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Day rates/Standard work day on Indie features


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#1 JD Hartman

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 10:41 PM

What is the standard (if such a thing exists) or typical number of hours that you base your rate on? Twelve, fourteen hours? Do you expect your deal memo to specify a standard number of hours turn around in a work day? I realize that responsibilities vary with the job title, as does the work remaining after the last shot of the day. I'm trying to arrive at a standard number of hours to appear in my next deal memo along with my rate as Gaffer. Would you suggest writing in an overtime or penalty clause for days that stretch beyond the agreed norm?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 12:19 AM

An "indie" feature can be anything from a budget of $100 to over a million dollars, so it's hard to generalize about rates and deals -- it sort of comes down to what you can bargain for.

Some people negotiate an overtime clause, whether it kicks in above 12, 14, or 16 hours, etc. On a really low-budget project, a producer probably isn't going to want to give any overtime, just give a flat rate for the day -- but maybe you can wrangle some sort of deal for a bump, some extra cash, after 14-hours, let's say. Obviously this is a system that is ripe for abuse.
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#3 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 12:22 AM

What is the standard (if such a thing exists) or typical number of hours that you base your rate on? Twelve, fourteen hours? Do you expect your deal memo to specify a standard number of hours turn around in a work day? I realize that responsibilities vary with the job title, as does the work remaining after the last shot of the day. I'm trying to arrive at a standard number of hours to appear in my next deal memo along with my rate as Gaffer. Would you suggest writing in an overtime or penalty clause for days that stretch beyond the agreed norm?



Good question. I was gaffer on a low budget feature about ten years ago (although enough of a budget to shoot
in 35mm.) The night before the first day of shooting there was a mandatory production meeting that went till
11:00 p.m. Call time was 6:00 a.m. and that day went all the way until 1:00 a.m.. At the end of the week, at about
7:30 p.m. on Saturday (a day shoot going 12 hours plus) I complained that the crew had acted in good faith but
we were being paid for deals that we had cut that had not included ridiculously long days. I was fired on Sunday.

After that I stopped cutting deals unless I knew the people writing the checks fairly well. I have the feeling that
otherwise, the type of people who cause needlessly long days primarily due to their disorganization might sign
a memo with penalty clauses but if it came to having to pay them, you'd get one day's penalty payment if you asked
for it and then you'd get the axe.

I didn't mind working long days for filmmakers who had their act together but had a lot of production challenges
in their passion projects. I got fed up with having no time to even get enough sleep due to inept production teams
who also did not compensate properly.


More of a rant, I guess. Good luck. Not sure what to tell you. I guess do what you have to until you can move up
and/or out. A real quality independent feature that gives you a chance to do good work that you enjoy on a
worthwhile project and pays you at least decently and respects your work day is sometimes more rewarding
I guess than a higher paid job on a soap commercial but then again, it also depends on what financial/family
organizations you have and whether you can commute or you're off in some cheapo motel for five weeks away
from your family.

At a certain point, you may decide to say hey, you do good work and your rate is (at least) such and such
and see what happens. Maybe you'll stay home. Maybe you'll get better jobs. I definitely worked underpaid
for a good while but it was a tradeoff for what I learned and how it helped me. I'm not interested anymore in
doing nineteen hour days unless I'm either getting triple overtime or I'm not but it's once out of an entire production
and it is going to save a great project.
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#4 Michael Nash

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 04:36 AM

Other crew members will bring their own experience and opinions into the show, so it's not just your contract that matters to the producers. Standard in the film world is a 12 hr. work day with a 12 hr. turnaround. Obviously that gets "bent" all the time, but even if you negotiate different numbers for yourself the rest of the crew may not feel the way you do.
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#5 Jess Haas

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 01:51 PM

As Gaffer it is your responsibility to look out for your crew. On really low budget stuff they won't have much leverage to negotiate but you should. I always try to get overtime and turnaround clauses even on the ridiculosly low budget stuff. The reason I do this is not because I want to be paid more. You need to give the producers a financial incentive to not have ridiculous hours and ridiculously short turn arounds. Otherwise they think that it will save them money to make the days as long as possible.

I am personally a much bigger stickler about turnarounds than hours. I try to get 12 hour turnarounds for myself and crew whenever possible but even union grips and electricians are only guaranteed a 10 hour turn around so that is what I usually end up with unless there is much travel time. If people are not getting enough sleep then things go slower, things get broken and people get hurt. Producers never seem to believe me on this but I have seen long hours and short turnarounds cost production a lot more money in the long run than it would have to simply add a few days and use a reasonable schedule.

When negotiating deals I can't count the number of times when a producer would tell me that we would never go over 12 hours so they didn't want to put overtime in the deal memo. If they don't want to give you overtime than tell them you are fine with that but you and your crew will be leaving after working for 12 hours. Also don't forget the penalty for forced calls. Don't be afraid of telling them that your crew won't be showing up until a certain time even when they try to set call time really early.

Of course sometimes long hours and short turnarounds are necessary for various reasons. That is fine, just make sure not to give the production an incentive to do it everyday. On the really low budget stuff I sometimes don't even bother pointing out that we went into overtime as long as things stay reasonable and it is not a regular event. As I said the point isn't really to make more money, it is to keep things reasonable and to keep people safe. A lot of people have died from falling asleep at the wheel because they weren't getting enough sleep.

So for low budget stuff my rate is usually based on a 12 hour day, time and a half after 12, increases to either double or triple time at some point after that. 10 hour turn around with time and a half for forced calls when turnaround is less than 10 hours. That 10 does not include travel time when it is significant. If I can get it I make the turnaround 12 instead of 10. I personally prefer to word the contract as hourly with an hourly minimum. It makes overtime and everything simpler and just seems to make more sense.

You need to make sure to make this deal not just for yourself but also for your crew. If one person gets overtime production will have no problem going into overtime, if your whole department gets it then they have a real incentive to keep things reasonable. Not all department heads look out for their crews like this but the good ones do and as a result they have a lot easier time finding good crew even when the pay isn't great. Whenever I am in gaffer, key, best boy or DP I make a point of making sure that my crew is taken care of. I have even been on productions where I was a third and I ended up negotiating a better deal for the department. Shouldn't have had to but they wanted to hire me so I told them what it would take and they did it.

~Jess
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#6 Jess Haas

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 01:54 PM

One more thing. On commercials and similar things rates are often based on a 10 or 8 hour day instead of 12. The rate is usually about the same if not more but overtime kicks in quicker and the shoots are usually shorter. I even did one commercial where the rate was based on a 5 hour day.

~Jess
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