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#1 Nick Morr

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 08:19 PM

Hi, 

 

I've been chipping away at a career as a DP for about 6 years, moving away from ACing (was never one for that kind of wholly technical job) and giving it the real (full-time) college try about 2 years ago. I am having a very difficult time making ends-meet. Most of my friends seem to be doing much better, working with real budgets, and are progressing very quickly. (I can't help but notice they all have a leg-up in that they've been afforded the opportunity to take career-furthering risks that as a man on the brink of financial ruin, I cannot take). I seem to string together just enough gigs to keep the lights on and not starve to death, just when I think it's time to hang-up my boots and start working construction again, I get some goofy gig or a meager check trickles in to keep me afloat and just faithful enough.

 

I am also dealing with several mickey mouse clients whose work as been pushed or evaporated altogether (to the tune of about $10,000) this summer. I've collected one sorry kill fee of $100 in this time of struggle. 

 

I suppose the question I'm posing is: how do I dig myself out of this rut and get to the level where some of you are? Where you're in the very least not constantly anxious about impending financial calamity. I have most of the boxes ticked I should think: passionate, creative, confident that I am a good cameraman, personable, earnest, & intelligent, yet I cannot seem to crack the code. 

 

This isn't meant to solicit pity. I need to figure how to sustain this career, 'though I'll probably continue to plug away regardless. I can't imagine doing anything else with my life! Any advice is appreciated. 

 

I've been doing mostly corporate/internal corporate videos and commercials in offices and on white cycs/green screens that I'm not allowed to share, but if you wanna dig a small sample of my work check out the sparse nickmorr.com

 

Long-winded, hey? Thanks!

 

Nick


Edited by Nick Morr, 02 August 2016 - 08:22 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 08:27 PM

I graduated from film school in 1991 and didn't really start to make a decent living at it until 2003, even with 24 feature credits to my name by that time.  My worst year was 2000 I think when I made something like $2500 for the whole year, and most years I averaged about $18,000 total.  This was because I was shooting non-union features, which paid on average about $6000 per movie, and if I were lucky, I'd shoot three of them a year.  I filled this out with a little video shooting on the side.

 

I don't know what to say other than to keep working -- the more work you do, the more opportunities you create.

 

There is a better money in shooting long-form projects, i.e. TV series, partly just because of the number of shooting days.  And today there is more scripted drama than ever in production.


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#3 Nick Morr

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 08:33 PM

David Mullen,

 

Thanks for that! The length of these shoots I'm doing is definitely a big issue. It's usually 1-3 days. They pay pretty okay, but not enough to live on. I know to some--like yourself--who struggled for a decade or more, it may seem like I'm whining or throwing my hands-up too soon, but the situation feels dire everyday I am not working.

 

Thanks again for your speedy response. 

 

Nick


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#4 Richard Boddington

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 08:37 PM

Nick, here's a piece of advice, never let em see you sweat, as the saying goes.  So in other words never tell people, "I've collected one sorry kill fee of $100 in this time of struggle."  Especially since this is the entertainment business and perception is everything.  Always project an image of success, always tell people how great it's going and how wonderful your career is.

 

People are funny, no one wants to hire a guy who is not working, they all want to hire the in demand guy they cannot have.  The logic is, if this guy isn't making any money that's because he has no talent, so why would I want to hire a guy like that?

 

The more you tell people how you're not getting any work, the less you will get.

 

My .02.

 

R,


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#5 Nick Morr

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 08:44 PM

Thanks, Richard. 

 

Sound advice. So you're suggesting I delete this post, perk-up, and get on with it?

 

Nick


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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 09:01 PM

Well....if it were me I would rent a ferrari and show up at every meeting in a ferrari and tell the interviewer you need to get onto your next interview at 3:30, why? Because you're the hottest ticket in town that's why  :D

 

Like every self employed film person you will need to learn the art of, "self promotion."  It doesn't matter if you're a director or a camera loader, the principle is the same.  It's difficult for people that dislike such a process, but it's needed if you want to succeed.  Don't wait for someone else to tell the UPM you're the best, YOU tell the UPM you're the best.

 

Ready for this.....I once told the Prime Minister of Canada that I was Canada's leading film producer and how successful I was in less than 20 seconds. He then asked if he could watch my latest film with his wife and kids and called over his assistant, who then gave me his card with the address of where to send the DVD.  True story, I even have a picture of the two of us together while I was doing this, and he was surrounded by body guards (RCMP.)

 

Now, how would the prime minister have known all this if I didn't tell him?

 

Stephen Whitehead has been my DOP on my last two movies, he's only 33 and take a look at his resume on IMDB.  He is ALWAYS working, non stop.  He's not shy about calling potential employers on a constant basis, I am one of those people he keeps calling!!!!!!  :huh:

 

R,


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#7 Justin Hayward

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 10:45 PM

A radio guy I listen to has often said you have to work in the field you want to work in for a minimum of ten years before it really pays off.  Trouble is, filmmaking is full of famous success stories that happened to far younger people than that theory.  The truth is, we're not all auteurs.  We're people that enjoy making films on all sorts of levels, but are also, unfortunately, not brilliant at the craft, but maybe okay.  We have to learn.  We have to gain experience.  Of course my twelve-year-old self is screaming at me right now :) 

 

I think DP's are more accountable than directors though, because their skill is based in talent as well as experience, which I don't think is a scrutiny a handfull of directors often face.


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#8 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 03 August 2016 - 02:40 AM

I talk to people breaking into the industry weekly. Whether they're brought in as lower-end roles on productions I'm involved with OR simply meet them through renting my equipment. I've literally met 100's of people in the last year, all of them excited to be where they are and striving to move up the ladder. When I have a moment, I always sit down with them and ask the same questions; what is your end goal and why aren't you there now. They're really basic, but it makes them think and sometimes just thinking about things stirs new ideas. What I've learned with those questions is pretty straight forward. Everyone wants to be a cinematographer or director and nobody really knows why they aren't doing it right now. Some say "I've gotta pay my dues", but they don't really know what that means.

I've been living in Los Angeles for 15 years come this September. I moved here specifically to be in the film industry, but I came here with certifications for Apple service. So I basically whored myself out all over town, doing computer gigs and since this is a film industry town, I was able to make friends with some people who eventually gave me creative work. Honestly, for me it was a very quick road, I shot my first feature less then a year after landing. Unfortunately, I was screwed on the deal financially, didn't have enough money to make ends meet and I wound up being a bench technician for a paintball field, lucky to make $50 a day. I spent around a year going from gig to gig, learning the ropes, being broke to the point of borrowing money from my parents, it was really hard times. I almost moved back to Boston where I'm originally from, but I scored a full-time job and over the course of 8 years, worked a normal 9 - 6.

It was a blessing to have a normal job because again, I constantly met people and was taking freelance creative work from those people on the side. I built quite a resume in the process, not IMDB or demo reel credits, but stuff I would need to progress in my backup job if necessary.

At the height of the economic down turn, I lost two jobs back to back from bankruptcies/chapter 11 protection. This pushed me to work as a freelancer again and I've done so for the last 5 years, with the exception of an 8 month stint as an online editor with a somewhat normal paycheck.

Today I work freelance, make about $20k a year in "taxable" income and do A LOT of little jobs on the side for cash, shooting this, editing that, sometimes tech work to help out older clients. Honestly, anything that pays the bills and doesn't waste any time, I'll usually go for it. I also got very lucky and have two "honey pot" clients, guys who send me work on a regular basis and so far 2016 has been the best year of freelance since I started 5 years ago. I don't hold my breath though, I'm constantly looking for new avenues of money and constantly writing/working on new projects, either for myself or friends. It's a never ending "hustle" living in Hollywood and you've gotta play the game.

Looking back on the whole thing, I really do feel the key is starting from ground zero, with no crazy ambitions and simply being on bigger sets. Whatever you can find, movies, television, commercial, it doesn't matter. Start sweeping the floors/unloading trucks for $125/day, meeting young people like yourself who have like-minded goals and build a community who takes care of one another. That's how you build success, it comes from being part of a group who cares about one another. That sounds simple, but it's very difficult to get there and generally speaking, you need a lot of talent to prove yourself. This is part of the reason why I took the "jack of all trades" approach to working in the industry because frankly, if you do one thing really good and nothing else, you've just closed almost all the doors you've got for making money. Today, all of the 20 somethings I work with are all jack of all trades. They're cinematographers by day, editors and VFX guys at night. It's crazy how the industry has changed, partially due to the accessibility of tools, that until recently were cost prohibitive. Now anyone can learn anything on their spare time, which is just crazy. This new generation doesn't specialize, which is why you see so many 30 something filmmakers who are well verse in other disciplines, getting opportunities that most of us simply don't get because we don't speak their language, whatever it may be.

I hope through reading this, you can understand a few of the things that are necessary to "crack the code" in hollywood, one of them is having a backup gig, the other is having a good inner circle of friends who can help you find work. This industry is 100% nepotism, people don't want to risk a craigslist person. They'd rather go all internal, call their friends and then if one of those knows you, that's when you're in business. It only takes doing a good job on ONE project, to secure more job's. It's all about finding the filmmakers who are always working and pushing yourself to be their 'A' guy. That takes a while, more then a few years in fact. It took me years to find the right person to work with and I thank him every day. It's an ever-lasting doorway to more work, I'm literally inundated with work, tossing jobs to other people he's worked with prior when I can't do them. Eventually he'll trust me enough for me to push work to my friends and that's how the whole thing works.
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#9 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 14 August 2016 - 02:53 AM

Nick

 

Well TBH I wouldn't agree with Tyler as far as being a Jack of all trades.... for the very reason Tyler states.. everyone on low budget stuff is doing it.. and they will be stuck in that world..  my opinion only..

 

Im older.. but I have only done camera work.. from being a loader.. blah blah.. the usual road.. I dont want to edit or do sound or be a writer.. and I wouldn't be any good at it.. my interest is camera only.. as it seems your is too.. 6 years is not that long.. at the end of the day a huge amount of being "successful" is to do with luck.. all the big time DP,s had one crucial film or random meeting that got them noticed.. combined with the skill too of course.. stick at it as long as you really want to.. to shoot features/TV drama straight out is very hard except for the non/low paying ones.. have you looked into say corporate video production.. this is one field on the rise with bigger budgets and decent gear these days..  poor mans commercial .. but decent pay and good reel material as they are becoming alot more sophisticated these days..


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 14 August 2016 - 02:55 AM.

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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 August 2016 - 03:01 PM

Just keep working. And try (hard as it is) not to judge your career off of the success of others. Be yourself, but be confident. And if need be, see about a second gig (uber maybe, Lyft etc to supplement-- but something you can do yourself when you want or can quit easily. And if ever you can't keep working-- well-- sorry, but that's what happens sometimes.


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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 15 August 2016 - 06:13 AM

Also, any applicant to the film industry may simply have to accept that success may not ever happen.

 

The industry is massively oversubscribed. Most people who are interested in it will fail. You may be one of those people. It isn't your fault. It's massively luck-based, and success goes preferentially to people who are massively big-headed about their own ability, regardless of how good they actually are.

 

And you can project this onto me if you like - I knew I was never going to be shooting massive movies, I don't have the ability, but then again neither do some of the people who do it.

 

P


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#12 Justin Hayward

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Posted 15 August 2016 - 02:17 PM

success goes preferentially to people who are massively big-headed about their own ability, regardless of how good they actually are.

 

 

In his book, Making Movies, Sidney Lumet says we all need a healthy level of self-delusion or we'd be too afraid to get into this.  I tend to agree.


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#13 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 August 2016 - 06:11 PM

Maybe i should be fuller of myself. . . .  then again. . . eh.


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#14 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 15 August 2016 - 08:24 PM

Well I think its ok to have some sort of ego.. it is a job where you are compared to others.. its not like accounting where you add it up correctly or not.. and you have to have the belief you are good at what you do.. I think this can be done without being a card carrying A hole..  


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#15 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 16 August 2016 - 02:24 AM

I think things may have changed in this respect. Twitter and Facebook are blamed for a lot, but I think their popularity is a side-effect of a reality in which ability is almost irrelevant and everything is about those things which are referred to as "soft skills." 

 

This is all very fine and lovely, but it does mean you can't defeat the problem by being good at what you do, because increasingly, nobody cares if you're good at what you do. People in positions of authority have, again increasingly, got there by seeming nice and wearing expensive shoes, as opposed to knowing even the first thing about what they're dealing with, so quite often they can't even tell if you're good at what you do.

 

It's not a problem for the individual, it's a societal thing, and it's why I think the western world is, in a word, doomed.

 

P


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#16 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 16 August 2016 - 02:43 AM

Sure.. as they say only two positions on a film crew where no experience is needed.. runner and director.. :)..  but for technical fields like camera/sound.. you do have to know what you are doing.. usually from experience .. . and you will be fired if your rushes are bad.. or audio has drop out the whole time.. we are judged on a certain basic technical knowledge AND.. an esthetic level too.. 

And in that sense I think you do have to have a certain level of self confidence /ego.. 


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#17 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 17 August 2016 - 12:14 PM

Nick, here's a piece of advice, never let em see you sweat, as the saying goes.  So in other words never tell people, "I've collected one sorry kill fee of $100 in this time of struggle."  Especially since this is the entertainment business and perception is everything.  Always project an image of success, always tell people how great it's going and how wonderful your career is.

 

People are funny, no one wants to hire a guy who is not working, they all want to hire the in demand guy they cannot have.  The logic is, if this guy isn't making any money that's because he has no talent, so why would I want to hire a guy like that?

 

The more you tell people how you're not getting any work, the less you will get.

 

My .02.

 

R,

The most frustrating aspect about freelancing in general is this constant Catch22 toward being pro-active in your networking.   It's exactly as Richard describes where you must always appear buried in work but even that can work against you when people begin to assume they can't afford you and or you have no availability.  Nobody is going to reschedule their shoot around your availability.    

 

In short, Nothing about this process of getting hired as a DP will ever make sense.   Being talented, friendly, fast and able to communicate and work well with many different personalities will not guarantee work in the short or longterm.  Many factors outside your control will determine success.  Not the least of which is the critical and commercial success of the films you shoot.  Which is totally out of your control.  Getting used to that, rolling with the punches and staying focused on your goals is the only thing in your control.  


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 17 August 2016 - 12:14 PM.

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#18 Nick Morr

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Posted 18 August 2016 - 12:43 AM

Michael LaVoie,

Lately I've been alienating people that would totally work for by quoting them a little too high or just relaying to them rates I've gotten recently for similar work. I don't know what to tell them! I'd much rather make a few hundred bucks less than cruise the cinematography.com boards on constant days off!

Not sure how to deal with that. I don't wanna get paid a shitty rate, but I also don't want to be dishonest about what I'm making usually because a.) I don't want to take a step back and b.) lying is bad and that would be a bizarre lie even if it wasn't.

Do you let them throw out a number first?

Nick
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#19 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 18 August 2016 - 10:49 AM

Michael LaVoie,

Lately I've been alienating people that would totally work for by quoting them a little too high or just relaying to them rates I've gotten recently for similar work. I don't know what to tell them! I'd much rather make a few hundred bucks less than cruise the cinematography.com boards on constant days off!

Not sure how to deal with that. I don't wanna get paid a shitty rate, but I also don't want to be dishonest about what I'm making usually because a.) I don't want to take a step back and b.) lying is bad and that would be a bizarre lie even if it wasn't.

Do you let them throw out a number first?

Nick

It really depends on the gig and the client.  In my own experience, clients with little to no budget are really shy about making an offer.  So they demand that you quote a rate.  But I know that my rate won't change what they have available and could cause them to run if it's too high or walk away if it's too low.   There's no winning this unless you do a little homework on what they have paid other DP's in the past for similar work.

 

I've always tried to get a phone number early on in the emailing process as these convo's are much better to have over the phone where your polite and professional tone and demeanor can make a huge difference.  So whenever possible, try to call the client to discuss payment terms.  Don't do it over email.

 

If they won't make an offer, or give you a call, then you can present a range that requires a discussion.  What would you work for a half day with no gear?  Use that as the low figure and then a full day with gear as the high figure and just note that it all depends on the details.   This way if they lowball you, you have some leverage when the kit fee comes into the discussion.

 

Sorry to leave you further confused but this is also an area of the business where it's very confusing and you are dealing with personalities that are all too often less than informed about proper rates and not too professional about the business side of things.  

 

Also don't forget, in many cases the client is going to put your fees on their invoice to their client and your fees will likely get doubled.  So if you quote $800 pd.  Just be aware that your client is likely billing their client with a line item for DP at about $1,500 per day. Or wherever they are on the spectrum as it varies wildly depending on the content.

 

This is an important point to remember and you want to allow for them to be able to do this without totally eliminating their ability to make money off of you.  So don't quote someone at $2,000+ per day if they can't add on top of that on their end of things because their client could never afford that.   Not unless you're repped well and in high demand.    

 

Just remember production companies and agencies will in many cases add on top of your rate to their client.  So consider that and make the necessary room in your rate so that you're comfortable with it.


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 18 August 2016 - 10:53 AM.

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#20 Andrew Payne

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Posted 18 August 2016 - 01:14 PM

I'm always baffled when production companies and others refuse to discuss rates.  They ask for your rate, already knowing perfectly well what they want to pay, and if you don't magically hit their number through clairvoyance, they move on to the next guy and play the same game all over again.

 

I'm on both sides of this scenario, because I frequently hire crew for productions.  I always ask rates, and if I can't make their numbers, I tell them what I can pay and we negotiate.  It's not complicated.

 

 

Also don't forget, in many cases the client is going to put your fees on their invoice to their client and your fees will likely get doubled.  So if you quote $800 pd.  Just be aware that your client is likely billing their client with a line item for DP at about $1,500 per day. Or wherever they are on the spectrum as it varies wildly depending on the content.

 

 

 

I think this is the perception, but it's not an accurate model.  For one thing, it's not the norm for ad agencies and corporate clients to see line-by-line crew budgets.  Thus a DP's rate - unless you're very famous and expensive - will not be billed back in this way.  You're bundled in with other costs.  In terms of markup, doubling all the crew rates would be great but is not prevalent.  It's much less.  And budgets are made before the crew is hired, so the higher your DP's rate, the less you make on that line.  Maybe you really want a particular DP and you don't make much on their line at all.


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