How NOT to treat production professionals.

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.

I've had this happen, but never have they actually said the referral was worthless.

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:

You can do it all can’t you?.

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.

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12 thoughts on “How NOT to treat production professionals.

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  1. Well said. It’s not only the skills that have been devalued, but even little things like keeping your crews comfortable have seemed to have gone out the window. Things like water on the set for the crew are no more. Has things really gotten so tight that we can not spend $3.24 for case of water at Walmart? I’ve recently been forced to accept shoots for no pay, or “Give me a good day rate, on this one special project, and I promise I’ll give you more work.” Then the work never comes. It has become a very frustraiting career.

    1. I’ve replied to those “clients” this way.

      You pay my full rate on this one. When you love the product and come back to me with more work, then we can talk discount.

  2. When there’s 15 million people out of work, there will be a downward pressure on rates in every business. People who need the money will decide that two days @ $500 beat one day at $750.

    And as for the quality of those newbies’ work–for lots of clients it’s just fine. If there were more work, we could happily say no to those clients.

    It’s nothing a robust recovery won’t fix.

    1. Patrick, I agree about the downward pressure, and said that existing pros are making those tough choices right now.

      I also agree that some newbie work is actually just fine for some clients (who know no better). Some of that has to do with the improvement in software that makes what used to be very complex, now very simple.

      Remember when authoring a DVD was difficult? Now a newbie with iDVD can make a polished (but basic) product which, to the client, looks and works as good as what the Pro might make in Sony DVD Architect. It makes it hard to validate the expense of a high end computer system and software if that product ends up being 95% the same.

  3. After 25 years in post I now find myself competing for freelance work with people who can work for $100/day. If I’m going to starve I’d rather do it with my self-respect intact so . . . I’m not doing post work anymore. Rather than hate the clients and jobs I’ve chosen not to bother and found new areas and new markets to work in. Does it suck – hell yes. I wasn’t expecting a career change after so many years. Is it working out? Well, gradually I’ll build new clients in new markets. Right now it’s a daily panic. I console myself with the fact that in either case I’d be just as poor, but if I did the jobs i resented I’d be miserable as well ;)

    1. Yes, it’s a very tough call that each of us have to make for ourselves. I think you hit the nail on the head that, if you took the $100 work, your resentment of producing good work for indifferent pay would make anyone miserable.

  4. Good topic of discussion. As a producer in the industry for 20 years I am constantly being asked to deliver projects on smaller budgets. The process starts with the clients, networks, investors, or purchasers of the projects we produce. Crew are not the only ones feeling the squeeze. I am under constant pressure to deliver what another friend of mine calls “champagne projects on a beer budget.” It all comes down to how much we can get for the end product.

    I will produce a project at almost any budget level, if I can come up with a way for it to succeed. If the budget of the project cannot meet the scope, then the project is not in a position to succeed. It will fail. Fail the client, fail the crew and fail the producer. As much as I want the work, I am taking the position that I will not enter into business on a project that is underfunded. By underfunded I do not mean low-budget. There are creative ways to assemble low-budget projects where everyone benefits. I am not adverse to taking risks. But a workman is worthy of his hire, including producers, and I will not commit 2-3 years (total cycle or more) to a project on a foundation made of sand.

    Yes, I am turning down projects like the 3-5 minute corporate video with a total budget of $5,000 for 3-5 days worth of shooting and post that wants a high-concept look. Or the indie feature needing an experienced 1st AD to create “the perfect environment on set” for a 4 week shoot paying a flat $1,500 (not per week, for the whole shoot). Or becoming involved with the “next big” entertainment-magazine show for the DFW area that expects a network level production on a $5k per episode budget.

    I am also taking a hard stand on calls I receive from other “producers” looking for crews for their projects. My first questions are always “Are these paid positions? If so, what are you paying?” If the response is “deferred or un-paid” I tell them I can’t help them.

    There are plenty of opportunities to work for free. If I am going to work for free or “close to free” I am going to work on my own projects. These are not the opportunities we need. We need paid opportunities.

    Everyone needs to face the reality, though, that rates are not going to be high, but they should be equitable. All in all I am hopeful about the current production environment and the opportunities that are available if producers will go out and hustle. I will continue to do what I can from my position to create opportunities for quality projects and equitable pay for hard work.

    Clayton Coblentz, Producer
    President, Dallas Producers Association

  5. My favorite quote was in 2008, I was told, “Our church has a videographer so no, we don’t want to hire you to shoot our wedding.” Then, when they got the footage of their wedding, only to find out the church was using only one camera, and it was on the balcony, and the church wasn’t using any wireless audio, and they got alot of noise from the air conditioning vent at —you guessed it: the balcony—they called me back and wanted to know if I could fix the audio. I politely told them that if they had hired me to shoot the wedding to begin with, A. I would have used at least two cameras, and B. I would have had a wireless lav on the bride and groom, so no air conditioner noise. But as she was the daughter of my MIL’s hairdresser, I agreed to listen to the DVD of the ceremony to see if I could salvage the audio. When the bride showed up to deliver the DVD, she plopped a VHS-C camera and tape onto the table and said, “My aunt shot this at the wedding, but we discovered that the camera was in night-vision mode. You won’t charge me anything extra to fix this footage and work it into the church balcony stuff, will you?” Needless to say, I will not be getting my hair styled at that salon any time soon.

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