One of the biggest projects I’ve worked on, both in terms of production expenses and licensing fees, was a shoot that I estimated and produced recently for one of our Midwest photographers. Though he’s mostly known for his phenomenal portrait photography, he was asked by a major ad agency to submit a quote to shoot the print campaign for a newly rejuvenated sports car brand. The agency’s art director called the photographer after she saw an editorial project he had shot. (I love when that happens!) We later found out that not only did the photographer’s style catch their eye, but his magazine shoot actually provided a lot of inspiration for the campaign’s concept. It goes to show that even with big agencies, there are times when the creatives are open to collaborating with photographers on concept development as well as execution.
The process started with the photographer brainstorming with the AD to develop a clear concept, and me discussing the licensing needs with the art buyer. Then the photographer and I agreed on the production elements we’d need to bring together in order to support that concept and the way the photographer wanted to shoot it. Unlike the typical hero shots in the desert, this project was based on gritty, urban images executed in a more documentary style, with real people found on location. The cars would need to look pristine, but the personality of the campaign needed to be “fast and rough around the edges.” Given this approach, we weren’t going to have a standard shot list with comps to work from. Instead, the photographer and I planned to create (along with a location scout) a guide full of hip, young, bustling locations. That, along with a client-provided list of angles to shoot the cars from, became our literal and figurative roadmap for the shoot. The photographer and art director agreed on shooting for three days each in two different cities. The photographer planned to work with minimal lighting equipment for maximum mobility.
The client had an immediate need for 20 images but expected to use additional images in the future. They planned on using them in a variety of ways, primarily web/social media, but also in collateral material and print ads. They asked us to quote on exclusive, worldwide use of any kind, forever. With my head firmly around what we had to do to create the pictures and how they were going to be used, I got to work on the estimate.
When the logistics of a shoot and the licensing of the images are more cut and dried, I tend to lump the creative and licensing fees together. But the more spontaneous approach to this production and the open-ended licensing needs of the client warranted a different approach. It made sense to quote the shoot days and the licensing independently of one another so we could add time or images without renegotiating the contract.
So I created one estimate page detailing the creative fees and production expenses (click to enlarge)…
…and a separate page detailing the fees for usage (again, click to enlarge):
The photographer and I settled on $2,500.00/shoot day for his basic creative fee. But what about the licensing fee? There were some factors to consider. The agency and the client were both pretty big players. The client was going to get a lot of use out of the pictures, and they stood to gain a lot from them, all of which suggested a solid fee. Applying slight downward pressure on the value was the fact that the photographer didn’t have a long track record with automotive advertising, the spontaneous nature of the shoot made the campaign a little risky for the client, and this campaign was only one of several that they were producing for that brand. After consulting my usual pricing guides and agency contacts, I chose to price the first 20 images at $80,000 (effectively $4,000 each), with the option of the next 10 at $3,000 each and the 10 after that at $2,000 each.
This is actually a departure from my usual strategy. I usually value additional pictures somewhere between the prorated fee and the prorated fee plus expenses. In other words, if you were to shoot five pictures for a $5,000 fee and $2,500 in expenses, prorating the fee for additional pictures would be $1,000 each ($5,000/5). Prorating the fee plus expenses would be $1,500 ($7,500/5). I figure that if the photographer is productive enough to generate additional ads from the same shoot, he should get some consideration from the fact that he’s saving the client money they’d otherwise have to spend on expenses for a future shoot. So I might normally value the additional pictures at $1,250.00 each. However, in this situation, the initial selections were most likely to be the ones used in ads, and if they ended up using 20-30 pictures beyond that, those later pictures were going to be more likely to be used for the web and social media. So in order to encourage as much of that as possible, I chose to discount those additional pictures.
The first assistant would be traveling with the photographer and would be responsible for organizing the gear in advance of the shoot and upon return, which amounted to 13 days:
The second assistant would be local to each of the locations and just show up on shoot days (though in retrospect, it would have been nice to have them for the tech/scout days as well). Not knowing how long the shoot days were going to go, I chose to add a line item for assistant overtime to cover myself in that event.
As the producer, I would be attending the shoot. I would be responsible for managing the locations, location scouts, vehicles, talent, lodging, travel arrangements, and of course putting together a production book with all of the maps, routes, locations, travel, comp, and contact info. I figured my time on the project, from start to finish, would take 15 days:
Finding good locations was going to be crucial to the success of this shoot. Our plan was to initially have a scout in each city spend two days taking snapshots at as many locations as possible that might be appropriate. The photographer would review the scouting report with the agency to narrow down a list of locations the photographer would then scout in person the day or two before the shoot. (Not surprisingly, it wasn’t too long into the first day of shooting that we spotted a cool location that wasn’t on our list and deviated from the plan). Two location scouts (one in each city), two days scouting on their own, and one day with the photographer.
We budgeted for three days of precision drivers, which included one day at the track, and one day in each of the two cities. These drivers were necessary to do anything that either pushed the car’s limits or safe operating conditions. If you ask me, I could drive as well as they could, but I didn’t have the same credentials or insurance. After a few recommendations from our local resources and a cursory search on the local film office database to make sure the records (agency speak for recommendations) were experienced, we booked our two drivers.
Our location scouts had experience with permits, location fees, and police/security in their area and helped me with those numbers. We ended up blowing most of this budget on one day when we decided to shoot at a racetrack (they are not cheap, nor easy to rent). Luckily, we didn’t need to spend much for our other locations. The rest of the budget paid for an off-duty cop to close down a roadway when we decided to shoot a little boy peering into one of the cars from the street. Safety first. Our scout had worked with him and was able to line him up the night before.
In keeping with the fast and loose approach of the shoot, and since we were only going to use people as space-filling elements, we decided to use found talent and outfit them with their own clothes. We relied on our local resources to call in friends, family, and colleagues, and we street-cast a handful of others. During the scout day, we’d decide whether or not we wanted people to populate a particular shot and set our local resources loose to call in a crowd. On the shoot day, if we saw a group of kids or good looking couple walking down the street and felt like we could fit them in, we’d ask for 30 minutes of their time. We wanted to keep it real, fun, and casual to help the pictures come off as authentic as possible. We paid most of the models $100.00 each (which we recorded on the model release).
When you shoot this many images, you have to account for a significant amount of time to process the raw images after the shoot (usually between 1/2 and 2 post-processing days per shoot day depending on the complexity of the processing and expectations of the client). I usually quote $1000.00/day for post-processing. In this case, the photographer was doing the processing himself and wanted to charge a higher rate.
“Reasonable” is what I aim for when I’m putting together an estimate. I don’t want to ever give the impression that we’re wasting the client’s money on anything unnecessary. But I also don’t want to risk looking like I haven’t thought of everything. Even though I want the estimated expenses to be lean, I want to include enough fat in them to account for the unexpected, hence the roundness of the numbers.
After a few tweaks here and there, the client approved everything—though the photographer ended up signing the agency’s purchase order instead of them signing our quote, which is not unusual.
We did the shoot, and the client ultimately licensed 40 images.