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New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.

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Brandon Eastman
New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 15, 2014 at 3:13:50 am

A friend has recommended me to his coworker for me to shoot a video for her church she is a part of. Now while I don't have the full skinny of this project (details being worked out on their end), I've been briefed that a commercial-style video supporting "pro life" is the subject.

My concern is three fold:

First, how are prices usually figured? For the wedding I shot, I accidentally low-balled myself at $200 and put over 30 hours of work into the video, it was a flat rate gig. With this project, I'm think of establishing an hourly rate to shoot the video, then a flat rate for the editing. Is this a wise formula, or have I convoluted the process?
Example- $15/hr x 10hrs of filming + $250 to edit.

Second, I'm unsure as to which questions to ask when talking to the church reps about the project, I.e. deliverable format, who gets the rights- for starters. Do I force them to spell out the "story" of the video, and I'm more of the technical tool to implement for creating the video? Or do I need to be the writer, director and DP, getting a story I create?

Third, the subject has me leery to take on the project. I have never really thought about the pro life/pro choice debate, so I'm objective/unbiased in the manner. But my naïvety on the subject may not help create the strongest story visuals. I don't want to create a video that misrepresents the intentions of the theme of "pro life." Have you ever taken on a project that you're unsure of? How did you manage to create the best piece you could?

Thank you for your help. I will update this post as I acquire more information about this prospect.

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Andrew Rendell
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 15, 2014 at 12:51:19 pm

The first thing is to find out what is required. If you are being approached to create a commercial-style video supporting a cause, then the project is not one where you have a free hand to create whatever you want. Nor would I expect it to be essentially button pushing, being told exactly what to do.

The question is how they want to use your film making skills to promote their agenda.

I have no particular interest in the "pro life" arguments, but googling it brings up all kind of scare tactics and propaganda techniques. If they want you to employ your expertise in selling, creating associations in the minds of the viewers, etc, to go beyond a dispassionate view how would you feel about that? If they want to use ad hominen, straw man arguments, black-and-white fallacy (false dilemma), appeal to authority, appeal to prejudice, pensée unique, oversimplification, loaded language and so on, is that ok?

You say you don't want to misrepresent the theme but what happens if you come to think that there is a hidden agenda, for example, one of social control or discrimination, separating people into in-group and out-group, the expression of power in a hierarchy. You would be going against the brief to mention it...

I sometimes find it hard to be dispassionate about a subject, often I think I'm dispassionate when I start a gig but come to realise that I'm sucked in. My best technique is to simplify the language and just show what happened, don't editorialise. Right now I have a lot of footage of children who are being killed and terribly injured by barrel bombs and it's very tempting to make comments, but stepping back I believe that it would be a mistake to do that. Keep it simple, just show the footage of those kids being carried into makeshift hospitals and being treated, this is the routine in that particular place at this point in time, the expressions on the faces of family members and medics say far more than any words I could write, have confidence that the audience will get it.

I'm going off on wild speculation to some extent, you need to know a bit more about the project (whether you want to share it here is your choice) but I would say that when considering projects that are difficult or controversial there's no shame in saying "I don't think I'm the right person for this job" or "I have some concerns..." and discuss them before accepting or backing out.

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Bill Davis
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 15, 2014 at 6:28:01 pm

My 2 cents.

I stay away from political/religious/charity work unless I truly support the position being espoused.

In a vaguely similar vein, I had a gig a few decades ago as the producer/director for a corporate convention video for a large meat packing firm. Just to be clear, I'm no vegetarian. I enjoy their products. I didn't even have to visit the factories which were predominantly in the midwest. It was just a supposedly "fun" corporate video for their convention.

As the project progressed, they kept adding more and more "raw" humor to the script. (occupied porta-johns being tipped over by other guys, etc) At one point, I had a question about a bit of pretty derogatory language in the script about a female character. When I questioned it, the company rep replied: "Bill, you've got to understand that the audience for this is guys working in a factory who slaughter cows all day. We really don't need to worry about offending them."

So I took the advice, shut up, and finished the project.

But the next time they called I made sure I was "already booked" on something else. It just wan't a good fit for me.

That's true of any strong client culture. If you're NOT immediately good with it - my advice is to go out and hustle up clients that are more compatible with your sensibilities.

That said, I understand that sometimes it IS all about making a living. I know video techs who I know to be atheists - who have weekly gigs at mega-churches. They do it for the money. Period.

So the real question to examine might be "What are your personal limits regarding the content you want to create and send out in the world?"

It's an individual thing. But one worthy of sitting down to think about, IMO.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.

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Brandon Eastman
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 16, 2014 at 2:08:07 pm

Mr. Davis-

I'm chalking this gig up under your "shut up and finish it" experience. I'm looking to use this experience to better myself creatively, and develop my skills with the camera.

While I would love to be a part of a wildlife documentary (I like nature, and docs in general) or working a feature film, I have to take what's available. This is currently what I have. I'm willing to put my best into it, regardless of the content/theme of pro-life, so I can simply get experience. When the time comes I'm able to get a spot on a big job, I'll have had this much more practice as a filmmaker, story teller.

I'll probably end up making myself unavailable for gigs such as these in the future, but I'll dip my toes in the water for the first time and see what becomes of it.

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Brandon Eastman
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 16, 2014 at 1:54:31 pm

Mr. Rendell- You bring up some great points as to how the video could be developed. While I'm not afraid to work to meet those, I don't want to create a video that negatively defines my future demo reel/resume.
I know that politics and money are sensitive spots for many people. I don't want someone to see this would-be video and write me off under a definition that may not be warranted simply because I created a certain video. I want to be seen in how I created, and not always what was created( I hope that's articulated properly). . I'm a beginner, soon to graduate college, so at this time in my life I need all the practice and experience while I can. I'm not getting any younger. My objective is to be a mercenary, so to speak, for this project. Doing the necessary film techniques to produce a quality product that meets, and hopefully exceeds,the customer's expectations, while honing/expanding my abilities is my end goal.

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John Baumchen
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 16, 2014 at 4:34:12 am
Last Edited By John Baumchen on Nov 16, 2014 at 4:48:51 am

$15/hour?!! If you're going to charge Mickey D prices, don't expect to make a decent living from video. You need to revamp your prices in a serious way. $120/hour would be a more acceptable rate for a professional.

As for rights, many on this forum feel like they have to prostrate themselves at the alter of getting the job. The fact is, the law of the land in the USA clearly states that in the absence of a specific agreement regarding "work for hire", YOU own the footage. No if's and's or but's. PERIOD. What that means is, unless you have a clause in your contract that SPECIFICALLY states that the work you're doing is on a Work For Hire basis, you're the sole owner of the footage. if you decide to work a WFH basis, you should charge double your standard rate, and I don't mean $15/hr.

One of the things I love about this business is that it always presents a challenge. Don't feel afraid to stretch yourself. On the other hand, if the subject matter conflicts with your personal beliefs, walk away. You'll feel better about yourself in the long run.

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Brandon Eastman
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 16, 2014 at 2:18:43 pm

Mr. Baumchen-

The $15/hr was a quick example number that came to mind , but not far off from what i think to charge. This is because I'm a young filmmaker/videographer with minimal equipment (Nikon d7100, flimsy tripod, zoom h4n, and cutting video with Final Cut express 4 on an '08 MacBook). I don't want to overcharge, or put up a price that scares this church client away. I don't currently claim myself to be on the experienced, "professional" level of you guys. While I do my best to present myself and act in a professional manner, I don't feel my work is at a level to justify that rate you mentioned of $100+ per hour.

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Brandon Eastman
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 16, 2014 at 2:31:35 pm

I also want to collectively say "thank you" to you guys for taking time to respond and help me. I know we all have lives outside of work, and for you all to take time out of that is not lost on me; I'm very appreciative.. Thank you.

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Mark Suszko
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 17, 2014 at 3:25:22 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Nov 17, 2014 at 3:28:13 pm

You need to charge an hourly rate for both shooting AND post. No flat rates. What is customary is to bill in thirds: a third up front to start, a third at the point of viewing the first rough cut, and a third at delivery of the final product. This protects you and the client because you only get paid for what you've done, and they can stop at the middle and not pay for work that wasn't done. So bill by thirds.

A third of how much? That's where your estimating skills come in. You have to estimate the hours needed to complete the shoot, and the hours needed to edit. Plus, you have to figure in a margin for handling problems in sound or lighting, etc. that crop up. Estimate accuracy improves with experience, but err on the high side when starting out. Flat rate pricing, as you discovered, is for chumps.

You also need to make, not just a profit over your costs, but enough profit to improve your gear situation on every job. On every job, you should be billing enough to buy something you now need to rent, or to add to your light kit, mics and audio gear, better tripod or pan head, etc. You should be getting more than just a "break-even" out of a billing. That's one thing that separates pros from kids working out of mom's basement for beer money.

Scan the archives of this forum for extended discussions on how to establish a proper day and hourly rate. Then resist any temptation to work below that rate. You will do better wearing a plastic name tag and wielding a spatula, than working below that rate.

It's easy to make ethical decisions about taking jobs when you are alone and have nobody else depending on your income; you can afford to be choosy. A truer test of who you are, is how you choose to act when the situation is dire, and you have kids to feed. You say you have never thought about this issue before - you must be very young, I reckon. Without going into the religious and philosophical arguments here, I will just say that the argument is very much more complicated than you may think and "right to life" is an issue that extends from before birth to the end of life at old age, and many points in-between. It has dimensions beyond what most people immediately consider. And it is highly polarizing because it is so very, very personal. You may find that what you learn on this job forms or changes your views. You may become a believer and advocate. You may, like many, take a "nuanced" position that doesn't totally agree with either side. You may find you totally disagree and have to figuratively hold your nose to get through this. You have the opportunity, after the job, to go hunt up a client with an opposition view, if that's what you find you believe in. Myself, I've never been okay with working on projects espousing things I don't believe in, or otherwise find objectionable. I once refused to work on a spot for broadcast TV that featured an actual on-screen fatality. They said, "okay", and found someone without any scruples to do the job in about ten seconds. But then again, I don't think they hired that guy a second time. If this is to be your career, you are already at the point where you need to make some career decisions, and live with the outcome.

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David Roth Weiss
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Nov 18, 2014 at 9:13:28 pm
Last Edited By David Roth Weiss on Nov 18, 2014 at 9:13:50 pm

[Brandon Eastman] "The $15/hr was a quick example number that came to mind , but not far off from what i think to charge. This is because I'm a young filmmaker/videographer with minimal equipment (Nikon d7100, flimsy tripod, zoom h4n, and cutting video with Final Cut express 4 on an '08 MacBook). I don't want to overcharge, or put up a price that scares this church client away."


Everyone who's ever entered this business is afraid to scare away the client by charging too much. That's what is know as "false economy." If you undercharge, you do no one a favor, it simply helps to perpetuate a race to the bottom for you and everyone else in this business.

Everyone at every level of the media business has to learn on the job, because the technology changes so rapidly. So, resist the temptation to give your services away until you master everything, because that will never happen.

Remember, once you set a lowball price for your services you have established an expectation that will follow you, and you will become well-known in your area as the guy with the best price. When the good projects come around your clients will hand that work off to your competitors who are better known as the guys who are the best craftsmen and craftswomen.

David Roth Weiss
David Weiss Productions

David is a Creative COW contributing editor and a forum host of the Apple Final Cut Pro forum.

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Patrick Ortman
Re: New project, but slightly conflicted to accept.
on Feb 16, 2015 at 4:02:27 pm

David is 100% right. If you want to do crap work for crap clients, keep low-balling your rates. Or, get some backbone and tell the lowballers/grinders to do f*&k themselves, up your game, and go after only the good clients.

Los Angeles and New York video production for businesses and brands:

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