I did a small job for a local school a few days ago, videoing their GCSE Drama performances, in preparation for moderation. Essentially this was very simple and involved only a single camera and shotgun mic. Because pre-designed stage lighting was used throughout, I had no part in this aspect of the shoot. All I needed to do therefore was to setup the camera, mic and tripod; and then to set framing, white balance, exposure, focus and audio levels. The exam board demands that everything has to be shot with a single static camera, from the approximate viewpoint of the visiting examiner. In other words from front and centre. Each performance was a one time only affair, so no rehearsals or retakes were possible. With a single camera and no editing to do, this wasn’t the most creative shoot in the world, but critical to get right.

I filmed 19 short performances, over the course of about four hours, producing around 150 minutes of 1080p footage in total. Post production was minimal: just a little trimming, followed by rendering footage down to MP4, prior to being delivered on a USB stick.

As it happens, I did this gig as a favour for a former colleague and friend. However, when talking with a group of staff from the school over a drink, following the shoot; I was asked what I’d normally charge for this kind of work. Upon answering ‘about £250’, the response I got was really quite hostile, with some fairly disparaging remarks along the lines of ‘money for old rope’ being levelled in my direction. I was of course quite defensive and went on to explain exactly why I could justify a fee of around £250, for what was apparently ‘half a day’s work’, and which basically involved pressing a record button a few times.

If you include setup time, strike time and the very simple post production work (trimming, rendering to low bit rate MP4 and burning to a Memory Stick), I guess you’re actually talking of about 8 hours spent working on the project. Although this definitely represents a full day’s work, I must admit it had hardly been demanding, either physically or intellectually. Surely I couldn’t possibly justify over £30/hour for pressing a button? However, let’s look at what I’d actually provided:

Panasonic HC-X1E with Rode Video Mic Prop Plus and Atomos Ninja Blade, setup and ready to roll.
Setup and ready to roll prior to the examinations beginning

For a start, I’d taken a fairly crucial part of the days proceedings away from the organising teacher, who, TBH, was pretty stressed by the whole afair, without having anything else to worry about. She had to organise 30+ kids, operate sound and lighting equipment, sort out the examiner, manage student data cards to be shown prior to each performance, comfort a tearful child or two, make the tea and generally provide encouragement and support for all those involved. Having the archiving of student performances taken out of her hands was in itself quite important, particularly as there was no room for error. OK, I’ll admit that it’s pretty simple to press a record button at the start of a performance and then again at the end; but in this case, failing to do so, even once, for whatever reason, was simply not an option. Having someone, without a great deal else to think about, who could do this reliably, was very important therefore. I guess another colleague could have performed this role. However, with almost no slack whatsoever in school staffing and hourly costs for staff running at anything up to £40/hr (supply agencies regularly charge over £200/day for cover staff); simply drafting in another teacher or even a lowly classroom assistant to fulfil the role, would be pretty difficult to justify. This also doesn’t account for the time that an additional colleague, if a teacher, would have had to spend setting cover work for their classes. There was a time when schools could afford to employ AV technicians, who would have taken on this role as part of their duties, but not in these days of austerity!

I suppose next comes the knowledge that the recordings are being made to a certain quality, with sharp, properly exposed video, even though filming took place in low light. Along with this comes well recorded audio, with a safety track recorded several decibels below the main audio track, just in case. You may well ask if this is actually necessary? The reality is that ensuring your students’ efforts are being presented in the best possible way is, rightly or wrongly, almost as important as the quality of the work itself these days. In fact, examining bodies are placing ever more stringent demands upon centres to manage presentation of work to the highest standards and within tight parameters. The better the presentation of work is, the easier it is to process, mark and moderate. The quicker work can be processed, marked and moderated, the cheaper it is for examination boards to operate. Add to this that the stakes placed upon GCSE examinations, for both schools and individual staff, are now higher than ever, and God help the teacher who screws up the preparation of student work. I’m not saying that what I did required an awful lot of skill, but for most school staff, working beyond the default setting of auto everything, which they rely upon when using smartphones, would probably be a bridge too far. Ensuring stable focus with multiple moving subjects, good exposure in rapidly changing lighting conditions and that highly dynamic audio is captured to a suitable standard, is well beyond this level of operation.

Then there’s a whole bunch of equipment that the school doesn’t have to buy, store safely, maintain and insure, all for occasional use. A decent camera, mic, tripod, high spec machine for editing and rendering footage, software for the same, etc, adds up to thousands of pounds in financial commitment. In the current climate, for a school to lay out large sums on equipment that simply isn’t ever going to earn its keep is an absolute no-no. Gone are the days when schools could afford vanity purchases of impressive looking kit, destined, more often than not, to be used only a handful of times, thereafter to be wheeled out only on open evening to impress prospective parents. Oh, and that is obsolete within about three years of purchase.

There are other bits and pieces that also add considerable value to hiring a professional videographer: constant redundancy by recording onto twin SD cards; constant video, audio and battery monitoring, because I had no other part to play in proceedings; well practiced asset management with GDPR compliant storage and workflows; etc. All of which add up .

In conclusion, by the time I’d finished explaining this, not only were those who’d poured scorn and derision down on me earlier somewhat quieter, but I realised I might just have to rethink my fees…….