Do you own the projects you shoot?
From a lesson I learned on a job a long time ago, on a set far, far away. Sparked by a discussion I saw on twitter.
When working as a freelancer or small company you learn to protect yourself. Usually it’s job by job, blow by blow that you experience and adapt to the million and one ways a client can take advantage of you, and in turn you learn how to take advantage of them.
This specific case happened upon completion of a series of spots which we shot a lot of location b-roll for. I was hired to shoot, edit, and finish the spots so the footage never needed to leave the studio. Proofs go out, some revisions, final masters rendered, typical stuff.
Then the client asked me something I was never asked: “Please send us all Raw footage and project files”
I had no problem whatsoever with the concept of giving the client the footage. After all, I shot it for them, why shouldn’t they get it? I nervously asked why they wanted it, and if there was any changes I could make for them:
Client : “Well, we’d like to be able to make some changes ourselves down the line, and that aerial footage would be great to sell as stock”
When I am booking a shoot plus post, I give heavy discounts with the consideration that they are using my services for all aspects when they could very well take it somewhere else. I’m selling a complete product. When building a house I do not ask the builders to leave extra lumber and extra equipment in case I want to renovate it later. When producing a complete end to end video or animation I am selling the final piece, not the individual parts and extras that created it.
As a young one, I begrudgingly transferred all of the footage and project files, scared to lose a connection and future work.
Guess what? The client disappeared into the night and I never heard from them again.
When working solo or hiring a small crew for low-mid budget commercial work, it is can be “fly by the seat of your pants” when it comes to agreements and contracts. This leaves everything open for interpretation and relies heavily on the goodwill of one another. I’d say 75% of the time it works just great. 20% of the time it is simply a case of mismanaged expectations. (That last 5% is because some people are assholes)
It’s all a game of controlling the client and setting expectations.
It is important to create a contract that not only sets the project and rates, but also clearly lays out expectations as to what the client will receive as an end product. My current default contract states that I have all rights to any project files created in the production process, and that I also am granted free use of all footage for promotional purposes (don’t forget some will object to you using shots in your reel, so get that negotiation out of the way right up front). I also state explicitly that if the client wants a copy of all raw footage that there will be hourly fees associated with that.
And a lot of clients ask for their footage, and I pocket a good amount of money facilitating those requests
This is not done to try to ‘trick’ anyone but to come to an agreement where neither you or your client can be left in a bad spot where someone is forced to compromise or be surprised at what is asked of them. It is also just a starting point. Sometimes a client has issue with it and I go ahead and negotiate to where we both reach an agreement either on rights or cost of giving those up. Although when the client is a pain in the ass, the hourly rate for transcoding does go up quite a bit….
This is the stuff I was never taught in film school, but this is the stuff that can get you a few extra dollars at the end of the day, and keep your business running and a nicer roof over your head. You deserve it.