Thank you Doug Bayne!
”I had dreams of making cinematic masterpieces, for less than the price of a new dog”. Haha
All jokes aside I think that’s the major misconception from many people who go out and buy a real nice HDSLR and expect it to spew out pure effortless gorgeousness. Now, in fairness, these cameras make it MUCH, MUCH easier to create professional visuals. But, like any thing that is worthwhile and artistic, it is still a craft.
Passion will take you really far, but nothing will ever overtake talent, experience, knowledge, and lots and lots of lessons learned mistakes and failure.
Do you agree with Doug??
About a month ago, DP & Director Philip Bloom posted on Twitter a screengrab from someone’s online ad offering a Sony F3 Package with Shooter for an unheard of rate of 200 Euro per day – roughly $284 American-. We’re talking an entire kit of gear as well including: a Zeiss Lens set, an LCD Monitor, a Rode Shotgun mic, and 2 Sennheiser Lavs. Philip had this to say: “…if I were to take them up on that offer, I would give the cameraman a chair to sit on and ask him to get me a coffee every now and then whilst I used his gear!”
This got a lot of people talking on Twitter about freelancer rates and what to charge, especially so as to not undercut the competition – usually your fellow colleagues. So since the topic has been breached, and will remain a hot topic amongst freelancers for quite some time, I will begin by talking about one of the first things you will encounter, “What are your rates?”
Now, the first thing everyone will tell you is that rates are always a challenge. Not only do you account for the regional cost of living, but also: market saturation, competitive rates, cost of overhead or gear, experience, talent, and your own availability. The first thing you should really do in this situation is to take a look at your competition. Some people post their rates online but a majority will smartly list them as: negotiable. On a sidenote: a lot of people will say posting a rate will help weed out cheap clientele. I have always believed that the quality of work on your website and client list should speak to what potential rate you will be charging. Plus, there are the rare gigs that have a far better tradeoff of exposure, a client relationship, or a barter of services.
If you are without a professional network, then you most likely will end up cold-calling or emailing area filmmakers and TV industry professionals. You can even use this as a networking opportunity. Make sure to ask how many years of experience they have on the job. This research will allow you to create a baseline for yourself. You can also call local Production companies and Post-Houses and see what they pay their freelancers.
In Bloom’s article about rates he had a good point about someone just starting out. He lays out a path in which a shooter does around 3 jobs pro-bono of differing styles, for example: music video, commercial, and video podcast. Once those gigs are under your belt they become a marketing tool to acquire paying projects. Obviously at an early stage in the game, you are in a weakened position. My advice, is to choose the 3 clients you would like to offer pro-bono work to, as opposed to answering online ads. The people actively looking to give someone “experience” are probably just looking to exploit a young pro.
The major key to all of this that baseline to go off of. Not only are you not underbidding yourself, but also your area colleagues. Situations like the above with the Sony F3 and shooter will only dilute the rates for the true Pros who have bills and a family. And once you set a bar with a new client so low, it’s hard to get a legitimate rate out of them in the future. Keep that in mind.
It all comes down to knowing your worth. Your skill level, your enthusiasm and creativity all matter in this math you are attaching to yourself. Also realize that freelancing is like your social world. You’re going to have your blind dates, acquaintances, best friends, and long-term relationships. You can tailor your rates higher for a one day gig and a little lower if it’s a 3 week one.
How about my readers: How do you/did you go about defining your rates?
Do just as the big dogs do, Never as they tell you to, For though they hate you when you’re tall, When short, they like you not at all. – The Titanium Rule by Elaine Lee
Many Film/TV Editors, when out in the field have experienced this: A client on the fly asks you to use their machine (laptop or desktop) to quickly change the opening cut of a piece using their Final Cut Express and quickly re-export and post a Windows Media File (wmv) on the web. OR, you are brought into an edit in which the company’s Macs aren’t up to date with all the proper codecs and tools to do what the job asks for.
One such event occurred for me when I was on a gig. My boss asked me to rip footage from a promo DVD, add some graphics and alter the cut and re-export. Then burn to a new DVD to play in a loop during a Live Event. I felt as if I had my pants down, but luckily the venue had wireless internet. This, however is not always the case so it helps to be prepared. Not just because of a lack of HIGH SPEED internet, but the time necessary to download when you could have it all on a trusty USB flash drive. It’s very common that on-site everybody ends up sharing a WiFi network and in these situations your web speeds can severely suffer.
USB Flash Drives are sturdy, durable, and rarely corrupt the data that you place on it. And, data sizes go up to 128gb currently (possibly more) and will continue to rise in the future. Obviously one thing to keep in mind is the higher the file size, the longer the transfer will take as opposed to a Thunderbolt or Firewire External Hard Drive. But, as a backup they rock!
Things to dedicate to your Field Editor’s Toolbox:
1. Program Backups
2. Quicktime Codecs & Final Cut Plugins
3. Project File Backups (Final Cut Pro, AfterEffects, Photoshop, etc.)
4. Stock Video, Images & SFX Libraries
…can all fit based on your needs, drive size, and organization.
PROGRAMS: Here is what programs I currently keep in my flash drive (as a .dmg) and I believe you should too. You could be a lifesaver on a project no matter what your role is.
1. Quicktime 7 Pro – $29.99
2. Perian – “the swiss-army knife of Quicktime Components” – FREE
Perian enables QuickTime application support for additional media:
* File formats: AVI, DIVX, FLV, MKV, GVI, VP6, and VFW
* Video types: MS-MPEG4 v1 & v2, DivX, 3ivx, H.264, Sorenson H.263, FLV/Sorenson Spark, FSV1, VP6, H263i, VP3, HuffYUV, FFVHuff, MPEG1 & MPEG2 Video, Fraps, Snow, NuppelVideo, Techsmith Screen Capture, DosBox Capture
* Audio types: Windows Media Audio v1 & v2, Flash ADPCM, Xiph Vorbis (in Matroska), and MPEG Layer I & II Audio, True Audio, DTS Coherent Acoustics, Nellymoser ASAO
* AVI support for: AAC, AC3 Audio, H.264, MPEG4, and VBR MP3
3. MPEG Streamclip – FREE
Outside of Perian, easily one of the most valuable tools a Media “head” can have. It’s an extremely fast and versatile video player, clip editor, capture tool, and file converter. It has a PC brother too. It will allow you to rip footage from a non-copyright protected DVD as well.
4. HandBrake – FREE
HandBrake is a tool similar to MPEG Streamclip. What sets it apart is it allows you to rip DVD content across the board for digital archiving. It also has some really easy to use pre-sets to take Video Files and export them for mobile devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, PSP, Blackberry, etc.).
Popular blog Lifehacker released some of their own HandBrake presets that are better optimized for current devices.
“To import our presets, choose go to Presets -> Import in the Handbrake menu and select the preset files you just downloaded and unzipped. That’s all you have to do. They should appear in the Handbrake presets panel, available for use.” via Lifehacker blogpost.
5. Flip4Mac Studio – Costs $49
…But is cashflow well spent. As much as we creatives work alot on Macs, a majority of your clients own a PC and a majority of them DON’T have Quicktime Player (especially an up to date version) installed. This basically allows you to export and play WMVs.
6. DivX for Mac – FREE
This is just a good DivX and .AVI codec to have. Not essential for editing, but for playback.
Apple.com has a great list of others you may want or need and they are all here. Alot of these are open source as well. Make sure to search “Video” at the MacApp Store.
CAMERA SPECIFIC CLIP BROWSERS, FILE CONVERTERS/IMPORTERS:
Per each shoot, each camera you will encounter may have a proprietary software associated with it. Be it RED One, Sony XDCam Series, Arri Alexa, various HDSLRs and many more. Make sure to know ahead of time what camera you will be working with and update or download any relevant software. Some video gear companies have gotten wise and there are some amazing solutions that convert any signal directly to Apple ProRes 422 or record it natively. These include: AJA KiPro & KiPro Mini, Sound Devices Pix 220 & 240, or Atomos Ninja & Samurai.
1. FilmImpact.net Transitions Bundle – FREE
One last thing I keep in my mind is the FREE online file conversion tool (no need for software) website called Zamzar.
Types of Conversions:
* Document formats
* Image formats
* Music formats
* Video formats
* E-Book formats
* Compressed formats
* CAD formats
Good Luck. Hope you heed my advice!
So, as this is my inaugural blog post for Film Slate Magazine, I figure right out of the gate I should try to grab your attention. If you are an industry vet, you probably have learned these above lessons as you’ve went along. You might have had a fantastic mentor or apprenticed with a reputable company (I am lucky, in that even during this horrendous recession, I have had both), or you had started a business in the past. If so, you have had a general idea how to be professional, gain clients, and write contracts. Most of all, you knew how to get and keep respect in the marketplace.
More than likely most of you reading this are just getting into the exhilarating, exhausting and uber-competitive world of freelancing. And most of you probably, like me, never spent more than one or two collegiate class days talking about invoices, self-proprietorship, standard business practices, personal branding or W-9s. A lot of you believed that as a filmmaker that you would graduate, apply, get recruited and hired at a reputable production company or post-house and never have to worry about those things.
I’m sure the recession has changed all that for a big chunk of you. And while at first it can be depressing (maybe even causing you to consider changing fields, maybe become a daytrader). I want to be the first to tell you that you can do this. You just need to make up for lost time. This blog series will aim to start pointing you to the right paths from all that college did not teach you.
-Hat tip to the brilliant creative & entrepreneur Nick Campbell for bringing this video to my attention (@nickvegas)
The above video is a worthwhile watch. Mike Monteiro (@Mike_FTW) the Design Director and co-founder of Mule Design Studio gives a speech during the wonderful CreativeMornings talks. He basically relays all the important lessons he learned by being a “green” businessman – not the good environmental kind of green either. One of the most important points he makes is: create contracts that outline the business relationship beforehand. To get a good idea of what one should look like, or a basic template the Design group AIGA created this PDF. Just make sure to replace designer with filmmaker.
“F*ck You. Pay Me” may sound extreme, but in effect, Mike is just laying out some important aggressive language because as he says, “I love designers and I want designers to know they actually have a lot more power than they think they have.” He has known far too many artists who have been taken advantage by big companies and big clients looking to save a buck.
Some of this stuff might come off a little dry, but is a great starting point for getting point blank serious and questioning: Are you an amateur or are you a professional? As much as it helps to pay your dues and wait your turn, there does come a sense of responsibility and confidence that comes with being a respected business owner as well.
I had been curious and did some research. Luckily I came upon some really good young, creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. If you really look, there is an unheard of amount of these people outwardly blogging, tweeting, podcasting, or interviewing with the aim to educate creatives like filmmakers, videographers, video podcasters and as the eternally wise Danny Darst once called us, “hired guns.” Follow them and glean all the information you can!
Just a couple to get you going:
1. Nick Campbell – Motion GFX Guru and iPhone App Inventor
(greyscalegorilla.com) A good friend and colleague turned me on to Nick a couple of years ago and I’ve been following his blog and career ever since. He is a true wealth of knowledge and does a great job speaking candidly and directly to artists.
2. Kevin Rose – Founder of Milk, Digg and Revision3
(kevinrose.com) Most social media heads and tech fans know all about him. His “Foundation” video podcast is essential viewing in the startup and entrepreneurship community. As filmmakers we must JOIN IN to this community, because it’s where our future work/clients will come from. And to top it off, all of it is super inspiring.
Keep posted to Film Slate Magazine because I have collected a wealth of material to share with you. As a creative community, we need to all up our game as well as support each other. I myself am always learning, so please don’t hesitate to point me in the right direction, tip me off or drop me an email. This is the web, and it’s easy for really important information to get lost in the cacophony.