This article will explain how to calculate your filmmaker salary, negotiate your wages, and includes a chart of union production crew rates. 

One of the greatest advantages of being a freelance filmmaker is that you can negotiate your own wages. However, this can be incredibly difficult when you are starting out. After all, you don’t want to undercharge or ask for so much that you scare away potential clients. 

There are so many factors to consider when determining your daily rate, not to mention the differences between union and non-union film sets. Below you will find a breakdown of how to work out your filmmaker salary. We’ve also included a helpful chart at the bottom with union pay rate expectations.

The Filmmaker Salary 

Filmmakers are often self-employed freelancers. So, unless you are hired by a company and have a contracted set wage, you are in charge of negotiating your own rate. Typically a filmmaker will have a set day rate and an additional rate for overtime hours. 

As a filmmaker, you need to know what your going rate is. This is because when you are in the hiring process, the producer or client will ask you what you charge. This can be nerve-wracking at first – talking openly about wages is usually discouraged in other industries. But unless you know your rate and how to calculate that rate, you can undervalue yourself. Working out your day rate is part of being a freelancer. 

The filmmaker salary will alter depending on numerous factors. Here is a list of reasons that can affect your going daily rate –

  • The production budget
  • If the production is union or non-union
  • Your job role and hierarchical position on set
  • Your experience and skill level within a role
  • If you bring any equipment onto a project
  • The type of project, e.g. film, commercial, drama/factual TV
  • Your location and what state/country you are filming within

Calculating Your Rate 

As you can see, many factors determine how much you can charge as a filmmaker. For this reason, your wage will likely differ per project. To give an accurate figure, you will need to ask your client a series of questions before you can both agree on a rate. If you are on a union project, your union will handle this for you. However, on non-union projects and freelance gigs, it is up to you to negotiate your filmmaker salary. 

The most significant influence on day rates will no doubt be the production budget. Even on union film sets, the wage recommendations increase alongside the budget total. When it comes to feature films, anything with under $1 million is considered low-budget. You can ask outright when being hired how much the production budget is, especially on non-union projects. Of course, you might not get an exact response, but at least you will know if it’s considered a low-budget production.

Your job role will also impact your rate. Above-the-line positions and heads of departments will get paid more than assistants. You can increase your wage based on the level of responsibility your role requires. Although you will also need to consider how experienced you are within this role. Entry-level positions such as production assistants or trainees very rarely receive more than a bare minimum wage. 

It is common on film sets that your equipment will be rented for you. However, for some roles (for example, sound mixer, videographer), you may be asked to bring your own gear to set. Since filmmaking equipment is expensive, you can charge an additional cost on top of your rate for equipment usage. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure the production has equipment insurance in case anything breaks. 

You should ask questions about the project before deciding upon your daily rate. Here is a list of questions to ask a potential client –

  • Is it a union or non-union project?
  • What is the production budget?
  • How many hours a day/days a week are being scheduled?
  • Will you be needing to use my own equipment?
  • Are travel expenses and catering being covered?
  • When will invoices be paid by?

Negotiating Your Rate 

After you receive more knowledge on the project type, you can begin to negotiate your rate. You don’t need to be the first person to state a number, either. It is perfectly OK to ask your client what they were considering paying you – there is a chance that it will be higher than what you were going to ask for. After you know what figure they have in mind, you can negotiate further. 

It’s helpful to have a number in mind that you won’t go under, also known as a minimum acceptable rate. If your client goes under this figure, you can respond by breaking down your time, expenses, and equipment costs. There can also be non-monetary benefits in some film jobs. For example, the chance to work with new equipment, travel, or future work with the production company. If the client keeps going under your minimum acceptable rate, you will need to decline the job. 

There are many avenues you can use to come up with your daily rate. Firstly, if you have been freelancing for a while, you should know what people are willing to pay you in general. Secondly, you can ask other filmmakers what they are charging and what they recommend you charge for your role. This can be done while on set or through online forums and social media. Thirdly, you can use union guidance and alter your rate per project (check out our union rate chart below). You should also increase your rate after every working year.

This might seem like a clumsy way to figure out your filmmaker salary, but there is no definite wage when it comes to freelancing. Enquiring others on their wages and taking into account union guidelines are your only options. Of course, you should also work out your own salary expectations based on how much income you personally need each year. 

Basically, you should have a day rate in mind when a client asks for it and negotiate that rate based on the project hours and production budget. Not only that, but you will benefit from drawing up a contract, especially for long-term, non-union projects.

Creating a Contract

Even if you trust your client, a contract gets you both on the same page. Furthermore, a written agreement can be used as evidence in a small claims court if there are any complications. There are so many terms and conditions to consider when it comes to film set work that you will want to make sure you are getting a fair deal.

As mentioned, filmmakers tend to have a day rate and then add additional costs to this rate. A typical day on a film set is classed as between 8 – 11 hours of work, but you will likely have days that go over schedule. As such, it is wise to have an overtime agreement. Likewise, if your job requires revisions (for example, editing revisions), you will need to consider an additional revision/redraft payment

Another important agreement is a minimum guarantee, which will protect you against early finishes. This means that if, for whatever reason, the workday ends after 4 hours, you will be paid for a full day’s work. As a freelance filmmaker, it would be almost impossible to book two clients within one workday.

Lastly, depending on your role, you will want to decide who owns the intellectual copyright. If you are creating original work, such as composing music or videography. You may wish to make a reuse clause in your contract. This means that if your work is reused by the production company a second time around, you will receive additional pay. If you are non-union and unsure what to include, you may wish to pay for an entertainment lawyer to look over your contract for you.

There are a lot of specifications that go into a filmmaker’s salary and contract. Here is a list of things that you should consider including on your contract –

  • A description of your job role and responsibilities
  • Your exact payment terms and conditions
  • Terms for overtime hours and/or revisions
  • Copyright terms if producing original work
  • Signatures and dates (can be a digital signature via PDF)

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Crew Rates Union Chart

The following chart is to be used as a reference only. The daily salaries below have been taken from advice provided by the union sourced and are current as of November 2020. All of these rates are negotiable and have terms and conditions depending on the exact budget, hours worked, and production type. 

Above-The-Line Rates 

Job Role Source High Budget Low Budget
Screenwriter WGA $124,226 $66,800
Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Producer PGA Negotiable Negotiable
Director DGA $5,028 $3,591
Director Of Photography ICG600 $6,615 $3,499

Below-the-line Rates 

Production Management

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
UPM DGA $2,010 $1,435
1st Assistant Director DGA $1,909 $1,038
2nd Assistant Director DGA $1,278 $915
Production Assistant Minimum Wage $160 $100

Locations Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Location Manager Local399 $658.00 $603.60
Production Driver Local399 $369.76 $306.64

Art Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Art Director USA $953.68 $635.86
Set Designer IATSE $389.80 $278.00
Prop Master IATSE $385.80 $293.40
Prop Maker IATSE $350.90 $224.80

Costume Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Costume Designer Local705 $828.42 $590.42
Costume Stylist Local705 $396.11 $322.19
Wardrobe Assistant Local764 $437.86 $402.80

Hair & Makeup Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Key Designer Local706 $610.00 $423.97
Makeup Artist Local706 $518.61 $286.48
Hair Designer Local798 $496.88 $387.27

Camera Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Camera Operator Local600 $591.52 $422.84
1st Assistant Camera Local600 $547.03 $306.57
2nd Assistant Camera Local600 $407.11 $267.98
DIT Local600 $592.00 $552.64
Script Supervisor Local161 $523.44 $370.63
Still Photographer Local600 $602.10 $435.04

Grip Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Key Grip Local80 $557.80 $388.41
Best Boy Grip Local80 $499.51 $351.34

Lighting Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Chief Lighting Technician Local728 $570.83 $322.74
Best Boy Electric Local728 $422.84 $276.98
Lighting Technician Local728 $306.84 $179.84

Sound Department

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Sound Mixer IATSE $703.67 $589.70
Boom Operator IATSE $445.83 $302.74

Post Production

Job Role Source High Budget (Daily) Low Budget (Daily)
Editor IATSE700 $804.39 $685.70
Assistant Editor IATSE700 $405.56 $354.56
Foley Artist IATSE700 $439.43 $392.32

In Conclusion  

It helps to have a primary figure and a series of questions in hand to ask clients before agreeing upon your filmmaker salary. Many of us have been brought up to be private when it comes to income. However, the best way to deal with questions about money is to get comfortable talking about it. By being open to talking about money with other freelancers, we can work together to ensure that we are all paid a fair wage. 

What methods do you use to find and negotiate your freelance wages? Let other freelancers know in the comments section below.

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