pay Upfront payment vs percentage of film proceeds

Would you prefer upfront payment for shooting a 15 to 20 minute film as a director/cinematographer or getting residual pay as the film makes money on a film platform?
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
Is it common for a 15 to 20 minute film to make money? Can anyone point
to a 15 to 20 minute film that made enough money to make “residual pay”
worthwhile?

If you could show me with real world examples that a 15 to 20 minute film
could make enough to double what my up front fee is, I would consider taking
the financial risk along with the producer.
 
To echo Rik and Bob: a short is not going to make money, and I work for a living so I want to get paid for doing that.

Even on a feature, pay over points. The only time I’ve worked on a film that tried to get me to take points over pay (10 added production days), I was not willing to take that gamble. It’s been a loooong time since we wrapped on that production and it still hasn’t even cleared post.
 

onebaldman

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Well, I'm coming from a different perspective I guess. If you are working with all seasoned pros, upfront payment is what they like.

If you are working with people who are interested and passionate about furthering their portfolio or starting in film-making, you can get away with points/percentage.

I pay for cost of utilities/gas/equipment/building materials/shipment of packages upfront, but I ask for a receipt. My promise is deferred pay, based on crowdfuding. It's a gamble, sure, but the people who jump on board understand that gamble, and also seem to understand I am not trying to swindle anyone.

I think the method of crowdfunding as deferred pay based on points is a system that I can use in the future if this project pans out, where crowdfunding acts as a "theater run" or "box office sales" of a major film.

If it doesn't do well, we can always re-market and try again off of my dime. It's a risk, sure, but so is making a million dollar film for a production company. Instead of the risk all being on the Producer or Office, it rides on the entire crew of the film.

I think this may motivate everyone to share the campaign with friends and family as well. We all either float or sink with this, but there is a feeling of teamwork and togetherness that comes with it too.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
I pay for cost of utilities/gas/equipment/building materials/shipment of packages upfront, but I ask for a receipt. My promise is deferred pay, based on crowdfuding. It's a gamble, sure, but the people who jump on board understand that gamble, and also seem to understand I am not trying to swindle anyone.
If you were given a choice of up front pay or a percentage which would you choose?
 
Well, I'm coming from a different perspective I guess. If you are working with all seasoned pros, upfront payment is what they like.

If you are working with people who are interested and passionate about furthering their portfolio or starting in film-making, you can get away with points/percentage.
And that’s just it. Two entirely different worlds.

This is how I make my living. I’m happy to help out a student film once in a while pro bono, and I’m happy to take on a low-budget film on occasion knowing that I’m getting a much lower day rate, but I have to have enough work paying full rate to make space for that stuff. I have to keep up my gear. I have to cover my overhead.

On the amateur level, you can find plenty of people who want to jump on board and volunteer their time. You’re just not nearly as likely to find a professional, experienced crew, in which case the film doesn’t have much of a chance of going further than local/regional “come one, come all” film fests.

It is interesting that you say “working with people who are interested and passionate about furthering their portfolio or starting in film-making, you can get away with points/percentage.” The telling word choice there is “get away with”. In a sense, that’s taking advantage of folks who are too inexperienced to know better. I know that’s not always the case, but I see it often. Points almost never work out at all. That needs to be made clear, rather than using it to build up expectations that will likely not be fulfilled.

If people understand that and are still excited to be part of it, great. If those folks are just amateurs and hobbyists looking to get into it for the fun of it, then you’re in the right spot. But if they’re trying to build credits in order to build their film careers, teaching them the beg for free work to do that is taking advantage. And that may not be anywhere close to what you were trying to say, but word choice matters.

Personally, knowing that points are usually a guarantee that they get my work and my gear for free, I pass. After 25+ years of honing my skills and building/updating my kit, “exposure” won’t even cover my costs.

My promise is deferred pay, based on crowdfuding. It's a gamble, sure, but the people who jump on board understand that gamble, and also seem to understand I am not trying to swindle anyone.

...

Instead of the risk all being on the Producer or Office, it rides on the entire crew of the film.
The producer (and especially Executive Producer) are the ones who should take the risk. It’s not the crew’s responsibility to make that gamble. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

But again, if they completely understand that points likely won’t come and are still willing to work on the project, that’s fine. I guess I just really don’t like “points” being offered under any circumstances because that’s most often (if not always) a hollow offer, intentional or not.

In the end, it really boils down to valuing your crew. Even if it’s a very low day rate, it’s a day rate.

TL;DR
If it’s for fun and bound only for the local/regional town film festivals, everyone knows what they’re getting into. Offering points on that is ridiculous and won’t net anything for anyone. Just make the project for the love of it and move on.

If it’s intended to try and find some sort of distribution in any way - to make any kind of money - the crew is not responsible for taking the financial risk on that. Period. Pay them something for their time and move on.
 
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onebaldman

Pro Member
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IOTM Winner
After 25+ years of honing my skills and building/updating my kit, “exposure” won’t even cover my costs.
That's the difference.

Did you actually start out with a day rate? Not trying to disrespect, just honestly considering how anyone really shifts from the beginner phase to the paid phase.

This could even be turned the other way, where a person gets charged a crazy amount by a Cinematographer who is just getting their feet wet. Isn't the person hiring the one being swindled then?

Yes, payment is deserved for a job. But at the student film/hobbyist level, crowdfunding is a great way to possibly get higher level parties interested in a film.

I guess it depends on the Director/Producer/Content creator being extremely honest and upfront from the get go. But saying that one way is better than the other is a subjective point of view.

I think the film, if done well and done with passion, outweighs the potential money profit anyway.
 

onebaldman

Pro Member
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If you were given a choice of up front pay or a percentage which would you choose?
Right now, I'm not at the level where I expect anything but opportunities. I don't take any money from my work, because I am not at that level yet. I'm working and grinding, with the hope that the work will eventually be a means to an end. Passion projects over sustainability. I have a day job, and I use my personal cash from that job to fund my films.

I understand people on here are at the professional end of the spectrum, but maybe OP isn't? And then telling them to pay a day rate if they can't afford that kind of thing may not be the best method to completing a film for them? Maybe crowdfunding, based on a following from the internet or angel investors interested in the idea is a better way to go? Or Patreon? Or Youtube?

Just another perspective, that's all. Not dissing any of the pro's who make a living off of their honed talents.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
Right now, I'm not at the level where I expect anything but opportunities. I don't take any money from my work, because I am not at that level yet.
I understand your perspective. And I understand that neither option is better
than the other. I'm interested in your perspective on the original question.
Hypothetically:
I offer you an up front fee of $500 to direct a 15 minute short film. Or you can
take nothing up front and I'll pay you 10% of future earnings. Either way, the
film gets made with passion by a cast and crew who very much want to make
a great movie.

What would you prefer?
 
Here's a different way to go....why offer points at all? Why not simply pay a specified amount up front, OR offer nothing at all..."To build your reel, for the fun of it", whatever. That way there are no hollow promises and no further expectations. If you don't have any money to make a film, simply tell them the truth up front. They will either work with you for free or they won't. "Points" are false promises at best.

By the way, if you have ever worked for "points" or even royalty payments, good luck in ever collecting it. Their creative accounting will rarely show that your project earned a profit... I have royalties due from several companies that I will never collect. Unfortunately, that's a normal part of the business.
 
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directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
That has always been my method, Rayandmigdalia;

When asking anyone – actor, director, DP, grip – to work for “residual pay”
that producer is asking them to take a financial risk along with them. Even
the most transparent, ethical, fair-minded producer will find it very costly
and time consuming to meet that obligation.

After years of being offered deferred pay, points or residuals and never seeing
any money at all I decided to never offer that as a producer. I ask people to
work for free. I don't make an offer I know I cannot honor. Some don't take it.
Many do. All respect it.

I know I do; when I'm asked to work for free I take that seriously. When I'm
asked to work for points I take that producer less seriously.

There are many valid POV's. The original questions is an excellent one; which
method would you prefer?
 
As many regulars here know I worked for a producer on low budget, no pay projects once or twice a year, even though I was making money on a consistent basis. The reason I did so was the other things that she offered.

  1. The other folks involved were also professionals or ambitious, talented up-an-comers.
  2. Almost every person involved was included in the preproduction process and their creative contributions given very serious consideration.
  3. The preproduction was extensive, every base covered, alternative plans of action in place, etc.
  4. Everyone was given gas money and recompensed for out of pocket expenses. (Make-up was replenished, data cards and disk drives provided and the like.)
  5. Equipment not owned by DP, PSM, etc. was rented, and it was always quality gear.
  6. Every meeting had drinks and tasty noshes.
  7. The craft table and meals were exquisite and abundant.
  8. Everyone was treated like the professionals they were or aspired to be.
Dianne was very picky about who would be included. You always knew that you would have a lot of fun and make solid connections. You knew that you would not be wasting your time on a mediocre project. But I can't emphasize more that you always knew that the project was planned to the last detail (extensive prepro), and that the set would be relaxed and a lot of fun.

That is how you get people to work for free. When you have that kind of reputation people are eager to volunteer their time and talents.
 
Did you actually start out with a day rate? Not trying to disrespect, just honestly considering how anyone really shifts from the beginner phase to the paid phase.
No, I didn’t start with a day rate. I started with an hourly wage and a part-time position at a local TV station. That quickly turned into a full-time position. I served my time in local TV before moving on to bigger, better productions and eventually freelance work.

But that was some time ago, and the paradigm for local TV stations has changed drastically. Maybe that bodes well for beginners, though, since the stations have mostly downsized and have fewer people doing more studio work. Great trial by fire, I guess. Either way, seeking internships and entry-level PA work is the way to shift from the beginner phase. Internships may or may not be paid, but those can lead to entry-level paid work.

Honestly, this stuff is so much more about personal connections, who you know, word of mouth, etc. No-budget short film credits don’t weigh in at all, but doing a damn good job on a project alongside someone who works on the bigger productions can lead to referrals and introductions.

This could even be turned the other way, where a person gets charged a crazy amount by a Cinematographer who is just getting their feet wet. Isn't the person hiring the one being swindled then?
In my experience, this is rare-to-nonexistent. The just-getting-their-feet-wet kids lowball the market, take clients who used to pay decent budgets, turn in low-quality work, and teach the client that there’s a cheaper way (at which point they stop paying attention to quality).

I think the film, if done well and done with passion, outweighs the potential money profit anyway.
That’s entirely dependent on how one makes a living. :)

Again, I do a bit of pro bono each year. Most of that is for people I know and trust and who run professional sets even when nobody’s getting paid. And I’m with Rik: I’ll take a much closer look at a project that honestly asks me to volunteer my time than one that makes a hollow promise of points.
 

jax_rox

Staff Member
Moderator
In the end, it really boils down to valuing your crew. Even if it’s a very low day rate, it’s a day rate.
I've worked for $50/day in the past because that's all the production could afford. I often find the projects that offer some kind of deferred payment promise in lieu of any actual money can be the hardest to work on.
At least working for free you aren't treated by Producers as if they're doing you a favour by allowing you to work on their masterpiece for points..
 
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Across all the disciplines in which I've worked and played, this same question comes up in one form or another, and the response is always as varied as the number of people consulted. Broadly speaking, people at the start of their careers or passionately interested in the "finished product" will invest time and energy in the expectation of a deferred - but not necessarily monetary - reward. As they gain skills and experience, they move towards a preference for having those skills recognised by a defined and guaranteed financial benefit. Then, once they've passed a certain point, they revert towards a willingness for unpaid collaboration on a smaller number of projects, basing their choice on entirely personal parameters.

As both a provider and a receiver of services, the most problematic arrangements I've come across are always those where there's a poorly defined promise of future financial reward. It's much easier to get someone to work "above and beyond" when you promise them no pay at all but ensure they're well looked after and treated with respect. On the other hand, when the success of the project rests on a few critical pillars, it is generally better to negotiate and pay a reasonable fee in exchange for guaranteed participation.
 

onebaldman

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There are many valid POV's. The original questions is an excellent one; which
method would you prefer?
I guess what I'm trying in my own project is both methods. I pay an upfront payment for supplies/gas/food/materials. THAT to me is a payment. Especially since I am fronting the cost myself. When people get to work for little to no cost, that is the best method in my mind for a low budget/passion project.

Crowdfunding is planned to add to that initial monetary value once a good amount of behind the scenes footage is gathered, and the marketing planned out. Each member of the crew gets 5% of the total crowdfunding earnings. If the crowdfunding campaign does well (with all members of the crew invested by sharing with contacts/friends/family), then whatever the total amount becomes is split between the crew evenly.

Or, you could base that on labor provided. The points are really just a tally of percentage of total crowdfunding profits earned.

Say there are 10 members in the crew, and each of us gets 5%. If the crowdfunding campaign earns $5,000 total... That's $500 for each member of the crew. If we want to balance out based on the job worked, then the point distribution changes.

Again, this is after all gas/food/utilities/materials have been payed for, and all that is being provided by the talent is time.

This method motivates me to give the project my best effort, in hopes that the audience immediately sees value in what we have to offer and willingly supports us based on what they see of our labor.
 
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>>I have a day job, and I use my personal cash from that job to fund my films.

He's the perspective point: Would you do your job if you weren't getting paid? I don't know about you, but I know I wouldn't.

It's one of the problems with this site. It has both amateurs and professionals answering the same questions from differing perspectives. Professionals get paid to work, the amateurs just want to get involved.

>>After years of being offered deferred pay, points or residuals and never seeing any money at all I decided to never offer that as a producer. I ask people to work for free. I don't make an offer I know I cannot honor. Some don't take it. Many do. All respect it.

>> I know I do; when I'm asked to work for free I take that seriously. When I'm asked to work for points I take that producer less seriously.

^ This. Worth being said again.

I see points in exchange for participation is a form of investment. It doesn't suit those living hand to mouth. Personally I'm not against it, though, like every other investment, it needs to be treated as such. It needs to be pitched as an investment and a well thought out business proposal, not in the form of hoping for my time, skills and equipment in exchange for .... my cut of nothing.
 
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