I’ll Do The Work, You Buy The Tools. Wrong.

There’s a trend I’ve seen developing, at least I see it here in Atlanta, whereby video editors will agree to take on a project, but ask the client to pay for the tools.   I don’t mean going to work for someone else in their shop, I mean as an independent freelance editor, they will ask the client to pay for the tools because they don’t have a system big enough to do the work.  And the clients do it!   As in the client purchases the system, the editor edits on it, and when the project is done, the client has a video editing system they’ll never use again.     When in the heck did this become acceptable? 

Picture this scenario.  You’re ready to build a house.  You pick out the contractor and the first thing he says is, “Ok, here’s a list of tools you’re gonna need to buy at the hardware store and here’s another list of things you’re gonna need to rent for me to be able to do this.  I’m happy to do the work, but my little toolbox isn’t enough to build this house.”   

Yet there are editors who will say, “I’ll edit your show / documentary / feature but my little editing system can’t handle it.  You buy the system and I’ll edit on it.”  And the client does it.   With money that could have been spent on other things or simply saved and not spent at all.

Building a proper system to take on a job is the cost of doing business.  You want to take on larger projects, you need to set up a system.  You work the cost of a system into a job or a series of jobs.   I didn’t build a 96TB NAS with 10Gig E connectivity to 20 computers overnight.   That has slowly been built over time with incremental investments so right now, we have no problem taking on multiple features and episodic television at the same time.   Nor would we ever ask a client to purchase extra hardware just so we can work on their project.

Editors, if you need additional hardware to complete projects you want to do, then it’s your responsibility to purchase it.  If you can’t afford it, pass on the job.  Clients, if a contractor asks you to purchase the tools to do a job, move on, there are plenty of smart creative businessmen and women who are willing to invest in proper system setups to take on your projects.

Now before you freelance editors jump all over me and say “well it’s easy for you to say you’ve got a big facility and all this awesome equipment….”  I started my company in the bedroom of my house in 2001 with a $30,000 loan to outfit a spare bedroom with everything I needed to work with anticipated clients.  I was also $50,000 in the hole from a failed previous business partnership.  So I started this company $80,000 in the hole for a standard definition Final Cut Pro system with a whooping 240GB of RAID storage.   I’ve never asked a client to purchase anything just so I can take on a job, if it needs to be purchased, that’s my responsibility.

 

4 replies
  1. Dylan Reeve says:

    To me it all depends on how it’s phrased and manged really.

    If a client comes to you with a job that requires an expansion of your system that is difficult for you to make then I think it’s reasonable to have a discussion on the matter, something like: “I’m happy to do the job for you, but I need to invest in some hardware specifically for your project. Could we negotiate a 10% deposit to on the job?”

    Something like that.

    Certainly actually asking a client to pay costs specifically isn’t reasonable and also, I’d imagine, could create headaches about ownership later – especially if the relationship sours at any stage.

    Reply
    • Walter Biscardi says:

      In the cases I’m talking about, the client purchases the equipment. They own it lock stock and barrel. The editor simply works on it and then walks away at the end of the project. There’s money company wasted on the project that could have gone to something else.

      Reply
  2. Phillip Allen says:

    There has been a bad trend from young emerging editors not charging the right amount per hour or per day, etc. for their work. I used to bill my post work (prior to HD) at $150 per hour. In my head I split it this way: $50 per hour for the editor, $50 per hour for the equipment and $50 per hour for my company. That allowed me to sustain a 1600 square foot office for six years. Then, some time after 9/11 every Tom, Dick and Jane started charging only $50 per hour for everything. They add the equipment costs and they were probably working from a desk space in their house.

    Admittedly not the big post houses would operate this way, but they serve a different client base than I. Either way, it seemed like I was the idiot. The $50 home-based workers were getting the jobs. I closed my office and became one of them. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

    With some clients, I do charge back their hard drives as an expendable expense. I keep their drives unless they want them. When they come next time, I may not need to charge them because there is likely room on the drives for multiple projects.

    I lease my computer equipment for two years and switch out at the end of the two years so I always have current powerful equipment no matter what the request. I don’t currently charge for equipment or company other than the simple $50 fee per hour. I’ve charged less to non-profits, a large part of my income.

    Reply
    • Walter Biscardi says:

      With some clients, I do charge back their hard drives as an expendable expense. I keep their drives unless they want them. When they come next time, I may not need to charge them because there is likely room on the drives for multiple projects.

      That’s something completely different. Asking the client to pay for hard drives to save their raw data is something we do too. At the completion of the project we give the client the option to supply hard drives for archive and backup or we’ll purchase them and charge them back. That’s wholly different than having a client supply you with a complete editing system so you can do the work.

      A lot of the current crop of editors seem to be entering the market at $30/hour or less which does drop the financial expectations when going to a more professional editor with more experience.

      Reply

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