This is probably the trickiest blog post I have ever had to write – hence it is heavily delayed. I have been wanting to write this for a couple of months, and something spurred me on to do it so here it is! Read part one here!
Now…there is no specific amount one should charge. It is dependent on so many factors. Especially these days when many people do everything, shoot, sound, direct, edit. Don’t expect this to spoon feed you the information you need. I won’t be giving you an actual rate to charge people. There is no such thing. This post will give you information that you can hopefully apply to your business model whether current or future.
Here are some of the variable, some…there are loads more!
1: What gear you are supplying if any.
2: What your job is. Are you just shooting? Are you editing too? Are you directing too?
3: Are you doing this as a one-off or is this a multi day job or for a repeat client.
4: Your experience.
5: How much you value yourself/ how desperate you are.
It is a bit of a taboo subject. I don’t for example tell people how much I charge unless they are asking to hire me, and then it is dependent on the above. My rate for 1 day is very different from my rate for making a film of something or being hired to shoot for say 1 week where the rate per day is lower.
What is the least I have worked for apart from freebies? I did a number of cameraman for hire days (no gear) for £225 a few years ago when I needed the work, bread and butter if you will. I was a very experienced cameraman at this point, but because no gear was involved the rate was low. When that same company hired me with gear and my car, it was £550. So as you can imagine I didn’t want to work without my gear. I had invested in the gear and needed a return on that investment. This was for broadcast work. I am not really going to go into that too much in that post, but I will mention it through examples. Broadcast work is so tricky and varied in pricing.
Today with gear like DSLRs being so affordable, you can get a cameraman with said gear for not a lot. A recent posting of the UK website “Shooting People” had a full Sony F3 kit with I believe 4 or 5 Zeiss CP.2 lenses, Sachtler tripod, sound gear, basic lighting gear AND a cameraman for the utterly ludicrously cheap price of £200 (if you don’t know what that is in your currency, please use one of the many currency convertors on the internet)
Now I don’t know if that was a typo, but I do believe this was not an individual but a “production house” hiring their gear with a cameraman. God knows what that cameraman was being paid. He probably would earn more working at McDonald’s! To be honest £200 to rent that full kit would be a steal – if I were to take them up on that offer, I would give the cameraman a chair to sit on and ask him to get me a coffee every now and then whilst I used his gear!
There are many theories as to why this was so cheap, a rich kid who has had all the stuff bought from him to someone who nicked it all (just checked, I still have my F3!). Whatever the reason for that sort of pricing, if I was looking to hire someone, that would ring so many alarm bells…just how shitty is this cameraman for example? If this is totally kosher and it’s someone desperately trying to get work, then it’s not a good precedent to set and it’s also not financially sustainable in the long term.
SO…with that above recent example in mind what should you charge for the above? Again it depends on YOU and where you are based. In some countries/ cities where there is saturation of the market, you may find it hard to get the price you deserve and you could end up taking far less then you are worth. What is the alternative? Sit and home and earn nothing…something is betting than nothing, right?
I tweeted/ facebooked/ google+/ myspace/ beboo messaged people to get some ideas of their experiences with clients and what they were charging. It was interesting reading. I will put some examples in this post, all anonymous, but it will give you an idea.
In my blog post “State Of Play”, my fictional character, Fred, who represents many of you, was worrying about which camera to buy. In this blog post we catch up on him and find out he actually bought the following. Don’t read into this as what to buy, this is just a random example.
1: Canon 5DmkII
2: Miller DS10 Solo tripod
3: Basic lighting kit
4: Tascam recorder and wireless mics
5: 24-70mm f2.8 lens, 70-200 F4 IS and 50mm F1.4 prime
A nice basic kit, not sumptuous, not extravagant but enough to get the job done. No fancy pants things like sliders, no expensive lights, no matte box and filters, no monitor etc…
Fred lives in London. So he is selling himself as everything from a cameraman with kit, to a someone who will produce a web video/ corporate film for clients.
Fred has no paid work on his showreel.
Fred has phone numbers but no clients.
Fred has no real world experience.
Fred needs money to pay off the loan for the gear, pay his bills, make sure his girlfriend is happy and eat!
Fred has talent and will get the job done well, if someone gives him a chance.
All of the rate examples I use below are not necessarily market rates but purely figures to illustrate how much increase in rates should be made with time…roughly! Again, these are just my thoughts. Do read the examples in bold for other people’s examples.
So, with so little to offer the clever thing at the start is to simply offer yourself for free to a couple of clients. Free you say? Yep. He is more likely to convince a client to give him a chance as they have nothing to lose and he gets a real client, a real job and something to go on his reel. So how many of these freebies does Fred do? Not many, two maybe three. Enough variety to help him get the paid work.
Sure, he could say pay £100 to the client and they may give him that, but it’s better for him to choose the client he wants to work for, tell them honestly why he is doing it and go for it. Much more chance of getting work. I talked about this in the previous blog post here. I did that a couple of times when I started freelancing, to get some different types of things for my reel. It worked for me.
Now with 2-3 good looking pieces of work under his belt he can legitimately go touting for work.
This is more for getting corporate gigs than as a jobbing cameraman. For a jobbing cameraman it’s tougher as, often, you take what you can, anything. There are such a lot of people out there. When I first started freelancing I did a lot of work which I couldn’t stand. I needed the work. I needed the money. If you are going to be choosy at the start of your career, don’t expect to go very far. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work before you can pick and choose what you want to do!
Fred has found people who want to hire him but are offering a pittance. £150 to produce a web video. Should he do it? Well if the alternative is sitting at home then maybe but he needs to look at the client and ask himself: is this client someone I will repeatedly work for or will this be a one off?
If it’s a one-off and you need the cash, then do it. If it has the possibility of being an ongoing job, pricing yourself so crazy low is bad for you and bad for everyone else. That client thinks £150 is a ok amount to pay. It’s not. Once you start working for a pittance for that client hoping you can then up the charge later, you will find yourself coming unstuck. How after 2 or 3 jobs do you say to said client: I cannot sustain working for you for so little – I need to up rate to £250 or £300. After paying you £150, then they will balk at what you are demanding (probably) and tell you to take a hike, and they will look for the next sap who will charge £150 to make a video for them. You set a precedent with them and once you have done that it’s hard to renegotiate.
If Fred had set the bar higher with pricing at the start, the client may well have said no but it’s important not to undervalue yourself. If you are just shooting then handing over rushes, it’s easier as it’s a straight day rate, but as soon as you start editing as well then it becomes more complicated.
Here are some examples of rates and some stories that people have sent me anonymously. All of these are in BLUE
9 years experience. $500 for a 10 HR day with the following gear: 5Dmk2 Zeiss ZE 50mm T1.4 Leica R 28mm T2.8 Leica R 90mm T2 Leica R 135mm T2.8 vinton fluid head tripod Rode video mic
Client/Job depending $600 – $1,200 Day rate with full kit & operator
$600 – $750 ad on per additional camera body and operator
About three years ago, as an assistant producer, I was interviewed for a major BBC series. I was asked if I would come in for a trial day…. on location…. oh, and could I use a mixer and would I mind recording sound. Riiiight. I politely told them to f*!k off, hinting that perhaps they wouldn’t get an idea od what kind of an AP I would make whilst doing the job of a sound recordist… on half the money. Anyway. Cameramen have been having their work and rates eroded since I’ve been in telly (less so in corporate land).
My early productions were booking digi-guys with kit for well over £1k a day. These days more and more self-shooters are used, and when a cameraman is favoured it’s often DSR kit/man for a third of what they got a decade ago. It’s not all bad – but for the churn-work of regular TV, the cameraman’s hay day is long gone.
From a Producer’s perspective, I’ve worked with expensive cameramen that don’t warrant the rate they charge and have an “it’ll do attitude”. I’ve also worked with inexperienced cameramen whom charge a rate equivalent to a runner. It’s taken a good 3 years to develop a network of great crew through trial and error. I now have a team of reliable cameramen whom charge reasonable mid-high rates and I know they’ll deliver great footage for me to work with. I think it boils down to level of expectation…I have a high level of expectation and expect to pay anything between £350 – £1000 a day (operator only, no kit) depending on the job.
Other people (production companies and clients alike) have low expectations and refuse to pay industry standard rates for an experienced operator. They want half days or hour rates which I refuse to offer. It’s impossible to take other work on the same day – try explaining that to a stubborn client. You’ll never be able to justify rates to someone that can’t see the difference between something shot with poor images and audio and a beautifully crafted film. They’ll always be delighted with mediocre! I turn away several jobs a year based on principals. We have some flexibility, but your work should speak for itself.
If someone wants to undercut you by 50% then I say let the client find out for themselves what problems this brings.
A decent rate for cameraman with a good kit in terms of Aussie rates would be 1500.00 for an 8 hour day. I both employ people @ this rate as well as charge myself @ this rate as a Director/shooter (ex3, 5D, GH2), incl your wonderful dolly in that rate !
My rates vary between $500/12 and $1500/10. mostly settling around $650-950 per day. I try to get a 10-hour deal. usually settle for 12. in the union world DPs often request a 14-hour guarantee so even if the rate is the same, they have more hours applied to their health and pension qualifying hours. I can’t really comment on the union DP rates since I am not getting them, but certainly commercial DPs get $1500-$4500 per day. by the way, all of the rates I have mentioned are not including gear.
I own a 7D but hardly any accessories so I must rent those when that camera is called for, and generally rent what is needed myself on a smaller shoot (and bill production) or on a bigger shoot, work with producers to source gear from my favored rental houses (or sometimes owner-ops). I have found that renting everything needed to use the 7D in a productive cine-style setup usually adds up to about $500-750! it is usually cheaper to rent an EX3 or HPX-170! however sometimes the large sensor is necessary. often producers just want the cheap option (interviews).
So the above are some examples of people’s thoughts and some varied rates. Very varied.
(Again these figures are not a representation of actual rates, but the increase over what Fred used to charge)
Let’s go back to Fred. Fred is 2 years in. He as has made a fair few web videos for clients/ done cameraman for hire work and built himself up a reputation for a hard worker with a can-do attitude (worth its weight in gold), and has gradually upped what he has been charging people. His day rate with his gear, more than he had before – he’s now got an FS100 too. He charges as a shooter £395 a day, and if someone wants him to make a video then, depending on how much work it is, a base of one shoot day/ one edit day with client meetings before is around £850. Now that he has a reputation and a good list of work/ reel, it’s easier for him to charge more. BUT he will still lose out on many jobs to younger Freds who are at the point he was at 2 years ago. That is inevitable. Not every client cares about quality or would know what quality was even if said Quality slapped the client in the face screaming quality, in Quality Street in the town of Quality in the country of Qualitania on the planet Qualitog IV.
It happens in business everywhere. Get a quote from a cheap builder and don’t expect him to do a good job (or even finish it, I should know!) over the guy who quoted twice as much. You might get lucky, but you generally get what you pay for. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys as they say. So if someone offers you peanuts do you take it? It’s that same point again. If you NEED money then it’s better than staying at home. Sure it can hurt your pride but it’s better than nothing. But is it?
That’s the problem with this topic – it is so full of contradictions not just at the beginning of your career but also deep in. Here are some more examples…
No matter what industry you are in there will always be someone who will want cheap over quality, do you want to work for that person anyway?