Everything you ever wanted to know about booking a video crew

Everything you ever wanted to know about booking a video crew
Patrick Bryant, Operations Manager • Go To Team

A common practice throughout the television, corporate, and video production industries is booking freelance video camera crews or videographers. Producers, production companies, and news bureaus rely on video crews to capture footage that either is too far away to be captured by a staff crew. Or, they sub-contract out entire shoots to the expertise of other DP’s (directors of photography).
In the case of those that own staff photographers and equipment, they realize a very important budget reduction by using freelance video crews… No Travel expense. Many times the travel cost alone can cost as much as hiring a local crew. For example, a staff crew from Atlanta, GA that needs to shoot for eight hours on location in Jacksonville, North Carolina would spend $800 in flights, $200 rental car, $100 meals, $200 hotel, and at least two full days for labor. A local crew in Wilmington, NC could have traveled roundtrip to Jacksonville, NC in 3 Hours and only cost $1450 total. Assuming, the crew provided the same level of quality, the client would have a significant cost savings. If the client doesn’t own staff crews they can expend significantly more costs traveling a sub-contract video crew, than if they hire a team located close to the actual shoot location. Many feature films rely on this same mentality by traveling their key talent into a location where the local crew base can support the majority of the positions.
On the other hand many freelance video crews are staffed by some of the best camera operators or DP’s in the US. These DP’s are specifically sought after to produce glorious video for multiple clients in the same month. They may work for National Geographic one week and then NBC Dateline the next. In this case, the client is so concerned with the quality level that they are willing to pay for the associated travel expense with moving the video crew from their base in Charlotte, NC to Birmingham, AL.
Once an organization has made the decision to hire a video crew many questions still remain.

What you need to know when booking a crew:
Where do you need video shot?
How high is the quality of your video?
What format will the crew use?
What crew members are needed?
What gear do you need?
Are you booking the crew “local” or “portal to portal”?
What other travel expenses are involved?
When are you booking your crew?
How long is your assignment?
Will the crew handle transportation?
What information does the crew need?

How much will you pay for video crews?

Throughout the US there are many freelance video crews. So, before selecting which one to use, the client should narrow down the list based on geographic location of where the video needs to be shot. Based on the quality you may opt to use a crew based a few hours away or to use a crew that is completely local to your location. Format also reduces your options for local crew. Many smaller markets do not have camera crews with high definition gear, or directors of photography experienced with operating it.

The first issue to be tackled is the quality of the video to be captured. If you need b-roll of a building in the daylight with no audio to air on your local cable access station, video crews are not the best idea. The cost would far out way the use of the footage, calling a local television station’s news department will save you a lot of money. However, if you are creating a marketing video for a major corporation and you need an interview of the CEO, it will be worthwhile to hire a professional camera operator to ensure good lighting, frame technique, and perhaps hiring a professional audio operator, grip or make-up artist. These individuals will be worth their weight in gold.
In seeking out the video crew that best suits your needs you should interview the camera operator and ask about past assignments that he has completed that are similar to yours. In addition, you may want to ask for a resume (they typically include past assignments, specialty skills, awards and education). In most cases, the camera operator will have a video reel to provide samples of work. If they don’t, you may want to be apprehensive of their quality.

There are so many varying formats in the video crew market it is sometimes difficult to know which ones to prefer. In addition, many freelance video crews have a hard time deciding what they should offer. Clients request all of these formats on a regular basis:
HD – High Definition – The highest quality video format available today. Cameras are still very expensive. This format is perfect for very high end video footage. It is being adopted for many uses in feature film work, as well as, major network programming.
Digi-Beta – Digital Betacam – High quality digital format that has been adopted by many production companies and rental houses.
Beta SP – BetaCam SP (Not BetaMax, a lower end failed format of the 80s) – This was the industry standard for many news organizations, production houses, and high-end video producers throughout the 90s . While it is a high end format it isn’t digital and is slowly being phased out.
DVCam – Medium quality digital format used by most Sony products that is widely accepted.
DVCPro – Medium quality digital format used by most Panasonic products that is widely accepted. It is becoming the standard for local news rooms.
DV or MiniDV – Medium quality digital formats used by tons of products, including those by Sony and Panasonic. MiniDV is the format of choice for lower end camcorders on the consumer market.
Before selecting a crew it is crucial to ensure they can shoot on the format that you need. Many times video crews own one or two formats and then rent any additional formats.

Crew Members
Every video shoot requires different staff on location. Many times it may be just producer and camera operator. Other shoots may include make-up artists, production assistants, grips, gaffers, electricians and other staff. Video Crews normally come in either one man band or two man crew. The one man band is best for smaller shoots shooting primarily b-roll. In this instance the camera operator is responsible for his camera gear as well as audio. The two man crew typically is referring to camera operator with a sound person. Many freelance sound operators are talented in other areas, such as lighting, that will help round out the crew.

Every video crew will come with similar equipment (camera, tripod, monitor, lighting, audio, vehicle, light grip gear). Many times the audio items will be more robust if the video crew is two man vs. the one man band. In addition, many video crews travel with additional gear that is billed only if used on location. These extra items include wide angle lens, HMI lighting fixtures, and additional decks
Many producers make specific requests for other gear including:
Video Wireless Transmitter – allows the producer to view what the camera man is shooting on a handheld monitor.
Time Code Encoder – allows the audio operator to record an audio cassette version of interviews with time code that can be sent to transcription services.

Local vs. Portal to Portal
You can book a video crew “local” to your location or “Portal to Portal”. Booking a crew as “local” means the crew is responsible for any mileage, meals, and travel time to and from the first location. Therefore you do not need to pay for these expenses. “Portal to Portal” means the crew is billing you travel time, miles, and other travel costs from their office to location and back. Many times crews from one market will offer to work in a nearby market for free. This practice is referred to as “playing local”. A crew in Charleston, SC may play local Myrtle Beach (2 hours away), as well. Perhaps they have family in Myrtle Beach or don’t mind the drive, or simply want to increase their range of clientele. At any rate, they are offering you the opportunity to save money. You only pay this crew travel related expenses from the first location in Myrtle Beach, not from Charleston, SC. Many crews “play local” in multiple markets, but rarely will they play local in a market that doesn’t have other video resources. In other words, don’t expect a Charlotte, NC crew to “play local” Monroe, NC (a small town outside of Charlotte, NC).

Travel Expenses / Per Diem
Most crews require travel expenses and/or a per diem for any work more than 50 miles away form their home base. These expenses may include hotel room, mileage, and meals. It is a common practice to offer crew members a per diem instead of paying for meals. In this case you pay crew members $35-$50 per day for meals.

Many crews book shoots days, weeks or months early. It is always a good idea to communicate with a video crew as soon as possible to give them a heads up of your intended dates. Many times crews will accept a “standby shoot”. Standby is similar to “Right Of First Refusal” or ROFR. This practice allows producers and clients to ensure crew availability without limiting the crew from taking future assignments. Once a crew is placed on standby they are responsible for communicating with the client before accepting another assignment for the same day. Many times when you call a crew and ask their availability for a specific date they may say, “I’m already on standby for that day”. That means if you are offering them a “firm” shoot then they will call the other client and either firm-up that shoot or be released to take your assignment. This is a very common practice. It is beneficial to both client and crew.

Work Day
Most video crews offer full-day rates and half-day rates. Make sure to specify with the crew whether the full-day is 8 hour or 10 hour. This will certainly make a big difference in cost if overtime is involved! If you book a crew at a half-day rate for 5 hours and you roll over into 6, you are automatically billed the full day rate. Full days typically start at first crew call of the assignment and end when the assignment is wrapped, even if small breaks or lunch were taken in between. Overtime is defined as any hour of work performed after the end of a full day. Overtime is typically billed as time and a half for labor, but no extra charge for gear. Many crews will offer discounts on travel and other items in exchange for multiple full-days of work.

All video crews are responsible for the transportation of their gear and crew. However, there may be additional charges for mileage. While many larger crew vehicles (like Ford Excursion or Chevy Suburban) have room for other crew like a traveling producer or reporter, don’t assume they will have room. Always ask the crew if they have room for additional passengers, luggage, or equipment prior to arriving on location.

Information to Crew
It is very important to relay as much information to your video crew before the shoot date arrives. Most established crews will ask for these details, but here is a brief list of what to provide:
crew call time
first interview time, event starts, or air time
estimated wrap time
location contact information
other crew members’ name and contact information
Directions, parking, and loading instructions
recommended attire
amount and format of tapes
shooting indoors or outdoors
special equipment needs
complete nature & purpose of shoot
end use of footage
billing information

Certainly video crew rates vary based on region, market size, gear included, and experience. A common rate for a two man video crew with Beta SP video gear in an average size market is $1400-$1500. Normally crews charge more than half for working a half-day, assuming that they will not be able to pick-up the other half of the day for another client. A common rate for a two man video crew with Beta SP video gear in an average size market is $1000-$1100. To save on cost, based on your quality and specific needs, you may opt to use a one man band crew. A one man band full day rate with Camera Operator and Beta SP video gear should run around $1000-$1200. Certainly be prepared to have your cost vary based on all the other variables mentioned above.

This article was written by Patrick Bryant, Operations Manager, for Go To Team. Go To Team is a leading provider of video production resources throughout the southeast including video camera crews. See their home page for more information.

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