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Screwed by a freelancer

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Neil Weaver
Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 8, 2009 at 10:02:20 pm

I post this as a cross between a cautionary tale and rant. I've just been royally screwed by a freelancer and would like to know if anyone else out there has suffered a similar experience.

I was recently in a situation where the client came in quite late with their shooting schedule and my regular camera ops were all booked up. It meant I was in the unwelcome position of venturing into the unknown for a replacement. However, we'd recently been contacted by someone with extensive experience in broadcasting as a shooting Producer/Director who was interested in freelancing for us so I thought I'd give them a go.

I called this person up to chat about whether their availability and suitability for the job, and they ticked all the right boxes; agreeing that as it was a corporate with the potential to be quite a dry subject, the importance of shooting it artfully and really paying attention to shot composition etc was paramount.

I'd like to stress at this point that it was really short notice. Under normal circumstances I would have been more vigilant with regards to checking references and experience and so on, but I had to go on their resume and a bit of gut instinct - and following the phone call, no alarm bells were ringing, so I gave them the gig.

Big mistake. I've spent today reviewing the rushes of what was shot and it's little short of disastrous. Vast swathes of footage are just completely unusable - probably 80%. The remaining 20% is borderline. Framing, composition, shot selection, focus, exposure; you name it, it's wrong. It's not a simple case of lacking experience, it's a matter of not understanding basic principles.

I now have to go back to the client and try and manufacture a plausible reason as to why I need to go and reshoot. This is gonna cost me time and money, not to mention making me look a complete idiot.

As the person with ultimate control over the project, including all the hiring and firing, I'm the one to blame. I get that. The buck has to stop with me, and at the very least I've learnt a good lesson about trusting people, albeit the hard way.

I'm still at a loss though, as to why someone would offer their services - making repeated claims as to their competence in an area when they were completely lacking. Reputations matter in this industry - massively - so why risk yours, and your employer's by putting yourself forward for something you can't do? Surely anyone with even half an eye on their future prospects would know you don't practice on someone else's dollar.

Anyway rant over. I'd welcome any thoughts you may have.







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Steve Wargo
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 4:56:57 am

Is it a creative difference or just really bad camera work? Some shooters go overboard trying to get a new look and blow it big time.

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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Neil Weaver
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 9:48:18 am

No it's bad camera work, plain and simple. Amateurish all round. Even the bits I can use are just passive and unengaging.

After a bit of investigating it turns out that this person has plenty of P/D experience but very little on camera. Even still, I would expect someone with over 10 years industry experience to know how to compose a shot, even if they weren't the best at tracking and moving. You can always inject energy in the afterwards in the edit.





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cow
John Cummings
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 2:19:53 pm

I would guess the first mistake was hiring a Producer/Director as a shooter.

Just because someone knows how it should look doesn't mean they can make it happen. Problem is, good shooters make it look so easy.

One can only hope the person was sweating bullets as they realized they weren't getting the goods...and if they thought they were, then they're truly clueless.

J Cummings
Cameralogic/Chicago
cameralogic.tv
HDX-900/HDW-730S/DXC-D50


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 3:51:50 pm

[Neil Weaver] "I've spent today reviewing the rushes of what was shot and it's little short of disastrous. Vast swathes of footage are just completely unusable - probably 80%. The remaining 20% is borderline. Framing, composition, shot selection, focus, exposure; you name it, it's wrong. It's not a simple case of lacking experience, it's a matter of not understanding basic principles. "

Neil,

I think the big question I'd have to ask is, why did you wait until the shoot was completed to check out this new person's work? I would have been looking over his shoulder and through the lens right from the start until I was satisfied that he knew his stuff and knew what I needed.

David

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 4:17:09 pm

I feel for ya, more than I can say. We once hired a freelance guy to shoot ENG, plain vanilla news coverage, simple enough to do, and he had credentials, and.... every third shot he brought back was a Dutch Tilt, WTH?

Was there a reason you could't go shoot it yourself? I think I'd do that before risking an unknown, even if I lost money on it.

We are perhaps all to blame a little bit for this sometimes, I mean as an industry. The thing the new guys always hear are stories where somebody needed a first big break, and "overstated" their qualifications, yet heroically measured-up when it came down to the actual task. David Gerrold tells a tale of how he snuck onto the Paramount lot as a kid and commandeered an empty production office for weeks with no credentials, just a suit and a briefcase...eventually gets to write the "Tribbles" episode for Star Trek TOS.

Makes a great story, who doesn't like that story? Who hasn't to an extent lived that story at some point? One of our COW members recently told a story about being asked if he knew a specific NLE system, he lied and said he did, then crammed all night so he could make it good... and he did make good... Maybe we're encouraging too much of this kind of risk-taking behavior in competitive times, where anybody will claim expertise in anything just to get work, to get a break, to get in.

To grow and develop our skills, we always have to get out of our comfort zone and try a thing we've never tried before, so we can learn to master it. Understood. This scenario however is just a guy b-essing his way thru a gig out of his depth.

OTOH, it IS a corporate gig, those are usually pretty bad to start with:-P





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Timothy J. Allen
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 4:33:04 pm

What's really bad is when you get a misleading reel and interview. That's why personal references count so much. That's why I ask the group here and in CreativeCow's Corporate Video Forum) when I need a freelancer in an unfamiliar area.
There's some credibility with this site, especially with the long-timers... and even more since people had to start using real names. After 10 years of being involved with many of the contributors here, I trust their advice as much as the people I see every day.



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Mike Cohen
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 5:00:19 pm

A few important questions to answer:

Were you at the shoot?
If so, was there a video monitor, or did you just sit there assuming the shooter knew what to do.
If you checked the shots, or even checked the viewfinder and iris settings yourself once in a while, then you could avert disaster later.
If you were on the shoot but not able to check any shots, then what were you doing?

I certainly have been on shoots where I have so many things to do that there is little time to look over shoulders, but I tend to work with people whose reputations I trust or who I have trained myself.


If you were not at the shoot, did you give the shooter a shot list of exactly what you want?

If so, did they follow it?

If they got you your shots, but then displayed a lack of skill and got you crap, then the other replies on this thread are valid - check out a reel and get a recommendation or testimonial from a past client of the shooter.

Regardless of the answers, it still comes down to knowing the capabilities of the contractor.

When hiring a crew in a major city, you should be able to find a crew with Network or Dateline-type credits. Lacking that, get a recommendation from someone you know.

As to your recourse, you could tell the freelancer how dissatisfied you are and try to pay him less. But your only option with the client is to go, tail between the legs, and admit that there is a problem with the footage. It happens, probably more than you would imagine.

Mike


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Mike Cohen
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 9, 2009 at 5:32:50 pm

Last year I hired a freelance shooter to record a meeting that I did not attend. I went through Google city search and talked to the three bears.

One was too high for pointing a camera at guys giving powerpoint lectures.

One was just right, but couldn't make it.

The third was too low - a kid right out of school, trying to get some gigs, with his own JVC HD camera. His reel showed that, if he was being honest about actually producing the material, he had some basic aesthetic and technical skill.

But he was going to charge $100 plus tape stock.

This is usually a sign that someone either, A, does not know how much to charge, or B, someone does not know what they are doing but still wants to make money.

I generally would never pay so little for a video shoot, because you are asking for trouble. A bargain is not a bargain if you do not get anything in return.

Knowing that he was probably my only option, and wanting to steer him in the right direction, I asked a few questions to make sure he knew what he was talking about, which he did, and then suggested he come up with a legitimate half-day rate - something that is a good value for me, but something that pays him as a professional, not a kid. You pay your nephew $100 to shoot your kid's bar-mitzvah.

The end result was $400 changed hands, still the lowest I have ever paid for a half-day shoot. The result was ok for what it is - guys giving powerpoint lectures. Had I paid him the $100, I would have gotten the same result, but I would never pay so little due to the above discussion. Also paying so little for "pro" work devalues our industry. Finally, paying within a professional range for work lets the vendor know that you expect a good result but that you trust them to do what they say they can do.

There is of course the honor system in these transactions.

Mike



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Rich Rubasch
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 10, 2009 at 1:04:36 am

I was looking at an errors and omissions insurance policy that would cover exactly this situation. You probably wouldn't get MORE than you paid the first shooter, but it would go a long way to appease the client and get the shots you need.

You know us editors out here would love to see a few shots and see if we couldn't find a way to save it! Post something on YouTube!

Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media



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Neil Weaver
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 10, 2009 at 3:44:08 pm

Update then, and I've just got back from the reshoot, got what I needed under the guise of going the extra mile for the client so they are none the wiser about the 'issues' with the first shoot. Feel much better now.

I was on the original shoot, telling the operator where to position and what shots I was after - hence the reason some of what was shot was ok. It was a highly mobile shoot and simply not possible to watch every shot - when you don't have a playback monitor, which would have been impractical on this occassion anyway, you have to trust your operator knows what they're doing. Next time, it doesn't matter how busy it is, I'm playing stuff back before we get back to base! I also recognise there are failings in this experience where the buck stops with me.

The original shooter has been told their material is basically unusable. They have done the decent thing and waived their fee, (although despite apologising profusely is still claiming to have shooting experience for both MTV and BBC which I find hard to believe). I will see how much if any of their material can be used and if it turns out to be more than I think I will recompense them accordingly, although not in full. I don't rip people off.

Well, this has been a learning experience all round. Unlikely to happen again as I'm in the process of expanding my talent pool and will make sure any new additions are thoroughly vetted. (They usually are - there was just a lack of time on this one.)

I'll have to see if I can post any of the offending rushes on youtube - don't want to give anything away to the client though!

Cheers all,

Neil









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cowcowcowcowcow
Don Starnes
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 11, 2009 at 12:38:00 am

Mike,

The following rant isn't directed at you per se (we've never met and I assume that you are a good fellow); I'm directing this to Producers in general. I'm just taking the opportunity here to get this off of my chest:

I'm a long time DP who has been doing some producing and directing lately; I've hired people and been hired.

Just today, someone from one of the crewing agencies called wanting a union member (such as me) to shoot what is probably little more than a Powerpoint presentation at a hotel in October. What is my rate? I told them. But can't you do it for 1/2 that?

I understand that different kinds of projects have different budgets. I understand that people feel compelled to race toward the bottom in order to capture gigs from the competition.

However, I've yet to see a show, no matter how low budget, where it was ok with the client if the footage turned out unusable.

Producers forget this when discussing rate, saying such silly things as "hey, it's only a guy giving a presentation!" or "I can get anybody to do this job; why should I pay you anything like that rate?", as though the camera people were dime a dozen.

My response? Assuming that this is so, then go ahead and hire some inexperienced person to do the job, pay them the low rates that you negotiated with your client, and roll the dice.

The bottom line: anytime you cut corners, you decrease the chances that the show will work and increase the chances that you'll go to your client with only lame excuses about how you saved them money. It might work! Then again, it might not.

I can't work that way, as a DP or as a Producer. I like to do a good job.

Charge your clients what it costs to do the show. Get the best people that you can. If you do this, chances are good that you will develop a reputation as being a guy who always delivers.

Don Starnes
Director / Director of Photography
http://www.donstarnes.com


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 11, 2009 at 1:52:32 am

Don,

Is Randy Starnes your brother? If so, tell him I said hi...

David

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.


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Mike Cohen
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 11, 2009 at 6:13:01 pm

Don - no worries. The beauty of the COW forums is that people with similar and different backgrounds can exchange both good and bad experiences in a non-confrontational manner and in the end learn from one another.

Next time I need something shot in San Fran I know who to call!

That's another great thing about this site, you can find the best people to work with. Just today we are editing some beautiful XDCAM stuff shot for us by another COW member.

Mike Cohen


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Bill Davis
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 12, 2009 at 5:32:55 am

Like everyone else here, I've got no clue about how things broke down on your specific shoot. So I'm left with trying to shoehorn your story into my experiences.

And a line you posted struck a chord with me.

"he importance of shooting it artfully and really paying attention to shot composition etc was paramount."

The reason I single this line out is that if I sat down with someone whose baseline work I didn't know - I could see this single line of instruction hitting the brains of 5 different shooters and causing WILD swings in the results.

If my impression was that this was a solid pro - I'd expect them to take solid basics and then push a bit here and there with that instruction. HOWEVER, If I said the same thing to a guy who was SICK TO DEATH of making boring corporate videos, this same line might feel like permission to pull out the dutch head rig and go crazy.

Maybe I can illustrate my point best this way. Back in the early days of computers, I read of a focus group where they were seeing if the instruction manual on their new IBM-PC software was written clearly enough.

The first concrete instruction was "Remove the floppy diskette from the sleeve."

So the first test subject reached in his pocket, pulled out his pen knife, cut open the plastic and removed the actual media disc from the floppy holder.

There were a LOT of surprised folks behind the one-way mirror. But why? The guy took the his instruction, interpreted it PERFECTLY WELL consistent with his individual experience - and the end result was still a square-one screwup.

So perhaps you got a guy like that. Waited all his life to use that damn dutch head - and was maybe delighted when you gave him tacit permission (at leas in his brain) to go there?

Just thinking out loud.



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Chris Blair
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 13, 2009 at 2:05:27 am

Been there...done that. We've hired freelancers several times for shoots in other cities where the client was unwilling to pay us to go there and shoot, but was willing for us to coordinate and pay a freelancer.

In each case the freelancers had impressive reels and long, network worthy credit lists. In virtually every case, we would get their footage back from the shoot and watch it dumbfounded....because 80% of the footage was unusable.

We've hired individuals with impressive demo reels and impressive resumes who said all the right things in multiple interviews. Then after 3 or 4 shoots realized they either didn't know how to focus, or had no idea what proper exposure is or how to use zebra patterns, or understand color temperature or when to use nuetral desnity filters etc. I could go on and on. Ultimately, I started giving potential videographer/DP candidates our Canon XL1 for a couple days and told them to shoot 30 minutes of something and bring it back to me.

It doesn't take long to see if somebody knows what they're doing when you give them an assignment like this. What I've come to realize is that people will put ANHYTHING on a demo and call it their own. They could've pulled cable on a shoot and they'll put it on their reel and pass it off as their own. We've experienced this exact same problem with freelance graphic artists and motion graphic designers. Their reels are incredible, but we hire them for a project and literally $2500 later, we have NOTHING usuable to show for it.

I think that many videographers, DP's, graphic artists and others in our industry can only do good work when they're directed...by a good video/film director or art director or producer or a combination of those. I've worked for years as DP and a graphic artist so I know a little about how to turn out good work on both of those fronts. And both require not only technical skill and knowledge, but also artistic skill and creativity.

Now granted, hiring a freelancer is almost always a crapshoot because it's hard to ask them to take your camera and shoot something for you or ask them to design something for free. But we're at the point where we won't hire a freelancer unless we get several good referrals.

We hired a guy a couple years ago to shoot a series of studio interviews. He was in a COMPLETELY controlled environment. He has 25 years of shooting experience. He owned his own company for several years. We instructed him to setup a shotgun mic and a lavalier mic on the interviewees so we had a choice on the audio and had redundancy. He shot probably a dozen interiews over 2 days.

During setup I wanted to ask to listen to the headphones but thought, "I should trust people more, and this guy has been shooting for ages." So I didn't. BIG mistake.

When I went to edit the video, I was horrified. The audio was almost unusable. The shotgun was overmodulated and completely unusable. The impedance on the wireless was set incorrectly and the audio was unbelievely hissy and noisy.

We trusted the guy because he was recommended to us and was known in the area. It took me literally 2 days and numerous filter passes in Adobe Audition to fix the audio. In the end it sounded amazingly good compared to the source, but TWO DAYS to fix something anybody should've been able to hear. But this guy couldn't.

When we brought this issue up with him, we got the standard freelance shooter response. "Well, I'm accustomed to working on projects where there's a sound guy." This is bullsh_t because we gave him the project parameters before we hired him. And it would've been absurd to hire an audio tech for a shoot like this where people walked in, sat down, were mic'd and we interviewed them for 30 minutes.

Anyway...I've had similar experiences to what the original poster describes. Luckily, I've either been able to save stuff or been on the shoot and caught it before it caused disaster.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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grinner hester
Re: Screwed by a freelancer
on Jun 24, 2009 at 10:04:46 pm

While I have never been pleased with the work of any freelancer I have ever hired for anything, I have also never been screwed by one.
I know if I want something done right I have to do it myself and I know that sometimes I just can't do it all myself. I get it.
I hire when I have to then I go back and clean it all up.
Look at it as an ego booster.



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