10 Tips To Negotiate Your Rate Like A Pro
Learning how to negotiate is a learned skill for most. It is nerve-wracking and awkward, but necessary in the industry. For every job, you will have some kind of negotiation over pay rate and conditions. Negotiation for a job takes place with the Unit Production Manager (UPM) or a Head Of Department (HOD) and definitely gets easier in time.
Asking for more money or dealing with a UPM you don’t know can add to the stress, but you will eventually learn to navigate these conversations with finesse. Initially, you won’t have a lot of bargaining power, so a tip is to more or less take what is on offer. However, time and experience will sharpen your resolve to bargain for what you’re worth, not what you’re offered.
Nevertheless, be mindful that being employed for less than you had hoped for is usually better than no employment at all.
Here are some simple tips to help you negotiate rate:
- Know what your position gets paid. If you go in knowing what you should be offered for that position, you will know how to react when they state an amount. This can be hard when you first start out because it’s not really kosher to ask people what they earn for their position. Many of the unions publish market rates so I’d suggest doing some research on their websites to see what each position is expected to be offered.
- If it’s your first time in this role you are more than likely going to be offered a low rate. We’ve all been there. So long as it’s a good opportunity and you are working with a great crew, don’t worry – it’ll get better as you gain more experience.
- Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to negotiate. I often get called while I am on set but discussing my next contract while juggling three hundred extras is not the right time. I ask them if I can call back at a later time when I can be in a calm environment.
- Politely comment if the rate is below what you were expecting and make it clear what your expectation was. You can always suggest what the union’s market rate is, so you were expecting something closer to that ballpark. You may need to inflate your rate marginally in case you have to negotiate down slightly from what you have stated. If you are on par with the industry rates they will generally come to the party (if the budget allows).
- Remember that the UPM has to negotiate with most of the crew and occasionally the cast, which can number in the hundreds. For them, the shorter the better. Keep your discussions short and state your requests clearly. Don’t play games and hopefully, they won’t either.
- Don’t worry if they start telling you there’s not enough in the budget, everybody’s taken a pay cut, etc. It’s the same story on every job. Know your worth but don’t be greedy. You will discover your rate will differ slightly depending on the scale of the project. This is normal and allows small and independent projects to be made.
- Getting the job is probably more important than arguing over $50 a week. If the UPM or HOD is someone who may give you more work in the future, it may be better to take a small pay cut to ensure work in the future.
- You don’t have to agree immediately. Once the discussion has settled, I often say I’ll have a think and let them know my decision the following day. This allows me to discuss the job with my wife and decide on the pros and cons of doing the project.
- You won’t get every single detail in that initial phone call or meeting. Realistically, you’ll probably only discuss a weekly deal based on a 50-hour week (this comprises of forty normal hours and ten hours at time-and-a-half pay), rough start date and the length of the job. This is also the time to discuss any box rentals such as laptops or tool kits, and vehicle rentals.
- Ask for a summary email. Once the negotiations have been finalized, you can ask for a brief email confirming the rate, box rentals, and dates so you have it in writing if the negotiations took place over the phone.
After you’ve negotiated a rate and details, you will be issued a deal memo. This normally happens during the first week of work, or occasionally you may receive it before you start.
Your deal memo will generally be based on a standard industry contract (otherwise, you should have discussed it in your initial negotiation with the conditions of work stated). The deal memo is the basis for a crew contract that is undertaken between yourself and the production company for the period of the project or timeline discussed.
I’ve had straightforward negotiations, hard negotiations, and negotiations that have broken down and resulted in me not doing the job. From each experience, I have learned something and have improved at this process each time. These days when I’m negotiating, I can go in confidently knowing what I’m worth and can back it up with previous job rates.
Some people are better at negotiating than others, but you will not be able to avoid this part of the work-life so you might as well get used to it and become good at it.
Matt Webb is the author of Setlife: A Guide To Getting A Job in Film (And Keeping It). He is an Assistant Director with credits including The Great Gatsby, Mad Max: Fury Road, Hacksaw Ridge, Pirates of the Carribean and Alien: Covenant.
Setlife: A Guide To Getting A… is a must-have guide designed to prepare you for what happens on a typical day on a film set. Matt Webb’s no-fuss, practical tips are essential reading for anyone chasing a career in the film industry. The book is available for $25 from Amazon.
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