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Slight Dilemma


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#1 James Leonzio

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Posted 10 September 2009 - 08:28 PM

So I recently made my second leap of faith with my Steadicam career and purchased an Archer2 rig, after having the Flyer for about 2 years.

I've only been operating for a little over 2 years total, but I need to find a way to start paying this thing off. In terms of rates, I'm willing to work for considerably less than what I've seen posted in these forums, and even then productions are saying, "what! how do you expect us to afford that rate? That's more than anyone is making on this entire film."

I really do respect this craft and the people involved in it, so I don't like undercutting anyway. I've found that almost every person I've met in film who seems to be content with their career and willing to help others happens to be a Steadicam op. Knowing this, I don't want to undercut drastically just to get out there and work.

Is there any middle ground solution here? I know it's tough jumping to the next level no matter what you're doing in film, but I want to do it the right way, not just weasel my way in there and make enemies along the way. I'd rather make enough money to be happy, and have fun along the way.

Any suggestions? I know, this is a sensitive one.
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#2 Rob Vuona SOC

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Posted 10 September 2009 - 10:57 PM

So just don't! If you think you are undercutting then you probably are, but that's not to say there aren't alots of gigs out there that other established operators don't want anything to do with and you are welcome to abuse yourself and learn the the ropes. In our circles communication is key, talk to some other operators that you may be competing with for gigs, you may be surprised how much you get referred for a gig they may not want or can't do and vise versa.

JMTC

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#3 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 11 September 2009 - 08:17 AM

...

Is there any middle ground solution here? I know it's tough jumping to the next level no matter what you're doing in film, but I want to do it the right way, not just weasel my way in there and make enemies along the way. I'd rather make enough money to be happy, and have fun along the way.


What Rob said; communication is the key.

You've got to come out of the box charging a professional rate if you're putting yourself out there to do the job. It feels a bit ballsy but if you start at a lower rate you'll spend the next five years trying to get it back up. That's not to say you won't do favors for friends, students and existing clients but ALWAYS bill them for the full-rate and then show a discount based on whatever else it was that made it worth it for you. Make them pay you faster, on the spot or give you some concession if you discount your rate; don't do a deal and a discount with long payment terms or a flat rate for the day.

A few weeks ago one of my clients couldn't reach me right away and began calling around offering $500 less than what I normally charge and trying to get the guys to work it as locals. Luckily those guys knew me and knew what my rate range is and what I'd gotten for them when filling in or working with me on jobs. It frustrated the Producer but he eventually kept calling until he found an operator who was not only willing to take the low rate and work as a local, but also he undercut and bypassed his agent on it. Shame on him! With one word, "yes" he ruined over three years of hard work I've put into getting our local rate up to a decent standard. He ruined it for me and those that follow because now that producer will know if he keeps calling someone will cave in.

Since communication is the key, I called the Op and discussed it with him as politely and professionally as I could. Whatever rate ops charge and for whatever reason it's their business, but just a little communication on his behalf and he would not have left $500 on the table, nor would he have trashed all the work I put into getting rates up. Also, this was not a new guy, it was someone with 20 years experience and an Agent.

Believe in yourself and realize "no" is sometimes better long-term than "yes".

Robert
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#4 Brant S. Fagan SOC

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Posted 11 September 2009 - 09:14 AM

Gents--

Well said Rob and Robert.

You're self confidence and reputation are on the line each time you are asked to quote a rate.

Respect yourself and others in the community by NOT caving at the first sign of money trouble. Your job is to make money and their's is to save it for themselves.

Stand up for who and what you are and believe in yourself and your abilities. Always show the discount as Robert suggested so they know how much you helped them out. Business is a relationship that takes two sides to balance and prosper.

Good luck and good billing.
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#5 James Leonzio

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 12:09 AM

Thanks for the good advice guys.

I've tried to solidify some rates based on my new gear. It totals around $35K, which I'm sure is considerably less than what many of you have. Based on that assumption, here's what I'm planning on advertising for a rate with gear.

$500/10hr day
$300/5hr day
1.5x hourly rate after 10 hours.
2x hourly rate after 12 hours.
All out of pocket expenses reimbursed (transportation, tolls, parking, etc.)

Like I said, I have been operating for a little over 2 years, non union, but I've been working in film for about 6 years (starting as a PA, fun times...). I have an up and running website with my DP and Steadicam reels if you would like to get a feel for what I've done so far. Most of my contacts are in the independent world, and a few in corporate and network.

What do you think? Too high? Too low? Should I think of another career?
haha...I'd rather not. I love to shoot and fly.

Honesty appreciated as always...thanks in advance.
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#6 Afton Grant

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 07:15 AM

$500/10hr day
$300/5hr day
1.5x hourly rate after 10 hours.
2x hourly rate after 12 hours.
All out of pocket expenses reimbursed (transportation, tolls, parking, etc.)


Waaaaaaayyyy too low. Especially for two years of experience. I know it's not a lot relative to many operators out there, but it's exponentially greater than being a first year operator.

As the others have mentioned, communication is everything. I'm also in your market and I hadn't known of you until this thread. I like to think I know every other operator in the NY area, if not on a personal level, at least I know their names and experience. Because of this, we're able to pass jobs along to each other we can't do. We also discuss rates and other deals, just to keep informed and perhaps give us some ammunition when going into negotiations. This has proven to be invaluable information.

A couple other notes for your website. I would suggest losing the "NYC Based, but will work local anywhere" line. Also lose the "Student/Indie Rates Available" line. While you MAY work local elsewhere, and while we all will do a charity rate once in a while, definitely don't advertise it. Plus, what is an "indie rate" anyway? Many indie films have multi-million dollar budgets, and plenty of money to pay a fair rate. If you advertise you'd work for less, why would they pay you more? Similar to what the others were saying before - it's all about the image you project. Act like you're worth it, because you probably are.

Best of luck,
Afton
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#7 Ari Robbins

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 03:49 PM

Hey James,
I would ditto all of the replies. Having been climbing the latter faster this past year then before, and trying really hard to set myself up, I have had to do my fair share of lower jobs in the beginning. I can say that negotiations have never been my strong point. So far the biggest change has been signing to an Agency with an agent I trust. There are many many agencies out there who are willing to bring in new guys because they understand we are a build, and nothing is better then a long relationship. I would say if you find that your not the best at negotiating or simply don't like to, look into some of the smaller agencies that are around. NY has many great agencies that can help you in that area.

Also, it never hurts to explain what list price would be to rent our equipment.
Alone, the steadicam is at bare minimal $550 from a rental house.
wireless focus: around $150
wireless video: around $150
accessories: $???
This did help me when I was doing my own negotiations. It showed them what they are paying for to the "T". Then it also gives you an opportunity to square out a rental and an operator fee.

Ari Robbins
iwearcameras.com
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#8 Philip J. Martinez SOC

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 09:43 PM

Thanks for the good advice guys.

I've tried to solidify some rates based on my new gear. It totals around $35K, which I'm sure is considerably less than what many of you have. Based on that assumption, here's what I'm planning on advertising for a rate with gear.

$500/10hr day
$300/5hr day
1.5x hourly rate after 10 hours.
2x hourly rate after 12 hours.
All out of pocket expenses reimbursed (transportation, tolls, parking, etc.)

Like I said, I have been operating for a little over 2 years, non union, but I've been working in film for about 6 years (starting as a PA, fun times...). I have an up and running website with my DP and Steadicam reels if you would like to get a feel for what I've done so far. Most of my contacts are in the independent world, and a few in corporate and network.

What do you think? Too high? Too low? Should I think of another career?
haha...I'd rather not. I love to shoot and fly.

Honesty appreciated as always...thanks in advance.



The going rate around the NYC area for reality TV (Foodnetwork, A&E, Soap Network, Discovery, TLC ect.) is around $600.00 for 10 hours. So to answer your question YES you will be UNDERCUTTING. That rate is just for the Operator hand held or on sticks. You want to advertise that you will work for $100.00 less a day and throw in $35,000.00 of gear for free. I’m glad I paid off my rig this year. I cant compete with your rate I guess I’ll just hope my operating is what people want on set not the cheapest steadicam/operator they can find.
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#9 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 10:20 PM

....Business is a relationship that takes two sides to balance and prosper.


Hey Brant, those are probably the best dozen words I've ever read to describe a mutually beneficial and respectable business relationship!

Robert
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#10 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 15 September 2009 - 12:58 AM

James,

Hello and welcome to the world of New York Steadicam. Now that you've introduced yourself and vice-versa, let's get down to it. Your rate (I hope you are not including gear in that quote) is less than any key makes on any real or semi-real job (meaning corporate videos, etc and not just big movies). I understand there are favor jobs, etc. but we are talking about your list rate that you quote. Never heard of anyone talking you up in price.

"Alec, I don't think you're getting paid enough - can you please add a bit; I think it only fair."

Half day rate? What are you going to do with the other half?

So, yes, please revisit your rate. Equipment is a bit different because a $35K package does not fetch as much as a $135K package, but I will let others with more similar gear offer advice here. Know though, your labor rate is about you and your experience and not your gear. I have a light weight rig (heavily modified Flyer) which may have cost less than my PRO but I'm still me.

Agent? Not sure I'll agree with Ari on this one (although I do know his agent well and love her; she reps my wife). I know a few talented people who have landed agents early on and I'm not sure it has always been a good thing. I think having an agent before you're in the Union and working on bigger shows may scare the level of client you're working for off (not saying that's the case with Ari at all; I'm merely referring to his advice to you).

Good luck and stay in touch.
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#11 Juan M.Ramos SOC

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Posted 15 September 2009 - 09:59 AM

I can see that Loww prices are a real problem around the globe and at the end always happend the same....Ho can increase my rates.For me the problem is on the origin,you have to practice,make worshops,save money as memeber of camera deparment,buy a small equipment and practice,practice,practice...after a year and a half(you mantain your life with your camera deparment work) you can release your self as steadicam operator with good rates.
The problem now is people is working(really bad) as steadicam op.with cheap rigs and low rates,if you do this it will be very difficult increase your rates and move to big proyects.
Fly safe or do other thing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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#12 David George Ellis

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 05:53 PM

Good reel. Watch your headroom towards the end. A DP will be critical of that. Unless of course, you're the DP.

Think about one other question... What's your labor rate?

I might catch flack for this but, money is money. I could do a $1000/rental $1000/labor gig one day, and a discounted rental and free labor the next. It all depends on circumstance, the nature of the gig and your contact. If a buddy who's gotten me work for years tells me he's only got $350 for the day, how can I turn him/her down? A stranger is a different story. I'll always push for my rate. I let them know what I'm worth. The important thing is to STRESS the value of what they're getting. Aim for the stars...

When I started, I jumped at any opportunity to do a job for whatever money was available because I wanted to work. The rig ain't making me anything sitting in its case in my house. Now is a different story, some days. There have been times I cursed myself for taking these jobs, but some paid off with Producers, ADs, ACs DPs, etc, calling me for better paying gigs later on. It's all about growing with people, being flexible at times and looking at the bigger picture.

Some have burned their bridges and stopped calling me after I've pressured them to raise their rate after working with them a few times. That's fine, because (I say in a moment of hubris) chances are, whoever they get for the rate, might not be good. I've burned some bridges by quoting my rate and getting the, "Okay, we'll see what we can do" line, never to hear from them again.

You will make sacrifices to show how good you are although Producers can use this against you. But as Alec stated, you can't negotiate up. I use this philosophy to console myself during those lean days. Sometimes you have to show you aren't a money-grubbing prick. Sometimes you gotta be a prick.

Whatever rate you decide to quote, make sure it's what you think you're worth. That and, your rate is comprised of your rental and labor.
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#13 James Leonzio

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Posted 18 September 2009 - 01:20 PM

Thanks for all your comments. It's interesting to hear everyone's take on the "getting started" situation. I'm sure I will often have to work for less than what a very experienced operator like Alec or Afton are working for, but I promise to do my best to keep the bar high, and not enable productions to low ball so easily.

With regards to communication, I completely agree. I'm sure there are jobs out there that the more experienced operators want to laugh at, while I would jump at the opportunity. If any of those happen to arise, please keep me in mind.

I think it would be cool to meet some of you guys in person at some point. I recently read there was some kind of monitor shoot out at CSC's new location in Jersey. Too bad I missed it. Is there anything else coming up soon?
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#14 Mike Germond SOC

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 10:24 PM

$500/10hr day
$300/5hr day
1.5x hourly rate after 10 hours.
2x hourly rate after 12 hours.
All out of pocket expenses reimbursed (transportation, tolls, parking, etc.)


I'm still working with a Flyer LE (not for much longer) and those rates are extremely low for me!! I'm sure I can't justify charging as much as some of the big guns do, but your full day is my partial! I base my rates off of 2 operators in Michigan that I respect very much, and would never want to undercut. One of them was the guy that first exposed me to Steadicam, and the other continually helps me with questions and gear and has thrown some business my way that has become ongoing. In fact, I'm doing a gig this week because one of them can't, and I wouldn't be caught dead charging a dollar less than the other guy. As soon as I do that, the client will start to always lean towards me, and I become the other operator's competition.

I'm not saying fake it till you make it, but like James said, keep the bar high. Always be striving to be a dependable, respectable operator that producers and directors expect a good product and a good attitude from. I'd never want to be known as the cheap guy who's product reflects the price (even though many productions get this and don't know enough to realize it).

Just my .02 after a rough first year..
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