The Ins and Outs of Hiring a Production Freelancer

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

A version of this post first appeared on Droimedia.com

You need a video done. You need a freelance video producer. The best way to find one is to ask your friends or colleagues if they’ve worked with one before, the good ones are easy to find. Get some details about the freelancers (were the nice, easy to work with, inexpensive, fast, good, etc.). Follow this trail and visit their website or check them out on social media. They should have plenty of work samples readily available. Browse their portfolio, see if you like their work. If you do, find some contact info and reach out.

So what happens next?

If possible, a face-to-face meeting is great, but at least via Skype or Zoom is handy. There’s an x-factor you get when actually speaking to another human being, and it can be a great opportunity to identify the kind of person your freelancer (or client) is. For instance, if they’re a little more laid-back or a bit higher-strung you can usually tell quickly when speaking in person - it’s hard to determine qualities like this via email.

Initially, try to have everyone involved AND let them know that. Have a designer, scientist, executive, photographer, or VP that will eventually want a say in the project? Invite them in early and get their input. As a freelancer we don’t know who’s important to your company, so the more people who need to be involved early on should be. Make sure everyone who has a say in the project has an initial seat at the table so the freelancer, and entire team really, knows who you’re working with.

Identify and assign a point person. As a freelance, one of the worst things, besides tax season, is trying to coordinate with several different people at the same organization, some of whom might not like each other or agree on the project details. Having a point person to communicate and work with the freelancer will expedite all the communication overall and allow both sides to know who to talk to if something needs addressing. This is a position that can take a lot of time and energy, so be sure your point person is organized.

During this initial pre-production phase be ready to communicate, a LOT. There might be multiple meetings, emails, or phone calls. Be prepared, ask questions if you have them, make sure everyone is on the same page, and be sure to follow up with everything - it’s really easy for small things to fall through the cracks. And this tip goes for both sides - as freelancers we have a lot of questions and they all need answering to help us provide our clients with the best possible service, project, and video. You don’t have to know everything right away, but be prepared to get answers when asked.

What sorts of information could be useful:

  • Timeline with deadlines…

    • A detailed one. Not just '“we want this done in Summer 2019” - provide a date, and stick to it. On both sides: give yourselves some wiggle room - if the absolute final deadline is Friday, October 13th, try and get the final version to the client by the beginning of that week. Work backward from there with revisions, and freelancers: be realistic with how much time you’ll need to accomplish everything.

  • Wish lists…

    • Are there specific shots or visuals you might want to see in the video?

    • As the client - understand that not all shots are possible, sometimes your freelancer doesn’t have access to a pterodactyl or an authentic 14th-century pirate chest—yes, literally both of those have been requested on projects before—but the more the freelancer knows about your wants and the project the better he or she will be able to capture the correct footage during the shoot.

    • As the freelancer - understand that your client might not have done video work or worked with a freelancer before, so they might not know what’s possible or reasonable. This entire process is usually a learning experience for both sides, so just approach it with an open mind.

    • B-roll, insert shots, or the non-interview footage, all take time to get, so plan accordingly. Make sure you have enough time to get into and out of a location and still get the shots you need. Clients - you can’t give your freelancers all the time in the world, but understand that good videos take time.

  • List of interviewees

    • If the video is based around testimonials, and lots of videos are, provide a list of the interviewees. Be sure to include their titles, correct names and spellings, and any other relevant info to the freelancer (i.e. “she wrote the book on wildflower cross-pollination tendencies of honey bees, so she’s a big deal in our industry” to "that guy gave us lots of money last year”). We don’t need bank account numbers, but relevant information is helpful.

    • Who is scheduling these? Typically this falls on the point person, but occasionally we’ll take this duty on as freelancers. Be sure whoever is scheduling the interviews knows what to provide. And speaking of:

      • As the freelancer be prepared to provide a brief sentence or two of what to say (some clients have never scheduled on-camera interviews before), how much time you’ll need with each person, location considerations, etc.)

    • What questions do you want to ask the people or what topics do you want them to cover? Don’t feel the need to send the interviewees the questions ahead of time, most of the time we just send them the general topics we’ll be covering. (here’s a full list of our on-camera interview tips and tricks) Something else to consider is that each interviewee doesn’t need the same questions - each person being interviewed is just a small piece of the puzzle, and each should have their own unique questions and answers. A good rule-of-thumb is having approximately 3-7 questions per interviewee.

    • Who is interviewing the interviewees? It’s nice to have the point person there at the very least so they can make sure things are being stated properly, but most of us freelancers are comfortable asking the questions ourselves.

After each of these phone calls or emails, FOLLOW UP. At this point there is probably a lot of information floating around - which is normal - just be sure it’s being documented and agreed upon by both sides. This is likely the time the freelancer will tell you what the video(s) will cost, if you haven’t already provided them with a budget. We typically send over a price quote based on these conversations - we’re able to determine how long we’ll need for everything from filming, to traveling, to editing. Contract documents and any other things that need addressing at this time should happen now as well (occasionally NDAs or certificates of insurance will need to be discussed). Be sure every. single. thing. is outlined at this time before any cameras get turned on.

You like the freelancer, you like their work, the price is right, and you want to move forward. Now it’s time to schedule the shoot! Work with your freelancer to identify the dates and times you’ll need for the shoot. Here are some things to consider while coordinating/scheduling the shoot:

  • Depending on the project you might need a detailed itinerary, or just a time and a place to show up. We prefer detailed itineraries - recently we had a client schedule the entire day in 15min increments, and the project went really well. Other times we’ve just needed to show up for 3 hours at a certain time to film a specific event. Be sure to leave time for meals and/or breaks as needed.

  • Will the freelancer need any special permissions, parking passes, media passes, or secret passwords to do this shoot? If so be sure to provide him or her with them at this time. This is also a good time to create a list of contact names, emails, and numbers so that everyone can keep in touch during the shoot.

  • Does the project take place on multiple days? If so either you or the freelancer will need to coordinate hotel accommodations / AirBNB. Freelancers travel with a lot of gear, so having a place with close parking, that’s close to main roads or even the shoot, or that’s just safe is always nice.

  • Something else to consider is food. Like gremlins, you’ll want to keep your freelancers fed. Salty snacks, water, fruit, and anything else that makes you feel like a soccer mom packing for after-school practice are usually a good bet. Lunches and dinners are occasionally needed while on a shoot as well, and it’s always nice to have a plan. Check in with your freelancer (and their crew) about dietary restrictions or anything else like that.

Whew! What a great project this has been! Wait, there’s more? Now your freelancer will likely be in charge of taking those video clips and turning them into a great finished video. Your work will continue throughout this part of the process as well.

The editing process can be time consuming, but is where the real magic happens in terms of the visual storytelling. A few things the freelancer will likely need (and you can get these to them at any point before editing ever starts too):

  • Names/titles for any interviewees.

  • Logos, brand standards, or anything like that.

  • Verbiage or phrasing for any on-screen text (usually at the end, like “for more information visit our website at www….”)

Check in during this time and make sure things are coming along and that your freelancer doesn’t need anything else. At some point, you’ll get a first draft of the video - bring that big group back together and review it. Take notes and then compile the other your teammates have as well, and send them off to the freelancer to make. A good option here is to be very detailed - for instance “:03-:07 - cut this shot of the truck” or “1:15-2:45 - move David’s interview clip to after Jordan’s at 6:04” - this will expedite the process. Broad strokes stuff can be stated generally, so “overall we’d like less slow-motion shots” for instance.

This revision back-and-forth might happen a few times, but eventually you should have a great final video in your hands to use however you want. Be sure to pay your freelancer in a timely manner, and get a W9 from them sooner rather than later since tax season can be hectic for freelancers.

If you liked working with your freelancer be sure to call them again, and pass their name along to anyone who asks!

[Watch the video version of this post!]

We made a few handy checklists to help out with this entire process too:

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About the Author

Adam Rahn
Adam Rahn is an award-winning producer, director, editor, and videographer with over 15 years of professional video production experience. He has worked all over the United States utilizing a combination of creativity, technical skill, experience, and passion for visual storytelling in every single job he has worked on. His goal is to learn and grow with the industry, and adapting my current video-based skillset to the market as video, social media, mobile, and web converge.

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