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The State of Freelance Coloring Today

Tristan Kneschke

What issues and trends must be faced by professionals working in the ever-evolving field of freelance coloring?

The video production industry is in constant change. Technology develops at a rapid clip, both online and offline content is exploding, and deadlines seem to arrive sooner each year. Systems and structures in place a decade ago have also been altered dramatically since the global recession. Shops have closed, budgets are shrinking, and clients look for alternative solutions to get the job shipped on time.

The discipline of color correction has also experienced change. From my vantage point in the industry, I’d like to take a look at certain aspects of the profession in hopes of forecasting trends of where the freelance coloring industry may be heading. 

Duration of Jobs

The State of Freelance Coloring Today: Jobs
Image from Blackmagic

The duration of jobs varies wildly. While I’ve graded some long-form work, most of my work is the short-form commercial format. For these jobs, it’s common to receive an inquiry email from the producer the day before the job. Sometimes, it’s the same day. This is standard operating procedure since many clients wait until the last possible moment to approve cuts. Due to timing, often a session is booked before cuts are locked, and any client changes must be taken into account during or after the session.

Short-form projects usually don’t require an entire ten-hour day to fully grade. For this reason, I think it most fair to bill an hourly as opposed to a daily rate. A typical thirty-second ad may take four hours or less to grade, depending on how much the client wants to tweak and how many creatives are in session. With especially difficult clients, agencies may opt to book the entire day anyway. They seem to enjoy leaving the agency for the day.

Varying Client Setups

The State of Freelance Coloring Today: Clients

The freelance colorist must be amenable to various client scenarios. Some clients have access to funds and resources that others don’t. I perform jobs in my home studio, with and without a client present, as well as on site, with or without clients, and sometimes I bring my entire system into the client’s facility. This variety of scenarios means I must be prepared for each one.

I work with some of my exclusive clients only about once a month. It doesn’t make sense for these clients to invest in an expensive color grading system when they can work my equipment rental into their post-production bid. In these cases, I’ll ship my system to their facility, set up the gear in an edit suite the day before the session, and tear it down after the job is complete at the end of the session day. Clients prefer these flexible mobile solutions that work in tandem with the insane post-production schedules that have become the norm.

I offer fair rates while saving the client the hassle and additional budget of grading outside of their space. My clients see the savings on their end, and a larger color house is not saddled with taking on jobs that would strain their facility’s resources. Everyone wins.

Competitive Rates

The State of Freelance Coloring Today: Rates
Image from No Film School

Due to the niche specificity of the color grading profession, coupled with a financial barrier to entry required for investing in equipment, freelance colorists can demand higher rates than other positions that are saturated with more professionals. This will mean producers will book you for only the days or hours they have budgeted for. There’s not a lot of sitting around waiting for assets to be collected, which I appreciate.

Working Alongside Bigger Color Houses

The State of Freelance Coloring Today: Rates: Bigger Houses
Image from Blackmagic

There will always be a need for premium color houses that offer plush grading suites and an array of additional client services extending beyond completing the job. I don’t see those places as the freelance colorist’s competition, however. We service parts of the industry that operate at different price points. Many of my clients only care about getting the job done, preferring to deal with the simplicity of a single entity.

The Niche Market Today

All freelancers depend on consistency and diversity in terms of their client base. While some clients are busy right around fashion week, others are busiest during the holiday season. More often though, the level of busyness or quietude in the industry can be quite random. In major metropolitan areas, steady work is commensurate with a lengthy list of clients.

The recent recession has kept color grading in demand. It’s a niche skill that few possess but every project deserves. As color grading faces inevitable technical evolution, seasoned professionals who address client needs and hold the extensive technical knowledge required for this demanding position will be hired consistently. I’ll leave you with this clip from the International Colorist Academy. It’s a fun look at some of the day to day duties of pro colorists.

If you’d like to read a bit more about the ins and out of working as a professional colorist, check out these links from the PremiumBeat blog:

Got any opinions on the state of the industry? Agree or disagree with any of the above points? Let’s talk it out in the comments below.