Posts Tagged ‘industry’

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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.

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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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“Skyfall” and Knowing When to Stop

November 22, 2012

I don’t normally use this blog to review films but having just seen the latest Bond flick, I thought I’d share my thoughts on it and an important lesson the flick holds for the filmmaker.

First off, I really liked Skyfall– something that surprised me. In fact, if you’d have asked me my favourite bond movie a week ago, I’d have probably said Brosnan’s finest, Goldeneye. But even that has been surpassed now. Skyfall holds the crown.

Why? Because, unlike most Bonds, Skyfall is a character movie. Yes, there are action sequences. Yes, there are cool set pieces and exotic locations and even more exotic women. But at the heart of the film, it’s a dramatic story about a man coming to terms with who he is and a woman facing up to her past. Even among the ranks of high performance thrillers that’s a strong narrative through-line, but in a franchise whose past entries laboured and idolised the superficial and the escapist, this stands out like Sean Connery in a white tuxedo. To be fair, Casino Royale had a strong character spine but you always knew where it was heading. Skyfall just manages to keep the inevitable slightly out of sight, allowing things to surprise you and yet feel familiar.

Skyfall is also the best-looking Bond. Ever. Roger Deakins deserves every accolade he will likely earn for this movie. In fact, if he doesn’t earn an Oscar nomination for this, I’ll be most upset. From the neon silhouettes of a Shanghai skyscraper to the bleakness of a rustic mansion in the Scottish highlands, every frame is beautifully composed, masterfully lit and evocatively textured. When the great Conrad L Hall died, I always wondered who Sam Mendes would choose as his cinematographer du jour and in Deakins I think he has found a DOP to compliment his directing style perfectly.

The film also completes the Bond origin story. At the end, we feel we’ve come full circle and are ready to slip into Dr No with no hesitation. For me, this sort of storytelling is always a winner- returning to the point you came into the story at the end of the movie, only now armed with the knowledge of how you got there. It’s why all the non-linear narrative films of the 90s worked so well- there’s an inherent satisfaction to having all the pieces slot together and complete the picture. Without spoiling too much, by the end of the movie, key characters and production design elements from the established canon are firmly in place and you really feel like you’ve witnessed the birth of this franchise and its iconic character.

Which brings me on to today’s lesson.

Skyfall was the best Bond film yet. And if they’re smart, it will be the last one they ever make.

I know that won’t be the case- the film’s earnt way too much money for the producers and investors to bow out now, so undoubtedly there will be another Bond (whether the credits promise it or otherwise). Audiences will want more, investors will want more and in all likelihood, many of the cast and crew will want more.

But this will be a bad thing, story-wise at least. You see, Skyfall completes the franchise so perfectly that anything more will feel like draining the cash cow until its udders produce nothing but powdered milk. The performances were so strong and the story so definitive that if another film were to follow it, it would not be able to step out of it’s shadow let alone surpass it. They have reached the peak and the only way onwards is downwards.

The lesson, which the industry part of film production will undoubtedly ignore, is to know when to stop. Know when you’ve created the definitive version of something and leave it at that. Move on, do something different. George Lucas never understood this with Star Wars, James Cameron never understood this with The Terminator– and look how those franchises turned out. Yes, they made for a nice quarterly statement for the studios and many of the folks involved, but aside from all the extra Benjamins, I’d say the franchises are worse off for it. It always comes down to the same thing- the storyteller is likely content to end it there where the natural full stop is, but the well-greased and huge corporate movie-making machine will keep on running until the public stop paying for it.

Just ask yourself, as a filmmaker- what’s better? To go out on a high and leave them wanting more? Or to have a few more zeros in the bank account?

Tough call.

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Arr, There Be Pirates!

June 23, 2012

I’ve been meaning to write a post on downloads, piracy and media business-type stuff but have avoided the topic like a friday night burger van because the chance of coming off as a twat is too high.

The issue is that so much media now is consumed via computer or computer-type devices with internet connections (iPhone, PS3, ipTV etc) that the opportunities for acquiring it through less than official or legal ways are easily taken advantage of. If you work in a media industry- music, film, TV, print- there’s always the concern that while lots of people are seeing/listening/reading your work, you won’t be earning a penny for it. This leads to many of us whining about how people are ripping us off- a sentiment that doesn’t endear us to the average consumer. Especially because they believe all media types earn enough money as it is (as a side note, we don’t…) but also because they know the media industry is led and controlled by billionaires like Rupert Murdoch- which apparently makes content theft okay. The idea that piracy is acceptable because your money is lining the pockets of some conveniently-evil (and undoubtedly puppy-kicking) cigar-chomping fat-cat is quite frankly bollocks because while they’ll miss their large cut of the profits, the poor sods whose hard graft actually made the product will miss it a whole lot more.

Although, if you start pointing that shit out, you’re usually on the receiving end of disbelief/doubt/non-sympathy and look like the aforementioned twat. As such, I’ve always avoided throwing my small change on the matter into the fountain of debate (til thirty seconds ago obviously…).

And then I saw this little article (http://techcrunch.com/2012/06/09/meet-the-filmmaker-who-talked-back-to-the-pirate-bay/) and felt that the man had a point. For those too lazy to read the article, Tom Lowe is a filmmaker who found his (quite excellent) Koyaanisqatsi-esque film “Timescapes” available on a torrent site and rather than bitch and moan about it, posted a comment along the lines of “If you like the film, please consider buying a copy from our website.” Hats off and fair play to the man. In the interview he says that piracy and illegal downloads are a reality filmmakers now have to face but if you alter your business model and preconceptions, you can still earn from your film and audiences still see your work.

It’s a refreshing, down-to-earth and, frankly, mature outlook on the state of the industry and I for one applaud him for it. Filmmakers, production companies and studios need to adjust their business model to reflect the world and the way audiences want to experience their work.

Take music downloads as an example. Ten years ago, the music industry was panic-stricken about illegal downloads- people ripping their CDs and sharing the files via P2P services. It was only when the likes of iTunes store came along with their not-free-but-cheap-enough-to-be-painless brand of legal download did the worry about shareware disappear. Lets face it, who’s used any torrent service to download music any time recently? Most people just fire up iTunes, pay their 79p and don’t worry about it. In fact, more people buy tracks from iTunes than they do CDs from HMV.

The film and TV industry really needs to take a leaf out of the music industry to combat piracy by making legal downloads a viable cost option for punters and yet still turn a profit. The music industry still has a way to go with regard to sharing out those profit pie slices (many musicians find they’re not getting much out of the downloads system) and I suppose a lot of that is to do with the cost of downloads. It just goes to show that it’s a new market environment out there and the old methods just don’t apply anymore, but as long as there are people like Tom Lowe willing to see things in a progressive and mature light, we should be able to create an industry where customers get their stuff and the artist gets a living wage.