“Can you film for us?” Questions to ask before commitment.

So you’re fresh out of college or university studying film, television, media or visual communications – what do you do now? Or quite possibly you’re adept with technology and cameras are no fear of yours. Either way, you know how to film, edit, and produce a final product if asked.

When you graduate, or even while you are studying (or hobbying – I will refer from to both as studying as these people will be approached more) the prospect of filming for someone is quite high. Sure you’ll start off with family, “you can film Jimmy’s 7th birthday,” then you’ll spread into filming for friends, “I’m having a professional photographer at my 18th, you should film too!” I use an italicised “professional” because I will bet you a grand prize chances are that the professional themselves are amateurs just like you and I at that point in your life. It’s harsh, sure, but one of the biggest screaming tell signs of an amateur is promising “professional” when realistically you do not have the resources or knowledge of the term itself. Professionalism comes from experience – many years of it.

I digress, since this is not an article about status but rather what you should be thinking, and asking when someone does ask you to film for them.

I can guarantee that if you don’t ask these questions along (and more that you should be thinking of as you grow) you will fall short of any promises you make. And there’s nothing worse than falling short in a position where word of mouth is your only ticket to more jobs and potential income.

NOTE: People who ask you to produce a project for them – birthday, promotional video, documentary – will have no idea how the craft works. They often expect the process goes from capture to product, where editing, sound, colour correction, among other aspects are completely neglected.

The questions (you should ask before committing to anything)

  1. What time frame is the project? How long do the clients think it’ll take? When is the deadline/completion date?
  2. What length will the completed length of the project be? Will it be a standalone main file or will it have multiple featurettes?
  3. What format do they want it delivered on – CD, DVD, BluRay, digital data file, tape? Can you deliver such format?
  4. What is the real cost of the project? Are you making some money or not?

But these are all relative to your situation, and if you’re new to this what the hell does any of this mean? Lets break it down.

What time frame is the project? How long do the clients think it’ll take? When is the deadline/completion date?
Do your clients want the project turned over in 24 hours or 3 months? Remember above, people will not consider the fact of all the work that goes into creating videos. Most times the thought comes as, “what is captured is what is sent to the client”. You are telling them that you are more proficient with this industry that you will simply be capturing the final project. But you know that there will be footage that will never make the final, overlay that will get digitised but never used. If you cannot guarantee the completion of a project in the desired time DO NOT ACCEPT THE OFFER. If the turn around timeframe is unrealistic (comparing it to pay rate, and amount of work needed) DO NOT ACCEPT THE OFFER. At the end of the day you need to make sure you can still get work after this project – every fallacy or unreliable trait will filter through.

What length will the completed length of the project be? Will it be a standalone main file or will it have multiple featurettes?
Is the job a 3 hour documentary? Will you be aided with a skeleton crew or are you responsible to find your own? You will find that supplying your own crew will be greatly appreciated, but remember they need to be paid too (if you are) and that cost isn’t coming as extra inflow. This ties directly into the above question, where the time frame of the project must be directly relatable to the length of the finished product. 24 hours to turnaround an hour long ceremony is difficult, while 3 months to create a 30 second promotional advertisement is not. Additionally, if your client cannot tell you how long they expect the final product to be (read: unable to ballpark a duration), they most likely will bite you later down the track.

How? You finish the job and it runs for a half an hour for a 21st birthday (including speeches, mini featurette of birthday girl getting ready, some wise words from guests, and a little dancing). You have made it into a tight little package, as polished as you’re training, and you have delivered the cut to the client. What the client didn’t (or couldn’t) tell you was their expected duration fell in the an hour to two. What they were expecting was second for second replay. Now you can’t go back and recapture the night, and they are not happy with your work. Are you at fault? No, but you accepted the job without clarifying the expectations, the duration, and again reflecting upon the above question – can you commit to the timeframe. You committed to a completion date for a project you had no idea what was expected of you.

What format do they want it delivered on – CD, DVD, BluRay, digital data file, tape? Can you deliver such format?
This is possibly the easiest to understand, but can you commit? If your client is anything like my mum then a CD, DVD, and BluRay are all CDs. Make sure they know what they want, “do you want to be able to play it on the DVD player or just the computer?” or “are you going to upload it to the internet or send it in an email?” Understand your client, and make sure they understand you. Thankfully the further we edge into complete digitalisation, the more your client understands, but always make sure or else your cost can blow out (as below). And more importantly before even discussing such delivery formats, do you have access to such equipment for creation? Are you up to the challenge of burning 50 discs from your laptop, or are you capable to create a master file to be sent to an actual duplication house?

What is the real cost of the project? Are you making some money or not?
As above with the mattering of the completed file, have the clients budgeted enough to complete that stage? Have you made it apparent that mastering to DVD with a label and case costs $X more than you burning to blank discs from your laptop? Additionally, are you able to source all your equipment or do you need to rent? Most universities and colleges won’t lend out their gear for jobs – especially once you graduate! Have a base rate per day, coupled with your expected duration of completion (capturing>digitising>editing>post>delivery) will you break even? The last thing you want to do is be paying out of your own pocket for such projects – actually you should never be.

So what you should have learnt by now

People who want media projects completed often have no idea of the full extent of what they are asking. Guide them through the process, don’t try to blind them yet down overload them with frivolous information. Ask the important questions before committing to anything. At any point before committing to the project you realise you cannot complete it – tell them. Let them know what you can film and edit the project, but you cannot master it to disc. Being honest upfront will save you from danger later on (trust me).