One day an urgent call came into the office. “I had a camera operator on hold. They just backed out at the last minute! Do you have anyone available? We need someone right now!” This is not an unusual call for us. Actually, we get them often and usually 24 hours or less before a shoot is to begin. Most frequently, the caller is someone who had called us previously and then decided to go online to find a freelance operator for a cheap rate. As a company built by former freelancers and sustained by freelance relationships, we are not here to slam hiring independent contractors. However, we would not be doing our part if we did not educate the general public on the pitfalls of doing so.
How Do You Pre-Qualify a Freelancer?
There was a time when the only visible production resources you could find on the web were established and reputable companies. The reason was simple: The web was a new thing and web design was complicated. In order to have a site of any quality, you had to hire a company specializing in web design. Any customizations, new posts or updates had to be executed by the designer.
Today just about anyone can have a website and a very impressive one at that. It is also just as easy through a website to create the illusion of being a company. Even if the site is promoting an individual, how can you be sure of the skill level of that person? If there is an online portfolio, how can you verify that the work displayed is actually that person’s work? Do your best to get references and make the call to verify each one. Also make sure that the references you get are business references – professional individuals at sizable companies. Ask them if you can see the actual video online somewhere. Hopefully they can send you a link.
Risk #1: The skill level of the operator
For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on one key person in production: The person behind the camera. Even with our experienced eyes, we’re challenged to validate any demo reel sent our way. Much like web design, the professional tools of the film and video trade are also now affordable and accessible to the novice. Someone with even rudimentary editing skills can cut together a pretty nice reel. But how long can they hold a steady shot? Do they have the experience behind them to walk into the most challenging lighting and sound situation and make an educated decision on whether it’s wise to continue or is it better to relocate? And do you really want to find their skill level out on the day of production…in front of your client? There really is no way to validate the person behind the camera until you see them in action, and by then it will be too late.
Risk #2: The equipment to pull it off
On the day of your shoot, your friendly DP/camera operator brings his assortment of goods: Camera, camera accessories, lighting package. All of this is very impressive, and also easily rented with a credit card. Maybe you have an owner/op. Even better. Then your operator discovers an equipment problem. Whether a failure occurs with the camera, lighting or sound equipment, chances are there is no backup equipment available.
Risk #3: Failure to appear (aka failure to appear professional)
It is the day of your production. Your camera operator is a no-show. Or maybe they do show, but they are far from what you expected. The operator, their equipment, or their performance indicate that you will not be getting a return on your investment, so to speak. What do you do now? What kind of legal recourse do you even have? And what kind of legal fees will you incur to even start legal action? You are in the midst of one nightmare, and now you’re walking into another. Was it worth it to save money? Should you find yourself in the situation of a no show, there really isn’t much you can do. Even if you suffer a direct financial loss due to a no show, the cost to fight for compensation will likely cost more than the fee you agreed to pay the operator. If instead the operator shows but is far from what you expected, best that you try to salvage whatever you can out of them while they are there.
Unless you go through a professional company, you really have no guarantee of quality. Further, if you negotiated a low rate, the more you have weakened any fight for legal compensation. Even the law believes that you get what you pay for. You can try to ask for a reduction in the videographer’s pay rate, but at this point you are really at their mercy.
Risk 4#: Quality of service
You did your due diligence. You checked out your operator to the best of your ability. The operator showed up with professional equipment in hand, but now it is after the shoot. You are watching the footage and it is clear this person had little to no experience. Now what? Refer to the bleak final paragraph of Risk #3.
Why hire through a company? We’ll give you 4 reasons:
Assurance#1: The skill level of the operator
Care to know what’s behind every crew member we work with? Visit the Join Our Crew page. No entry-level operators here. And keep in mind that we work with our people personally on countless shoots. If we’re not completely confident in working with them, we’re certainly not sending them out in the field to represent our company. We would not last long as a business if we did.
Assurance #2: The equipment to pull it off
We use nothing but top of the line professional equipment. No prosumer-level gear ever. And all crew come to your shoot location amply prepared for the unexpected. Should a need arise once on location, our operator can give us a call and we will work as quickly as possible to get the gear and be out at your location ASAP. The benefit of going through a company is that whether you hire one person or a team of people, you still get a team approach. One call to our office and we can have someone run a replacement to you.
Assurance #3: No failure to appear
Pending severe inclement weather, we’ll be there. Even on the occasion that severe inclement weather did force the cancellation of a shoot, that cancellation was preceded by a call to our client the day before to inform them of the possibility of inclement weather. Wisely, a mutual decision was reached to cancel. To this day we have never had an operator of ours just not show up. Again, one of the benefits of knowing personally everyone you work with.
Assurance 4#: Quality of service
By now the message should be clear. We are obsessed with quality of service. There is a saying: What you give, you get. It could also be said that in order to work with the best you have to be the best. We take an extreme pride in what we do. We set our expectations high and meet them consistently. No matter your budget, we will never base the quality and caliber of crew on budget. To do so would compromise the integrity of us as a company. CrewAtlanta was built on a desire to work with the best technical talent Atlanta has to offer. We have achieved that goal. Our clients are the best testimonial to it. Visit our Client Kudos page for a sampling.
The cost difference between hiring freelance and hiring through a video company
The funny thing is, we charge you no more than you would pay if you were to hire the same level of videographer directly. And really, this is what you need to consider the most – if you find an freelancer charging less than our rates, you really should think about what you’re really getting for that discount.
There are more perks that we should point out that are often not considered when you make that decision to hire direct:
1. Production Insurance
When you hire through a company, you have a personal representative at that company who now has a personal interest in assuring you are well taken care of. They are more easily available as well to answer your questions. Really what you are getting is a production manager and at no additional cost to you.
2. Production Insurance
You’re getting an equipment rental house without having to go through an equipment rental company, pay an insurance fee, and go through setting up a new account. And we’re checking out the equipment thoroughly before it goes out. Yes, most freelancers would as well test their equipment before they go out in the field but as we said earlier, if the equipment fails, who is picking up and bringing your replacement gear?
3. Backup production staff
If you find suddenly that your needs have changed – you need more people or different gear or more gear, we have you covered. We think we have made our point. Still not convinced? Call us. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.