Clients That Don't Have All Assets Before Editing Begins
I searched around but didn't find a similar topic on this dilemma I've had for a long time.
For years I been getting clients who never have all of their assets before editing begins. Not just minor things like a couple photos of an interview subject, I'm talking whole missing interviews or scene footage.
I'll get their deposit and start going though their drives and realize we're missing this or that, and they say "Oh we're shooting again later this month" or "Yeah, I know, I still have to schedule those interviews." One client even told me, "go through [the subject's] Instagram page and grab some photos." My favorite is when they don't have a voiceover and expect me to write/record a scratch track for editing.
I do understand that sometimes as a producer you don't know exactly everything you need until the edit begins (especially on massive productions), but I'm supposedly working with long term professionals who naively act like this is their first production AND like they have an unlimited post budget.
I don't mind producers wanting to make the edits as best as possible, but when it hinders me (editing around soundbites that don't exist) from getting the job done on time and within their budget, its frustrating. Then I look like the bad guy for not being a "team player".
In the past I used to do flat rates where these projects would get dragged out because they were still acquiring their assets. Now I've wised up with contracts but I'm still getting new clients who say they're ready, but aren't...or expect me to supply the missing media for them (ie: photos, music, videos, etc).
So my question is, is this common? Do most (small and medium sized) projects start like this where media is constantly coming in, not all there from the beginning?
I'll also note that I'm freelance, not at a big post house where I can just have the Billing department take care of the extended edit duration. A lot of these projects I'm hoping to start and edit quickly based on my cash flow and availability.
It is quite common in the edit not to have all of the assets in the beginning of the edit, from small things like names & titles for lower thirds, to whole segments not shot yet.
How you and the client deals with this is a separate matter.
[Don Leap] "In the past I used to do flat rates where these projects would get dragged out because they were still acquiring their assets. Now I've wised up with contracts but I'm still getting new clients who say they're ready, but aren't...or expect me to supply the missing media for them (ie: photos, music, videos, etc)."
By the sound of it, you are doing the right thing. I would suggest that you:
1) Include a Terms & Conditions with your contract. What are your cancellation policy? How you will alert your client when they have run over budget etc. And who has the responsibility for supplying source materials, and if you have to do it, what the added cost will be?
2) Give a break-down in time on the flat fee structure. As in, your day rate may be $$$$, where as buying multiple days there will be a reduction to $$$ based on a set amount of hours.
3) If it is clear that the project will run over the agreed time frame, alert your client and let them know what the new total will be.
Do remember, that some clients have a tendency to "burn" their budget on the shoot, and hope that post-production will make up for it through reducing their fees. In which case if the amount is too low, you may want to suggest that production finds another editor...
All the Best
@madsvid, London, UK
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Everything Mads says, plus please be careful on your cancellation/deposit clause: it's important to note that in the USA, often a "deposit" must be refunded if a project is cancelled. A liquidated damages clause protects you and the time you've already spent working for a client, should they have to pull/cancel the project.
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I could live with titles missing and/or whole segments missing. but I'm dealing with producers who want me to edit broadcast ready segments without crucial elements that are needed to make it work and get the flow down. It's like editing a music video without the song track... or editing a scene in a movie where only one character's lines were filmed because the other actor wasn't yet available.
[Mads Nybo Jørgensen] "Do remember, that some clients have a tendency to "burn" their budget on the shoot, and hope that post-production will make up for it through reducing their fees."
This is a big part of it I think. Also, the missing media dilemma forces me to play the role of Producer or Preditor, filling in asset gaps for them.
Either way, you're right. The solution may be to bail on these projects the moment as I see the writing on the wall.
If this is a recurring problem, which it sounds like it is, I suggest that you devise a "check list" of items that the client needs to supply. Approach it from the standpoint of being helpful. You might also supply the list with things like production music already checked off provided you have a library of music from which they can choose. (At a reduced rate and preferably in another room.)
Make this check list part of your estimate and clearly state clearly and in large type that if the client knows that parts are missing they can postpone on 48 hours notice at no charge. This is also a back door way of saying that sessions not postponed or cancelled WILL incur a cancellation charge.
Hope these ideas are of some help. Remember if you let them get away with dumb stuff, or pull their irons out of the fire on a frequent basis, you're just reinforcing their bad behavior.
Flat fixed price deals are madness, as you are learning. Hourly rate or day rate, paid in multiple stages, is the only safe way to go. It's common to bill projects in thirds: a third down to start, a third at some half-way or first approval stage, and the last third on completion/delivery. Billing by thirds protects you both, since, if the project stalls or dies, you've at least been paid for everything up to that stopping point. The client, meanwhile, is protected from paying for work not yet done.
Can you "suspend" work on these projects until assets are delivered? And work on someone else's project? if not, send memos pointing to the airdate deadline; that's your point of leverage. If they have a hard deadline, with huge consequences for missing it, that's when they are most receptive.
When they drop the ball and leave you to pick it up and generate elements, don't get mad: BILL IT. If it takes more hours, document the extra hours and BILL IT. You need to have a warning clause about this in your contracts or deal memos, that you must bill for the extra time spent generating assets not already delivered by the client.
As the other folks say, if you always give away extras without billing for them, you end up training the client to re-enforce the bad behavior. You might consider offering them a "discount" if they present all elements before you start. It's not really giving up any profit - rather, it's the excess time cost you would have billed, if they didn't have elements ready. It can be useful as a marketing tool to occasionally "comp" a client some particular service or hours as "added value"... but not the way you're doing it today.
If they are not going to change their ways, you have to adapt to them and take it into account as added overhead. Don't be afraid to bill for the extra work, and if they complain, you EXplain that they are causing you to add hours because they are not completing on their end first. They are testing you, to see if you blink. You may just be charging too little, afraid of scaring away business. Have you done any "benchmarking" lately? that is, have you checked the rate cards of the competition, or the places you hope to compete against, some day? And how different are their rates from yours? Are you attracting only "grinders" and con artists, because you're priced too low?
The other issue I am reading between the lines of your initial post is that you would rather just cut and not have to worry about being a producer/writer/foley artist/whatever they forgot needed doing as well.
Don't resent it; EMBRACE it.
The number of top-level editors who strictly do only cuts and no other aspect of post is a small and shrinking number of people. Everybody else below that stratospheric level is having to learn to be a one-person band and a Jack or Jill of all trades, doing sound FX, Sound design, music, F/X, animation, graphics, color, writing, vocals, producing, etc. That's just the way the industry has been going for the past decade or more. Embrace it all, and bill for it all. When the client does stupid stuff like ask you to grab an asset off of someone's facebook or whatever, this is the sign of a client that needs to be educated more about technical standards and what the client's responsibilities are. Look at this as an opportunity to educate a customer and make them a better customer, because they will then appreciate the work you do and the time you put in.
I only do fixed rates for smaller projects that have all their assets in place. Even then, it's rare. I'm mostly hourly.
Now, I work on broadcast shows, with a staff of researchers, and often I don't have everything I need when I start. But that is fine, because the researchers do provide what they THINK I need (mostly), but a lot of the time, they wait for me to request footage. After all, I'm the editor, the creative force in control at the moment. I'm given a script, and a handful of footage, but not everything. I then request it and they get to me what they can. Until then, I put a slate of the footage I might want: FOOTAGE TO COME: IRISH IMMIGRANTS DISEMBARKING FROM SHIPS, OR CROWDING ELLIS ISLAND.
And yes, we also deal with not having all the interviews in place. For that we put slates saying INTERVIEW TO COME. Although this is rarer than lack of footage.
As for the temp, a lot of the time I do my own temp reads. This is pretty common. Unless the producer wants a unified voice (as I work on shows that have multiple editors) and a producer reads all the acts. But until they read, I read so that I have a place holder so I can get my music and timing right. And on projects I do all by myself, I read the temp VO until the master VO is read. This is very normal.
And I'm hourly...always hourly...on projects like these. That way the producers know they have deadlines to meet, and a cost to try to stay within. If you are flat rate, they'll drag things out forever. I did flat rate on a project of this type once. ONCE.
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Thanks for the input, everyone. Very helpful to hear your past experiences with this.
I think a big part of it is what Mark mentioned above, clients are getting conditioned to think editors wear all hats, including the hat of Producer (without the official credit, of course).
I've even had some clients expect me to create elaborate show graphics packages from scratch (while still editing the show itself) at the same quality level that a whole Network Graphics Dept would take weeks to design/animate...Sometimes I may be up to that challenge, but only if its in their budget. Usually its not. But they want it, no, they NEED it done anyway. Ahh...the joys of post production.
This all makes me a better Producer on my own projects, though. When I hire professionals, I always come with all the information/elements they need to do the best job possible.