Pricing And Negotiating: Directing Video For A TV Commercial

by Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

Shoot Concept: Video of a restaurant interior

Licensing: Use of all video content captured in multiple broadcast television commercials

Location: A single restaurant location

Shoot Days: One

Director: Architectural and portraiture specialist

Agency: Medium-sized, based in the Northeast

Client: Large restaurant chain

Here is the estimate:

Creative/Licensing: A few months ago I worked with a photographer to successfully estimate an exterior architectural shoot that you can read about here. Within a week of delivering those files, the agency wanted to add on an extension to the project, and this time they needed video content to integrate into their commercial along with the stills. The concept was to capture video of the interior of one of their restaurants and stage a scene of professional talent interacting within the environment in the evening after the restaurant closed to the public. The final video would ultimately be edited down to just a few seconds, and the agency/client would be providing the location, casting, talent, wardrobe, styling and all of the video editing.

The photographer did not specialize in video, but based on his previous successful execution of the stills and the scope of this portion of the project, the client and agency were very comfortable with him taking on a directorial role, as opposed to being the man behind the camera. Therefore, rather than including a combined creative/licensing fee for the photographer, we simply labeled it as a “Director Fee” (hereafter I’ll refer to the photographer as “director”).

My first approach to determine the director fee was based on the previous estimate for the still photography. You can read how we arrived at a $50,000 fee in my previous article, but when analyzed in a pro-rated manner (which is how many agencies view estimates), it broke down to $2,500 per location or around $10,000 per day for 5 days of shooting (which is ultimately how long it took). Based on this information I felt that $6,000 was appropriate for a director fee, taking into account what the director had ultimately made as an effective fee on the previous shoot. I did, however, want to double-check this rate against other resources, and found that Getty charges around $4,200 for a 15-second clip for national broadcast TV use. Similarly, Corbis charges $4,500 for a clip with these specs. Based on my research I was confident that we were in the right ballpark.

I should also note that the format of our estimate in which we present the creative/licensing fee and the following expenses may be atypical for a video project. Since this was an extension of a still photo shoot, and since we were working with a print producer at the agency, the presentation and formatting of our document was appropriate. However, much larger video productions may warrant different formatting, and there are even industry standard documents (like theAICP bid form) that video production companies are accustomed to working with and are well received on the agency/client end.

Test Shoots: Prior to the actual shoot date, the agency and director agreed that a day was needed to not only scout the location, but to do a very rough test shoot using minimal gear to capture naturally lit video of the restaurant interior. It was an opportunity to give the agency a feel for the how the location actually looked, while also allowing the director to test out gear with the camera operator that would be working on the actual shoot. The fee included $1,500 for the director, $1,000 for the producer, $300 for an assistant and $750 for the camera operator, along with mileage, parking, meals and equipment expenses.

Director of Photography: The director was very proficient in lighting still images, but the level of production the agency required for the video meant bringing in an expert to help guide the grip and gaffer to set up the lights. We were shooting at night, but the interior needed to look like daylight was flowing in through the windows, and the DP would help to accomplish this while the director could primarily focus his attention on the overall concept and execution.

Camera Operator: While the director would be managing the talent and determining the primary camera settings, we accounted for the camera operator to be the one who would actually manipulate the camera while capturing the content. The rate we included accounted for a very experienced camera operator who would also be able to provide monitors/feeds for live client review.

Producer: The producer would be responsible for wrangling the crew, compiling a production book and handling pre-production arrangements. Additionally, the producer would make sure the shoot day goes according to schedule while ensuring the project stayed within budget.

First and Second Assistants: I accounted for two extra sets of hands to help out with gear on the shoot day, and to support the producer and all of the crew members throughout the day with miscellaneous tasks.

Digital Tech: While the camera operator would be providing equipment for the client to see the video on monitors in real time, the digital tech would be able to quickly process the video content for the client/agency to watch repeatedly in order to approve the content. This included $500 for their day, and $750 for a workstation. On a larger scale video shoot, this role might be labeled as DIT (digital image technician), but as I mentioned earlier, we were integrating formatting and terminology more in line with a still photo shoot.

Grip, Gaffer and Grip Truck: The DP would give lighting direction to the grip and gaffer who would then be responsible for setting up and adjusting all of the lights. Both the grip and gaffer that I corresponded with about the project worked for an equipment rental company, and they would be bringing the gear with them in a truck. Given the last minute nature of the project, we weren’t quite sure what exact equipment would be needed, so I included the cost for a very well stocked grip truck. In addition to the truck rental (which would cost $675), this included a long list of HMI lights and generators, as well as an even longer list of stands, modifiers and grip equipment.

Additional Equipment Rental: This accounted for all equipment other than lights/grip, including two 5D Mark III camera bodies, multiple lenses, extra large memory cards and a buffer for any other last minute gear the photographer would need once he scouted the location. Some of the gear he owned, and some he would need to rent or buy.

Delivery of Video by Hard Drive: The digital tech would dump all of the video onto a drive after the shoot, and this included the cost of purchasing a drive large enough to hold the video content and the shipping fees to send it to the agency.

Catering: There would be about 20 people on set including the crew, talent and client/agency representatives, and I included $50 per person for dinner and snacks throughout the evening. Typically, I’d figure a client like this would provide meals, but since the shoot was happening after business hours, the restaurant wouldn’t be able to provide food.

Miles, Misc: The restaurant wasn’t located in a very convenient place, and I expected to pay the crew mileage to get out and back. I included $200 for mileage, and then added $300 to help cover any additional unexpected expenses that might arise.

Results: After submitting our estimate, the art buyer told us they had a budget of $20,000, and asked us to see what we could do to reduce the price. I knew we wouldn’t be able to come down by that much, but revised the estimate by removing the tech’s workstation (she’d just be providing a laptop which the client was ok with), reducing the assistant rates to $250/day (the director had a few assistants that were willing to work for this rate) reducing the fee for the grip and gaffer (which they confirmed they’d be able to be flexible on) and reducing the catering to $35 per person (and noted that it wouldn’t be quite as an elaborate spread). Those changes reduced our bottom line by $1,500. Even though we weren’t able to get under $20k, our estimate was approved and I produced the shoot a few days later. Here was the final estimate:


Hindsight: As the still photography and video worlds merge, it’s inevitable that clients will soon expect all photographers to offer video services (or at least expect to get stills and video from a single production). However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a photographer has to have experience shooting video. As in this case, photographers can take on the role of a director without actually being the one to light the scene or operate the camera. The director role still comes with great responsibility and pressure, but it’s ok for photographers to rely on lighting experts and experienced video crews to collectively get the job done.

If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to big ad campaigns.

Wonderful Machine

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. …not to be the negative ninny but the client/agency was willing to go with the budget as long as those lowest on the food chain got thrown under the bus? This is appalling. Considering an estimate has a 10% variance you almost have to throw in 2000 extra on the final bill to smarten them up.

  2. Great article, and thanks for this and the entire series.
    I have to say I agree with the first comment, though. Making the lowest-paid people on the set take a 20% pay cut, so a client with a nearly 6-figure budget (counting the previous stills campaign) can save $1500, while the highest-paid people involved take no pay cut at all, seems like poor behavior, to me.

  3. Agree with Scott and Robert. Clients often want to get the price down for many reasons that sometimes seem counterintuitive. If the ultimate client was as well established as stated, it would only make sense to spend what was needed to secure a solid set of brand driven visuals. Though presenting a lower set of numbers is not a bad thing, its just as important to remind the client of the return on their investment. What quality they are getting, how their brand will be set apart from the competition in the distributed market, and why that money is needed to drive good business. In the end if resources are removed, those producing the work will have to work harder to get the same results which often means … spending more money than the original bid.

  4. $300 for a photo assistant on an advertising job!?!?!
    What century are you living in.
    These rates are so below industry standard that YOU NOT SO WONDERFUL MACHINE
    Are singlehandedly helping to kill this entire industry and screw with pro video/film directors as well.
    photographers can take on the role of a director without actually being the one to light the scene or operate the camera…
    Are you fukking insane?

    aPhotoEditor, for the love of god please get people that know what their talking about posting to your site, not these wanna-be industry whore sycophants .

  5. Sean B, please provide your insight and wisdom into what it should actually be… video shoots are often more straight forward in pricing than stills so this should be easy for you.

    Although the inclusion of ‘photo assistants’ is pretty weird on a video shoot – they’re basically PA’s it sounds like, for which $250 a day is actually kind of high because PA’s are usually 22, 23 y/o and just out of school, ~$200 a day is average. I guess the photog wanted his guys to be there and this was awkwardly shoe-horned in.

    • Craig, can I ask that you please include your last name or initial when you post comments to our pricing and negotiating articles? I think some people (myself included) will confuse you with the author, who has the same first name. Thanks!

  6. Thank you all for your feedback.

    Our series of pricing and negotiating articles are meant to increase transparency within the commercial photography industry. The opportunities we’ve had to work with photographers and clients of all shapes and sizes around the world have provided us with an incredible breadth of knowledge that we will continue to share. As the worlds of video and still photography continue to merge, the shape of projects and the roles of the contributors will continue to be malleable. We’d be delighted for others to share their successful estimates for similar projects so we can all learn from each other.



  7. I must say that though this information is very helpful, I don’t see much advantage to merging stills and motion. Each has their own richness and story telling abilities that true professionals know how to use best. Merely grabbing a still from a motion set or producing a still that is an exact duplicate of the motion work does not add much. Having produced both, I can say that as a visual artist I approach each very differently and compose the screen that resonates best with the viewer. My best offering, if you want professional results keep projects professionally driven.

  8. I’ve worked in both industries, I started out as a DP. From my perspective, I can see, to a certain degree, that photographers could make excellent directors. This hinges on them learning the medium and understanding the *differences*. A photographer stepping into the Director role works better than a DP stepping into the director role and the reason is simple. Photographers have historically directed talent. DP’s have not. A DP, however, will do a much better job of managing the production. If the photographer can be properly assimilated in the film world, and by assimilate, I really mean it, terminology, technology, workflow, solid understanding that the story is king etc… it could be a successful transition on the management side of things.

    A bit off topic, but very important… if photographers want to be taken for true professionals in the film world, they really do need to get with it. For example, STOP saying “motion shoot”. What the heck is that? You really give yourself away as a noob when you say stuff like that, or fail to specify 1st and 2nd assistant…. WHAT? Are they 1st and 2nd AC’s? Personal assisstant to the talent? Learn the nearly 100 year old job titles and roles. Also, ‘video’ – it’s a four letter word in that community. It’s film – even though we all know darn well it’s really 24 or 23.97 fps video.

    As for the Sean B comment on direction – Why is it hard to believe a photographer can direct without lighting the set or operating the camera? Film shoots have been run this way since… well, forever.

  9. Not sure where your rates came from but the crew fees are incorrect. DP’s on the low end are $1,500 for 10 hr day rate – while camera operator is $1,000. Most DP’s start at $2,500 and go up.
    Key Grip and Key Gaffer are $650 for 10, then they go down in $25 increments for additional grip, gaffer, best boy. Photo asst are $450, 400, 350 at the lowest.
    Director fee is usually 10% of budget. Any additional test shooting, tech scouting, prep is generally half of the day fee. Usage double the shoot fee.
    Of course all rates are negotiable and of course you can always find crew to work for whatever rate you want to pay them. But these are the industry standard rates one should start from.