Since I’ve been in the film and video business for over 20 years, I’ve seen my rate rise over the course of time. It is always seemed pretty simple to me, I just followed market rate on what people wanted to pay for their particular jobs. That always worked fine as long as I wanted to run with the prevailing wage and never thought about what skills I brought to the table.
Lately, I’ve been looking at it in a different way. I hear a lot of people that are complaining about lower wages. I understand what’s going on. In the Los Angeles area, there has been a general downgrading of wages and equipment prices. This is due to runaway production and also a general high competitive level of personnel in our area.
It starts with prices going lower and competitive equipment bids. Larger grip and lighting houses are competing with each other and lowering the overall price of equipment downward, sometimes to a .2 day week! Yes that’s right – for .2 day week you can rent equipment on your show.
This is a deathknell for guys like me. The person with a couple of grip and lighting trucks are competing in the same marketplace and we can’t compete with the larger houses that can lower equipment cost just to get market-share. I have held onto my pricing, but it has been difficult. One of the ancillary effects has been to lower overall wages.
It works like this. As producers go to larger equipment houses to get cheaper gear, they do not hire truck owners which maintain their gear and control their crews for things like a high knowledge base and efficient workflow. They now can get a cheaper labor force that’s in the marketplace that’ll be happy to work for lower wages just to get a day job. Even the unions have a lower tier (Tier 0) rate that is something close to $18 an hour. Therefore, if you’re a producer, you don’t think you have to pay a lot more than what the lowest going rates to get your production done. Forgetting about skill, experience and efficiency in the production, these are things they’re willing to trade for a lower wage person.
If you’re somebody who is a real professional and is working in your area of expertise, you have spent a lot of time learning and finetuning how to work efficiently, you bring the producer a great amount of value in production value and time savings. Your rate has increased as your knowledge base has increased. But I see a disturbing trend starting to happen.
As wages lower, people start to panic. A producer calls and somebody offers them a wage that is 40 to 50% below their going rate. In a desperate attempt to get new clients and new work, they will accept a lower rate. This is poison.
If you should go down this road, the only thing you will end up with are clients who only pay low wages.
You need to defend your VALUE and your rate! You need to tell producers your top rate and TELL THEM WHY YOU GET IT!! You have to sell yourself! I will put this in everyday terms. YOU DON’T LET OTHER PEOPLE DETERMINE YOUR WORTH; YOU DETERMINE YOUR WORTH!!
I will only work in a range which is $550.00 to $750.00 for a 10 hour day. I know when a client calls that if I accept a lower rate, I will only be working for that client at the lower rate. I know that this philosophy will not let me work every job that I get called on. That is a trade-off I make to keep my rate higher. I know one thing – that if I work for someone at a lower rate they will never pay me more than that lower rate; it’s a race to the bottom.
I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Guys take a lower rate from a client, the client keeps calling them back because they have a lower rate and soon they’re losing their overall income. They come to me and say, “These people won’t pay me more.” My answer to them is: “you haven’t given them your value yet. You have let them tell you what you’re worth, because YOU have not told them what you’re worth.”
You have to fight for yourself, the client won’t. Quit being afraid to say no! No is as powerful as yes. When I have turned down work from a producer because of not meeting my money demand, many have called me back when they had a bigger budget. They didn’t call the guy that they had replace me because they didn’t VALUE him!
If you want to break the cycle, add $50 to your day rate and when the client calls, start there. You will immediately start making more money!
YOU’RE WORTH IT!!!