15 min read
When wedding cinematographer Ray Roman began less than 10 years ago, he was overworked and underpaid.
It took a few years and a lot of lessons learned but in that time he’s emerged as one of the preeminent wedding cinematographers in his field. He’s filmed the weddings of prominent athletes, like NBA star Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat. He’s filmed social media mogul Sean Parker’s elaborate wedding in the Redwoods of California—a really fun shoot that I got to help on. (It was out of this world—there were bunnies!)
So when we had the opportunity to sit down with Ray, and we could ask him anything, we wanted to know more about his incredible journey. We wanted to understand how he went from charging $2,500 a gig, to a business that films spectacular weddings all over the world. We wanted to know what made Ray one of the top wedding cinematographers out there today.
We learned that Ray Roman’s success is built on years of experience, a stellar reputation, and exceptional expertise, but that he made a few mistakes along the way too. Mistakes that cost him money. Mistakes that he’s sharing with us—with you—so that you can learn what to stop doing today so that you can start making better money tomorrow.
Mistake #1 – Taking on too much work
How can taking on too much work cost you money? It sounds counterproductive right? You’re getting paid to do what you love—to make films. So shoot a lot of weddings, get a lot of practice, become a better (compensated) filmmaker. Right? Wrong.
In the beginning, around 2007 and 2008, Ray was shooting around 40 wedding films a year. But a lot of work can quickly become too much work.
Being able to go out every weekend and travel to different locations to film is one thing. Having months and months of video back log is another. Having hours and hours of footage sitting on hard drives in the editing bay—just haunting you, is another.
“The back log can drown out your business. It’s going to create a bad reputation for you in your local market. With us specifically, one of the problems that we had was—the work was there, our brand was there, but we had this back log issue. And that relates to customer service. That’s not to say that we were neglecting customer service, but we just didn’t know what to do at that point.
“We were trying to find editors, and we were trying to evolve at the same time. There was brand new technology that we had to sit down to learn, so the back log just kept piling up. Everything that we were doing in terms of our work was just taking longer and longer.”
Today, Ray takes on about 24 to 29 weddings a year. This is a comfortable and manageable amount for him and his crew to not only shoot, but to edit and deliver to clients in a timely fashion.
How do you avoid taking on too much work at the risk of your reputation? Taking on less work sounds simple enough, but it may be hard to know when—or how. To get a good idea of when you need to start saying “no”—look to your back log.
Let the number of wedding films you have completed and ready to go out the back door inform how many brides you’re letting in the front door. Don’t accept more jobs if your back log is out of control. Your customer service, and ultimately your income, will suffer as a result.
Mistake No. 2 – Giving Too Much Away
When Ray started out he was charging $2,500. For everything. It wasn’t until he met an accomplished wedding photographer, who shared his own billing practices, did Ray recognize that he was making a huge mistake in his own career.
But Ray also saw an opportunity. Right then, he decided that he was going to stop giving too much away with his packaged wedding deals.
It happened so many times. When Ray would sit down with couples and go over his wedding packages, there would be so much in the package that some couples wouldn’t want one or a few of the services offered. Then they would ask how much cheaper it would be without that service, and Ray found himself driving down his price even further.
What did Ray do to stop giving too much away?
“I decided, I’m going to take everything that’s not relevant out of the package and I’m going to sell it separately. I’m going to create this a la carte system like the photographer had.”
To stop giving too much away with packages, stop offering packages—now. Instead, work with an a la carte system similar to Ray’s.
“Establish a base price based on your value, and based on the product you’re delivering. And you go from there. Our base rate is a certain amount, and this literally just includes eight or nine hours of coverage, a feature film, and the tape that’s going to be covering the event. Beyond that is a la carte.”
When you quote clients a price, start with a base working rate that reflects what your time and skills are worth, and the quality of what you do.
From there, offer—not include—an array of filming services (like capturing the reception’s live act) to editing services (like a highlight trailer the couple can share with family online) for couples to pick and choose from.
Then charge for these items in addition to your base rate. As the couple makes these decisions, your contract rate is going up very quickly. And you’re making more money.
Mistake No. 3 – Limiting the Bride’s Spending
This idea of allowing the couple to pick and choose from an assortment of options directly relates to another big mistake that wedding cinematographers make: They limit the bride’s spending.
This is another downside of wedding packages.
But what does this mean?
The inverse effect of bundling your services is that you take way the bride’s ability to pick and choose—to amass a number of services, and to spend a lot of money.
When Ray was first starting out, he packaged wedding deals that included his pay, the filming of every shot from the first look to the end of the reception, to full service editing and raw footage. Doing this severely restricted the bride’s ability to spend more money on top of that package.
“Another very, very common mistake made by videographers is having packages at set prices. I’ll give you an example, if a bride were to come into my studio and I had a top package for $7,000—but she actually had a $12,000 budget for video. I’ve just lost $5,000. Which now she can take over to the photographer, the florist or the cake designer and spend it there, rather than at the video studio.”
Things are different now for Ray. Now, he has that extensive a la carte list so that no bride is constrained in how much she can spend.
“There’s such a wide array of items on this a la carte list that if a bride came to see us with a $20,000 or $30,000 budget, she can actually spend all of that $20,000 or $30,000 with our studio.”
Brides have the money and they want to spend it. How do you keep that $5,000 from walking out the door?
It goes back to the a la carte list.
The services you can add to this a la carte list are only limited by your creativity and imagination.
“Anytime I can think of something that I can sell on the backend, I add it to the a la carte list. We have drone service, we offer a jib service, we offer raw footage, we offer a concept film. Shooting in 4K. There are so many things on our list.”
While drone shots may be out of your budget, there are other shots and editing services that you can break down and offer individually.
You can charge additional fees for covering the rehearsal dinner or producing a highlight trailer—which are two very popular options, according to Ray. You can also charge additional fees for covering any live acts during the reception. These are just a few ideas. Documentary footage of the complete ceremony. Complete coverage of toasts and speeches. Raw footage. These are a few more ideas.
“The more things you can sell a a la carte, the better. The more money you can potentially make.”
So now that you’re building your a la carte services list, remember to be creative with the services you offer.
Look through your entire process from production to shooting to post, to see if there are things (there are) that you could be offering a la carte. And don’t bundle it, let the bride choose to her heart’s content.
Mistake No. 4 – Having a Set Price Without Knowing the Wedding
Sometimes—and maybe you’ve felt this yourself—after you get the last shots, you pack up your gear, and you head home, and you just get the aching feeling that you did too much work for too little pay.
This has happened to Ray too.
You’re telling the client that you’ll agree to perform certain services without fully knowing what rendering those services entails—such as filming the rehearsal dinner, not realizing that this is a 6-hour dinner, not just a typical 2-hour one.
Ray knew something had to change, not just to make more money, but to make his time and his work more valued, so that he could be paid more fairly.
It’s not that the client intended to take advantage of him, but Ray realized that there was something he could be doing on his end that would end a lot of this stress and lost money.
“I knew I had to go back to the drawing board to figure something out. That’s when I came up with the questionnaire system. This way I can learn a little bit about the wedding before I quote out a price.”
In order to start getting paid more fairly, in order to learn more about the wedding, Ray sends out a questionnaire to clients as soon as they inquire about his services. It’s actually included in his first follow-up correspondence.
Ray asks questions like, Where will the bride be dressed? Where is the reception? If these places are not in the same location as the ceremony, he knows there will be more travel time. It can mean the difference between and 8- to 9-hour day and an 11- to 12-hour day.
Knowing about how many hours may be required can actually save you time too.
“Another key reason I went to the questionnaire system to learn about the wedding, is that I wanted to be able to determine how many hours the client needed me to be there for coverage. We’ve all been at weddings where we’ve been contractually obligated to be there 12 hours, but after the tenth hour we know that we’ve already filmed everything that we need to film, but we’re still contractually obligated to be there for an additional two hours, just sitting around. It’s a waste.”
Knowing more about the wedding doesn’t just save you time, but can open up the potential for more money.
In the questionnaire, he also inquires about the reception. Especially, in the higher market, if there are incredible performers lined up for the reception. (Ray’s shot weddings where Mary J. Blige, Marc Anthony, Michael Bublé, and Cirque du Soleil have performed at the reception.)
If he asks the question in advance, and the couple answers no, this gives him the opportunity to shoot the performance, then use it as a potential up-sell later. If the couple would like the concert included, Ray’s studio can edit the piece for an additional fee. It’s additional editing time that the couple will have to pay for.
So if you want to be paid more fairly, learn more about the wedding by developing your own questionnaire. Ask questions that give you a feel for how many hours the project will require (Are the wedding and reception at the same location?) and any potential for extra services (rehearsal dinner?)–there’s always potential for extra services.
Mistake No. 5 – Getting Trapped in the Mid-Range Market
The low- to mid-range market, where couples typically spend about $1,500 to $6,000 on their wedding film, is a very worthy market that gives two people in love a very touching memento of their wedding. It’s the popular market where 80 percent of the brides hang out. It’s also the obvious place to start your cinematography career, and can be a very rewarding career for many. And the money comes easy because of the high number of clients, so it’s easy to remain in that market.
But in spending all your energy in the low-to mid-range market where most of the brides gather, it’s easy to become complacent in your filmmaking.
This is when the higher market starts to become attractive—make more money to do fewer weddings.
Ray transitioned to the higher market by doing three things: he established his brand, he established his skills, and he made very good contacts—the kind that can bring in clients who like to spend upwards of $30,000.
This is when you’re filming Napster founder Sean Parker’s wedding in Big Sur, California. This is when you’re flying to paradises all over the world. This is when you’re filming weddings where even the waiters’ attire is designed by Oscar de la Renta. This is when Cirque de Soleil is the headline act of the reception.
But it’s also much more competitive.
Establishing great contacts takes time. Establishing your brand takes time. And establishing your skills takes time, but honing your skills in cinematography is the base of all three. It’s the root that anchors the other two, allowing them to flourish.
“With us, I wanted to establish ourselves with work—with great work—and be respected because of our great work. The branding came later on, the main focus when we started was our work. Once the work was there, we started working on the contacts.”
If you’re working in the mid-range market, and want to transition into the high-range market, Ray recommends that while you’re starting, use the low- to mid-range market to hone your craft. Learn the skills you need to produce your best work.
Once you feel that your work is where you want it to be, that’s when you make the leap.
“The markets, the low- to mid-range markets, I stayed in those markets for a long, long time until I felt comfortable enough to take it into the high-end market. Because in the high-end market, you may have only chance, and whatever you show at that stage, that’s typically what you’re going to be known for.”
So use your time now—in the mid-range market—to really develop your craft. Make the films now that you can later to attract high-end brides. Treat every mid-range market job now as an opportunity to put out your strongest work, your best work. Then make the leap to the high-end market.
Over the years Ray has learned from these mistakes.
Now, rather than taking on too much work, he takes on around 25 weddings—this is far less than the 40 weddings a year when he began. The 25 number isn’t random, rather it’s based on how many wedding films he can produce for clients in a timely manner to provide great customer service. And to understand those timeframes, he looks to his back log to see how much more work he can take on to provide excellent customer service.
Ray also abandoned his packaged deals in lieu of a contract with a base price and a la carte system. This allowed him to stop losing money by giving too many services away, and stop losing money by limiting the bride’s spending. Removing the packages from his options removed the restraints he was putting on his clients, allowing them to spend much more. And allowing him to earn much more.
Before Ray adopted a questionnaire system, he was getting underpaid for services and contractually required to remain at weddings long after his work there was done. Sending a questionnaire off to potential clients gives you an idea of the amount of work involved with the wedding, allowing you get an idea of the hours involved and what you should charge.
And finally, to transition from the easy money of the low- to mid-range markets to the good money of the high-range market, Ray advises you to hone your skills. See your time in the low- to mid-range market, where everyone starts—and many people stay—as an opportunity to bring your craft to the highest level possible.
Ray is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to wedding cinematography, and he’s taking his wealth of knowledge on the road. If you find yourself making any of the mistakes listed above, and you find that Ray’s advice helps you, maybe you’d like to learn from him in person.
He’s stopping all around the US—with two stops in Canada—to offer in-depth seminars and interactive courses. In-depth seminars cover everything from camera settings to how to shoot the ceremony and reception to pricing guides.
The interactive master class is limited to 26 students and pushes these ideas that much further and break them down in greater detail Ray shows you how to cover the bridal preparation and first looks to in-depth ceremony coverage and a live demo with brides.
In addition to improving your craft, attendees get a massive amount of free stuff, like gift cards to LensProToGo and credits at NewBlueFX.
Because Ray is awesome and we’re happy you’re here, we have a special discount code that you can use to get 10 percent off when signing up. We’re also giving away one seat to his in-depth seminar.
Sign up at this website and use the discount code ‘stillmotion10′.
If you like to get the free spot at his in-depth seminar, share the biggest challenge you have today in the business of wedding filmmaking. Share this in the comments below. Post your thoughtful answer below by February 8th. We’ll announce with winner right here on Feb 9th!
I want to leave you with the time Ray and I shot Sean Parker’s wedding. It was a really great experience working with a really talented cinematographer. And the bunnies were cool too (though way over the top).