What’s Your Rate? (What’s Your Budget?)

A classic standoff worthy of any gunslinger this side of the Alamo.

One of the most hardest parts about working in film production is not what you’d expect. Sure there are challenges in regards to getting on set in the first place, gaining knowledge in different fields and just surviving your first long day as you question your sanity in regards to the freelance life, but there’s even more to consider.

I’m talking about rates.

In this business we set rates for ourselves to work on a production per day. This is usually on a 12 hour regimen, however there can be rates for specifically 10 or 14 hour spans as well. It depends on the production and the nature of the job position. Steadicam Ops, for instance, may charge a day rate for 10 hours or less due to the physical nature of the job.

Some jobs set the rates they are willing to pay for the various positions on their set. For example, a short film production may call you up, looking for a 1st AC, saying they are willing to pay $350 per day max. It is then up to you and your calendar whether you’re willing to take that rate for that day.

However the opposite could be true. An indie feature producer may call you, asking what your rate is.

So, why is the budget/rate stalemate so tricky?

You may have different rates depending on the scope of the job and the type of project. For example, I may not charge the same for a small short film shoot than I will for a corporate or feature film. It is also up to me if I’m willing to take a job, available or not, for any number or set of conditions.

Asking a production what their budget is proves a valuable way of gauging what the project really is. A Tier 1 feature is going to have a different budget reserve than does a small weekend shoot. A production not willing to share basic information can sometimes be a red flag. But having a basic understanding of budget will determine if you’re asking for your full rate, or a discounted rate. Either way is totally up to you. Ask for your full rate every single time if you’ll only work for that. It’s your skills on the table, after all.

Of course, setting your rate can be a hard decision. Are you new in the industry? Have many years of experience and special skills to bring to the table? That can change those numbers.

An important thing to remember about setting a rate is how many variables it contains. What are the expected rates for the job? How many days is the job? What are your expenses? How often will you get work?

There’s no one right rate. You can find out what union rates or commercial rates are and go from there, but a good rule of thumb is to ask. Normalize asking other people in your department what their rate is. Money is awkward to talk about but an important part of being a freelancer.

Oh! I didn’t even mention kit rentals and deferred pay.

A Kit rental is what you charge to bring your gear to a production. This is for specialized gear, like a camera, a Steadicam, a camera cart, a drone. You charge your rate PLUS the kit rental on that gear. To get an idea of what that rental should be, look at rental prices on something like Sharegrid or Adorama or local rental house. Kit rentals are important because that money goes towards paying that expensive gear off — and buying more.

If you see a job post somewhere indicating there’s deferred pay, I’ll give you two definitions: Deferred means “paid later” and also “you will never get paid.” If someone wants you to work a job for deferred pay, they are claiming they will pay you later. Films are expensive to make and likely the movie that doesn’t have a budget to pay it’s crew won’t be making a ton of money and then funneling any of it back to you. Financially, movie making is a risky business, especially in the independent world. Only do a deferred project gig if you want the experience and don’t mind if you never see a dime.

RE: Hollywood Scandals. Should we separate artist from art?

The floodgates have opened to scandals about sexual abuse from high level people in Hollywood.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the numbers, right? The “Casting Couch” is a dirty joke for a reason. This ousting of abusive, harassing jerks has been long awaited.

But now with this news comes the moral dilemma — can we continue to consume content knowing someone who made the film is a creep? Series have been cancelled, movies have halted production, and companies no longer want to work with those who’ve been named, but what happens when the choice is left to us?

I’ve written before on a moral dilemma surrounding the creation of a film and the final product.

I’ve also had this internal crisis with an author I once admired — Orson Scott Card. I had already read and enjoyed several of the Ender’s Game books before I found out how much a bigot the author was. It was hard to fathom how he could promote empathy and understanding in his writing, but not in real life.

Prime examples of abuse fill the shadowy corners of Hollywood classics.

shelley duvall

Shelley Duvall was forced to do 127 takes during that baseball bat scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Several documentaries, including one by Kubrick’s own daughter, showed Duvall intentionally bullied. Kubrick told crew members not to sympathize with her, and she skirted illness constantly due to the stress.

Duvall did not have many acting credits after her 13 month stint on The Shining, and is reportedly not in good mental health these days.

Tippi Hedren dealt with Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession and sexual abuse on The Birds and Marnie. She said he would suddenly grab her, put his hands on her and become “petulant” whenever she talked to another man. He even jumped on top of her and tried to kiss her in a limo. He tortured Hedren on set with live birds when he was supposed to use fake ones. She described the scene as brutal and relentless.

tippihedrenbirds_large

Hitchcock threatened to ruin Hedren’s career when she wouldn’t cave to his advances.

In an interview with Variety in 2016, she explained why she opened up about the abuse in her memoir:

I wanted to let women, especially young women, know never to allow that kind of approach and to be forceful in telling people you’re not interested in having that kind of a relationship. It’s not a bad thing to say no.

Full article here

This abuse doesn’t live solely in the past. Finally, women and men are taking on their abusers in order to create change in a problematic industry.

Then there’s us. The consumers. Articles like the one below are popping up everywhere, everyone wondering: What should we do now?

 

It’s all down to personal choice at this point. If Netflix didn’t cancel House of Cards, could you still watch it? Will movies from the Weinstein Company leave a bad taste in your conscience?

What to do

Yes, it’s problematic when things we like are made by people we don’t agree with on a fundamental level. There are several things we can do, though.

  1. Talk about it.

    Don’t internalize this struggle. We have numerous forms of social media in which to share an opinion. Tag the production company. You’d be surprised who is paying attention. Also, consider writing an opinion piece for your local newspaper on the subject. Local newspapers enjoy getting public input and people will be interested in reading those words, and maybe someone can be swayed.

  2. Don’t consume the art.*

    This one can be more difficult if you are already a fan of the work. Your spending power says something. If enough people don’t pay for a movie, the box office will reflect it and production companies will take note. They will not want to work with an actor or director that the public is no longer willing to support. They like predictable cash flow.

    * a necessary side note: for the love of all that is art, do not pirate a film. If you want to see it, you pay to see it. It’s as simple as that. Use Redbox instead of going to the theater, or watch it at a friends house. I don’t care. Just don’t pirate. Thousands of people’s livelihoods depend on box office receipts, mostly people who make significantly less money than the person you have an issue with. Don’t steal their work.

  3. Consume art by artists you DO believe in.

    Use your purchasing power to support indie films, films by women and LGBT filmmakers or other poorly represented minorities. Kickstart someone’s passion project. Get voices out into the light who need to be heard. Your $10 here will make a bigger difference than your $10 on a blockbuster summer tentpole.

Your opinion matters. Keep the discussion going. It’s the best way to turn things around so future generations don’t have these stories anymore.

Sources

Tippi Hedren on Why She Went Public About Being Sexually Abused

Tippi Hedren says Hitchcock sexually assaulted her – USA Today

Orson Scott Card: Mentor, Friend, Bigot

An Ethical Guide To Consuming Content Created By Awful People Like Orson Scott Card

He’s a Creep, but Wow, What an Artist!

The Real Horror of ‘The Shining’: The Story of Shelley Duvall