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?
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.