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Bryce Lansing

Cinematographer's pay rate

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Maybe you misunderstood. I was suggesting to the poster that if he's unsure what to quote as the DP, he could ask that his rate "match the sound recordist" cause as you say often times they make as much as a DP.

Yep, I see what you were saying now :)

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No one wants to talk about this on any forum but they sure want to read about it.

 

Every time the subject comes up there are vague references to rates then.. nada. This very thread is 5 YEARS OLD, resurrected, and HOT right now because everyone is reading it but no one will tell you what the rates are.

 

But I will...

 

In Hollywood 15 years ago up to 7 years ago, DPs got $450-650 per day on indies - features or shorts.. even micro budget indies like the many I shot on film for under $50K.. but the DP still got paid a chunk of that. So did the sound mixer. Maybe with a camera provided ( DVCAM, 16mm, then 24P, then 24P HD), and often without. Maybe with some lights, maybe without. Occasionally there would be lower rates and you'd take them if you needed the $ or dug the project. Seldom higher. But any sort of corporate or professional day-gigs held at twice those rates. Most of us ( there weren't so many then ) could stay real busy most of the year, and would never think of doing a different job- a DP was a DP, you would never go out to gaff. Job ads were 10 a week in BackStage West or DramaLogue, and a few on internet boards. That was enough for who was doing indies... lots of word of mouth too.... ads often said MCC ( Meals, Credit, Copy ) but almost to the ad, they never meant that- they had money and would spend it on the DP and the Mixer.

 

Then it all changed.

 

After the Great Recession hit, people spent less, had less, and the DSLRs and REDs dug in... internet video exploded, and everyone who could became a DP overnight. WTF ? Why not ? No jobs, nothing else to do.... It really has been a massive shift.

 

Today, DPs often take $200 a day, almost always including expensive package up to and including C300's and RED flavors; but not just on indies, they accept this rate for all manner of corporate, interview, etc. There are companies that specialize in providing web content for business, local commercials, and weddings... they pay $100-200 for partial to full days... and an ocean of DSLR shooters are hotly vying for those scraps.

 

I personally generally hold out for the old $500/12 indie rate and rarely ( but do ) get hired on those... the phone still rings for $1000 interview half -days or $4000 corporate weeks (plus gear rental ); but the phone doesn't ring often. More often, it's this " can you help me out and there will be more work later". Um, no, actually, there won't be.

 

Several colleague DPs who own smaller trucks / vans make ends meet by Ghost- DP'ing, or babysitting as some call it - providing the gear and services of a DP without credit as such; doing all the work while the director operates and takes credit for the image. This happens often now with both established still photographers and Momarazzi who are asked to provide their client's web video work... and they won't say no, but they take the credit and will not introduce the babysitter to the client, you can be certain. rates for these gigs are whatever you can leverage... some OK, some just stupid.

 

Cinematographers now spend much more time trying to work than working, I am convinced.. which is why I am now a producer

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In the first few months of this year I was offered two features at the $100-a-day sort of level, which I'd have taken, since it'd be nice to have at least done a feature. But for this they expected a complete camera package. "If only you had a C300," they said, "it'd be a no-brainer."

 

I suspect that would be more or less the moment I stopped even the pretence of trying to be that sort of cameraman.

 

P

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In the first few months of this year I was offered two features at the $100-a-day sort of level, which I'd have taken, since it'd be nice to have at least done a feature. But for this they expected a complete camera package. "If only you had a C300," they said, "it'd be a no-brainer"

 

This was your opportunity to offer step in as an equity investor and leverage a substantive value on the camera rental and your labor if you believe in the project- contract as a producer for backend participation. You offer your services for a first-paid $12,500 including pre production, shoot, and color grade supervision plus the C300 package and a full producer credit.

 

One of a couple things happens at that point; they jump on it, and you are in, with $100 a day to cover your fuel and laundry bills, or more likely you learn that not only don't they have fair money available up front, but are greedy and will not break you off a fair piece of the potential... it costs them nothing to do so, but they just want the free camera - that is the real no-brainer. They do not value YOU. So you should not want that job, regardless of the script or potential.

 

The latter is sadly the most likely scenario.

 

The problem today is that so many are buying their way into shooting by subsidizing the project with a camera they buy and provide to production for free ( I am not talking DSLR's, I am talking EPICS and C300s and the lot, FOR FREE )... that, plus charging an under- valued rate. The supply and demand of DPs today is simply overwhelming, and it's a " glamour industry" so it attracts many people willing to do anything to get in. It always has, but there used to be a barrier to entry that exceeded having a camera.... the first dailies would reveal any lack of ability very quickly. With digital, very little learning curve, knowledge base or expertise are needed to fumble through a mediocre, passable job... so many eyes on the monitor, so many opinions, so much "collaboration" that really is the pure undermining of what a DP is historically supposed to be in charge of.

 

As producer, I have been on the receiving end of DP submissions for a few projects. It is shocking how many people now have decent reels and will submit for projects with smaller than ever budgets. Among those are a few who even aggressively solicit to UNDERCUT a posted day rate with their high end gear free... so how does one compete with that ?

 

(Cue the sound effect of crickets)

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Interesting. I think the number of people peaking at this thread probably has more to do with first timers seeing what they should charge, and maybe a few vets wondering what other people are charging.

 

If things are truly that bad in So Cal, then it's a wonder anything gets shot at all.

 

But you're talking indy projects, right? I mean what you're describing doesn't sound like a studio shoot of any kind.

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But you're talking indy projects, right? I mean what you're describing doesn't sound like a studio shoot of any kind.

There is no way he is describing the major studio jobs. It's truly is an education for me to read this thread. It's stunning to realize what the non union market place offers. I cannot comprehend how anyone, except when young and starting out, with no real overhead, could ever make a career with those rates that are mentioned above. There is no way!

 

I mean, I am 53 years old, married, mortgage, etc. Most of you already know, I've been doing this all of my adult life. As a career First AC, I couldn't imagine surviving, much less having any sort of quality of life style working for what these non union DPs are working for with or without gear. Especially as I get older! Here's the flip side of things: Below is a list of current, IATSE scale (minimum) hourlies for feature film and half hour episodic television:

 

DP: $100.17/hour

$1,402.38/12 hours

 

Camera Operator: $61.93/hour

$867.02/12 hours

 

First Assistant Camera Technician: $53.97/hour

$755.58/12 hours

 

Second Assistant Camera: $41.73/hour

$584.22/12 hours

 

Loader: $35.85/hour

$501.90/12 hours

 

As mentioned, these are the minimum hourly pay scales. Many of us who are veterans can command much higher hourlies than these. This also comes with healthcare benefits as well as retirement and pension plans. If you own gear, that is additional. For me and many others, this is a career rather than an adventure. I guess in the end, both sides of this industry is a reality. I do realize that many people are reluctant to join a union out of fear and / or knowing that they won't be able to compete at that level. I would just like to see an infrastructure within the non union world for crafts people to grow professionally as well as financially as they grow with experience.

 

G

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I failed to emphasize that the union pay structure is based on an 8 hour, straight time day. After 8 hours we go into 1.5x the hourly from hours 9-11. After 12 hours, we make 2x's the straight hourly till we wrap.

 

G

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I am talking about non-IA work in Los Angeles. I have been on the 600 eligibility roster as DP on and off for years. No idea what that realm is like; it has eluded me entirely.

 

Not sure if you want to call it "indie" or what- but don't forget even IA has a Tier Zero contract with lousy rates.

 

Now tell me this, how many local 600 members are fat and happy and employed as well as they were 10 years ago ?

 

I bet the spiral in budgets is affecting them too.

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I am talking about non-IA work in Los Angeles. I have been on the 600 eligibility roster as DP on and off for years. No idea what that realm is like; it has eluded me entirely.

 

Not sure if you want to call it "indie" or what- but don't forget even IA has a Tier Zero contract with lousy rates.

 

Now tell me this, how many local 600 members are fat and happy and employed as well as they were 10 years ago ?

 

I bet the spiral in budgets is affecting them too.

California salaries in numerous businesses and industries have been stagnated for many years. This state has been and still is in serious trouble. Until our political leadership provides a business friendly environment, we will continue to see a bleak job market and stagnant salaries - and/or California industries leaving the state all together for states like Texas or New York. . We shall have to wait and measure the net effect of this newly adopted tax incentive to see its impact on the California entertainment industry. As per our union contract, we receive a 3.5% annual cost of living rate increase on the scale wages.

 

With reference to your above comment about how many are better off than 10 years ago, I would say that there are numerous factors to be weighed in that evaluation. For instance, we have many more members in the IA now than we had then with more jobs fleeing the previously established production centers like LA, Chicago and NYC. When I joined back in the 1980s, we had a total of 500 members on the west coast. Now, we have over 6000 natioanally. That's a whole lot more competition in an environment that has now spread much more across the country forcing people to move to new production centers like Atlanta and New Orleans in addition to the original ones. In other words, we will always have the established, more experience employees that the productions are willing to travel where ever the show is and then there are the employees scrapping for any job. That's simply reality.

 

Here are my questions: What are the non union rates for the other camera job classifications? How many camera operator jobs exist in the non union world? What sort of annual incomes are we talking about? What about health care? What about saving for a retirement plan? These are all of the questions our young people need to be asking themselves now, when they have the time to do something about it. I don't think a day rate matters at all. What will you make per year is the important question.

 

G

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I have also made a point of asking those sorts of questions. Modern western society expects people to have a home, a vehicle, and a pension, and it's not unreasonable to expect some sort of leisure time, maybe a meal out once a week and time to pursue a hobby. Even in the UK, where healthcare is dealt with, I don't know anyone at all who can reasonably afford all these things and who works in film and TV at anything but the highest levels.

 

The pension issue is particularly vexing because it reflects the fact that the industry is basically financing itself by robbing a lot of the people who work in it, and it's going to cause a massive economic implosion in about - hang on, I was born in 1978, er, let's see... 2043.

 

As to pay rises, ha. I essentially started working full time in about 2000, and all the rates I charge for various things I do have gone down, in some cases significantly, since then.

 

P

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Gregory; in the 80s and 90s the rates were roughly half to three-quarters for non-union work. Years back I tried joining Local-16 as a grip and stage hand way back in the 80s, but no one answered my letters, and when I finally called the response I got was "We're all dead up here.", meaning there was no work. I tried contacting other unions, but no one ever replied.

 

With apologies to teamsters everywhere, here is what I experienced on a teamster shoot; clock in at 8AM two twenty minute to half hour breaks, plus a lunch break, and clock out at 5 or 6PM, in addition to whatever their rate was (I still don't know). Again, no response to inquiries. As a stage manager in training, I was required to be there by 5AM, make coffee, prep the stage, get any rental gear that wasn't staged the night before, then clock out at around seven after everyone else was gone. And I got maybe a fifth of what everyone else was making.

 

That's been my experience with unions. (Edit); I'd like to add that of all the Union shoots I worked as a non-union facility employee, the Teamsters, for all their perks, did seem to be the most professional in terms of executing their job.

 

I tried getting certification on a number of cameras and camera systems, but no one, not even Panavision, offers certification. You have to know someone. Which for me means splurging on renting a camera package so I can get up to speed. Money I don't have for both a rental and insurance to cover the rental.

 

Then again, Bay Area rates, unless you're working for one of the big boys, are slave wages compared to LA. Or so I've been told. But again, that's freelancing, not union gigs.

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er, let's see... 2043.

 

 

 

P

 

You wish. 2045+.

State retirement age is going up to 66 1/2, and that's just for us oldsters. By the time you get there it'll be nearer 70.

Edited by Mark Dunn

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Yeah, yeah, I know. Just keeping it simple.

 

The bigger issue is that by the time I get there, I'll probably be paying them to exist, let alone a state pension.

 

P

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George, SF non union rates are always far better than LA from what I see and what my SF crew tells me ( I work the Bay often ).

 

Total aside- I used to shoot for a prod. co that had as a client ATT U-Verse. That stopped for me a couple years ago; some internal regime change. Then recently I had 2 emails from some company in Seattle telling me they liked specific clips on my website ( which means they watched my material and are crawling the web for DPs ), and would I like to SHOOT A SPOT FOR A CONTEST for ATT U-Verse --- If I won, there was a cash prize available.

 

This is where the ridiculousness of our business has arrived. It is here now.

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No kidding, huh? So someone tabled you a contest for work? Wow. That's awful.

 

I guess I already mentioned the "work for food" offer I got years back.

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It would sure be great to see some others step up and discuss what's actually going on with rates and expectations...

 

Bueller ? Anyone ?

 

When I first joined this forum back in 2009 or 2008, this place was jumping with activity. Now it's a virtual ghost town on the General Topics' area.

 

I'm curious why that is. The suspicious and "paranoid" of me says that I'm being redirected to a mirror site. With all the views of this thread I'm curious why more people aren't replying.

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Which is funny because there used to be actors from all over the world posting here, as well as DPs from major studios working on huge projects. Now it's just a handful of volunteers. Oh well.

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After 12 hours, we make 2x's the straight hourly till we wrap.

 

G

 

Wow, I don't know of any indie projects that could afford that kind of cash. Plus the fringes? Geez that's big bucks. No wonder only the Hollywood blockbusters can afford this.

 

R,

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One of the studios I worked for back in the day charged 1.5x for the first two hours of overtime, then 4x, then 8x before they asked the client to wrap after 16 hours. One client actually went beyond that (I wont' say who, nor the stage) and threw a fit when they saw the cost charged to them.

 

It was a corporate video shoot. My boss, the senior manager, tended to be more sympathetic and lenient with indy producers who were struggling to get something done, and often waved the extra fees for their shoots. He had a heart.

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Wow, I don't know of any indie projects that could afford that kind of cash. Plus the fringes? Geez that's big bucks. No wonder only the Hollywood blockbusters can afford this.

 

R,

 

Actually Richard, there are plenty of indies that become signator with an IATSE contract thus adhering to the contractual rules. I've worked on some and they were smaller budgets. I'm not talking about anything under $1M.

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My first paying job as a DP was for $50/day flat. The 16mm film was feature length, with a good script, so I wanted to do it. The producer/director agreed to pay me a flat amount, on the back end, if his film made any money.

 

My previous DP experience was on student films, working for free. I had been working in the industry as an electrician for ten years, so I had some contacts and a little money in the bank. I got a few of my friends to help crew and work for the very low wages. A lighting rental house, who knew me, gave me a small tungsten package for $500 flat.

 

I called in some favors because I felt like this was an opportunity for me. The producer/director was taking a big chance with his own money. His passion energized me to help.

 

My first electric job was working for free too. I met a Gaffer who owned some equipment and a truck. He was obviously in need of help so I cared for his equipment in exchange for experience on the set. Experience on the set, led to other jobs with real pay checks.

 

Obviously we can't work for free for long, but most employers just want someone who's willing to work hard, arrives to work early, is capable of learning, and is able to keep their mouth shut. ;-)

 

Some jobs we do for the $, others are for the love, or experience. I guess success comes when you can join the two.

 

Good Luck, JT

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