What Price Pro for Hire?

What value does a professional video producer place on their work? What happens when you contract video work for hire and the client doesn't honor the work?

What Price Should a Pro for Hire Charge?

A couple years ago, I received a phone call from a woman in tears. She's a good client of a friend of mine and the caller was going through some deep personal drama. Her mother had just days to live, and she was looking for someone to make a memorial video for the funeral. Knowing I offer this service, my friend, Cathy, suggested her client give me a call. I offered my condolences, gently tried to explain to her that time was of essence, and she'd need to get photos to me as soon as possible and I'd make a nice piece for her.

"Thank you," she said, "my mother was a wonderful woman and deserves the best."


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I then quoted her a price of $300 and she hesitated… and said she'd get back to me. A week later, another associate told me she had contacted him, stating I was asking too much money, and she offered him $100 to do it and he turned her down. She then went to the person who manages her website, and he agreed to do it for $150.

Two days later, this woman's mother did pass away, and with the funeral in 3 days, she called me back in tears again. She received her DVD and was shocked at how horrible it was. The fellow scanned about 40 photos, scanning the smaller ones together 4 at a time. He then made a slide-show of the scanned images. He didn't resize any of the photos, frame them or make them "pretty"… he didn't even separate those that he scanned together. Most of the photos had the paper edges showing, some were partially off the screen, others were slightly crooked, and a couple were even sideways. As for the ones that were scanned 4 together, the "slide page" that these appeared on was even worse than the full-sized images. The smaller older pictures were so tiny you couldn't make out the subject.

Taking pity on her predicament, and realizing she was a good client of Cathy's, I told her I'd clean them up and add some music… for $200. She was terribly upset, said she'd already invested $150 and all this time, and the images were already scanned… etc. I tried to gently explain that I now had little time to finesse, and I still had to copy her chosen music, and as much as I felt badly for her, if she'd come to me in the first place… etc.

She was terribly upset but I just couldn't walk away from it, so I agreed to do it for $100, as a favor to Cathy, and be done with it.

2 days later, after 2 full all-nighters, I gave her a nice 20-minute piece that had a wonderful ebb and flow through this dear lady's life with meaningful music. As I showed it to the family, they were all in tears by the video's end. I received a $50 "tip", for my effort. So she ended up paying $300 after all, but I, the "artist", who gave up 2 nights of sleep, had less time to work my magic, while the web-guy spent about an hour for his $150. (BTW: Cathy tells me this woman is very well-off, pays her well, and showed up at our meeting dripping in diamonds.)

What price for Charity?

[image:blog_post:13915] A few months ago, a similar thing happened, when a local charity group wanted to make a promotional video for a fund-raising event they had coming up and called on me to help them. I quoted them $500 minimum, or $50 an hour to shoot and edit it. They said they'd get back to me.

I got a call from them two days ago. They decided to do it themselves, I was told, so they bought a small HD camera, a cheap mic, and an expensive pro-level editing software program. One of their members was trying to learn how to edit but couldn't get past how to capture the footage correctly. I made a courtesy visit and looked over their footage which was poorly shot and had unusable sound.

Now they were desperate, their program deadline is looming and could I please, out of the goodness of my heart, edit it and "fix" it.

For what they paid for that camera, mic and software, they could have hired a pro in the first place. I declined.

I wonder sometimes, why people are so willing to pay an attorney $200 an hour, or and accountant $100 an hour, without really knowing the amount of time these skilled professionals really put into their cases, but the clients will swallow and pay anyway. However, these same people seem to think that anyone can buy an affordable camera nowadays, and shoot a quality piece themselves with no training, skills, vision or ideas. Amazing.

I wonder how other video producers would have handled these situations?

Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.


  1. This is why you should NEVER work with friends when it comes to video… favors turn into pay delays, and then turn into NO pay! So from now on, no more FRIENDS!!! Thank me for that advice readers! haha

  2. I would be insulted if someone said, “You’re charging too much. I can do it myself.” There is NO WAY IN HELL I would cut them a break if they came back asking me to fix their CRAP. No way. I cannot believe you pulled two all-nighters for this lady. She claims here mom was a wonderful lady who deserves the best? Then pay for the best! If they walk away, they better deal with the consequences.

    Video is a powerful tool that requires skill if it’s to be effective. People need to respect it.

  3. I simply tell them how many hours the job will take me and divide the amount of money they want to pay me and ask them, would they work for that much an hour.

    I’m always asked to do football highlight films for about $300. They want me to take 16 games on “tape” and produce a highlight DVD. This is about 80 hours minumum of work that they want to pay me $3.75 an hour to do.

    After I finish laughing, I politely tell them no thanks.

  4. I used to be offended an now I have no compunction about telling people to get lost. I, like you, have developed and paid for skills with blood, sweat, tears, time and cash and are a professional. Tough luck if a multi-national electronics company sold them the idea that all you need to be a skilled videographer is a fancy amateur camera.

    Stand firm, and eventually people will start to respect filmmakers for the skills they have, rather than abuse them.

  5. I agree with all of you, if you break down the hours it took to makes something like this, you’re looking at less than minimum wage. I felt responsible to do the woman’s video because of my friend, who profusely apologized for setting me up like that. She said she thought it would help me “break in the business and open doors..” and mentioned something about earning my dues.. when, of course, I paid my dues 30+ years ago when I first started working in TV.

    I’m certainly done doing favors, though. This equipment isn’t cheap… it has to get paid for somehow!

    I remember a conversation I had recently with someone who does funeral videos and he lost one of his best clients, as the funeral director said he anyone can buy a good camera nowadays and do it himself. I wrote to my associate that his reply should have been, “yeah, and anyone can buy a shovel and dig a hole too, so why pay all that money to a burial company?” We all have our special skills and abilities, we should be paid accordingly.

  6. Wow, what a problem. Guess you have to decide if you’re going to produce videos as a business or as a ministry. That will help you decide how to price your projects. If I want to support or help, my price goes way down. I count it as a gift. You’d be surprised at how much “real” work shows up on the tail-end of the “gift”. (made about 32K last year as a side business)
    Having said that, a workman is worthy of his (or her) hire. Always present yourself as a professional first. Make sure your image is top-notch, not Johnny-come-lately. Do you have professionally produced brochures, price lists or business cards? If not, it’s hard for someone to see you as a professional. Respect is earned.

  7. Wow! I touched a nerve, didn’t I?!?!

    But, yes, in the end, you get what you pay for and you’re worth what you charge. Giving it away for free means you’re worth zero dollars, and like jimcvideo stated, when I do it for free, I tend to not deliver as fast as those that I charge for. So I actually had a church that I did a “charity” video for hire someone else a year later for another video that they were willing to pay for because they needed it turned around quickly, and as much as they liked my work, they needed someone fast.

    Also, as eric d and ssake mention, I need better marketing tools. All I do to “market” myself is through word of mouth. I have no demo reel or brochures or even a website. So I guess if I want to be a serious small-business video producer, I have to present myself as such. Saying I have years of experience doesn’t mean squat to anyone outside the business.

    Thank you all, for replying, and offering suggestions and ideas. I’m posting eastalabamamedia’s “Labor Rates” mantra to my home computer to remind me, too!

    btw: I got a call over the weekend from the woman who’s mother died and she wants to hire me to shoot her upcoming wedding. She remembered how compassionate and professional I was during her traumatic time last year and offered me almost twice as much as what I’d charge to photograph her wedding in September. I guess sometimes pay-it-forward really DOES pay off!

  8. That is the most annoying part of the whole video bus.

    People do not understand the time involved with producing a professional product. I had friends visiting recently, The husband was beaming to show me his video he made about his vacation, and his prowess using Imovie. This was a single layer video with one basic title, no animation, transitions etc. Creative apps are not one of them. Never used Photoshop or any Adobe products. He did have one slow mo segment. He thought it was award material. He is an engineer and is techincally competent in many computer areas. Believes that he is technically superior at everything or can figure anything out in short order. To help him learn, I suggested Final Cut’s express version and showed him Digital Juice animations, lower thirds etc. Instead of gratitude, he gave me defensivness and did not read some printed materials I proivided to him. He was looking for accolades. Showed him what could be done with multi-layered video. He was not interested.

    As for business, I recently produced a basic multimedia piece in Flash for a home staging friend of mine. She lined up a happy customer who did nice job on camera with a testimonial which we used for a 5 minute video as part of the overall presentation. The husband of the happy customer is developing a cosmetic product and wanted to know about filming video clips of happy cusomters who have used his product. Aledgedly, he is doing some Flash development and only wants raw footage of testimonials. Apparently he feels he has some knowledge of editing. I am unaware of any editing apps he owns. I quoted $100 to take footage and transfer the AVI’s to disc and give to them. When I quoted my fee there was silence and no acknowledgement. I am not sure if this reaction was doubt or what. It does remind me of Videochic’s expereince.

    If anyone is interested, I will report the evolution of this saga as it unfolds. I predict that he will reluctantly proceed, then will call for help later wanting advice on how to process footage, trim clips, add animations etc. However, the deal is for footage only and I will quote for additional time if they need further help. Time will tell.

    Anyone have similar expereinces? Love to hear how your’s went.



    Camera: Sony FX-1
    Editing: Adobe Production Premium CS-3 suite.
    Plugins and assorted media from Red Giant, Blue FX, Prodad, Digital Juice and others
    Many related accessories

  9. Priceless memories are important to capture, but many people don’t seem to think the videographer has as much value as the still-shooter they hired for the event. Then they come to you later to fix it.

    The very first wedding I shot was for a friend about 20 years ago. this was long before many consumer cameras had very good quality, so I used pro gear borrowed from work and edited it tape-to-tape on our broadcast-level system. I put together a nice, albeit simple piece and presented a VHS dub to the bride as a gift about 2 weeks after the wedding. A week later the mother of the groom, a (former) good friend of mine, voice messaged me that she was bothered that I didn’t get her kids a gift, that I “only” gave them a VHS tape. her comment was: “VHS tapes cost, what, two bucks or something?”

    The time to create art is never appreciated or understood by those outside the artist’s circles.

  10. So many stories….so little time! Everyone’s comments resound in my ears! I’ve been doing memorial videos for funeral homes for a little over 2 years and I’ve run the gamut of clients. The formula I’ve settled on is a flat rate ($125.00) for a certain number of photos and price per photo above that.

    Worst case (REAL) scenario:

    The client says they have 75 photographs and agree on the price (175.00). They drop the photos off to me – all in huge photo albums with sticky notes on the photos they want used. The pages of the albums are not removeable and most of the photos are GLUED IN!!!!! I spent 5 hours just getting the photos out in one piece and scanned – before any editing started! Approximately 9 hours of editing later I get a call that they have music for me. They drop it off on cassette tapes. It’s crazy old music that I can’t find anywhere else – so I begin the conversion from tape to digital – 4 hours of that. All said and done I had a little over 20 hours into the project. They were happy with the final result, though an aunt said I was “taking advantage of their sorrow”. I bit my tongue instead of saying something about the $8.75/hr I made off of them.

    Best Case (REAL) Scenario:

    Client agrees to price for 25 photos ($125.00). All photos are in pristine condition and require no touch-ups. Scanned in 15 minutes, edited in 2 hours. Client is so touched by the final product that they immediately order 50 copies ($10.00/each) for everyone at the memorial service. I walk away with $625.00 for 3 hours work!

    It usually evens out in the end. Through highs and lows, I never can get over the fact that I love what I do and that’s why I do it!

  11. This discussion reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago (I don’t remember to whom it is attributed):

    There was an inventor who believed he had discovered the “perfect mouse trap” (no, it isn’t a mouse trap, it’s a parable 😀 ) that would make him rich. However, he had one problem with creating it that he just couldn’t overcome.

    He had a friend who was an engineer and thought he’d ask her for help. He explained the problem and she told him that the problem was way over her head. However, she knew of two people who might be able to help him solve the problem. The first was her professor from college who MIGHT be able to solve the problem and the other was this high-powered, VERY expensive engineer whom she felt SURE could solve the problem.

    Well, the inventor felt sure that the solution would be pretty simple for an engineer to solve and just didn’t think it was “worthwhile” to spend a bunch of money. So he calls the professor and was told that it would cost him $150/hour for the professor to try to solve the problem. The inventor thought that was a lot of money, but he really wanted to get the problem solved, so he bit the bullet and took it to the professor. He told the professor about the problem and the professor said he’d research it and get back to him. A couple days later the professor called him back and said he’d spent 5 hours on the problem and had not found any promising solutions and was giving up.

    The inventor was very frustrated, but paid the $750 and asked if the professor knew anyone who might be able to solve the problem. The professor replied that one of his former students was now a very highly regarded engineer in town who charged $250/hour and might be able to solve the problem and that there was this high-powered, VERY expensive engineer (the same one as before) whom he felt SURE could solve the problem. After having just spent $750 with this professor, he really didn’t think he could afford the high-powered engineer for such a “simple” problem.

    So the inventor made an appointment with the professor’s student and went through the same process as with the professor. The student took about 10 hours and couldn’t solve the problem. The now VERY frustrated inventor paid the bill and asked who the student thought might be able to solve the problem. The student told him that his boss, who charged $500/hour might be able to solve the problem and that there was this high-powered, VERY expensive engineer whom he felt SURE could solve the problem. After having spent over $3000, he decided on the student’s boss.

    As you can imagine, the boss took about 20 hours to try to solve the problem and couldn’t. When the inventor asked who the boss thought could solve the problem, the boss only had one name. That of the high-powered, VERY expensive engineer. When the inventor asked how much this engineer charged, the boss said he didn’t know, just that he was VERY expensive.

    Well, after having spent so much money on the engineers, the inventor wasn’t about to “waste” more on this highly recommended engineer, so he tried to solve the problem himself. After another year, the inventor had given up all hope of solving the problem himself and reluctantly made an appointment with the recommended engineer.

    The inventor showed up at the appointment on time. However, the engineer was busy with a prior appointment and he had to wait a couple of hours. Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy. Eventually, the engineer showed his previous appointment out and the man was VERY happy as they had found the solution for his problem.

    The engineer showed the inventor into his office and asked what the problem was. The office was large and the walls were covered with bookshelves from ceiling to floor and all were filled. The inventor spent about 30 minutes explaining the invention and the problem he had run across. After he was done, the engineer sat back and closed his eyes. After a while the inventor began to get VERY angry. He thought the engineer had fallen asleep! Just when he was about to begin yelling, the engineer stood up and walked over to a wall. The engineer paused and took a book down and leafed through it. Not happy with what he found, he put it back and walked to another wall. Grabbing a ladder, he climbed to the top of a bookshelf and grabbed a very old, very worn leather bound book and leafed through it until he found what he was looking for. Walking over to the inventory, he handed him the book and there, in that old book, was the solution to the inventor’s problem!

    The inventor was incredulous and ecstatic! He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The engineer made a copy of the relevant pages and the inventor was so excited he left before the engineer could say anything else.

    After that the inventor proceeded to begin production on his invention began making his fortune. About a week later he received an invoice from the engineer for $25,000. The inventor was, once again, incredulous and infuriated that the engineer would charge him so much when he was in there for less than an hour!

    He made another appointment the following week, first thing in the morning so he wouldn’t have to wait. He arrived at the appointment and the engineer promptly showed him into his office. The inventor began to berate the engineer about the invoice and how much money he was being charged and the engineer quietly interrupted him. “Did the solution I showed you not work?” he asked. The inventor, caught by surprise, said it did, but he couldn’t believe the engineer was charging him $25,000 for less than an hour of his time.

    Finally seeing what the problem was, the engineer said, “Ahhh, I see now. You misunderstand. I am not charging your $25,000 for the less than an hour you were in my office, I am charging you $25,000 for the SOLUTION TO YOUR PROBLEM that a lifetime of experience allowed me to know which book on which shelf would have the solution to your problem. I assume I was not the first engineer you hired to solve your problem, so you can see that I provided you with something that no other engineer you found did.”

    Of course, if you are going to charge a premium price, be darned sure you can deliver a premium product! 🙂


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