Being hired for the first time is an exuberating feeling. To think, at one point in your life you had no idea on how to operate your newly purchased camera. Yet here you are now opening an email from an interested party enquiring about your technical know-how. However, while spending years mastering your artistic craft, you often forget that there’s also a need to learn how to negotiate business. It’s common for new creative freelancers to charge relatively low; after all you don’t really have any field experience. Asking for a low pay is a way to get your foot in the door and pick up experience. Unfortunately new and young freelancers are often exploited of this and usually work for next to nothing. In one of my first ever freelance jobs I worked out that in the end I had worked for £2.42 an hour as I had constant revisions to attend to (something that I didn’t object to upon signing the contract).
While you can’t scream for the pay of a veteran filmmaker, you can at least cover yourself with the following tips to ensure that you don’t get played into working for pennies or scammed out of your services altogether.
1. Ask for a percentage of the payment upfront. This is especially important when working with friends or a completely new client. There’s a saying “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.” That is one quote of money in regards to doing business with friends. In short, conducting business with a friend can create tension as matters won’t be taken as seriously as it would be with a stranger. For example, you may be expecting payment on a certain date, but your friend might ask if they can pay you on a later date because they have to fix their car. They wouldn’t do that to a professional plumber, but in their eyes you’re just Chris with a camera; ‘I’ve known him for years he won’t mind’. You may then be down work hours while they will be up a project. Ask for a percentage upfront to ensure a working relationship. 30% is a good amount to run with.
2. Working directly from the section 1, you don’t want to hand over a completed piece of work without first receiving the full payment. This is especially important if you’re working with someone over the internet. Perhaps you have been hired to edit someone’s work and all of the conversation has been through email. You could send a piece of completed work over to a stranger and never receive the final part of your payment. To secure yourself in this instance place a watermark over the centre of the footage, with transparency to 60% so the client can actually still see the footage.
3. A contract. Paperwork is the bane of almost every creative person’s life. We venture into the world of making art to move away from the idea of paperwork, yet as soon as we start turning our art into a business we end up meeting it again, regardless of the art form. Online you can find several templates for a contractor’s agreement (you can find a few here). This document fundamentally sets up the working conditions for your relationship with the client, and it can help remedy a lot of potential headaches down the road. Also, having the conditions down in black and white can deter those who seek to scam you. Asking the client to sign a contract also presents you in a professional manner.
Most of all, have fun. You’re one step closer to earning a living from doing something you love, even if there are 999 steps to go to.