Q&A: What to charge to film a wedding

Over the years, I've answered a handful of freelance video production questions on forums and other websites, but recently realized that information didn't have a place to live that was easily linked to or accessible by everyone. So, I thought I'd share it here. To be clear, these are all public questions and answers, so none of this came from a private email or communication. Still, I've anonymized the questions a bit, and edited my answers to make more sense over time. I have a few more of these I'll post on the blog in the coming weeks.

A bride contacted me and asked me to film her wedding. I'm not sure how much to charge, but I'm thinking $400 is more than what I'm worth, since I've never filmed a wedding before, but I see some videographers in my area charging over $2500 for a wedding! I'm also wondering if I need to rent equipment like a glidecam, and if so, how should I charge for that?

I understand the reluctance to charge "too much" - we were all there once. Let me walk you through a few things.

You're right that $2500 is a different ballgame, but it's not an outlandish price. Once you've done a few weddings, you'll see how far off it is to think $400 is even close to a fair price.

Weddings are loooong days. So before you even talk money, be sure to discuss the schedule. My longest wedding shoot was 7 am to 11 pm, followed by a 2 hour drive home. And however long the wedding lasts, editing can take 2 or 3 times as long. Sometimes longer.

Best case scenario, you're looking at somewhere between a 20-40 hour commitment. 20 is probably way too low, but I don't want to wildly overestimate. At $25 per hour (stick with me here), cost: $500-1000

You'll also need to license music through a service like The Music Bed, Marmoset, or at the very least find low-cost stock music to purchase. No need to violate copyright laws and risk lawyers knocking on your door. Cost: $20-200 per song

Have you discussed how you'll be delivering the film? DVD or blu-ray? Online only? That's something to consider. Maybe not a huge cost there, but say you need to buy some DVDs and postage, that's another $10.

You have to remember as a freelancer, you pay more in taxes. $25/hr isn't really as great as it sounds. Also remember that you're the one providing $1000+ worth of equipment at no additional charge. That's not even to mention the time and experience you do have, which holds some value. Oh, and are you planning on having a second shooter or assistant to help you?

That's all a brief overview to explain why you see $2500 budgets (and higher) and how they can be totally justified.

Now, would I recommended charging $1200 or whatever the total cost might actually be for your first wedding? Not necessarily. That may be way more than they're expecting, and most of all, that's going to put too much pressure on you. But don't charge too little or you may end up spending money. I wouldn't purchase or rent any equipment as long as you have the basics covered. Use what you have. The day is already going to go too fast to get all the shots you want, even worse if you're fiddling with a slider or a glidecam.

Do the best you can with what you have. Maybe $700 sounds fair. Or $1000. Remember that if all goes well, the couple will tell their friends. I'm getting referrals years later from my first big wedding. And that's where pricing too low or cutting corners on quality can really mess you up moving forward.

Andy NewmanQ&A