Pricing Your Video Production

I was asked recently about how I determine pricing for my projects. The three most important factors I consider when pricing a video production job are time on location, time editing, and overhead costs.

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 at my level in my area charge. You don’t want to work for nothing, but you don’t want to price yourself out of the market either!

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.

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. Great, right? 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!

  8 comments for “Pricing Your Video Production

  1. Gregg
    January 10, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Great post!

    Do you ever breakdown for your clients what you pay each additional crew member? Or do you give a lump sum production cost?

    • Alexander
      January 10, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      Good question! I do itemize my estimates, so, yes, I will list a price for each crew member. Most clients want to know specifically what they’re paying for, so a lump sum is normally only acceptable for smaller, one-or-two-person jobs. Once you start adding crew and additional equipment, it’s helpful to show the client what they’re paying for, so that if they need to scale back, you have something to work from.

  2. Kevin Sio
    February 19, 2016 at 7:38 am

    Alexander – You mention your ‘crew of one’ gear package, what is that these days? What do you consider a ‘basic’ package. Great info as usual.

    • Alexander
      February 19, 2016 at 9:23 am

      Great question, Kevin! Here’s what I bring along to a typical shoot:

      1) Blackmagic 4K Production Camera with Tamron 17-50 lens and tripod. The BMPC was very innovative when it first came out, and the image quality is excellent, but I wouldn’t really recommend it today. Sony, Canon and Panasonic all have similarly-priced, more user-friendly 4K cameras that offer much better audio and low-light capability.

      2) Genaray Bi-color SpectroLED light kit plus two more Daylight SpectroLED lights (the bi-color lights are great for mixed-lighting situations, but because half the LEDs are orange and half are blue, the bi-color lamps are only half as bright as the daylight balanced lamps, so because of the BMPC really requires a lot of light, whenever possible I prefer to use the brighter, daylight-balanced lamps).

      3) AT897 shotgun microphone with boompole. Audio gear really is an investment. I’ve gone through probably three or four cameras in the time I’ve had this same microphone and boompole.

      4) Tascam DR-60D portable recorder. Once again, because of the limitations of the BMPC (in this case, it’s unacceptably poor audio recording circuits), I’m forced to bring another piece of gear. I use either the Tascam DR-60 or the Tascam DR-40. The 60 is boxier, but has control knobs and other nice features. The DR-40 has fewer features, and is almost the same price, but has been around for longer, so I have more confidence in it.

      5) Sony MDR-7506 headphones. You’ve gotta be able to hear what you’re recording.

      These are really the key pieces of gear that I use every day. To use them, I also need to haul around a multitude of cables and light stands, plus things I use less frequently like wireless microphones, monitors, and various lighting modifiers.

  3. July 8, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Great site. I’m curious, what are some comparable cinema cameras that you would recommend, besides the BMPC 4k? Have you tried the Ursa Mini? Which cameras do you like in that price range from Canon, Panasonic and Sony? Thanks.

    • Alexander
      July 12, 2016 at 4:05 am

      Hi Adnan! I would not recommend the BMPC 4k at this point. It was good when it came out, but there are better options now. I particularly like the Sony FS5 (full-featured video camera) and the Sony A7S (DSLR with great video features).

  4. September 29, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Very common sense thinking here, thanks for posting this. I agree that it’s always a good idea to give yourself some wiggle room, because by experience things always come up, and the customer certainly has to understand that. You couldn’t be in business by taking a loss, and customers hate not knowing the total amount they’ll be paying. It’s better to just give them the flat fee.

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