A couple of weeks ago I got a Twitter notification from fellow Colorist Dan Diaz asking to do a blog write up on making bids from a Colorist’s perspective. There are a lot of things to take into consideration when trying to put a monitory value on your profession. We all want to work. And we all want to work on good projects. The key is not to sell yourself short and be compensated properly for your work.
As Colorists, we put a lot of time and energy into the projects that we work on. They’re visual representations of our craft. And like it or not, as long as the piece exists, our grade will be linked to it (I still shudder at some of my earlier IMDB credits). That being said, make sure that you really WANT to work on the piece. It’s much easier to color and to color effectively when you’re passionate about the piece. We become emotionally invested in all of the work that we do and it sure as hell makes the job a lot easier when that emotion is one of passion rather than anger or frustration. Now I understand that sometimes we’re not necessarily in the position to turn down work and if that is the case, just remember that your client sought out YOU to work for them. Every project has a silver lining, you just need to find it and make the most of it.
One of the most important things to know when compiling information for a bid is the duration and style of the piece. Is it a :30 commercial or a 90 minute feature? What is the edit style? Fast paced and action packed means a lot more shots. Where a dramatic piece might focus more on beautiful imagery and strong cinematography that holds on shots longer. I’ve had features comprised of 2500 cuts and :30s made up of one shot. It is the basis for deciding how long something will take. If presented the option, always ask for a rough cut or at least a representative scene that will give you a good idea as to what the entire piece will look like. For me, the average :30 commercial has 12-15 shots and generally takes about 3-4 hours. Take in mind that is a supervised session with creative directors and agency folks. Features on the other hand are a whole different beast. I generally allot myself 8-10 days of work for the standard 90 minute piece with about half of the time being supervised.
Now that part might seem pretty obvious, but it’s important to realize that no piece is created equal. Just because the duration is the same it doesn’t mean the amount of time to complete it will be the same.
Another thing to take into consideration is the kind of style is the potential client looking for in the grade. Aggressive saturation? Bleach bypass? Or just a normal balance? Some of these looks take longer to create than others and will factor into how long it takes to achieve the desired look. While they may not have their mind made up yet, it’s an important question to ask so you’re not blindsided when you have to create 10 nodes per shot.
Next on the list when gathering information to come up with an effective bid is to find out what type of camera the piece was shot on. This is a round about way of finding out how long it will take you to conform the final locked edit. Some are a piece of cake while others can be complete nightmares. Is your system capable of conforming a 90 minute feature shot on the RED Dragon in 6K? Or is it just a flattened ProRes Quicktime coming from a 5D? Obviously there is a big time difference/commitment. Mixed frame rates, different cameras, and different file sizes all factor into how long it will take to conform. I strongly encourage a very detailed, in depth conversation with the editor to facilitate this process. Believe me, it will save you some serious headaches.
Now that you’ve compiled all this information you have a pretty good idea of how long the color grade is going to take. The next question that comes up is how long does the client HAVE for it to take. If the deadline for the film is 10 days away and I estimate it’s going to take me 10 days to finish, I can’t be very flexible with my quote since I’ll be blocking off that entire duration of time and can not accept any other incoming work. However, if there is no deadline and they just want it completed within the next 2-3 months then I can have a little more wiggle room with pricing. That extra time allows for me to work on the film at my own pace and schedule in other booking jobs.
On long format I generally agree to a flat rate with one round of revisions. While on shorter pieces (like commercials) I charge hourly rates. I find that most people feel pretty comfortable with this approach and it seems relatively commonplace throughout the post production world. Long form is so difficult to accurately estimate that a flat rate normally makes everyone feel a little more comfortable. That way when you hit a difficult section of the film that requires a lot of time and attention the client doesn’t continue to nervously glance at the clock as they see their money burn away.
Ultimately the most important thing to be aware of when submitting a bid is to realize how much you value your time. Are you willing to take on a lower budget movie because it has some serious potential? Or are you accepting low ball bids just to work? Remember, while it might be great and exciting to win a project, you very well might be kicking yourself after your third overnight session with an impossible-to-please client. Nobody wants that. Most potential clients realize that the bidding process is going to be a little bit of a negotiation. Understanding and accepting that fact should help your mindset during initial conversations. When it comes down to it, this is a business and it’s in your best interest to do what is best for you while representing your craft and skill effectively.