Warren Eagles


How long will it take to grade my movie?

“How long will it take to grade my movie?”

It is not an easy thing for producers to work out so it is a question I am asked all the time.

Obviously every TVC, movie or music video is different so a rough guide is the best you can offer your client without seeing the footage. These examples are based on average budget projects. Hollywood movies and big TVCs will always take longer.

Things that impact on the time quoted are conforming, VFX shots not finished, cut not locked, number of cuts in the show, a director that wants to experiment! 9-10 times you will need to give a rough quote before seeing a rough cut.

It’s a great start. Remember the fact you are being asked means somebody has taken the time to find you or you have been recommended.

This is guide for grading time only, conforming headaches can often blow out so lets stick to what I know best. If your client does not have 10 days money for a feature, or 6 hours for a TVC, you can always negotiate, maybe include conforming and finishing time. Always start with the optimum amount of hours to complete the project

By the hour or by the project?

I always try and charge by the hour or the day/week. If you take on a film at a fixed rate, you have to be very careful. Lots of things out of your control can mean the time blowing out.

General rules for bigger sessions

Grading should ideally be no more than 8-9 hours a day. I know we have all done stupidly long hours in the past but in my experience your productivity goes down like a lead balloon the longer you are perched in front of a screen. I try and break my day up a bit like a sporting event.

Work for 2 hours then take a 10 min drinks break. Another 2 hours then take lunch for an hour. Then do another 4 hours in the afternoon split by another drink break.

The breaks do a few things. It rests your eyes and mind. Get outside for a few minutes, take in some daylight and fresh air. Take a toilet break even if you don’t need one. Your clients will also benefit from this, remember they are not used to sitting in a dark room for extended periods. Leave yourself enough time to review and make changes.

Render time, especially 4K maybe ACES or HDR will need to be a day or more.

FEATURE FILM 90 mins, 10 Days

10 days of grading gives you time not only to create looks that supplement the story but also gives you time to fix issues, match cameras, add VFX when they arrive. Conform or render are things that need to be factored into your quote maybe at a lesser rate. 10 days gives you enough time to explore the options and time to change things if after review you or your clients find the grade doesn’t fit.

DOCUMENTARY 45mins, 2 days

Docos can be troublesome to grade especially if lots of different formats are used. This can also impact on the actual grading time as matching lots of formats can be time consuming. Normally the grading will be more straight forward as most docos don’t have specific looks or styles in that case 1 day might be enough.

Doco clients normally like to attend the grade and are often very close to the project

TV DRAMA 45 mins, 2 days

TV drama is most impacted by the number of cuts in the show. Often the DP or director will be shooting while you are grading so are unable to attend the grading. Looks for each location will be set before in an initial grading session, maybe on show 1 of the series or the pilot. This means grading alone then doing a producer screening when the grade is finished.

I normally try and get a balanced grade on the whole show during day1. I then review at the start of Day 2, you’ll always see some scenes differently so a  good chance to change things. Then start to add some nice touches, little windows, light glows etc.

Get the producers in after lunch and hopefully, you are then only adding cool things not regrading!

TELEVISION COMMERCIAL (TVC) 30s, 4-5 hours to grade

The early stages of a TVC grade are often the most important, as we search for a ‘look’ for the commercial. Coloring with a number of clients in the room often slows things down. Make sure you get a verbal lock off on the look. The last thing you want to hear after 2 hours of slogging away is “I’m not sure we have the right look for this commercial”

REMOTE TVC 30s grading alone no clients. 4 hours to grade

If I get sent a 30s TVC via the internet, I normally charge 3 hours for the grade with a 1 hour buffer that we may or may not need.

After the 2 hours I will upload an H.264 Work in Progress (WIP) version. Get the feedback via phone, Skype or e-mail then use the final hour to make the changes.

Maybe send 1 more WIP, then finish. I always send the WIP version to myself so I can review on my Laptop or iPad the same way the client will.

You can play ‘grading Ping Pong’ all day long pinging versions back and forth, not ideal so boundaries need to be set.

I don’t charge for the download and upload time as I am normally doing this in the background. Factor file sizes and your internet speed, especially when you have a tight deadline.

BRANDED CONTENT 3 mins WEB or Trade show. 6 hours to grade

I am getting more and more branded content films. These are primarily for the internet and trade shows. Imagine Hugh Jackman has a contract with BMW, they want a 2-3min film that shows the vehicle in a stylist and narrative way. It must have TVC type production values, without the budget. Often you will see a TV 30sec with an additional 3 minute Branded content film

MUSIC VIDEO, 4 hours to grade….or  “How long is a piece of string?”

Can be very difficult to quote, strong looks, lots of cuts, and matching VFX shots are all a factor in how long it will take. Music videos traditionally have a strong visual style so harder to create and in turn harder to match.


Make sure you have the audio available for your project. You won’t grade with the sound up but it is fantastic when you review. The producers will then start arguing about the sound and leave your grade alone.

These are my opinions and a rough guide only. Please contact me if you have any workflow or grading questions.

Warren Eagles

Freelance Colorist.