Delivering Project Files: Making The Choice About Your IP

July 27, 2016

You always deliver final video files but should you deliver project files to your clients too? Learn more in this Insight.

Your Product Is On Screen, But It Also Lives In Your Project Files

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to be on a panel about client relationships for a local user group. It was fascinating (and good article fodder) to hear many different perspectives on working with clients, but a very interesting question came up from a designer in the crowd:

‘I’ve been finding that clients are now asking me to deliver not only final finished files but my design files too – like Photoshop & Illustrator documents. How do you handle that?’

After a little discussion, someone else in the room remarked that after delivering project files to a client they were surprised when a mix they had worked on had different music and tweaked sound design elements when they heard the piece on air – yikes!

Since that event I’ve been talking to freelance colorists, editors, mixers and other business owners about the delivery of project files in addition to the normal deliverables one would expect.

The results of those discussions (I talked 20 people in total) were surprising –  half never deliver project files, 5 deliver project files as a normal part of their deliverables, and the remaining 5 only delivered project files if they were being paid extra.

Why was this surprising?

Well for some reason, I’d like to think that as creatives we value our creative efforts and go to great lengths to protect access to those efforts – so I was surprised that people were actually delivering project files!

I was also surprised that the folks who I talked to who were delivering project files as part of their deliverables weren’t considering the intrinsic value of those files!  In other words, I was shocked they weren’t charging for them!

In this Insight, I’d like to explore if delivering project files is a good thing or not.

What’s I.P. ? & Delivered Video vs. Project Files

You’ve probably heard the term Intellectual Property (I.P. for short) before, but what does that really mean?

Well, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) :

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

WIPO also as a pretty informative primer on IP and the ways (in broad strokes) it’s protected – you can find that HERE.

The bit of the WIPO definition on IP that’s relevant to us as colorists is ‘creations of the mind….such as artistic works: designs…’

Every thought and decision that goes into adjusting a knob on your control surface or a click of a mouse on a slider to adjust the artistic representation of the images on the screen is your intellectual property – your ‘creation of the mind’.

Of course, the original video is the client’s, and most likely the final rendered files will also be the client’s – after all, your color work applied to their images is what they’re paying for but how you arrived at the particular artistic intent on a shot, scene or project is your intellectual property.

This is why my default stance when it comes to project files is to never offer them to clients.  Clients are paying me for my time and effort and the results of my work.

If a client would like the intellectual property i.e. my project files I may offer that as a project option or consider their offer for my IP, but I generally assume that project files are NOT part of a standard deliverable package.

Defining Your Deliverables

It’s important to understand that different industries have different accepted practices with this type of thing – what may be standard practice in photography, may not be the same in design, or video projects.

However, like most things in business, all that really matters is what was agreed to and documented with your client.

In my project orders (contracts) with clients, in the deliverables section, I only include the stuff that I’m actually going to deliver on a project.  If it’s not here, I’m not delivering it!

Here is a recent deliverables section in my project order for a feature-length project:

  • ProRes 4444 2048 x 858 (Scope) individual clip renders in a .mov container with 1 second of handles
  • ProRes 4444 1920 x 1080 Letter Boxed (2.39:1 1920 x 803) individual clip renders in .mov container with 1 second of handles
  • Premiere Pro Project (version 2015.3) with both scope and letterboxed timelines (no audio or graphics remarried) relinked to rendered media
  • XMLs of both scope and letterboxed timelines that reference individual clip renders
  • ProRes 4444 1920 x 1080 Letter Boxed (2.39:1 1920 x 803) flattened render in .mov container
  • ProRes 4444 1920 x 803 Cropped 2.39:1 flattened render in .mov container
  • 15mb/s 1920 x 1080 Letter Boxed (2.39:1 1920 x 803) h.264 flattened render in .mp4 container
  • 15mb/s 1920 x 803 Cropped 2.39:1 h.264 flattened render in .mp4 container

Missing in this list is anything about DCP creation – even though one of my deliverables was Scope aspect QuickTimes. I also made no reference to remarrying audio or graphics – indeed I said the Premiere Pro project would not contain those items.

Also missing?  Yep, any mention of a Resolve project file (my IP).  Sure, I’m delivering a Premiere Pro Project with graded timelines, but at no point can the client ‘edit’ my color work with those timelines – they can add on to it or grade my grade, but they don’t have access to the myriad of individual corrections and decisions that went into the creation of the look of a shot.

Defining your deliverables like this (or in whatever fashion you’d prefer) makes it clear what you’re delivering and more importantly, what you’re not delivering.

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Homepage Forums Delivering Project Files: Making The Choice About Your IP

  • In one case my client asked for the Resolve project for possible future changes on the timelines. Since he did not agree on paying for it I was in a bad position. Finally I had to use LUTs (he did not have) and the project needed a lot of noise reduction. I gave the project but he was never able to use it and came back to me for changes and new versions. Touchy subject. I never mention or give the idea that I can or will give a Resolve project to a client. Thanks Robbie, great post.

  • Marc Wielage

    For me, the client doesn’t get my files unless I’m using their equipment. If it’s their Resolve, their drives, and all their media, then they get my session. But all the “extras” — PowerGrades, grain, looks, stock footage, lens flares, all that stuff — that comes and goes on my drive, and they don’t get those. If it’s grain, then that one sample used in the project will stay with them. If it’s my Resolve, they only get the renders. Pro Tools sound mixers are similarly very touchy about handing over their sessions; typically, they only deliver stems and final mixes, not the actual project file.

  • jpo

    It is somewhat rare that I share out a .drp and it is usually only under at least one of the circumstances outlined by Robbie in the “upside” category. *The* bullet-proof list exchange between distributed collaborators *is* the Resolve project. One option is that I rebuild a .drp with the rendered round trip media, so that the timeline is preserved, but with no grades at all which sidesteps the list of buried landmines in XML and AAF exchange. There is also a small group of virtual pro-bono out there that can’t afford to come back — and was a pretty fast best light to begin with — or there may be a scheduling conflict and I need to move on (or away) and let someone else pick it up. In a few instances, the client has created the original .drp and I’m the one who is modifying it! I have also occasionally been asked to debug bad conforms. But this has little or nothing to do with the secret sauce of the correction itself, which is really the point here.

    I am of two minds regarding screen credits in the case of passing around attribution for what was done to (for?) the image. Interesting that the CSI would prefer a position in proximity to “Editor” and we’ll see if it migrates around closer to “Cinematography”, when a lot of people think its more like “Visual Effects”…. ALL of which we are now doing! And if a look is one created by a licensed, canned effect, is “Boris” credited? Under “Colorist”…. what if Otto Match, the famous German colorist, is the most appropriate name? ;-P

    The notion of sabotaging the list is not unfamiliar, but also sometimes just unwitting. One of the things that protects some aspects of a complex grade project would be the inclusion of proprietary processes (deploying a licensed OFX plugin) or the dongle itself, using a feature of Resolve Studio that will exclude the project from opening in the free version. Its regrettable that someone else thinks they can do a better job, or worse, is evaluating the work (my work) under misleading circumstances, deliberate or not. $*It happens. But… OTOH, having Jimi’s guitar still ain’t giving you Jimi. My brush strokes are unique. Not saying better or worse, just — my fingerprints are *my* fingerprints. But most of the time producers are not at all interested and don’t want to know what it was I did. Just that it was magic and whatever it was, they are keeping me as their secret weapon.

    When I set up my business, I looked at some client/vendor relationships around the world. There was one Prominent Manufacturer who offered some client services who publish a contract agreement that is book-length. Deep pocketed and lawyered-up. It covered coffee and bathroom breaks. Their approach was that the Source media belonged to the client, who could have it back any time, but whatever the service provider did — belonged to the company until it was paid for. In other words, the Grade Final belonged to {me, the colorist because that version was created by me} until the invoice was stamped “Paid.” That company reserved the right to take over the asset, seize everything and distribute it themselves to satisfy the balance oweing. With streaming services becoming monetized, that approach might actually become an option someday, although the legal cage match would be ON.

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