Cinematography : DP Questions? by Tony Marzano

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Tony Marzano

DP Questions?

Hi, I’m looking to produce and direct a piece I wrote this summer. It’s a short film, roughly ten minutes long, two actors, one location (Int and Ext). I’m wondering what I should expect to pay a cinematographer for a full day shoot? Also, how much should I expect to pay for editing? Additionally, is it common or standard practice for the cinematographer to get intellectual property rights to the film and net proceeds? Any info would be helpful. Thanks!

Royce Allen Dudley

(Warning: Lengthy reply) There is no fast rule but I can give you some strong thoughts from both a producer's and a DP's perspective. On micro budgets to low budgets, your budget will dictate if you plan to pay a DP at all, and if so, how much. No longer must you pay for a good DP... but you may find you do get what you pay for as well. Rates people expect and get for indie work range from $100-200 per day up to $1500 per day or more. $300-600 per day with some gear is most common it seems. Depends entirely on the DP in question..Let's say you have narrowed your selection down to 3 hypothetical candidates whose work and reputation you think are a fit. The first one is a gun for hire ( I did this a lot before digital, when overall indie budgets were way higher)... a DP with experience, full cinema camera package, grip truck and lights, the whole thing... lots of $$$ sunk into shooting on his side. This is the guy you ask " what do you charge?" and if it's outside your budget and you want him, ask what it takes to get him involved. Be aware the least he may charge is the comparable rental value of his gear. If you are ever getting a DP with gear cheaper than you could rent just the gear for, that is a little bit of a warning sign, so be observant if not downright cautious. And budget for insurance. And the crew he will expect to help him. The next is an up and comer. This DP may have a solid reel but lesser or no equipment and is mostly shooting to shoot. Respect that they want some creative input and need the resources of crew and gear to accomplish a good job for you. They may be inclined to work for a stipend, but other costs related to them will add up, and they may work slower than a veteran. This last point is huge. A pretty reel does not tell you efficiency on set. Ask any producer who hired a newb for his great equipment and low price. It can cost you time and frustration... and the footage may be way below what was on the reel. The last DP is quite famous, and a friend of your lead actor. She shoots a top TV series you love and is on hiatus. She loves your script. She loves her actor friend's work. She offers to shoot your film for FREE. But...she will also want her crew ( who get paid) and her camera and lighting choices ( from her rental vendors, who may help you if you beg and plead based on her stature ) and she will want approval of schedule and other things. She just became your most expensive candidate, even though she is glad to work for free. Any of these 3 DPs may be a solid choice as long as you understand there is always a balance of factors; no 2 DPs are alike, ever. They will all cost money; it's not as common as years past but people still spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to make short films for festivals. As for intellectual rights, I am not a lawyer however there is federal case law to support that unless the cinematographer is your employee ( as in an ongoing relationship not just a project or 2 ), they usually own all rights to the footage until they are paid per your deal. Most producers and DPs don't know this and most contracts are at best murky. Everyone should get clear on this before signing a deal, and the DP needs to get paid on time. If you want your DP to share proceeds, make them a partner or some other relationship. Entertainment lawyers have all these answers. Don't go to a web thread for legal advice. As far as footage access, it's normal for DP to access uncut footage for their own reel, but also normal for a producer to allow use of that reel only after the film is released.

Tony Marzano

Thanks Royce! Your answer, $300-600 per day with some or all gear, seems to be what I’m finding as well from my research. What about editing? What should one expect to pay for editing of a ten minute short?

Tony S.

$300-$600 seems low. Maybe for someone hungry with a good DSLR setup.

I'd budget closer to $1000 for a DP with higher end gear - Red, etc. Don't forget a DIT - $300/day. Grip/Light package?

Editorial - do an offline yourself (if capable) on a Mac with iMovie then take it in for an on-line, audio mix and color correct. Depends, $50/hour or so polishing an off-line, audio mix and correct on a 10 minute piece should be 10-15 hours.

Agree with Royce. It's a job. Interview the DP and editor besides checking their reels. How good is the chemistry? Do you share a vision? How will the DP capture that vision? What do they add to the vision? Do they resonate with the material?

Good luck.

Royce Allen Dudley

TONY S., the 300 to $600 range I listed is pretty common for narrative Indie projects in Los Angeles today; other markets will vary. It's a completely over-saturated market for DPs, and there are plenty of people offering far more than a DSLR in that price range. There certainly exceptions but that's an average range here. It's important to remember that rates vary based on type of project, and not all people will provide all-in gear at a given rate.

Royce Allen Dudley

Tony Marzano, most good editors will not quote a flat rate edit without tons of information and limits in writing, and for good reason. A ten minute cut can be a day of work or 2 months. Good editors I know and use hold out for about $800 a day minimum. I have yet to find a good one who gets less than that but I suspect they exist. At that price and above, most have lots of network experience and cut fast and decisively, have no ego about taking direction, and also have great insights to better your cut. Do not expect an editor to do the color grade or sound mix. Those are seperate jobs. Again, as with DPs, your budget may change all of that and you may get an all in one post person who is up and coming to partner with you cheaply. Just make sure you have no delivery deadline.

Tony S.

You know, I didn't check his venue. I'm in a NYC head. Seattle should be cheaper.

I never said the on-line, correct and mix were one job, I was writing sparsely. $800/day in LA is about $65 - $80 an hour. My $50/hour is a NYC on-line cost, based on my experience as a post house and Indie editor there. Seattle must be lower, and if Tony M off-lines, hour upon hour of on-line editing time is saved.

If you're carrying a note on a Red, you'll grab whatever you can when you can. $600/day for high end is a great rate. NYC is closer to $1000.

Royce Allen Dudley

Sorry... 2 Tonys :) I was referencing editorial to the OP re $800/ day. 10 hour day. Just edit. I know good ones exist cheaper... very hard to find in my experience.

Tony S.

NP. :)

Tony Marzano

Thanks for the awesome input guys!

Tony S.

Welcome Tony Marzano Great first name. ;)

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