Managing video client costing expectations


Safrean Jaco Wolmarans offers sound advice to every freelancer having trouble managing client expectations when it comes to quality production costs. 

This may sound very familiar to the video producers out there: the client sends you a link to a Youtube video, says they like 'that kind of feel' for the video they want you to quote on. Just a short company profile for their website, they say. Because they don’t have a huge budget.

Your heart sinks. Because you’re looking at a classy production, filled with purchased stock shots, slick, stabilised camera moves and a top-notch edit. And although it is only 30 seconds long, it must have cost a small fortune to film and edit.

Clients frequently equate length of a production with a lower price. Sure, some aspects will be cheaper, such as editing time, fewer shooting days needed etc.

But that’s half the story. Just because it is a shorter production, it does not mean it is shot on lesser equipment by lesser cameramen or edited by lesser editors. In our experience, shorter productions frequently cost the same or more, as they would often need to be shot in commercial or advertising style. Which typically means smooth camera dolley or crane shots, decent lighting and compositing effects in the edit suite. These require time and cost money.

The problem with unrealistic costing expectations arise partly due to clients having access to so much content on the internet to watch, sift through and like. Clients can now not only tell you want they want, but show you what they like.

Invariably, what they like will come with a huge ticket, one that not many expect nor are willing to pay. That leaves the video producer with only one tool: client education.

Let’s take a relatively simple production as an example. A storage space client has a new warehouse and wants you to produce a short minute video to be hosted on their website. The video has to showcase the friendly, trustworthy people looking after your stored goods, convey a subtle sense of security, and show the efficiency of their operation.

How much will it cost? It only needs to be one minute long. Or thereabouts.

So you need to cram all of that into one minute? You try getting a feel for their budget. They mention a figure of R12 000 to R15 000. Would that be sufficient?

This is where you start educating:

For their company story to be told that succinctly, you would need to write a short script and record a voice-over.

As you know, a short script probably takes longer than a long one. Because you have to decide what to leave out, not put in. Quick, get the main USPs across. Leave the viewer on a high with the warm and fuzzies about their stuff being looked after.

This alone would be more than R5 000. The voice-artist will cost around R3 000 – R4 000. And you haven’t shot a single frame yet.

No, that is way too much. Do we have to have a voice-over?

Well, we can always just shoot interviews with the boss, financial and operational directors, and use the sound only under the pictures to tell the same story. It won’t have the same punch, it probably won’t be as succinct, and we’d spend half a day in the edit suite cutting bits and pieces together to build a coherent voice track and remove the uhms and ahs. You’re looking at R3 000 just for that, at least, and we just can’t guarantee the same punch or clear messaging.

No, they’d rather not be on camera themselves. Let’s do the voice-over thing.

Fine. Now, to the shooting. In order to get nice, friendly people shots, you need to spend at least a day at the warehouse, basically stalking people hoping they will look friendly and efficient. And you hope that at that time, your lighting is good enough, and that the shots are in focus.

So you overshoot by 40% to allow for waste, and giving your editor more options to use only the best shots. And that’s only on the people shots. You still have to get operational shots. Of people hard at work, moving other people’s belongings around responsibly. They’re on the clock. They break for tea, lunch, and tea again before knocking off.

In between, they have to accommodate you trying to shoot sequences: a high shot of the fork lift positioning itself. Cut to point of view of the driver concentrating. Cut to reverse shot on driver’s face as the forklift drives backward with its load on the fork.

Damn, the operator looked at the camera when he was supposed to be focusing on the load. Can we do that again please? Sorry, I can’t hear you – it’s noisy in here. You waste time explaining what you want.

Allow a second day for operational shots. You’re going to need as much time as possible to get those sequences and build a slick edit. The more you give the editor, the more options he or she has to choose from. But the more time they also need to work through all the material to choose the best clips. That costs money.

Damn, you jiggled the shot right in the middle of the take. You need that stabiliser. Maybe you could rent one. If only there was budget.

Damn, your shots tend to be very dark, with the backgrounds ugly and blown out from all the light streaming in through the open warehouse door. You need a strong enough key light to illuminate the foreground more. And an assistant to help you carry, set up and move stuff. Renting again is the only option.

Damn, you need a really wide-angle lens to properly show the vastness of the warehouse. Your 24mm is just not wide enough. You hope you can rent one.

Let’s stop right here and do a bit of a costing:

  • Script - R5 000
  • Voice artist - R3 500
  • Cameraman per day - R5 000 x 2
  • Assistant - R1 000 x 2
  • Wide-angle lens rental - R1 200 x 2
  • Stabiliser rental - R2 000 x 2
  • Lighting rental - 200 x 2

That’s just short of R30k. And before you’ve edited anything. Let’s say editing takes two days. Add R10k. Add your time to sit in on the edit and direct the tempo and flow to portray the business appropriately. The production is now hovering around the R45 000 mark.

The client says that’s a lot of money. You agree. His alternative is to get his bookkeeper’s IT-savvy son to shoot and edit it, like the bookkeeper suggested in the first place. The kid is a whizz on his Macbook. And he’s got a little DSLR that shoots video.

By all means, if budget is a real issue, go with the bookkeeper’s kid. But accept that you have to take what you get, that the sound would most likely be horrible, the lighting bad and the shots shaky. The kid has no tripod, sound equipment or lights.

Now add to that a badly edited video with no pace, no purpose and direction. Is that how you want to portray your company?

Again, here’s an opportunity to educate the client. The professional producer gives the client several benefits:

  • Writing and executing a voice-over gives the client complete control over the messaging. You say what you want, exactly how you want it.
  • An experienced director/cameraman will know what NOT to shoot and edit. Making your business look good is the prime consideration.
  • An experienced director will visit the location, decide on angles and shots to be included in a shot list that the cameraman will stick to on the shoot days to save time. Randomly shooting anything that moves is a waste.
  • An experienced editor will cut the production to have pace and pause where needed to instill the emotion or feeling required to help sell the business.

All that, unfortunately, costs money. You pay for decent equipment, decent sound, and the experience to make the firm look good. That’s how you become the custodian of the client’s reputation. And that’s the bottom line clients should look at, rather than just price.

About the author

Former journalist turned photographer and corporate video producer, Jaco Wolmarans combines his written and visual backgrounds to produce content for diverse industries including wine, sports apparel and mining. To learn more about Jaco and see some of his recent work, please visit his website and connect with him on Facebook

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