I have done some research into freelance day rates and made this little guide post. There is no exact advice out there on what filmmakers in all job roles should be paid. The unions have recommendations but I find that the reality is very different. In short the budget is everything. The best you can do is to start off low and keep increasing your day rate every year.
You can download the free invoice template below -
The budget is Everything
Before we go into day rates keep in mind that when it comes to film how much you are getting paid depends almost entirely on the budget of the film. Unions tend to only give guidelines for full budgeted productions , so seeing as 60% of feature films made are low budget it can be difficult finding advice out there on how much you should be getting paid for the majority of work you will be doing.
Genre can play a part in this too for example a documentary or contemporary drama could have a lower budget and still pay highly when compared to a same budget sci-fi film. For quick reference if the budget is under $1 million for a feature film your wage will be effected.
When to work for free
It is unavoidable to not do some free work in any creative industry. The film industry is so competitive that there are even people queuing to do free work. When it comes to the jobs ‘anyone can do’ making tea and coffee, keeping the set tidy, these jobs are almost always unpaid. You may need to do some free work at the start of your career whether this is working on film sets or doing some independent work yourself to gain experience. I recommend at least 3-5 film credits in your job role before you can expect a full wage.
Professional filmmakers still occasionally do free work. This may be to meet new people, experiment, help out a friend or work on a passion project. Whatever the reason when you work for free make sure you are gaining something from it.
Entry Level Wages
For entry level job roles I include the positions - runner, production assistants and trainee’s with little previous paid experience. For all of these job roles expect no more than minimum wage. Unions do recommend a slightly higher day rate for those starting out – however I have talked to runners on major productions and receiving more than your countries minimum wage for pay is unlikely.
Assistants skills and wages differ based on the films budget. For example a Camera Assistant on a low budget film might only have the skills for a trainee position on a high budget. On high end feature films the 1st AC will be expected to have a decade plus of on set experience. In this example the pay will differ greatly. A low budget camera assistant might make $100 a day – and a high end 2nd AC $350 a day.
In the role of assistant and everything in between the budget (and producer) will decide your wage. Your best bet is to have a general day rate in mind, ask about the budget and then make a decision.
Head Of Department
For any HOD position likely by this stage in your career will have some idea of what you are worth. For these roles the HOD will likely know the budget and work out their wage from that. You will be asked out right what is your day rate or in some cases you will have an agent doing all of the negotiating for you. There are union guidelines out there, however in demand crew members will be able to ask for more.
Day rates for Freelancers
When you are a freelancer, you decide your own rate. When you are hired you will be asked what is your day rate. You charge by the day, not by the hour. The best technique is to start off small and then increase your day rate every 6 – 12 months. A standard day rate for a videographer is $300 a day but you can still increase this as you become more skilled.
I have links to union rate guidelines below. Seeing as these rates vary so much I am unable to give exact rate guidelines for each job role. You can see from this table how the job role and budget plays a part in the given day rate. This is an example for a 1 month feature film shoot -
How to calculate your day rate
First consider the budget - what can they afford to pay you. You can ask out right how much the budget is when you are asked for your day rate. Consider your previous experience and how skilled you are – you should be raising your rate every year. Often people will have a number in mind – for example I wont work for any less than $200 a day. Only go under if you are gaining something from a lower pay (meeting new contacts , experience , helping out a friend).
How do you work out your day rate as a freelancer? Being open to discuss day rates will only help us with creating fair pay in film.