Step Up to the Rate

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-Hat tip to visual artist N.C. Winters (@ncwinters). Be sure to check out his entire comic series “Freelance Freedom”. Trust me, you’ll laugh and you’ll relate.

About a month ago, DP & Director Philip Bloom posted on Twitter a screengrab from someone’s online ad offering a Sony F3 Package with Shooter for an unheard of rate of 200 Euro per day – roughly $284 American-. We’re talking an entire kit of gear as well including: a Zeiss Lens set, an LCD Monitor, a Rode Shotgun mic, and 2 Sennheiser Lavs. Philip had this to say: “…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!”

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-Insane visual proof

This got a lot of people talking on Twitter about freelancer rates and what to charge, especially so as to not undercut the competition – usually your fellow colleagues. So since the topic has been breached, and will remain a hot topic amongst freelancers for quite some time, I will begin by talking about one of the first things you will encounter, “What are your rates?”

Now, the first thing everyone will tell you is that rates are always a challenge. Not only do you account for the regional cost of living, but also: market saturation, competitive rates, cost of overhead or gear, experience, talent, and your own availability. The first thing you should really do in this situation is to take a look at your competition. Some people post their rates online but a majority will smartly list them as: negotiable. On a sidenote: a lot of people will say posting a rate will help weed out cheap clientele. I have always believed that the quality of work on your website and client list should speak to what potential rate you will be charging. Plus, there are the rare gigs that have a far better tradeoff of exposure, a client relationship, or a barter of services.

If you are without a professional network, then you most likely will end up cold-calling or emailing area filmmakers and TV industry professionals.  You can even use this as a networking opportunity. Make sure to ask how many years of experience they have on the job. This research will allow you to create a baseline for yourself. You can also call local Production companies and Post-Houses and see what they pay their freelancers.

In Bloom’s article about rates he had a good point about someone just starting out. He lays out a path in which a shooter does around 3 jobs pro-bono of differing styles, for example: music video, commercial, and video podcast. Once those gigs are under your belt they become a marketing tool to acquire paying projects. Obviously at an early stage in the game, you are in a weakened position. My advice, is to choose the 3 clients you would like to offer pro-bono work to, as opposed to answering online ads. The people actively looking to give someone “experience” are probably just looking to exploit a young pro.

The major key to all of this that baseline to go off of. Not only are you not underbidding yourself, but also your area colleagues. Situations like the above with the Sony F3 and shooter will only dilute the rates for the true Pros who have bills and a family. And once you set a bar with a new client so low, it’s hard to get a legitimate rate out of them in the future. Keep that in mind.

It all comes down to knowing your worth. Your skill level, your enthusiasm and creativity all matter in this math you are attaching to yourself. Also realize that freelancing is like your social world. You’re going to have your blind dates, acquaintances, best friends, and long-term relationships. You can tailor your rates higher for a one day gig and a little lower if it’s a 3 week one.

How about my readers: How do you/did you go about defining your rates?

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