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