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What to charge for a 2 minute video with lower quality camcorder footage?

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Ozzy BainesWhat to charge for a 2 minute video with lower quality camcorder footage?
by on Jun 17, 2015 at 1:12:24 am

My client asked me to edit footage using camcorder footage that he shot. It's about three minutes long. I am starting out as a freelance video editor. What should I charge for this project? This is not going to be incredibly high quality given the quality of the camera.

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Mads Nybo JørgensenRe: What to charge for a 2 minute video with lower quality camcorder footage?
by on Jun 17, 2015 at 12:01:56 pm

Hey Ozzy,

[Ozzy Baines] "My client asked me to edit footage using camcorder footage that he shot. It's about three minutes long. I am starting out as a freelance video editor. What should I charge for this project? This is not going to be incredibly high quality given the quality of the camera."

The quality of the footage have no impact on how much you should charge - it is more about whether you can make the footage look good in its final form, and tell the story that the clients needs.

How much is your daily freelance rate?
Will you supply your own editing kit?
Will you be working from home or at client location?
How long will you be working on it?
Don't forget insurance, subscriptions and holiday pay.
Once you know that, you will know how much to charge.

There are plenty of posts on this subject in this very forum - feel free to use the excellent search function.

All the Best

@madsvid, London, UK
Check out my other hangouts:
Twitter: @madsvid

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Mark SuszkoRe: What to charge for a 2 minute video with lower quality camcorder footage?
by on Jun 17, 2015 at 2:14:16 pm

Mads is correct. Ozzy, you are not in a commodity business like selling fish at x dollars a pound. One time I had to visit an angry client on behalf of the boss. We'd shot her daughter's wedding, with 2 cameras, shooting around 4-5 hours of ceremony and reception, then several days' worth of editing, and she was mad because the 2-hour finished product cost well over a grand. She said she was told our hourly rate was 100 bucks and since the finished video was 2 hours, she should only have to pay $200.

Back to your situation. You don't charge a fixed price. Even if they demand a figure, it is ALWAYS an estimate only, with some degree of overage possible.

Your basic unit of exchange is an hour of your time, even for jobs that take less than an hour to do. Every job is unique and custom, and every job will have it's own special issues crop up. Especially a job like the one you're about to take on. It was shot by a non-pro, so that means you may need to apply a lot of work to improve the final product. Like:

Audio sweetening to remove background noise and improve quality.

Add b-roll shots or animations or graphics.

Color correction and levels adjustments for over-exposed, under-exposed, and off-color-balance footage.

Motion stabilization to reduce hand-held shakes in the footage.

Digital re-framing or cropping of shots to make them more pleasing.

Add music or sound effects, which come with costs.

Add nice titles and/or other art.

The edit itself: cutting the footage so that it tells a story well.

If you offer a fixed price, assuming you'll only need an hour or two, and a bunch of these issues listed above come up, requiring hours more work, you end up working for free or even LOSING money.

So, always charge by the hour; give an up-front estimate of the time, with a one hour minimum, give a number of hours figure as an upper limit, after which you need more permission to finish it, have them understand you charge by the hour, just like the mechanics down at the car garage. Ask for about a third of the estimated cost in advance as down payment to begin the work and confirm you have a real contract. Insist on payment in full upon completion and before or at delivery. Or no delivery. Have the particulars of the job IN WRITING. BEFORE you start. Every job, no matter how simple it seems at the time, needs to be in writing.

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Todd TerryRe: What to charge for a 2 minute video with lower quality camcorder footage?
by on Jun 17, 2015 at 2:28:05 pm

All good advice so far.

As others have said, the quality of the source footage makes no difference...

If someone asks you to carry a bucket for a mile, it's no less work if that bucket contains ten pounds of garbage as opposed to ten pounds of diamonds.

The subject doesn't matter either... an artist doesn't charge less to paint someone's portrait if they are ugly.

And lastly the intended usage doesn't matter either. If someone needs you to dig a big hole of a certain size, it doesn't matter if it's for a sand trap at the nicest country club, or for an outhouse... it's the same amount of work.

Your hourly rate is your rate, and if you don't have one... get one.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Nick GriffinRe: What to charge for a 2 minute video with lower quality camcorder footage?
by on Jun 17, 2015 at 7:29:17 pm

[Mark Suszko] "It was shot by a non-pro, so that means you may need to apply a lot of work to improve the final product."

Mark's answer. as is Mads', is spot on. But I think the question that's missing here is how good is the amateur's coverage from which you will be cutting. I'd ask to review the raw footage before agreeing to anything, let alone a price.

Coverage from different viewpoints is critical because if all you have to work with is a handheld camera looking at the action from just one place and at one focal length there's only so much you can do to make a decent end product. Graphic cut-aways may be the ONLY way you'll be able work with what you've been given and even then the end result may be stunningly boring. In other words: something with which you don't want to be associated.

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Post removed by author on Jun 22, 2015 at 4:13:04 pm.

Mark SuszkoRe: What to charge for a 2 minute video with lower quality camcorder footage?
by on Jun 22, 2015 at 5:43:58 pm

To the poster who changed their mind:

We actually agree more than disagree, I think. Where we agree is that you have to be ready to estimate a range between x and y dollars, based on your experience and what you know about the job details. When you know everything there is to know about the job, the distance between "x" and "y" is so small, it may as well BE a fixed price. Still, it would be bad practice to lock yourself off from being able to ask for more if a situation changed. When you're walking in more or less blind into a project, "X" and "y" amounts HAVE to be farther apart, just to protect yourself.

Another issue you raise is all about negotiating. That can be it's own thread, certainly. I don't live in your shoes, everyone's situation is different. Certainly In some ways I admit I have it cushier than you since I get a steady check and don't have to hunt my work down every day to live. I made choices, traded certain things to get that steady check, and not everyone would be happy to make all the same trades, but that's another discussion, for a bar or analyst's' couch.

But while we're on the topic of negotiating, you talk of take-it-or-leave-it situations, which I'm sure you've experienced a lot. Every man or woman has to own their choices in those situations, and again, It's not my place to say if your choice was "right" or not in any particular case. I think what some of us are suggesting is that there is an art to negotiating up from "take it or leave it", and it starts with making the other guy BELIEVE you can and would walk away from a poor deal. Not that you're asking for a ridiculous amount, no. You're asking for what's fair, for what's customary, what's within the realm of expectations.

If you fixate on a number, I don't think you do as well as fixating on the list of all the work to be performed, the experience or talent it requires, what kind of level of finish quality you make, and yes, the speed at which it is performed. When a mechanic or plumber gives an estimate for a car or plumbing repair, just quoting a figure without any context often sounds like a ridiculously high amount. Yet, as they break it down, you see the time for diagnosing the trouble, the time for wrestling with mechanisms or busting out some concrete or cutting away old pipe or whatever the job entails, plus the cost of carrying an inventory of parts so he or she has the parts on hand to finish the repair. Then add a fraction for amortizing the education and training and on the job experience that were accumulated in order to be able to do a credible and guaranteed safe repair, because in the case of hooking up your gas line or fixing your brakes, actual LIVES go on the line and the mechanic's skill affects if people live or die.

In the context of all that, the price, (especially on a weekend) makes more sense, and usually you're willing to pay it.

But they say they will offer x amount and that's it. How can you even start a negotiation when there seems to be no way in? You can't if you only play their game.

I say you have to start with a conversation about that context, while you're gathering all the info you can about the details of the job. You don't respond to the offered price at first. You just keep pumping for info until the client feels you know everything there could be to know about this deal. In your head or on a piece of scratch paper, you've been figuring the numbers based on your hourly rate and costs. When it sounds like the conversation is wrapping up, you come back with: "I think I really understand what the job entails, now, and figuring that against the hours I think it will take me, what you're offering for the time involved is a little low. The range I can do this job for is between X on the low side, and Y on the high side, but I'm confident we're talking close to X amount".

Them: "Well, I'm paying w amount, take it or leave it."

You: "I'm sure you can find somebody who can accept W, but I know the job and I know what my costs are, I can do it on the low side of my estimate, but below that figure x, it's actually below break-even for me. But I want to work with you. Let me ask you this; Where does the figure W come from: is that all your budget has room for, or was that someone else's estimate? In which case, we can talk about what I can leave out to get the cost down to fit into W, but it wouldn't be exactly the same project we talked about. I can suggest ways to shave some costs, but the look you want demands certain things, and those have an associated cost. So, I can do price W if you can live without details a,b,and c, but you said you really wanted those details to make the show stand out."

Now, maybe I don't even get that far; maybe they get impatient and hang up on me or politely tell me I'm a dime a dozen and they're the one with the dimes. Well, then I know this is not really a customer I'm ever going to enjoy working for, nor a place that really cares about quality. Or it's just that the person on the other end has other issues or is not the actual final decision-maker. It may be that I can try going over their head, or recruit them to advocate for my rate to the actual person in charge. But I've also established my credibility and that I know what things really cost. If I get underbid, and the lowballer doesn't deliver, or delivers crap, they may remember that there was a better guy available for somewhat more money, next time. You never know for sure in these cases, did that person just pull a number out of their... hat? Are they themselves really experienced in the biz, or do they think this is a commodity pricing business like ordering toner cartridges, versus making bespoke one-of-a-kind suits? Are they afraid to back down from an initial offer due to pride and lack of self-esteem, or is a ridiculously low initial offer just their opening tactic? Maybe they EXPECT some haggling, and think you're a sucker for not trying for more? Maybe they were given a low bid and are researching prices based on that as their benchmark, with no context. And you, friend are MISTER context. Look at the fact that they are asking someone else to do the job in the first place; that means they can't or are unwilling to do the job themselves. What about that job makes it impossible for them to do it in-house? What about THAT puts it in YOUR "wheelhouse"? Your experience and talent. That puts you at the mental advantage here. You're the mechanic and you don't half-ass a brake job.

Yeah, you still might not get it. You might go to bed hungry. At some point you may have to cave. Or doing this dance every day is not what you're suited for; it is not for everybody. A "no" from this guy has to be seen as opening the opportunity for you to get a "yes" from someone else, and off you go, to find that someone else.... That's salesmanship.

What IS a fact, objectively, is that if you never challenge the rate or price handed to you, you will only ever make what they decide you make. You're either happy with that, or you aren't. If you aren't, your options include doing something else, where you can be satisfied, looking for the people who already pay what you want, or taking a more aggressive stance, a more nuanced stance, in negotiating up from what's offered. But it's not a negotiation if you're not free to say "no". You have to decide for yourself how free you are. The day you succeed at negotiating up for the first time, you will have an epiphany, I guarantee.

Check this listicle out, it talks about a psychological effect that's key to what I'm talking about:

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