False economies

A little while ago, a client gave me some video footage and asked me to edit it into a film.

There were two problems: the video footage wasn’t very good and it didn’t actually capture the content that was needed to make the message of the film come across. Luckily, both problems were easy to solve.

I said: ‘We’ll just shoot that again. We can do it with a single camera in a couple of hours. That way we won’t have to take all that time trying to fix it in edit, so it’ll cost you less and you’ll have a much better film.’

‘Er, no’, said the client.

It turned out the footage had been shot by the Director’s PA, using a camera the department had recently bought in a bid to cut costs. Not using the footage would ‘send the wrong message’ about this decision.

‘But the footage is terrible’, I said.

‘It is’, agreed the client.

‘It doesn’t say what you need it to say’, I said.

‘It doesn’t’, agreed the client.

‘You’ll end up with a film that’s not very good,’ I persisted.

‘Yes,’ agreed the client.

‘And it’ll cost you more.’

‘Yes,’ agreed the client.

So I shrugged my shoulders and stopped arguing. You can do an awful lot in edit these days. What you can’t do, of course, is make people say things they didn’t say or refocus a blurry shot. So we made the film: it looked okay and sounded okay, but just didn’t work as well as it could have done. And it cost a bit more to do it badly than it would have cost to do it well.

It got me thinking about how companies sometimes end up making quite perverse decisions in a bid to gain a little bit of advantage.

In this case, the decision-making process had gone something like this:

  1. We’re under pressure to cut costs
  2. Film production is expensive
  3. We can buy our own camera for less than the cost of a day’s filming
  4. Cameras aren’t that hard to use – I’ve got one at home
  5. So we could do our own filming and save money

All of which makes sense – up to a point. The problem is that being able to make a film is not the same thing as being able to make a film that’s interesting.

If you make a film that is not interesting, people will ignore it. Which means you’ll have wasted the money you did spend and you won’t have done your job.

Our client knew that.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the one making the decision about buying the camera.

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