What Should Your Video Cost?

I hope you don’t mind, I’m using this as my “scratch pad” for thinking about the subject. I’m sure eventually this post will be prettified and pushed out to the world in a bigger way. But hey! You’ll have seen it here, first.

Why am I writing this now? I guess because there’s this global consultancy, one that pays its new employees a cush mid-six-figure salary with tons of fringe benefits. And they just contacted me asking if we’d do a multi-day shoot, plus weeklong edit with multiple rounds of delivery, and the production needs to include drone footage as well as multiple cameras on the ground, and oh, right they want to own all the footage and have it delivered on a drive, too. For $2-4,000.

They’re stupid out of touch, and ought to be very ashamed of themselves.

I need to figure out a way to better weed these people out of our sales funnel, but that’s another story.

But really, what should a video cost? The right answer is, it should be budgeted according to how this video will be used, with a lot of thought towards your project’s concept and scope. And with the add-on cautionary that out of “good, cheap, and fast” you get to choose two.

For me, I really try to walk a nice line where quality is awesome, at a price that isn’t unapproachable for our typical client. That keeps things interesting for me, letting us do work that’s really good (because nobody wins when you do shitty work), while putting away a bit of money for my efforts. Other video production companies do things in different ways. But I knew from Day One that I did not want to compete solely on price. That’s a loser’s battle.

After all, you do need to cover your expenses and make a reasonable profit when you create. Similarly, your clients should be able to see their investment in video as a smart decision. There ought to be a visible R.O.I. for them.

So back to scope. What’s the scope of this video? Is it a high-profile piece, like what we tend to do for clients? Is it a video that you’ll use to wow potential and current clients or investors?

Then you need to really consider the kind of company you’d like to create this video for you, and probably you’ll end up with someone like us (or you’ll go to an ad agency and spend over 100% more than you would by going direct- but there’s pros and cons to that approach, too). And you ought to be ready to open up your wallet a bit for these kinds of videos, because the stakes are super-high.

These kinds of high-profile videos, whether a commercial, promo, or high-visibility corporate film, need to look and sound GREAT. TV or film quality, usually. And they usually need to be “high concept” pieces, which means you need a script that perfectly tells your story, and often actors, locations, and so forth. It’s not “run and gun” or, like I prefer to call it, “spray and pray”.  It’s not “documentary style” (although there’s nothing wrong with that in certain cases). You need to do things right. And that does not come particularly cheap.

But what if you’re doing lower-end, internal communication pieces? Well, then your video may be the kind of video that you can do in-house, or job out to a guy who makes videos part-time or something. Not every video needs the red carpet treatment. We recently passed on a project for a large lumber company that wanted to do training videos. They wanted to do 20 short videos, shot in 1 day, and really did not want to exceed $5,000. They did not care much about how good they looked, they told me “well, just set up the tripod and roll”. They’d be OK with that. I wouldn’t, but that’s because we’re not set up to do work like that. To me, it’s boring and doesn’t pay well.

Yeah, figuring out how much a video of any kind should cost is really tough.

One website I saw said production companies charge by the finished minute of work. That’s bullshit, unless you’re talking about the 1980s, and even then that was “churn and burn” work.

Another one purported to give budget ranges. But still, I looked at their numbers and thought “well, in some cases these could work, but in many cases- no, they won’t”.

Because, once you get past the really low-end work out there, every video is different. And it ought to be quoted as such. When you get past the vast suckitude of a lot of corporate or commercial videos, you cannot treat a video as a product. It’s still a service. People have tried to “productize” videos for a long time, and mostly they’ve failed unless your needs are very generic.

Oh, fine- you read all this way, and you want numbers, right? Well, if you absolutely MUST have some numbers right now, there’s ranges I could tell you that typically work for us. And if you visit our website at patrickortman.com, and view our contact form, you can easily deduce those ranges.

But your mileage could and will vary. I mean, unless you’re boring and sucky.

 

 

 

#1 Tip for Actors, When I’m Casting

I love casting the projects I produce and direct. It’s important to me to be there whenever I can, because the actors are absolutely vital parts of the production. Plus, they’re generally fun people. These past two weeks, we cast two projects. And we’ve found some fantastic actors for the projects- ones that are new to me, and ones I’ve worked with in the past.

Here’s my #1 tip for anyone who ever auditions with me: I’m on your side. I want you to be great, and I want you to have a good time. And if I ask you to read it again, it’s a good thing- it could mean you might be right for the role, and I want to see if you can take direction. Or it could be, your first read maybe wasn’t what I’m looking for, but I see something in there and want to give you another shot.

I think most actors get this about the process. It’s part of being a pro. And I appreciate it. Just like my clients need to get a feel for how working with me will go, I need to get a feeling of how working with you will be. I’m a big believer in not getting too many surprises on the shoot day, and this helps.

So, thank you to all the wonderful actors I’ve been meeting these past weeks. It’s been a blast. As it always is.

New LA TV Commercials

Here’s three TV commercials I produced and directed for Los Angeles based Westside Rentals. They turned out great, and the client is thrilled- yay!

We shot these on our SONY 4K systems, and I was pretty blown away at how good we made them look. The skin tones really popped, and the overall look is along the lines of an Arri Alexa’s REC709 look. Which is awesome. From a technical perspective, the big difference between the look of these spots and a more corporate video project was the lighting. I brought in a ton of high-end lights. We used an 800 watt HMI, along with one of the first Cineo HSX units available in Los Angeles to light. Big sources.

Which goes to show, sometimes people overvalue the camera. It’s not just the camera, it’s the lenses, the lighting, the composition… it goes on.

Of course, great lighting and camera and post work means nothing if the performances aren’t spot-on. And our actors really did very well- we chose wisely in casting, and I enjoyed working with everyone. I am grateful.

When You Have a Big Hammer…

You know the old saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, lately. Why? Because we just got a really freaking big hammer. One of the first RED Epic-W cameras is on its way to us, right now.

It was not an easy decision, mainly because I’m not much into spending large amounts of cash for an asset that immediately depreciates. But here’s the thing: it’s an insane bargain, if you do what I do. That is, commercials and narrative films, mixed with some TV pilots, etc.

I’m excited about having a RED full-time again. I’d sold our RED Dragon months ago, and been renting on jobs, plus shooting Sony for most projects. The Sony’s great- it’s the perfect camera for a lot of things. But the imagery it makes cannot compare to the RED.

As recently as a year ago, that’d make the Sony a no-go for me. That’s why I’d trudge around NY with a backpack that weighed 40lbs, carrying my old RED, and the batteries and accessories it needed. Even on small jobs. I’d fly around the country with 400lbs of Pelican cases filled with equipment to do the jobs. And yeah, it was a huge drain on me.

I look at my work from that time, and it’s good. Really good. But forcing myself to use the “best” camera no matter what was a huge problem on a lot of shoots. So, when I knew RED was changing up its lineup again, it wasn’t too hard to sell my old RED. Enter Sony.

When I got our Sony, it was an immediate and tremendous hit of freedom. First, I was able to get two Sony cameras, so that opened up a lot of creative ideas for my clients- which they love. Second, I was able to take some interesting but smaller jobs, because I did not need the heavy infrastructure I’d needed with the RED. Not every shoot is done best with a full film crew, after all. Many jobs don’t have the budget or time to work like that. Working with this lightweight, yet still 4K pro setup has been a real treat to me. And in some ways, the work is better for it.

Yet, the Sony has proven to be lacking when it comes to narrative films and commercials- you know, the higher-end stuff that I do a lot of, too. Especially for me, because I like to really push images around in post-production, with heavy grading and VFX composites, etc. It’s kind of one of my hallmarks. And the only camera I’ve found that really lets me do the stuff I love to do when I’m filming commercials or films is a RED. OK, or an Alexa, but that’s a rental.

Enter the RED Epic-W. 8K imagery, and a new sensor that is great in low-light as well as lots of light. It’s not as flexible as the Sony, but what it does, it does exceptionally well. It is the perfect tool for me, when it comes to projects that call for it.

Learning to use the best tool for the job has been a hard lesson for me. In the end, it’s all about the story you’re trying to tell. I’ll never try to shoehorn a RED into a project where it’s silly to do that again. At the same time, I will not use less than a RED from now on, when a RED is what’s called for. From now on, I’m using the right tool for the job.

 

 

 

Wake Me Up When September Ends

I can’t believe we missed a whole month! No posts for a MONTH. Is that crazy? Things have been very busy over here. I hope your September was swell, too.

Let’s see. In September, my movie ‘A New York Love Story’ was in 4 or 5 film festivals. Which is great! Also, I did three (3) TV commercials, all of which will be airing in the very near future (one is airing during the premiere of ‘The Walking Dead’ if you are on the west coast/socal- pretty cool). I finished two films for clients, too.

Oh, and I took a vacation for 4 days. That was the BEST. And it meant that September was a “three coast month”, because I got to see the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, plus the Gulf of Mexico. Sweet.

October, though, that’s one of my favorite months. Lots brewing over here, and I wish I could talk about it. Soon.

We Eat The Dogfood. Always.

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It is absolutely vital that you believe in the products or services your clients ask you to help them sell. You must ‘eat the dogfood’.

I did a project for a credit card company. I didn’t have much experience with them, so I took out a credit card with their company.

A sports drink company wanted us to help them re-brand. I drank an awful lot of their drinks.

A sunglasses company wants a video- guess what? I bought a pair to try out. On my own dime.

If a client is trusting you to market their product, you absolutely MUST find a personal connection to their product. You need to use it. You need to believe in it. Otherwise, you’re a liar and the work will suck.

Who Are You?

Well, who are you? 
I really wanna know 
Tell me, who are you? 
‘Cause I really wanna know 
– The Who

Something interesting happens when you become successful. Which, sometimes, happens really fast. A whole lot of doors open. Opportunities you’d not have been considered for in the past become possibilities. It’s a heady feeling, like a wavefront of cool wind that you swear you could almost fly upon.

This sudden realization that you can have or do almost anything has its downside, though. That cool wind can become a hurricane, blowing you off course and into places you really shouldn’t go. Unlimited opportunities combined with lack of vision can rip you apart and bury you as surely as not having enough opportunity can.

I’m in that spot right now, where I have been presented with what feels like unlimited opportunities. It feels like everyone wants to work with me. And I appreciate that, having been though times when it felt like nobody wanted to. And I have learned, that to ensure that I don’t get blown around by the hurricane of good fortune, I need to look at each opportunity and ask questions like ‘is this a good project for me, does it take advantage of my strengths as a director/writer/producer?’ ‘Does it offer me something beyond the money it would bring?’ ‘Is it a cause I believe in?’ ‘Is it a project that would be high-profile?’ ‘Is the client someone with whom I could work long hours?’ ‘And will this project interfere with me having a life, in the meantime?’.

Lots of questions, and to honestly answer these questions, I need to be incredibly self-aware. I need to know who I am. Everything flows from that. It’s the best way I’ve found that helps me, when things get real, figure out which way the true wind blows.

 

 

Let’s Be Nice Out There

One week I’m in New York, the next week I’m in LA, after that, maybe Chicago, or even Philly. Point is, I travel a lot, working on videos and films for clients. And I’ve noticed something in the past few weeks- people are getting meaner.

Our country is going through something right now. We’re becoming more and more divided. No matter the color or your skin, or your religion, or your political party affiliation- people are, it seems, more tense and tightly wound than I’ve seen in a long, long time.

On one flight last week, I watched a flight attendant  verbally spar with a customer, then physically assault him with his entertainment device, prior to takeoff. When he complained that she’d struck him, she said she ‘knew’ he’d say she was a racist. I don’t know how it started, I wasn’t there for that part. But she threatened to get him ejected from the flight. Then, she turned to me and tried to engage me in an argument, too. I didn’t accept her challenge, it seemed pointless.

After takeoff, she and I talked a little. I instigated it. I asked her about her day, what her favorite part of being a flight attendant was, etc. Just trying to humanize the situation. And it worked. By the end of the flight, she was calling me baby, and she made up with the man she was so rude to, as well. She admitted she’d been feeling extra tense since the police shootings in Dallas. I understood. We’re all wound up, lately.

But it’s weird, right?

It seems to me that when times get weird, that’s the time to treat other people even better than you usually would. Not worse. This is the time to make a point of not seeing people as “the other” but as part of us. Only then can we work together to make things better.

The world has too much anger and hate right now. Let’s not add to it.

Let’s be nice out there.

 

 

How to Spot a Video Production Company Job Scam

It’s interesting that scammers are now targeting video production companies. Most scams are simple, and somewhat easy to spot. Some are not. Here’s a letter our production manager got today (this one’s a simple scam):

“We are XXXXXXX from XXXXXXX (redacted) looking for professional Video Production Company to Film Our incoming event which will take place on 12th of August in New York United States
Description
Project: To produce a short behind the scene style event
highlight video of the 1 day event. To possibly include Vox Pop style
interviews with either delegates and or key speakers.

Project Detail,
Details of the Project
1,A full day Crew for 8 hours with 1 Camera
2.full production inclusive of editing
3.Promotional Event

4. Finished video going to be used for point of sale video, cable tv,

Waiting to read from you soon”

How this scam works is, the company will give you a ton of great detailed information, and even negotiate on price for the gig. Then, they’ll send you payment via fedex. Except the check will be for too much. They’ll ask you to just deposit it, and send the remainder back to them. At first, the check will clear. Then, a few days later, your bank will find out it’s a bad check and you’ll be liable for the money you “sent back” to this “client” who wrote you a bad check.
I had a photographer buddy who has had a few of these happen to him. Luckily, he’s never been suckered- and we have not, either- but tons of photographers and probably video companies have been, especially in this modern world where we work with clients from around the world on a regular basis, and communicate via Skype, email, and IM.
So how do you protect yourself? Basically, check out every potential client as best you can. If the scammer is any good, they’ll have a real company whose identity they’ve stolen. Emails can be spoofed, as can websites, etc. So, don’t just talk via email. Call them. See what’s what.
I know creative types like to think everyone’s nice and everyone’s honest. But it’s not true, at all. Sometimes injecting a little hard-nosed business sense into the mix is absolutely vital to your continued success.

Thoughts on Virtual Reality

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Back in the 1990s, I was one of the very first professional VR creators. We used Apple’s QuickTimeVR and then other technologies to create virtual tours of spaces like the Major League Baseball stadiums, the Olympics, and for some nifty ‘Matrix’-style work for Sprite. Early VR was so cool and unlike anything else back in ‘flatland’.

Funny thing. It was really effin’ hard to make money doing it, because except for a few ad agencies and forward-looking companies, nobody saw much need for it.

And then a decade later, Google’s mapping vehicles implemented a not-very-good version of this first-generation VR for their ‘street view’ on Google Maps. I mean, part of me was like ‘yay! VR for anyone!’. But boy the quality was and is, even in 2016, pretty crappy.

So now we have a few new flavors of VR being ultra-hyped by the electronics makers and the press. Well, they aren’t exactly new flavors at all. But they’re arguably slightly improved from the early 2000s versions of 360 degree video I used to do. The resolution’s a bit better, in some cases, at least. And the 3D aspect’s cool if you can get it to work. And Google Cardboard’s pretty bitchen’.

So VR is back, bigger and badder than ever. What can we do with it? Well, first the obvious- people love to see places they couldn’t otherwise visit in person. As always. Since forever, like when the picture postcard was invented.

One of my friends who is trying to get a VR business off the ground has been posting about how VR will overtake the ‘dying’ art of the movies. I think he’s being a little disingenuous, because he’s not a dumb guy.

What VR is good for is showing us real-life (or 3D worlds), and giving us choices on ‘where to go’. Movies are anything but real-life, and the tools cinematographers use are intended to absolutely force you to experience the story the way the filmmakers intended. VR and movies are two very different things, tied together by some shared tech and the idea that possibly you could use either for telling a story.

Short-form stories can be neat in VR, sometimes. Very, very sometimes. Just don’t think VR is an upgrade to movies. VR is something entirely different, and it needs time to develop its own rules and conventions to get the most out of it. We’re not there, yet, and most stories can’t be told nearly as effectively in VR as they can using the oldschool filmmaking ways.

Some people say movies were once like this- short little clips, no real story except ‘get the eff out of the way of that train!’. And they’re right! So, yeah, I’m excited (a little) to see where VR goes. It’s still as cool when you first see it as when I first got involved.

But cool isn’t enough, and I’m not onboard for the hype and BS. If VR is to become something more than a sideshow, we need to figure out how to use its unique strengths. One of the worst ideas in VR is using it to try and ape what works for another medium.

Will we get enough of a push and enough time to make VR mainstream this time? I hope so, because I have clients who could use VR today to help sell their products and services- if there were a big enough audience to justify the expense creating the VR and promoting it. But my clients mostly say that right now VR feels like what we got with 3D TV a few years ago. And we know how that turned out.

Still, a guy can hope.