the time, gotta go..."

I guess I was a little put out that nobody had asked me to help make this for them, I would have done it for free and it would have told a story. Guess what I'm saying is there are people with money that don't really know what quality looks like. They don't see a thing as valuable unless it has a price tag on it though. They are the low-hanging fruit.

Perhaps I was even more appalled at how people in the audience were perceiving the business I was in, what low standards or lack of critical viewing skills they had, that they would consider this dreck watchable. After I cooled down a bit I decided, you know, my in-laws come from a time before TV was even invented, and to them, just seeing their faces on a TV is still something of a miracle of science.

I don't think in good conscience I could charge the same rate if you are throwing things up at the screen versus doing a real creative job, making montages or actual documentaries. Maybe I'm not really a businessman at heart.

I saw how the guy that made my inlaws' video does what he does. Took a tour. He had high school girl interns at minimum wage throwing stills down under an overhead camera, not even a scanner, just a camera, about seven seconds per still, doing a fast grab into an NLE or even just Powerpoint and throwing it down onto a timeline. Picture choice was just whatever was on top of the pile in the shoebox at the time. This guy was high volume, churning the stuff out like a factory, I'd be surprised if his entire cost of production on this job was over $50, and all that only for the kid's time spent scanning the shots. Nowadays if you have a mac, the free bundled iLife suite in it can do the exact same kind of product almost automatically, though maybe with a little more polish. Someone taking their time and approaching the subject with some personal care could do a very capable and watchable job using just iLife (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD).

So you want to make these? Good ones, I mean.

What do you charge for the hours of careful manual photo selection, touch-up, color correction, creative cropping, pacing, synching to deliberately chosen tracks, of creating a narrative flow, telling a story? What do you want to charge for the hours of setting up and shooting live interview footage, writing and recording narration, then tweaking and editing it into something meaningful and moving?

If you're going to spend the effort to do quality, you have to charge more. A lot more, or you are going to be losing money on the deal. I think if I had been picked to do the video for my inlaws, doing it for love, I'd have spent a solid week on it, maybe more, just on montages. Just for my time, had I been billing my typical rates, taking the week off from work to do this at home in imovie, the montages would have run around fourteen hundred, had I wanted to charge.

This really blows my mind, because it is probably pretty close to what the other guy charged my sis-in-law, only his profit after expenses was perhaps thirteen hundred and fifty bucks. But at least I could sleep at night, knowing I'd given it my best.

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Rick Dolishny
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 26, 2007 at 7:20:09 pm

John, it sounds like niche wedding videos you're thinking about, so why not make a go of it shooting and editing those?

See how it goes and you will get the odd call from someone who is not getting married and poof get your first family doc. I get calls occasionally for that sort of thing, sort of, via my wedding vid biz.

I produced a family doc for a very senior CO for a major national bank and they dropped a fortune on that, but he was up for a major award (which he won) and really ... how many major national banks are there?!? Even after having done one I can't recommend it as an actual business.

- Rick

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Nick Griffin
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 26, 2007 at 11:14:13 pm

"Hi, I'm Nick," I say standing up. "And I'm a video-holic."

"Hi, Nick," responds the crowded room.

"Once a year I do one of these for one of my trade association clients. It's their annual "Hall of Fame" and we try to tell as much of a story as we can about the Hall of Fame recipient's career and contributions to his industry. Our finished product is usually 6 to 7 minutes in length."

"Ohh," moans the crowd, starting to lose interest just seconds into the story.

But seriously, we do one of these, once a year, and it's not the worst project of the year. But doing it properly requires a LOT of work -- most of that on research and writing.

This particular Hall of Fame is co-sponsored by an industry trade magazine so every year it starts with what they've written about this guy over the past few decades. Two points: 1) having their magazine stories on which to do After Effects moves of the printed pages makes decent filler video for small segments of the voice-over (especially when we can strip in the actual photo versus the screened/printed photos printed in the magazine), and 2) the magazine's editors are basically incapable of providing anything other than raw facts -- video is not something they "get" because they have ZERO concept of words needing visual coverage.

Our next task is to get the full, conspiratorial cooperation of the guy's wife, secretary or Admin. Assist., his staff, friends and so on. In a typical year we try to get hundreds of photos so we can pick 80 to 100 decent ones. This is critical because these are the people who know that the perfect historical photo is hanging on the wall leading into this guy's conference room or that his state's Governor is shown in the local newspaper story breaking ground in 1970 for his new factory. As the writers and producers we rely on these people to give us the basis of our video.

For our project we also occasionally will do talking head interviews. Some years the video segments provide the structure from which we use the animated stills as cut-aways. Other years we use the stills and the narrator to set-up the video clips. It all depends on what we've got. In one early video we used phone-patch recordings of two of the recipient's friends while showing their titled still shots, news-style.

When all is said and done this annual Hall of Fame video is certainly nothing I would put on our reel, but it is ONE HELL of am improvement over what it was before we got the gig. The association's previous "communications manager" (and I use the term loosely) had his local online editing facility take five or six still images and move them around the screen in a hardware-based DVE, over top of a wallpaper of the organization's logo while the voiceover droned on for minutes at a time. It's not too hard to be dramatically better than this.

Now, as to doing more of these than one a year? No thanks. I'm happy for the one we have but there's no way I'd want to base a business on it.

Years ago a friend who was a cameraman/editor was hired by a local civic organization to create a "this is your life" video to salute a prominent businessman. The initial video turned out great but when he went to try and find other organizations and rich families who would want -- and be willing to PAY -- for something similar, he came up dry. Moral of the story is that this is the kind of thing people come to you wanting. Try to sell them on wanting it and you're likely to hit a wall. Maybe the Funeral videos are the most reliable source of this kind of work. But, having done one of our "Hall of Fame" videos posthumously for a guy I knew and liked that's not an area I have any interest in pursuing.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 27, 2007 at 3:11:21 am

"I'm Sally Struthers, and for just pennies a day, you can keep Nick and many like him off the mean streets..."

But seriously, I did one of those tributes for a transportation agency administrator who "died in harness" as it were. He was a super popular guy that had worked his way up from when Romans were first laying roads, I mean been there forever. So we we had a lot of interview material to choose from and as Nick says, co-conspirators in friends and family who came up with good pictures.

Some of the stuff just couldn't be illustrated, so I did a couple of deliberately cheesy "Home Improvement" styled dve-based animations to help illustrate the stories. There was one about the guy dumping a whole mess of turtles in the parking lot one time and holding turtle races, plus he was a NASCAR fan, so I photoshopped a number 8 on a turtle and animated it scooting thru the screen as a bookend to the story.

Another segment was all about how this guy was always super even tempered and mild mannered, never swore, etc. but one time when the rental car broke down on the way to see a big race, and he and his friends were missing it, the person talks about how the late friend finally let his anger go as he hurled a hub cap out into the Florida swamps. I did some simple but well timed DVE moves on a posed photo of the guy and his friends that really "showed" it without ever actually *showing* it. Finished the thing off with a quote about pioneers and building roads, and got a lot of the audience people coming up afterwards asking if I knew the man because I'd captured his essence so well. I didn't know the guy, and had just picked the obscure quotation at random off a google search, but it was all just a serendipitous synergy of the music, shot choices, and pacing of the cuts and other transitions. But you know you're cooking when another person who doesn't know the guy watches the thing and gets shiny eyes afterwards. I spent about two days on image captures, logging cuts and prepping/precomposing DVE's and art and picking music, then four days on the edit.

I could see doing more of these if the money was good, but they also take a bit of an emotional toll after a while, I think. Even if you don't know the guy.

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Randall Raymond
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 27, 2007 at 4:32:50 am

[Mark Suszko] "I could see doing more of these if the money was good, but they also take a bit of an emotional toll after a while, I think. Even if you don't know the guy."

Ain't that the truth! It's one of the beauties of editing - oh, the wonder of the discoveries we bring forth!

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john nelson
Re: Family Docs?
on Dec 29, 2007 at 2:38:05 am

Wow! I should check my inbox more often, but then, I just wiped out the hard drive for medical purposes and am using my wife's pc...

I really appreciate y'all's feedback on this topic. I'm out here in the desert with the spiders and snakes and a lot of rich oil millionaires and starving to death (snake meat, contrary to popular opinion, does NOT taste like chicken). What I'd hoped for was something along the lines of: "Gosh! Why didn't I think of that?!" Or, "That's the most stupid-est concept I ever heard!" But no, your inputs were thoughtful, insightful and, dare I say, entertaining...

So here's the deal; Youse guys/gals are the best at what youse do, right? Right. I've stuck a couple of things up on youtube (cuz I have waay too much time on my hands). If any of you get the chance, or have a burning desire, to watch what a snake charmer/gourmet chef is doing, I wish you would go there, search for 'juanfordroad' and come back with your opinions as to whether or not I should continue or take rich oilmen out on snipe hunts for big bucks.

There, I said it and I'm not ashamed. A bit off center maybe, but not ashamed.

Thanks for your support,,, or not....

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grinner hester
Re: Family Docs?
on Jan 6, 2008 at 5:41:09 pm

I have started marketing these. I made one of my dad before he graduated to the next life and it was priceless:
I don't look at this any differently than any other production, price-wise so they begin at $5k and go up to $50k.
This is budgeted on time that will be speant on it.
Now, 5k sounds like a lot to the average mom and pop. A demo is required and they have to now they are buying a piece of time for their money... not a DVD. Putting dad back in the living room for a half hour is what their money is going toward and that can be split up amongst family members easily.
I have a $1500 day rate. A sit down interview is a day, impoirting images and famiy footage is easily a day and then a few days of cutting, folowed by at elast one day for revisions. There will always be a sister who does not want preference to a certain story or whatever. You can't please all so please the one who hands ya the check.
These are not wedding video montages. Don;t looka t em or treat em as such. This is a documentary. A full production. If you sell yourself short, you will not be able to kep making them. I have also found old rich peaople often have what I call Neimen Cmarcus Sendrome. This is where they really do want to pay a lot for something so they can brag about howe much thay paid to a buddy who will call you wanting to pay more than they did in prder to one up them. Old school country clubs are a great place to market but you will find funeral homes will market this for you if you offer them a kick back. They mark it up ungodly (no pun intended) and people finance it, not really caring the total. Whatever. Stick to your prices and you'll be all good.

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john Nelson
Re: Family Docs?
on Jan 7, 2008 at 2:44:21 am

Thanks very much for your input. That's my fuel for the fire.

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