Last week we shot four custom videos. Taking on these shoots is always a big responsibility- the customer is entrusting us with a fair chunk of cash for a leisure luxury purchase like a video.
Mostly, we do a good job. We like to under-promise and over-deliver (who doesn’t). I’ve heard back from three of the customers so far. Two were delighted.
One said “It is fantastic. Thank you.”
The second said “I’m really really happy with it! I appreciate you got everything I had detailed. It was of immensely high quality. Hannah and Ariel were great and I love Hannah’s costume, she looked fantastic… thanks again for another great job. I know other websites may offer to do customs, but the key reasons I prefer you and Ariel is the clear passion you have and your commitment to producing high quality product in in both content and video/image quality.”
The third was politely and quietly a little disappointed in some aspects of what we’d shot. We knew on shoot day that we were likely to disappoint, and tried our best with the resources we had available. I thought it might be interesting to look at what happens when a custom shoot is booked, how we price and allocate resources, and how developments on set or the practicalities of shooting can force us down certain paths on shoot days.
And why what sounds like a lot of money often doesn’t even cover the actual cost of production, let alone make any profit for the producer.
I’m not trying to moan – we LOVE shooting customs, and it is AWESOME when we can deliver something that genuinely delights and exceeds expectations. I just want to explain why it’s pretty much miraculous that these things are possible at all. It’s a real juggling act shooting these things, sometimes.
I also wanted to gently explain why the answer to “why isn’t it exactly right?”, is almost always “Because you won’t pay what it would cost to make sure it is right. It’s not your fault, no-one will pay that. Which is why this is a custom, not a TV show on Prime Time TV or a Hollywood blockbuster. If this stuff could be sold for millions, it could be shot that way. But it can’t, so it has to be shot on a tiny budget.”
It is unfortunate that the development path for this particular video (which will appear in due course as VID0466: Hannah Ariel Paracord Kidnap) was already a bit bumpy.
It took nine months to go from first contact to finished film, which is unusual.
Nothing in any of this is in any way the customer’s fault. I must emphasise that. He has been polite, kind, reasonable, sensible and a pleasure to deal with throughout. We enjoyed making his film, we had a good day in fun company on the shoot and I hope you’ll all enjoy it when it comes out. It’s pretty good. It just doesn’t quite hit all the points from the script as hard as we’d have liked it to.
I felt guilty because I knew when I sent him the link to the finished video that we’d not managed to make it be everything he’d asked for. It couldn’t be, within the constraints we had on shoot day.
My reply to his email got to monster length, and I decided to turn in into this post because I thought it might be of interest to follow a custom shoot from start to finish. And being as “we filmed it, it was great” is a bit of a dull story, I thought it would be more interesting to follow one of the (thankfully rare) cases where rather underperformed compared with what we’d hoped to achieve.
First contact was an inquiry about a kidnapping video with two models being tied up and carried away by an intruder. He wanted a house/bedroom setting with a vehicle they would be carried to. He mentioned four choices of model, of whom only two were possibilities (one retired, one living in Siberia and also retired).
There wasn’t enough detail for me to price it (there almost never is in first contact emails, we need a final script to quote for the job).
The custom arrived just as we were finishing off a long run of shoots and about to take a few months off to catch up on editing, so we had a one-off chance to shoot something for them right away, otherwise it would be months until it could be scheduled (nine months, as it transpired).
I offered them a slot with the last shoot we had booked that still had some uncommitted shoot time, dependent on the script. They duly produced a more detailed script so I could quote a price.
I quoted 1000 UK pounds because it was a two-girl video with multiple scenes, and I estimated it would take a day to shoot. But we didn’t have all the props he wanted, we didn’t have time to source them because the shoot was literally tomorrow by this point. I didn’t even have time to check the detailed script with the models to make sure it was in their limits.
I offered them the choice- the “proper” version, filmed some months hence, with the two models they wanted, the props as they wanted, the extra crew person it would take to shoot because the kidnapper had to be on screen with both the victims at the same time, which meant that we needed a camera operator. Price 1000 UK pounds.
Or the chance at a discount price with what we had available, with the model we were shooting tomorrow if she was OK with it, half a day to do the closest we could to the storyline. 400 UK pounds. He said go for it.
No joy, first go
On the day, we couldn’t shoot it. The model wasn’t happy appearing on-screen with a man, and had a temporary minor injury to boot which meant that much of the story as written wouldn’t work. I decided this would likely be several compromises too far for the customer – not the gag he wanted, not the tie he wanted, missing out a whole scene, and nothing on-screen with one of the models and the kidnapper. I took the executive decision not to shoot it.
I don’t want to list all the ins and outs- as typically happens there was some to and fro discussions about the details. The script got more and more complicated, with more and more details accumulating. I sent 21 emails in total for that (excluding the long debrief one). Total cost in my time maybe half a day, 150 UK pounds.
My day rate of 300 Uk pounds per day is calculated including the expenses of running the house as a studio, website hosting, upkeep of photo and computer gear and all the other overheads. It sounds like a lot, but that’s what I have to make daily to keep in business. 250 pounds goes straight back out; my actual daily profit is 50 pounds, roughly.
As he wanted two of the busiest and most popular models in the country, it was nine months until we could get both of them here. I offered him two choices again- the 400 UK pounds version with us doing our best to interpet the script with what we have, rather than buying in and organising a lot of extra detail, the cost for which would have been at least 1000 UK pounds, and in retrospect should have been more like 2000 UK pounds, as we’d ideally have shot it on location, too.
He’d originally asked for an inflatable gag. The old one we had had perished and no longer worked. I decided that Restrained Elegance would probably get value out of replacing that, so from my own pocket I ordered two inflatable gags and didn’t charge it to the customer directly. Cost to me: 150 UK pounds. (I’m rounding the figures just to illustrate). Thus far, cost to me to shoot this 400 UK pounds video is 300 UK pounds. I’m relying on being able to re-sell the end product to bring in enough money to make this worthwhile, and thinking that the investment in the bondage gear will hopefully pay off if we can use them for future RE shoots.
A month before the shoot I contact them to confirm everything is OK.
Revised Script. No revised budget
They come back asking if they can send me a revised script.
At this sort of notice, it would be possible to make some changes. Thus far, I’ve invested time in emails, committed to spending money on the two models by booking the shoot, and spend 150 pounds of my own cash to buy gags.
I have no problem with some minor revisions; it’s a little inconvenient but often these fine tuning things are just specifying the details of the existing script more precisely.
The new script was partially that, and partially some extensions.
The first was that they wanted the tie done with paracord, as they like thin rope. As luck would have it, I’d bought a reel of paracord to go with the medieval and fantasy outfits I bought for a location shoot. I’d only needed a few metres for the outfits, but thought I might as well buy a roll. 50 UK pounds of my own money, but I already had it here. Win!
Second detail was they wanted black paracord for one model, white for the other. With a month to go- totally do-able, at a cost of 50 pounds to buy the white.
Third detail was the request for an extra scene at the end: driving the van away, dropping off one model with the kidnappers, the other model tied in the van and various other details.
One of the things people don’t realise when writing customs is that a scene change is the second most expensive thing you can include in the script. (The most expensive is adding another person). Each scene change incurs at least 15 minutes change-around time- we have to move a heavy camera and tripod, microphone, microphone boom arm, stand, sandbags, actors, lights and crew. Some change-overs are more like 30 minutes.
The script we had already had four locations- a bedroom, a living room and front door, a place for the victims to be kidnapped and carried through, and a van. When you’ve only got 240 minutes to shoot an entire film, you’re now talking about 45 minutes just spent moving and carrying kit around. Down to 200 minutes to actually film it.
Our house could provide all of those locations, and I could be clever with not needing all the lights in all the rooms, which is why I could quote a price of 400 UK pounds for the quick and dirty version of the script in the first place. We could shoot the carrying and van scenes in available light, probably with a GoPro on a gimbal, and save 20 minutes of moving time, giving us that time to film.
In the new version of the script thought we’re talking about driving the van, with tied up girls, one of whom is nude.
There’s no way for the customer to really imagine how many new issues that presents. It sounds easy on paper. But my insurance doesn’t cover us filming in the van. I’m happy to do it when the van is static on our drive- it’s not going to crash there. But driving on a public road? Probably not. So now we’re looking at either changing insurance or hiring a van. Call it 200 UK pounds to the budget.
If we’re driving with the models not in seat-belts, we’re breaking the law. And I’m not putting my wife’s life at risk if there’s traffic around. Doing on a private road on a farm location we’ve hired? I’d risk it, for a few minutes to get a few cool shots, with the van going at five miles per hour and no other traffic around. On the public road? Not going to happen.
Shooting the scene on the roadside with public model? Mid-Wales is a sparsely-populated part of the UK, but it’s still crowded compared with parts of the US, for example. If we shoot by the side of the road, there’s a very good chance someone will see us. We might contemplate it with models in a blacked-out van, but not in my camper van. Again, we’re talking hire of a vehicle at minimum, and more realistically hire of a vehicle AND a location.
Let’s say 400 UK pounds for a decent location, 200 UK pounds for the van. But it’s more complex than that- everything about this shoot is predicated on being able to shoot it in half a day at our house. Locations are only available cost effectively if we hire by the week- we either hire an actual for-hire-film location for the day (cost more like 2000 UK pounds) or shoot this as part of a longer location shoot, which means rescheduling and booking something probably in December by the time we get a window in the models’ diaries again.
Everything is doable. Nothing is affordable.
Notice at this point that everything is doable, but every decision has an impact on the budget.
And almost always that impact is to blow the budget up from 400 UK pounds to several thousand pounds. “Several thousand pounds” appears to be the natural cost of a custom video on this sort of scale.
In fact several thousand pounds would be the bargain of the century if you hired a mainstream film production company to do this for you.
They’d take a look at the script, realise they needed multiple people for multiple days of pre-production, a reasonable crew, probably multiple days to shoot. There’s a reason why a 45 minute TV show takes two weeks to shoot and costs a couple of million pounds. That’s what it costs to get what’s on the script onto the screen in a proper professional setting. If you can sell the show for hundreds of millions, that makes sense. Bondage videos do not ever ever ever make that sort of money.
Cut a long story short I figured we could maybe cheat on the end scenes a bit to get the sense of what was wanted by taking longer to shoot and hiring a van, using the few remaining bits of our house not already on screen as the interior location, and faking the van moving along with sound in post production and us physically rocking it around as it was parked on the drive to simulate motion.
I quoted 400 pounds for the script with black paracord for both models, 450 with white paracord as requested, or 900 UK pounds to shoot with the extra scenes.
The ONLY reason we can ever film customs for several hundreds of pounds rather than several thousand pounds is by being clever and making cunning use of resources we already happen to have- like my camper van and Ariel and my house, bought as a studio space for our businesses as well as a place for us to live.
Naturally enough, the customer opted for the 400 pound version.
Which gave us half a day to do our best, and finally produced a locked script (which in case you are interested I reproduce below).
This is the shooting script we finally arrived at for shoot day.
Hannah Ariel Custom
Tie with BLACK PARACORD I would like Ariel and Hannah to be in different rooms preparing to go out for the night while a masked intruder quietly comes from outside and makes his way to Ariel's room first carrying a bag which contains all of his bondage gear. Ariel will be nude getting ready to put her clothes on and he will come from behind and immediately shove an inflatable gag in her mouth holding it there with his hand as he bring her down to the bed pinning arms behind back with knees and straps the gag as she tries yell through It. He will pump it until she is silent as you can see the panick and distress in her eyes he begins tying her up. As for the rope I would like it to be a thin black cord. He starts with the arms and works his way down to the feet last I prefer. As he is tying her up I would like Ariel to be trying to struggle and calling for help often but the gag will be too much for her and all that comes out are very quiet noises that no one can hear and making it realistic as possible while the intruder is calm and overpowering for her to do anything. As the intruder is tying her up I want him to softly tell her throughout that he’s been watching her and been waiting for the right time to take her to be his slave shushing her quietly as well etc. As the intruder is getting close to be done tying her up we will hear Hannah out in the house talking to someone on the phone letting them know they are coming out and that the person she is talking can stop by in case they need a ride. The intruder continues binding Ariel during the phone call while overhearing what she was saying. Just as the intruder finishes with Ariel, Hannah (wearing a skimpy night gown) will open Ariel's door to see if she’s about ready only to see what is happening she begins to run away for help to go outside. The intruder will grab one long piece of string and a cloth quickly and chases after Hannah catching her right as she’s opening the door to run outside he slams the cloth in her mouth and holds his hand over it as he drags her back inside and brings her to the ground in living room and uses the one rope to quickly subdue her wrapping the rope around her mouth once to hold the cloth in then to her hands behind her back and then to her feet in a hogtie style. (The cloth muffles her screams but its still loud enough for someone to hear). The intruder goes back to Ariel's room and grabs his bag and brings it back to Hannah and begins tying her up starting by undoing her cloth gag and putting a pump gag in her mouth quieting her down a lot but still hear some sound from her he then begins binding Hannah (right picture) starting with hands and upper body first. Once he’s finished and starting to begin with her feet someone starts knocking at the door. Hannah starts trying to scream even louder but right as she does the intruder grabs the pump and inflates the gag until she is absolutely silent and you can see the panic in her face as she pathetically struggles and can make a sound. After the intruder pumps her gag he immediately continues finishing up tying her legs and feet while whoevers at the door knocks a few more times then leaves assuming the girls had already left and no-one's home. The intruder then carries each girl out to his vehicle (van preferably) and ties them down to the seats lying down and then drives away. Hopefully I told you enough that you can make it work. I’d like if the kidnapper could drive away then make a call to someone telling them he got a good one for them that they’ll like and should bring good money etc. and makes arrangement for drop off If you need any more details or anything just let me know!! thank you I've seen in some of your work you have used them before I was just curious. If you do I'd prefer one of those instead with the ball style or cock style panel gag makes no difference. I'd definitely prefer the pump gag for Ariel if you are willing to try yours out and then a panel for Hannah. My main goal is to have the suspense of silence for them while being helpless so even if it loses its air a little maybe she could keep the effect going or randomly just pump it back up. If that doesn't work for you then id like a ball gag used. As for the onscreen tying yes id like to see it all as much as possible so whatever you can do will be fine. My favorite parts will be the rigging of legs and feet and the over the shoulder carry to vehicle just to give you an idea I want both of them tied the same way arms to the side legs/feet together As for the pump gag I’m not a huge fan big bulky ones. If you can use one that’s the style of a panel gag or I've seen belt/strap style ones that look thin and neat and fit snuggly around mouth I’d prefer that.
So we have the script and budget: 400 UK pounds, which pays for half a day with two models.
I schedule a second half-day custom for the rest of the day. Together, the two customs pay the two models’ fees, cover lunch and a few extra expenses (like kicking in towards the electric bill for running the lights and cameras and all the rest of it).
Note at this point that I am already 300 UK pounds down on this custom, taking into account my emails and the gag purchase. I’ll have to make that money back by selling the final films.
On a mainstream show, they’d get the script months in advance and start breaking it down to analyse all the stuff they will need: actors, locations, props, costumes, lights, crew, timings, everything.
The budget does not allow for this. The best I can do is underline all the bondage gear, props and details and make sure we have them all, from bags to paracord (I spent half an hour that morning cutting it to lengths) to gags and I’ve made sure to ask Hannah to bring an appropriate night-dress.
Any other production issues will have to be figured out on the day, as we go along, in our already-tight 240 minutes allocated for this film. There’s just no time to do otherwise, because there’s no budget to cover it.
I’ve read through the script a few times and I think I know the main challenges we’re going to face. I’ve been very lucky in that Steve shot with us again for the first time a while recently, remembered how much he loves being involved in these shoots, and has kindly volunteered to help out as crew at his own expense.
That deals with main challenge number one – filming a three person film with no crew. It is doable with static wide camera angles, but the result is never as polished as having a camera operator. Audio, as always, has to look after itself with a mic on a fixed stand and boom. There’s NEVER the budget for a sound recordist, something which is a bare minimum even on TV newcasts.
(Everything is doable. Nothing is affordable.)
To date I’ve saved the customer 300 pounds by putting in my own money and time, 50 for the paracord I happened to already have bought, 50 by not buying the white paracord on top, 300 or so pounds by having Steve kindly help out instead of me having to hire crew, 200 pounds for using my camper van, maybe 500 pounds by shooting at our house, 400 pounds by trying to shoot the film in half a day rather than the full day I obviously know in my heart it probably requires, looking back at the emails. Hence, 400 pounds not several thousand pounds.
It’s just so easy for the budget to blow up!
Right, we’ve got everybody on set. Hannah was caught in traffic, but made good time- maybe we’ve lost 30 mins of shooting time, but she’s staying over, we can recover at the end of the day. Steve’s here, hooray.
What are the other big challenges in the script?
Read through it and see if you can spot them.
Ariel in bondage
The next biggie is that the script calls for Ariel to remain in the same bondage throughout. I have to tie her onscreen in the first scene. Then there’s an on-screen tie with Hannah, the carrying scene, and the van scene. We can’t shoot it out of sequence, because both Hannah and Ariel need to be in the bondage for the carrying scene and the van scene.
So now we’re looking at Ariel needing to remain tied up for probably three hours.
Doing a tie is slow. 45 minutes for a moderately complex rope tie, and if you need to untie and retire in the same way, you’re looking at more like an hour to make sure it matches.
We only have four hours total. We can’t untie her and retie her (it’s SO EASY for the budget to blow up- if we untied and retied we’d need a full day to shoot this). So she’s going to have to be in a tie which she can be left in safely for a long time- at least three hours- while the three other people go off to a different floor to tie and shoot the sequence with Hannah.
Furthermore, Ariel gets tied up upstairs, but the carrying and van scenes are downstairs. Our house is old and the ceiling on the stairs means I cannot carry her down- pretty much physically impossible, and certainly can’t be done on camera. Realistically, to get downstairs safely, she’s going to have to have her legs free.
So I had to work backwards from the suggested ideal wish tie the customer sent me a picture of, to something which could be tied, untied and retied in budget. I also had a limited amount of paracord, since I had to tie both girls up.
The leg tie ended up being simpler than the ideal request. It was the only sensible choice in the circumstances. The only way to make the film with all requested scenes was to make it so we could untie and retie Ariel’s legs quickly, whilst leaving her upper body in the bondage. That way she could get downstairs safely and sit out of the way while we tied and shot Hannah.
I decided for aesthetic reasons to match that tie on Hannah, because I thought it would look better overall and because we still had the problem that Hannah was going to be in the tie for at least two hours and had to get from living room to the carrying scene and van safely with minimal untying.
A TV show would probably have untied and retied the girls, and would have realised the necessity for that in pre-production. They’d either then have cut the scene or made time elsewhere in the schedule for the show. We had a little wriggle room- the other custom we were shooting that day only required a single metal bondage rig, not two girls in complex rope. But of course I didn’t want to short-change the other customer.
The Carrying Scene
Going in to shoot day, that had been my main concern: could Ariel stay tied up long enough, safely enough and comfortable enough that we could avoid an untie-and-retie?
My second concern was the carrying, which I knew was important to the customer. In an old house where the doorways are five foot 8” high (low enough that I need to duck to get through the front door, for example) there was no way we could go out the front door safely- I’m not ducking with 75 kg of Ariel on my shoulder to get through a door. The chances of cracking my head, her butt, or dropping her were just too high.
So we had to go out of the back door (which is more modern and therefore taller). There’s a corridor leading to that, but that’s too low and constricted to be able to carry anyone, too. So the only available space we had was the room with the murals on it, out of the door to the conservatory, through the garden to the side gate. I figured I could park the camper van so its side door was by the side gate and do it that way. And the best we could do for carrying would be to film it in slow mo so at least it took up a decent amount of screen time.
Could we have solved this issue in other ways? Yes, but not on the budget. The proper fix would have been a hired location- but then the changes snowball, and the cost instantly blows up to several thousand pounds. (It is SO EASY for the budget to blow up!)
On the day, we needed to make three additional compromises that I hadn’t thought of in advance, which is what resulted in not having the girls’ feet tied during the carry, as the customer rightly in their polite reaction afterwards.
I had intended to untie their legs, get them to the mural room to start the carry, then carry them out to the van tied up.
On the day, it turned out that both Ariel and Hannah were quite scared of the carrying. Game to give it a go, but I had to be mindful of this and minimise the number of takes and different shots. Not fair to them to do it twenty times each, we were likely to be able to get one or two takes each, tops.
Worse, our drive is not entirely private- you can see into it from the street.
And as bad luck would have it, the shoot was on a Saturday, it was really sunny, and there was a parade in the centre of town. There were far more people walking past the drive than on a usual day, and a lot of them had kids. We’d already seen several kids come onto our drive and look around earlier in the day. We had to be careful – if we had a naked Ariel on view of kids, we’d have the police called out.
I’d opened the front door of the camper van to block as much of the view to the side door and the side gate as possible, but it became obvious that while we might get away with me carrying Hannah across the gap and into the van, I was not going to be able to do so with a naked Ariel. So… Ariel, at least, would have to walk across the gap, and would have to be covered with a dressing gown or something.
Which means she’d need her legs untied.
Which meant we didn’t have time to retie her legs for the carry, untie her legs for her to walk across the gap into the camper, then retie her legs again in the camper for the final scene. And given the number of people on the street, I took the decision to do the same with Hannah.
So this ended up compromising the already-compromised carrying scene still further.
If we’d had an extra hour of shoot time we would have tied their feet, done several takes of the carry to intercut dramatic angles, untied their feet, got them dressed, walked them across the short gap to the camper van, retired their feet, and carried on. But we flat-out didn’t have enough time, and it was clear that both the models wanted the carrying kept as short as possible because of the concern of being dropped. (I have been trained in doing fireman’s lift carries as a diving instructor, but I also admit my training is a bit rusty- so I didn’t want to do the scene too often for my sake too!)
We shot one take with Ariel, with me carrying, legs untied, and Steve following me with a camera on a gimbal for as smooth as possible a shot. He said it was too obvious that her legs weren’t tied. So we did another take, which resulted in the final “top of head” hair and gag swishing shot we finally got.
Even so, the customer noticed that her legs weren’t tied.
An unsuccessful compromise, which we totally realised at the time but which there just wasn’t time to rectify. Especially not as the clock was ticking, both Hannah and Ariel had already been tied up for a long time, and we had to get the carrying sequence of Hannah and then shoot the scene in the van.
We could have reshot it, potentially, but lost the scene in the van.
We went for the same, unsatisfactory, compromise for Hannah’s carry, knowing that it was the only thing we could think of to try to get something for the customer which still had the carrying scene.
By this stage we were already at the end of our shoot time, so we did the best we could and shot the van footage in two or three takes on the GoPro too.
We could have shot the carry and the van scenes it with the RED, a better microphone, more angles… but not for 400 UK pounds.
That would have blown up the budget; we’d have needed a full-day shoot.
And really a location.
Back to thousands of pounds territory again.
Those were the problems I knew we were going to have.
As always happens on every shoot day, there were a bunch of other minor problems to deal with.
We couldn’t do the “depositing the girl in van” shots as I’d envisaged it- too public, too much chance of someone seeing, and the girl’s legs weren’t tied which would have been impossible to conceal.
The van is old, and on this particular day decided not to start when I turned they key. It did start later on, so I had to grab some of the sound of the motor running and the girls struggling and slide it around in editing to make that bit of the sequence make sense.
The whole van scene was just a few lines at the end of the script, and I knew we’d done a good and comprehensive job of the tying up sequences. So I was fairly comfortable with the compromise on the van stuff, especially as we needed to get the girls untied.
The other thing I remember going wrong was potentially much more serious: the gag was not a good one to use on Hannah. It was a bit too big to use in its intended configuration as a butterfly gag, but we discovered that Hannah could be gagged with the inner part of it, if we inflated it just one puff.
In retrospect we could possibly have swapped over to the inflatable cock-gag we’d used on Ariel, and had Ariel wear the butterfly gag, but we just didn’t think of it at the time. (I don’t know whether Hannah’s OK with cock gags, which is probably why it didn’t occur at the time).
It meant we couldn’t get the inflating shots with Hannah.
In editing I realised we could have shot a closeup of my hand inflating the gag, and reaction shots of Hannah’s face as if the gag was inflating- but we didn’t think to get those shots on the day. If we’d actually done more inflating the butterfly gag would just have pushed away from her face, which would have looked stupid.
Worse, about half way through tying her up, she said that the gag was causing her lips to tingle. We’ve had this before once or twice with gags- we had a ball-gag that always caused that reaction on Ariel – we had to throw it away. And it can happen with models with latex allergies. Hannah didn’t THINK she had a latex allergy- but as she said, she didn’t usually have latex in her mouth.
By this point, we were more than half-way through the shooting time. Ariel was still tied up off-set, Hannah was half-way tied up. The only alternative would have been to switch to a panel gag- but that would have meant rewinding, untying Hannah, and starting again with the bondage sequence, but this time with a panel gag.
This was just not going to happen, we didn’t have the extra hour or so of shoot time it would have taken to do that, and Ariel might not have been able to stay tied for an additional hour either.
So we had to make a quick decision- could Hannah cope with the gag for long enough to get the shots we needed to finish the film? If we’d had to change gags we’d have lost a lot of time- maybe so much that we couldn’t get the carrying and van scenes. If we carried on, we ran the risk of an actual allergic reaction- on the less-serious end, that might have made it hard to complete the scene or left her with a puffed-up face. On the more-serious end, it could have triggered a trip to hospital or something I guess.
This is the sort of go/no-go decision I hate with custom videos. If we’re shooting for RE, we change stuff all the time to react to things on shoot day. If a gag doesn’t fit, we use another or the kidnapper comes and takes the gag out. Following a custom script means we don’t have those options available.
Obviously, the only person who could make the call about the gag was Hannah.
So we asked her what to do. Whatever the decision, we’d have had to figure out on the fly which of the necessary compromises to the film we’d have to to make to get in finished in the time we had available. Ditch the van scene? Lose the carry? Lose the tying montage of Hannah and just cut to her fully tied with a new gag, and bin the footage with the current gag?
She decided that the best bet was to power through but to keep the gag out of her mouth except when absolutely necessary for filming. If she’d been wrong and the reaction had got worse, we might have ended up having to cut her part of the filming very short or even omit it entirely in the edit. Fortunately, it didn’t get worse so we could complete the film. But it meant that anything to do with Hannah and the gag had be cut a bit short.
She did her best to act according to the script direction for the mmmphing, of course. But it didn’t turn out quite the way the customer had hoped.
This is the sort of compromise you have to make when the time is too tight to go back and reshoot any substantial part of a scene. We could allow for it – but then everyone’s customs would double in cost and I don’t think the market would stand it.
Is this usual?
Taken individually, none of these things are particularly unusual.
The customer was unlucky in having multiple things crop up on the same script.
The other one we shot that day had a problem or two as well, like costuming not quite allowing the action as scripted to go exactly right, and us finding that the film we ended up with was long on dialogue and set-up but rather short on actual bondage, which is the thing which makes it re-sellable. So we had to shoot some extra bondage at the end of that to make sure we got enough.
We finished just about on time and went out to the pub for a meal and a drink, because Ariel and I were far too knackered to cook. Steve drove home- another four hours, on top of the four hours he drove that morning to get to us for the shoot.
It’s all about the budget
In retrospect, I should have trusted to my first instinct and priced this as a full-day shoot, possibly with location. I don’t like disappointing customers, and although they were very kind and polite, I know full well that the final film doesn’t have all the elements hit as hard as we’d have liked.
To put it into context, typing this blog post and email to explain the decisions we made on shoot day
has taken four hours (which I’m effectively doing unpaid, although I hope that people find my blog gives an interesting insight into bondage production).
The whole shoot only had four hours allocated to it on shoot day.
The budget didn’t even cover the expenses.
If I make any money from the film myself at all, it will be because people buy it and like it- and those customers’ tastes may not be identical to those of the person who commissioned it. So in the back of my mind I also have the competing desires to get the custom exactly right for the person who wrote it, but also make it have wide enough appeal for me to be able to make some money on it in the end. If I get this wrong too often, I’ll go out of business. I spent three to four of my own working days roughly on this film, and my only hope of seeing some pay for myself is good sales at the end.
We have to move fast and make these decisions fast in order to be able to deliver any sort of film at all on the budgets people have for custom videos. It is a fair chunk of money- but when you’ve got multiple professionals on set it doesn’t go very far at all. What looks simple on paper rarely turns out that way on set, so we always just have to do the best we can with what we have. Doing it properly invariably means the budget jumping up to several thousand pounds, and only a handful of custom video customers have been willing to underwrite that sort of expense.
I hope that explains why the shortcomings in this customer’s film ended up the way they are.
I hope that if we can shoot something for you, we don’t have as many minor crises to deal with on shoot day and can therefore produce something closer to the script as written, with fewer compromises.
That’s a bit about luck (Hannah having a reaction to the gag was bad luck) a bit about limited planning time (me not realising that there would be lots of people on the street on shoot day was due to that), but mostly it’s about trying to make a film on a budget which doesn’t even cover costs and where most of the obvious solutions (hire a location for the carrying sequence, untie and retie, re-shoot the sequence of Hannah getting tied up with a different gag) are not possible or practical given the budget and time we have to work with.
I don’t like to disappoint, but sometimes it becomes a matter of filming something rather than nothing and doing the best we can whilst knowing we will be falling short. Other times, we
manage to over-deliver because we discover that we can do a better job with more shots, more drama, more good stuff on camera than the bare script suggested we might.
Obviously, I like the second sort of custom better. Feedback from customers suggests we exceed expectations much more often than we disappoint. Even the customer for this video was very generous and kind in their feedback, just letting us know which things didn’t look as they had hoped, and not really criticising us for the shortcomings which we knew were there.
I’d love to be able to exceed expectations every time. I’m not clever enough to figure out how to do that infallibly.
I just wanted to run through this experience to explain the process, in case you thought it was interesting, and I thought the one custom where I demonstrably underquoted in order to attempt to make something rather than nothing, and where the shoot turned out more eventful than usual, was maybe a good one to follow. I emphasise that this is unusual- by far the trickiest shoot we’ve had in the last few years (through no particular fault of anyone, except possibly me for trying to shoot it in a half day rather than a full day).
It turned out to be worth my while writing all of this up, because it crystallised the thought that the natural price for a custom video shot to these standards is several thousand pounds. I bet if I went to a commercial video maker who shoots corporate videos, they would charge at least 5,000 pounds for the script above- and very likely it would be closer to 10,000 pounds.
It’s therefore a miracle of organisation and compromise and making use of the resources we already have to be able to deliver a custom video for 5% of the natural cost. It explains why any significant deviation from the clever house of cards plan for the shoot results in an instant explosion of costs.
It isn’t that the cost of thousands of pounds is unreasonable. It’s that several thousand pounds is the natural cost for one of these videos.
That’s the commercial reality, that’s what it should cost to shoot a 30 minute video with stunt performers, locations, vans, crew, editors, props, costumes, camera operators, and the rest. If clever house of cards collapses, the natural cost reasserts itself.
That’s a valuable realisation for me.
I don’t know how typical this thought process is of customs – fellow models and producers, do you go through this every time you get commission? How do you estimate costs, and do you always feel that the budget is just a sentence or two from blowing up to thousands of pounds?
P.S. In case you are thinking of commissioning a video yourself, here are some of the “crux points” I look for in scripts. These are things which cause the costs to blow up, which are maybe not obvious to someone writing the script.
- Another actor. If it is a model, immediately double the cost of the shoot. If if is a kidnapper, add in the cost for a crew person for a day. We can use tricks and cheats for a few shots in an otherwise simpler film – I can be the delivery boy if it is one 30 second wide shot out of a 30 minute movie. But anything beyond that requires an extra person and the cost blows up.
- Scene change. Every time we move room, we potentially move lights, cameras, stands, sandbags, microphone, boom pole, actors, crew. We will need to light the new room. Even the slickest turnover probably takes 30 minutes, which is a lot in a four hour shoot slot. We can cheat by doing set-up shots in daylight on a GoPro or camera on a gimbal- fine for answering the door to the delivery boy. For anything else, the cost blows up.
- Location. If we can’t shoot it in our house, we have to hire somewhere. Locations are generally only cost-effective by the week, which means a long lead-time and lots of organisational work for me. Then I need to try to get other customs to make us of it, or have ideas to shoot RE stuff there. It’s easy to blow a couple of thousand pounds this way.
- Untie and retie. Tying a complex rope bondage is slow to start with- up to an hour, which is a big chunk of a four hour shoot slot. Untying and replicating it is a nightmare of epic proportions. It’s so easy to get it a bit wrong, and it is physically hard on the model and rigger too. If the script calls for scene changes, this can easily explode the budget. But having too much happen, especially in a demanding position, can cause problems too. Bear in mind the practicalities of shooting- I’ll warn you if I think it will blow the budget.
- Pre-production chores. Ordering one pair of gloves for your custom only takes half an hour. But it’s cheaper and easier for you to do it than to pay me to do it. Order the stuff yourself and get it sent here. That way we avoid email tennis “is this one OK?” “yes buy it” “oh no, that’s sold out in that size, what about this one” etc.. In theory I could bill all this to the customer- a lawyer or accountant would- but in practice the budget won’t stand it. So I’ll ask you to do as much of the pre-production for us as possible, as you aren’t billing anyone for your time and I have to manage at least a dozen of these things in parallel (which is a nightmare sometimes).
- Script changes. Each time you change a detail, you run the risk of the collapse of the carefully-constructed house of cards that makes it possible to shoot your custom for hundreds of pounds. As I’ve explained, it is SO EASY for the budget to blow up to the point it really wants to be- several thousand pounds- instead of the point where the market can just about afford to have these things made. By all means, run your more detailed ideas and refinements past the producer- it might make life easier on shoot day, and it is always helpful to know what you have in mind. But don’t be surprised if they come back with “Yes, we can, but it’ll blow up the budget to cost you several thousand pounds”.