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Negotiating a Feature DoP Deal


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#1 Michael Morlan

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 04:21 PM

Hi all,

I've worked as a DoP on numerous short narrative, industrial, and commercial projects, and below the line on a smattering of features. This week, I am negotiating the details of my deal for a $300K feature and seek advice and sample contract verbiage about what I should ask for, protect, etc.

Some of the things I have sought in past deals (but don't always get) or have read about include:

o my choice of gaffer/key grip
o my choice of camera op(s)
o I am consulted on all choices of my camera/lighting crews
o access to raw footage for my reel and permission to publish it after a specific date
o copy of the finished film on some choice of media
o guaranteed payment of some part of the shoot regardless of whether it goes into production or not
o consultation in grading/color correction for original print/transfer and all subsequent transfers

What else? Any specific advise about any of the above?

Thanks, in advance.

Michael
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#2 Mike Williamson

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 05:25 PM

Not sure what the name for this would be, but you should ask that your name and credit as DP appear on the DVD/video box and the poster. Anybody know what that would be called?
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 March 2007 - 09:11 PM

I'd be lucky if I got all of that in a deal memo myself...

Being consulted on crew hiring is sort of understood, but it's hard to get a written guarantee that certain people be hired since they have their own financial deals to make that may be over of the producer's budget. Usually all hiring and firing is at the discretion of the producer.

Usually you ask for a copy for your reel (non-commercial purposes), credits to read as such and such, and perhaps certain print adds, DVD copies, etc.

You may get a work guarantee, maybe not. Lately I've been able to get a three-week guarantee in my feature contracts.

Hopefully you can get it in writing that you will be notified whenever any color-correcting will be done to the image in post and distribution. Doesn't guarantee that they have to bring you in.

If it's a non-union film, you may want to specify the nature of the pay scale, what a normal workday is, a normal work week, turnaround, overtime, availability on days off, etc.
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#4 Patrick Neary

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 10:34 AM

You get a camera operator on a $300k feature?
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 10:55 AM

Can anyone share what standard/reasonable rates are for various budget ranges for narrative features? Naturally, each project is different, but, for example, if the movie budget is a million, how much is fair for the DP to expect? $500 a day flat? $1000 a day flat? More? Less? Any OT? Include agent fees?
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 11:09 AM

Can anyone share what standard/reasonable rates are for various budget ranges for narrative features? Naturally, each project is different, but, for example, if the movie budget is a million, how much is fair for the DP to expect? $500 a day flat? $1000 a day flat? More? Less? Any OT? Include agent fees?


Depends on how badly they want that particular DP, but assuming they aren't trying to lure some big-budget DP over to their small budget movie by paying closer to his usual salary, it's lower than $500/day for a million or under feature, at least it was for me.

For a half-mil feature, often the crew rates are based on the fact that it's hard to pay anyone less than $100/day. So if you figure $100/day for a grip, electric, or camera loader, it's maybe $150/day for the 2nd AC, Best Boys, $200/day for the Gaffer, Key Grip, and $300/day for the DP. But this varies a lot, and often these lower positions get rental of their equipment so that works out to them making more than the DP -- for example, the Key Grip owns a truck, the Best Buy electric owns a gennie, etc.

So I would say that for a 1 mil. feature, $2000/week for the DP is not uncommon.

Remember that the IA union scale minimum for a DP is about $3500/week (but that's for a 5-day week made up of 8 or 10-hour days.)

But as I said, it all depends on how far they are willing to stretch a budget to get a certain DP. Unfortunately, they often rob Peter to pay Paul, and you find yourself hurting in some other budget area.

Agent fees are never mentioned in negotiating -- that's sort of your own problem. You may get a good kit rental added-on, or get them to pay you for more prep days (they generally never pay for as much prep as you put in. I put in about a month of prep on a low-budget feature, whether or not I get paid for a month.)
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#7 Michael Morlan

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 07:27 PM

Some excellent info - most particularly the typical ranges of negotiating points.

FWIW, my feature has a $300K budget with $100K earmarked for attracting some name talent. I am receiving $150/day for 10 days of prep (yes, I'll put in more) and $900/5-day week. I have a long-standing relationship with the producer and a fairly diverse short-form reel that inspired the production to offer that much. I didn't negotiate for my DoP fee but will be doing so on other points. For instance, I'll may also be renting my one-ton G/E package, doorway dolly system, and jib-arm, so I'll make out all right on this project.

M
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#8 Michael Morlan

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 08:40 PM

You get a camera operator on a $300k feature?


One of the unique arrangements of this particular project is that I will also be serving as an advisor/mentor to the first-time director. I'll be pretty engaged in collaborative confabs with him and will not be able to attend camera myself. My trusted camera op from other projects will be handling the frame.

Having my choice of camera op, gaffer, and key grip becomes even more important under these circumstances. I wouldn't be insulted if they were making more than me.

M
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#9 Jarin Blaschke

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 08:57 PM

I signed my own first feature deal memo today. One part in the contract states that my credit onscreen is of the same size and duration as the writer's, and I also get credited in the billing block whenever the writer does - on the DVD case, posters, ads, etc. My contract also specifies when overtime applies and requires that I be present for all correction sessions with the film.
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#10 Mike Williamson

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 10:11 PM

Congratulation both Michael and Jarin, I hope the films go well for you guys.

I was suggesting you negotiate for what Jarin has in his contract, being included in the "billing block" as it's apparently called.
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#11 Patrick Neary

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 10:00 AM

One of the unique arrangements of this particular project is that I will also be serving as an advisor/mentor to the first-time director. I'll be pretty engaged in collaborative confabs with him and will not be able to attend camera myself. My trusted camera op from other projects will be handling the frame.

Having my choice of camera op, gaffer, and key grip becomes even more important under these circumstances. I wouldn't be insulted if they were making more than me.

M


It seems like in the not-LA markets one of the biggest challenges is that your few experienced local crew are all used to working at their commercial rates (rightly so), and the ones who are willing to slave away at an indie feature, at indie rates, can range from inexperienced to destructive. It makes you really appreciate the good ones who are willing to jump in.

(and by the way, congrats on your upcoming project!)
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#12 Joseph White

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 11:59 AM

for me, having just completed my 7th feature under $1m, i've learned that the most important thing you can strive to protect is the hours your crew is going to be asked to work and how they are going to be treated. i know that for the most part, with the exception of short meetings, i'm gone on a good gate, but everyone else, especially g&e side on a location shoot, still has quite a bit of work to do and their treatment is usually the first thing to go.

on budgets at this level you, as a dp, probably have more control over scheduling and turnaround/treatment than you'll ever have, and since they want you, use this as a means to making sure the people who will be working their tails off to give you the images you want are being properly taken care of. things like second meal and overtime sound like small things, especially on shows at this level seeing as how it probably means pizza and an extra $20, but your loyalty to your crew will pay off tenfold, and this is something i always address in my conversations and contracts. look at it this way, in any other job, if people are asked to work overtime, they are compensated for it. the independent film industry seems to think that everyone is just lucky to be there, and this leads to unfair practices.

don't mean to rant, but just something i wanted to put out there. in all of my converstaions with production early on i make them make specific note of what the work days will be like, and i make them hold that up with my crew too.
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#13 John Hall

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 12:30 PM

on budgets at this level you, as a dp, probably have more control over scheduling and turnaround/treatment than you'll ever have, and since they want you, use this as a means to making sure the people who will be working their tails off to give you the images you want are being properly taken care of. things like second meal and overtime sound like small things, especially on shows at this level seeing as how it probably means pizza and an extra $20, but your loyalty to your crew will pay off tenfold, and this is something i always address in my conversations and contracts. look at it this way, in any other job, if people are asked to work overtime, they are compensated for it. the independent film industry seems to think that everyone is just lucky to be there, and this leads to unfair practices.


I'm not sure if the contract between you and the production can have binding clauses on deals that have yet to be negotiated between the production and the crew.
Your deal may only affect your work hours and conditions. If the deal memo for the crew doesn't include the same work hour conditions, they may be able to have them work longer with out breaching YOUR contract.

I'm not a lawyer, and I may be way off on this, but since loyalty to your crew is important (and you should be commended for it), I would check to see what you have to do to contractually obligate the production to gaurentee crew hours / conditions.
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#14 Michael Morlan

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 01:00 PM

Joseph, I agree completely. Having worked in the G/E crew on features and short form projects, I remember two hours of additional work after hearing "That's a wrap!" Not sure how to include that in a contract but it is definitely something I consider in pre-pro and production.

Here are some of the clauses I first submitted to the producer of this project for his consideration. This is my own verbiage, cribbed from various contracts, feedback in this forum, and my own experience. Since he is an attorney, I'm sure he'll reword this:

CREDIT

Notes: I didn't have any parameters for this. Thanks, Jarin, for your notes about that.


POSTPONEMENT / CANCELLATION


A. Minor Schedule Changes

If the Production should move either two days forward to two days backwards from the dates of engagement and the schedule change does not conflict with other work booked by the Artist, the Producer will not be charged for the change in schedule.

B. Major Schedule Changes

In recognition of the unique services of the Artist and of the Artist?s declining other work during the period of the Production, the Producer understands that cancellation, shortening, or rescheduling of three or more days of the Production requires compensation to the Artist as follows:

1. greater than 28 days before start of Principal Photography: Artist will be paid 10% of fees for lost/rescheduled days.

2. from 28 days to 14 days before start of Principal Photography: Artist shall be paid 50% of fees for lost/rescheduled days.

3. from 14 days to 7 days before start of Principal Photography: Artist shall be paid for 75% of fees for lost/rescheduled days.

4. from 7 days before start of Principal Photography through end of Principal Photography: Artist shall be paid for 100% of fees for lost/rescheduled days.

All fees to be paid within ten (10) days of cancellation, shortening, or scheduling. No other damages may be assessed to the Producer.

Notes: I?ve suffered through two features being cancelled a week before principal photography and the resulting lost revenues from other declined jobs.


CREW, GEAR & FACILITY REQUESTS

Artist shall be consulted and have mutual approval on the selection of camera, electric, and grip crews, equipment, and post-production facilities. If the Artist requests specific crewmembers, it is understood that those crew members work under the terms and conditions set by the Producer. These terms will be disclosed to the Artist at the time of each crewmember?s booking. If the requested crew fails to agree to the terms and conditions set by the Producer they may be replaced at the Producer?s discretion. In the event of a conflict the decision of Producer shall govern and control.

Notes: I wouldn?t be insulted if the gaffer and key grip were making more than me. I need them to be super strong so I can hand them a directive and know it will be carried out without further monitoring by me until they are ready for my next feedback.


PHOTOGRAPHY / RE-SHOOTS

Artist will be consulted on all 2nd Unit photography, plates, and all other photography on the Project that may not be directly under the Artist?s supervision. Artist has the right of first refusal regarding delayed or additional photography, to be paid at his same daily rate.

In the event a re-shoot becomes necessary due to an error on the part of the Artist, it is understood the Artist will re-shoot the job in a timely fashion at the same day-rate as agreed to for principal photography.

Notes: The usual ?protecting my work? stuff.

POST PRODUCTION

Subject to Artist?s availability, Producer will consult with Artist for the purpose of all post-production color correction, grading, and creative manipulation of the image or any other process where color correction is to be implemented for a master for cable, television, video cassettes, DVDs, or laser discs."

Notes: The usual ?protecting my work? stuff.

TRAVEL

Travel shall be provided in the same amounts and same class as the director. Per Diem shall be paid upon arrival at out-of-town locations at the rate of _________.

Notes: Not sure if we?re traveling but, rather than specify some numbers here, just note that I am treated the same as the director.

SHOW REEL

The Artist shall have the right, at his expense, to make duplicates of original footage and the finished feature from the highest quality masters, to be used solely on the Artist?s portfolio. Artist shall be provided with one (1) DVD copy of the finished feature as soon as the feature is released and such DVD copies are commercially available. The Artist shall be granted access to print and electronic pres kits, if produced. Artist understands that he must obtain the permission of the owner of the finished work for any use of any materials.

BILLING

Artist shall be compensated as follows:

1. Beginning of pre-pro: 50% pre-pro fees

2. Beginning of Principal Photography: 50% pre-pro fees + 50% principal photography fees

3. Monday following week 3+: principal photography fees for preceding week

PROFIT PARTICIPATION

Notes: Do I have any participation in the back end of this project?
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#15 Gary McClurg

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 01:04 PM

[quote name='Michael Morlan' date='Mar 29 2007, 10:00 AM' post='163629']
Notes: Do I have any participation in the back end of this project?
[/quote]

You never get it anyway... ha... ha... at least I haven't... ran into... the writer of Forest Gump in Vegas... he said he never got any backend on that film... because Paramount said the movie didn't make any money...

QUOTE(Patrick Neary @ Mar 27 2007, 10:34 AM)

You get a camera operator on a $300k feature?[/i][/quote]

I was thinking the same thing when I read it... read your comment and understand why...

Edited by Gary McClurg, 30 March 2007 - 01:05 PM.

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#16 Michael Morlan

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Posted 09 June 2007 - 08:35 AM

A followup to this thread:

While the production I was negotiating with when I originally asked for advice fell through when a new exec. producer came on board, I was immediately engaged in negotiations on another low-budget pic. I often work in free-lance mode so I built two different contracts; a union-styled contract from the various references I was offered and a non-union, client-invoiced version which I presented to this project and that, after minor revision, was signed.

They are both attached. As with any legal document, consult an entertainment attorney.

The billed version is designed with lots of financial hedges for low-budget, unknown producers who are likely to mismanage their shoots and thus their funds. ;) It was interesting explaining the postponement/cancellation clauses to my completely newbie E.P. I had to help her understand that it wasn't my responsibility to take a risk on the picture since I couldn't control all aspects of production. That was her gamble. :D

Michael

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Opal

FJS International, LLC

Ritter Battery

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Aerial Filmworks

Willys Widgets

The Slider

Technodolly

Glidecam

Tai Audio

CineTape

Paralinx LLC

Metropolis Post

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Rig Wheels Passport

Visual Products

Wooden Camera

rebotnix Technologies

CineLab

Abel Cine

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS