Why Do You Work For Less Than Minimum Wage In Video Production?


I can't tell you how many jobs I've lost in the initial phone call. 

I haven't even mentioned the price (you should either always do that in the first convo - more on that later), and after what seems like a great conversation, they vanish. 


I ask this question (sort of) in the podcasts. It's the embarrassing pitch moment.

For example, I recently (as in the last few weeks) submitted a video proposal to a big-ish group. They don't have detailed how-to videos, and the ones they do have lack a direct, human presence to guide you.

It was unsolicited, but I put a lot of thought into the proposal. I hand-crafted a solid 90-second demo, found the right person, and sent them the email.

I didn't ask for money. I only asked to see if they were interested in a series of short videos like the custom demo I made for them. 

I spent a good 4 or more hours on that one proposal; I've spent upwards of 12 hours on other kinds of proposals. 

When the would-be client emailed me back, they sent this response (click to expand):


It missed the boat entirely. And I should have followed up with them until one of us died (advice from Uncle G). 

And I know you can relate.

A lot of lazy salesmen will send a lazy email and hope for a bite. It's just as bad as a cold-calling with NO information ahead of time (of which I am guilty of doing in the past, even with Church Films).

When you don't know someone, go out of the way to show them how much you can be of service. 

Didn't Jesus, the ultimate leader, walk the earth with this m.o. in his back pocket? He went out of his way for people. 

(Note: sometimes He went out of the way of people too - it went both ways.)

You need to stop selling yourself short. 

Here are five quick reasons why:

  1. You need to eat.
  2. Your family needs to eat too. Heck, you might want to take them to a movie once a year.
  3. You de-value the playground for everyone else by insisting on doing free work. 
  4. Jon Acuff agrees.
  5. Cheap begets cheap. Why have your client invest in something that will fail? Hook them up with someone that will last years.

Is God bigger than the laws of supply and demand?


I know better than to put my faith in numbers

Does that mean He will step in and stop video production (and related fields) from going belly-up? 

I don't believe He will necessarily step in and salvage any career field because He's the ultimate provider, not 21st-century W2/1099-work.  

Look at Upwork if you don't believe me. Pick any digital service and you will find it for pennies on the dollar through Upwork. 

Look at the semiconductor industry. 

Jobs and entire career fields do not last forever, and without over-spiritualizing the matter, neither will video.

Take a gander at VR/360 video that's coming online. It's a baby right now, but 15, 25 years from now, traditional film will be radically different than what it is now. 

50 years from now, film will be a cute novelty and looked on just like we do silent films now.

In the meantime, while you are still shooting traditional video, you need to be sharp as a tack and on your game. 

Nothing turns a customer away like a lack of assertiveness, especially if you hem and haw around the price.

Note: don't ever give a client an hourly rate (with anything in life, not just video). They will default to "no."

1. Price Your Pre-Production.

Write down your list of everything you need to do in the pre-production phase with your client. 

Ready for this? 

What do you have? 

You - the student of film (I'm one too) - probably came up with a list like this one:

  • Scripting
  • Location scouting
  • Storyboarding
  • Casting

Is that fair? 

What about insurance costs for any gear rentals?

Or the gas you'll spend location scouting and meeting with your client?

Or how about the time you'll spend emailing and calling your client to make sure this project is going to work?

Or the piles and piles of hours just trying to get in front of a big client and then following up with them. And following up some more. It's okay - it's natural, and you should approach this facet like a servant, but it takes time; do you account for it? 

Because there are truly three phases to making a video, you need to be able to ask for a deposit at each of the three intervals - OR - you can ask for half up front and the other half at the end. Or help them with financing so you can get paid in one fell swoop (*ahem* Paypal's no money down, no payments for 6 months). 

The reality is with payment processors like Square, Stripe, or Paypal, you're going to absorb some transaction fees (typically , so you might want to give serious thought to asking for half up front and half later. 

Here they are:

  • Stripe: 30 cents plus 2.9% of the amount 
  • Paypal: 30 cents plus 2.9% of the amount 

And Square is all kinds of crazy:

But don't do that processing fee nonsense in the first conversation. You WILL scare them away. In fact, don't bring it up at all. If your client pays with anything other than a virtual currency, cash, or check, you can expect comparable industry fees, so budget them in. 

Speaking of budgeting, plan your closing ratio. This takes time, and it's dependent on a myriad of factors, including your skills as a saleperson. So be proactive: account for time prospecting, account for time following up prospects, and account for time converting prospects into clients. I recommend a simple, free CRM that integrates right inside of your gmail to do this called Streak.

By budgeting time spent with your clients (each prospect needs 5 to 12 points of contact for the majority of deals), you can make up the difference because you're going to have people that jump ship after the first conversation. Like Mr. Sinatra said, "that's life." 

2. Price Your Production.

Think about your crew. A good sound guy can cost up to $1,000/day (12-hour shoot). A solid DP can run more. 

And how many locations you need for this shoot - can you really do multiple setups across 4 locations in a day? Not if you're directing everyone of them.

Are you a part of an incorporated business? If so, do you have a tool besides the old-fashioned pen and paper to log your mileage?

Do you even know what the new mileage rate is for 2016? 


It's down from 2015. 2017 is unknown as of right now.

Do you really want to add up all of these over the phone, even if you know the locations? 


Of course not. Your client certainly doesn't want to wait around for you to multiply 54 cents by 9.7 and 8.2.

Get an average going. Understand that most shoots are going to be within a set radius of your HQ.

For me, most shoots are going to be within a 13-mile radius. Is that always true? Of course not. It's a good average though because of where I am at in Las Vegas.

What about your actors? Do you know what rate you'll be paying them for a short film? In Vegas, $12.5/hour is standard for an extra. 

Steer clear of SAG contracts until you have a team and some critical mass. You need a seasoned pro to navigate those. 

SAG-eligible is okay though - I've worked with those before. 

This story was circulated in one of the Christian film groups on Facebook by Donald James Parker: 

Do you have a similar story?

If not, don't let it be you.

I realize 99% of us will be shooting short videos. But every now and again, you get that itch and you go shoot a microbudget feature. 

It happens.

3. Price Your Post-Production.

We can break this part down into a few areas.

  1. Editing
  2. Visual fx
  3. Voiceover
  4. Sound mixing
  5. DVD/Blu-Ray authoring
  6. Support

Do you know how much you're charging for editing? For that matter, are you lickety-split fast? 

You owe it to yourself and your client to complete a job as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. 

I.e. work without distractions. 


If you're a chrome user, install this free plugin Strict Workflow. Or use the virtual Tomato Timer to get the same schedule, only without the blockers.

My productivity has doubled or tripled in the last month. I kid you not. And you can too with the Pomodoro Technique - here's a detailed guide.

If you're laser-focused on your editing, then you can quote a fair and equitable price for your work. 

Honestly, editing and the other items are easy. You can see those jobs with clarity. 

But are you taking into account the time you will spend emailing, on the phone, or on Skype to smooth over the final product?

This is the support I listed above. 

Your time is limited to 24 hours in a day, same as Elon Musk's. 

If you're authoring a DVD, are you taking into account the time it takes to ship it? Shipping costs? The wear and tear it places on your burner to create two copies? 

It's 2016, nearly 2017, and DVDs are still hanging around (thanks Redbox), but they too will fade away. 

What about finding music? Do you have the funds in place if it's a crowdfunding video?

What if it's a corporate video for a company with 200 employees and they're sinking advertising costs into promoting their video?

Do you know how much your music bed track will cost?

Put up your right hand. 

If you don't price your service right, you will never be the next Christopher Nolan.

I mean it.

Learning how to negotiate allows you to work with larger teams and larger budgets to carry out larger visions. I myself am still learning how to negotiate. Thankfully, I found a virtual mentor in this area through Grant Cardone, and his program quadrupled my company's revenue in 2016 from 2015, and it afforded me the skills and confidence to land and work on 5-figure productions. If you want to invest in yourself and grow as a filmmaker, let me know, and I'll get you two connected.

Whether that's filmmaking or planting churches or starting a Fortune 500 company, you have to be able to count the beans and count enough of them to put bread on the table for you and your folks. 

Oh, I just want to make videos for church

That's fine. Look at what the guys at Elevation are able to do. They are impacting the world by bringing excellence to faith-based videos in a way that scarcely anyone else is - so don't settle or limit yourself.

James Cameron put it this way: 

Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you're a director. Everything after that you're just negotiating your budget and your fee.

We are called to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

If you have a family, you have to provide for them. 

You can provide a service for someone while still putting food on the table.

To help you out, I'm putting together a super epic, detailed tool for just this thing - pricing yourself the right way.

You'll only need to put in a few basic pieces of information, most of which you can ask the prospect in the first conversation. 

In a handful of questions, you can have a quote right then and there for them instead of dumbly guessing and getting what amounts to $4.11 per hour in the long run. 

I'm going to link you to a simplified version that's floating around on the web; it's not mine, and it doesn't cover every base, but it will get you started.

This tool is up and running and it will do all of the crunching for you that also covers:

  • what to charge for your time in searching for music
  • costs of music if licensed through the music bed, no matter what kind of video you're shooting (corporate, crowdfunding, church, etc.)
  • the time you spend color-correcting/grading
  • the time spent backing up footage to the cloud
  • location scouting
  • food
  • voiceover
  • visual fx: basic & advanced (e.g. rotoscoping)
  • facebook ads
  • travel costs/mileage
  • travel worksheet for flights, per diem, hotels, etc.
  • time spent prospecting
  • time spent selling
  • time spent closing

and lots more.

You'll simply add in your hourly wage, answer a handful of questions about your client, and then pull the lever and watch the 7's line up.

Hey, this is Vegas baby. 

To get in on all the goodness and make 2017 your best year yet, GET THE HOOKUP HERE.


Coming Attraction

I know how discouraging it can be to create a video, a blog post, or other content only to have the crickets sing its praises. 

You have to ask for help with promoting it. I'm sure Ghandi did. Mandela? Yep. Princess Diana? Yar. Jesus said it too: ASK.

Next post, I'll talk about how you can approach strangers and ask them for help with sharing your content. Shucks, I do it with this shindig.

After all, if we want to share the message of hope we have in Jesus, we have to ask for help. That starts with the Almighty, then other people; don't be an island Captain Sparrow.



Originally published 2.16.16. Edited 12.10.16.


Las Vegas

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.