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"Fair" Compensation

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David Burkart"Fair" Compensation
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 4:47:21 pm

*Sorry mods - I tried posting this in "Art of the Edit" before seeing this forum.*

So I've been writing for this company for several months and recently shot+edited a documentary-style (10 minute) short for them. They loved it and want more. I said we could work out "fair compensation" and they replied w/ an offer of $50/video.

This probably took 2 hours to shoot and 2 to edit, though I'm convinced that I could whittle the process down to 1.5-2 hours for the process. (They're like brief snippet-profiles on "green" homeowners)

1) I want "fair" compensation as a recent college grad, but more than that I want to build my portfolio. (I have two other part-time gigs for rent $)
2) I don't want to reply with a higher proposal (say, $75) and have them walk away altogether

Please help! I should probably respond to their offer by today.

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Mark SuszkoRe: "Fair" Compensation
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 5:01:06 pm

$50 each is ridiculous; at least working at McDonald's you get a snappy looking paper hat, name tag, free or discounted meal out of it plus your minimum wage. Even a beginner fresh out of college has *some* training as opposed to them doing this themselves.

I think your options are to charge $200 a pop or charge nothing at all, and work out some other kind of arrangement, like they buy you some gear as a trade-out.

Pegging yourself at such a low rate early will make it impossible to raise the rate with these folks later. They are never going to respect what you're doing at that rate. Suggest a trade-out for gear they buy and write off on their taxes, or a weekly or monthly retainer for which you will do more than 2 but less than 5 of these. And they will give you full credit for the work and permission to use it unrestricted in your online portfolios and demos.

If they counter by suggesting you take a really low rate now and they will make it up later in volume and bigger projects, this is your signal to walk away from these folks entirely. For your own good. It is never going to get better after they say something like this. Tell them to go to Craigslist if they want suckers.

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John CuevasRe: "Fair" Compensation
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 5:25:29 pm

When I started out in this business many many years ago, desperate and hungry, I still wouldn't of gotten out of bed for $50.

Johnny Cuevas, Editor

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Mike CohenRe: "Fair" Compensation
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 5:29:30 pm

You want experience - great. But don't compromise principles of good business, and don't contribute to the undervaluing of professional skills.

$50 barely covers your costs, and does not count as a living wage given the multiple hours of work you will be asked for.

Walk away and get a job at Olive Garden. You'll make more money and enjoy those lovely breadsticks and all you can eat salad!

Mike Cohen

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Todd TerryRe: "Fair" Compensation
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 5:52:57 pm


They need to add at least one zero to that... and that would still be working for peanuts (this is assuming you are delivering them a decent production, with a decent "recent college skill level").

If you want to build your reel, build it... but do it with projects that you want to do, where you can take time and energy and devote your skills and brainpower to doing it. Go out and make something up. I guarantee you that would be more useful than doing an actual "paid" video for Scrooge McDuck there.

The fifty bucks isn't paying your time or your expenses. And I've never seen an actual fifty-buck client video that was good enough to go in anyone's portfolio. Put your skill and attention toward something that will help you... not something that will waste your time.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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David BurkartThanks for the responses
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 5:58:52 pm

Ha - you guys are hilarious with the job alternatives. I'm actually working at a restaurant on the side (though it's a bit nicer than the aforementioned joints)

Seriously though, thanks for the advice.

I shot $100/project at him - I'd honestly be happy with that for shooting and editing 20 minute interviews. They're a cinch to cut up and export, and the whole process probably takes 2 hours tops, especially working from my MacBook.

"A song is an excuse to go to a chorus, and a chorus is an excuse to go to a breakdown."

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Greg BallRe: Thanks for the responses
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 6:08:09 pm

$100.00!!! Please let me know where you're located, because I'd love to hire you for that rate and then mark it up to a realistic amount.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Thanks for the responses
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 6:24:15 pm

There's a reason restaurants don't sell a steak dinner for the $2 the raw meat cost them.

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Mike CohenRe: Thanks for the responses
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 6:47:27 pm

If I get a quote for professional video services, one of three things happens:

Too low
Too high
Just right

Sound familiar kiddies?

Too high is an easy one to figure out.
Just right is of course what i am looking for - sometimes it is just right out of the gate, sometimes there is negotiation.

But what about too low? Wouldn't I automatically go with the lowest price?

Not always. If I have an idea of the fair market value of a professional service - say $800 for a full day XDCAM camera op, lights and sound operator - and I get a quote for $200 - I can think one of the following must be true:

1 - The guy doesn't know what his work is worth

2 - The gal has the skills but not the business sense to price accordingly

3 - The person wants the experience, but does not consider the cost of doing business

In any of these situations, the vendor is depriving himself or herself of a fair wage.

$200 may seem like good money, but factor in the cost of paying for and maintaining your gear, your own salary, taxes (you may not have been keeping track of your self employment tax liability, but I cannot pay for freelance services without a signed W9 from the vendor), overhead, cost of materials, etc. You could be left with nothing or in the red.

If I feel you have the skills, based upon talking to you and looking at your work, and perhaps talking to another customer, I may hire you, but at a price I deem worthy of professional work. I will not pay $200 for a day of shooting because in my mind, I am paying a kid with a camera. If the kid screws up, he only loses $200 - no biggie. but if I raise my price to $500, the kid has more to lose and likely will do a better job, and more likely to stand by his work.

Even $500 for a full day shoot is a steal.

As for editing services, same thing applies. Think of the big picture, not just the quick cash.

Good luck. And can I get a refill on my iced tea?

Mike Cohen

Funny story. I was having lunch with fellow COW Steve Wargo. We waited and waited for our server to refill our drinks. Finally Steve walked over to the wait station, grabbed a pitcher of iced tea, and did it himself. Now that's thinking on your feet.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Thanks for the responses
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 7:04:29 pm

I hope you tipped Steve well:-)

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David BurkartRe: Thanks for the responses
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 7:12:16 pm

Ah. See, I totally understand your points.

2 things caught my attention:

*"full day XDCAM camera op, lights and sound operator"
*"Even $500 for a full day shoot is a steal."

My situation: Take my DSLR w/ external mic to lady's house (nat light), talk for 20min, cut it up and add pre-made motion graphics at a nearby cafe.

It seems implied that the cam op, (nat) light and sound is an all-in-one deal, and these shoots are hardly "full day" ... I dunno, I guess I'm at a crossroads between working for a company that just wants to crank out content (with not much regard for quality) and getting my portfolio built up.

Keep in mind
-I already work for this company as a writer.
-I need to make rent!


"A song is an excuse to go to a chorus, and a chorus is an excuse to go to a breakdown."

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Dave JohnsonRe: Thanks for the responses
by on Oct 1, 2010 at 7:19:39 pm

David, like the others have said, my opinion is that you're making a serious and irreversible mistake by working for that amount. I'll try to explain why, in addition to the reasons others have touched on already ...

I understand your inexperienced rationale that each job is only 2 hrs to shoot and 2 hrs to edit and $100 divided by 4 hours is $25/hr ... you'll be rich soon! Before even getting to the main points, I'll mention that you should stick with the 4 hours since, you might be able to shave time based on 1-2 such jobs, but consider if you end up doing 10 a day at 1 hour each ... running to and from your car to the shoot location with bags of gear on your back gets really old after the first few hours each day ... nevermind the second day.

Even more importantly, you're giving your client for free things that you have to pay for whether you realize it or not, which will eventually have you living under a bridge pushing a shopping cart while your former clients are sipping umbrella drinks on the beach at their summer homes in Florida. For example:

  • the additional hour of your time to get to/from the client's location

  • the costs for gas and wear & tear on your car to do so

  • the additional hour to set up and breakdown the gear before/after the camera is rolling

  • your $1000-$2000 MacBook Pro

  • all the expensive professional software needed to do the work

  • your camera package ... lights, tripod, monitor & everything else

  • expendables like videotapes, batteries, DVDs, etc., etc.

  • a portion of your electric bill to run all that spiffy computer and video gear

  • a portion of your rent to house all that expensive gear

  • I could go on for days, but hopefully, you've started to get the idea. You really should read about what a Grinder is since you are obviously dealing with one:

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    Rich RubaschRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 1, 2010 at 7:47:52 pm

    Any chance we can see one of these $50 beauties? Would love to have a peekee weekee.

    Rich Rubasch
    Tilt Media Inc.
    Video Production and Post

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    David BurkartRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 1, 2010 at 8:11:21 pm

    Ha! The "beauties" haven't been shot yet - I'm still negotiating terms. I've proposed $50 per angle, so if I go out and shoot one 30min interview, I can cut it up into several angles and make $50 per piece. That seems fair to me.

    "A song is an excuse to go to a chorus, and a chorus is an excuse to go to a breakdown."

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    David BurkartRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 1, 2010 at 8:13:00 pm

    That's a great article - thanks Dave!

    "A song is an excuse to go to a chorus, and a chorus is an excuse to go to a breakdown."

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    Scott SheriffRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 1, 2010 at 8:42:43 pm

    Dave Johnson has hit the nail on the head.
    You are way undercharging, even considering your experience.
    You have to run the numbers, because in the end this is a business.
    So if they can't pay a fair amount, just don't do it. There is no reason to do work for free, or break even. Or worse, work that is costing you money!
    If someone else comes along that will do it for that amount, let'em have it! Once they see that the time, fuel, wear and tear on the gear is not worth it they are either going to charge more, or cut corners.
    Or maybe the client will try and do it themselves, and then they will soon see why the job is worth paying more for.

    Scott Sheriff
    SST Digital Media

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    Ryan MastRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 2, 2010 at 3:24:21 pm

    [Dave Johnson] "my opinion is that you're making a serious and irreversible mistake by working for that amount. "

    Not always irreversible.

    After working for such a low rate, you'll probably never be able to raise your rate for this client, ever. However, if it's good showreel material, and if you don't have much of a showreel yet, use this to land your next gig.

    When I got started a few years ago as a college student, I did some very inexpensive work. A couple of those clients were legitimately sweet people with interesting things going on that I cared about -- so working inexpensively for them was fun, low-drama work. A couple were good exposure and awful pay, but I don't regret that work, because I've used that to find much better gigs.

    If you don't think that you can get more money out of this client, try negotiating for things that will make your job easier. Have the client line up 10 interviews back-to-back. Negotiate a long turnaround time (maybe two weeks), so that you can work on this in between other gigs (or finding other gigs).

    Yes, you are getting ripped off. But some work is better than no work, if there's no other work to be had right now. Do consider opportunity cost, though -- if a better gig comes along, will you be able to dump this quickly to start on the other one?

    Meteor Tower Films
    We make music videos, design video for live theater, and build interesting contraptions.

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    David JohnsonRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 2, 2010 at 5:06:41 pm

    Well said, Ryan.

    While I agree with everything you said and think the right decision depends somewhat on an individual's circumstance, I used "irreversible" to refer to the business standpoint that it's often very hard to get away with charging one customer $1000 for the same exact thing you charged another customer $100 ... and rightfully so ... assuming that the idea is for the majority of customers to be in the $1000 camp, having any $100 customers at all is an easy way to make the more important majority feel like they're being gouged and, thus, end up out of business altogether.

    Doing a favor for a friend is a completely different subject in my mind. I've done that many times throughout my career. In fact, the first occasion was similar to (yet also sounds different from) the scenario David described and turned into an opportunity that catapulted my career. In my case, a very significant difference was that the "client" had already been my best friend for 10 years (and still is 20 years later) ... not someone I met as a client who wanted to be "friends" because they wanted something from me.

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    Craig SeemanRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 2, 2010 at 5:17:17 pm

    But what you need to be aware of is that the undercharged client, if they're a happy client, are likely going to use word of mouth to express their happiness with both quality and price. You then get a bunch of referrals which are useless since they all feel they're being gouged if you try to charge them higher rates. If you work in a market or niche where word is likely to spread this is bad for business.

    Word of mouth is probably the strongest marketing tool you have and word of a low rate can really hinder the growth of your business. You are then left to pitch to new clients without referrals based on the reel only. For many, word of mouth is even a stronger marketing tool than the reel.

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    Ronald LindeboomRe: Thanks for the responses
    by on Oct 2, 2010 at 8:04:11 pm

    Craig is right, again. ;o)

    Once you lock yourself into a reputation as a "low-baller," you are almost guaranteed to be stuck there for years -- if you ever get out, at all.

    "Some work is better than no work" seems like good advice on the surface but I have seen far too many people in my near 60 years of drawing air on Planet Earth that paid for years for letting themselves do jobs that were done cheaply.

    Work cheap and do the job with cheap work, and the reputation of doing crappy work will hurt you. Work cheap and do good work and the reputation of being a low-baller that works for nothing will hurt you.

    Don't ever cheaply sell out your work, which are your Crown Jewels.

    Best regards,

    Ronald Lindeboom
    CEO, Creative COW LLC
    Publisher, Creative COW Magazine

    Creativity is a process wherein the student and the teacher are located in the same individual.

    "Incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm."
    - Woody Allen

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    Jamie ThorneRe: "Fair" Compensation
    by on Oct 1, 2010 at 6:56:31 pm

    What did they pay for the original 10 minute doc and writting?

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    David BurkartRe: "Fair" Compensation
    by on Oct 1, 2010 at 8:12:17 pm

    It was fairly rough (1st time I'd shot with a DSLR and used internal mic, nat light) but I assume they'll pay whatever we agree upon.

    "A song is an excuse to go to a chorus, and a chorus is an excuse to go to a breakdown."

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    David JohnsonRe: "Fair" Compensation
    by on Oct 1, 2010 at 10:26:06 pm

    I'm glad you found my input helpful, David. And, thanks much for the reaffirmation, Scott ... I too believe very strongly that logical thinking spreads better when it comes from multiple sources.

    David, One thing I have to add to when I said "you really should read about what a Grinder is since you are obviously dealing with one" ... I'll bet you a zillion dollars your Grinder knows all of the things I tried to point out in my first reply, yet will still deny them if you let him/her, which is what makes him/her a Grinder (a.k.a., a thief).

    With that said, if you're 16 and haven't yet invested much in your training, skills or tools, maybe an argument can be made for jumping at any chance to make some quick cash. If you do take that route, just keep in mind that, if you do decide to become a professional later, defining yourself as the will-work-for-pizza guy early in your career means you'll have to live with that for much, if not all, of your career ... and, $100 for a few hours easy work doesn't have quite the same appeal when you're not 16 anymore.

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    Craig SeemanRe: "Fair" Compensation
    by on Oct 2, 2010 at 1:30:18 pm

    [David Burkart] "I want "fair" compensation"

    How to figure out fair compensation
    Take all your life expenses for one month and figure out how much money you need to make in 20-25 paid hours a week to meet those expenses. That's what your survival needs are. Life expenses include food, housing, clothes, transportation, utilities, equipment maintenance, taxes, etc. You'll need to think about saving for equipment purchases, health expenses, possible time off as well. As you get better you can raise your profit margin and increase investment in the growth of your business. All gear needs to be replaced eventually. All software updated. Sure as a recent grad your costs may be lower and that might be reflected in your price but you must meet your live and business expenses as a baseline.

    I use 20-25 hours as a target because, unless you're on staff, you're going to be spending a lot of hours doing unpaid work required for a business which ranges from marketing, equipment maintenance, learning new skills (software, gear, new techniques), bookkeeping, client interaction (sales, etc).

    Getting portfolio work
    You can do a project for a non profit for prominent credit. Not only will you be helping an organization that can't afford your services, donors will see someone with a similar interest doing quality work and they (the donors who obviously have money) may become your clients.

    Word of mouth
    Your reputation sets your precedent on quality and pricing. If you do good work for too little money, the referrals you get will expect similar rates. You've basically killed your business at that point because every job you take will put you deeper in the hole and good work will be an example of what potential clients expect for the next to nothing you're charging. Thus, never work for a for profit business and under charge.

    What a project really takes
    Keep in mind the preparation for a project takes time as well. This includes going to/from the locations. Discussions with the client beforehand. Possible changes in the edit. Meeting with the client to deliver files or uploading as needed.

    There are many ways to handle it. If the project variables change you could charge hourly although that may not be the case here.

    If it's truly formulaic you could charge half day or day rate and everyone has an idea about your productivity. The danger with a per project rate is that unless there's a contract, the projects specs may change over time or from project to project and then the 4 hour projects turn into 8 hour projects and you've accepted without locking down the limits to the project description. If you charge by the day then some days might be 2 projects and others might be 4 (or whatever) depending on the complexity but you know you're getting paid for the day (8 or 10 hours but that should be agreed upon).

    You could simply take it one project at a time if you know the specs in advance of each project and knowing your productive ability. Each project is locked down in description in advance and agreed to in writing.

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    Bob ZelinRe: "Fair" Compensation
    by on Oct 4, 2010 at 8:18:39 pm

    I have not read all the responses to this thread, so I apologize for going off topic, or repeating anything that may have already been said.

    I unfortunately see "pro" companies using "free labor" (students) who work for the glamour and honor of doing a "professional" video so they can use it on their reel. The owners of these companies should be arrested. I unfortunately observe a particular company here in Florida (a name that you would know in a second) using student labor (hidden behind a dummy company name) to avoid having to hire actual labor, even at low wages. Again, these people need to be arrested. We have reached a time that "professional companies" really don't give a crap about anythning other than "how much will this guy cost, and how much profit will I make", and you are describing a pathetic offer to do anything - least not make a video. Would you come over and cook lunch for the owner of this company for 50 bucks ?

    With the "leveling of the playing field" with cheap excellent equipment, I wonder how long it will be before companies realize that they can have a contest (like awards shows), where you edit their video, and YOU PAY THEM for submission (maybe 50 or 100 bucks), and if you are lucky, they will pick you, and put your video on TV, and you will see your name at the end of the credits. (hey, if we give them 100 bucks, and edit their video, we can win, and people will see that we did this awesome video, and we will get a lot of work from it !!!!!).

    Bob Zelin

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    Tim WilsonRe: "Fair" Compensation
    by on Oct 4, 2010 at 8:33:30 pm

    [Bob Zelin] "if you are lucky, they will pick you, and put your video on TV, and you will see your name at the end of the credits"

    Doritos has done with SuperBowl ads - work seen in front of nearly 100 million people in the US alone, with massive coverage in the trade magazines (think AdWeek, etc.)...and there's always a follow-up about how little work came to the producers because of it.

    There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There's mostly just what you get paid before you hand the work over.

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