LET’S TALK ABOUT RATES
LET’S TALK ABOUT RATES
Recently Kessler Shooter Rob Ruscher started a discussion on the topic of rates on his Facebook group “Cinematographer’s Insight” and we thought it would be the perfect topic for KesslerU. Last week we talked with Rob about his rates, how he got started in the business, when he felt comfortable calling himself a professional, when to walk away from a potential client and much more.
Keep in mind, while Rob is a very talented DP with lots of experience he does not know it all, his way is not the only way and no two journeys are ever the same. Rob always makes an effort to grow, create meaningful relationships with others and to value everyone in his industry. Our hope with this interview is that filmmakers sharing their experiences will help people in the industry see their value and continue to strengthen the filmmaking community.
For more opportunities to share and learn about cinematography and filmmaking like the Cinematographer’s Insight Facebook Page and go to www.cinematographersinsight.com to listen to the podcast and sign up for the newsletter.
KESSLER: How have your prices changed over the years as you have gone from beginner to professional?
ROB: I found, in the beginning, it was easy. Most of the time you start as a Production Assistant (PA). You work either for free or for the standard $150 for 10 hours a day. As a PA, I feel you get what the producer tells you they are paying you. It gets tricky as you move through roles and are offered a Camera Operator job or even low-end Director of Photography (DP) gig. I think the best you can do is ask others in your market. Gear is pretty standard and with a little research, you can see what to rent it for/charge for.
There are 2 thoughts on the $150/10 day rate. I get if you’re giving your services away for free it kills the industry, but at the same time should you be charging the same as an ASC member? As I’ve grown it has been a mix of taking what people offer and knowing what others in my position charge. Figuring out what you need to make each day for the number of days you work a year is a big help also. It seems the bigger sets with better producers/crew know what rates should be and usually they are spot on. The ones that hassle like crazy are usually a sign of what the shoot will be like.
KESSLER: How did you determine your pricing when you first got started?
ROB:I asked. So many people are taboo about money and salary. I don’t get it. I have a few close friends and we talk openly about monthly expenses, YTD sales and profit, as well as what we made last year. If you’re just starting out or still figuring out rates, ask. Find people you trust and buy them a coffee or call them. I’d advise talking to those in different markets and at different points in their career. You can blindly try to figure it out (which I did for a while) or you can cut that all out and just talk to people. Those who are very secretive about their rates, usually aren’t making what they want to make.
KESSLER: How did you find work when you first started?
ROB: Twitter. I had a bunch of hashtag searches lined up in a twitter app and would actively reach out. That helped out a lot. I called rental houses and went in to hang out and make myself known. On top of that, I called all the production companies I could find on Google. Think about it, how is anyone going to hire you if they don’t know you exist?
KESSLER: At what point did you feel comfortable with pricing your services at a professional level?
ROB: Great question. When I began specializing that was a big help. The MoVI/Gimbal community is tight nit and has been an amazing resource for me. As I was getting referred to jobs, people told me what to charge. That’s a huge help. As I grew in my career as a DP I began working with better and better director’s. They want me to be happy with rates and they know the entire budget. Some even give me a chunk to use for the entire grip and lighting department. Being busy and constantly working also gave me a boost of confidence. In Pittsburgh, I was only getting low budget $600 gigs. Out of state, I was getting $800 - $1,000. So, I changed my asking price to $1,000. I was amazed that every client I lost, I got another eventually.
KESSLER: Is it ever hard to not lower your prices for a potential job when the client says your prices are too high?
ROB: It’s more than money. It’s the growth as an artist, a person, and my passion. If a job has amazing people and a super fun shoot - budget isn’t a huge concern. I have a wife and 2 kids, but I know what I need to make to keep the bills paid and continue my investments. If I do a job for $600, then the next job needs to be at least $1,000. This is why I also love owning gear. Once it’s paid off, it is a big help to leverage gear. Let’s say they can only pay $800 for a job, but if I can get my camera, lenses and Shuttle dolly on there, I’m now looking at almost $2k for the day.
KESSLER: Have you ever walked away from a gig due to price and do you feel that is a good thing?
ROB: Yes. Yes. And Yes. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘this is one of many.’ Or think that this is the only gig you’ll get called about this month. If it doesn’t pay well, the people don’t excite you and the project itself isn’t going to make it in your portfolio, walk away. You’ll be surprised at how many of these will call you back and accept your rate.
KESSLER: Do clients cover travel, lodging and other expenses on shoots?
ROB: Absolutely. Don’t mess with that. In the long run, this adds up to a lot. 50-75% of your rate for each nonworking travel day. The client has to pay (and should book) rental car, flights, hotels, gas, etc. For food, there are a few ways. A daily per diem ($50-$60 a day), turn in receipts and they pay for it all minus alcohol, or if someone from the production company or agency is there, they pay for it all on their card.
KESSLER: If so is that included in your rate or is that billed separately?
ROB: Billed on a separate invoice or on the same but as individual line items
KESSLER: Is your pricing affected by where you live?
ROB: I feel some would say yes. But, I want to work and make a living. I know what I need to make each day with an estimation of 100 - 150 days of work. My $100K + a year goes a lot further in Pittsburgh than it does in NYC or LA.
KESSLER: Do you always use your own gear on shoots?
ROB: As you grow as an artist it is important to use the right gear for the job. I own gear that I know will work a ton but I want to make sure I’m using what will best serve the director’s vision with production’s budget. When it comes to my work as MoVI Tech and Operator, I’ve yet to use a kit other than mine. Similar to a Steadicam operator.
KESSLER: Does pricing differ when using your own gear vs gear that is provided for you?
ROB: It shouldn’t. But I’m more willing to cut deals on gear (not my rate) when they are renting a lot of my gear.
KESSLER: Do you insure your gear in case it is damaged on a shoot and how do you go about doing that?
ROB:100% If you are worried about the cost of insurance, don’t buy the gear. There’s a million threads on all the Facebook groups. Start there and then call a few places.
KESSLER: What would you suggest as a good kit for someone who is just starting in the business?
ROB: I still feel DSLRs are a great camera to start on. You learn all the manual controls (no matter how expensive the camera it is you need to know how to shape your image with iris, shutter, and ISO). From there I’d say the C200 is a great contender. Not to mention, the lighter the camera is, the more affordable tripods and support you’ll be able to use.
KESSLER: Is there any advice you wished you had received when you first started?
ROB: Don’t rush. Enjoy the process and focus on the people you work alongside. Do everything you can to make them look good, then worry about making yourself look good.