AD Rates and the Indie Film World

So, I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about rates for ADs on indies. This is an extremely hard question to answer. But I have to say this:

THERE ARE NO STANDARD RATES FOR ASSISTANT DIRECTORS ON INDIE FILMS.

I know this is annoying to say. A lot of folks like a nice, clean chart telling them exactly what they should charge. The problem is, every project is different. And every AD is in a different situation in their life. Unfortunately, the other thing about adulthood that sucks other than having to pay for everything is determining your own worth.

This is hard. You will always sweat about losing a gig if you quote too high of a dayrate. And then you will have an existential crisis because you start to wonder whether what you bring to the table is worth the amount you’ve quoted. And then you tell yourself that if they can’t afford you, then they’re not worth working for. And then you don’t get any other work for a month and start to reconsider. And then suddenly you get an amazing gig that pays you more than your day rate. And then you’re back to square one.

Repeat ad nauseum.

So what the hell do you do when a potential employer asks for a rate? Should you quote a day rate? A flat rate? Hourly? What amount are you worth?

Like I said, every situation is different. For me, I live in what is referred to as the “third coast”. Our rates are very different here from say, LA or NYC. Why? Because our cost of living is different. And that creates a significant effect in quoting a day rate.

Productions here are cheaper by and large. Which is a double edged sword. You can afford more, but the crews tend to get paid less than they’re worth (PLEASE STOP THIS, BTW).

But we also don’t pay crazy rents or utilities like folks do in huge cities. Our food and gas and water and electricity and housing is all much cheaper. This doesn’t mean you should lowball yourself in quoting a dayrate, but it does change what you need to quote in order to profit from the project.

Which is why I can’t give general advice on what an AD should be making. In indies, it’s really all budget and situation based. What you should do is:

  • Look at your financial situation. Are you doing well? Are you having trouble paying your bills? This is where you should start when quoting a day rate.
  • Ask about the budget of the project. Is it super low? is it decent sized?
  • Find out everything you can about your position on the project. How much work will you be doing? Do they need you to do several weeks of pre-pro or only a couple days? Will you be getting a paid AD staff? How many PAs? How many locations and cast members? Is it distant or local? All of this determines how much work you’ll actually be doing.
  • Ask yourself how much you want the project. We all end up doing passion projects. If you know it’s not going to be a high paid gig, figure out if it’s something you want to do. Is it a friend’s project? Is the script something you want to take part in?

You will not be able to set a rate the first time without really evaluating the situation. Once you’ve been ADing for some time, you’ll figure out your worth through trial and error. There will be gigs you’ll take that you really wish you had quoted more and then there will be gigs you’ll take that will have you laughing all the way to the bank because you did nothing and got paid a union rate (oh god, those are the BEST). But unless you’re about to be living in a cardboard box, don’t be afraid to evaluate the project and your finances and always quote higher than you think. They will probably talk you down or they will straight up say “yes”. I’ve even had a project tell me they will pay me more than I quoted.

I wish I could just tell you rates, but the truth is that no one can tell you how much you’re worth to a project other than your own self.

Now, get that cash.

Notes

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OMG IT'S A FILM PRODUCTION BLOG

Assistant Directors don't always yell. Sometimes we write about stuff. Because I'm a workaholic, I sometimes feel the need to document the things I see and the questions that are raised while going through the most insane process of making a director's dreams come true. About me: My name is Michelle. I am a (currently) non-union First Assistant Director working out of Austin, TX. I hope to one day join the DGA and direct my own scripts on the side, but until that time comes... Got questions? Comments? Complaints? A project you want me to AD? (I'm cheap!) Email me at - goingforpicture@gmail.com You can also find me on the good ol' twitter - twitter.com/m0thra


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