This is so not an article about unequal pay in the work place. Not even close. This is more of an opportunity for me to celebrate with you, my fellow finance lovers that I just successfully negotiated higher pay! Well, sort of.
I am a Script Supervisor in the entertainment industry, which means I track continuity and take notes for editorial. I sit with the director as an adviser of sorts and pretty much note everything he or she says so that the editor better knows how to cut the film. I am freelance and under no contract except the one I sign at the start of each new project. Unfortunately, I am rarely bold when it comes to asking for pay. Within reason, I almost always take whatever rate the producer has set up for me because I want the job. If it is a union gig, the amount is generous and this strategy is not a problem. But it is a different story in the non-union world, where anything goes.
I am at a point in my career where I have done enough stuff that I should be earning more than I do when I work. I seem to be stuck around the same figure and working the same low-budget independent films every year. Don’t get me wrong… I like the heart behind them and it’s always very rewarding when they get distributed or are buzzed about by critics. But in the film business, we work very long hours, so even if a certain figure per day sounds decent– you are talking about a fourteen hour day. It’s really not that much when you divide it by the hours worked.
Another important factor is knowing that what a producer offers you is indicative of what the shoot will be like. If it’s a super low amount, you can bet the food will be bad, the crew around you inexperienced (or bitter because they have experience and are working for low pay) and the commute longer because the location scout booked spots on the outskirts of town to save money. I actually turned down a producer last winter who has given me some of the most successful films in my career to date. He always offers the same amount, and I have to beg him to get the prep days I need every. single. time. It’s not worth it to fight for something with someone who does not care about what you do. He knows you have to do the work no matter what and is hoping to get it for free. All this to say, I am at a turning point in my career where I know my value and I’m willing to stand up for myself.
Today’s victory was small, but big in the grand scheme of things. As I mentioned, my asking price hovers around the same mark for most films. Yesterday I interviewed for one and the director offered me the job on the spot. Beforehand, I had emailed the production coordinator my rate. I aimed high for a non-union film, asking for the appropriate number of prep days, the kit rental I’m entitled to and the day rate I found reasonable. For those who are curious, a kit rental is asking production to pay you for use of items you own and need to do your job. In essence, they are renting these things from you so they don’t have to find them elsewhere. In my case, this includes my ipad, camera, laptop and igrabber for stills. In other departments, it could be tape, pens, flash lights, gloves, make-up or hair supplies. Prep days are what I take to learn the script and do extensive breakdowns in order to track continuity. My position is one that is expected to know a script better than the writer. In order to become that intimate with a story, it takes time. You can see why it would be so easy to take advantage of needing prep for something that is mostly cerebral. I can’t show a producer the set I built when I’m done like the art department, or the shopping receipts and wardrobe fittings I did as a stylist. But what I do is crucial to my not making a mistake during filming, and that is often overlooked.
Today the producer told me she had reviewed my email and could not go as high as I had asked, but was able to pay me close to it. She added more money for the second camera which will be used during filming; a practice I’ve only seen on union shows. In my experience, it’s usually offered for third and fourth cameras, as every camera after the first doubles, triples a Script Supervisor’s workload. She gave me one day shy of what I had hoped for in terms of prep days and didn’t address the kit rental situation, so I did. I got the normal response about the budget, how everyone else is making less and just happy and excited to be working together, etc. I can’t tell you how many times this exact speech has been made. Producers need to get together and discuss this so they stop saying the same ineffective things! We see through your sneaky ways! I pushed back and she said she’d talk it over with her other producer. We hung up.
My stomach was turning while I waited. I was actually nervous. I instantly regretted it and thought, “am I about to lose this job over a kit rental?”
A friend once told me that after naming your price in an interview, to pause. This has always stuck with me as a tactic. Be confident in what you want and look them in the eye like you deserve it. If you stay quiet long enough, they have to speak–and often times, what comes out will be in your favor. I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me in negotiations. I did no different here and it paid off. Well, sort of.
The producer called back and told me they could not do the kit rental and that if I wouldn’t do the movie, they would understand. What she didn’t know, was inside I was already victorious because I was making more than I had ever made on a feature film before. Plus, I thought maybe I had just lost the job. A camera bump for two cameras? Hello! It might as well have been a kit rental because it was for the same amount I was hoping to receive. We did a verbal handshake and I signed on to script supervise the film.
Even though I did not get exactly what I had set out for, I came very close and am still thrilled with the results. The point of aiming high is that when they counter-offer, it’s still very satisfying because the amount you asked for was unrealistic, even to you. If I had left it up to the production, they would have offered less. This was a great step for my future confidence in negotiating pay, but the real lesson is to aim high and know that the worst thing is they say no. That is what happened here and I’m still walking away with a smile.