May 13, 2015 at 5:22PM, Edited May 13, 5:31PM


16yrs Old - Hired for First Freelance Job | Short Documentary - Tips, Insight?

Hello all,

I was recently presented with an incredible opportunity to create a short documentary. This will be my first ever freelance paid project and I'm a little nervous and overwhelmed as I'm not sure what to expect.

I suppose my real question is, what's a good place to start?

I've begun creating an outline of what I'd like to cover for the short in terms of my client's life. I intend to create a schedule for production and shooting. Observing days where I speak with the client and talk with them and learn what they expect from the final product, note-taking days, interview days, and b-roll days.

I'm also curious how much one might charge for work on this short. I don't intend to ask a lot at all, seeing as it's my first project. Would it be based on time spent shooting in addition to post work? Grading, sound, editing, etc.? Would equipment rentals be acceptable to add to the price?

I look to you all for your experience and expertise, thank you in advance for any suggestions you may have. I can't wait to get working!


First of all: congratulations on getting hired! Sure, the first job is always scary (frankly, I consider every single one of them to be a bit scary), but it'll (hopefully) also be a lot of fun and very insightful.

For as far as I can see, you're totally on the right track! The outline is very important, as you'll have to properly communicate your vision with the client before you start shooting. The schedule is a good idea as well: make sure your client and you know when you'll be working for them and what you're going to do on any particular day. Be flexible, though, as the client (who I believe the documentary will be about) does have a life of his/her own. You don't want to be a big pain in the ... during production.

At the same time, make sure you stay on schedule and if you run into any problems, communicate them clearly and ALWAYS have a solution ready. For instance, on one of my shoots, something went wrong with the audio recording and I didn't notice for weeks. When I told my clients that some of the early footage was practically useless, I did immediately propose to change the project ever so slightly, so we wouldn't need to use the audio of those clips. Sure, the client didn't like the message, but because I was able to say "but we could do this...", they weren't pissed off at me either.

As to how much you should charge: that's a tough one, but do make sure you turn a small profit. You (probably?) don't have to make a living off of it yet, so don't go too crazy either. I do charge based on the amount of time I spent working on something, not on the type of project it is. If I work on something for 20 hours, I'll charge 20 hours (just an example).

If you have to rent equipment, always add that to the price. Those are costs and the client has to pay them, simple as that. Also, try to get insurance on that equipment, because if you drop it, you break a couple of thousand bucks worth of equipment and you don't want to have to deal with that mess (in Europe, oftentimes the rental house will take care of insurance, don't know how that works in the rest of the world). Stay reasonable with rentals, though. If you can shoot it on a 5D, don't rent an FS7. Do make it look professional, though, because this project will be the only piece in your portfolio for now.

So, you're doing great! If you keep planning ahead, keep communicating with your clients in a way that they understand (not everyone's very tech-savvy) and stick to your deadlines and budget, you'll be fine.

Good luck and have fun!

May 16, 2015 at 12:51PM

Thijmen de Valk
Freelance filmmaker

Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response! You advice is very helpful.

I've done quite a few personal independent projects, so I have the majority of the equipment needed. I'll definitely be going light so I'm not overwhelmed by the technical side of things and can keep my vision and the client's vision in mind. That being said, I'll likely shoot with a BMPCC and potentially rent some higher end lenses and audio equipment if I can squeeze it in the budget.

Thanks again!

May 19, 2015 at 4:44PM

Ethan Proia
Cinematographer | Freelance Filmmaker

It's good to gain some background knowledge before writing questions for interviewing your subject in a documentary. I would encourage you to glean as much of that as possible from other sources; people are often much worse in interviews when they are repeating information they've already told you in response to more or less the same question. It becomes rehearsed instead of spontaneous. Spontaneity is rarely as smooth, but it feels more authentic and you should be able to edit around the stammering by cutting to another angle, or to b-roll. Shoot plenty of b-roll, and then when you have enough shoot some more.

Typically I would base the amount you charge on the basis of how much time it's going to take you (a rough estimate), how much you think you should be paid per hour, and extrapolate from there. It makes sense to include the additional cost of any major new expenses you're going to incur, like renting equipment.

When you're starting out, you do have to gauge somewhat off of (1) how much the client realistically will be okay with paying and (2) what you're willing to do this amount of work for. Once you have more of a reputation and portfolio of work it's obviously safer to start commanding higher rates.

May 18, 2015 at 12:46PM

Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer

Thank you! Great point about the interviews - hadn't considered that. I'll be sure to figure out what my client is comfortable with and charge a reasonable amount.

May 19, 2015 at 4:46PM

You voted '-1'.
Ethan Proia
Cinematographer | Freelance Filmmaker

I think I am captain obvious but: Start with interviews for the Guidance of Story and Construction.
I don't know how you did your indie projects but this was the biggest mistake I made starting for smaller docs.

November 10, 2015 at 8:47AM

Lorenz Schuster

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