I often write tongue in cheek posts on here, not taking things too seriously. But this piece is an exception.

Work. What’s that all about then? Following this community for the last two years I’ve been struck by how polar it is. There’s the so-called pros who earn a living from cameras or production in some form and there’s the humble hobbyists, their eyes opened to the possibilities of this fun new world and daunted by how difficult it appears to be to earn a living from it. The so-called pros often aren’t anywhere near as pro as you might think and there’s many a blogger who’s knowledge is simply curated from other sites and not born of actual experience. Equally there are those who are what I like to call pro-am, earning a living from shooting for fun, without pressure, but generously sharing what they learn through workshops and blogs. They’re still earning a living mind. The pros are often pretty arrogant, citing the mantra ‘Those who can, shoot. Those who can’t, run workshops.’ I’m one of those people. Sorry. I really wish I wasn’t but I’ve been through many mountains of shit to get where I am and no matter how beautiful you can shoot with your 5D I’m still in a better position to get the job because of it. Sorry again.

I’ve been motivated to write this post because I see so many young filmmakers struggling with the same problem, how to make a living from filmmaking while not compromising the kind of work you do. I always wanted to shoot drama, I should clarify, I always wanted to direct drama. Somehow I’ve made my way round a tortuous career circuit filming skiers and basejumpers, music videos, lots and lots of corporate nonsense, and now, of course, drama. I’ve watched as the budgets have tumbled, I’ve watched as the film industry in the UK has shot itself repeatedly in the foot and crumbled. It’s depressing at times and it’s easy to get caught thinking how much better it would have been to have been working the 80’s.

Well, tough. It’s not the 80’s anymore and while there are many many many more of us working these days, the good news is that there is a lot more production going on. More production means more opportunities, means more people can work. On the flip, it means the money is spread between far more mouths so you can’t really cash in. Except that you can…

Phil Bloom recently ran a survey to find out how much people charge for their services and it really wasn’t much of a surprise to find that you lot aren’t charging enough. I’m not charging enough god dammit. Surely we’re worth more aren’t we? After all, I come as a multi-hyphenate package but I regularly go out as a freelance editor, or director, or cameraman, so why do I offer all those services as a bulk buy for not much more than I would for the single unit?

Because I have to.

Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t a recession thing. Once we get back to some kind of stable economy this isn’t just going to sort itself out. Production has always been expensive traditionally, but thanks to an offshoot of Moore’s Law we’re now living in a commoditised industry. If you’re not sure what that means, think of it like this. When you buy sugar, do you really care what brand of sugar you buy? You just buy the cheapest, right? That’s what it means to be a commodity.

I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, but I could drop a tweet looking for a DSLR shooter for a job right now and receive at least a hundred offers and they’d all probably work for free. I, the consumer, the buyer, hold all the power. That’s not good news.

But it’s not bad news either. This is part one of what I imagine will probably be a 3 part post hoping to shed some light on what I think it’s going to take in the coming years to be a luxury item, the Gu to everyone’s chocolate mousse. Phil’s post was a good guide to being business smart as a cameraman owner-operator. I’m hoping to build on that and go a bit further.

Value. Where do you add value? Is it in your camera kit? Is it your camera skill? Is it your directing skill? Is it as a one-stop shop? Do you in fact have any value at all?

Think about it, and I’ll see you on the flip.


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.
  • Nate Weber

    I’m intrigued to see where this goes… write on skid.

  • Ben Sengsouvanh

    Another great post Robin. I’m going through this right now, I don’t want to undercut myself because I really value my work so trying to offer a decent rate whilst also taking into account that I have bills to pay and other over head costs has proven quite challenging to work out. I’m looking forward reading to your follow up posts.

  • Jeremy Widen

     Awesome post. There comes a point when you have to stop working for free and start charging; that’s where I’m at. I look forward to the next couple instalments.

  • Nigel Walker

    Like your favourite cold beverage… always refreshing.

  • Matt Kowalski

    horrible headline for the article. rethink please