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Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte

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Alison Grayson
Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 17, 2009 at 8:25:37 am

Hey, I'm hoping I might get some insight or advice about this: I'm a young freelancer, but I've been doing it since I graduated two years ago. I have an impressive resume, and I don't need to shoot for cheap for experience. For a year and a half, I had a steady independent contractor gig and really didn't pick up much additional work, and as a result my client bass is lacking. I'm having a huge problem of trying to find clients who are willing to pay even the lowest fair price possible. I'm stuck between being known constantly underselling myself and not having any clients. I'm in a bad financial situation, and I'm worried desperation is going to create a cheap name for myself that will be hard to shake off later.

For example, I have a potential client who wants me to shoot a 3 hour marketing seminar that she will edit into dvd's and attempt to sell. I quoted her a very low $200 for the half day, taking into consideration that there would be minimal set up, it would be an easy shoot, and I'm trying to network within her community. She responded that she only wanted camera on sticks, and couldn't do that amount. She actually asked what the bare minum price would be to compensate me for my time and the camera rental (I own my DVX100B, but thats irrelevant). She won't be able to even rent a camera for a half day in my market for under $300. Do I suck it up, realize I'm poor and need an income and shoot for whatever she'll pay, or do I hold out, avoid falling into this situation on a regular basis, and not be able to pay my bills?


Thanks!


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walter biscardi
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 17, 2009 at 12:34:26 pm

You're right when you say she cannot rent the gear for $200. Tell her to find someone else to do the job. Then she'll see how cheap your rate was.

I don't know anyone who does 1/2 day rates anymore honestly. You're being VERY VERY fair to her request, do not drop down any lower.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Biscardi Creative Media
HD and SD Production for Broadcast and Independent Productions.

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cowcowcowcowcow
Mark Suszko
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 17, 2009 at 2:34:27 pm

Stick to your guns, Alison. Once you get a rep for low-balling prices, it is very hard to change that perception, and it becomes self-fulfilling; people won't consider you for bigger and better things, and the lowball stuff is all you'll be left with. In some cases, if you want to work on some video project with an insufficient budget, it may be better to do the thing for free as pro-bono charity than to charge a too-low price and have expectations for the work you can't deliver for the low price. Donated time really is perceived in a different way than minimum-wage for-hire work. Though I don't think I'd do the lady's seminar for free in any case.

I think if you can't find new clients, BE your OWN client for a time: that is, produce something on your own that you might be able to sell or at least use as a demo and a way to build notoriety. A youtube video essay for example.

One example I like to throw out there from time to time is to go shoot a little documentary on some aspect of your town's history. Make a big deal about the project, use the local paper and radio/tv news to get some coverage of what you're doing. Meet with the local chamber of commerce and local historical society and get them on board with you. When the program's done, generate more PR by hosting a public screening at the local library or historical society or whatever, and enter the thing in some online contests. Each time you do one of these things, turn it around as a PR opportunity and send out press releases to the local media. Set up an online store to sell DVD dubs, or use the self-publishing area of Amazon.com to sell your DVD from.

The whole time you're working on this project, you are also out in public being seen doing the project, meeting and making contacts with local business people and the like. Building a reputation, building name recognition. SO when people DO have a paying project to do, they will remember you and look you up. Take all the time you need on the project, work on it in phases as the money allows. This kind of project is simple to do, it's mostly editing photographic stills to voice-overs and adding in some sit-down interviews with oral historians and various townsfolk. I mean, you *could* really amp it up and add dramatic re-enactments and the like, which takes the PR value to a whole higher level, because it will involve a lot more people and that equals more networking... but you can do amazing things with just stills and a good narrative. For proof, rent "The Kid Stays In The Picture". You can do something similar and leverage it into paying work.

Consider it an investment in yourself.


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Ron Lindeboom
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 17, 2009 at 3:43:46 pm

Mark is suggesting the very kind of project that Kathlyn and I did to help us rebound and rebuild after I was very sick for a while and had lost pretty much everything following surgery and a protracted recovery period. Like you, we were very desperate but I knew that if we started low-balling we would become our own worst enemies. So we came up with a project for the local zoo and we built it under contract for the city, in return that we could keep whatever advertising monies we gained from the project. They would get the project, we would get the monies. The gamble was that if we couldn't sell much advertising, we would still have to complete the project or make ourselves subject to fraud charges. We weren't going to do that and so it gave us a real motivation to get the project done. We pitched the thing to all of the local businesses -- showing a mock-up we had created on spec and supported by a letter from the City Manager endorsing the project -- and we told the businesses how the project would benefit local schools and students who could use it to learn about all of the animals in the local zoo.

As Mark said, rather than give us a reputation as low-ball artists, it gave us a reputation of being creative and resourceful in our local market and we picked up work for the local TV stations, utility companies, etc., etc., because of the quality of the work.

You will not recover from a reputation as one who low-balls. Do NOT go there. Go flip burgers at McDonalds first. Do anything else except low-ball. Hold your value. Build your name and reputation. You are going to do that anyway but what you do in the near future is going to determine what that reputation is.

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry





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Mark Suszko
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 17, 2009 at 4:30:07 pm

Here's a newer clip from a guy that makes self-promotional films to advertise his compositing skills. You may remember his previous demo film called "405". This new one I found to be very romantic.







Whatever time and money he put into this demo, it is going to come back to him many times in terms of new business and publicity.


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Christopher Wright
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 19, 2009 at 5:59:03 am

Whatever time and money he put into this demo, it is going to come back to him many times in terms of new business and publicity.

The problem with this approach is the client who sees this and says: That is fantastic work!
"Can you duplicate that for me for $500.00??"

True, but sad, story.

Even with a very good demo, you need clients who can pay to play.
That usually takes years of "word of mouth" and perseverance.

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Brendan Coots
poor is better than broke
on Mar 17, 2009 at 10:17:45 pm

Hmmm, I guess I'm stuck being the lone contrarian here.

I agree in theory that a freelancer should stick to their rate for pride and reputation purposes. But 5 years from now when you're working at Walmart because you couldn't stick out this recession, how useful is that artistic pride and "reputation?" It is a tightrope walk, and if you simply cannot land paying work at your normal rate, you have three choices:

- commit to being a broke artist type
- go work for Walmart
- lower your rates

It sucks short term to lower prices, but virtually every business in the world feels the need to at some point or another just to keep their doors open. This is even more true if you're a freelancing videographer - I get 5-10 emails a week from freelance videographers looking for work, because it's such a competitive and crowded field.

Besides, I sincerely doubt anyone is going to be passing around the word that said artist is a lowballer because she agreed to lower prices during the worst recession in modern times. Context is everything here.

I could be wrong, there are some good points raised in this thread. Just my 2 cents.

Brendan Coots

Splitvision Digital

http://www.splitvisiondigital.com


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Ron Lindeboom
Re: poor is better than broke
on Mar 17, 2009 at 11:27:41 pm

[Brendan Coots] "It sucks short term to lower prices, but virtually every business in the world feels the need to at some point or another just to keep their doors open. This is even more true if you're a freelancing videographer - I get 5-10 emails a week from freelance videographers looking for work, because it's such a competitive and crowded field. Besides, I sincerely doubt anyone is going to be passing around the word that said artist is a lowballer because she agreed to lower prices during the worst recession in modern times. Context is everything here."

There is a law that I have seen over and over and it goes like this: Once you lower your price for a client, be prepared to have that price...forever. There is only one way to raise your price at that point and that is by using Zelin's Law -- get new clients. The old ones got your number and will keep you on peanut butter and saltine cracker sustenance forever.

I hate to disagree with Brendan but I am in a disagreeable sort today. ;o)

Was in court all day yesterday and I get like that when I am paying lawyers to fight with other lawyers -- god, I hate 'em and their social preening and posing as they spend your money accomplishing little to nothing for months on end as they drive up their tab.

I got into the wrong industry...



Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry





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Craig Seeman
Re: poor is better than broke
on Mar 18, 2009 at 12:31:56 am

[Alison Grayson] "I quoted her a very low $200 for the half day, taking into consideration that there would be minimal set up, it would be an easy shoot, and I'm trying to network within her community."
and

[Ron Lindeboom] "Once you lower your price for a client, be prepared to have that price...forever."

Alison, to extend what Ron says, it's not only your rate for that client that will remain low. You mention networking with her community. Given it's her community, it's likely you will get plenty of recommendations at an equally unsustainable low rate after they talk to her.

[Alison Grayson] "She actually asked what the bare minum price would be to compensate me for my time and the camera rental (I own my DVX100B, but thats irrelevant). She won't be able to even rent a camera for a half day in my market for under $300."

Show her a day rental rate and say based on that you'd charge $300 plus your labor for the same half day. Don't budge on your rate and don't even haggle because she may infer that you can be had because your still in dialogue.

[Alison Grayson] "She responded that she only wanted camera on sticks, and couldn't do that amount."

I'd respond that if she gets a lower rate she may be risking her project with someone who can't match your skills, risk the ability to sell the product and end up costing more having to pay for another shoot with a qualified professional. Tell her if she cares about her project's market viability paying a little extra for a professional will give her a better ROI (return on investment) and you'd gladly lend your experience to ensure the quality of her project. Then tell her you'd need to know within 48 hours (or some equivalent deadline) otherwise you can't guarantee availability.

In short, do a hard sell and don't sound desperate. When you point out that a wrong decision on her part will cost her more (possibly the entire project) than the illusory small savings and that she has a time limit to make a decision, she'll take your offer seriously or she simply doesn't value your services. If it's the latter then her influence on "her community" present at the event will likely tie you into an unsustainable business model with her influence over the "network."

Personal peeve but anyone who uses language like "couldn't do that amount" either has no confidence that she can sell her product or is a lier. If she's not willing to invest in her business she's a client you don't want to go near.

-----
If you ever fell you have work below your standard rate always make clear on the invoice the percentage discount below your standard rate.




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Ron Lindeboom
Re: poor is better than broke
on Mar 18, 2009 at 6:33:58 pm

[Craig Seeman] "Alison, to extend what Ron says, it's not only your rate for that client that will remain low. You mention networking with her community. Given it's her community, it's likely you will get plenty of recommendations at an equally unsustainable low rate after they talk to her."

To expand on the phenomenon that Craig alludes to, we have leveraged this phenomenon to a competitive advantage over the years. If we know there's a company in our area that tries to compete against us on price, we will refer a lot of jobs their way -- not ones we'd want, but ones that are not worth dealing with. These grinder jobs will tie them up as they chase their tails, staying busy but never profitable. Sometimes, they give up and find something else to do with their time.

Ron Lindeboom


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Brendan Coots
Re: poor is better than broke
on Mar 18, 2009 at 11:30:18 pm

I agree that this particular client will never agree to higher rates in the future, it's a law I've experienced first-hand.

I guess I just see this particular situation as a gamble - take a lower rate and live to see another day but ditch the idea of working with that client again, or stick to principals, lose the client anyway, and be broke.

Brendan Coots

Splitvision Digital

http://www.splitvisiondigital.com


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Ron Lindeboom
Re: poor is better than broke
on Mar 19, 2009 at 12:08:21 am

[Brendan Coots] "I guess I just see this particular situation as a gamble - take a lower rate and live to see another day but ditch the idea of working with that client again, or stick to principals, lose the client anyway, and be broke."

I would agree with this in principle, Brendan, but where I see the danger in this one is that I believe that this one is the person that said she wants to grow in this market that is apparently in the hands of this grinder.

If she gives in to this price, then not only is she marked with this particular person, but she is likely to find that she is marked with many others, as well.

But as you say, it is indeed better to live to fight another day than to insist that you must win every battle.

As I tell my team regularly, "You have to choose the battles you are willing to lose so that you can win the war."

Still, I hate to lose. ;o)

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry






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Richard Herd
Re: poor is better than broke
on Mar 18, 2009 at 6:02:42 pm

[Brendan Coots] "It sucks short term to lower prices, but virtually every business in the world feels the need to at some point or another just to keep their doors open."

Truer words have never been spoken. There are proven ways to do this. They're called promotions (a.k.a coupons).

Marketing 101:
-- Product
-- Price
-- Promotion
-- Placement



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Bob Zelin
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 17, 2009 at 10:26:21 pm

Alison -
I know what your problem is. It's not you - it's your clients. You need better clients, so GO LOOK FOR THEM. There are real estate brokers that work in poor neighborhoods, and real estate brokers that work in Beverly Hills. The ones in Beverly Hills make more money. It's that simple. I deal with LOTS of small companies. Due to the economy, I see many people can't afford ANY equipment, and certainly can't afford me. But SOME CLIENTS can afford me. How did I find these clients ? I pounded the pavement, solicited over and over, and eventually got them to hire me. I will still work for the smallest 1 man companies - but I know that they were struggling when things were good, and now that things are not good - they are struggling. Your clients offering you $200 probably can't afford more than this. SOLUTION - FIND NEW CLIENTS. You are better off making zero money, looking for NEW clients that will pay you what you are worth, than wasting 8 hours doing a shoot with your equipment for $200.

No one ever said that business was easy (that is why we are all cranky). But don't work for free. And if you HAVE to work for free - or a rediculously low rate - you might as well just get a staff job with a TV station, etc. and get some benefits.

People say "oh it's easy for you to say that - you are not starving" - I always feel like I am about to starve (it's a true sickness that I have - I need therapy for it, and more than just that) - but I ALWAYS feel like I am going out of business - I have felt this since 1982, and I constantly search for new clients, no matter how busy I am. Fear of not eating is a good motivator. Don't sell yourself short.

bob Zelin




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Rich Rubasch
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 18, 2009 at 1:46:53 am

I'm all about a solution. Yes, like Bob says, keep pounding the pavement for those new clients. But for now, for this client, why not tell her that your rate is going to be $300 for the shoot. That includes you, your gear and tape stock. Ask her if she will pay you $150 before the shoot and the remaining $150 two weeks after the seminar.

If you had a small DVD duplicator and an inkjet disk printer, you could offer to make 50 copies or so right after the edit. In other words, sometimes it takes selling MORE than they asked for to make the sale, once they see how much you bring to the table.

She says it's a lockoff. You tell her that you have a wireless mic that she will wear for excellent sound, and you will follow her on the stage so you don't miss any of the action. You will get there early and shoot some crowd shots from the front, people walking in etc so she can cut that as an opener etc.

She will not want to shoot with anyone else!

Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media



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Marshall Thompson
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperate
on Mar 18, 2009 at 2:44:49 am

As a pro producer with more than 20 years' experience I have had my share of dry spells. Surprisingly, this year I am doing great I am happy to report. With the advent of FCP and cheap DV cameras, everyone is a producer. Thus, one has to market all the time to differentiate yourself from the 10,000 other hungry producers. Do you have a website? How about a group of your projects on YouTube prospective clients can look at? A race to the bottom of rates as a competitive strategy works for no one. That said, I do a fair amount of pro-bono work - always have - and have developed a niche practice in several areas, something you might consider. Mine include healthcare, energy both fossil fuels and alternative, aviation, education and government. Once you are established you will get referrals and repeat business. How do you present yourself? Do you look like a homeless bum or do you dress and present yourself as a professional. Do you smoke? This is a big turn off to many clients. How's the quality of your language? Do you write for your clients? Writing is a very important skill, absolutely essential. It is NOT all about the technology, it is all about telling stories. Forget about technology groups (sorry COW!), learn something about business and marketing. Marketing is the single most important aspect of your work, far more important than learning how to shoot and edit because, as you have learned, any bum will whore themselves out for $200.00 or $300.00 a day with gear.



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Alison Grayson
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperate
on Mar 18, 2009 at 3:28:00 am

Thanks everyone for the advice! Ironically, the job in question at the moment is for a marketing seminar, and I'm already part-timing at a coffee shop to make my ends meet (and get health insurance). I've done everything I can to look, sound, and appear professional, but I've found that being a very young looking 24yr old female has been a major hit towards my initial first impression. I'm hoping to get a staff position in news/tv, and right now its just a matter of making rent until a position opens up.




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denise quesnel
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperate
on Mar 18, 2009 at 8:36:59 pm

"I've done everything I can to look, sound, and appear professional, but I've found that being a very young looking 24yr old female has been a major hit towards my initial first impression."

Alison, as one young looking 24 year old woman to another, I just want to say this: DO NOT give up on yourself. At least for the time being. It is true and I totally experience what you do in regards to first impression on a daily basis, and it has lost me jobs. Rarely do we get any competitive advantage. But I won't let that get to me.

One thing that is super important though, and I hope you are listening, is to forget about the age/gender thing. It is hard to do, especially when it is a factor in getting work. However I have seen people get bitter and frustrated about this and you should not let that happen, at all costs. These people wait until they have aged some, got some experience, then they are a 28 year old young looking female, then they are a 33 year old young looking female, then they are a 38 year old young looking female... you know where I am going. If you carry the attitude, you ARE the attitude and soon enough you get stuck in a conundrum trying to make decisions such as whether or not you can afford/are still young enough to have kids etc.

Don't look at this as a disadvantage, look at it as an advantage. You have the energy to work at multiple jobs, AND work on your own projects for clients too! That is the benefit of being young. People can pick up on attitudes, such as the fact that you think you are at a disadvantage due to your age and gender. So they will share your attitude, even if you are just feeling this way a LITTLE bit. If you have a 'I have nothing to lose, nothing will stop me' attitude, people will be drawn to the excitement of you and share that.

Don't spend the best years of your life worrying about something you cannot control. Instead lets focus on breaking the stereotype of what people think younger women work like by leading with a great example. Forget about any disadvantage it has given you in the past, and move on from that. You will be ok!



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Alison Grayson
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperate
on Mar 19, 2009 at 9:14:26 am

Thanks for the words of encouragement! I have never seen my age or gender as a disadvantage, till I stated seeing myself turned down for work for not "looking the part". I've got a pretty thick skin, I know I'm good at what I do, and I know its just a matter of time before I can find a steady gig or a staff position. It just sucks making ends meet in the meantime!



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cowcowcowcowcow
Steve Wargo
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 19, 2009 at 7:13:52 am

Normally, when I'm having a meeting with someone and they ask me what they can get for $200, my immediate reply is to look at my watch for two seconds (while I think) and then I look them in the eye and say "I think we're almost there right now".

The conversation usually ends right there and I can do something more profitable, like driving back to my office or buying a Lotto ticket.

My quote of the day: "Go ahead, do it once for a low price and establish your rate forever." Why would you ever be worth more to do the same thing for anyone else?

My advice would be to jump in the phone book (the thick book full of phone numbers that you probably threw away) and start looking up non-profit agencies. Call and ask for marketing or for community relations. Ask them if they have any small video jobs that they need done. They always need something and they've usually got a couple hundred bucks in a drawer.

If you only need to make small dollars, give your precious time to someone who really needs it, not someone who wants to steal from you.

In 1997, my wife and I were buying our house and we were in desperate need for money for our down payment. A non-profit asked us in to do a video for them. They had $8500. It was a school that helped mentally disabled young adults. The CEO made $32k a year. We did the project and got everyone on our team to donate their time and gear. When it came time to collect, we donated the check back to the school. Word spread quickly that we were idiots and within two weeks, we were awarded a $250k contract with a community college district.

Coincidence? It turns out that someone on the CCD board had a child at that school. The bid came down to two companies, us and the biggest production company in town. We were able to fund our down payment. See our latest non-profit venture at http://www.vimeo.com/sntvideo St. Mary's Food Bank.



Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
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 .


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Steve Wargo
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 19, 2009 at 7:47:47 am

[Alison Grayson] "she only wanted camera on sticks,"

What a boatload of BS. The work is NOT in following her on the stage, even though that's whay she thinks.

Let's see:

1. Spend at least two to four hours talking to her about the job itself.
2. Gather everything up like gear, cables, tape or cards, Mapquest, etc.
3. Prep your gear, check everything, buy insurance, put gas in your car.
4. Load the gear in your car.
5. Drive to the location, find a parking space.
6. Load everything out of the car and onto a cart.
7. Haul all of it inside.
8. Find electrical outlets and the input for the mic to feed the house.
9. Set all of your gear up, white balance, test audio.
10. Find the grinder, er, client and install the wireless mic bodypack.
11. Hide the mic somewhere that it won't show.
12. Test the sound. Rearrange the mic because she is wearing polyester and everything sounds scratchy.
13. Set up the camera, level the head, attach the zoom control.
14. White balance.
15. Discover that the lights in the room are some weird color. Whirte balance through a colored gel to get the color right.
16. Roll the camera as she is introduced.
17. Lock the camera on the podium after she steps up to the mic.
18. Go sit down. or better yet, go take a nap.
19. Stand up to run the camera at the end of her persentation.
20. When she is done, compliment her on how great she is while you have your fingers crossed behind your back.
21. When done, load the gear back onto your cart and drag it outside to your car.
22. no Cart? All you do then is make 6 trips from your car to the building, carrying it all.
23. Load it from the cart into the car.
24.Drive home in the heat of the day.
25. Unload the cart and bring it all in the house.
26. Put it away and then start to digitize the clips she needs.
27. Take your check book to the bank. Wash the blood off the check.
28. When you're all finished, please remember that you now have to edit this thing. Oh joy!

Now, how much of that do you think needs to be paid for?



Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
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 .


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Alison Grayson
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Mar 19, 2009 at 9:10:31 am

Yep, and nor do I particularly want my name attached to any "tripod and ignore" shooting. I have a feeling that she'll end up paying a family member to hold up a shakey camera and end up with a completely unusable video. Meh.

Thanks for the non-profit suggestion (and to others who suggested the same). I never really considered that they'd have any sort of budget tucked away, and that way I can feel good about donating my time to work for less, rather than feeling like a pushover :-P.

(oh, and kudos on the Jeff Dunham quote)



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grinner hester
Re: Sticking to rates when you're poor and desperagte
on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:46:50 pm

Don't be desperate.
Go back to 8th grade for a bit. Remember how ya asked out that one girl like 12 times and she always said no? Then ya got that skinny girlfriend and that one girl came a knockin?
Same thing. Go in requiring it and it's gonna be a hard sell.
Now I aint sayin don't flirt. Just don't all yell, act a fool and thump her on the head.




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