What’s Standard and What’s Not


We looked into what you should expect when drawing up a freelance contract between you and your clients. Here’s what we found.

Starting a creative business is exciting, as being creative ranks as one of life’s joyful states. But, as a videographer, you owe it to yourself to grow tough skin when it comes to laying out how you get reimbursed for your work.

Common questions include: What kind of freelance contract do you need? Do you need a contract at all? Do you wait for your clients to draw up a contract? Can you change it once it’s been written?

We’ll answer these questions and more—let’s get to it!

Dancers to Videographers

Videographer filming teenagers walking through a forest
Kamal Macdonald on a shoot. Image courtesy of Kamal Macdonald.

Kamal Macdonald trained at the internationally renowned Northern School of Dance in Leeds, UK, before becoming a full-time videographer.

Gen Reeves was also a contemporary dancer working with Scottish Dance Theatre, but always harboring her love of photography and videography. She is still a dancer but also a digital artist and destined to be a director. We hear from both about their experience with contracts.

Starting Out Strong

It was lockdown that focused Kamal’s mind on becoming a fully-fledged videographer.

I’d always been interested in shooting—being a dancer myself and being around excellent performers gave me an obvious place to start.

– Kamal Macdonald

Kamal now specializes in shooting videos for the modern dance world and working on his narrative projects.

Gen had been working with Scottish Dance Theatre when opportunities to capture their dance programs arose again due to Covid restrictions on using outside companies. As a freelancer, she looked to them for business advice for her budding new career.

They already had a lot of systems in place to do with hiring freelancers, so they were able to give me vital advice on things like contracts and invoicing. If I didn’t invoice, they were quick to pick me up on that.

– Gen Reeves

Video conference between two businessmen
As a budding videographer, knowing your way around your freelance contract is a must. Image via fizkes.

Gen also took some advice from a local production company, Bonnie Brae Productions:

They gave some incredible advice including rates I should be charging, also how much breakdown you give to people against just giving them a fixed fee.

– Gen Reeves

Kamal’s experience of contracting his work echoes others:

When it came to formulating a contract, I did most of the work myself. There are a lot of verbal agreements, so not much is written down. I’ve had quite a lot of experiences of jobs falling through purely down to it not being contractual.

– Kamal Macdonald

Kamal’s work for YDT Studios.

Gen was sensitive that working in such a creative space needed a certain amount of compassion to understand what clients wanted.

In a highly creative world like contemporary dance, there’s a fear that talk of contracts amidst taking a brief for the work can somehow diminish the progress of the creativity. Kamal found that to be the case significantly when contracts were firmed up at the start.

The times when I didn’t have a contract were mostly the ones where there was a lot of back and forth. I found that the client would change the emphasis of what they wanted from the initial pitch. It can get confusing in those situations. Yet, if you had initial talks written down, then there’s a timeline you can point to.

You need that so that people trust you and want to continue to work with you. There’s also a fear that new people in the industry can be more open to being taken advantage of, so you have to guard against that, too.

– Kamal Macdonald

What to Include in a Freelance Contract

What’s essential to include in a contract is mainly timescale and expectation. The free-flow of ideas around the brief is to be encouraged but tempered with the need to detail. Your contract allows you to realize a project, not to diminish it by talking “business.”

Kamal’s experience, however, is that a contract takes away any possibility of ambiguity at a pivotal point of negotiation. This is your chance to crystallize the basis of the project.

You have to meet their expectation of what’s achievable, as well as listing out what services are to be provided and at what timescale.

But, you don’t need to be too specific because that might imply a singular route to completing the project. You might get pushback from that.

– Kamal Macdonald

Black and white photos of a man jumping into the air then falling down
Part of Gen Reeves’ Freefall Series, which she’s developing. Image courtesy of Gen Reeves.

Gen owns her equipment, so she doesn’t detail it on her freelance contract agreements. But, she advises that if you’re renting your gear, it’s imperative to pass that cost on.

My camera broke a couple of months ago, and I had to rent one for four days. The cost was around £600, which could have been my margin on the job. Also, remember that when people see the kind of equipment you have, they might want to use you for how good it is, as well as how good you are.

– Gen Reeves

Traditionally, a videographer will also offer a post-production service in addition to shooting. Anyone who has downloaded and transcoded gigabytes of footage knows that these hours of labor can be overlooked as far as contractual obligations are concerned.

Woman videographer shooting a scene
Post-productions services should be considered in the overall cost of the project. Image via guruXOX.

There’s no hard and fast rules here as some people come with pre-filmed content, which can be a nightmare. I preferably like to work on a shoot and edit basis because I have more control of it.

– Kamal Macdonald

Gen’s contracts experience is the inverse of Kamal’s, as her clients usually send her a contract.

Initially, I’ll get an email asking about my availability with a brief description of the project. A second email will have some references with a bit more flesh on the bone about what it is stylistically that they’re looking for, how many days they want me for, deadlines, that kind of thing. Usually, these are also filled with unrealistic expectations.

Gen would then go on to a meeting to talk through everything, pinning things down.

I might also suggest having me present for longer than first thought, as I hate the feeling of leaving and thinking that you may have missed something.

– Gen Reeves

Your First Freelance Contract

Two businesspeople in a face to face meeting
Several meetings may be a necessity when negotiating the details of the project. Image via fizkes.

Contractual negotiations are best seen as existing on a timeline. There may be several meetings about the project—what the clients want from it and how they see it materializing.

Kamal considers this time to be central to the success of the job.

You want to fill out the brief with as much reference as possible, which will solidify their idea before you even get started. After you’re pretty much on the same page as your client, it’s typically then that I draw up a contract.

Don’t think of a contract as a significant, scary legal document. It should be more of a way to formalize the discussion and put everything down on paper. If anything needs changing, it’s straightforward to find where the discrepancies are and adjust them. Also, within those initial discussions, you should cover the budget.

I like to talk about budget early on to make it seem less scary. You can then talk about the project knowing how much money has been allocated. Those details can then be added to the contract and referred to if necessary.

– Kamal Macdonald

How Much Do You Charge?

Closeup of a freelance male videographer shooting outdoors
When figuring rates, consult with an experienced videographer for advice. Image via ImYanis.

As part of your research about your new videography business, it does pay to look up what other people charge. You’ll find standard rates of pay for more regular professional jobs like cameraman or editor, but rates for freelancers are harder to confirm. So, how do you put a price on your work?

Kamal Googled going rates and asked other videographers for their experiences:

You then use all that you’ve found and incorporate it into what you are finding to get a rate you’re happy with. Now, I also tend to put in a contingency budget, just in case things fall through on the day. There is unpredictability about some things, so having that covered is sensible.

When I started, contracts were quite lacking in detail, but over time experience shows you how to add more to it. The key things now are a list of services—this explains why some things are more expensive than others.

It’s also essential to underline or restate the creative outcome of the project. I find that these details result in less confusion down the line or indeed when the project has been completed.

If you have bought your gear or have to rent it in, those loan or rental charges have to be paid for somewhere in what you earn as part of a financial plan. Should you detail your gear in a freelance contract?

As your amount of equipment scales, then the budget will scale with it. I tend to put that in with the list of services as a rental charge.

– Kamal Macdonald

The Post Anomaly

Creative workplace including computer and headphones
Figuring in post-production cost can be tricky. Image via DC Studio.

When you’re shooting and in your clients’ company, they can see what you’re doing and how hard you’re working, but post is different. If your client isn’t experienced in the rigors of post, you may find it difficult to figure in cost.

Gen has had difficulty with this.

Even if someone says, ‘You don’t have to do that much to edit,’ what they’re saying is they imagine a video that they’ve seen that feels like it’s had a rough edit. That’s probably had a lot of work put into it.

So, you have to be realistic about costing out post-work and include encoding time, especially when you’re shooting in formats like Raw or even ProRes.

It can take three hours just to go through the footage without even touching your NLE.

She also includes how many drafts are produced.

I got into the habit of following the instructions and sending out a version, and then realizing that it wasn’t what they wanted, you then could enter a series of drafts that weren’t planned or budgeted for, and that can also impact your schedule.

You must be clear when drafts are expected and what time they have for feedback. You, of course, want to encourage feedback.

Gen also makes sure that her contract is fully revised at every stage.

But I make it very, very clear by saying, ‘This is what we can do with my time and your budget right now. If you think of more amazing possibilities, we have to bring that into a different part, we can’t let it bleed.’ You work with as much understanding as possible.

Gen’s philosophy of creative work has a zen quality, and she believes in karma and the pay it forward-thinking.

You have to give people your deadlines. I think that’s the thing that people are the most cheeky about and affects you the most.

It’s not always the money and people underpaying you, because if you get an underpaid job, the likelihood is you’ll get a random overpaid job as well.

– Gen Reeves

Contracts: The Dos and Don’ts

  • Always work with a contract—yours or your clients.
  • Don’t agree to things that aren’t reflected in your freelance contract.
  • If you rent your gear, reflect that in the contract details.
  • Don’t underestimate how much time you need for post production.
  • Detail a price for versioning or drafts as they can runaway in numbers.
  • If you’re just starting out, look for advice from other, more experienced videographers.
  • Don’t undervalue your gear as some clients will want to use it as much as your services.
  • Try and introduce a budget amount as early as possible.
  • Think about a contingency amount you can add to the contract in case of unforeseen events.

A little gear advice, just for you:

Cover image via Gajus.


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