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or just building experience?

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#1 chris fawcett

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 06:42 AM


It seems to me that it takes about 2 years practice to begin making reliably good Steadicam shots, and about 5 to begin making great ones. This includes time taken to learn set politics regarding your job, and to develop your visual storytelling abilities. Up to the 2 year point, it's perfectly possible to work, and to work well, but probably only in limited circumstances. The question is, how to charge during this period.

Anyone calling themselves a ' Steadicam Operator,' and working for low rates, is, lets face it, lowballing. This hurts everyone, including the lowballer. Once you have a reputation for being cheap, people never want to pay you more, and when they have more money, they'll just hire someone 'better,' whether they are better or not.

I think it's perfectly reasonable for inexperienced operators to work cheaply, if they make it clear why they are doing so. Stating that you charge less because you are inexperienced is a good thing. Most people (and I include producers in this category) respect honesty. Discussing whether the shot is within your abilities is a great idea, and nothing to be ashamed of. This approach also gets you off the hook when you screw up, as hopefully you will, since this is an important part of the learning process too.

So when you get that call, think ahead to the operator you aspire to be, and to the rates you aspire to being paid. Tell them you're prepared to help production out because they are helping you out, by giving you experience, and by building your reel. If the job is beyond you, recommend your favourite local op. S/he will most likely be inclined to fire a job right back at you when s/he gets the chance.

At the end of this process, you've pissed no one off, neither fellow operator nor producer, and you'll be able to command a high rate commensurate with your experience. You'll be respected both for your honesty, and for your hard work. Before long, you'll be passing those cheap jobs down to other aspiring operators.

All the best,

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#2 James Davis

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 08:53 AM

Chris....I think that was just about one of the most sensible and grounded posts I have read on this forum regarding rates, It should be a sticky in this forum for sure.
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#3 Janice Arthur

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 09:21 AM


I agree with parts of your post, and in a nice debate I'll tell you my disagreements.

1) Yes, when you do get some experience under your belt, you should ask a decent rate.
2) The way to figure out what a decent rate is in your market is to be friends witht the other operators as you learn.
3) This friendship will pay dividends in sharing jobs and gear and helpling out and telling each other of jerks you run into.

1) It may take 2-5 yrs to get significant experience but i think the learning curve is way shorter these days.
I've seen people take classes and in a very short time be very good. Like a few months or even less, amazingly.
2) There are many astonishing shots I see done by "newbies" that I couldn't pull off if my live depended on it.
3) No need to 'take a lesser rate because I'm a newbie' and tell the producer etc. It puts the operator in a disadvantage by apologizing for every shot and every take. Trust me they see whomever they are hiring doesn't have a lot of credits and a big extensive reel.
4) The equipment has gotten so good and with some training the knowledge of steadicam is in the DNA of people these days because we've got 35+ years of understanding. To tell these people they need to have yrs of experience is hard. (yes clearly we're not talking big big features here).
5) My last point, you take whatever job you can get hired for when you start. You, the operator, work your tail off, get the shots they want and don't apologize for being new. You, the operator do a good enough job that they pay you. Done.

The business makes you paranoid; am I working fast enough? did they like my shots? etc that I'm already anxious to do a good job no need to make it worse.

Sorting; if the operator doesn't start making progress toward being better they'll start getting fewer calls and the issue will sort itself.

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#4 Ryan Brooks

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 09:31 AM


I can see you've taken the time to answer my question from the other post. Thank you very much for doing so. That post alone has taught me quite a bit about talking to the producer about rates and the job.

Regarding rates then, is there a standard rate among the veterans? I feel that the cost of living is cheaper where I am, so my rate probably wouldn't be as high as an Operator in LA or New York, regardless of how long I've been operating. But maybe I'm wrong in that assumption. I feel that my rate should be based on where I live and what DP's/Camera Operators are making in my area. But again, maybe I'm missing something there? Thanks again. I love this community and all the people willing to help out in it.
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#5 Daniel Stilling DFF

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 10:32 AM

When I started, I was a staffer in a TV station in Copenhagen in the mid 90's
I convinced them to buy a used V16 Glidecam with the green screen they had back then.
I modified the rig as much as I could to make it workable, and off I went practicing. When I couldn't get it on shoots for the station, I went down to the studio in my idle time and practiced, practiced, practiced.
It was until a few years later I was able to get a loan and fly to LA and buy my first rig, a nice 3A with a 2 arm and vest and a top of the line Seitz wireless focus.
After I acclimated to my rig, I started going freelance, and by then I felt I could pull of decent shots.
My rates then weren't much lower than the established operators, as I felt that I wasn't "learning on the job"
It worked out pretty well, and shortly after ended up moving to LA and was able to get on decent shows with decent rates and was able to not piss of too many of the established operators, that in turn helped me out throwing jobs my way (Thx Dan, Rich and others...)when they weren't available.
I think that Steadicam takes a lot of investment. Not only financial, but of your time as well. Time to get good, so you don't have to start in the lowest rungs.
There are many ways to go by it, everyone has a different story. This is just the way I did it. Above all, practice, know your worth and try to not step on too many toes in the process...

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#6 Matteo Quagliano

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 11:41 AM

great words Janice, I subscribe them one after the other.

screwing up is not an option, no matter what sets you're walking, problem=solution, that's the best part of the game.

on the money subject I'm in a market that have no comparison with yours, but as a rule you ask people around what's the rate and then you got the money you have to ask, something I offer to producers is a basket of goods among which they decide what to pick up and pay (in my market even remote FF is an option, not to mention txrx), this way I'm more open towards the markets and the producers out there.

Going out for free is allowed for the first 3 times, then either you change your job or you start asking what the others ask. I don't see producers out there willing to have a poor steadicam for a poor rate, even in the worst poorest music video I was in the request were always far greater then the budget and the request for precision the same. Don't expect their pity they won't have it. NEVER!!!

on a side: Since I was out for a while I saw a change in the moderators team, that's a great thing, I admire the new entries, but why Eric is out? Has it something to do with the other thread on politeness on the forum? Was he sent out? If so I want to express my disappointment (even if I count zero).

my best brotherhood.
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#7 chris fawcett

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 05:35 AM

Hi Janice,

I made one of my best shots less than a year into the business. In some ways, I've yet to better it. What's improved since is my consistency. If I had landed a big job back then on the basis of that shot, I doubt I'd have made good. The pressure of being on set, and having to consistently make good shots would have been beyond me. I'd have screwed up, possibly in my home market, and have made a bad reputation for myself.

One of the niggles we face in this business is working with producers, directors, and actors that have had bad experiences with Steadicam operators, when it takes time to reassure them that we can do the job. There are productions I have known of that eschew Steadicam entirely on these grounds, so the opportunity of trying to change their opinions never arises. Relatively inexperienced ops launching themselves into this world as fully-fledged Steadicam operators do neither themselves nor the rest of the community any favours.

I still think it's perfectly fair, and indeed advisable, to state your capabilities on entering into a contract. It's not a question of apology, but one of honesty.

All the best,

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