A very respected cinematographer in our industry recently raised a concern with me about the rates survey. Their concern was that the upper figure (labelled as “established” on the table) is higher than they and at least two other leading cinematographers were charging, so surely there was a danger of misleading people. The lower figure is labelled on the rates table as “minimum” but of course these are suggestions only, and in publishing them, KMG Management and the IAWF are simply offering a guideline as to what a business or individual might charge for their time (without kit) reflecting the honest responses to the rates survey.
The figures in the table have been compiled from what we believe to be the largest third party survey of wildlife cinematographers ever undertaken. 174 people responded, which must represent a significant proportion of professionals shooting wildlife films for a living.
My response to the doubt was to say that respondents from some parts of the world, the USA for example, might charge higher rates and hence push up the average. The higher cost of running a business and the cost of living in the USA might be reasons for those higher rates. Indeed, after raising the issue with KMG, it was confirmed that respondents from the US do indeed tend to quote higher rates. Nevertheless we know of more than one wildlife cinematographer in the UK charging over £700 per day.
Those leading cinematographers who I mentioned at the start of this article (and perhaps many more of us) who charge a bit less, may either be competitively setting a rate where the client can afford to send them into the field for longer, which might be good business practice, or simply failing to put prices up in line with inflation over the years, as a responsible business should.
Not all productions exist in the same budgetary universe either. There are regional productions and programmes on smaller channels where the story content is similar but whose ambitions are a world away from the global blockbuster series. In some ways our rates may say more about the particular clients we work for than our own business costs. I know after one or two difficult conversations with combative producers early in my career, that I am tempted to shy away from setting a rate that might lead to confrontation. I’m thinking of encounters that occurred over a decade ago. These days if our rate is questioned, that question is more likely to come from a more courteous PC or PM. Nevertheless I can’t help thinking that some of those bruising encounters have left one or two of us too slow to put up our rates.
The existence of the rates guidelines really does help to open these conversations. One of our members used the rates guidelines to open a discussion with a client about a rate increase last year, quoting the KMG survey. He told me it was an easy conversation to have. Most of us are sole traders and do not have dedicated financial professionals working within our businesses. So here it is – the rates guideline – laid out for us.
Most wildlife filmmakers that I talk to have, like me, dreamed of doing this job all their lives. This is a vocation. Everyone knows that, and current cinematographers and production teams alike are well aware that there is no shortage of people desperate to step into your shoes. That might be enough to make anyone err on the side of caution when it comes to deciding their rate. It may also be that some wildlife cinematographers have fortunate life circumstances which mean they do not need to make a profit. All the more reason for a rates guideline table then, so we can all work on a reasonably level playing field.
In compiling the rates survey, KMG has produced by far the best data we have specific to wildlife cinematography to date. Other sectors of television and film production may have rate guidelines too, but our work and the way in which we do it is unique so it would not be particularly useful to compare. We have specialist equipment and techniques, different typical contract lengths, different investments in time, training and so on.
The conclusion I draw from the whole discussion is simply the value of data to our businesses, and the importance of trusting it. It is one of the reasons why the IAWF exists and one of the reasons why we are keen to conduct more surveys of this kind.
We are grateful to KMG for undertaking this research and to those of us who funded the survey. The IAWF hopes to support more useful data gathering of this kind in the years ahead. Over time and through periods of greater and lesser industry activity, the figures may change. So in my view we need to repeat these surveys on an annual or biennial basis. Some may question whether in a cost of living crisis we can afford to gather this and other industry information. I would argue that we cannot afford to be unaware of the conditions around us.
If someone were to walk into a bar of wildlife cinematographers with the aim of starting a fight I suspect they would struggle. It’s one of the things I love about our industry. Everyone is quietly passionate and virtually nobody is aggressively active. Which also unfortunately means that when Graham Horder or Katie-Marie Goodwright send out a form, most of us are slow (putting it mildly) to respond.
Getting 174 respondents to the rates survey was unprecedented! The recent tide of collaboration on the WhatsApp Groups, helping each other with information, discussions and advice, has to be the best way forward, because this can be a lonely business. To stay informed and ahead in this game, and to stay sane, I believe that as a community we should communicate with each other and participate as much as we can.
Graham Hatherley – IAWF Chair