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DP Rate for Documentary


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What would be a fair rate for a DP (no gear) shooting a fairly financed feature film documentary?

 

For any of you documentary shooters out there, what is your usual day rate when a clients hires you based on your experience?

 

What would be your minimum/maximum per day rate?

Edited by Jamison Madison
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I think the problem is that 'indie' is a such huge category. On the low end, you could be making $200/day for a guy working out of his house, and on the high end you could be making $1500/day for a large production company.

 

Usually, I've seen rates around $600-$800/day but that may include gear on the lower end. I have only day-played on feature docs, so I don't know what the contracts look like if you're working on the job for what could be several years.

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Documentary budgets have been squeezed in recent years and what you get paid on a high end flagship production will be rather different to a low budget regional production with everything under pressure. UK broadcasters have had their funding under pressure and much of the middle ground has gone, so it can come down to either high end rates or rates that are lower than in the past.

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"Depending on who is financing the rate could easily get into the 1K-1500K range..."

 

​Im sure thats possible for a BSC or ASC DOP on a say, Martin Scorsese doc.. but these are very few and far between.. I don't think even a high end doc you will get these rates without gear per day..

 

Its all horses for courses, and there are alot of dependents .. eg a long shoot..Im currently on a 6 week shoot and the day rate is lower because of that.. but the per diem is high..or its good for your reel.. you have an interest in the subject .. you feel it should be made.. all sorts of reasons to shoot a doc.. but as a jobbing DP ,with a fair amount of experience, for a doc with a decent budget ,I dont think it should be lower than $500 per 10hr day..

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That's very hard to say without knowing what this particular documentary entails, i.e. how much of the budget will be going toward travel costs, securing locations and possibly talent (voice-over?), crew, insurance, equipment rental, post production, etc. This is really a question for the film's producer - what can they afford to pay you?

 

I would encourage you to come up with a minimum figure that you would be comfortable with making per week, say $3k for a 5 day week. Then negotiate a day rate based on that. Obviously try for more, but know where you will draw the line, because the budget will always shrink from what the production company initially tells you. At first there will be plenty of money to go around, then once they start production they will start pinching pennies as they realize how fast that money really goes. And they will try to pay you less, have you work longer, or shoot on your days off, unless you have a contract up front that says what you will and will not do.

 

If you shoot 30 days in 5 weeks, that is 6 days a week. Which is a lot, especially if they are long days with no consideration for turn-around or travel time. If you ask for $3K per week @ 6 days, your rate would be $500/day. That would be rock bottom price for me, and I would ask for a 10hr day with overtime beyond 10 and meals every 6hr. If there is travel, I would ask for per diem. And I would try to get them to rent my gear so you're making some extra money.

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What daily rate would you guys recommend for 5 week (around 30 days total) feature documentary budgeted between $100K-$150K ?

 

Just as DP, no gear.

 

 

What you ask for and what you get are very different. To answer what you get, I think 500/day is about it if they're going to hit the $150K mark. At $100k they have to lower your rate still more and probably cut shoot days too. Docs often survive by getting freebies. Like if it's the director's project and he/she takes a tiny rate. Or the director is also the editor and works cheap. Or the sound mixer does it for nothing to get it on their reel. The combinations are infinite, but you get the point. At $150K, I suspect no one is getting a grand a day for 30 shoot days.

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I think most of the time, they (producers) have a figure in mind for the rate that is not going to change no matter what. I'll usually ask them to make an offer. Occasionally I've been surprised at getting offers much higher than I expected they could afford. So sometimes its best to let them go first in the discussion. If they refuse to make an offer, chances are it's going to be on the low end.

Edited by Michael LaVoie
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This is where it REALLY helps to have an agent. They'll state a healthy rate (and state it confidently), and then when the client comes back with a counter offer, they'll push for per diems etc. and spare you all the grief of negotiating.

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The rates under discussion here are fantasy to me,

P

Much to my surprise I now have a dog in this fight. I've just operated, own equipment, B-roll at a 3-day conference I would have paid to attend in exchange for board and lodging (very good public school catering and a black-tie dinner) and managed to get almost as much out of it as a delegate would. The conference fee was not much less per day than Phil would recognise as pay. Sorry if I'm under-pricing you, Phil.

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This is where it REALLY helps to have an agent.

 

Nobody has access to an agent until they're already making a very large amount of money.

 

Why would an agent want to represent anyone who wasn't? There's nothing in it for them.

 

P

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Nobody has access to an agent until they're already making a very large amount of money.

 

Why would an agent want to represent anyone who wasn't? There's nothing in it for them.

 

P

 

This simply isn't true Phil, in my case, or the cases of other DPs and Operators I know who also have representation.

 

This is a creative industry and a portfolio based business. A showreel and list of credits is really all that new clients have to judge us by. If you have a showreel that shows a level of imagery that an agent can promote and win clients with - they'll take you onboard, it's really as simple as that.

 

They won't be the source of all of your work straight away, but they're a definite means to moving forward, and onwards and upwards to bigger jobs.

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This simply isn't true Phil, in my case, or the cases of other DPs and Operators I know who also have representation.

 

It may not feel that way, but any definition of the phrase "a very large amount of money" is a matter of broadly-based opinion.

 

What isn't opinion is that most people who do this sort of thing won't ever move onwards and upwards to bigger jobs: most of them will do it while they can afford to, then give up when it becomes clear there's so little progression available.

 

The overwhelming majority of people who ever touch a camera absolutely do not need agents, and shouldn't be encouraged to bother them. Doing so only makes representation in the future more difficult by pissing the agents off.

 

The old truism remains: if you need an agent, one will call you, and at that point you'll be making so much money that their percentage will be very nice indeed for them.

 

P

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I don't know about feature docs, but I do shoot very regularly for a sport documentary company (mainly short form) and from the same company, I get $550 for their cheapest jobs (usually 3 - 4 hours), $750 for mid range jobs and quite often $1000 a day for their better budgets. This is with my FS7 and fortunately, more often than not it's the $1000 and $750 jobs vs. the lowest budgets.

 

The clients are generally bigger name sports brands - NFL, Nike, NBA, MLB, etc... so the docs have decent budgets.

 

My doc jobs are generally lower budgets than my TV Network DP jobs, which are a good bit higher in pay.

 

Doc jobs can pay well as long as the client is legit - Nike, NFL, NBA, etc... However, many indie docs budgets are probably really low, so be careful unless you really want to do it.

Edited by Gene Sung
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Yes but the OP has specifically asked about the rate for a DP without any gear..

 

 

For an FS7, you can get about $200 a day, maybe $250 on doc jobs so just subtract that from the rate.

 

I camera operate for another company WITHOUT gear (They shoot on older ENG Panasonics, FS700s and C300s) and I get about $500 a day for that. But these guys also generally have lower budgets than my other sports doc company.

 

I do feel like on Doc jobs and lower end type jobs that I often get, having a camera is a plus. Producers often don't have the time or budget to spend a day sourcing cameras and sending out PAs (if they have one) to pick up and return cameras. Renting takes quite a bit of time and producers on these type of jobs want it available and ready.

Edited by Gene Sung
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Yes agree re having your own camera for doc,s.. this used to be 100% the norm for freelance camera people.. in the 16mm doc days.. I have always has my own camera and only work with it.. its actually the only way to make a decent living in the doc /corp world... op only rates are too low..

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