If there’s one subject that I get asked for an article on more than any other, it’s pricing. Video production pricing is a complex subject and there are many angles to come at it from.
Imagine this: you’ve scored a victory in getting that ideal client talking to you. You’ve pitched an idea and the company are receptive. But, like an elephant in the corner of the room, along comes price.
It’s almost like a dirty word to some people. So we call it different things: “your investment,” “your contribution,” “your monetary costing.” This just creates confusion.
In fact, it seems like so much of the video production community struggle with the issue of pricing when they get a meeting with that dream client.
So I’ve asked 17 experts in the video production and indie filmmaking communities to chime in with their thoughts on pricing. Because pricing isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ issue, I thought it best to present the topic from multiple expert POVs, so asking my friends in the community seems like the best move.
If nothing else, it’s a great jumping off point in you’re struggling with how to handle your video production pricing.
I think these responses will help to answer lots of questions that you might have and I hope it stands as something of a guiding post for our community.
So without further ado, here’s the question I asked:
“What are the 3 most important things you consider when pricing a video production job?”
Time is the most precious resource:
- how much of my time will this client take?
- Are they efficient or will we waste a lot of time re-working the boards, pre-production and in post or do they know what they want?
You can often tell this from the initial brief. Changes cut into profits and cause huge levels of stress and lost opportunities that always seem to reflect negatively on you (and not the client.)
2.What is my interest level in the job and does it push my body of work forward in terms of doing something new or relevant?
3. I take all of the above and then formulate a price that allows me to make a profit based on the time I’ll put in, the gear we’ll need (and cost), and the chance that things will go smoothly.
You want to come up with a price that is both fair to you and your client. That is how to succeed with them as a repeat customer long term.
World-renowned Editor and educator and member of both the Directors Guild of America and the Producer’s Guild of America.
1. Never price a job below the point at which you need to make a living. Under-bidding a job is never solved by making it up in volume.
2. Someone else will always be cheaper. Your job is not to sell on price, but on quality, story-telling and meeting the client’s needs better than anyone else.
3. Always plan, and price for, changes — even when the client swears that this version is absolutely, positively final.
4. Never lose your focus that your job is to help your clients communicate, not to showcase your technical chops.
Thanks for thinking of me for the article. In answer to your question, the three most important things when pricing a video job are…
1. How much time (to shoot and edit).
2. Production value.
Will it be a cinematic promo with a lot of pre- and post production?
Or will it be a basic, straight-forward documentary edit?
What equipment will be needed — e.g. camera, rigs, lights, etc.;
What other resources are needed, i.e. music, actors, crew, etc.
3. Is there some value to me beyond $$$? Is there a marketing or promotional value to the business? Is the shoot an opportunity to add something different and unique to my portfolio? Or, is it helping some cause I believe in?
I may have a reduced fee if the project fits into one of those categories. How much time will be required in all three phases of production: pre-, shoot, and post production.
Founder + CEO at KRE8 UNIVERSITY.
To me, there are many more than 3 things that should be considered. Feel free to use what works best for your blog post.
1. How long will the film be?
2. In what style will the film be produced?
3. Will we be responsible for writing the script and/or providing a storyboard?
4. Will there need to be a professional voiceover?
5. Will there need to be any on-camera talent or interviews shot for the film?
6. What type of camera crew and/or equipment will be needed for the shoot?
7. How many days of shooting will be required and how many locations?
8. What will my expenses be for the project before we make any profit?
1. Type of production
The first thing I look at with regards to pricing is the type or scale of any given project.
Naturally, a commercial spot for a large corporation will have a higher budget than a music video for an independent artist, so identifying the overall scope of any given project sets me off in the right direction.
2. Creative direction
If my client has any sort of concept in mind, even if it’s rough, that will likely dictate the cost to a large degree.
For instance if the client is asking for a scene to be shot in a location that will require expensive permits, or include aerial/drone shots, that will drive up the price.
The creative direction will also determine the crew size which of course is another pivotal factor.
3. Days of shooting and post-production
After understanding the scale of production and any creative requirements, I will have a solid idea of what our cost will be on a daily basis — for both production and post.
The next step is to assess how many days the production will require and multiply the cost per day accordingly, while also adding in some contingency costs.
Cinematographer and creativeLIVE instructor.
1. What is the client’s budget? That doesn’t necessarily mean what they say the budget is. Sometimes it is a bit of work to find out how much they truly have
2. Can I give them the level of production they want/need for the money they have in a way that I can make money or not feel like I am being taken advantage of?
3. Are the post needs clear and can I afford to do the job without losing my shirt and putting in lots of unanticipated time and energy delivering a cut that works?
Owner of Cinecom and former Tuts+ instructor.
I work with fixed prices where every client is treated equally. This is something very important if you want to be taken serious, whether your prices are cheap or expensive. That puts you somewhere in the market.
So the things I must consider is how big the production can be. In other words;
- how many crew members can join me?
- what kind of equipment do I count?
1. The first thing to figure that out is by doing your homework before your first meeting with the client.
Look-up the numbers of the company, how many employees they have and how their current marketing is going.
You can already learn so much from those 3 things. A company with a margin of $10.000 has less budget potential than a company with $100.000 margin.
The amount of people they have employed tells something about how much they want to grow and that they like help with their growth.
Finally, look at their current marketing. If they don’t have a Facebook page, a logo from the sixties and all their letters written in comic sans, then you’re going to have a hard time selling a corporate film.
But if they already spend much of their budget on marketing, you have a bigger chance of getting on their train.
2. Then the second thing is you meet up with the client and try to sell them something which you think might be just above their budget.
And if you do your job well, the client will say “awesome, I want this! What’s it gonna cost?”.
The biggest mistake what most people do then is say, “I’ll make a price quote and mail it to you”. If you do that you just lost a potential job.
You’ve done your homework and have fixed prices, so take out your price table and create a price quote right in front of him.
If he now believes the price is too much, you can adjust it together with him. Don’t lower your price, but leave off some extra lights or swap that fancy RED camera with a DSLR.
Because you’re open with your prices and making the estimate together with the client, you will have a stronger bond with them.
I’m aware that it’s not always possible to create an estimate on the fly. In that case, roughly tell him an estimate and try to discuss that.
3. Then the third thing is to seal the deal. Take your agenda and ask your client when to meet again.
This could be the production or another meeting. If your client doesn’t want to sign at that moment, then don’t push and give them time until your next meeting.
Director/DOP and part of the Cinema5D team.
3 most important things:
1. When I do my estimates I try to charge more than I think it will cost. Because at the end the effort and cost is always higher than I thought.
2. I always try to go back to my estimates when the job is completed and redo the calculation to see how much the cost / time was in reality.
Usually the number is still higher, so that helps me focus on point 1.
3. Don’t work for too little.
Of course also don’t demand unfair prices, that’s not right. Get a picture of how much it will effectively cost and how much time it will take and communicate that to the client so he also understands.
It’s your job, so get paid for what you do.
Wedding Cinematography Is Expensive Because It Is A Luxury
Let’s just take a second to realize what that actually means.
I first took this idea to heart after reading a wonderful article by Pavel Kounine posted in PetaPixel online and it has cemented the way I think about setting my price.
A lot of wedding professionals seek to defend their prices by sharing audit-like cost breakdowns with their clients but this certainly isn’t the best decision.
Pavel makes the case that photo/video is the only service/product at the end of the wedding that actually increases in value. The wedding is literally a frivolous party. People could technically get married for a couple hundred dollars but chose to spend thousands on their guests to attend this celebration.
He closes his article by saying “You get what you pay for.”
I totally agree with this article and it has helped shape my wedding cinematography package prices.
Here’s a little insight into my pricing history and logic:
I shot my first wedding for $200 six years ago. I kept raising my prices little by little because people were telling me to do so after seeing my videos.
People starting out should notice this, people watch your films and then ask how much you’re charging. Most of the time their response is “I can’t believe you’re only charging this much!”
This is wonderful to hear and gives you plenty of courage to ask for that extra $100-200 next time a couple enquires about your services.
While this is helpful when you’re starting out, you might want to careful about heeding this advice.
You’re talking to a new couple and once you tell them what you charge for your wedding packages, they immediately tell you that you’re way out of their budget and even go further to say that nobody should be charging that amount for wedding cinematography.
I think we have all experienced this kind of client. What options do we have?
You could apologize and ask what their budget is and maybe even drop your price to accommodate their minuscule asking price. Doing this lowers the value of your work. If you shoot this video you will probably find yourself feeling under-valued and possibly might reduce your effort in retaliation.
Not you or the couple want this to happen so don’t ever let it happen.
The other option is to simply say no. Once you realize the power that you have as the owner of a small business it will feel like you’re finally free and all of this comes from the power of saying “no thank you.”
Better yet, I like the phrase, “I don’t think our business is a good fit for you and your wedding.”
Figuring out if your business is a good fit for the wedding/couple in question really is the first step of the booking process. To skip this step under-values your work and will make owning a business miserable for you.
Music producer, filmmaker and creator of the Hollywood Camera Work DVD series.
It’s obviously hard. You want to be high enough that you make money, and low enough that you get in with clients who have a ton of work for you.
I’ve never resolved how to avoid starting low and staying low. But with the right people, I’ve done free/low pay work, they understood that I delivered more than what they paid, and then I got second jobs where I really got paid well.
So if you’re going to under-bid, I actually think it’s better to do it almost for free so that you don’t set a price expectation.
If you do a gig for expenses-only because it gets you in with a great client, then they actually owe you a favor, and you haven’t said what you’re worth.
They’ll know for a fact that expenses-only is not your price, so you haven’t negotiated a price.
With the clients where I’ve done it for low pay (but still pay), that immediately created the expectation that this is the range we’re in.
So I think it’s better to low-ball way out the bottom of any rational range. Then they owe you a favor, and they understand. And then once you’re valuable to them, then you can discuss price really for the first time.
Owner at this very site, Filmmaking Lifestyle.
1. My time.
2. My opportunity cost.
3. My potential headaches with taking on this project.
I think it’s important to be slightly selfish when you’re looking at pricing a job. After all, this is your time, energy and your future career at stake here. Hence the use of “My”s.
Point 1 is obvious: I look at the time I’m going to need to invest in making this project the best it can be.
Point 2 is a little bit more complex and focuses on the specific opportunities that are on offer for me getting involved in this project.
It also looks at any potential ‘opportunity costs’ that I might face by choosing this project over another worthy project that might clash with it.
Point 3 might sound a little negative, but it’s not. In reality, any project has its share of potential headaches. You need to do your due diligence and work them out before you start the work.
Beware the so-called ‘Performance-based’ video production job. That is, a job where you’re paid Return on Investment style. That is, you’re paid based on, for example, how many sales your video adds to the bottom line of the company you’re working for.
Narrowing it down to just working with small business owners for this example, maybe the biggest challenge I’ve had with working out performance-based deals is getting paid.
Many, if not most small business owners, are “penny wise and dollar foolish.” But how does that affect your video production pricing?
The psychology of small business owners is such that they view the businesses’ money as their money. They view all business expenses as coming out of their own pocket.
In other words, there is little difference to them whether the money is being spent on their groceries, or on improving their company’s marketing. They view it all as coming from the same “jar.”
The problem? This means that they tend to equate being “cheap” in their business with being “smart.” Communication is key here.
No matter how fantastic the ROI (Return on Investment) is, if they’re paying you on a monthly retainer, they might get tired of paying you every month.
Trying to “sweeten” the deal by reducing your fees might only help temporarily (arbitrarily reducing fees is almost always a bad idea in general). They will focus on the dollar amount going out, and the amount coming in will hardly matter.
While a little bit of creativity can help mitigate this problem, I’ve also found that if you are working with a business where the owner isn’t the one handling your fees, you’re much better off.
That way they don’t see so much of “their” money being sent to you every month, and they can instead focus on the results
Be careful to avoid what has been hilariously termed as The Prostitute’s Dilemma in business circles. The Prostitute’s Dilemma goes like so: “Your services always seem more valuable before they’ve been rendered.”
And without trying to overload you with ideas, one final important point: raise your prices. Most business people describe the first time they learnt to really see their own value and charge what they’re worth as being a life-changing experience.
I can talk all day about pricing, and will no doubt write more on this in the future.
1. Time On Location
Time on location is fairly straightforward: I charge a dayrate for myself and my “crew of one” gear package that is comparable to what other professionals in my area charge.
2. Time Editing
Time editing is always an estimate, because you never really know how long something will take to edit until you get into it (especially if the client has a lot of revisions).
I used to track my hours and adjust my final bill accordingly, but clients hated the uncertainty, and I hated having to watch the clock all the time, so I switched to a project rate for editing.
Now, I tell the client how much I would charge to deliver what they want, and that’s what they pay. If it takes me less time, great for me; if it takes me more time, great for them.
3. Overhead Costs
Overhead costs are things like crew costs, studio fees, meals, travel & hotel costs, equipment rental, etc.
Basically, anything that I’m going to have to write a check for. While my dayrate covers my gear and me, larger productions might require me to hire a dozen other people, rent gear that I don’t own, and incur other expenses.
Not only does that need to be added to the client’s bill, but it’s a good idea to “mark up” these costs a little bit (usually about 10%), because things usually come up that you didn’t anticipate, and it’s not fun to pay for it out of your own pocket!
It’s also extremely important to understand exactly what your costs are going to be, when you work with outside vendors like talent agencies and voiceover studios.
For example, I bid one project based on the commercial airing regionally.
Later, the client mentioned that the spot would be airing nationally.
Except that the fee from the voiceover studio went up by almost $8,000 because of national usage, and I was the guy who had to pay them!
I was able to get the client to pay for some of the overage, but since it was really my mistake for not getting an accurate number in the first place, I still wound up losing money on that project.
When in doubt, remember one thing: you never want to have to go back and ask for more money!
Cinematographer, editor, motion graphics artist and owner at PhilEbiner.com.
Here’s my response to your question. I also have an article related that you might want to link to.
The 3 most important things that I consider are:
1. Am I new? Am I still establishing myself in my industry?
If you’re starting out as a new filmmaker, you might need to charge less than a typical rate. In particular, if you don’t have a portfolio or any connections in your industry, you might need to do free work to build up relationships and a killer portfolio.
2. Can I charge an hourly/day rate?
The easiest way to charge money for a job is by charging a day rate.
Once you come up with a rate that you are comfortable with (calculating the cost of running your business, taxes, and how much you need to survive and thrive), it’s an easy fall back number to tell clients.
For example, if I know that my day rate is $400 for shooting video, then I can easily tell a client that it will cost $400 per day, no matter how many days I work or how long I work per day.
I am mostly against charging a ‘per project’ flat fee because you can really get taken advantage of by clients who want revisions (especially if you are working in post production).
3. Are you setting yourself up as a premium video creator?
In any field, it’s important to quickly establish yourself as a premium product/service.
- People will respect you more.
- You’re unlikely to get fewer jobs. And the jobs you don’t get because you price yourself high are jobs you won’t want anyways.
- You are able to enjoy your video lifestyle without having to worry about working 24/7.
So the quicker you can establish yourself as a premium brand, the better you’ll be.
Whenever I work on a video project, I always remind myself that I have the expertise and experience that warrants a premium price — and I follow it up with amazing work that gets me hired over and over.
I always work “backwards” for each project proposal:
- Will it be a broadcast/theater production or simply a YouTube video?
- Will it be a simple real estate or event video or a major corporate or commercial production?
- Do they need 4K RED footage or will a GoPro and a 5D be sufficient?
Since my approach will always be based on the end-product required, that greatly determines how much of a production budget is necessary.
For me, it all comes down to time and hard costs — not just how “big” of a client I think they are.
- Can I shoot with my in-house gear or do I need to rent more lights, gear and a bigger camera + extra bodies to operate it?
- Am I shooting green screen in a studio or simply capturing some B-roll for an event?
- Am I going to need permits for location shoots or buy stock of any kind?
- Will I need to shoot aerials and file the necessary paperwork for my commercial 333 exemption?
It really is a fact-finding process long before you start working on the figures — including how serious the potential client is about the production or are they just fishing for ballpark figures.
I generally don’t waste too much time on a proposal if I’m really not sure they’re quite serious about hiring me.
Author and Owner/video producer at Audio Visual Consultants.
We factor in some billable time for pre-production. I will state at least 1-2 hours for meetings, site survey, production coordination.
If we write the script or are helping client to revise script, I try to estimate additional hours for that.
Filming can be with one, two or three cameras. I’m careful to state “8 hour day, meal break off the clock after 4 hours.”
Two camera shoot with crew of two is about double the daily rate, three cameras — triple. we sometimes offer a second or third camera, un-staffed at discount.
We offer “options” such as sound recordist, gaffer, prompter, makeup artist. For larger budget videos we will add some of those options plus a fee for producer and sometimes separate fee for director.
Editing is the hardest to estimate. Mitch, our staff editor, either meets with the client or looks at their requirements and creates a quote in a range, based on his experience with similar projects.
We don’t do flat rate, unless it is a repeat client with the same type of video. We rarely pocket any additional money if the estimate was higher than actual.
Asking for more money is hard, but we frequently have to do it. I try to be clear in the initial contract that change of scope results in a different budget.
We try to let them know as quickly as possible, such as on a shoot when things are running late and we have to schedule another session. Most clients understand that.
A common problem is the client not finishing, usually during the editing process. They procrastinate and we have to ask them to pay without having a finished product. We give them what we have, and sometimes they don’t understand that “selects” is not the same as an edited video.
CEO at Helium Films USA.
As you said, pricing is a complex process that involves, in my opinion, figuring out the details of what you are creating and how prior to giving a quote out.
I have set prices for each type of crew members, equipment and specific services, so when pricing, I try to figure out how much of these I need.
The 3 main components I’ll therefore look at are:
- Crew member needed
- Amount of time needed
- Equipment needed
Basically my recipe for pricing is trying to figure out as closely as possible the creative direction prior to sending a quote, and then using my personal experience to estimate what it will take to make this happen in terms of resources.
- Is it an interview that requires just one videographer over a half day?
- Or is it a full blown commercial where we ne ed grips, PA, make up artists etc…for 5 days.
- Do we need an aerial shot?
- A jib shot?
- Using a Ronin or any other special equipment?
Sending video examples to my client during the quote process, showing visual examples and discussing at length what they have in mind ensures that we are on the same page creatively and that I’ll be able to include the necessary items in my quote.
It’s also a great way to start establishing a relationship and trust that is important for the sales process.
Depending on the client, I’ll either discuss the particular of the shoot itself or not, but in any case I’ll always give them a detailed quote so that they know exactly what they are paying for.
At the end of the day, this is not a super strict process and I’ll adapt to the client.
Additionally, some clients will have a clearer idea of what they want from the get go. Some others don’t and the quote may be a little higher to reflect the uncertainty.
Filmmaker and top dog at Indie Film Hustle.
The 3 most important things you consider when pricing a video production job?
1. The exposure
Since I work primarily in the film, commercial and music video world, star power is king. I look to see what stars or artist are involved in the project.
Being associate with a big star can pay off big time in the future as you bid for future jobs. It has happened to me many times over the past 15 years.
Depending on the time needed to complete the project.
I moved away from editing and more into color grading and post supervision because the time vs. money equation was not adding up.
3. The people I’d be working with
If the people involved in the project are fun, creative and easy going, I’m much more likely to cut a deal.
If the people are jagged to start and/or have a rep of being difficult, I raise the price, even if that means losing the job. Life is too short.
Filmmaker and founder of DIY Video Guy.
1. The scope of the project needs to finalized. Amount and length of videos, days of filming, turnaround time, etc.
2. You need to determine what the value of the video is to the client.
3. Then can you properly position the video work as an investment, not just an expense.
Documentary filmmaker at PBS Digital Studios series Indie Alaska and Owner of Alaska Video Shooter.
Our nonprofit, university, and corporate films all have a particular ‘formula’ or methodology that we’ve honed for years on hundreds of videos.Having done it so many times, we can now focus our energies on the people in our videos and telling their unique stories, rather than getting caught up in production or gear worries. It also allows us to know quite precisely how much time a project will take to shoot and edit, based on:1. What is the duration of the final video, or will it be a series of short videos? How many people will be featured?2. From that point, we know how many days it will take to shoot, and a pretty good estimate for hours it will take to edit.
3. And then if the budget can stretch or needs to be reduced, we can easily do that by adding/subtracting the number of people in the series of short videos, or for a single longer video we can reduce the duration and the number of people featured in that video.
So essentially, all of our videos are a collection of minidocs about people, representing their companies, universities, or their nonprofit organizations. And knowing fairly well how long it will take to shoot one minidoc featuring one person, we can then multiply those hours to fit the scope of the project we’re pricing out.
Head honcho at filmmaking career website Shohawk.
1. Be Reasonable to the Project: The final product should be priority #1. What does this project require to ensure it turns out perfect? Analyzing projects from this perspective allows you to confidently and competitively price your work.
2. Be Reasonable to Everyone Involved: Don’t gouge a client because they don’t know better. Don’t rip yourself off because you’re afraid of the competition.
If you rip off a client, it’ll come back to bite you. If you take a big price cut without thinking it through, you’ll resent the client, and yourself. If you don’t know what reasonable rates are, we recommend researching freelance platforms (Craigslist, Upwork, etc.) to see what people around the world and in your area are charging.
Be reasonable and respectful to yourself, your team, and your clients. Always. Period.
3. Time: What are the shortest and longest possible timelines for this project? What’s the cost of your time, and will you need to pay for additional help?
Know what your time is worth, and have fair expectations of what others’ time should cost. Time is where filmmaking money goes — from gear and location choices, to cast and crew.
Understand the relationship between production and time; it will answer most logistical questions.
I hope this discussion has been helpful for you in determing your video production pricing. Maybe you have some solid ideas now for the next time for dream client comes a-knockin’?
If you have any pricing suggestions and ideas of your own, we’d love to read them in the comments below!
If you have a video production business and you want to be added to this article, drop me a message, too!
Also, we’d really appreciate you using the share buttons to get this post seen by your friends and colleagues. This is an important issue for our industry and in getting the message out there, we can help each other’s businesses!
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