Evaluating A Project – What Will A Grade Really Take?

August 11, 2014

Evaluating a project so you know how much time it will take is an essential part of color grading. Check out this Insight for more key tips.

Evaluating A Project Properly Is Key To A Successful Grade

Having run a successful color grading business on my own for over 12 years, I can tell you that the actual grading work is of course important. Clients have come to trust the technical skills and command that we possess over tools like Resolve and in general image/color science.

But doing good work is much different than actually making money and accurately figuring out what a project will take.

We’ve all been there – you quoted a price and now X days later you’re still working on the project because it was much more involved than you originally thought.

I’m not pointing the finger – in fact the reason I’m writing this Insight is because just recently I misevaluated project I was grading and guess what happened?

I took a bath.

Seriously, I thought this project was going to be straightforward, but I didn’t pay enough attention to the details because my bid and the price I quoted weren’t anywhere near what it actually took.

I quoted a 30min narrative short drama at 2 days for grade and 1/2 day for review and changes. It took 6  days of actual grading and 2 days of full on review sessions. YIKES!

Fortunately for me – the client was an old client, and actually paid for nearly all the time. The funny thing is, at the start of the process when I quoted 2 days they asked “are you sure?”

Of course I should have known better, but we all make mistakes.

In this Insight, I want to share with you some key strategies for evaluating a project. Instead of making this just a money thing, I want to make this more about things to look for as a colorist – so you can be prepared to directly report time estimates to clients or to share them with support staff at your facility.

Let’s jump in.

What Is the Client Actually Saying?

I don’t know about you, but I like getting paid for my time and the work that I put into a project, so much so, that from time to time I actually forget to listen to a client and really listen to how they’re describing a project.

Recently, on the narrative project I mentioned in the intro to this Insight, I realized in hindsight that I had totally ignored several keywords and phrases from my client PRIOR to actually starting to grade the project that were indicative of the hard work that was to come.

While every client describes their own projects in different ways, let me give you several words and phrases that should raise red flags when it comes to figuring out how long a grade will actually take:

  • “It’s a pretty straightforward grade I think” –  GAME OVER!  Anytime a client uses the words easy, straightforward, not complex or similar, the hair on the back of my neck stands up!  Your’s should too! A description about the simplicity of a project should be a key component for you as the colorist to know – that it’s probably not true!
  • “We just need you to look at some problematic shots/scenes” – I love this one! I don’t know about you, but I’m incapable of doing this!  If a project is brought to me, I’m going to grade the project!  I’m not going to half ass it. When this phrase is used by a client it really means – “we don’t have budget for a full on grade and our project is not shot very well”.
  • “The show is just like a typical XYZ show” – I do a lot of reality programing and I can’t tell you how often I hear the phrase – “well it’s just like this show”.  You know what? There are no two shows that are alike – I don’t care if you’re working on two episodes from the same series – no two shows are really alike PERIOD.  When I hear this from clients it heightens my awareness that a client really doesn’t know their show and how finishing artists will approach it. While efficiencies can be gained when working on the same series, with the same DP, etc., each show represents its own challenge.

There are probably additional words and phrases I have heard from clients over the years when it comes to what they think their project is like – each very telling of the potential difficulty I may have – but only if I listen to what they’re really saying!

I know trust is an extremely important thing between you as the colorist, and your clients – but when it comes to what it will or won’t take a on a project be wary of your clients’ descriptions.

So to combat these client descriptions let’s go over my checklist of items for how I evaluate a project.

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