How do I set my rate as a freelance video production crew member?
I don’t like vagueries. I like to give hard answers. This can be difficult to do with rate because there are so many variables. Still, I find the reason most people don’t want to give hard numbers is that they don’t want to be wrong.
I have no problem being wrong.
Is the graph below, showing rate frequency for video production professionals, 100% perfect? Almost certainly not. But it gives us a very strong approximation. And perfect doesn’t matter because we’re only looking for a starting place. The whole reason we want to see averages is that we don’t want to be way out of line with other industry professionals (at least until we’re in demand enough to start charging whatever we want). And a strong approximation serves that purpose splendidly.
A couple of things to consider:
- I’m only taking full-time freelancers based in the US into consideration. This significantly raises averages because it reduces the number of amateur and ‘Upwork-level’ freelancers in the mix.
- This is based on project frequency averages, not freelancer medians. This means that freelancers that work more will be more heavily weighted.
- While I consulted data on the subject, I also relied on my own experience.
- I’ve worked with thousands of production pros over the years, evaluated tens of thousands- possibly hundreds of thousands- of candidates, and hired hundreds of crew so I have an intimate understanding of the industry.
- All rates do not include gear.
Grips most commonly earn ~$300-500 per day.
Audio Field Operators most commonly earn ~$400-600 per day.
Camera Operators most commonly earn ~$500-700 per day.
Directors of Photography most commonly earn ~$700-900 per day.
For starters, let’s take a look at the red line. As I’ve said before, as freelancers with a job-skill, we never want to accept less than $30/hr, even if we’re just starting out. Are other freelancers going to? Of course they are. Let them take all of the worst clients, we don’t want to get caught in a race to the bottom.
Next, let’s look at the rate frequencies and what they mean:
Grips are very often early in their careers and act as a sort of ‘general crew member’. These young professionals will charge very little money, but plenty of production professionals make a career in the grip department and as they gain experience they can start making a good living. It’s important to remember that even if you are new to video production you don’t have to race to the bottom to get on a production as a grip.
Audio Operators will very infrequently work for cheap because their position is less in demand than others. In the $400-600/day average, the lower end is comprised almost exclusively of ‘general crew’ members who have slapped on a field mixer. If you’re an audio specialist you should look towards the higher end of the average.
Camera Operator is a very competitive job, though the relative skill gap between professionals and amateurs keeps the saturation from dragging down the rate too much. The average rate is ~$600/day but operators that would like to earn more can niche into a lucrative specialty or build out a team and start on the path to becoming a DP.
Directors of Photography are defined by their management of a crew- they may also operate camera, and camera operators may like to call themselves DPs- but for the purposes of this graph, DPs are required to manage a camera department. Although Directors of Photography are listed at an average of $700-900/day, it is not at all uncommon for DPs to charge far, far more. On larger productions, such as national broadcast ads and studio films, DPs can easily clear $4000/day. This gives directors of photography more flexibility when setting their rate. DPs who are serious about their work can set their rate where they think it will maximize their profit but they should not go lower than $700/day.
- Most freelancers, especially new ones, are too cheap.
- Price is only one potential competitive advantage you can have over your competition and it’s (pretty much) the only one that can affect your livelihood. This means that it’s probably the very last way you should try to provide more value than other freelancers in your lane.
- If a client can’t afford you, it doesn’t automatically mean your services are worth less than you’re charging. It’s more likely that this is just not the right kind of client for you.
If you’d like more information about rate you can check out my comprehensive freelance course, where I talk more about how different clients think about rate, mistakes to avoid, and how to defend your rate if a potential client raises an objection.