3 Alternative Ways Professional Filmmakers Can Price Their Services

There are few topics in any professional filmmaker’s career as researched and discussed as how to price ones services. Whether it’s “how much you charge” or “what price you set your rate,” professional filmmakers, and really, professional creatives from all disciplines, spend countless hours reading blog posts, books, and watching videos by Chris Do to figure this out.

Even though I’ve been a professional in this business for going on twenty years, I’m still old enough that I came to it as a profession relatively late in my overall career. Whereas I started studying filmmaking in ‘92, I wouldn’t actually start a business until ten years later. Up until that point, I used my Finance degree from UC Berkeley to do work in real estate, marketing, and business development. And during that time, filmmaking was just a “hobby.”

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Photo by David Carboni on Unsplash

In many ways, my business-oriented work greatly prepared me for my freelance work when it came to marketing my business and charging my rates. Combined with nearly 13 years of interviewing other professionals for podcasts and blog posts, I’ve been able to glean some effective ways of looking at how we filmmakers can price our services so that costs are covered and we pay ourselves a fair rate for our experience and skillset.

It should be noted that the methodologies I’m going to discuss are best suited for professionals who are not part of the movie and television business where union-based and other industry-standard day rates are set.

So without further ado…

#1. Productize the Repeatables

man-recording-video-2510429Photo by Kyle Loftus from Pexels

Much of the work you do can probably be packaged and “productized.” In other words, you can sell all-in-one batches of services that you know can be easily repeated. Some examples could be:

  • 60- to 90-second Yelp and Google Business listing videos. From shooting to editing, you could create a system for easily getting in, interviewing your subject, getting pre-determined b-roll, having a set library of similarly paced music, and using an effective “template” for editing.
  • Montages. Assuming this is still a popular treat that hosts like to provide friends and family at weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, funerals, and other personal and corporate events.
  • B-roll. Not everyone has “got that b-roll.” So you could go out and get it for them for a set price.
  • Setting up YouTube channels. YouTube is can an overwhelming experience for small and medium businesses alike. Even departments at larger companies can get confused about all that goes into properly setting up and using a YouTube channel. If you know everything from channel artwork dimensions to how to set up a playlist to creating templates, offer it all as a package deal.
  • Color grading and correction. This one is a little more tricky to productize because there are so many parameters that could affect what’s needed and how much work might be required. But assuming you could set some specific requirements (e.g. amount of footage, quality, timing, etc.) you could develop pre-set packages that could be repeatable.

At the end of the day, the main requirement is figuring out exactly the hours and resources needed for whatever you plan to productize. Then ensure you can expend the same amount of each (or relatively close to it) each time.

#2. Retainer

If you’re fortunate enough to come across clients who have a need for recurring work, you could set up a monthly retainer system. This is where the client pays a predetermined monthly rate in exchange for a predetermined number of hours. Those hours could be allocated however the client needs. Clients that could use work like this include:

  • Churches that may need editing every week for sermons
  • Local news channels that need promos cut
  • A small business or influencer with a YouTube channel that needs weekly vlogs edited and posted
  • A travel business that posts videos of country and sightseeing tips and reviews

As I mentioned, retainer systems usually are based on an hourly rate. What I’m proposing is something slightly different. The way I work with my content marketing clients is determining, with the client’s help, exactly what I will do for them on a monthly basis, then charge them a monthly rate based on that work. 

Internally I use a target hourly rate to come up with that monthly value, based on how long I think it will take. But once we decide on a number, it doesn’t change. In any given month, if it takes me longer or shorter to do the prescribed worth, the client pays the same. The only way that rate would change is if the scope changes.

The benefit of a system like this is that you do away with the chance of a client trying to negotiate the rate down by eliminating hourly line items. I give them a rate with a list of monthly duties (e.g. X number of 1200-word blog posts per month, SEO monitoring, weekly hour-long meetings, etc.) and that’s what they pay each month, regardless of how long it takes me.

#3. Value-based (Price the client, not the work)

meeting-with-clientPhoto by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Earlier I mentioned Chris Do. Chris is the founder and CEO of the Emmy-award-winning visual brand strategy and design firm Blind. He’s also the founder of the online teaching channel, The Futur (that is not a typo. It’s spelled without an “e”). Chris’ current passion is taking his experience leading a successful brand studio and helping other professional creatives run successful businesses and charge what they’re worth.

In what is one of his most popular videos, “How much to charge for a logo,” he surveys his audience of designers to all throw out different rates they charge for creating a logo. The answers range from $500 to $20,000. Chris later shares how his firm charges upwards of $50,000 and more.

How do they do it? By helping their client see the value of what that logo brings, or the value of the various pieces of content or real property that will bear that logo. These are real, quantifiable values he gets the client to determine. Based on that value, he can then show the objective business sense of hiring his firm for an amount that may off the bat, sound preventatively high.

For an example that’s closer to home, he does the same exercise in this video below. In the role-play, he pretends to be a videographer negotiating with a potential client that only wants to pay $1,000 vs. $4,000. In it, Chis clearly reveals, through a series of questions, that if this video is successful, it could yield an increase of $7,500/month for the make-believe client.

If the work you do can be quantified in such a way that makes it easy for the client to arrive at a realistic figure, then you can extract from that a fee that could very likely be much higher than you would otherwise charge. Examples of how this might play out include:

  • Getting a non-profit to determine how much money a video might help them raise
  • Determining how many sales a video might help close
  • Determining how many potential clients a video might draw (top of the sales funnel). Then based on the percentage of conversions they get from a “top of funnel audience,” deduce what sales may be created due to that video.

Bottom line: with your help, get a client to figure out how much quantifiable value they expect from your project, then price accordingly. Using this methodology, the amount you quote a client will not be based on your time, but on that value. This means two different clients could theoretically be quoted two vastly different quotes for the same amount of work. 

This may be the single hardest concept to adopt—admittedly, even for me. But I am genuinely working to get the chutzpah to do it.

How do you price your work?

In the end, we all want to be able to charge a rate that allows us to do what we love and stay in business while we do it (worldwide pandemics notwithstanding). 

I’d love to know how you price your services. Is it very different than this? Is it similar? Share in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter.