I can understand shrinking budgets. I can understand low budget production, I can understand working for free. But so many of these videos have popped up in the past year or so that it demonstrates a bit of push-back: the abuse of production professionals is really becoming an epidemic.
If two ops, a camera package, with ENG audio and basic lights used to cost $1200/10 then why do producers, or corporate people who are needing a video made, somehow think it’s now okay to pay $500 for it?
This video was recently sent to me by a colleague.
Have the freelancer / stringer’s costs somehow gone down?
We’re still paying off the camera- and the bill didn’t go down. The insurance to cover the gear didn’t go down. The quality of the video we produce didn’t go down. And the wisdom of experiences we have earned through the years didn’t decrease either. The value of what we offer did not decrease one millimeter from before.
Yet, today, we are constantly being asked for more product (can I get tapes and footage on hard drive?), faster (can I leave with it?), to look better (can you do some grading or effects in camera?), to include more services (you have wireless mics, record four channels of audio?), more gear (do you have a big production monitor I can use to see the shot?), more capability (oh, you have a slider now, lets use that.), for less pay (our budgets have been cut, but we really need to do this).
Part of the problem clearly is the fact that anything out there shoots HD now. HDTV is devalued as a premium product when cheap still cameras and even cell phones do it with ease.
Moreover, every college grad in the industry has worked (interned) a few gigs and thusly has enough “experience” to shoot whatever needs to be shot. They may be living at home, and have a flexible job at Best Buy (no offense, I like the store) or something. So their actual hard costs are very little. They shoot for fun. They shoot for free. They lower the floor and make it hard for professionals who shoot, or edit, or run audio, etc., to make their living practicing their craft.
Heck, there’s people who have never studied the craft now shooting and editing. It’s a hobby they do for fun. I can respect that. But their prices are also set arbitrarily. They don’t take into account depreciation, insurance, liability, and, most importantly, making a living on top of it… because they don’t have to. They do it, “on the side.”
Lastly, there are true professionals out there, with great gear, who let it go for a song because, in their mind, a few bucks is better than no bucks. It was going to sit unused unless they lowered their price. They were not going to work this week unless they took the $400/day gig. Now, at least they’re 2 days better off then they were before that producer called.
And this last group is the hardest to criticize, because so many of us are there, or feel like we are.
All the above factors lead producers & companies to expect artificially low prices for production. In many cases, companies have indeed tightened their belts so the $25,000 yearly marketing budget was cut to $10,000 and that includes print as well as video. So they don’t have the same dollars to wield as before.
But instead of similarly reducing their expectations, locations, script pages, number of videos, etc. They expect us to bite the bullet and provide the same level of service for 1/2 the rate it’s worth, or worse.
This has to come to an end.
The only way it stops is for production professionals to say no to bad gigs. In real marketing parlance, you have to fire your worst clients. (Begin their training in how to respect us.) Spend your time working with those who respect you, and with whom you have a good working relationship. Develop those relationships. It is far better to keep a good client than find a new one.
But you’ll also have to find new ones. And beware, because some of those new ones may be cast-offs from someone else.
There’s the story that there was a good wedding videographer who got tired of competing with low-budget $500 wedding video companies in his city. He changed his marketing strategy. He had lofty prices for his amazing, multi-shooter videos. He started a second tier of marketing: “We fix $500 wedding videos.”
True or not, we know that a 20 year seasoned broadcast television professional will have forgotten more than the “newbie” knows when it comes to walking on a set and managing everyone to get a truly professional-looking product. This is the true value of the professional. Gear evolves over time, like from on-shoulder cameras, to prosumer, to DSLR, to whatever’s next. Anyone can buy the camera, but a professional makes it all come together smoothly.
We need to stand together and turn down bad pay. Let it filter down to those who know no better.
Let the appropriate work be produced for that level of pay.
If the client lucks out and gets a pro for a cheap fare, good on them. If they get a bad product and then look for someone to either fix it or to do it right, then good on us because we will have taught them a valuable lesson.
Good product has value.
If you don’t value the product you want to produce, then don’t call me.
If you do value your product, then my price is reasonable, and I will give you all my skill, talent, wisdom and experience (and appropriate gear). Be nice, and I’m also sure to give you extra. That’s how it works.
That’s how it should work.
With our deliberate, and determined effort, that’s how we have to make it work.
Here’s one more:
If you know of others, post them in the comments!
A fellow producer sent in a link to their blog post that discusses many of the same points, but focuses more on making sure we get paid what we are worth.
It’s similar to what hotels call “rate integrity.” When I worked for a large hotel chain, they would never give out a room for half the standard rate, even if the hotel was at 1% occupancy. That’s because the more you start making exceptions the more people will come to expect those exceptions. When the hotels around you find out about your lowered rates, they will need to start making exceptions to compete for guests. Pretty soon everyone needing a hotel room will expect these lower rates as the new standard.
Then when it’s time to go back to the standard rate, people won’t want to stay in your hotel because by then every other hotel in the city is charging less. Now if you’ve ever stayed in a name-brand hotel, you’ll notice they are pretty damn nice and well kept. Take it from someone who has been there…you DO NOT want to stay in a hotel that can’t afford the proper staffing and amenities to service the guests. Well, that’s what happens when you don’t maintain rate integrity.
There’s a fine line between rate integrity, and collusion— when all the providers of a service or product make an agreement to not sell lower than a certain price. But there’s no problem for individuals to stand by certain standard pricing for given services. We’re not all agreeing that a day rate is $1200, but you have to pick some number and, to the dismay of ultra-low budget productions everywhere, $FREE is not the price you should be settling on.