Modulating Your Time Based On Client Budget & Needs

August 17, 2016

With constrained budgets, clients can't always afford your services. But maybe you can modulate your time and effort to meet their needs?

Not Every Project Can Afford Your Full Attention. So What Do You Do Aside from Saying NO?

A few years ago I was invited by alma mater to come speak at a career day type event.

After the usual sophomoric jokes about a colorist working on people’s hair or playing with balls I remember clearly saying:

‘I correct & enhance contrast and color on every shot in a film or project.’

No surprises there. If you interviewed any colorist they’d in one way or another say something similar.

As project budgets have become smaller, and more clients are coloring their own projects, I’m asked more and more things like:

  • ‘I just need a quick pass can you do that?’
  • ‘It’s really only the interview shots that bother me, can you just grade those?’
  • ‘I know this is a two-day grade, but I really only have budget for about 6 hours – is that workable?’

These types of things (and others) that we all hear from clients are seemingly in conflict with the job description of a colorist to touch every shot.

How you do you grade some shots and ignore others?  What does a quick pass actually entail?

In the past, I explained to my clients that I only take on projects where I’m grading every shot – which would many times mean they’d scoff at the costs, which in turn would often cause me to discount heavily just to score the project.

About a year ago, I simply got sick of losing jobs based on my dogmatic approach to grading.

So, after talking to a few trusted colorist friends and experimenting on my own, I’ve finally found some ways to modulate my time and be comfortable with the ‘quick pass’ or only grade ‘problem shots’ approach.

This, in turn, has me saying yes to a lot more projects and increasing my revenue, but as you’ll read, staying firm on what you’re doing and not doing on a project can be challenging.

Swallow Your Pride & Bill Rate Card

When I first started taking on projects where I knew I wouldn’t touch every shot, or at least not grade the show with my normal methodical approach – I felt dirty, cheap & that I was an active participant in the race to the bottom that seems to be so prevalent in our industry these days.

To be honest, I still feel all of those things even a year after I decided to take on more and more projects that are not full-on regular grades.

After some soul searching, I decided that saying no to these types of projects was actually speeding up the race to the bottom by putting clients into the hands of less capable operators with normal price points that would always under-cut me.

And that’s a real important point – besides swallowing your pride to take on projects where you’re not doing your normal all-in process, don’t also discount your time. BILL AT RATE CARD!

By billing at your normal top rate, you’re signaling to the client that you’re modulating your TIME, not your VALUE or quality of work.

In other words, your client will get 100% of your effort, but within the limited framework that their budget allows for.

An Opportunity To (Up) Sell

One thing I look to do every time a super limited budget project comes to me and the client asks me to do what I can or to only fix specific shots is an attempt to upsell.

You’re probably never going to get a client to go from a $1500 budget to a $15,000 one, but there are a lot of numbers in between!

Recently a project came in where the client told me they had $1200 for a 25min short film shot on RED.  I told them given the issues, and their vision it’d be a $5000 project.

That immediately moved the conversation to – what can you do for $1200?  And can you just correct these shots?

When a conversation moves to that point, take that as a clear sign that there might be a middle ground. While it’s true that clients often have very firm budgets, it’s also true that your bid might not be your bottom line.

In the case of my client, I proposed a new bid of $3250 – still considerably higher than their ‘budget’ but a significant discount to my original number.

After searching for a bit more budget the client came back and said they could do $3250 – I graded the film with my usual gusto and the client was thrilled – even after they spent more than 3x their original budget.

If the project had reverted to ‘what I could do’ I would have been fine with that – but you never know what can happen – in this case the client found the money and was ultimately thrilled that every shot and the entire project was given love.

I’ve found that when you do have to work with a very constrained budget or timeframe and you don’t want to turn the project away, you have to be very methodical about your approach to the grade.

Below I’d like to discuss several different approaches to being able to grade fast and efficiently when you can’t grade every shot or spend your usual amount of time on a project.

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