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Bryce Lansing

Cinematographer's pay rate

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Part of the reason that SF can sustain higher rates right now is that we have a lot of commercial/corporate work from Silicon Valley that can afford to pay for it and are keeping most of the skilled labor employed. A lot of local union workers that cut their teeth on ILM jobs and early 90's film and tv work established and held firm on rates and union rules like meal penalty and turnaround, as Silicon Valley and commercial agencies grew here. So the older companies now understand and expect this. Lower-end non-union work from LA now seems to be making inroads here and we are pushing back.

 

SF also seems to be a hot destination for film and tv right now, we have a HBO series, Looking, and several studio films (for a few weeks, at least) a year now. Not to mention a handful of indie features. So right now, we have a weird mix of lower-end production companies that own their own gear and do everything in house, post and VFX houses that dabble in production, mid-sized production companies that are downsizing, traditional agencies, and tech companies with more money than they know what to do with.

 

At the same time, with decent film equipment more accessible than ever, a lot of still photographers, recent film school graduates, and amateurs are jumping into the mix and happily taking a lot of the lower-end work. So it's a sort of two-tiered system with very little cross-over. Of course, the local camera and G&E rental houses deal with everyone. It's busy, but I think the overall trend is toward smaller budget, lower-end work, which is worrying.

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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.

I think a lot of this is due to the increase in traffic to places like Reduser and No Film School, where the discussions are generally more technical and camera specific in nature. That's where people go when they want to know how to get Magic Lantern Raw on their 5D or how to black shade their Epic, of which IRND filters to buy. Which is probably what most of the traffic here 5 years ago was about.

 

That said, I know that we've also not heard from a lot of good contributing members on this site like Max Jacoby, Tim Partridge, Dominic Case, Ignacio Aguilar, Jon Bowerbank, etc. possibly due to lack of interest, increasingly busy schedules, and life in general. Bowerbank is a good friend of mine in the real world, and I know he is working and traveling all the time these days.

 

Not sure what happened to the few ASC members we had who would post occasionally, but I imagine what attracted them to the forum in the first place were the in-depth discussions on film theory, form, and technique, not the general chatter about gear. Unfortunately, those discussions are few and far between.

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Part of the reason that SF can sustain higher rates right now is that we have a lot of commercial/corporate work from Silicon Valley that can afford to pay for it and are keeping most of the skilled labor employed. A lot of local union workers that cut their teeth on ILM jobs and early 90's film and tv work established and held firm on rates and union rules like meal penalty and turnaround, as Silicon Valley and commercial agencies grew here. So the older companies now understand and expect this. Lower-end non-union work from LA now seems to be making inroads here and we are pushing back.

 

SF also seems to be a hot destination for film and tv right now, we have a HBO series, Looking, and several studio films (for a few weeks, at least) a year now. Not to mention a handful of indie features. So right now, we have a weird mix of lower-end production companies that own their own gear and do everything in house, post and VFX houses that dabble in production, mid-sized production companies that are downsizing, traditional agencies, and tech companies with more money than they know what to do with.

 

At the same time, with decent film equipment more accessible than ever, a lot of still photographers, recent film school graduates, and amateurs are jumping into the mix and happily taking a lot of the lower-end work. So it's a sort of two-tiered system with very little cross-over. Of course, the local camera and G&E rental houses deal with everyone. It's busy, but I think the overall trend is toward smaller budget, lower-end work, which is worrying.

 

This is another "way back when I was a lad" story; but, the Bay Area at one time had more of a mix of gigs. It used to be Corporate vids, indy features, and Rap Videos (largely because of the East Bay hard core rap scene). A couple years back when I was trying to scrounge up work I spoke with a grip who works out of SF for Local 16, and he told me that those days were over, and that now it's almost mostly corporate vid, and for what he did, stage work as opposed to gripping on a feature.

 

He quoted me some okay started rates; $350/ 10hr day or something like that. And that, at the time, was entry wages for the local union. If you're working steady, then, relating to the other thread on non-Union survival, survival in the Bay Area is very doable.

 

I also think the Bay Area is a little more unique than the other hubs around the country, and world, in that the work can be sporadic, but it appears to have made a comeback in recent years.

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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.

There are far more that are not, trust me. Indie budgets are usually based on cast, and therefore the SAG contract they fall under. It used to be common to see films made under the Modified Low Budget - under around $650K; all these I have seen or heard of or been involved in never started IA but I think one flipped around 2005... cannot name it. There is a tremendous amount of business done under the SAG ULB contract which is under $200K. You can find recognizable actors in these films working at $100 per 8 hour day.

 

Rather than point out the great life available under IA, can you explain what makes IA perk up and organize a show ? Also, why do the semi-permanent crews of companies like LLP constantly refuse to organize ?

 

Mr Irwin you are truly among Hollywood's elite crew members ( your resume reads like a multiplex marquis). As such you may have a tinted view of the bigger city full of film folks around you, and I get from the gist of your posts that you suggest everyone join the unions... even though you also used the word " competition"... at what point do colleagues become competitors?

 

I'm all for the good life.... but I suspect there would be far less work available and that few crew could maintain the hours needed for benefits. It would never happen, but maybe the industry in L.A. could use a good, grinding halt.

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There are far more that are not, trust me. Indie budgets are usually based on cast, and therefore the SAG contract they fall under. It used to be common to see films made under the Modified Low Budget - under around $650K; all these I have seen or heard of or been involved in never started IA but I think one flipped around 2005... cannot name it. There is a tremendous amount of business done under the SAG ULB contract which is under $200K. You can find recognizable actors in these films working at $100 per 8 hour day.

 

Rather than point out the great life available under IA, can you explain what makes IA perk up and organize a show ? Also, why do the semi-permanent crews of companies like LLP constantly refuse to organize ?

 

Mr Irwin you are truly among Hollywood's elite crew members ( your resume reads like a multiplex marquis). As such you may have a tinted view of the bigger city full of film folks around you, and I get from the gist of your posts that you suggest everyone join the unions... even though you also used the word " competition"... at what point do colleagues become competitors?

 

I'm all for the good life.... but I suspect there would be far less work available and that few crew could maintain the hours needed for benefits. It would never happen, but maybe the industry in L.A. could use a good, grinding halt.

 

Royce, I think you misunderstand me. I am not a union peddler. My apologies if I came across that way. I actually have many issues with unionism. It's not perfect. What I am, however, is a businessman. That's how I have always approached my career. My questions on this topic have been honest and clear. I have never experienced the non union world and I am trying to understand it. I quite honestly don't understand what one gets from it. Growth? Advancement? Security? These are my questions and the chain of postings have led to this.

 

I realize that success is in the eye of the beholder. I'm not all about money but I do want security for my family. That's it really. For me, all of the technical mumbo jumbo of our job is meaningless if you can't benefit from it. It's obvious that we must know the technical stuff if we are doing the job. But it's boring compared to managing a career with longevity in mind. And yes. The hours matter to maintain the benefits. I don't know the numbers but there are many in the guild who always qualify for the benefits like healthcare. Of course there are those who don't. That's reality.

 

As for organizing jobs, the camera guild is very pro active in this. Who is LLP by the way. I don't know the answer to your question regarding LLP.

 

In closing, joining a union isn't for everyone. Some are fearful, ignorant on the subject or just plain not interested in it. Others may not have had the opportunity to join. It comes down to whatever makes you happy. If your not happy, do something about it. Thanks Royce.

 

Greg

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Thanks Greg. I wish the two threads could be merged. Great discussion all-in-all.

 

LLP is Larry Levinson Productions- they shoot I believe a lot of Hallmark movies. As far as I know they have yet to be organized but I could be mistaken.

 

In any case... I have said for some long time now if I had it to do over I would have been sweeping out a camera truck in 1980 and never looked back. The independent route is simply not a way up and in for most from what I have seen, and it has only gotten exponentially more so.

 

Cheers

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Thanks Greg. I wish the two threads could be merged. Great discussion all-in-all.

 

LLP is Larry Levinson Productions- they shoot I believe a lot of Hallmark movies. As far as I know they have yet to be organized but I could be mistaken.

 

In any case... I have said for some long time now if I had it to do over I would have been sweeping out a camera truck in 1980 and never looked back. The independent route is simply not a way up and in for most from what I have seen, and it has only gotten exponentially more so.

 

Cheers

Ah. Now I know who LLP is. There have been numerous attempts to organize LLP over the years and they have successfully avoided all of them. I doubt they will ever go union. Another reality. Cheers to you Royce. You sound like a man with integrity.

 

Greg

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There are far more that are not, trust me. Indie budgets are usually based on cast, and therefore the SAG contract they fall under. It used to be common to see films made under the Modified Low Budget - under around $650K; all these I have seen or heard of or been involved in never started IA but I think one flipped around 2005... cannot name it. There is a tremendous amount of business done under the SAG ULB contract which is under $200K. You can find recognizable actors in these films working at $100 per 8 hour day.

 

There is now also the SAG-AFTRA "New Media" agreement option. Here's a blurb on 'pay', as in when, how much...

 

----

You are able to defer payment to your performers under the SAG-AFTRA New Media Agreement if your performers agree to the deferral. A deferral in payments means that you agree to make X payment when Y happens. Example: A producer agrees to pay all principal performers $100 per day of work performed if and when the production receives DVD distribution and after the producer recoups production costs of $5,000. When deferring payment to the performer, P&H or H&R will also be deferred until the performers’ payment is triggered.

----

 

I believe this is the only SAG-AFTRA agreement that allows the performer to 'agree to no pay now'. As I recall all the the other 'low' budget agreements at least require $100/day during actual production, with any other pay dependent on distribution, etc.

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Editability timed out before I could find a succinct defintion of 'New Media'...

 

From the SAG-AFTRA materials.

"New Media" means:

---

... the Original or Derivative Program is produced for initial exhibition via the Internet, mobile devices, or any other platform known or which hereafter may be adopted, except as provided below (collectively defined as “New Media").

---

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Royce, I think you misunderstand me. I am not a union peddler. My apologies if I came across that way. I actually have many issues with unionism. It's not perfect. What I am, however, is a businessman. That's how I have always approached my career. My questions on this topic have been honest and clear. I have never experienced the non union world and I am trying to understand it. I quite honestly don't understand what one gets from it. Growth? Advancement? Security? These are my questions and the chain of postings have led to this.

 

I realize that success is in the eye of the beholder. I'm not all about money but I do want security for my family. That's it really. For me, all of the technical mumbo jumbo of our job is meaningless if you can't benefit from it. It's obvious that we must know the technical stuff if we are doing the job. But it's boring compared to managing a career with longevity in mind. And yes. The hours matter to maintain the benefits. I don't know the numbers but there are many in the guild who always qualify for the benefits like healthcare. Of course there are those who don't. That's reality.

 

As for organizing jobs, the camera guild is very pro active in this. Who is LLP by the way. I don't know the answer to your question regarding LLP.

 

In closing, joining a union isn't for everyone. Some are fearful, ignorant on the subject or just plain not interested in it. Others may not have had the opportunity to join. It comes down to whatever makes you happy. If your not happy, do something about it. Thanks Royce.

 

Greg

 

To be blunt, again this is a Bay Area perspective; but it opens up doors to non-union gigs, which pay less than union gigs, but may come up more often often than a handful of features coming through town.

 

Union wages offer better perks, higher pay, but the work may not come in as often.

 

If you're aspiring to be an indy producer, then the indy non-union route is the way to go, unless you're biding your time crewing so you can throw some cash at a pet project of your own.

 

I've never seen a career in features or related media (commercials, industrials) as a good career promising a good retirement for the golden years. to me you do it because you wanted to create movies. If you're in it as a crew-person because someone offered you a job, and you happen to like it, then more power to you.

 

But, having said that, I have a hard time understanding why you would choose this career if you didn't have a vision to create something of your own in the first place.

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But, having said that, I have a hard time understanding why you would choose this career if you didn't have a vision to create something of your own in the first place.

 

 

But George, you are assuming that everyone in this trade has a creative streak in them. I do not. I have no creative aspirations. I'm hired by the major studios to organize, manage and execute successful camera departments and to facilitate the technical means of the photography. I absolutely love managing the logistics and budgets of large camera crews and camera packages. For me, I put the business first. I would rather work on creative movies but if I worked on the films that I enjoy watching, I wouldn't be able to afford much. As I tell people, the movies I like to watch are not the movies I would want to work on.

 

Greg

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Yeah, I guess I am. If you're into logistics, then I'm curious what attracted you to the film industry? What differentiates it from working for Swanson's canned foods, or Office Max, or even an auto parts supplier?

 

To each his own I guess.

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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.

 

I just tell IATSE to bugger off. They can't supply me with local members where I shoot outside of Toronto, so I don't feel they can force me to bring their members in and put them up in hotels and pay per diems etc. They want to picket the set, go ahead, first they have to find it!

 

My next shoot is going in South Africa, no unions there of any kind and the crews for the many shows shooting there are excellent. All of this has been achieved there without unionization, how has this been possible? Proof positive once again that unions are feckless organizations.

 

George Lucas shot his last three prequels in Australia outside of the US unions, and then he shot Red Tails in Romania, and sidestepped the film unions once again!

 

I've dealt with film union bosses that yell, scream, and throw fits. I just remind them that they are not the law and I don't have to do a bloody thing they tell me to. They never seem to like that. :D

 

R,

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Yeah, I guess I am. If you're into logistics, then I'm curious what attracted you to the film industry? What differentiates it from working for Swanson's canned foods, or Office Max, or even an auto parts supplier?

 

To each his own I guess.

I began film school as a freshman in high school and have never had an adult job away from the movie industry. It's my life. I love the business, the people and the life's experiences that I've enjoyed due to it. It has traveled me all over the world many times over and that has led to life long friendships that I highly value. The freelance nature of the job allows me to be my own boss and schedule work as I want. I doubt Office Max would allow that. Bottom line: it works for me.

 

G

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Richard; a couple ILM guys I used to work for tell me that the special effects show was union, or portions of it. I've never worked there, but maybe someone here can shed some light.

 

Gregory; I like being my own boss. I just wish I had more work. It's nice not having to wear a suit and tie, or some uniform.

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Richard; a couple ILM guys I used to work for tell me that the special effects show was union, or portions of it. I've never worked there, but maybe someone here can shed some light.

 

I know several ILM guys myself. I even met George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch!

 

Yes, ILM has some sort of "loose" union, it's certainly nothing like what the auto workers have with UAW. ILM is steadily moving work off shore, they have set up shop in Singapore. Every industry is running away from US and Canadian unions.

 

R,

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"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."

 

In my experience, which is about 7 years, 2 1/2 being full time freelance, very little DP/camera operator jobs exist without gear. I try to get a decent rate to survive here in SoCal/LA, but it's tough when people will bring more to the table (RED Epic, Dana Dolly, Jib, 3 ton) for the same rate, or even less. I forget who said it in a previous post, but with the globalization of cameras, everyone now days is a DP. Often I find myself & colleagues doing everything to pay the bills, ie DP, Gaff, Operate, Color, Edit, VFX, you name it. It's a tough market out there. An over saturated, tough market.

 

- I deal with this a lot.
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Well, regarding the video, funny yes. However, price negotiation is a hallmark of society in many areas, who pays full price for a car or house? Freelance workers negotiate pricing for their time in lots of industries, not just film.

 

And yes I get that the buyer wants everything for free, ha ha.

 

R,

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I would agree with Chris's observations. It would be hell to be starting out right now, and I am always mystified by crew members new to me who openly share they are DPs, but sparking or gripping for the week, or who color and edit as well as shoot.

 

I also just saw an ad for DP who can edit and compose a score and mix. Now obviously this is an uninitiated producer, but it shows the mindset of the new melange of efforts that seem to be acceptable.

 

I fear the crafts dumb down and we lose the skills as a group. It's like homeowners who watch remodeling shows and decide they are contractors. They screw up their house and the actual contractor cannot feed his family. But Lowe's and Home Depot are making a killing off it.

 

in the past 10 years DPs have gone from getting day rate plus kit fee to all in for one price and then that rate has eroded to the ridiculous. It is often the camera package getting hired at less than market rate, and the DP is thrown in.

 

The preponderance of people who have become DPs overnight by buying a camera is mind boggling. I would not say they are as a whole professional but among them there are those who went a similar route to mine decades ago, doing their damndest to learn and be mentored and to achieve. Today the learning curve to basic abilities and basic shooting is shortened because of mass access and we know how this business likes the young... there is also a perfect storm timing with Millennials being the ones who value dollars less than job satisfaction, and are choosing to freelance in this way. Their values are different, they do not respect or appreciate experience, only results, and hence the idea of true apprenticeships is an obstacle not an opportunity.

 

I have told sound mixers that no sound mixers with kit would touch an indie for under $500 a day in 2000 with Nagra and boom, and they look at me like I am from Mars- they have the cart and the 4 wireless and ComTechs and all the proper kit and are getting $175 in 2014.

 

The camera situation is similar.

 

I have also seen a serious disempowerment of the cinematographer to the point many projects do not have one per se, and the DP / camera owners go along with it and come on as cam ops, or the production dispensing with DPs entirely... 2 features this week I watched trailers for that looked all over the map and had no DP credit but several operator credits and director as A -camera operator.

 

There is something to be said for barriers to entry to a field. With the democratization of film making, perhaps a bigger barrier to quality and success will exist for those same masses.

 

Strange Days , indeed.

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There is now also the SAG-AFTRA "New Media" agreement option. Here's a blurb on 'pay', as in when, how much...

 

That is used for essentially for webisodics, and it is used as a way for non union actors to join SAG. Talent is another arena completely overrun ( polluted? ) and watered down. People try to produce features under it but the minutiae makes them unsellable as such just as did the old SAG Experimental agreement. My first 35mm feature with names was done under that, and then when Miramax wanted it, the deferred talent fees and required approvals killed the deal. See also: film in the garage, on a shelf forever.

 

Plenty of ways to waste money and make a film that goes nowhere... amazing how people think they are smarter than the lawyers retained by the unions and guilds and studios.

 

A friend and mentor of mine in the 90's was the late director Larry Buchanan. A shlockmeister, but very smart and reasonable gent, and not jaded or cynical in the least ( he has a wonderful autobiography called IT CAME FROM HUNGER, chronicling an earlier era in indie cinema ).

 

I asked him how to succeed in filmmaking.

 

He said the only sure way, and it was a 100% guarantee, was to become an entertainment lawyer.

Edited by Royce Allen Dudley

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I'm not sure I see the problem doing multiple jobs? On my films I'm the producer, director, writer, and editor.

 

I could very well DP them if I wanted to and operate the A-cam, no problem.

 

The key to whole thing is the producing, if you can put the financing together you can do almost anything at that stage.

 

R,

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George Lucas shot his last three prequels in Australia outside of the US unions, and then he shot Red Tails in Romania, and sidestepped the film unions once again!

 

Actually, all the SF units on these shows were union, I know a lot of the crew that worked on them. A substantial portion of Red Tails was reshot up at the now defunct Kerner stages (ILM).

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Why didn't he shoot all the movies in the USA to begin with?

 

George Lucas taking his movies to non-union jurisdictions is just the tip of the iceberg, there are well over a 100 examples that could be cited.

 

R,

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There is something to be said for barriers to entry to a field. With the democratization of film making, perhaps a bigger barrier to quality and success will exist for those same masses.

I completely agree with you. And that barrier was once what union membership represented. It still does to a degree but it's much easier to get in now than it used to be. Back in the 1980s when I got into the Los Angeles Guild, it was nearly impossible to join and I remember having to take written and practical exams to receive my card in New York. I wish we still required that.

 

Greg

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Why didn't he shoot all the movies in the USA to begin with?

 

I thought a lot of the principal photography for the prequels was done in London, same as the original trilogy? Tradition, I suppose. Australia probably had a lot of the exterior locations they wanted for Ep.2, so it would make sense to base the production there.

 

Lucas's films have increasingly become green and blue screen studio based, so he could have really shot them anywhere.

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