So here you are. You’ve gone to film school (or you’ve done your homework, learning from online resources and YouTube tutorials). You know your craft. You have your camera. You have your gear. You’re ready to take on real, paying work in film and video production.
But what do you charge?
If you ask around (and even check around online), you’re bound to get many different answers. Plus, for better or worse, many clients may preemptively tell you what your services are worth. (Hopefully, they don’t just say “exposure!”)
The real answer, though, is personal. Here’s how you can begin to calculate it. And while this guide will help, it might not be exact. That’s good, though, because it’ll help you determine your precise worth — as well as how to explain it to potential clients.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Where do you even start?
- 2 The Case for Charging an Hourly Rate
- 3 The Case for Charging a Fixed Rate
- 4 What today looks like
- 5 A brief history of video editing rates
- 6 Negotiating your video editing rate
- 7 First, know the video editor rates in your market.
- 8 Second, know what you need to get paid for video editing.
- 9 Make sure you know the terms.
- 10 How clients affect video editor rates
- 11 Upfront info can help you set your editor rates.
- 12 Understand how you’re being assessed
- 13 How Much Does Marketing Video Production Cost?
- 14 The Cost of Outsourcing Explainer Videos
- 15 So what way should you charge?
- 16 What Is Your Time Worth?
Where do you even start?
In most industries, professionals know how to bill for their services because their respective industries have been around for hundreds of years. Those in the medical field know what’s considered “reasonable and customary”; plumbers, cabinet makers, and roofers are aware of the going rates in their markets; even body modifiers and tattoo artists can easily find out how much their competition is charging. The fact that these disciplines have lengthy histories has helped establish rate structures that are fairly simple to navigate.
And then there’s motion picture editing, which wasn’t even a thing until roughly a hundred years ago. Non-linear video editors came into existence approximately thirty-ish years ago. And “prosumer” desktop video editing wasn’t widespread until, really, the very end of the twentieth century. That original handful of highly specialized artists cutting strips of celluloid has grown into a vast marketplace.
The Case for Charging an Hourly Rate
- As a freelancer, charging an hourly rate is great. You are guaranteed to be for every extra minute that you work. I like charging an hourly rate because I can feel confident that I’m not spending ‘too much time’ on a project that might not need as much work.
- It is hard to estimate exactly how long the project will take you. And as a freelancer, I know that some projects end up taking a lot longer than expected. Charging an hourly rate gives you the freedom-from-worry of an endless project that changes scope.
- Being locked into a project fee gives the client too much power to change the scope of a project. The client will understand that time is money, and that they can’t waste your time with ‘tests’ and ‘versions.’
The Case for Charging a Fixed Rate
- Charging a fixed rate guarantees a certain amount of money. If you charge an hourly rate, the client may decide to cancel in the middle of a project. Or you might finish the project quicker than you expected. Either way, if you have a fixed fee, you know you’ll at least make a certain amount of money for the project.
- Working for an hourly fee creates laziness and slow work. It’d be a lie if I said that when I charge an hourly rate that I worked as hard as I could for every 60 minutes of every hour. When I am getting a fixed fee, I want to finish the project as quickly as possible. And to be honest, it makes me work harder.
- Charging a premium hourly rate seems expensive to the client. Especially Saying that your hourly rate is $80 can be hard to swallow. But what the client doesn’t understand is that 30%+ of that goes to taxes; you’re paying for your equipment; you don’t get any vacation or retirement benefits. But if you charge $800 for a video project that takes you 10 hours, you’ve effectively charged an $80/hour rate. To me, $800 for a video seems like a lot better deal than paying someone $80/hour and not knowing how long it will take them.
Depending on the contract, you can charge for overtime if it’s at the fault of the person hiring you. For example, when I do video projects, we typically give them two rounds of edits – after the initial cut & after the fine cut. If they come back with more notes once we provide the ‘final cut,’ we will charge them a fee due to them not following the process we laid out to them when they hired us.
What today looks like
We’re now in a time when kids with their laptops (or smartphones) can rightly call themselves video editors. They can edit films in their bedrooms and post them to YouTube in an afternoon. And video content is used for a vast array of applications. So university programs and inexpensive (or free) online tutorials feed the hordes of eager digital natives. And they’re producing results that compete with professional video editors.
A brief history of video editing rates
Back in the early years, most editors were members of the Motion Picture Editors Guild. This meant that wage ranges and rates were determined by job description and years of experience. But now, that the magic of making pictures move is available to virtually anyone. So the number of editors who do non-union, non-theatrical, non-commercial projects far outnumbers those who do.
For this article, we canvassed professionals of all levels and across the U.S. from New York to Seattle. We talked to editors who do scripted feature films, documentaries, reality TV, long-running animated series, music videos, branded storytelling, Fortune 500 in-house and in-store pieces, trade shows, corporate events, weddings and bar mitzvahs, and more. And while they all shared lots of useful information, it’s clear that setting and getting your rate isn’t easy.
Each sub-industry tends to function a bit differently, so we’ve broken the article into separate sections:
- Weddings and Events
- Commercials and Branded Storytelling
- Documentary Features and Music Videos
- Episodic Programs
- Scripted Features
Negotiating your video editing rate
Before we dive into what a video editor can expect to earn, let’s address one of the most important aspects. How do you get the highest dollar amount for your work as a video editor? It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer, a company founder, or a staffer. At some point, you’ll need to negotiate your rate. Here are a few tips that can help you be a more effective negotiator.
First, know the video editor rates in your market.
The rates in Alabama will likely be quite different from the rates in Los Angeles. The more you can find out about what is “reasonable and customary” in your market, the better. You can find some information about specific areas around the internet (and in this article) but always ask around.
Second, know what you need to get paid for video editing.
Factor in operating expenses such as equipment, software licenses, professional dues, advertising costs, health insurance, etc. If you’re freelancing, you might be surprised at all of the extra things you’ll need. And which you’ll have to pay for. Even if you’re provided with a full-time position, this will help you set a realistic baseline for what you need to make to at least survive.
Calculating video editing rates and expensesImage © Dave Dugdale (learningvideo.com)
Make sure you know the terms.
Make sure you understand whether you’re being paid by the hour/day/week/month or whether the project is a flat bid “all in.” Many freelance editors and videographers don’t use contracts, and if you’re one of them, here’s a guide to remedy that. For starters, when you’re providing a quote to your client, you need to know how much the project will take. If you’re new to this, you may feel as though you’re throwing darts in the dark for awhile. But, eventually, estimating a project’s edit time should be second nature—at least from your point of view.
How clients affect video editor rates
Consider the client factor; this is where things like versions, lifts, and revisions come into play. Especially if you’re being paid a flat rate, you need to stipulate what’s included in your price upfront. What if a potential client comes to you with 125 hours of raw footage, 65 of which are interviews? They need it all edited down to a 30-minute doc for broadcast television, and you need to nail your estimate. Otherwise, you’ll leave a ton of cash on the table. Or worse, spend a lot of OT (as in, “own time”) getting it done if you’ve radically underestimated.
Upfront info can help you set your editor rates.
Finally, get as much information as you can about the project upfront. This applies whether you’re looking at a full-time position or a one-off project. Try to ask what they have budgeted for editing the project before you state your rate. Keep in mind that you may have to have a “sliding scale” approach. To build different rates for different types of jobs. And make sure that if you’re taking less money for a project, it’s for the right reasons. It may be to build a client relationship, to get a high-profile job, or to flex your creativity.
Alternatively, if a client is consistently asking you to lower your rate, consider the axiom: fast, cheap, good—pick two. And then don’t be afraid to remind them that if they’re returning to you, it’s probably because you’re good.
Understand how you’re being assessed
Pitching to a client is quite a different task from interviewing for a staff position. An editorial house will probably have a pay range in mind, and they’ll probably be able to assess your skills. An external client, on the other hand, will focus on the outcome of their project. They’ll likely be less equipped to evaluate your abilities.
Different metrics measure staff video editors to contractors.
When negotiating with clients, most people instinctively speak in terms of an hourly wage. Even for a flat-rate project, it’s common to multiply your hourly rate by the anticipated hours. But this may be the wrong approach—especially when dealing with medium-to-high-end clients. You can earn more if you frame the negotiation in terms of value and risk, rather than time.
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How Much Does Marketing Video Production Cost?
Outsourcing marketing video production costs can range anywhere from $1,200 for a basic video, to $50,000 for a premium video, while in-house solutions usually run less than $5,000 (for the equipment).
The decision on which solution to use often comes down to the objectives of the video.
For example, an explainer video communicates a business unique selling proposition in a compelling way. Since this video will essentially be working on your behalf, 24/7, and will probably be on your website homepage, you want it to be the highest quality you can afford.
If budget allows, hiring the project out is probably best.
Conversely, if your primary goal is to build organic search traffic with video, you will be publishing a lot of content! Calling upon a video production company for help with every video blog would be expensive. In this instance, you’ll want to invest in the right equipment to produce high-quality videos in-house.
The good news? Videos that are featured on your company blog or YouTube channel won’t be held to the same standard as explainer videos.
With these types of content videos, there is very little editing that needs to be done, which keeps the costs of production down in terms of hours.
There are at least nine different kinds of videos you can create to market your brand, products, and services:
- Inspirational: Distill your core message, values and vision into a compelling narrative.
- Educational: Teach your audience how to do something.
- Testimonial: Profile, the benefits customers, have received via your product/service.
- Animation: Tell your story via pictures, drawings, and fun visual elements.
- Explainer: Demonstrate the sequential process of interacting with your product/service.
- Video Emails: Any marketing video can become part of your marketing list strategy.
- Product: Showcase your product in a fun/dramatic way.
- Company Culture: Give prospects an inside look at what it’s like to work at your company.
- FAQ: Answer questions commonly received by Customer Service in video format.
The Cost of Outsourcing Explainer Videos
Fantastic explainer videos are designed to convert leads into customers; they are, in essence, lead generating machines. For this reason, they are often a better investment than most companies realize.
The cost of outsourcing an explainer video varies dramatically, according to:
- Video length
- Video style
- Videographer quality
- Costs can range anywhere from $1,200 for a basic video, to $50,000 for a premium video.
We know, that’s a pretty significant price gap. However, it’s safe to say that, for most companies, a project can be completed in 4-to-5 days, for less than $10,000.
The longer the video, the more work will be required in post-editing; the more work required post-editing, the higher the cost.
Animated videos can be particularly time-consuming, which is why animated video studios typically begin the pricing conversation discussing video length. Doing so allows the studio to budget the number of animators and designers they will need from the beginning.
The length will ultimately affect turnaround time, production schedules, and storyboarding.
Videographers don’t typically charge by the hour. That’s because the majority of the work being done happens outside of shooting.
Most videographers provide estimates based on day rates. Thus, if a production studio with a $1,200-a-day rate estimates, your project will take five days, your total cost will be $6,000. Again, day rates can vary significantly according to experience level and region.
How many days your production studio needs will depend on your creative concept. A simple 3-minute video might take three days (at $3,600), while a more complex 3-minute video might take 14 days (costing more than $10,000). The total cost depends on the time required to accomplish the objectives.
So what way should you charge?
I think it depends on the type of project. I’ll use video production as an example because it’s what I’ve done most of my freelance work in. But you can insert your type of work. Here are some examples:
Editing a documentary takes a long… I mean loooonnnngggg time. There are more rounds of edits than editing a narrative or commercial project. And depending on who the director is, you might spend many many hours re-editing things that will be changed later.
So in this case, CHARGE BY THE HOUR. You don’t want to get caught editing a feature-length documentary for a fixed price. For big extended projects that will take more than a week or two to edit, I would charge an hourly or day rate.
Videography / Cinematography / Other Set Work:
When you are trying to do production work, it’s always best to CHARGE A DAY RATE. Some days you’ll end up putting in extra hours. Some days you’ll only be hired for a two-hour shoot. I think it is best always to charge a day rate for production days.
It’s not worth it to shoot a one-hour event, and only get paid for an hour of work. I know people who won’t go out on a shoot for less than $500. For projects/work that will be completed in one day or on a daily basis, charge a full day rate.
Commercial Videos /Business Promotions:
As a new video creator, a lot of your work will come from commercial work. Examples of this could include an actual commercial for a business, an internal video for a company, or an online tutorial or another type of video for another company. For these types of projects as a solo-videographer or the person in charge, I think it’s best to CHARGE A PROJECT FEE.
Businesses like to see how much a project will cost from the beginning. Typically they’ll have you submit a ‘bid’ for a project that details the work you’ll be doing and how much you will charge. So if a company comes to you asking to make a 2-minute promo video for their new product, it’s best to give them a full project fee, rather than an hourly rate. For projects that seem self-contained (not a big documentary/film project or an on-going gig), I like to charge a one-time fee.
Check out our post on Should I hire a wedding videographer?
What Is Your Time Worth?
This is the biggest variable, and it changes from person to person. At the end of the day, if you take on a project and devote hours, days, or weeks to a client, you need to have an idea what your time is worth.
Your time should mean something to you. Not only is your time a representation of all the hard work you’ve put in so far — learning your craft and developing your skill-set — it also represents all the avenues of other work, development, and leisure that you’re missing out on by taking on a job.