Approval and invoicing system
What do you all use to send proofs to clients for approval? Email a Quicktime file? Use a web-based system? Mail a DVD? What about for invoicing?
I've played with a couple different web-based systems, but haven't been able to find something that's quite as elegant as I expect it to be. What would you recommend and why?
We have an FTP system that allows us to upload a Quicktime or WMV. The client gets an e-mail with an address and password. They can view it but can't download it. We normally upload a version with a timecode window.
for invoicing, we use Quickbooks Pro and we can email the invoice from within that.
It's a dry heat!
Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1 HD .
I use word for invoices.
For local approvals, DVD is still the norm. For remote approvals, I just use wmv files unless they want something else.
Most of our approvals are done via an online system we built from scratch. It is password protected, shows clients previews from current and past projects, and handles audio, video and stills. For video, we encode everything to Flash video (FLV) for its smaller file sizes and protection (clients can't download the files). All videos have time code burn-in as well.
We do approvals in person with the client more and more these days, it really helps in building relationships, keeping errors to a minimum and keeping revision cycles down since we can really dig deep and get more feedback from them the first time around.
For invoicing and bidding we use Quickbooks and just email PDFs of the docs.
YouSendit.com has been a useful tool for us when it comes to sending cuts to clients. Though instead of telling YouSendIt to send the link directly to our clients, we usually include the link in an email, with comments and simple instructions. Also, just to make sure the link reaches the client without bouncing etc.
My preference is to encode to Quicktime movies using H.264 compression, but a lot of our clients are in PC-based environment, so I usually have to make do with .WMV [using Flip4Mac].
We have our own FTP server, but since a lot of our clients work in organizations with strict firewalls, don't have admin privileges to their own system or are not tech-savvy, we gravitate towards YouSendIt more often than not.
Turnaround time and costs for web delivery sure beats couriering a DVD :]
FCP Editor / Producer with Intuitive Films
Now 'LIVE'! Check Out The Intuitive Films Blog @ http://intuitive-films.blogspot.com
At Intuitive Films, We Create: TV Commercials, Documentaries, Corporate Videos and Feature Films
Visit us @ http://www.intuitivefilms.com
MacBook Pro 2.4GHz | 4GB RAM | FCP 5.1.4 | Mac OS X 10.5.2
Well we do what most people here seem to, which are approvals either in person, via DVD, or electronic files.
I'd say well over half of our clients are in-person approvals... which we encourage. We much prefer them to come here and see the cleanest version possible of their project under controlled conditions in a comfortable suite on a good big monitor. A lot of them really seem to like doing that, too... I guess it's a fun outing from an otherwise kinda boring corporate existence.
It's not too often, but occasionally we have gone to a client's place to do an in-person viewing... we will take a good portable production monitor and play it off DVD.
Other clients would just rather come pick up a DVD and view it back at their place. That's never my first choice because I know 9 times out of 10 they are viewing it on the DVD drive in their computer, not on a real TV monitor via a set-top DVD player... but that's what some want and get.
Others, mostly out-of-towners, get electronic files... usually mediumish-resolution "approval quality" .wmv or Quicktime files. The vast majority of our projects are :30 broadcast commercials so the files are of manageable sizes. We've basically given up doing any FTPing, clients invariably call with "So how do I do that again?" questions. I simply stick the files on the server here and email them a link. Some clients are large enough and have enough files that they have their own folder on the server with their own name... but for onesies and twosies I'll just put the files in a general "client downloads" folder. That folder does have a dummy index.html page in it, so clients can't access the root folder and see anyone else's projects that they aren't given access too. It's all not rock-solid secure, of course, but more than secure enough for what we are doing. No national secrets going on here. We don't timecode burn the files or prevent clients from downloading them. In fact I encourage them to download them for later viewing, rather than eating up my bandwidth by streaming them over and over again at different times. We trust our clients, and there's really nothing useful they could do with crappy low-res .wmv or .mov files anyway.
Works for us....
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Here's my opinion and a fairly good thread from a little more than a year ago:
Now, a year later, I can say that if anything I'm MORE positive about MediaBatch. Like cell phones, FedEx, even indoor plumbing... hard to imagine life without it.
The important ingredient is to know the client's capabilities ahead of time. Just recently, I had a client attempt to show her board of directors a Flash video off our client website. She wrote back saying the video stutters and played poorly. I asked if she tested it ahead of time. She replied that all of the files I had sent her played like this, but she didn't want to say anything. She was always very good about sending her comments about the video content.
I FedEx'd a DVD to her right away. Turns out their firewall was the culprit.
About 99.9% of our clients are more than an hour's drive away, so we use the web for nearly everyone, either FLV or WMV for download. 90% of people have no problem with one or the other method.
Oddly, I once had a client request the final DVD, then ask for the DVD content to be put online so they could get it approved. Then we got a comment from the approval dept. asking why the website does not show the DVD menu :)
Definitely do not use FTP for client review of anything. I would say 92.3% of people have no idea what FTP means and would have issues using an FTP client or even IE to access an FTP site. Firewalls are often working against FTP.
Well...Media Batch is the Cadillac delivery method...can't live without indoor plumbing?
Hmmm...I should check that out.
I think the question is really the delivery AND approval process...as opposed to the delivery FOR approval process. Overall, our methods for delivery probably get more attention than our methods to gain approval...delivery is more interesting, but approval gets us paid.
Whether you use YouSendIt or Media Batch or you just email files, the keys to the process are probably these:
1. File has to be high quality enough to really see everything in a reasonable simulation of what will be delivered. A 320x180 WMV file that can be attached to an email as a proof of an HD video may get approval on everything but you may end up clarifying all sorts of questions arising from the quality of the images...so restricting quality of the image may not be the most effective way to protect yourself from having work product used before payment...
2. The video needs some method of pin pointing areas within the clip so that you and your client understand exactly what is being discussed for any requested revisions. Media Batch introduces timecode and a unique markup system, Adobe PPro allows an export to PDF that allows the client to make notes and they automatically come back to the timeline and attach at the proper instance in time...you can "burn in" a timecode window on most NLEs these days, but of course the TC does obscure a portion of the picture, so that doesn't always work either...one way or another, you have to have a system in place so you and your client can pin point an area of the clip to the frame.
3. File needs some attribute that keeps it from being used before you get paid. A low quality file has disadvantages, on-screen TC burns have theirs as well, perhaps considering a watermark system is reasonable. Most media encoders have the capability to introduce a watermark in the encoding process...em,bedding a Flash file in a player can also protect it's unintended use, but you have to consider how much extra labor you want to introduce into this step of the process.
4. With multiple drafts of any project traveling back and forth, the approval needs to be tied directly to a specific proof file. Dating each and every proof file in the filename seems an obvious way to help here, though so few seem to do it... Whenever the signature is given, it would also be best to have the client specify, in their hand, what filename they are approving. Then delivering a sort of approval 'document' of some sort with that file and their sig page embedded (maybe in a PDF?) can be an excellent way to counter any later disputes. Also...obviously...archive the approval documents and the approval clip...just in case.
Using something like Media Batch or Adobe for 'proofing' is a good system (and Media Batch actually simplifies asset movement in both directions, so you have some benefits in that way as well), but I don't know if anyone has the perfect approval process just yet. It's a matter of what works best for you...
[Tim Kolb] "Well...Media Batch is the Cadillac delivery method"
Please! It's the BMW delivery method. Actually in its elegance, closer to the Apple method of delivery.
The "notes" feature on Media Batch creates a great environment for exchanging information and the ability for everyone to leave specific markers and draw on the video is wonderfully straightforward.
[Tim Kolb] "can't live without indoor plumbing? Hmmm...I should check that out."
Oh that explains soooo much. Thanks for sharing, Tim.
As to the rest of your post, you are right on the money. (So to speak.) It also reminds me how fortunate I am to have a highly B-2-B clientele who have far more interest in their own business than the techniques and details of my business. I try to avoid people who want to "direct" as part of their job as "Senior Vice President in charge of Marketing and making vendors crazy."
[Nick Griffin] "[Tim Kolb] "Well...Media Batch is the Cadillac delivery method"
Please! It's the BMW delivery method. Actually in its elegance, closer to the Apple method of delivery."
Well, the BMW thing is just so obvious with Marco... I thought this was more amusing, but if you don't know that Marco is into BMW motorsports (I mean like...driver seat), I guess you don't get it.
'Apple' method of delivery...I don't follow...
I suppose the hulking hybrid Escalade isn't your idea of 'elegance'?
[Tim Kolb] "I suppose the hulking hybrid Escalade isn't your idea of 'elegance'?"
Kathlyn and I have always referred to the Escalade as the urban drug-runner assault vehicle.
Even the guys at the local Cadillac dealership joke that they sell most of them to wealthy soccer moms or drug runners.
I guess it's the reason for the new joke that I just am making up right now, as to what do soccer moms and urban drug-runners have in common? Escalades.
(Drum roll sound inserted here, a little louder than the audience groaning as the shepherd's hook reaches on-stage and pulls the aspiring comic off-stage -- where he truly belongs.)
[Nick Griffin] "I try to avoid people who want to "direct" as part of their job..."
Oh man oh man... I try to avoid that, too. Sometimes it can't be helped...sigh.
Even after years and years of it, it still amazes me that someone who would never attempt to tell a plumber how to fix their drain, or tell an electrician how to wire their house, or tell their doctor exactly what kind of treatment they need... is suddenly an absolute advertising and marketing genius who knows exactly what they need and how they need it... irrespective of the fact that they have no expertise or experience in that realm.
Sometimes, if your relationship is good, you just have to be firm with them....
I was editing a commercial for a plastic surgeon once who surprisingly wanted to sit in on the session (we do a lot of those guys and most of them are far too busy shoveling money to spend much time with us). Anywho, this guy kept nitpicking things, trying things this and that way (and of course always going back to my original cuts, which is general the way). I finally casually asked him if he ever had any patients who came to him and told him not only what they wanted, but exactly how he should do it. He said "Oh yes, I've had a few like that on the table, I can't wait to put them under just so they will be quiet." I looked at him and said "Bob... it's time for you to go to sleep now." He paused, smiled, and said "Ohh...." and sat back and shut up for the rest of the session. And left happy.
Of course you can't do that with everyone, but fortunately sometimes you can.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
We put a time code burn-in on the online videos and ask people to e-mail us the edit revisions or comments using the on-screen timecode display. Occasionally we will have someone write back "at 01:03:05:00 edit this down some, and then add some more after that" leaving it up to us to figure out the actual edits. While other people get specific down to the frame with specific cuts. One needs to be mindful of illogical edits, such as the 15 frame edit. Sometimes an editor has to interpret the client's suggestion, and be able to identify typographical errors by the same token.
I'm surprised no one's mentioned one of the simplest options for web approval. Get yourself an account at a video hosting provider like blip.tv or vimeo.com and upload your rough cuts there. You can send the client directly to the page or easily embed the video in a client page on your own site. With blip you can password protect your videos just for the client. Vimeo has higher quality HD encoding if that's important. You can see some HD examples here:
This is the quick and dirty way but you get a nice embeddable player and it isn't any more difficult than uploading to an FTP site. It's very easy for the client. I've done it a few times.
Follow me on twitter @EricSusch
A similar option is screencast.com -- I actually found them through their banner ad at the bottom of this forum.
They allow you to make the files public, private, or password-protected. You can turn on an option to show clients a download button. They do not recompress video, so it can be presented in whatever format you choose. You can quickly generate links to send to clients, or you can embed in a web page.
Walter Soyka, Principal
Keen Live, Inc.
Presentation, Motion Graphics & Widescreen Design
RenderBreak: A Blog on Innovation in Production
We edit in PremierePro CS3. It allow us export the timeline/work area as a PDF for comments in an Adobe Clip Notes PDF. This embeds the video,(in a QT or WMV format), into a PDF file for emailing where the client can open the PDF, view the video, pause where desired and enter comments in a special window. After they've finished, the informaion is saved in an XML file that they email back to us.
We import the XML back into the Premiere project and it will put markers up on the timeline where the client paused. When clicked, a window opens with the clients comments. Smooth or what?