‘I’d appreciate some advice. We were approached by a big corporate client to produce a series of shorts for cable television. They’ve asked for a proposal to conceptualize, shoot and edit a handful of shorts with a small team (and there will likely be travel involved).
Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin. I know we can do the work but, I wouldn’t know what to charge or even what this proposal would look like.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a bunch!’
some great questions here and always a tough thing as you transition into commercial films from an event background. when preparing a bid for a commercial project, you really need to start by deconstructing your process and breaking it down into as many pieces as possible. the only way to tackle something of this size is to look at all of the elements that would go into making it happen, assigning a value to each and getting a total from there. those of us who have wedding or event backgrounds are used to providing one price and for that you get everything needed to get the job done. the commercial world works very differently where something we might overlook as part of our process, such as color grading or location scouting, becomes it’s own job of sorts with a description, set of expectations, and a cost. overlooking a small detail can leave you on the hook for hours or days of work with no compensation or a very upset client. while their are many ways to create a bid, the central goal is always to provide as much information on what you would be doing, what is involved with each portion, and what that would cost.
so let’s start by breaking down the shoot into three stages; pre-production, production, and post-production. for us, a commercial shoot could contain the following elements in each
pre-production // creative ideation | storyboarding | scouting | producing (arranging logistics, travel) | casting | wardrobe | set design | set construction | location fees
production // shooting | animation | VO | gear | lighting
post-production // edit (w/ revisions) | soundtrack licensing
while each project could have all of the elements above, more, or less, try to identify as many as you can that fit what you need to do to make the film what you want it to be and what they are expecting.
the ‘shooting’ sub-heading above also needs a little more explanation. this would often be broken down to include the crew size, roles, and number of days of production. a small crew for us would include 1 producer, 1 director, 2 cinematographers, 1 gaffer, 1 audio person, 2 PAs. for some projects the director may also shoot and light, and for others they are different roles. that small point is important to be clear about as some clients will expect (and some situations call for) your team to be lighting ahead while you are on set shooting and that requires a dedication gaffer (and sometimes a grip and grip PA). we include descriptions on what gear and lighting is included not because we charge more if a steadicam would elevate the shoot, but more so to set the right expectations on what we will bring to the table. this helps immensely if you arrive somewhere and the situation calls for something you don’t have, say an HMI light, and the rental fee is a couple hundred dollars a day. if it was clear ahead of time that you didn’t provide that, many clients can allow an overage for the right reasons (more on that later).
now the tough part – you need to come up with a day rate for each task. even your time often varies depending on what you are doing. shooting time is usually the most valued, followed by editing, prep, then travel. some find it works well to halve their shooting rate for prep work (such as scouting) and take a quarter of their shooting rate for travel time. for some of the elements you will likely be bringing in help. if the project requires things beyond what you offer but you are to include them within your bid, try to find people you know well, who have work you feel comfortable with, and ideally people you have worked with before. there is nothing worse then having somebody join your team for a project only to have them leave their end lagging behind and you needing to take responsibility in front of the client for that. build any outsourcing costs you may have into your bid and be sure to include a mark-up that accounts for your time in prepping them, communication, and changes to the project that might increase your costs.
in addition to all of these pieces, you then sometimes have travel to deal with. you want to be VERY careful here to provide an accurate number that covers flights, accommodations, meals, transportation, and any baggage fees, shipping costs, and other expenses to get everything you need to the location in addition to your travel time itself.
some projects will have room for overages, allowing you to get extra funds as the scope of the job changes or additional crew, gear is needed. you will often be expected to cover these costs if you did not properly outline what you were providing, so again it pays to be as descriptive as possible. when projects change during a shoot, some clients may also ask for an ‘actual’ at the end of the shoot, which is basically a final version of the initial ‘bid’ that accurately reflects what happened. contracts nearly always prevent the actual from exceeding the cost of the initial bid (unless overages were involved) but the cost may come down if things were reduced such as production time, or the amount of animations needed etc.
here is a sample of how we might break down the production section of a bid, to give you an idea of the detail we go into
2 days of pre-production
3 days of production on x, y, z
- on set the crew will consist of 1 director/DP, 1 cinematographer, 1 producer, 1 gaffer, 1 audio person, and 2 PAs.
- the producer will spend, at a minimum, an addition 2 days prepping logistics for this project
- the film will be shot entirely with DSLRS (Canon MKIV, and 7D)
- steadicam, a 12′ crane, full size-dolly, and table-top sliders are all available at no additional cost but shipping costs may apply
- each cinematographer will have one camera body, and backup, and all lenses required to shoot the project
- all lighting will be provided to handle interview or setups in small to mid-size rooms
- bounce/reflectors will be provided for all outdoor setups as needed
you can see how the detail in this one section alone sets many guidelines of what you will have, who will be there, and when you might need an overage.
lastly, you want and need to consider rights. who owns the footage you shoot? what rights, if any, do you retain? can you share the finished project? many commercial clients will require that they own everything you shoot. our suggestion is to be clear on the intended use and leave yourself open for another discussion on compensation should the actual usage becomes something much bigger. for example, if you set out to produce a web film for a companies website, you may want to include a note that additional compensation is needed should the piece be aired as a TV spot. it gets tricky when you are assigning them all rights to the footage and it has happened to us more than once where a small project ends up turning into something that has a much bigger application. because of this, some people also assign a value to the rights up front and say that it costs ‘x’ amount for you to turn over all rights to the footage.
as you breakdown and you start assessing all the parts of the crew, all the time in each stage and all of the expenses you are going to encounter, you can very quickly see how a small 2-3 day production can come with a cost much larger than initially expected. outlining each portion helps you budget if the project moves ahead and it also helps educate the client on where your numbers came from. it also will quite likely scare you when you see all that you are doing for one wedding included it what is often such a small price.
hope that helps.