A Producer's Lament
Rambles from the Production Side of the Industry
By Rick Johnston
I don't like it at all when I'm sitting in a chair that costs more than my monthly rent, at a table King Arthur couldn't afford, in the cherry-wood paneled corporate conference room, pitching a potential project to a client who makes several times what I do, and I find out they take exception to the fact that I have the audacity to charge for the "broadcast" production services they asked for when they called us. (Whew!!)
My patience wears thin, but I try and keep my cool .....
...after I've been shown the twenty page full color brochure they just finished printing (at a cost of $100,000) that will accompany the video (for which they've budgeted $5,000 including dubs, cases and labels)...
...after I've met the machinist from the factory floor who just bought a brand new consumer XYZ digital camcorder and wants to do the project free so he'll get recognized by his bosses and get a promotion...
...after I've been shown how their CAD-CAM design engineer can make the corporate logo move on his/her computer (at four or five fps) and wants to know how if we can shoot the SVGA screen...
...after my $50/hr hourly rate for pre-pro meetings has been challenged by a $150/hr marketing consultant...
...after I'm told the deadline for the project, including script writing, is next Thursday because the VP is going on vacation and won't be back for a month -- the day the mailers are scheduled for delivery. (In other words, the completed project sits for four weeks.)
In my opinion, there are a lot of factors that contribute to this:--
Corporate America is not living in reality. From the comfort of the cubicle, playing "what if?" on spreadsheets and computerized schedulers is much easier than calling people for legitimate quotes and airline flight schedules. Later, they'll get around to plugging in whatever producer will do it for the dollar amount in cell AQ107 -- and they'll find a flight when they get to the airport. (Okay, maybe I'm a little biased here. But is Dilbert really satirical?)--
The fact is, Uncle Charlie's camcorder IS blurring the lines between quality levels. Ten years ago, there was a distinct difference in format quality, even to the untrained eye. Today, a lot of pros have trouble seeing the difference between consumer digital and Betacam-SP, for example.--
Because of the Uncle Charlies, college students, and event specialists who claim they can produce "broadcast-quality" programs for less than the "big boys", we take the hit. (Please, no flames from the event people! I know you work as hard in your area of expertise as we do in ours. I simply don't like it when I have to lower my numbers to compete with somebody's brother-in-law who does weddings and "always wanted to do a corporate video".)
Try explaining that your client isn't comparing apples to apples, and they'll tell you they can't see the difference between our demo reel and the stuff that's on Memories R Us's. (Show those same two demo reels to a broadcast pro, and Memories' will be a memory!)--
Related to the above: There are whores at every level of business. It's impossible to give someone 80 cents of production value on the dollar (our business is based on 20% profit) when someone else will give a nickel's worth for 35 cents. Competition is getting keen -- and cutthroat.--
Avid. Ten years ago, Avid's ad agency pulled a brilliant coup in marketing their desktop system. Rather than focus on high-end post houses (who would have then laughed them out the door at that time), they targeted corporate marketers and ad agencies. Because virtually every ad agency and corporate art department had a Mac at the time, the prospects liked the familiarity, and the damned thing caught on. Years later, after the Amiga (Toaster) and myriad IBM-based systems hit the market, we saw the same thing happen in video that happened in the print business: Desktop print solutions allowed everyone to be a layout artist. Today, everyone with a computer is instantly a video producer.--
There are a lot of pompous, egotistical jerks in our business who look at clients as if they're staring into the hole in the outhouse bench. And treat them as such. ("My latest job was a national spot shot on 35mm, so I think I can handle your piddly corporate video.") From the client's standpoint: Once bitten by overtime, add-ons, and bad treatment; twice shy. --
Guilty-As-Sin Department: We once did all our post at a company called PCI in Rochester, NY. Three edit suites. Two 24-track audio studios. 7,500 square foot sound stage. Interformat D2, 1", Beta-SP, MII house with multi-channel ADO, Symbolics animation, AVA paint, and Dubner CG. In '93, we purchased three PVW-series decks and a Matrox Studio, figuring that we could shave some of the outsourced editing costs on the lower-end corporate stuff. One day, we had a client come in who wanted to do a network TV spot. We told him the limitations of our system, and he gave us the go-ahead anyway. ("If it doesn't fly with the networks, we'll autoconform the EDL at PCI.") Well, it did fly with the networks. We never went back to PCI. Apparently a number of others did the same thing. PCI went bankrupt in '94.
Today, the prices for desktop post systems are plummeting. Granted, I saw some real garbage at NAB, but I also saw some very impressive systems. I spoke with several people about pricing (hourly rates) for systems they currently own, and heard $50/hr to $175/hr for the same systems and capabilities. Is it any wonder clients are confused?
This was excerpted from a discussion thread on one of the professional video listservs. The impact of some of the new prosumer equipment on the professional industry has been an active topic on many of these.