Sunday, August 24, 2014
How To Negotiate Like A Boss.
Raise your hand if you've ever wished you could be paid more for a job.
And keep that hand raised if you've actually asked for more.
And only put that hand down if you've walked away from the negotiating table with less than you wanted.
Still have your hand up? Good. You know how to work a negotiation.
Everyone else should listen up...
I used to be consistently paid less than minimum wage. When you're just starting out, you kind of have to take what you can get and while I was grateful for every opportunity I got, eventually you reach a point where you know you're worth more. The hard part is figuring out how to get it. But once I did, I never worked a job where I felt like I was being totally screwed ever again. Here's a few tricks I learned over the years...
• First off, know what you're worth. If it's your first job on a set, ever, you're probably not going to get much. That's not to say you shouldn't try, but it's important to know and be aware of your limitations. A producer probably won't offer you union scale if you don't even know how to properly wrap a stinger yet. In fact, they'll probably think you're delusional and move on to the next name on their list without a backward glance. Once you figured out a fair price for whoring yourself out...
• Ask for a higher rate. Sometimes, it really is that simple. Most of the time, if your employer is willing to play with the numbers, you'll end up going back and forth until you reach something you both can agree on. Therefore, feel free to always ask for a little more than what you want. Each negotiating side generally has two numbers in their head. The one they want to pay/get and the one they're willing to pay/get. Know what your numbers are before you start that part of the discussion. There's no faster way to lose a negotiation than to answer with a blank face and an "Uh..." when they ask you what you want.
Every once in a while, you'll get lucky and they'll accept your "want" number right off the bat, simply because they have no idea what the going rates are and just spitballed out an initial offer. So if you don't like the rate they're offering, simply start by asking for a better one.
• That said, and this is the tricky part, don't be the first to throw out a number. Just say you normally work for more and ask if they can up the rate. If they ask you what your normal rate is, respond by telling them that every show is different and ask them a shit load of questions. What are they shooting? Is it a commercial? Feature? Music video? How long is the job? What are the locations? Is there a lot of night work? Is it a period piece? How many days a week will we be working? How big is the crew? What size is the budget? All these questions will help you form a better idea of what you'll be getting yourself into the next time you answer a call for work that simply says "grip wanted" and help you figure out a fair price for yourself. Then ask them what number they have in mind for you. That gives you an idea of what they're going for and a ballpark figure to work with. Then you can go in with a decent counter offer. Again, if you go too high right off the bat, they'll think you're delusional and walk away. It's better for them to start the number game.
• Sometimes, it's about the right numbers. They can't go any higher with your rate? Well, what can they go higher on? Sometimes, they can't move on certain numbers because of some accounting thing, but they may be able to play around in other columns. Can they pay you a kit rental? Can they rent your gear (and by "rent," I don't mean "borrow")? Can they up your overtime rate? Can they add an extra hour of pay each day? Can they give you an extra prep/wrap day? Can you be on an hourly rate instead of a flat one?
More often than not, it's about finding where else they can add more money rather than inflating your base rate.
• What else do you want? The previous tips still leave you wanting more? Think about what else other than money will make you take the job and the information you gleaned from all those questions you asked about earlier can come into play here. Again, it's all about hitting the right accounting columns. Can they pay for your travel and mileage? Can they up the expendables budget (and round out your own personal kit in the process)? Can you add extra guys to help ease the work load? Can they guarantee you 12 hour turnaround each night? Can they make sure Crafty provides you with all the Red Bull you can drink?
If you're just starting out as a P.A., but really want to shoot, can you shadow the camera department? If you're a grip who wants to be a dolly grip, can they let you work a shot or two?*
The possibilities are endless here.
• There's no need to go in for the kill. You can, and should, always start out asking more than you'll settle for, but just because you don't bleed them dry doesn't mean you walk away a loser. I never really understood those people who get upset because they didn't get every cent production had. If you get a deal that you're satisfied with, pat yourself on the back. The goal wasn't to screw production over, but to get yourself a fair rate. If both sides walk away from the negotiating table satisfied with what they're giving up/gaining, it's a win-win situation that paves the way for a better working relationship in the future. That's priceless.
• Know when you need to walk away. Can't come to an agreement? Maybe you should walk away. Can't afford to? Then I think you just found your new rate. And don't say things like, "I've got a cabin in Big Bear to pay for and a kid to put through college. I can't pay my bills with what you're offering." It's really not their problem. Their problem is finding a crew that fits their budget. They don't give a rats ass that their rates aren't enough to cover your AC bill in the summer.
• But what they do care about is what you can do for them. If they're balking at the terms you're offering, tell them why it'd be the best decision they ever made in their entire life if they hired you. Did your last few shows win awards? Do you usually come under budget? Are you always on time? Are you the Queen/King of "making it work" no matter what the challenge? Do you come with top notch crew of your own? Would they get the best deal in Hollywood if they rented equipment from you? Have you done a show similar to what they're doing? In other words, why are you worth the rate you're asking for?
• Don't bitch about the deal you made. Once you agree to the terms, don't whine about them. You agreed to them. Don't make a deal and then complain the rest of the show about how you deserve more. You deserve what you negotiate. Don't like what's offered? Then don't take the deal. Walk away and move on. Let production find someone that'll be happy working for them and vise-versa.
That said, if you take the deal and things aren't as promised (ie: you're suddenly shooting nights out on the beach in San Pedro for six days a week when you were told you'd be on a stage in Hollywood the whole time), feel free to go back to the negotiating table. The terms have changed and so should your deal.
• And lastly, once you reach an agreement, get it all in writing. And know the rules.
* You probably can't negotiate this one with production on a bigger show, but who's to say you can't negotiate within your own department?