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#1 Alfeo Dixon SOC

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 04:01 PM

please be advised of weasel ops undercutting commercial rates for a mere $1000, Russ was livid.  Thought you all should know this.  Now, let me channel this energy away from chasing down the bastard and breaking a nose or leg....




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#2 Afton Grant

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 07:53 PM

We've got a guy or two here in NYC that are guilty of the same.

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#3 Aaron Medick SOC

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 08:26 PM

They are everywhere. Try to educate them. If you can't name them and rip them publicly.
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#4 Ramon Engle

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 01:03 AM

Alfeo, this is only going to occur more and more. Feel free to contact the novices that do this and let them know what kind of money they gave up. Sorry you had to deal with this.




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#5 Lars Erik

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 02:41 AM

Some idiot here did a feature and charged $460 per day. Including gear.
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#6 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 10:25 AM

It's up to us to embrace and educate new and upcoming operators on pricing and business practices. If we don't do it they are left to their own devices or those of the producers.


In the early workshops I attended, open discussions on pricing were evaded and avoided like the plague and frankly they are here in this forum too.  There's a lot of lip service here about pricing, insurance and contracts etc. but there seems to be very little action or willingness to help the new people.  I've always had an open policy to answer questions on any aspect of the business as well as share business practices and forms like Deal Memos with anyone who asked.


Low ballers are low ballers but we can't expect a recent film school graduate or workshop attendee to understand the pricing of what we do much less the subtle nuances unless we reach out and teach them.


If someone has busted your rates or your rates in your market, reach out respectfully and professionally and discuss it with them. It's uncomfortable at best but I've found most people are fairly open if you're not adversarial about it.  I've also found that sometimes it's a special favor or special circumstance that drove the decision, not just a low rate.


And finally, if someone steals your client or job based on a low rate alone, they probably were not your client or job to begin with.



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#7 axel ebermann

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 03:24 PM

I am all against lowballing. 

But what sometimes irks me a little bit is the attitude of super established - and very experienced - operators who once they reach

the top of the food chain suddenly seem to forget that they also started somewhere quite a bit lower - including rates - a couple of years back.

Keep the standards high, but also acknowledge that newbies also need to start somewhere. We are all just trying to put food on our respective tables.

To be honest the Unions are also not really helping in all of this by signing all of these Ultra Low Budget contracts. I was contacted about a Union feature with a $325 day rate a couple of months back.

(I asked the producer if I could just write them a check because as they already expected me to bring money to set instead of earning money I might as well send it in and save myself the commute :-)

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#8 Shawn Wang

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 03:52 PM

ok Im here to attract some fire. 


as a new op, it is pretty much impossible to get a rate like you guys even if we have big rigs. even if we do a 1000 for gear and 0 for labor. 


Im against lowballing too, cuz Steadicam is the only clear career path for me, more exp = more pay ( mostly). so hopefully within 10 years I can  afford a townhouse or something. 




Im tryin so hard to meet with other steadi ops in my town so they can pass me the jobs they have no time to do. but It also requires my exp/technique should come close to them, otherwise it ruins their reputation. 


So Far Ive been doing some MV and low/no budget student films for friends. I am that kinda person who can do Free for close friends, but charge regular rate for strangers.  I reject lots of free food offers from Craiglist.  but if they only wanted 1-2 shots I usually do it. not for a day tho. 


but I guess its ok for guys like me to charge low cuz it may take you guys 1 take for a perfect shot, but takes us 5 or more.


and producer understands it. you never get anything durable from Dollar mart. 



for those  union guys with lots of exp. if they are facing a financial crisis, they do whatever they can to put food on the table.  I know a guy in my town that does it, if he likes the producer/director. 1400 a day or 500 a day he doesn't care. not for union shows tho.


my 2 cent. 

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#9 brett.mayfield


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Posted 17 October 2014 - 04:21 PM

in regards to openly talking about rates, I think some concern may come from the price fixing scare. once we say as a community (or even two operators publicly) "don't shoot for less than XX" we've price fixed, which is a federal crime. unfortunately this is a consumers market, and the economy and government look out for the consumer, not the vendor. driving prices down is "good for competition" but not for quality, as we know. producers are often stuck between quality and cost, and a producer chooses cost, such is their charge.
we can't be telling operators what to charge. but we can tell them about the value of their skill set. I spose that is the challenge.
I'd like to know if I am off base about my price fixing statement, but I've spoken to a lawyer and other business owners about it and they are in agreement. Robert, you've probably got the most specific knowledge about this kind of issue, what are your thoughts legally?
(now that the thread has been significantly hijacked...maybe this is best as a new thread)
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#10 Ryan Brooks

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 05:34 PM

When I took my first 2 day course we briefly talked about rate and what I was told was more of an equation. I was told the rental rate of the gear should be 1% of what the gear cost. Then the day rate should be what the cost of a local camera operator in your market costs. This is what I've been going by. The operator was a 25 year veteran and known throughout the community. Would you guys agree or is this flawed logic?
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#11 brett.mayfield


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Posted 17 October 2014 - 05:37 PM

i have heard similar for kit rental (someone once told me 1-3%) and also evaluating the local camera operator rate. but this is where is technically tricky, how can we actually know about other operators' rates if we cant legally discuss them...? i guess one could go off the union numbers, but that gets into a world of scales that i dont quite know how to fit onto every production.

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#12 Janice Arthur

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 11:39 AM

Brett and others;

First I'll clarify my statement to Ryan, he just skipped a few details.
I said start with local tripod op rate when you need to know where to start coming out of a workshop. The idea that you should get less than that person is hard to justify. In today's world try to be both the reg op and the steadicam op and that makes it simpler.

Many people who take workshops are new to the business so that's why I said get to know your market.

Rates on gear it used to mean on the 20-80k rig cost meant u charged 1% of that number per day. Again numbers have shifted and I'm not sure what high end ops get for gear these days in big markets. Important is big markets idea, Idaho is much different than NYC .

Here is another issue, a 2000. Pilot means only $20 a day at 1% so you'd never make any money on it and so rental houses got about 200-250 a day so that equation was out the window so about 10% makes sense on them. They also don't last as long so you've got to pay them off fast.

My discussion on the points was for a starting point. Meaning don't go out for free or $200 if the local tripod guy is getting $500 a day and you're working your butt off.

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#13 Janice Arthur

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 11:54 AM

Second idea;

Brett you're making this a barrier. People get hired because "know, like, trust" it's an old idea but still very very true.

Don't over think rates, work on getting what you can and keep getting smarter. You now know what most of us know.

Get involved in your market and listen and start being friends with other people in the business and if you find out you offered less than the grips on your last job next time offer a high number. If another operator hands you a job say boy thanks and 'hey great what do you usually quote them?' Now you're smarter.

Getting pissed and the crap beaten out of you will make u smarter fast.

Lastly I don't know anything about agreements or legal stuff you can't get 3 people to agree on the time let alone rates and there is always the 10% factor.. He has a Preston or a rickshaw or it was running or nights etc.

Undercutting by accident, or even on purpose nothing you can do about it and move on. If it becomes persistent with a few ops then very few higher up ops will recommend that op and they loose out twice.

That's why trade shows and beers and get togethers work, it's the stuff you can't say.. (Tax deductible too, isn't America wonderful? Having fun is a deduction.)

The important point is to bulldoze ahead getting the jobs and working as much as you can and the rest will figure itself out, remember Getting pissed and the crap beaten out of you will make u smarter fast.

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#14 Alan Rencher

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 01:17 PM

I think that there is a big problem with the idea that we can't discuss wages, at least in California. California affords workers the right to discuss wages without retaliation.

I know some productions will have us sign away or rights as an employee by handing us some form of independent contractor agreement. With all of the research I've done on California labor code, we can't be classified as independent contractors for several reasons:

1) We are working with some one else's tools. An independent contractor supplies all of their own tools; even though we supply the Steadicam, we are still using production's camera package.

2) We are not working on our own schedule. Production sends us a call sheet with very specific stay and end times. Independent contractors choose their own stay and end times for work days.

3) We have managers that we are working under. The DP is our boss, and production hires is to work under him or her.

It's a slippery slope, because employers are not obligated to pay independent contractors overtime or adhere to minimum wage laws.
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#15 William Demeritt

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 03:05 PM



Doesn't matter what you sign, you can't waive your rights as an employee. They really just try to use that as a reason for declining unemployment benefits. However, it won't have any bearing on claims with the Labor Board (claims over not getting paid, etc). That comes from a conversation I had years ago with a mediator at the Labor Board when a gaffer didn't pay me for 6+ months (he'd spent the money from production elsewhere).


Here's my 2 cents: 


"Death is kind of like sex in high school. If you knew how many times you missed having it, you'd be paralyzed." -"Dead Like Me"


Replace death with undercutting. If you had any idea of how many times you'd undercut another operator, you'd be probably (rightfully so) be pretty freaked out. I know, because I know the names of a few people I've actually undercut, and found out after the fact. In many ways, I'm still a wuss and haven't discussed it with them. Easier said than done. 


However, I believe twice, I've undercut another operator during negotiations, and I told the producer I was talking to that I was aware of what had happened and could no longer honor the rate I was giving before.


However, when you realize you've undercut another operator, above you or coming up behind you, you should be f*cking TERRIFIED. Word travels fast, especially among operators. We get a lot of our work from fellow operators, and if they can't trust you, then you might as well just become a Craigslist All-star.


That situation gave me a black eye with the producer (not really, they know the name of the game), but one of those operators has gone on to become a good friend and colleague (and someone he refers for jobs, for which I am most grateful!!).


I think Alec Jarnagin once said that rates conversations were best left undocumented, unwritten, and loosely discussed over brews at your local pub. I agree with that. Let's consider the tier system: Tier 1 is $21.87/hr for operators (last I checked). Now, productions have a solid number, which is great, but I've worked with Tier 1 jobs where I negotiated a better rate. RARELY happens, though, because apparently "that's the price" for an operator. Asking for a bump for Steadicam suddenly becomes a controversy: "Wait, the union says your rate is this...." 


I think the mindset need to be this:

  • With producers, we know what our fellow operators are charging (ballpark), and respect it.
  • With fellow operators, we meet up, openly discuss rates, and communicate. Talk about clients, jobs, rates we got, etc.
  • With undercutting, give the person a call. Tell them you were up for the job, glad it went to someone who is in the communication loop, and just inform them how much you were negotiating when they got the job. 

I'm genuinely bummed out when conversation breaks down among the local operators, and I feel it has (in many ways) broken down here in LA in the "coming up" ranks. Personally, I'm against the label of "undercutter" when someone accidentally does it once. A pattern of behavior should result in the label, not a single instance where you're butthurt you didn't get the job. 


There's a LOT more politics involved in this, so much so that entire academic disciplines are dedicated to labor, wages and employer relations. We're not going to solve it here, but I'd be willing to try and solve it at Golden Road Brewery, Fuddruckers or somewhere else for shenanigans. Or maybe just my back yard for a BBQ. 

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