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A little advice for setting my rate


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#1 Johan Grimm

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Posted 18 November 2016 - 05:46 PM

Greetings Cinematography.com!

 

This is my first official post after a few years of creeping from a distance. 

 

I am seeking advice for setting my rate for jobs, which I know is of course a very complex question with lots of variables. Bottom line, I'm looking for a rough ballpark figure that I should be trying to get when starting my negotiations.

 

A bit about me...

 

11 years professional filmmaking experience. Started out in my late teens as a PA on major TV shows and feature films (about 450 days towards DGA, but no thanks). Transitioned into regional commercials first as a PA again and then as a non-union AD. Took a full-time job for a few years as a coordinator and assistant editor at a regional edit facility. Went back to features for one year and ran basecamp on the Governator's comeback film, got taken to Santa Monica for post as the VFX PA. Decided this wasn't the path I wanted to be on and ran away. Spent a few years working for Cornell University as a video producer, which then bridged into shooting for myself for the first time. All during this time, I was hustling my own productions as a director and under that title I shot six music videos, a documentary and one short film. 

 

Now, I'm in Boston and have been working as a DP for a local production company for the last year and a half. It started out with me solo or pair shooting corporate and industrial interviews primarily, but I've always intended to angle back into major production. I impressed the production company and when they have gotten larger jobs in the last year I have been their call. In that time I have now served as director & DP on eight commercials where I had a crew of 6-10 working for me. At this point I have a reasonable kit that includes camera (just a GH4 + lots of accessories to make it a faux-cinema cam), gimbal, slider, crane, lights (enough for a solid closeup), c-stands, flags and various miscellania. 

 

So...

 

I am now looking to reach out to production companies and agencies here in Boston and to sell myself as a DP for either solo shooter situations or ideally larger crew shoots. Where do you think I should be starting my rate at for just my time, and what kind of kit rental should I reasonably ask for? Or should I include kit rental in my rate?

 

Any and all feedback and advice is greatly appreciated!

 


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#2 Albion Hockney

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 05:18 PM

this might help - be it maybe not quiet on the mark. http://nofilmschool....cinematographer

 

It's hard to say exactly what someone is worth - your reel, the level of prod companies, experience, and cameras you work with all factor. I can tell you on the middle level you don't really have a "kit" rate - honestly even as a lower end DP you don't really do that. you can advertise that you have a camera package, But it will make you seem lower end if it's a gh4. Just to be objective about it and give you a bit of a barometer - if someone told me they were a DP and did most of there work on GH4 and had a kit rate I would look at them more like a "videographer" or a one man band and less like a "DP".  There is a level of BS to all of this, but If you are seeking to raise the level of your work I would try to work with more substantial cameras and start relationships with rental houses. 

 

to give you a sense I would say the lowest end "DPs" usually people transitioning from working as AC's/Cam Ops or guys just getting going start at around $750/day for jobs shooting on cameras like C300's - this is usually doc/branded content stuff or interviews - maybe low end commercials for web/regional. These Shoots maybe have 1 or 2 crew members like an AC or maybe a Gaffer and an AC with you - you probably help move the lights 

 

From there I'd say move up to around $1000-1500 this is sorta where "Real DP" work generally starts - working on commercials shooting on Red/Alexa and having some crew behind you - like a Gaffer with a couple guys and a 1st maybe a 2nd AC. You don't touch the lights - but I try to check the ego and help wrap out still! 

 

This all said - its a total crap shoot out there! Rates vary all the time since there are so many angles into the market and wide varying understanding of what it costs to shoot something (IE corporate companies calling you direct, small production companies just starting out, ad agnecies of all sizes and level of experience with video, legit production companies with an understanding of rates on a higher tier)


Edited by Albion Hockney, 21 November 2016 - 05:26 PM.

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#3 Johan Grimm

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 06:03 PM

this might help - be it maybe not quiet on the mark. http://nofilmschool....cinematographer

 

It's hard to say exactly what someone is worth - your reel, the level of prod companies, experience, and cameras you work with all factor. I can tell you on the middle level you don't really have a "kit" rate - honestly even as a lower end DP you don't really do that. you can advertise that you have a camera package, But it will make you seem lower end if it's a gh4. Just to be objective about it and give you a bit of a barometer - if someone told me they were a DP and did most of there work on GH4 and had a kit rate I would look at them more like a "videographer" or a one man band and less like a "DP".  There is a level of BS to all of this, but If you are seeking to raise the level of your work I would try to work with more substantial cameras and start relationships with rental houses. 

 

to give you a sense I would say the lowest end "DPs" usually people transitioning from working as AC's/Cam Ops or guys just getting going start at around $750/day for jobs shooting on cameras like C300's - this is usually doc/branded content stuff or interviews - maybe low end commercials for web/regional. These Shoots maybe have 1 or 2 crew members like an AC or maybe a Gaffer and an AC with you - you probably help move the lights 

 

From there I'd say move up to around $1000-1500 this is sorta where "Real DP" work generally starts - working on commercials shooting on Red/Alexa and having some crew behind you - like a Gaffer with a couple guys and a 1st maybe a 2nd AC. You don't touch the lights - but I try to check the ego and help wrap out still! 

 

This all said - its a total crap shoot out there! Rates vary all the time since there are so many angles into the market and wide varying understanding of what it costs to shoot something (IE corporate companies calling you direct, small production companies just starting out, ad agnecies of all sizes and level of experience with video, legit production companies with an understanding of rates on a higher tier)

 

Thanks for chiming in! Definitely some helpful stuff here.

 

Totally agreed that a GH4 kit sounds like a videographer / one man band stuff. That's what I began my transition into this field with, but as I said, I've DPed eight commercials so far and they all were shot on C300 or an Epic and I had a crew of half dozen or more on each one, so those definitely qualify as DP gigs and that is the kind of work I am looking to pursue.

 

These price points you mentioned for various scale jobs help a lot in placing where I think I fall and what I should be asking for. 

 

Interesting points about the kit rental, too. Should I not be offering gear when going out for jobs then? I had assumed that having resources available and a kit that I could rent at less than rental house rates would be a boon, but if that isn't industry standard I'd rather not offer it unless it's requested.


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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 06:14 PM

From there I'd say move up to around $1000-1500 this is sorta where "Real DP" work generally starts

 

I have no idea if it's just the transatlantic divide, but I can't imagine anyone but the absolute top guys getting these kind of crazy fantasy rates.


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#5 Johan Grimm

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 06:19 PM

 

I have no idea if it's just the transatlantic divide, but I can't imagine anyone but the absolute top guys getting these kind of crazy fantasy rates.

 

Thanks for participating Phil! What would you consider more reasonable rates for work of varying scales?


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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 06:37 PM

Re your original question, I'm not qualified to respond. I'm not in the US and I have no idea what your market is. What I'm saying here is UK centric and I mention it only for the sake of comparison.

 

The absolute minimum for someone of any vague ability, with gear, should be several hundred a day, on any project at all. I've paid that sort of money to people to work on short films and if a director cares, he or she should find the money.

 

However, as a practical matter, they almost never do. If you are shooting music videos for YouTube, short films, and other associated online stuff, well, that stuff is barely ever paid anymore. It's all freebies. It is not really work, it's a hobby, not a career. This does exist in (for instance) Los Angeles, but there is a much more finely graduated route up into better stuff.

 

In the USA you have a lot more access to cheap-but-demanding stuff like local TV commercials. You have independent feature films, a paying music video world, and quality short films which are ambitious and budgeted to achieve their ambitions. Even corporates get ambitious there, sometimes. None of those things really exist in the UK. It's a void until you get to the low end of features and TV, which can pay rates high enough for people to have a normal existence with a mortgage and a pension (see here, although the camera department is conspiciously TBC). However, there's probably a few dozen individuals in the entire country actually working on camera departments at that level, so it's basically irrelevant to most people.

 

Not sure if that really sheds any light on what you're doing, though.

 

P


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#7 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 07:12 PM

 

I have no idea if it's just the transatlantic divide, but I can't imagine anyone but the absolute top guys getting these kind of crazy fantasy rates.

 

Phil, I know I keep harping on at you about this, but you really need to start mingling with a more serious class of production people (if you want to make a living wage doing this stuff at least).

 

They are out there (even in Britain).

 

I shoot the Australian segments for a British comedy show, the whole thing is produced by a purely British production company, and the rates are higher than that. And I'm by no means a 'top guy' on anyone's hire list I imagine. These are just basic professional rates, for professional shooters, on professional productions.

 

The 'crazy fantasy rates' come on agency commercials, large-scale narrative series and studio features. 


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#8 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 07:27 PM


 

to give you a sense I would say the lowest end "DPs" usually people transitioning from working as AC's/Cam Ops or guys just getting going start at around $750/day for jobs shooting on cameras like C300's - this is usually doc/branded content stuff or interviews - maybe low end commercials for web/regional. These Shoots maybe have 1 or 2 crew members like an AC or maybe a Gaffer and an AC with you - you probably help move the lights 

 

From there I'd say move up to around $1000-1500 this is sorta where "Real DP" work generally starts - working on commercials shooting on Red/Alexa and having some crew behind you - like a Gaffer with a couple guys and a 1st maybe a 2nd AC. You don't touch the lights - but I try to check the ego and help wrap out still! 

 

 

 

 

I have no idea if it's just the transatlantic divide, but I can't imagine anyone but the absolute top guys getting these kind of crazy fantasy rates.

 

Those rates are highly optimistic. Big reality shows pay $600-800 a day for a DP. Non Union features pay around $300-500 if they are for a respectable production company, but rates are often much, much lower. Union rates for DPs are by negotiation on features, and about $800 a day for TV. Union commercials, of course, are extremely well paid.

 

I would be extremely surprised if there were any ACs stepping up who were making $700 a day, unless they were also supplying equipment.


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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 08:13 PM

These are just basic professional rates, for professional shooters, on professional productions.

 

As ever this is a matter of perspective.

 

If we're considering the sort of thing people generally see themselves doing when they decide they want to be working around a camera, we're talking about single camera drama with decent equipment, proper crew and sufficient resources for a decent level of polish as regards production and post. All that, too, is a matter of opinion, but you may paint me a violent shade of orange if there are more than half a dozen people in the UK who really do that stuff regularly at any realistic level.

 

 

P


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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 08:41 PM

Independent feature rates are generally much lower than commercial or industrial rates, I guess under the notion that you can pay people less on a feature because they are doing it "for the love of the job". Few people shoot industrials and other corporate video out of passion, so you have to pay decently like for any other skilled service.

 

I think Albion's numbers are a bit high myself -- I mean, even when I was starting out, I was doing "real DP work" so I'm not sure what that means.

 

When I started out doing independent non-union features in the 1990's, the rate was usually around $250/day for the cinematographer, sometimes it was a flat $1000/week or $1500/week if you were lucky.   But as Stuart says, the minimum union rate is about $800/day and most cinematographers get offered only a small percentage over the minimum.  Typical offers are between $6000 to $7500 a week even for the largest TV shows.  A few cinematographers make a lot more than that of course.


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#11 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 08:52 PM

I don't know where Albion got his figures, but the article he linked to features a video clip by DP Matt Workman, who works almost entirely in the commercial world, so that perhaps explains the high rates he's quoting.


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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 09:00 PM

That clip has been doing the rounds for some time.

 

I strongly suspect that Workman is crazy, even for the USA, and it's an example of exactly the sort of presumptive misinformation that I really dislike because it will waste a lot of good people's time and energy.

 

P


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#13 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 01:45 AM

My rates for DoP in LA vary from around 250~300/day up to about $700/day without a kit fee. Normally I get a nominal kit fee on top of that, but it kinda  depends.  Other gigs can go as low as $100/day, this is primarily on shorts and stuff for web (though I rarely take a rate that low anymore, and kinda bottom out  at $150/day to DoP). This isn't supplying ANY equipment, minus "what i have in the truck to make my job easier" which is generally  bits and bobs I've gotten over the years which just kinda  come along.

 

If you're just starting out,  or  transitioning to a new area of shooting (e.g. to commercials, or to features etc) then you'll make substantially less, if anything at all.

 

Market saturation plays a big big role here too-- there are quite a lot of shooters in LA and NY, so that drives rates down a bit.


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#14 Albion Hockney

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 01:50 AM

Those rates were solely based on commercials and it seems what Johan was looking to get into. 


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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 02:15 AM

It terms of his original question, I think the key is to find out what his local competitors with similar packages are getting.


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#16 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 03:33 AM

Better to be a stills guy with your GH4 .. charge $2,500 a day.. to start..  and keep the copy right..


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#17 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 06:13 AM

I had a rather heated discussion about that with a director friend a little while ago.

Truly, motion picture camera people get the worst deal. Actors, directors, writers, composers and stills people all get vastly better treatment.
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#18 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 08:24 AM

I had a rather heated discussion about that with a director friend a little while ago.

Truly, motion picture camera people get the worst deal. Actors, directors, writers, composers and stills people all get vastly better treatment.

 

Very few in the general public can separate professionally shot work from work that's acceptable or even quite bad.   I equate it to my ability to hear a perceivable difference between a .wav and a .flac.   Yeah you can hear a difference but it's only a huge difference on quad dac headphones.  Which most people won't have.    Makes it hard to argue for a  decent rate when people don't even know what they're paying for.  


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#19 Johan Grimm

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 09:47 AM

Wow, this thread sure came alive! This has been very helpful for me to gauge where I'm at. TBH, it sounds like I am actually already doing pretty dang good for myself! 

 

I suspect the fact that Boston is a much less saturated market is doing me a lot of favors. There are a lot of shooters here, but not that many with as much top tier experience as I have so I've been able to compete very easily. For me, asking price is always a big ? when trying to expand into new markets or fields and I just wanted to make sure I wasn't asking too little for my time. Sounds like I'm already getting towards the upper end of what I can reasonably expect for corporate and non-union commercials.

 

Thanks everyone for throwing in your feedback!

 

On an un-related note, anyone have some thoughts on moving towards joining 600? I assume that it is a similar situation as to the DGA where you earn your days by working movies as AC presumably? Is there a way for a DP to make a lateral move from non-union shooting into union shooting, or is it always starting from the bottom?


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#20 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 11:18 AM

You have to earn your days for the union. 100 non-union days in a three year period, or 30 union days in a one year period. You join the union at whatever grade your days were at, so if you want to join as a DP, you need 100 paid days as a DP. You also need deep pockets.


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