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Make Them Fall In Love With You: Mastering The Bid & Treatment

By July 15, 2013Business


Imagine saving up your money for a night out on the town with the love of your life.

You walk into a restaurant that appears to be really nice, sit down at a table, and rather than receiving a menu to inform you of your options and a list of main ingredients… your server just promises you something delicious, without giving you much information.

You’re so hungry… and you just want to enjoy a nice meal. But this was supposed to be a special night, and you can’t handle this kind of ambiguity!

So you leave the restaurant and head to the nearest buffet, where you have all the options you could ever want right in front of you. But as you may know, buffets are also a pretty bad idea. No customer should have that much creative control…

Ok, so where are we going with this?

We all love going out to eat. Not just because we don’t feel like cooking, but also because we like the experience.

We have some control over the decision-making process, and we like it that way — but ultimately it’s the restaurant staff that makes it happen, while we kick back and sip on a mojito. Our dinner is presented to us and it looks amazing, we’re so excited we have to Instagram it!

This is how you should make your client feel when you deliver a bid and treatment.

After reading it, they should feel like they’ve been given some great options, like they understand the expenses at hand, and now all they’re left to do is drink mojitos while waiting for the finished product to come out of the kitchen.

So, how do you make it all happen?

Read on…

What IS a bid and treatment?

Hey, we gotta cover all our bases here…

A treatment is a written proposal of the concept or concepts you’re pitching to a client for a film or video project.

A bid is a brief but thorough overview of the necessary steps of production to make it happen, with price quotes listed and the overall budget for the project presented.

Often you’ll create a kind of bid/treatment hybrid: structurally it will take on more of a bid, with a very brief (maybe 3-5 sentences) overview of the concept. Once the client falls in love with your idea and wonderful presentation of costs, then they might ask you to build out that concept in detail, and you’ll give a more thorough treatment.

Whether you’re giving the bid first and then the treatment, or the treatment first and then the bid, or a combination of both in one, the goal remains the same: you need to stand out. The client needs to fall in love with your idea, and they need to fall in love with you too.

How do you make them fall in love with you?

Well, love is complicated — but we’ve delivered many winning bids and treatments in our years, and we like to think we’ve got a good handle on it at this point.

Here we go…

Who is the client?

Before you do anything, you need to assess your relationship with the client.

Did they email you out of the blue?
Are they a friend of a friend?
How many conversations have you had with this person?
How deep did those conversations go?
What is their business, organization, or life all about? (This one’s really important!)

These are just a few of the questions you need to assess before even sitting down at your laptop to write anything.

Understanding your relationship with your client and who they are is going to effect big decisions you make throughout the writing process — the amount of ideas you present, and the voice you use to present them in your writing are all dependent upon your relationship with your client.

How do you make that relationship a good one?…

Short answer: show them that you care.

You care about what you do, what they do, and you care about the project. If it’s appropriate, show them you care about their business — in some cases we’ve suggested things like design or website improvements to clients. You’ve always got to be careful with stuff like this, but at the right time for the right reasons, it can really prove to your client that you’re truly invested in the project and the well-being of their business.

Who are you?

You might truly believe you’re hot shit, but it’s a good rule of thumb to assume your new client doesn’t know anything about you.

Often it’s a good idea to include a single “who we are” page with your bid and/or treatment.
This is something we recently started doing, and it has worked wonders for getting off on the right foot with new clients.

Include stuff like:

• How your company came to be.
• Why do you do what you do?
• Name drop in the humblest way possible.
• What inspires you?

This is going to help put your client at ease, and give them a much better feel for who you are and what you stand for.

What’s the concept? Or concepts…

No two bids/treatments are the same.

Each one is unique, like a beautiful snowflake. It’s important that you understand what the client wants to see presented.

Perhaps they’ve come to you with a clear-cut idea of what they want, and they’re looking for talent and imagination to carry things out on the creative end.

Or maybe they have a very vague idea of what they want, and they’re looking for a few concepts to choose from. This is often the case, and three is often the magic number. It’s enough to show you have options for them, but not so many options it’s overwhelming.

And again… the process is always going to be relative to where you’re at with the client and what you feel they’re wanting from you. Beautiful snowflake, remember?

You might be really attached to one concept, but it’s really important to give them different concepts to choose from… if your favorite concept is “riskier,” make one of the other options a “safer” idea.

Here at Stillmotion we like to get wild, but often the client will go for the safer option because it’s better for their business… don’t let it hurt your feelings if they aren’t into your favorite idea!

One thing you’ll definitely want to avoid is not being clear and upfront about your concept. The last thing you want is to deliver a final product that is a “surprise” to the client — their response will most likely be something to the tune of “WTF?”

That being said, weddings can be the exception to the “surprise” factor. Couples looking for a wedding film will want enough information to feel comfortable, but they often will like to be a little bit surprised with how you chose to tell their story. Their response might be something more to the tune of “WTF… we love it!”

Ok, time to write the bid.

Alrighty! So you’ve got your concept, and now you’re ready to actually write your bid.

We’re going to tell you how we do ours, but other studios might do something a little different — everyone has their own style. You just want to make sure the appropriate information is coming across — and nothing more.

Our bid has 9 sections (typically). Each one has its own heading, the estimated cost of how much money it will take to carry out the logistics of that section, and those logistics listed beneath the heading. We keep the bid at about two pages.

Here’s what we include:

  • Concept: a brief overview of our concept for the project, to be expanded upon later if necessary as a treatment.
  • Pre-Production: Casting, pre-interviewing, scouting, and learning the story.
  • Production: Days required for production, and a list of resources — the Director, the DP, a second camera, major pieces of gear should be listed.
  • Post-Production: A list of the deliverables — “one 3-5 minute film in HD, web ready,” how many rounds of editing is required, color correction, sound mixing…. all these things you should mention BRIEFLY.
  • Soundtrack: Here you might want to give them some options with the estimated costs for licensing music. A song with a one year lifespan is going to be cheaper than a song with a perpetual lifespan, and that’s a choice they’ll have to make. We list the cost for both the one-year and the perpetual lifespan, usually indicating the cost for anywhere from 1-10 songs.
  • Travel: “We’ll make all the travel plans… you give us this much money.”
  • Rights: A brief statement of the ownership/rights to the material, and that we reserve the right to show the material (when applicable — this isn’t always the case).
  • Project Estimate: No fluff — just the estimated cost of the entire project.
  • A Final Note: We don’t want the last thing on our bid to be a big dollar sign and nothing more. Here we’ll make a note about why we’re excited to work with them, and why we believe in the project.

And there you have it! Like we said, we don’t let any of these sections get too lengthy — in all this should be about two pages. So we might list our resources for production day… but it’s not everything… it’s just the major stuff. Your client will be satisfied with reading “all lighting and grip required,” rather than listing out each individual piece. They don’t know what an HMI light is!

How do you put a price on talent?

Money, money, money.

This is a section of your bid where it’s impossible for us to tell you “how much.” But, when it comes down to it… how much is it going to cost you and your team to do the project?  We price based on things like the salaries of our team members, rentals, gear that gets broken, etc.

Basically… what’s the cost of doing business, and how much work are you doing?

Often you’ll already be given a budget by the client. This can make the pricing easier, but you also might find that it’s difficult to stay within that budget and also give the client what they want. A lot of times they really don’t understand how much it costs to make a film happen. Your bid is supposed to help them understand that!

That being said, you’ll probably come up with a quote that is higher than the budget the client quoted you. We come up with a higher estimate all the time, because often it costs more than expected to really tell the story. When we do go over the requested budget in our estimate, we communicate with the client about it. We’ll give them the bid and say “this is more than we talked about, and here’s why…”

You’d be surprised at how willing a client is to spend more once they’ve had that cost explained, and if they can really see how much you care about telling their story correctly.

Now, there is one strategy that some studios will use for negotiating cost, and it often works… but it’s not really our style. In your bid you can list out pieces of gear as line items, and when the client requests a smaller quote, you then begin eliminating pieces of gear from the project. The client will see that you’re taking away equipment, and they don’t like this… so they’ll reconsider. It’s not our strategy, but it is a strategy none the less.

We make our case for the cost and why it is what it is, and we communicate with our client about why the cost is necessary. If they still think it’s too much, we work with them on it. If they’re a first time client we might give them a discount, and we tell them why they’re getting a discount.

The biggest thing to remember when it comes to cost is the power of communication. The client doesn’t want to feel like they’re in the dark about any of the costs… and they shouldn’t be! Keep the lines of communication open, and be honest in your delivery. Make a strong case for your budget, and often they’ll trust in you. In the end it’s their call to make, though, and you’ll need to adjust to that.

Writing the treatment.

As we mentioned before, a treatment may come after the bid, or may be included with the bid, or might not even be necessary beyond the “concept” section of your bid.

However you may be delivering the treatment, the purpose of it is to explain why your idea is the best goddam idea in the world.

The most important thing to remember when creating your treatment is to leave out any unnecessary details and information. Be straightforward and to the point — what is it the idea? Why is it perfect, what will it achieve? Keep it simple!

Everything should have a beginning, middle, and end. Pull them in with an introduction that sparks interest, and then maintain that interest when you explain your really good idea. End it by telling them why you’re inspired and excited to make this project happen.

Can they hear your voice?

Now that you’ve written your bid and treatment out, give everything another read. Is your voice coming through?

This is often the hardest thing to get right. You want to sound unique, charming, and real. You don’t want to sound boring and robotic — that’s for sure.

But writing in your specific voice is difficult. We’re trained from a very young age to follow certain formal conventions in our writing, it’s easy to feel like it’s such a different form of communication than having a cup of coffee and a chat.

However, if you write your treatment like you’re just having a cup of coffee with the client… you might find that it’s a much better and more interesting piece of writing. Read it out loud, and if it doesn’t sound like something that would normally come out of your mouth, you’ve got some adjusting to do.

Inserting your voice in your writing is probably going to feel risky. Maybe you’ll add a “damn” here, a “shit” there… and you’ll feel a little nervous about being unprofessional. But remember that you’re in a creative industry. People don’t want formal, they don’t want structured — they want creative.  They want to know that you’re unique, that you’re going to help them stand out.

How can you help your client stand out if you don’t stand out to them?

Writing is hard. It always takes longer than you think, it requires revisions and looking things up to make sure they’re just right, it requires frequent trips to the thesaurus… but it’s worth it to be a perfectionist.

If you come to a road block and just can’t get it right… walk away from it for an hour. Come back ready to attack. You’ll be amazed at how much this helps.

Last but not least, hand it over to a second set of eyes. The last thing you want is a typo to distract your client from the idea, and typos are just about the worst thing in the world. You probably came across a typo in this blog post, and it probably distracted you… don’t let this happen when you’re delivering something that will make or break a project.

Having a strong voice is what will set you apart from your competitors. All you’re delivering to your client is words on a page… no epic soundtrack, no cool effects. They need to be in love with your idea, and it’s up to you to make them fall in love.

The client can’t have doubts about the concept, and neither can you. If you love the idea and know that it’s great, communicate that to them…

And don’t hold back.

You’re inspired… now inspire them.



About Stillmotion


  • Mike Thole says:

    I really appreciate the reminder to “sell it” to the client (in my case, usually couples) on why the ideas I’ve hatched are the best they’ll find. Doing work that’s going creatively above and beyond what others are doing locally isn’t what they’re used to, but selling a concept with passion and connection has already proven to be a good strategy for me too! Keep providing this great advice, I soak it up!

  • Great info guys! Thanks! Would love to see a PDF sample of one of your bids.

  • Jimmylee says:

    Great article. It would be awesome if you guys posted a past proposal of yours as an example. Not needed but i would love to see how its formatted.

    • Joe says:

      I second Jimmylee’s comment, a past proposal would be helpful, since we are visual creatures and this blog post has no image or video! :D

      Seriously though, past proposal with blacked out name or whatever needs to be done to protect the identity of the client, I believe Jimmy and I are not the only ones interested in this.

      Thanks in advance!


      • Patrick says:

        The challenge is that it is confidential material – and I’m not saying that on our behalf as we are an open book – but on our clients or prospective clients behalf. To really write a strong treatment we need to know the story and who we are crafting it for. If that is then infused in what you present, it isn’t nearly as easy as removing names – you’ll still have confidential information and what could be seen as a violation of trust with a client. So we need to be very mindful of that in everything we share.

        Let us noodle on this to see how we can help and share more while still being mindful of whose information it is we are sharing beyond our own.


  • Garry says:

    As usual, tons of great information and ideas! I was troubled, however by this statement: “That being said, you’ll probably come in over budget. We come in over our given budget all the time, because often it costs more than expected to really tell the story.”. That seems very “Un-Stillmotion” to me. You often talk about the intense preparation you do and this shows either disregard for the client or not learning from your many past productions. If I go over budget (and I try to make that a very rare occurrence), I either eat the cost if it was due to my lack of planning, or make sure the client approves before the money is spent.

    • Margaret says:

      Yo Garry,

      What I meant was that the quote we give the client is often more than they quoted us, not that we come in over budget after making the piece. We always make sure the client approves before the money is spent, but when we give our bid and the number is higher than they would like, we then offer an explanation as to why and try to get them to approve the higher budget. We certainly go forward with the approved budget, however. THEN we move forward with the intense preparation :)

      I think that the wording in that sentence is a little unclear and makes it sound as though we’re over budget AFTER production, which is not the case, so thank you for pointing it out so I can change that.

  • Felipe says:

    Nice piece guys, thanks a lot.

  • Nathan says:

    Just in time – I’m writing a bid for one of the largest projects I’ve done to date.

    Another tip I’ve found useful – don’t send your client a Word doc, make sure it’s PDF, or your spacing and fonts will likely look different on their machine.

    But that brings up delivery…

    Is it best to deliver in person so you can answer questions, or better to email it over and let them chew on it a day or two before you follow up (unless they contact you first)? It’s probably different for each client of course…

  • Simply the best!
    As always, it’s great to tap into your info. Very inspired – again!

  • Glenn says:

    Do you guys write in the cost of actually writing a bid / treatment? Sometimes I’ve spent a full day or more writing a bid only for the client to delay and delay and then eventually disappear off the radar. Can be a frustrating business and writing a good bid eats up a lot of valuable time. Any advice here? Cheers!

  • Great article (as always)!

    Quick question. Do you have any suggestions/resources for me as I create a bid for a client who is going to hire me to shoot some footage and I would retain the copyright to the footage? They will pay to license the footage from me for a promotional piece. I have no clue what to charge for something like this and am having a hard time finding suggestions for this type of thing online.