How to Negotiate the Highest Rate as an Independent DP

Knowing what to charge for a project is often a mystery for many independent cinematographers and creatives. It can takes years of working and negotiating to get a handle on what to charge and what works in your market.

This is why you should absolutely try and learn and take advice from more experienced filmmakers to get a better understanding of things.

Independent cinematographer Mika Matinazad wants to help out and has a video filled with advice on how to maximize your profits as a freelancer. Make sure you are charging what you are worth to ensure a stable career path as an indie filmmaker.

Oftentimes how negotiations go early in a filmmaker’s career is you get offered or find a job and after a quick chat they ask what your rate is.

You send over what you think is the right rate and if it lines up with their budget then you end up getting the gig. Not exactly an easy conversation with so many unknowns.

“What is your rate?” is a tough question to answer and the honest answer is “It depends.” Depending on your portfolio and experience you’ll want to be careful about overcharging since producers should be familiar with going rates in your area and be able to tell if you are worth it.

You also don’t want to undercharge because you are shorting yourself and setting a bad example for your experience and abilities.

Since they often have a budget already you can start having a conversation by simply asking what they have budgeted for a DP. Then the conversation can go a few ways.

If it isn’t enough you can explain that it is below your rates and thank them and move on. If it’s on the lower end but you really want to work with them you can explain your rates and then still agree to the budget just to get that relationship started.

Sony FX6 Cinema Camera

Image Credit: Sony

Oftentimes once you make a good impression that will lead to more work later on. The best clients I’ve worked with are consistent and it isn’t always about being exciting all the time. A good working relationship is invaluable.

You can enter into negotiations and explain how different or additional work, such as prep days or scout days, you can add that into your fee. It can help if you explain where your fee comes from by doing a simple breakdown for your base and then add-ons.

A counterintuitive point is that you actually don’t want to take every job that comes through the door. If you are trying to build a style or niche then you might not want to take something completely different if it messes with your reputation. You also don’t want to take jobs that simple don’t pay well enough to support you.

There are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Rate
  2. Opportunity
  3. Creative Aspects

Rate is simple – does it pay enough. Opportunity is whether this is a good job, a good crew, or a good brand that you want to work with and might help build a good relationship. The last is whether it is creatively fulfilling and you are happy doing the work.

Two out of three of the above is a pretty good way to make your decision.

Something you can do is if it is an odd job that you may not enjoy and don’t see great opportunities from is if the rate is very good.

Oftentimes a good way to get this work is to explain that this type of job is a higher rate than your usual and if they turn you down then there are no hard feelings and sometimes they may actually still take you up on the high rate. Make it worth it to you.

Canon EOS C70 Cinema Camera

Image Credit: Canon

You might need to be a bit more flexible in your early days but over time you should get a much better handle on how to negotiate.

Don’t limit yourself and consider more than just the pure money. Even still, you need to make sure you are making enough to live on.

Experience is helpful, so taking on some other types of jobs to get experience with high-end equipment may be worth it as well.

Money is the hard question as a freelancer but you have to learn it if you want to thrive as an independent filmmaker.

[source: Mika Matinazad]

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