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After being in the video business for awhile, you learn something:  what not to do. One of the biggest mistakes companies make when hiring a contractor is not knowing what they don't know. What do I mean by that? I mean that 9 times out of 10, the organization hiring a vendor is doing so because they are not experts in that field and/or they do not have a strong connection with someone who is.

So what do you do, kind sir or madam? You learn what is important to know about the industry to make an educated decision! Here are the five key questions to ask your video vendor before you sign any dotted lines.
 

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS?
Or better yet, "What is the video process"? Any vendor you are considering hiring should have a clear-cut method to bidding, workflow and distribution. Contrary to some beliefs, video production is not a nebulous, ambiguous industry where quotes are created by throwing darts at a wall. The process of production, too, is not shrouded in mist.

Your prospective team should be able to clearly dictate how they will bid out your work and demonstrate that this is "industry standard." Following, they need to be able to explain how the project will be completed within budget and on time.

What to Ask:
A great way to test their expertise is to ask for a Capabilities document. Request that it specifies their process, team and bidding information. Further, ask if they have any collateral to validate their product/services.

 

DO YOU OWN OR RENT YOUR EQUIPMENT?
It sounds arbitrary at first but understand the answer will save you money and can drastically increase the quality of your production. Does the answer have to be yes to hire your contractor? Not necessarily. However, there are good reasons why you want it to be.

  • Owning equipment shows a vendors commitment to their industry and the services that they provide. Few individuals will go drop a few thousand (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars into an industry to "gear up" if they aren't serious about the work they're getting involved with.
  • Owning means that they will be the only (or one of the only if they rent out their equipment) users. This means that when they show up on your production day, they'll actually have those pieces. They aren't at the liberty of a rental house that may or may not have that GH4 camera mount that they need and at the price they need it at. And those costs may get passed along to you.
  • Quality control is a big deal. If you're the only crew using your gear, you know how it's set up. Think of a drummer coming to play on another drummer's set. What's the first thing they do when they sit down? Rearrange and readjust. Everything. The same principle works with cameras and their equipment.
  • Savings. And here is where the hiring-organization should really lean in. At the end of the day, part of bidding a project is "equipment rental". This is factored in at the exact rate + profits if the equipment is not owned and at rental rate + nothing if it is owned. What does that mean? It means that a company that owns it's equipment can save you money by choosing to not pass along the full costs and premiums of equipment that is paid off.

What to Ask:
Simple:  just ask to see an equipment sheet. You don't need to know every fancy little detail and sku number but you will want to know if they own or rent their gear.


DO YOU USE EMPLOYEES OR CONTRACTORS?
This swims in the same stream as "owning vs. renting equipment". Is it a must-have? Not necessarily. Is it a "well... you really should have employees..."? Yup.

Now let me be clear about one thing before we dig too far:  the video production industry does work similarly to the construction industry. What do I mean? I mean that not every position will be kept on full-time because not every position is needed full-time. That being said, there are positions you will want your team to fill full-time if you can count on them to be able to turn projects for you and/or be available for you at the drop of a hat. Those positions include the following:

  • Producer (line, executive, head). You don't need all of those, but you do need someone with the responsibility to organize your project, hit deadlines, and be your "point of contact".
  • Post-Production Manager. Why? Because if you're working with a professional production house, it's very likely they have a lot more than one project in the edit suite. Someone needs to be in charge of the editing... and bringing on those extra hands when need be.
  • Director of Photography/Creative Director. The title should be at least one or the other, hopefully both. While this isn't true in every creative house, in video production houses you need someone  carrying out the technical aspects of production on your shooting days. How are the lights set up? What equipment do you bring? That's what this guy answers.

    What to Ask:
    You really don't need a print out of this... just clarify whether or not the potential vendor you're talking to has the aforementioned people in their arsenal. If they are going to be dependent on putting together a work-for-hire crew for all of their key
    positions, there is a fighting chance they're not the vendor for you.
     

DO YOU HAVE INSURANCE AND WHO PROVIDES IT?
Not much explaining needs to go into this. What happens if the camera breaks on set? Or one of the actors/actresses falls over and gets a bad owie? Or something happens to your building, product, people? Insurance should step in but they're going to be very hesitant to if they weren't representing your contractor beforehand. Please make sure your video vendor has insurance coverage before you sign a contract with them.

What to Ask:
If you'd like to see documentation of this that's fine and dandy. However, it is illegal to lie about insurance coverage so generally an ask will get the job done.

 

DO YOU HAVE REFERENCES/REFERALS AND EXAMPLES?
I hesitate to bring this question up because, while it carries merit, it often brings up the wrong follow-up question: "Have you done something identical to my project?" What you're looking for is production level, not production type. While some types of videos (music videos, for example) can be very unique, you want to know if your vendor can capture the production quality and scope you are about to attempt to produce.

What to Ask:
Ask to review projects that are:  working towards a similar goal/desired outcome as yours; are in a similar budget range; are recent.

 

There you have it - the five key questions to ask your next potential, dreamy-eyed video vendor! When looking, don't be hesitant to pry a bit. It's a potential vendor's job to make you feel comfortable, explain their industry and give you some strong reasons to come play in their sandbox.

 

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About the Author
Jake LeVoir is the Director of Sales at Slate and Main. He has built a career on helping organizations grow by developing engaging video campaigns that drive consumer traffic and increase brand awareness.

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