Filmmaking / Directing : Crew rates in NYC metro area by JD Hartman

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JD Hartman

Crew rates in NYC metro area

Anyone else notice that many of non-union postings for crew are asking for a boatload of experience, but want to pay the equivalent of $10+ an hour based on a twelve hour shoot day? Just declined to opportunity to interview for a Key position on a 12 day feature film shoot. After daily expenses, about $30 for me, I would have made about $12 an hour before taxes. Am I the only one who thinks this is nuts? I want to work, but I would like my pay to equal the experience and skills I bring to the production. Sorry if this reads as just a rant.

Carl Welden

Yes, it is completely nuts. I tell them that I can't afford to work for them, since it would cost me more to take the job than they are willing to pay. Granted, I live in the Hudson Valley, not the metro area, so fuel, mileage and drive-time are all considerations, but still, it boggles the mind when they balk at notions of fair compensation. If it weren't for me tacking on rental fees for my location sound kit, I'd be working for peanuts.

JD Hartman

Been finding that production also wants to pay a bare minimum for kit rental (if anything!) and seems to feel that it makes up for paying you low day rate. One response in 8 months is also indicative of something wrong with this board. Where are the technician members, the craftspeople, the "doers"?

Carl Welden

This site is flooded with newbies to the industry. Most of my professional connections are on LinkedIn

JD Hartman

And how/where does one find work as a film tech. on LinkedIn?

Carl Welden

Unfortunately, nost work posted to LinkedIn is for job positions, not gigs. Most of my crew work I get through word of mouth.

Rick James

Wow! I'm surprised to here this! I lived in New York all my life before moving to Colorado. My film experience with both indies and major companies goes back over twenty years into the mid 80's and then I made more money than that. Yes the market is flooded with newbie's which makes even an experienced guy like me struggle with a fair salary. Unfortunately or fortunately depending how you look at it, technology has made everyone a filmmaker. Heck, distributors are buying films made with IPhone's and a three man crew. This is the world I didn't have to deal with, but it's the norm now. I fear as the price of filmmaking comes down, filmmakers will be a dime a dozen. In fact it's already happening, I read an article on the internet referring to Sundance and the snatching up of indie films by Netflix and Amazon, they said the market is flooded by all these new inexpensive films. So the only solution I can see around this is filmmakers get together and help each other make great films and get those distribution deals. Capeesh!? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur36HlBC47I

Amanda Murray

You know, as a filmmaker, I would love insight as to what crew members consider to be a fair rate for their work.

Rick James

Hi Amanda, it really depends if it's a SAG or NON-SAG, and the city you're shooting in. The east and west coast tent to be union strong, so you'll pay accordingly. The rest of the country in particular the midwest and south tend to be much cheaper since they are right to work states. My rule of thumb is, "you get what you pay for." In your state I wouldn't pay less than $50 a day and up, depending on the crewman's experience. Some say you can pay less, it's up to you. If your crew comes with their own production equipment, then you should pay more, you're actually saving money. So if you want your production to shine with the best people, don't be afraid to pay for it. One filmmaker to another.

JD Hartman

Crew rate has nothing to do with SAG/AFTRA or not. How could it? Rates on union shoots are strictly dictated by union contracts with set hourly rates for the various crafts by IATSE. What's fair depends on the position, but if you break it down, any less than $25 an hour is slave wages. I could do better than that waiting table in a diner. $50 as day, a burger flipper makes more than that.

Amanda Murray

I totally understand where you're coming from, JD. However, $25/hour for a 10 hour shoot is $250. For a SAG actor, the minimum required day rate, if I intend to make money off the movie, is $125. That's daily, not hourly. Even in Hollywood, the crew is never paid more than the actor. So, why should you be paid more? This is a real question, not hypothetical.

JD Hartman

Your shoot may be using union actors but in the eyes of IATSE it's not a union shoot. Why pay for a technician's expertise (G&E, camera, sound, HMU, etc.), because otherwise you sound is likely to be terrible, you takes out of focus, your talent poorly lit, scenes poorly composed, etc., etc. As I've said in other threads,, SAG talent, under the ultra low budget/experimental or whatever it's currently called is no guarantee of professionalism/skill/talent. It just means that got their three waivers, however they got them and ponied up the initiation fee. The $125 is a token payment. Can you be certain the $50/day grip or spark won't get someone injured because they haven't a clue about set or electrical safety?

Royce Allen Dudley

Amanda I'd love to know where you got the idea that crew is never paid more than talent? Both historically and recently that statement does not wash ... although as a gross generalization it may have some truth in the independent realm. The number of low budget films where the cinematographer the editor and the sound mixer make more than the lead talent... sometimes several hundred percent more.... is significant. There's a very good reason for this : when you embark on an independent film using name actors, their agents will not allow a deal to be struck until they know who is shooting it and who's cutting it. This is also a reason ( albeit unspoken ) that a lot of name talent take passes on small films... they may love the script enough to take a meet and greet, but they have absolutely no faith in the people involved because they have no professional experience, and even pros have difficulty working under tight budgetary and schedule constraints, so ano established actor may not risk their time in a performance that may showcase them in an amateurish package. Now that said, SAG ULB is one budget that allows a micro pay rate for talent. However, there is nothing to stop an established actor from quoting a higher day rate up to and including a flat $20,000 on a $200,000 film for just a day of work. And some people choose to spend the budget this way. Is it smart? You have to decide. There are reasons. In any case I for one have shot tons of SAG and non union films in the lower budget realms including ULB, and I guarantee you I never worked for SAG minimums. We hear and read about major filmmakers doing their pet projects and getting the crew and cast for free for next to it... Don't overlook the obvious fact that this is paybacks / favors called in for work on larger films from people that don't actually need to do small movies to build a career. And this kind of brings me back around to small films; you need to pay what you need to pay in order to get the people you need and only you can figure that out. You may have the great projects that people are drawn to and be able to attract some very talented people who in turn will call in their connections in support of your project and you may be able to get really good people for not very much money... This happens all the time today and it's awesome when it does! By the same token if one is just hiring strangers and not offering very much money you are definitely going to get what you're not paying for in my humble opinion.

Carl Welden

As a production sound mixer, I have yet to be on an indie shoot where the talent got paid more than me, or my crew. I often chalked it up to supply and demand...you've got thousands of people just dying for the chance to be actors for every one specialized technician, who is a rarer commodity. Yes, I've oversimplified and made wild generalizations here...don't hate me. Haha Good discussion!

Rick James

JD your right, crew rate has nothing to do with SAG/AFTRA, but I think she's referring to the bottom line of her budget, now it's directly relevant. Amanda the point is, if you're trying to squeeze an expensive production into a tiny wallet, "it ain't gonna' happen". I'm guessing by now you've done your script breakdown and you have a realistic budget. If you did, that would have answered your question. Fiddling with the numbers might help, but my humble opinion is to stay within your budget, I've worked with tiny budgets and big ones. I love the small ones, because they require much more prep and imagination to accomplish a near impossible feat. But filmmakers always manage to make it happen.

JD Hartman

Don't waste your money with "new" SAG actors.

Amanda Murray

Ric, yes, I have done my script breakdown, but I have not finished the budget. Anyway, I have learned a lot from this discussion!

Rick James

Great, I would love to work on your production, but I'm in Colorado. Keep us up to date and take production pix, I look forward to seeing your work.

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