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Need advice from the more experienced

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Eric MunchNeed advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 19, 2008 at 3:15:27 pm

Hello CreativeCow! I've recently discovered this site and would like to thank everyone here for the wealth of valuable info! Now for my first post. Bear with me, it's a little long.

I am a freelance editor who has been working for the past couple of years for a small video production company. It's mainly documentary work (personal biographies, corporate histories, some web commercial work). Basically, we (I work with one other editor) get the raw interview tapes and any b-roll they may have (usually just photos and home video) and produce a 45-60min finished video. Everything is shot in HDV 1080i. We use for music and find any other necessary media online (a lot from or shoot it ourselves. Sometimes the interviews are shot with two cameras, one green screen. In addition we create a 3-5min "movie trailer", slideshow and all DVD menu designs.

We have all of our own gear and work out of my apartment.

They pay a flat $1000 per project. We get a 50% deposit when we deliver a first draft and then the remaining 50% after any revisions. A full project usually takes about a couple weeks, not including revisions.

When I started, I did not have a huge reel and had not been doing video for very long. I came from the audio side of things. I got to know an editor on an indie film I did a sound design job for, and interned with him for a year off and on learning FCP, After Effects, etc. When I started doing these bios I thought it was a great opportunity to get into video.

So now two years of full-time work later...

Is $1000 for a job like this even remotely close to what a working pro on this board would accept? It breaks down to less that $10 an hour (which should answer my question).

Beyond that, the guy is often extremely slow to pay. Some projects have been in revisions for over 7 months. I am told that until the client pays, he cannot afford to pay me. I have repeatedly told him that it is his responsibility to pay me, as I have no recourse with his clients.

Now for the part where everyone says I am an idiot. We have no written agreements for any projects up until this point. He has agreed to start using actual written contracts for all future work. There are a lot of projects on deck and his business seems to be steadily growing.

This is also my main source of income and I can't just walk away, although I'd honestly love to if I had other steady work.

I guess I'm just looking for some general advice. After writing all of this down it seems pretty clear that this is not the best situation. Any and all input would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again!

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Todd TerryRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 19, 2008 at 4:08:04 pm

[Eric Munch] "Is $1000 for a job like this even remotely close to what a working pro on this board would accept?"

Short answer, no.

It's hard give a very detailed answer, since we don't know the subject of these pieces, what level of production values we are talking about, or even your skill level...

...but a thousand bucks for an hour-long finished job? That would be incredibly incredibly low... even for a simple just-cut-it-together hack job.

In fact, I had to re-read your post to make sure you hadn't initially said a thousand dollars per finished minute, which would not be at all out of line for a relatively mid-to-high-end project with slick production values.

If your work is at all good... you are getting robbed.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Mike CohenRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 19, 2008 at 4:49:57 pm

Check out wedding rates in your area. Most 2-camera weddings will run $1500-$3000 - they are about an hour long finished project, and most of the cost is the editing (40 hours or so).
Who are this guy's clients? Individuals, businesses, clubs, etc?
If you can survive on these projects (rent, food, a life away from the computer) in this economy it may be ok. But it sounds like you are being short-changed.
Does your employer have any template or other SOP for one of these videos, or do you just keep working until it is done? A $1000 video should have some criteria attached to it, ie. 15 hours editing, 5 music tracks, 2 hours graphic design work, etc. If there are no restraints then your hourly wage will indeed approach zero and you are going to lose your shirt and possibly your mind!

Pretend this is your own business. Would you charge the same rates? Would you pay others the same wages for the work you are now doing?

Don't get taken advantage of. If you are working for someone else out of someone's apartment, and this is a long term deal, that could be a sign of trouble ahead. Not getting paid in a timely manner is another red flag, there are dozens of threads about that issue alone.

Could you do this sort of work yourself? Presumably if the guy is paying you $1000, he is probably pocketing a similar amount, but not doing as much work. That would be ok if you were paid in a customary manner.

Lots of questions you need to ask yourself.

Report back. We are happy to give advice.

Mike Cohen

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Mark SuszkoRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 19, 2008 at 5:42:05 pm

For a measly grand, you should get paid up front. The other guys are right. Read some of the previous posts in this section about setting rates for good guidance. Also read Ron's "Grinders" piece.

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Timothy J. AllenRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 19, 2008 at 7:54:19 pm

O.k. The consensus is that you most likely deserve to make more, but I wouldn't jump ship quite yet.

To keep all of your eggs from being in one basket, the first thing you need is more than one egg. Figure out what you really should be making then work on adding some additional clients at your new (=higher) rate.

Eventually, you will have enough business where the new projects step on the old ones and you can go back to this client and give him a heads up on when your new rates will be going into effect. If he balks (and if he's a grinder he probably will), that frees you up to do even more work at the better rate.

Granted the tough part is serving those new clients well before jettison the grinder, but I've heard from most of the professionals here that "clearing out the brush" of old clients that are either slow to pay or expect unrealistic rates can be a very good thing for your business.

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Nick GriffinRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 19, 2008 at 11:34:39 pm

[Timothy J. Allen] "Eventually, you will have enough business where the new projects step on the old ones"

What I believe Tim is saying is something I've advocated on these pastures for several years. Add new business at the top (higher rates) and let the business at the bottom drop off unless they are willing to pay the higher rates. WHEN market conditions allow for this, it's a great way to grow. Just don't get too cocky and get left hanging out in the cold with no one willing to pay the new rates.

That said... Dude!!!! $1,000 for a 45 min show in HD?? Using gear you own?? You knew what to expect when you asked the question.

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Jason JenkinsRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 19, 2008 at 9:45:18 pm

Sounds like a guy in the Seattle area that is constantly posting on Craigslist for interns or editors. I don't have much respect for someone who's business model requires a steady stream of intern/students who work for next to nothing.

Jason Jenkins

Flowmotion Media

Video production... with style!

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Bob ZelinRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 20, 2008 at 2:11:26 am

you will not like my reply -
you write -
"So now two years of full-time work later"

AH HA - so you are not a freelancer. You are a FULL TIME EMPLOYEE of this guy, who does not pay you benefits, and you provide all of the equipment, and you charge nothing for it. You did say "full time work" - does this mean that you don't have ANY other clients ? I bet it does. You know what this means ?
You have TWO CHOICES -
1) get some more clients, and once you do, phase him out, or raise his rates. You won't be worried if you have more clients
2) GET A JOB. You can make more money working for anyone, than putting up with this bullcrap. You are not a freelancer, and you are not in your own business if this is your only client.

You either want to run a business, or you don't. Running a business means multiple clients. The IRS might actually consider you an employee of this guy, and ask him for taxes, as you may qualify as his employee, based on what you have said. Your definition of "being a freelancer" means nothing to the IRS. Providing your own equipment qualifies as "non reimbursed expenses" of an employee.

Either way, stop this nonsense. If you don't want to get a job, damn it, solicit more clients - this is your #1 job as a business person, not editing.

Bob Zelin

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Brian MillsRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 20, 2008 at 7:02:15 am

So we all agree you are not making enough on these projects, but I offer a partial solution to your problem:

find ways to be more efficient, that way you spend less time for the same money and automatically give yourself a raise (per working hour).

I had a client with a very limited budget but gave me regular work, so I found every way to streamline to process: creating templates for editing, shooting multiple projects in the same day, etc.

They kept paying the same rate but I was working less time on the project, thus earning more per hour and freeing myself up to look for new clients/take on more work.

So, I find it hard to believe you are really making $10/hr on this, because that would imply 100 hours of work per project. Cut those hours WAY DOWN as much as you can, and you may be happier with the arrangement...

Brian Mills

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moody glasgowRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 20, 2008 at 7:09:52 am

Lol 7 months of revisions? I hope you get paid for those...

We had a young editor here working on a no budget project for a director for over 14 months!!!! Revision after revision. Finally they cut him off.

moody glasgow

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Eric MunchRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 20, 2008 at 12:02:20 pm

Thanks to all who responded! It is very much appreciated.

So it seems that the obvious way forward is to get more clients and move on as soon as it's feasible.

Bob, your post was actually my favorite! I had a pretty good idea before posting, but I honestly appreciate it coming from someone that knows what they're talking about. I certainly do not want to go get a day job! We do have other clients, but they make up a small percentage of the total work. This will be my number one priority. Maybe by next year's time I can be making $1000 per minute as Todd mentioned!

Also, thanks Mark for the Grinders article tip. Great read.

In response to Brian's post about streamlining the work and cutting down the amount of hours - The problem is that over the last couple of years I've worked as hard as I could to deliver the best product possible. Now that I consider myself far more experienced and have been delivering pretty darn good products, it's difficult to suddenly do a lesser job. Even though I have gotten much faster (when I started I was doing a project a month, now it's three or four), if you include capturing, editing, researching and finding all appropriate media and music to make an interesting piece, color correction, motion graphics, audio mixing, green screen rendering, DVD encoding and menu design - and 7 months of revisions (haha), some of these projects have easily added up to 100 hours of time. Having said that, if the tables were turned I'd probably be saying the same thing...

Mike - Without contracts the amount of work has sometimes (often) gotten out of hand. It has been paying the rent, but I'd love to see a little more daylight than I currently do. I am working out a contract template for all future work. Hopefully this will put a stop to these open-ended situations, at least until I can find other/better clients.

Again, thanks to everyone who posted. This forum is a great resource!

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Gav BottRe: Need advice from the more experienced
by on Dec 22, 2008 at 1:01:04 am

Some jobs are worth while putting the extra effort in - some are just work.

It's not always about the pay rate, but in this case......

Template DVD menus, template motion graphics - make this a lego job not a bespoke product. get the blocks and knock them together each time - for the type of client that it sounds like this is going otu to they aren't paying for anything better, and are unlikely to notice the difference or expect more.

Bob nailed it.

The Brit in Brisbane
The Pomme in Production - Brisbane Australia.

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