Archive for March, 2013

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Rates and How to Pluck Them Out of Nothing

March 30, 2013

SonicandWileE

So… rates.

I’ve wanted to write something about rates and things for a while, but held back because, quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m a suitable expert in the subject. But nonetheless, here’s my thoughts on how to set them and how to stick to them.

You first start thinking about your rates when you enthusiastically take that call or email from your first potential paying client. The conversation goes a little like this:

“…So does that sound like a job you could do?” they ask.
“Yeah, that sounds good” you say, imagining the new kit you can buy with the proceeds.
“So what’re your rates for the job? Can you do us a quote?”
“Errr…”

Sound familiar? So you now have to work out a price for them (when you were kinda hoping they’d tell you what they’re paying) and its hard to decide what figure to give them. Too much and they won’t go for it, too little and you could be doing yourself a disservice (and they might not go for it because you look too cheap!) and you have no idea what sort of rate they’re expecting or hoping for because they won’t tell you. In fact, they probably don’t know either. It’s like the blind leading the blind to an art gallery and one trying to describe to the other what a painting looks like.

blind-man_o_937187

The only thing you can do here is work out what you’re worth, then adjust it for the quote if necessary. But gauging what you’re worth is the real problem. In this industry, just like most others, people don’t discuss what they earn per job and this is because when you quote a number like that, the other person becomes quite judgemental based on it- are you really that good or are you lying/bragging/conning people? How many days of work are you actually getting at that rate? It’s not a pleasant non-conversation to have. The other thing is that there are so many variations on job role, responsibilities, skills and sectors of the industry that there’s no real standard rate to speak of either. Even the broadcaster’s union BECTU struggle to define rates for key personnel.

So how do you work out your rates? Well, here’s my approach- work backwards from what you need to earn. Now, the figures below are all my rates as an all-in-one video producer for corporate and event work where I can essentially set my rates for clients. As a director for drama, it’s a little different, but I’ll get to that. Anyway, to work out your rates, there’s a couple of benchmark figures you need to figure out first:

A) What hourly/daily/monthly rate do you get from a high-end-but-average-unskilled-even-a-monkey-could-do full time type job? ie what would you be earning if you weren’t working in film? This is to give you a base-line for earnings. If you’re worth your salt, you will not be charging anywhere near this low. I took high-end high street retail as my example- £8 per hour (£72 per day or £1387 pcm).

B) How much do you need to earn per month to keep afloat, pay bills and keep a roof over your head? This isn’t what you want to earn, it’s what you need to earn. For me, I can just about get by on £1200 a month after tax, so I’m looking at £1440 as a bare minimum.

C) How much would you ideally like to be earning at the end of the first year? Obviously this is somewhere between the ideal and wishful thinking, so try and be realistic. What would cover all your overheads, allow you to grow both your business and give you a bit of financial freedom? This figure will periodically improve and increase over time, so for the purpose of this bit of maths, ask yourself what you’d like to be earning in twelve months time. For me, I picked a modest figure out of whatever orifice you pluck numbers out of: £2500 per month.

Your basic rate, for the first year at least, is going to be somewhere between B and C, slowly picking up until you get to C at the end of the year. This increase isn’t going to happen necessarily by raising your prices, more by you getting more work as time goes on. For me, I picked a monthly earning of £1750 to start with. Lets call this D.

You then need to work out an hourly and daily rate- which means working out how many hours/days of work you’re likely to get in a month. Without a frame of reference, this is bloody hard if not impossible, so you need to look at yourself, your opportunities and your ability to create opportunities. Look at your connections, your previous work, how many big jobs and how many cheap jobs are you likely to get, put it all together and be honest with that assessment. For me, as a video producer (where I write, shoot, light, edit and liaise), I figured I’d get one big(ger) job and one cheapie per month, where the former requires twice as much work as the latter. So say about 50 hours of work a month? With my monthly gross of £1750, that gives me an hourly rate of £35. An average on-shoot day as an all-in-one producer might be 8-9 hours, so lets say £300 as a day rate including my kit.

From here I can put together a rates list with extras or create package deal rates. I can also work out my minimum rates just by applying the same maths to figure B (roughly £29 per hour or about £260 a day). So now, if a job comes in I know that B is as low as I can go and D is what I’m aiming for. If the client can’t afford B or doesn’t want to pay it, I at least know that if I negotiate a cheaper rate because I really want/need the gig, that I’ll be in a deficit of earnings this month and will need to get another/better gig to balance things out as soon as possible.

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It’s worth getting into this business mindset. If a client wants to haggle you down below a rate your comfortable with, have the strength of mind to say no and hold out/look for a better gig. Remember, it’s fine to do cheapies if they don’t detract from the time you could be earning from bigger jobs but if the client’s going to haggle that low and then drag the work out or be a pain in the arse, it just isn’t worth it. So know your options and chances at any given moment. If you have the time, work. Self-employed professionals frequently have to take the work when they can get it because the busy times are going to cover for the dry spells. That’s part of the reason why hourly and daily rates frequently seem high if your only frame of reference is job A. The other is because you have an uncommon skill. Not everyone can operate a camera or direct actors or edit professionally using Final Cut but pretty much any retard can learn quickly how to sell a TV, pour a pint or make a frappuccino. Not to dismiss or demean those jobs but they are generally unskilled- hence the borderline minimum wage attached to them- and you need to cultivate the belief that you’re better than that (ideally not in a snobbish way) if you want to succeed. So charge what your skills are worth. A good benchmark here in the UK is as follows:

  • Less than £15 per hour- relatively unskilled, no previous training required.
  • £25 per hour- skilled, some specialist training, maybe a relevant qualification, minimal professional experience
  • £35 per hour- skilled (broad and/or specialised), relevant training and/or professional experience- up to 3 years in relevant role(s).
  • £50+ per hour- specialised skills, some might say “talented”, recognition of your peers, professional experience in this role for 3+ years and several more beforehand in relevant roles.

Now those figures don’t come from a book or a trade website- they come from me nosing around and trying to find out what professionals of varying skills in varying industries charge or earn. Freelancers generally charge 30-40% more than their salaried equivalents earn, so that’s another thing to bear in mind. If nothing else, the above rough rates are a starting point for a discussion or rumination about what you should charge.

As a drama director, rates can go into the above £50p/h bracket quite easily if the show has a reasonable budget, but you’ll need recognised talent or experience to snare those gigs. I currently use the same rates for directing as I do for video producing- if only to keep things simple. Having said that, if a decent gig with good credit and exposure came along at £15 per hour I think I’d take it!

Self-respect be damned…

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A Director’s Identity

March 18, 2013

total-recall-if-im-not-me-then-who-the-hell-am-i

Something that affects all creative industry types at one point or another is deciding who they are. And I don’t mean anything existential- just who they are creatively. What their “type” is. When I’m shooting showreel scenes for actors, the topic of typecasting frequently comes up. Most actors don’t want to be typecast, they want to be versatile with great range, but actually typecasting is frequently good for actors. When you have a successful type, producers and directors have an easier time of casting you and you have a better chance of getting work. Harsh though it sounds, actors are frequently asked to an audition based on their headshots alone (particularly if they don’t have a reel)- hence the OTT price tag many headshot photographers apply to their trade.

But this is true of other creative types too- musicians are lumped into genres and sounds-a-bit-likes, artists are categorised by style and influences. Directors are no different.

I bring this up because, as my last blog post might have indicated, I’ve been looking for a writer with a script in tow. I posted on job sites like Mandy.com and TalentCircle.org and got loads of responses. Ignoring those that didn’t read the job description (and either didn’t have a script or sent the wrong thing) or didn’t understand the word “scriptwriter” (two directors applied to direct my “script”), most of the scripts were less than stellar. Now, I just asked for 20min scripts and didn’t specify genre or anything (since as mentioned, people don’t read job descriptions) but perhaps I should have. Some of the scripts were probably fine pieces but they had elements in them I didn’t like or didn’t make sense to me or weren’t morally acceptable to me.

Actually, that last one sounds kinda odd, but it’s true. I have a certain morality that I want to bring to the stories I tell- protagonists eventually have to do the right thing, evil always gets what’s coming to it and the good guys always win (even when they don’t, it has to feel like they came off better than their adversaries). I don’t want to tell stories that glamorise drug use or anti-social behaviour so a huge chunk of the “urban bullshit” scripts set in Britain’s inner city ghettos aren’t of any interest at all. I like shows with wit, intelligence, likeable characters and a positive moral outlook. I want an audience to finish watching a show I’ve directed and feel a) that it wasn’t a complete waste of their time and b) that they feel better off for having watched it. This doesn’t always mean a happy ending, but there needs to be a sense of completion and satisfaction upon getting to that end moment. It’s often said that artists paint the world as they wish it to be and while I’d cast some doubt on that generalisation given many artist’s predilection for painting “reality,” when it comes to me, it holds true. I like fictional (if otherwise realistic) worlds where good defeats evil and true love conquers all and there is serendipity and foreshadowing and irony… the real world is much more uncomfortable with its randomness, unpredictability and non-karmic cause and effect. These fictional worlds with their storybook rules make me feel better and that’s why I gravitate to them in my own work.

I have an identity as a director.

It’s weird but I never really thought about having an artistic identity before- which is strange considering my choice of milinery was an image decision that screamed “Director!”

This man is either a film director or a raider of tombs.

This man is either a film director or a raider of tombs.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew what I liked in films and TV and I knew what sort of stories I liked to tell, but never really thought of that as defining me as a filmmaker. Which makes me a bit of a pillock to be honest. I always thought that I could direct any drama- whether I liked the material or not (as long as I got paid for it!)- but actually that’s not the case. Tron Legacy director Joe Kosinski once said “you can only make a movie you want to see” and there’s more than a bit of truth in that. The director is the ombudsman for the audience, so if you don’t like the characters, relate to the story, understand the plot, feel the emotion or enjoy the film as a whole… the audience never will either because any attempt you make to tell the story will, at best, be facile and superficial and at worst, convey your dislike or apathy.

So it’s important, as a director, to pick projects that you relate to. If the script or story ain’t right, don’t direct it. You’ll only produce a sub-par film that no audience will like and you won’t want on your reel or IMDB page.

Unless you get paid of course, in which case you can distract yourself by thinking about all the sports cars and hookers you’re going to spend it on once the shoot’s wrapped!