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Should You Ever Give Your Client The Unedited Project Footage?

Todd Blankenship

So you’ve finished a great video for your client. They’re happy. You’re happy. However, they want the footage files, too. What should you do?

Cover image via Shutterstock

It’s happened to nearly every video producer at some point (and if it hasn’t happened yet, it will). You’ve gone through multiple rounds of revisions, you’ve perfected the client’s vision, and you’ve sent it off with fingers crossed. Good news: the client loves it — now the video appears as planned (YouTube, social, etc.). Then, a couple weeks later, the client wants you to hand over the project files and/or the footage.

This is always a difficult moment. Your initial thought will probably be, “Well, what was wrong with what I delivered?” or “I never agreed to this” or even “They will have no idea how to use these files.”

If you say no, the client might get upset. If you say yes, you might lose out on potential work in the future — or the client might take your work and make it terrible without your input. Even worse, they might release something terrible with your name still on it.

Here are some of my personal thoughts on how to handle this situation.

Expectations Are Key

Should You Ever Give Your Client The Unedited Project Footage? — Expectations
Image via stockfour.

Before you start any work on any project, you and the client both need to clearly lay out your expectations.

I get it, though — sometimes a job just starts out weird. Every once in a while, you’ll just find yourself working for a client without having discussed contracts, expectations, or deliverables. Even though I have a pretty strict contract policy for my clients, every once in a while, I’ll find myself working on something without taking the necessary steps due to a time crunch or absent mindedness. It happens.

This is almost always exactly when this situation arises.

It’s crucial to make sure you don’t spend a single hour on a project working outside of the parameters you’ve agreed on. You need very clear expectations for project deliverables. When the client asks you if you are interested, the first thing you should tell them (after “yes”) is exactly what you will deliver — along with your quote.

If you’ve already told your client that you don’t provide raw files unless you have previously agreed to do so, then you’ll have a leg to stand on when they ask for it.

Know Your Role

Should You Ever Give Your Client The Unedited Project Footage? — Roles
Image via piaharrisphotography.

This one might seem kind of obvious, but I wouldn’t mention it if I didn’t know about multiple cases when this idea didn’t come into consideration.

There is a very big difference between being hired as a production company or as a shooter. As a shooter, your only job is probably providing footage. There’s no real high ground here when it comes to withholding footage. You have one job.

If you are working as a production company, that means that you’re providing the works: shooting, editing, and producing. This is where you do have the high ground — the footage you shot is for the edit you will provide. The company is buying the final product, not your footage. If the client is absolutely hell-bent on getting their hands on your footage, you have every right to ask for more money.

Don’t Be Headstrong

Should You Ever Give Your Client The Unedited Project Footage? — Flexibility
Image via Vulp.

I understand that it can be frustrating to deal with a client who asks for a lot. But if you are dealing with a recurring client who brings you constant business, sometimes it’s easier to take the high road than fight tooth and nail. It’s a simple business decision: do you give something away for a small price (or even free) to secure work from this client in the future? If you burn a bridge because you don’t want to hand over raw footage, you might be in the right, but you might also lose out on thousands of dollars.

On the other hand, if the client doesn’t respect your wishes and treats you terribly, then do you really want to work with them again in the future? If you politely decline to provide footage and they come back with expletives and threats to “ruin you in this town,” then bail. You don’t want that type of person on your client list.

Play the Situation

Should You Ever Give Your Client The Unedited Project Footage? — Case by Case
Image via nd3000.

When it all boils down, the situation really helps you determine the best course of action. Is this client a repeat customer who pays on time? Is this a friend whom you don’t mind sharing with? Does the client have a good reason for raw footage (such as archival purposes)? Working out deals with people is straight-up business, and it’s a vital part of being a successful freelancer.

And remember, If you really don’t want to hand over your raw footage, you still have the right to hold on to it if you are the one producing the video. If they politely ask for the footage, charge ’em. If they demand the footage . . .

Charge ’em double.

Looking for more information on video production? Check out these articles.

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