Crazy Day Rates

by Jeremy Warshaw

I thought I was the big guy on the shoot. My fee alone gave me a certain swagger and the grips called me Sir, although, strangely, never make-up. Maybe it's a guy thing. 

But what I chose not to think about was that I am paid about the same rate as an assistant director. Not bad of course and I’m not saying I’m worth any more it’s just that well, who knew?  For all these years I’ve looked at the AICP form and seen how much lovely money is headed my way. And for a while I feel special. Verging on important. 

And then because I have to earn my pay I go to work. And I have endless meetings that go on endlessly about all kinds of things; I attend and run casting sessions, review these files, make recommendations, think about wardrobe choices, adapt to revised budget news, scour locations, talk production design, do storyboards, revise storyboards, choose crew, make adjustments at tech scouts and my favorite attend and front the pre-production meeting. And, oh yes, I get to spend a day or two at the shoot. (And I haven’t included the hours conceiving, writing and presenting the treatment that was presumably thought good enough to get me the job.)

As an amusement I added up all the hours I spent leading up to a recent 1 day shoot and while I was quite proud of myself for working so hard my sense of importance was severely shaken when I figured out what my pay worked out to be. I reckon I spent about 70 hours before the shoot and about 12 at the shoot so a quick add and divide and I get a fraction higher hourly rate than an AD. Now this thought came up because I bid on a job for a well respected Agency (they do exist) and we were told that in the event they had to cancel the job at the last moment only fixed costs would be paid. No AICP guidelines for them!  So no Director pay irrespective of any work that had been done to this point. 

And this started me thinking. If we book DP’s for a job that doesn’t come off we pretty much have to pay. We’ve stopped them from taking another job and we’ve given our word. Sounds fair to me. But if Directors are to be paid for some reason they have actually to direct something in which cameras are involved. Which seems a pretty narrow view of directing.  

Now I know most Agencies abide by the AICP guidelines and there is compensation for jobs that get cancelled within a certain number of days but maybe we need to rethink how Directors are paid. I’m not sure anyone (apart from Directors) think they deserve more money but let’s not pay Directors based on the number of shoot days. A two day shoot for example is not always twice as time consuming as a one day shoot and in fact a one day shoot is often only a bit less work than a two day shoot. So to be paid on the basis of how many shooting hours is illogical Dr Spock. Yet this is the rusty old principle behind Directors’ compensation.

Here’s a suggestion: Don’t have a day rate based on shoot days. Instead submit a Director’s fee for the entire project as originally specified. I don’t have it worked out but it seems that some jobs don’t require that much work while others do and this has often nothing to do with the amount of days allocated to shooting the project. Our current system is illogical and misleading. With a fee approach we may end up at the same place but we won’t have clients thinking that we are highly overpaid, and we might get some respect for the long hours we actually put in rather than being thought of as some effete artist that finally gets to display his brilliance only at the shoot. 

We’re hired for the project so why not pay us for the project. 

I recently had a painter at my house repaint a large area of my ageing house. Before the final touch ups he had helped choose the color, put down protection, applied masking tape, skim coated, primed and put on two coats. And then he tidied up. I paid him for his entire work and never thought his value was just about the final coat. We’re not so different the painter and me. Now that’s a humbling thought.