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How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?

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Benjamin ReichmanHow many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 1, 2010 at 12:26:12 am

I've been searching this forum for advice about hourly rates, but I have an even simpler question: how much time does it take a typical professional editor to finish a job?

I just completed a one-year film program, and I can think of times when I edited student pieces very quickly, and other times when I spent many hours tweaking, changing my mind about the story structure, trying and discarding various ideas, and so on. All of which means I'm not sure what my own typical speed is, and I have no idea how that compares to a professional editor's speed.

So: if someone has 8 hours of interview footage and b-roll and wants a ten-minute finished piece (this is a real example), how many hours should I estimate? Is there a rule of thumb I should use?


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Mads Nybo JørgensenRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 1, 2010 at 1:23:43 am

Hey Benjamin,

Buy any length of a string, roll it out on the road and you'll get your answer :-)

In the old days a rule of thumb was 1 hour of editing per 1 minute finished. Sometimes in news and sport it is 15-20 minutes of editing for 2-5 minutes of finished...

Today, Normally! Your hours in the edit is defined by your clients budget and/or their dead-line.

All the Best
Mads
London, UK

Here used to be a big video - now you can watch another one here:
http://www.macmillion.com/showreel.htm

Mac Million Ltd. - HD Production & Editing
Blog: http://macmillionltd.blogspot.com


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Ed CilleyRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 1, 2010 at 3:29:33 am

Benjamin,

There are way too many factors that enter into the equation to give you a definitive answer. Many of the people here have asked this same question with every edit we book, schedule or bid on.

- How accurate are the scripts/timecodes?
- Do you have transcripts in case the client wants to make changes? This will effect how quickly you can access footage.
- How is the b-roll used? Is it simple cuts, or are they looking for layered effects?
- Are the interviews green screen? This will affect edit time.
- Are you building an open and close to the program? An open can take a few hours or a few days depending on what your client is looking for.
- Sound. How is music and sound effects used?

I know there are at least a dozen other questions I would ask going into an edit like this, but this is a good start.

I have edited 10 minute interviews with b-roll and it has taken 15 hours. I have also edited 10 minute interviews with b-roll and it has taken 40 hours. Like Mads said above,

[Mads Nybo Jørgensen] "Your hours in the edit is defined by your clients budget and/or their dead-line."

Sorry we can't give you a better answer.

Ed

Avid and FCP Preditor
_________________________________________________
Anything worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
- Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield


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Rich RubaschRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 1, 2010 at 3:31:23 am

I've been editing for 17 years. In the example you gave, we cut about 4-6 minutes of video in an 8 hour day. So for a 10 minute video, if I am not starting with a script, but rather only have a pile of interviews and Broll, but I know what the story is supposed to convey, and also assuming the footage is uploaded into the edit system, then you will probably find that from 8:30 in the morning until about 5:30 in the evening that you will have 5 minutes or less cut. Probably less on the first day. The next day you will have some rhythm going so you might get more finished.

On the third day you will be adding music, mixing in nat sound, maybe tweaking some edits and doing basic color correction.

So I would give myself a minimum of three days to cut a 10 minute video. Most of what we cut lately is much shorter. As long as there is not a huge amount of animation or compositing to do we an cut a 2-3 minute video in a day pretty easily.

We move pretty fast on the keyboard and we have a lot of experience, so mileage may vary.

FYI we also calculate anywhere between $500-$1000 per finished minute of editing depending on how aggressive we get.

Helpful?

Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production and Post
Owner/President/Editor/Designer/Animator
http://www.tiltmedia.com


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Chris BlairRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 1, 2010 at 4:06:02 pm

We typically budget that we can get 2-3 minutes edited per day when produce long-form projects. Same goes for shooting a long-form piece, we typically expect to get 2-3 minutes of material shot each day.

However, editing interview based pieces is a little different in that it typically takes a lot more prep time to get interviews down to a form that allows you to edit them....meaning we typically send interviews to a transcription service (typically $2/minute of interview), and spend about a day or two trimming interviews down to what we call "selects."

So for an interview based piece, we'll add about 2 days for logging, digitizing, transcription (we send this out) and the "select take" editing.

Of course, if your video is shot in more of "news" style where the interview only consists of a handful of questions and answers, you might be able to skip all the transcription and interview trimming and adhere to the 2-3 minutes per day formula. But if you have 5 or more interviews and each interview consists of 20 minutes of answers, it takes some time to get those trimmed into something that resembles a story.

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


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Craig SeemanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 1, 2010 at 4:59:47 pm

Maybe with some irony all the above indicated to me that there is not "typical" time. It depends on the type of project and your estimation, as a professional, as to the most efficient workflow.

That's one of the important aspects of "experience" people often overlook. You can be creative, you can be fast. Experience makes you better able to estimate time and evaluate the optimal workflow.

Rather than ask what the "typical" time is, the better question would be is, "how do you estimate the time to do this project." Then if you provide all the details, we can evaluate as if it were a project handed to us. If there's missing information we can ask for it as if we were asking such clarification to a client. That would inform you that you need to ask additional questions to the client.

BTW this is why I warn clients when they ask for estimates based on unseen material. Eight hours of interview material can range from finding bad take after bad take, pieces parts to takes together to make a good take, having cogent but verbose answers that need to be cut down, complete self standing takes, whether there are production notes and how good are those notes. Then there's the production quality issues such as the need for time to color correct or fix audio problems. You can't know that until you've seen the sources.

In my experience, if you don't have or know the client's based history, it's hard to know "typical" and can be dangerous to give an estimate. You may grossly underestimate for a client who had an inexperienced production crew. You may also overestimate if the client had veteran, organized, talented production crew.

You simply can't know by "x" hours of source material. I personally have found assuming a "reasonable" amount of preparedness on the client's side a dangerous thing.

On the other hand I find it easiest to estimate when I (or someone I'm familiar with) is handling the production. When I worked for good production/post production houses I, as an editor, was usually called in to the production meeting so I could advise on the best way to prep the material for post. As a "mom & pop" now, I'd make similar suggestions or ask similar questions to prospective post clients as I would in my facility days.

I certainly have many "fun" stories to tell that have gotten me to where I am in my thinking. For the sake of brevity I'll leave that for some future post.



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Mark SuszkoRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 1:56:09 pm

Depends on the kind of job as well. In news, time is the tyrant, so if you have a 1-hour deadline, you WILL deliver a product in under one hour. How GOOD that product will be is a variable. When the project offers enough time to stretch out and get creative, and it is the kind of project that benefits fro trying various approaches or building complex sub-sequences and layers, etc., well, then the edit expands to fill whatever time is allotted, and of course your quality is going to be much better. A very simple, linear job can be cut super-fast, or, if you have to do a lot of repair, maybe even some rotoscoping or motion tracking, then you're looking at more time.


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Craig SeemanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 7:32:30 pm

[Mark Suszko] "In news, time is the tyrant, so if you have a 1-hour deadline, you WILL deliver a product in under one hour."

Yup, I've done VNRs like that. Of course in a case like that the time is a hard given so you can estimate very easily. They either give you notes or you just grab the best bites and b-roll you find given x amount of time hunting and then you chop it together.

[Mark Suszko] "t is the kind of project that benefits fro trying various approaches or building complex sub-sequences and layers, etc., well, then the edit expands to fill whatever time is allotted"

Yes, and that's when budget question leads. I can give you X hours for Y dollars and I can do Z in that time span and budget. Sometimes you can give a report when delivering the first rough cut which includes dollars spent and they determine whether they want to expand the budget or just do minor revisions.



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Benjamin ReichmanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 3:10:10 pm

Thanks all! Even though there's no single answer to my question, it's more helpful than you might realize to get a variety of "ballpark" answers from the COW.

Craig, I'd love to hear some of those "fun" stories.

Ed, I don't think I'll have script notes, transcriptions, or much of anything in the way of guidance. So I'll make sure I have time to mark up the interviews in FCP (I don't think it'll be practical for me to pay a transcription service.)

Rich, your advice is very helpful. As I work, I'll keep all of that in mind and see how my pace compares.

Mark, I understand what you mean about the work filling the available space. There's always more that can be done to improve a piece!

At the moment, I'm still waiting to hear even the basic details of the project (beyond what I posted above), but if and when I do, I'll follow up here as needed.

And now back to editing (a different, very small project)...


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Patrick OrtmanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 7:18:59 pm

Agree, and it's VERY hard to give a client a hard estimate sometimes. For instance, right now we're editing a project that does not have a script. Seriously. It's a little crazy, so it means a lot more time spent figuring out what we have, what the story should be, etc.

I think it's perfectly acceptable to bill more, or go to an hourly model if you find yourself in this situation.

---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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Craig SeemanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 8:10:45 pm

[Benjamin Reichman] "Craig, I'd love to hear some of those "fun" stories."

Here's one. Customer from a well known higher end production company has an inflexible budget for a low end job. In this case they're doing a marketing video for a test (unreleased) product. The job is basically cutting B-roll with some on location positive product statements from those trying the product. In theory the only tough part would be digging out the positive statements as there's no guarantee there will be many.

They're only shooting a couple of days and given the above it's easy to predict the range amount of video. There's no FX work. Just good edit pacing. Even the run time is very narrow. Given the description and the budget I felt "piece of cake" what can go wrong? Based on my two decades of experience this job is two day edit and maybe one day revision.

So I get the two days of video. It was shot in a couple of bar/nightclubs (as expected).
The tapes come in and won't play on my deck. It seems the camera has record head tracking issues.
I ask for the camera or otherwise they can do a transfer from camera to another camera or deck.
They inform me the camera isn't available and they too can't play the tapes.
A couple of days later they get the camera and transfer the video for me straight to hard drive.

I play the video and all the audio is digital distortion, so heavy that I can barely hear interviews. The meters are nailed. It's as if they had the audio maxed and didn't monitor on headphones. Even if the load environment made it difficult to listen on headphones, the meters on the camera would have made it obvious they were steady pinned.

And the video is about as bad. It's almost completely black. Shadows at best. Where they even looking in the eyepiece or LCD? One can forget to turn on the meters in some cameras but black is black. Even though gained up would have been grainy at least there would have been usable video for b-roll.

The result all this would embarrass even the newest intern or freshman film student. It's as if the person had never used a camera before and didn't even think to look and ask for help. I called the client and aid there is nothing usable. Apparently the producer hadn't seen the video and didn't believe me (the producer hadn't done the transfer of course and whoever did, didn't tell him. I told they'd have to reshoot the whole thing and the deadline was about upon us. They got the hard drives and confirmed I was not exaggerating. Since I really hadn't done anything other that make an attempt to play tapes and a scan of unsalvageable shoot material I was OK with giving them more time although their turnaround would be like one and a half days.

The second shoot tapes where much better . . . and after getting a first cut on day one and phoned in revision and they got what should have been the final cut on day two . . . which they said was a drop dead deadline and would have to live with whatever it was. Then came a few "quick" revisions. At this point they had gone passed their "drop dead" deadline and I said they'd really have to pay for more time. They said it would be just a couple of small revisions and they promised it would never happen again and it would just be for the very next day. I agreed and told them that I was booked after that (I was).

I handed in the "final" revisions and then they said "a few more." My response was NO and even if they could pay I can't do it because I was booked on another job which would tie me up for a couple of weeks. They would have to hand it to another editor (which they did). The shorted me a very few dollars on their last payment just out of spite since they knew it was too small to fight over.

Some lessons are:
You can't estimate based on the job and client's past reputation (doing excellent movie trailers doesn't mean) they hired competent people to produce marketing videos.
Clients may assume an estimate is a locked budget even if you tell them otherwise. If they have a locked budget you express your price is locked hours. That includes revisions and the client has to pay beyond that and that point the bill for work done must be settled before continuing.
I may give a client a low/high range based on a description but I'm not inclined to put that in writing. They must include a written description and agreed timeline and I get to screen the material first otherwise they're hourly/daily rate.

More stories to come.



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Mike CohenRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 8:54:52 pm

[Benjamin Reichman] "how many hours should I estimate? Is there a rule of thumb I should use?"

Tell them how much it will cost for you to complete the final project. Once you open the door to hourly charges you run the risk of nickel and diming which is not fair on either party.

If you know your client, and you know what kind of footage you have and what the project scope is, then estimate the hours it will take you, calculate your rate based upon your actual labor costs, and add the factors you always take into account (overhead, profit, cost of materials) and come up with a price.

Let's say you think it will take:

100 hours x $50/hour labor = $5,000 + profit (labor x X%) + overhead (labor x X% (a percentage of your annual costs for overhead)) + cost of materials (tapes, hard drives, batteries, gaffer tape, stock music, etc) and that is your minimum selling price.

You give the client the price, perhaps broken down into the different milestones as a logical percentage of the whole, but not the number of hours.

Then if the scope changes beyond what is in your statement of work, you can have a clause in your contract about charging more, say in 5% increments per mutual agreement. For example, you deliver the final DVD and the client says "oh, can you also make me some files to play on my iPad" - that maybe was not in your SOW so you can say "sure, but that was not in my SOW so I will charge you 5% of the agreed upon amount to do that for you - or whatever.

Once you get into hourly charges you are a plumber, but installing a garbage disposal is likely to never take more than 2 hours. If the plumber told you it would take about 2 hours, then, due to the odd configuration of your kitchen sink and limited space under the counter it took 11 hours, you would be upset and likely fight the charges. Rather, if your plumber said "I am a great plumber and I will install the disposal for $500 no matter how long it takes (this assumes the plumber has inspected your sink configuration and knows it might be quick but it might not, so he comes up with a price that is fair to both of you. And you likely know that your sink if oddly configured and might take extra work, so knowing the plumber's hourly rate posted on his website, you agree that the fixed price may actually be cheaper but that it is more than the price quoted at Home Depot for the same job. etc)

Mike Cohen


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Craig SeemanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 9:32:01 pm

[Mike Cohen] "Then if the scope changes beyond what is in your statement of work, you can have a clause in your contract about charging more, say in 5% increments per mutual agreement. For example, you deliver the final DVD and the client says "oh, can you also make me some files to play on my iPad" - that maybe was not in your SOW so you can say "sure, but that was not in my SOW so I will charge you 5% of the agreed upon amount to do that for you - or whatever."


Maybe you're personal experience is different but even with that wording some clients (clients I've had) assume a rate is flat if you don't mention hours. You certainly don't have to report the clock but they need to know the time is hard defined. Believe me, I've had clients start piling on small things for the deliverables. Often times I'll just toss in a quick encode if it's small and only takes me a few minutes. Even if I make that clear they may not "get" it. I had one client who then started asking me to export still for their calendar (lots of stills) and I did ask them to pay for it as it was CLEARLY out of SOW which was written and signed by both parties. They resented the charge.

I've found that if the job is defined as 100 hours, when I deliver I tell them I went a little over for one little thing or another but I'm not billing them for it, they are far less likely to start asking for that "one more thing" without understanding I've already done extra for them. Again this has been my experience and obviously your clients are different.



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Mike CohenRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 9:40:52 pm

[Craig Seeman] "Maybe you're personal experience is different but even with that wording some clients (clients I've had) assume a rate is flat if you don't mention hours."

Of course every experience is different, and we all have our particular way of working.

I think one thing is clear from this and many other threads like it - film schools are not teaching film students much about how to actually operate in a business setting. I have seen this in numerous film school grads - they learn all the technical skills, but then if they want to go into business for themselves, they are dead in the water unless they find a good mentor to teach them the business side of things.

Mike


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Patrick OrtmanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 9:50:29 pm

True and good points. However, back to the hourly/per project thing...

My experience says that a per project pricing is the way to go when a client is giving you a well-defined project. It makes them happy, and if you kick butt it will make you happier. It does indeed keep one from being a plumber.

However, sometimes you get dealt a mess, and if they're a good client you need to help them out even if you'd normally run screaming. If a client is, as in this case, relying on us to be their ad agency, video production company, post house, and so forth and proceeding without a script then not going hourly is a suicide mission.

I will say that even in a case where you go hourly, it's nice to be able to tell the client a rough idea of the total cost of the project, of course.

---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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Craig SeemanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 10:11:36 pm

[Patrick Ortman] "However, sometimes you get dealt a mess, and if they're a good client you need to help them out even if you'd normally run screaming. If a client is, as in this case, relying on us to be their ad agency, video production company, post house, and so forth and proceeding without a script then not going hourly is a suicide mission. "

Yes Patrick. And I'm finding this becoming more common these days. As per the story I posted it's even possible that a client with significant experience in one area has made internal changes with new people in another area so even a client with a good history in the biz may be complete newbies (including the personal in the specific division/endeavor) in the job they handed you. Sometimes they sound like they're very prepared but it's only because they know what they've been taught to mouth from others in the company.

Actually I don't mind if the client is relying on me for everything as long as they're upfront about it. In fact one of the very strong selling points is our experience. We might be priced a bit higher but we are your Rock of Gibraltar and this is one of the "value added" points to give to the nervous newbie client whose own reputation and job is on the line. This is a KEY to selling/marketing in the new economy.

They key is to show them how that experience will bring in the job on time and on budget and they will accept your boundaries because you've persuaded them you can deliver within those boundaries.



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Craig SeemanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 2, 2010 at 10:01:44 pm

I absolutely agree! I thing some basic small business education should be part of any good media curriculum. I suspect they're still thinking that most people will go work for some company rather than having to start their own small business or go freelance.

I remember back in college (I'm probably about Bob Zelln's age) I was told by a wise instructor that in this business you may go through many jobs but you may never stay unemployed for very long. I don't think he was at all misleading for the time. In fact he was good to dispel the notion of "job security" in this industry (and he was currently working in the industry and teaching at two colleges were his part time gigs).

The problem is that thinking, if it exists at all in media education departments, hasn't changed. Kids get out and find no entry level positions. They fend for themselves and do so by undercharging and while some may have no practical training others are quite talented. Both set in place a series of "bad business" expectations from potential clients. Personally I think that is the greater harm rather than the superficial issue of "underpricing."

The result of that is an increase in:
Clients expecting flat fee pricing rather than flat budget.
Payment after delivery . . . not just final but complete payment.
That a job poorly done by one can be fixed by an eager to work replacement.
This is in addition to the pricing issue itself.
This is why It's important how we do estimates because what an estimate means today is not what it meant 10 or 20 years ago.

BTW this is why I simply don't state "one week at x $"
One week of 40 or so work hours is very different than one week you own me rate. IMHO and personal experience many clients are now assuming it's the "I own you rate." Too many clients will contact at 5 or 6PM with revisions and think they've got you for the rest of the night as well for tomorrow delivery. You have to make boundaries clear to the client. They often discern days as 16 to 24 hours rather than 8 to 10 hours. This has been when they've gotten from the kids out of school. Of course clients who'd never consider hiring someone that inexperienced may not have that notion and maybe that's why some of use need to define the boundaries more precisely than others.



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grinner hesterRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 5, 2010 at 8:40:35 am

The rule of thumb is as long as it takes or whatever their budget allows. Some ten munute pieces are talking head with cuts only of b-roll and some are 20 layers deep with graphics, animations and sweet sound design. This is why folks pay by the hour. Should they have tweeks... it's on the clock. Should they want to discuss each edit... it pays a lot of bills. Sometimes a client just wants to talk about their day. You'll find a big part of your job is just being a good listener.



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Patrick OrtmanRe: How many billable hours should it take to edit a project?
by on Aug 5, 2010 at 5:25:32 pm

THANK YOU!

---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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