How Much To Charge For Camera Work. What’s Your Day Rate?

Cameras

I tried to find one of my old Local 600 rate cards for this article, I also looked for one on the web. No luck. A “Rate Card” breaks down all of the current rates that correspond to each position in the camera department based on the contracts with the various Producers guilds and motion picture studios.  Think of it as the “Suggested Retail Price”.  Rates have not changed dramatically since I left the union a few years ago. However the “Union” rate was mostly a template for the production company. There were always specific contracts for each production’s budget.  Now that I am in the world of independent filmmaking with mostly non-union crew I find myself basing my day rate on a few key elements. The first consideration would have to be the budget. If the budget is low, it makes no sense for me to ask for top dollar. I will never get it and it will only create animosity between myself and production. The second would be the scope of the job. How big is this sucker, really?  Will I be working twenty hour days, not enough crew, budget or time? This is considered with as much communication as possible. I have found that it is critical to ask as many questions as possible prior to game day.  The final, is personal gain. If the project is important to me I may very well do it for free and pull every favor that I have to get it done. All of these minute calculations fire off in my head along with the excitement of potential work.  I tend to try and respond very quickly to job offers. I feel tremendous pressure to make contact. Even just a quick email non-response is better than nothing.  I think it s a key element to getting any freelance gig.

Commercial DOP’s with agencies behind them can command anywhere from $2500-$5K per day depending on the job. This is mostly high end commercial work and could also include multi-million dollar features. You would be surprised how little one can make on a big budget feature. Commercials are where most of the bigger money lies. So to get to the point of this article. How much should you charge as a cameraman/cinematographer?  Only you can really answer that question. I can only speak for myself here. I feel comfortable asking for around $1K per day camera and lighting package included.  I think this is a fair price for the work that I do, and the gear that I bring to the party. This is based on a ten hour work day, one DSLR or AF100 style camera package and a small lighting kit. This does not include specialized rental equipment, scouting locations, production meetings or any pre-production time I may devote to the project. I usually don’t get paid for that. Travel days should also be considered full work days. There is no such thing as a half day. That is a term producers use to try and negotiate a  better rate for specific days of the job. However, like I said, everything in this business is negotiable. We are trained very early on in this business that every job is our last and to take everything that comes our way. That premiss is very difficult to maintain over the years and many people simple burn out of the industry. I have learned to be open to negations when rate is a consideration. After all, the point is to get the gig.  I also think it’s very important to put the same amount of effort into every gig, no matter the pay. Having a bad attitude because the day rate is low is unacceptable. It is a privilege to work in this industry. I for one, will never forget that.

 

Jared Abrams
Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • http://twitter.com/plockerman Patrick Lockerman

    This is gold for all the newbies out there. Thanks for your candid contribution. 

  • http://twitter.com/plockerman Patrick Lockerman

    This is gold for all the newbies out there. Thanks for your candid contribution. 

  • Anonymous

    Jared, thanks for posting this! If you don’t mind me asking, what made you want to leave the union?

  • Videovlad

    It also depends where you are in the country. I usually asks 650 a day in Orlando, with a small lighting kit, but if I bring assistance, price goes up to 1100. x 10 and assistance you need if you carry lenses and sound and lights. Thanks for this post, it gives a perspective on what goes on in this industry.

  • Anonymous

    So about $100 an hour (1k for 10 hours)? To be honest, with your experience, I thought you would be asking more. I totally agree that it depends on the project (corporate, commercial, short film etc.) and I for me it depends on the client (big corporation or indie band). I do think you should get paid for any planning meetings. Basically everything after the initial meet and greet whether online/phone or in person, I start charging for (I put in my quote). Usually I don’t charge for the admin stuff at the same rate as my shooting rate, but I do charge for planning because I’m usually pulled in on a project to do more than just shoot (storyboarding/editing as well).

    Thanks for the article.

  • Goforjared

    Great comment! Thanks for your input.
    Jared

  • Goforjared

    I changed career paths for a short while. I may re join at some point and time. I don’t miss the politics involved in larger productions. I’m digging the indie world at the moment.
    Thanks for your comment!
    Jared

  • Goforjared

    Thanks for commenting Patrick. The topic of rate can be taboo for some and it’s hard enough to get work. I hope this article helps.
    Thanks
    Jared

  • Frigei

    I came from the still side of things where rates can go from $1200 at a min. to as much as 5K per day. All extras are as that, extra. Still production is in a free fall now though and we all are looking for ways to re-invent ourselves. With DSLR’s and a little knowledge we are now multi “platformed”. Video guys work their butts off for a lesser rate and we are chasing the golden ring. For as I said, usually a lesser rate. You get what you can get while trying not to screw anybody else. Next time you are back to Chicago Jared, stop by the studio and we’ll chew that the fat on this one.

  • http://www.felipehenao.com Felipe Henao

    Great article, that is the attitude to have

  • http://twitter.com/Mikespins Mikespins

    With a staff job as a director and DP I tend to cherry pick the freelance work that I do. When I am hired thru my employer the rate for me is $1250 a day but that’s me as a director and DP. I generally don’t get projects that have me just shooting. For large projects we build in costs for travel and meetings.  For freelance work I usually charge $1000 a day for Directing/DP. If I am just shooting I usually charge $750 because honestly I’m like a second or third camera operator.

    This is a great topic to get into. People really tiptoe around rates. I will say that I know what I bring to a production and I charge what I do because I believe I am worth every penny. That’s why I really don’t negotiate much when it comes to freelance work.

  • J Toha

    The rate is different for every country, naturally. In Asia, people tend to get ‘squeezed’ out of every last penny. But it’s definitely a great reference to possibly start from. Thanks for sharing, Jared!

  • http://twitter.com/gekjr George E Kennedy Jr

    This is a great topic that often seems to be Taboo in the industry. Jared thanks for being open about it and hope we can expand on it.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshuaB86 Joshua Brown

    Great little write up Jared, simple and to the point.

  • mlcmuk .

    What bothers me is the contempt some businesses have for the rate we professionals charge. Although, by and large, I agree with the points raised here, nobody should ever have to compromise on their value as a professional . You don’t negotiate with an legal firm over their prices, so why with those working in the film industry. What’s important is believing in your capabilities and charging accordingly.