When we’re hired as producers we commonly make the
deals for those on our crew, from the director and cast to the production
assistants. However, when it comes to making our own deals, sometimes it can be
a bitter and painful experience. How do you go out on your own as a producer?
When you start your own project how do you know what’s even in the right
ballpark? How much is too greedy and what’s so little that people will think
less of you for being suspiciously humble? How one goes about determining this
theoretical number is a bit more elusive. What follows are some general
guidelines and information upon which to draw a conclusion for your comfortable
range. Armed with this insight, you may be better prepared for the next time
someone asks you, "What is your rate?”
The crux of our
apprehension to make a great deal may be that we have a high opinion of our
skills and why would anyone not want to pay us what we feel we are worth, or
the opposite that we feel we could simply be lucky to have the job and any
money is better than nothing. The real skill in negotiating comes from
understanding what a reasonable number is which not only fits within our own
needs, but also the paradigm of the project in hand.
KNOW WHO YOU
There is no shortage of value for doing your research. Before
approaching a person or company for a job, before focusing on a particular
project, before your first meeting with someone—do your research on them. Using
your personal contacts, IMDb.com, LinkedIn.com and
other online sources to find out peoples’ history and connections will help
you. Know a bit more about the project or person’s history and resume. It may
be possible there are other people you mutually know.
YOUR WORK and
Knowing your strengths is key to explaining what you can offer to a
potential employer. When sitting with a studio or pitching your own project to
an investor, be sure to highlight your experiences and how they can relate to
the project at hand. Don’t assume they’ve done their homework on you. Have you
worked in Europe and this project is all about castles and is looking to shoot
there? Have you worked on a lot of VFX-heavy projects, and this new one has
three full CG characters?Along with the research you do from the previous
section, know a at least a bit about the needs of the project.
Along with your
knowledge, a benefit to a project can be the team of crew and vendors you bring
to the table.Use opportunities on your current projects to get to know
key position crew and vital vendors. You can also seek out key crew you have
never worked with and offer them a lunch to get to know them. Let these people
and vendors know who you are and what you are doing. When it comes time,
bringing the right crew and vendors to the project can help give you an edge.
It does nothing for either side to begin a conversation with an
idealistic percentage or flat rate when the budget for the project does not fit
it. You may be used to making $6K a week for 25 weeks producing films with $3
million budgets. So you might divide $150K by $3 Million and deduce that you
"should” be earning 5% of whatever budget film you work on. But if you are
doing a project for $100K, which will already be fighting to put as much money
on the screen as possible, it might be too burdensome for that budget to handle
paying a single producer even 5%. On the other end of the spectrum, let’s say
the project is $100M. Now, 5% feels significantly off-base to pay a producer
(because virtually nobody makes $5 million as an undeferred producer fee).
Consequently, a locked percentage number regardless
of the budget is needlessly inflexible and largely impractical. Options to be
considered in light of the difficulty with establishing a percentage is either
a flat or weekly rate for the project.
Flat rates would pay you a total sum over the course
of the project. Commonly, this pre-negotiated amount would be paid over an
agreed-upon period and include all work rendered for a set of agreed duties.
That may all sound like a lot of wishy-washy unknowns; however, this is where
you need to know what you are expected to do on the project, how long you
expect to be involved with the project and then finally, what those are worth
to the project. Thinking of all these items and how they all interact, you
should be able to come to a mutual agreement.
Aside from your base rate, you may need to consider (keeping in mind all
practicalities of the project) any additional benefits. These include, but are
not limited to, your per diem, box rental, paid ad credits, travel class, hotel
room and car rental type and/or having a personal assistant to sort away the
These items might
be granted to you in a way that is on-par with other similar crew types—mainly
department heads. In my experience, the best way to approach these benefits is
to simply ask and be prepared for rejection or a balance against these from
your proposed rate. There are general practicalities which should be observed,
such as the budget level of the project and your relationship with the
investors or other producers.
Another aspect of being compensated for your contributions to a project
may come in the form of profit participation. There are countless factors that
can affect whether your points end up being worthless or worth millions. Having
an experienced attorney as a friend can be very helpful here. In general, learn
about the entire revenue waterfall and your placement on it. Try to get "most
favored nation” status with respect to deal terms (so that you and the big
players are sipping from the same pool, even if they have bigger cups). But
keep in mind that since most films lose money you should be wary of giving up
too much actual payment in favor of "points.” These are therefore a risk to
you, but if you believe the project will do very well—especially because of
your expertise and what you are bringing to the table—it could be a great way
to ride the upside.
ESTABLISHING YOUR BASELINE
Over time, you will establish a bit of normalcy to what you charge for
your services. Use this as your baseline. This baseline can serve as the
conversation starter for future projects. That said, you will always need to
keep in mind the parameters of the project to curtail your desired compensation
to what the budget can support.
In closing, there are a lot
of factors to think about when considering what you feel you should be paid.
With a bit of practicality and forethought, you’ll be prepared to begin a
focused negotiation. Good luck.