What Should You Be Paid as a Member of the Film Crew?
To calculate a crew member’s day rate, there are four considerations to take into account, which we’ll cover in this article:
- Is the crew member union or non-union?
- What tier does the budget fall under?
- Is the production filming in a ‘Production City’?
- What is the length of the shoot day?
Film Crew Unions
The first thing to determine with any film or video project is if it is signatory to a union or is a non-union production. The union has negotiated minimum rates for its members. If the production is not affiliated with a union, then using standard union rates can be a good guide to determine your worth, even if it is not guaranteed that you will be paid commercial rates.
There are several unions that oversee the interests of the film industry crew.
- IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees)
- DGA (Directors Guild of America)
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees represents workers in the entertainment industry. IATSE represents virtually all behind the scenes workers necessary to the functioning of the entertainment industry.
Within the U.S. and Canada, there are more than 375 IATSE local unions whose members make up the rank and file of the IATSE. The IATSE local unions are organized to represent workers by geographic and craft jurisdiction.
Each local functions independently, maintaining their own Constitution and By-Laws, elections, dues structure, membership meetings, and more. Locals negotiate labor contracts regarding wages, work rules, and grievance procedures.
Major Local Union List:
- Affiliated Property Craftspersons (Local No. 44)
- Motion Picture Studio Grips (Local No. 80)
- Affiliated Property Craftspersons (Local No. 44)
- International Cinematographers Guild (Local .600)
- IATSE Production Sound Technicians, Television Engineers, Video Assist Technicians and Studio Projectionists (Local No. 695)
- Motion Picture Editors Guild (Local No.700)
- Motion Picture Costumers (Local .705)
- Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists (Local No.706)
- Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians (Local No. 728)
- Motion Picture Set Painters and Sign Writers (Local No. 729)
- Art Directors Guild (Local No. 800)
- The Animation Guild (Local No. 839)
- Script Supervisors/Continuity, Coordinators, Accountants & Allied Production Specialists Guild (Local No. 871)
- Motion Picture Studio Teachers and Welfare Workers (Local No. 884)
- Costume Designers Guild (Local No. 892)
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The Tier System
For the union film crew, day rates can be broken down into high budget productions and low budget productions. Within the low budget productions, there are tiers of payment.
This allows the union to distinguish between low, lower, lowest and ultra low budget union films.
IASTE developed this system to allow producers to regulate wages and adjust them based on project type and the overall budget of the film. Using this system, lower budget films can set the rates based on budget limitations without exploiting the workers compensation.
The tiers are determined by the following budget ranges (1/1/20 – 12/31/22):
Production vs. Non-Production Cities
Within the 3 Tiers (not including the Ultra Low Budget), there is a divide between “production cities” and “non-production cities”. This determines the amount of money that is paid to the crew, with the cities that see less production receiving a slightly lower hourly and day rate.
Production cities are:
- Los Angeles
- New York
- San Francisco
- St. Louis
- Washington, D.C.
Length of the Shoot Day
Day rates can differ based on the amount of hours worked in a day. Here is the breakdown of how wages are calculated on a shoot day:
If you know the length of your shoot days up front, you can calculate the day rate for each crew member using the following formulas:
Film Crew Day Rates 2021 Tier Chart
With “Ultra Low Budget Film”, one with at least fifteen days of scheduled principal photography whose production costs do not exceed a budget of two million and seven- hundred fifty thousand dollars ($2,750,000), the wage rates for covered employees are negotiated with the employee provided however the rates are not less than one-hundred twenty-five percent (125%) of the applicable state statutory minimum wage and overtime shall be computed and paid in compliance with applicable state law.
Here is the 2020-2022 Low Budget Theatrical Agreement broken down by hourly day rates for film crew 2021: (any rate “subject to Negotiation” or “STN” shall be greater than any key rate, meaning department heads or key employees).
Example Day Rate Calculation
Confused yet? Utilizing the charts provided in this article, it’s easy to determine the standard rate for any crew member.
For example, let’s say we’re hiring a Key Grip for a 10 hour day on a union shoot in New York. The budget for the film is coming in at $10,000,000.
Since a $10,000,000 budget would fall under a Tier Two budget, we’ll check the hourly rate for a key grip using the film crew tier chart. Additionally, since the film shoots in New York, we’ll reference the ‘Production Cities’ number.
Based on the chart, the Key Grip’s hourly rate should be $37.77.
Next, calculate the daily rate by referencing the day rate chart above.
$37.77 x 11 = $415.47
And there you have it. The union rate for a key grip comes in at just over $400 per day.
Directors, Assistant Directors & Unit Production Managers
The Directors Guild of America is a labor organization that represents the creative and economic rights of directors and members of the directorial team working in film, television, commercials, documentaries, news, sports and new media. In film, this includes Directors, Assistant Directors and Unit Production Managers.
Director High Budget Minimum Chart
Director Low Budget Minimum Chart
Unit Production Manager and Assistant Directors
The Motion Picture and Theatrical Trade Division of the Teamsters represents thousands of workers in the motion picture industry, including firms that produce feature films, television programs, commercials and live theatrical productions. The division’s Teamsters in the industry include drivers and other transportation professionals, animal wranglers, casting directors, location scouts and others. In Hollywood, the teamsters union is local 399.
The Non-Union Film Crew
When you are working on a non-union production, the only protection you have in terms of a minimum salary is applicable state law. The best way to know what is a fair wage for any department is to look at what the union has determined is the minimum amount for the budget of the production. This will give you a range of what to expect when you are negotiating your salary.
Remember that if you are a crew member that is also expected to provide your kit (such as camera, electrical, audio or grip), you should charge extra for the rental. For standard equipment rental rates comparison, you should visit several rental house websites.
If you are working in cities outside of New York or Los Angeles, you may want to research local film community websites or state film commissions for resources and comparative rates. For example, if you were seeking work in Atlanta, the Georgia Film Office is a wealth of information.
It is also valuable to know if you are living and working in a right-to-work state. A right-to-work state is a state that does not require union membership as a condition of employment. In other states, a person applying for a job where the employees are unionized could be required to join the union as a requirement of being hired. There are 28 states with right-to-work laws: Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. West Virginia legislation is pending.