How To Talk Money Without Looking Bad

Tarantino. Daniel Craig. Keira Knightley.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me introduce a topic that scares filmmakers and screenwriters: Money. Especially how you ask for money.

How Much Money?

I know it’s hard to decide how much to ask for. When you are talking about how to price your time, your services or your script it’s really important how you present yourself.

Communicating what you cost is as important a task as the actual work that you deliver. And of course, you will have to be good at pitching.

Don’t shirk it!

How to Name Your Price Without Scaring People Away

The way you price yourself can be as engaging as anything else you speak about. When you first engage with a new client, producer or agent, the way you price yourself will help form part of the decision making process.

Stop worrying

Stop thinking that you need to hide your price from your potential client or collaborator. Reframe this as something you need to mention for the sake of your deal.

Like any good salesman, the way you present your pricing or payment structure with inform potential clients and help them make an informed decision. Provide a simple explanation of how you want to be paid. Think ahead of all the possible questions they could ask. Explain, don’t sell.

When do you ask?

There are two key times when a prospective client needs to know what kind of money you need.

– at the outset when they are trying to ball-park the cost (to see if they can afford you)
– at the end when they are financed and are trying to decide between you and someone else.

Both moments are key, but for very different reasons.

The first – because they are deciding whether or not they want to work with you. At this juncture they will also be trying to decide whether or not your skills are right for the job and whether or not your face fits. The money element needs to be there to help them inform their decision.

The second is important because this is when they are trying to finalise their budget. At this point they most likely have already decided to work with you. You can expect a lot of very detailed questions at this point as your potential client goes through their own budget and schedule nitty gritty.

He Or She Who Says A Number First Loses

Many people chose not to put their pricing on their website. There are many reasons to do this. How does a screenwriter price a short, a feature, a treatment? Besides there are Guild and Union guidelines on prices paid for these big ticket items.

For craft and trade people, I think it is a good idea to list daily or hourly rates. If you like, you can include a note that rates are subject to negotiation, ie: for a long job, or work for a charity and so on. Some people I know overstate their day rates on the theory it’s better to start at the top and ski downhill. This has a potential risk if you start too high – you may have priced yourself out of the market before you get a phone call or email.

As filmmakers we want to make our potential customers lives as easy as possible. The trick is to anticipate needs, explain your specific skills so when they are researching pricing it’s easy.

Best Practices For Naming Your Price

When you are setting out on the hunt for work, there are some simple guidelines that will keep you and your reputation pristine.

1) The devil is in the detail

Be very clear and simple in how much you are asking, and what a potential client can expect. But don’t give too much detail. You will overwhelm your client.

2) Value for money.

You are exchanging something of value for money. Make sure the client knows exactly what they are getting for the money paid. If you are offering a discount, make sure they understand this too. When you issue an invoice, make sure you detail all the different services you provided, and make sure the value you are charging for your services equal those mentioned on your website, or in conversations and emails.

3) Guide your clients to the right pricing structure

Once you have established the services you offer, help your prospective clients chose the pricing plan that suits them. For example, the Screen Actors Guild have a low budget provision where actors work on a much reduced rate. If your budget is higher, then the actor’s fees rise accordingly.

4) Have your answers ready

Everyone who contacts you about work will have been spending a lot of time on the net researching, as well as asking for personal recommendations.

You can turn this research into an advantage. For example, Christian Bell works here at Raindance and is a fabulous editor. When he found out that a common Google search phrase was “film editors” he wrote a great article called “6 Ways Film Directors Screw Editors” This page zoomed to the top of SEO on Google and for a while was one of the top pages on our website. In this article, Christian also cleverly explained how he works as an editor, and was swamped with work.

5) Reassure their decision.

Great to be working with you!
Wow – you are smart!
Doesn’t this feel good?
Man, you are smart!

In this context it never hurts to give proof to your new client to assure them that out of all the competition out there they have made the best possible choice. Use the concept of social proof. Simply stated, social proof is the concept that if other people are doing, then you should too.

Here is where you can remind people of past people you have worked for, testimonials from past clients, and results and awards you have been given. You can include case studies as well.

If you have an established social media profile, you can offer to throw that weight behind your project, as British cinematographer does with his 60,000 @PhilipBloom Twitter feed.

6) Be web friendly.

It’s so easy to forget that film is a collaborative art form. Your proposals, pricing structures, videos and other material will need to be emailed to many different members of the team. Please make sure that these items are easily emailed and shared.

I’d love to hear from your experiences in asking for money. What are the challenges you have faced and how did you solve them?



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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