The unmentionable subject of money (4 replies and 7 comments)
Congratulations on your 14th Oscar nomination - you will have soon caught up with Leon Shamroy and Joe Ruttenberg!
I am putting together ideas for a 6 x 60 minute TV comedy /drama production set in contemporary and past London and it is very important to have the best cinematographer available. I'm not for a moment suggesting you would take a step back from A list film productions but can you give me any sort of ballpark idea of what a top DP like yourself would accept for such a project - subject, of course, to being interested enough in it and available.
I'm reluctant to ask such a blunt question but information published about DP's rates are curiously thin on the ground. Maybe you just do it for the love?
I'd hate to interject, and I'm not writing on behalf of anyone. I feel professional cinematographers have earned their place in the sun, because they all started out like everyone else, they have all done projects for little to no money at all for years without end, and I feel many of them want to work with great artists at their current and prestigious stage. Roger has worked on many low budget productions for a great portion of his career, I believe it was Frances McDormand who said in a Fargo interview, that working with the Coen Brothers was an amazing experience, but monetarily it wasn't "enough to pay her phone bill". So, for them to go back to that is unheard of, especially for a low budget TV production. I'm sure there is great emerging talent out there to collaborate with, you'll find them in film festivals, which is where you can network with other like-minded people.
Budgets for the cinematographer don't exist separately from the rest of the budget for the crew, it's all sort of tiered -- department heads make a similar amount to each other, key assistants under them to each other, etc. And a good cinematographer needs a good crew. You'd be better off working out what your budget is for the crew and then approaching talented cinematographers who would be willing to work within your budget requirements rather than disproportionately shift a lot of your budget to get one person.
Union minimum rates are a good starting point for budgeting, and the truth is that even on studio projects, many cinematographers are not offered much more than the minimum rate, maybe 10% more. I'm not talking about the top cinematographers like Roger of course. Right now, minimum union rates for studio work is about $1400/day (12-hours) for a cinematographer, or about $7000/week.
Attached is a headline from The Onion which you may find amusing:
Anyone would be fortunate to be in such a position to get paid to make movies, and those rates don't seem bad at all. Though, I suppose they're lower for indie films like 'Frozen River'...?
Non-union rates can be anything... or nothing! I shot some indies a long time ago when everyone got a flat $1000/week rate.
That’s not bad at alll, it’s ridiculous how some of the independent cinematographers that get on shortfilmtexas.com ask for a $500 daily rate or more.
Nothing wrong with asking.
I somewhat agree, but I feel that's a staggering amount of money for a cinematographer to ask for, considering I posted an ad for a short film. Can you imagine the cost of getting proper camera equipment, plus the rate for a cinematographer and crew, plus lighting equipment. It's why I resorted to doing everything myself. Of course the results were bad, but if someone of your talent worked for $1000 a week at some point in your early career, it seems the inexperienced ones should maybe consider working for less. But who am I to say such things, people have to make a living somehow.
You needed to find a talented beginner who was less interested in the money, though these days a lot of people expect the cinematographer to provide the camera package, which has a value outside the salary.
Those type of people are quite rare, those who prefer to better their craft than make a quick buck.
When I was starting out the BFI would pay 200 pounds a week to every crew member on one of their films regardless of their grade.
The rate years ago for a free lance TV cameraman, Sound-man and Director was UK£ 500.00 a day plus expenses. The Presenter was normally employed by the network but still claimed expenses and even clothing allowance. Today, presenters are paid £75.000 to £400.000 per year and still claim expenses.
John Humphrey’s BBC Radio and TV presented has just taken a voluntary pay cut as a result of the recent equal pay scandal. He was earning £750,000 plus per year. (Current news item)
BTW. Joan Sims lead actor in all those “Carry On” films was only paid £600.00 per film. While Syd James another lead actor was paid £6,000 per film. Kenneth’s Williams got £3,000 per film deferred payment based on if the films made money. Info from KW’s autobiography.