May 4, 2016 at 7:06PM


Did a colorist rip me off?

Hi everyone.
About 2 years ago I was shooting a short film, or better to say, was testing the gear and practicing. Around that time my friend showed me a video which one production company made for his birthday. So when I finished my little film (6 mins) I decided my coloring skills just weren't there for a flat profile picture so I decided to call the production company which handled my friend's bday video.
So I basically asked them just to professionally grade my already edited and ready 6 min film, for which they charged me almost $1,500.
I don't know the prices, but I certainly know, having obtained some experience now, that what they did was basically throw in a rec.709 lut. I didn't even like it back then, but I thought they did some magic I couldn't do.
Now to make it clear, the footage was shot on my friend's RED and it was actually shot in a perfectly lit studio place and outdoor on a sunny day (my friend was working on real TV commercial so I had all these possibilities).
Basically, was I ripped off by the people at the production company?
Although, if anybody knows the prices, what are the price ranges? At what price do I begin getting diminishing returns, a.k.a. after what price the improvement in color grading becomes less visible with the rising price.
And actually, where to find good colorists?

Would love to hear your experiences.


You can search on forums, freelancers and vimeo. Check their showreels and before negotiating a deal, send them for a 45sec sample of your project to do it as a test for free. So you can compare the results.
Another way would be to have your DP (if you have one) do it and if your project gets a distribution deal then you can do a full grade at a professional suite with a colorist.

May 4, 2016 at 7:20PM, Edited May 4, 7:20PM

Stel Kouk

Did you send them raw RED footage or some edited video in a delivery codec?

May 4, 2016 at 8:30PM

Cary Knoop

It was in codec and my friend who owned the camera sent it for me because back then I lacked just basic knowledge of working with such files so I guess it was all properly done.

Mark Miller

May 4, 2016 at 9:46PM

Well there's your problem... It's hard to take advantage coloring red footage without the REDCODE raw version. If you just had him grade a flat prores export no wonder he only put on a rec709 lut. You'd probably blow out the shadows and highlights without editing in redcode...

Clark McCauley

May 5, 2016 at 11:10AM, Edited May 5, 11:10AM

Our local public television station estimates work as costing $2,000 per finished minute, which means shooting, editing, and grading. Going by that, the total budget for a 6 minute piece has an implied "cost" of $12,000. A $1,500 charge represents 12.5%, or one eighth of that cost. In my world, grading is much less of a percentage than that, but that might just be me.

The fact that you didn't like the result is probably far more important than what they charged. Next time, get cost estimates up front. And make it a point to be available to give/approve direction before they've gone too far.

If truly all they did was throw it into a Rec709 LUT, then I would say yes, they did rip you off. In my world, grading is always more than just a LUT.

May 5, 2016 at 7:19AM


It's only a rip-off if you could have done the work yourself. Otherwise they are free to charge any price they like provided you are willing to pay for it.

In my professional career I have charged high rates for something that was easy for me to do because the client simply wanted a workable solution as fast as possible and did not care about the cost. Part of what they were paying for was my 10+ years of experience fixing all kinds of programming/photographic/video problems. ( experts make everything "look" easy )

May 5, 2016 at 11:15AM, Edited May 5, 11:15AM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

Ok. This replay is just fantastic. Something so simple I've avoided seeing until today and charged so low on some stuff I did. Thank you for un-fogging my perception mate!

Herman Delgado

May 6, 2016 at 10:40AM

This advice would hold water if you worked in a vacuum. In reality you have to charge according to the market for your services. If a client is dumb enough to not research market costs, then they might just get charged too much by a greedy vendor like you.

The market costs for what we do has dropped because of DSLR shooters, if you try to keep charging the same you will not get any work.

I think they charged way too much for a short film. Most colorists(without studio credits) will charge about $300-$500 for a full grade of a short. That is in LA. If you gave them a prores file, they just drop it in resolve and it will find all edit points automatically.

Yup you got ripped off IMO, you could have found someone to do it for free that would have done just as good nowadays.


May 7, 2016 at 11:30AM

I would assume you just got charged a half day rate for the work. There is a lot to do if you are getting a project blind - ingest, figure out what all is there, organize it (because I would assume you didn't know how to do that properly), get it set up in their grading suite, apply a LUT, balance everything (because no matter how balanced you thought it was, it probably wasn't), check it all, and finally export and transfer back to your drive.

That being said, they also had a skill/knowledge that you didn't yet, applying LUTs (if that is really the only thing they did...). They can charge what they want if you have no idea what the actual value is. You probably know just enough to think you were ripped off, but not enough to know that you weren't.

May 6, 2016 at 6:00PM

Eric Buist
Producer | Creator

It's a bit expensive for 6min independent no budget film but depending on theirs facilities it's a price that could be normal. Anyway, now it's impossible to tell if it's a rip off. Next time check the price before. More important, BE THERE when they do it ! You are the director, it's your choice that needs to be translate in the grading, how can they know what you want if you're not there, that's the real problem here.

For your other question it's hard to find a good colorist and the price doesn't always reflect the quality of the job. it's difficult to have a table of price as you can negotiate and it depends on the person you hire and the market you are in. I work with a production company that do color grading for tv and feature and the price is about a 1050€ a day in an editing room with a colorist and 1300€ a day in a cinema room with Barco projector and a colorist (the part for the colorist is 400€ a day). So that give you an idea of the price. Also I needed a colorist for a independant film and the guy offered me to do it at his place for 250€ a day. If it was me I would charge 350-400€ a day. So everything is possible.

May 8, 2016 at 3:48AM, Edited May 8, 4:04AM


I think another good point to add to what has already brought up was whether you had a clean timeline and didn't create a ton of extra work for them. I haven't always charged for the headache but more and more I'm preparing people for the possibility of being charged when they hand me a mess of a project and just expect it fixed and dealt with. It should cut down on the amount of time you get for the actual creative work just like anything else would if you were not prepared. Was it a 4K output as well? I charge more for that.

Really impossible to say if you got ripped off without seeing the project and what expectations were set at the time. Also, that's less of a rip off two years ago than today as color grading becomes more available.

May 9, 2016 at 1:28PM

Brendon Rathbone

The biggest point in all this discussion is whether this 6 minute film would be used to bring you more work as a filmmaker, as a "reel" so to speak. If it was of your buddy surfing the waves then you should have gone through Youtube to learn to color and grade. If it was a reel to show your work for future employment then the money was well spent.

May 10, 2016 at 5:10PM

William Scherer
Writer/Director/Producer/Fine Art Aerial Photography

Color is not cheap. $1000 a day for a REAL colorist is a bargin

May 13, 2016 at 6:34AM


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