Empowering Yourself and Others by Talking About Industry Rates

Posted on: Oct 03, 2023

film set convoPhoto Credit: Pro-stock Studio // Shutterstock

By Kealey McGray

Have you ever noticed when discussing rates or salaries in the entertainment industry, people tend to become evasive or secretive? It’s understandable. It’s a sensitive subject, and may not be appropriate in certain circumstances. However, when it comes to your peers working in similar positions in your field or with similar titles, having mutual transparency of your salary or rate can be extremely beneficial.

Why Discussing Rates Matters

The more we can open up the conversation around compensation, the more informed we will be when negotiating or accepting employment offers. You may already have a general idea of what the role you are interviewing for typically offers in terms of pay, and spending a bit of time researching online is always a great idea. Yet, the information you’ll find, especially when it comes to the entertainment industry and freelance roles, is likely to be limited and may not provide enough necessary context. 

If you can speak to peers, friends, colleagues, coworkers or even managers who may have previously held your title, you will be able to gather information to more accurately prepare yourself and position yourself for a fair rate. It’s important to not only learn what others in similar roles are being paid, but also to compare job duties, length of their professional experience and to know the size and scope of the show or company they are working for. Union jobs will typically have more clearly defined rates than non-union jobs, but in either case there is often a wide range that depends on a myriad of factors. 

Remember that a coworker or colleague receiving fair pay does not negatively affect you. By setting the bar higher, everyone else is likely to benefit. The only people who truly benefit from keeping compensation a secret are those who want to pay you as little as possible. If someone is open to discussing transparency of pay, consider it a green flag.

Navigating the Conversation

When it comes to discussing rates, there is an appropriate time and place. Chatting about your compensation on-set is not likely to go over well. It’s best to have these conversations off the clock.

Once you have worked in the entertainment industry for a while you are likely to have built a network of contacts you may be able to share with. Ideally, you should approach the conversation in a private setting with friends or coworkers you have an established relationship with. A simple question like, “Are you comfortable discussing our pay?” should get the ball rolling.

If you are still relatively new to the industry, it is also okay to ask someone if they would mind providing some guidance in terms of salary or rate ranges, but they may not be comfortable sharing their personal pay or exact numbers. If you are unable to have a confidential conversation, another great way to gather this information is through online groups or professional organizations.

Empowerment Through Knowledge

The obvious reason to discuss rates is to be better informed about how your own compensation compares and to know what number may be appropriate to request when walking into a new job interview. 

If you have started out on a certain career path, it is helpful to know what kind of raises you may expect over the years when promoted. It is also extremely important to compare your workload to similar roles to see if you are being fairly compensated for your time. Some positions may offer hourly rates, daily rates, weekly rates or annual salaries. This is important context to have when breaking down your own pay in comparison. In some cases, an hourly role may benefit the worker if there is a significant amount of overtime. In others, a flat rate or salary is best.

Once you start having these conversations you may quickly learn that you have been underpaid in the past, or on the flip side, maybe you have been fortunate with your compensation so far. Either way, this information can only help you and your peers to be better informed for future negotiations. If you discover you’re being underpaid for your experience and position, this is a good opportunity to have an open discussion with your boss or re-evaluate the type of roles you look for and negotiations you have before taking your next gig.

Building Professional Relationships

In the entertainment industry, building strong professional relationships is crucial to a sustainable career. Being open to sharing important information regarding your role and compensation creates trust and camaraderie between you and your peers. 

Remember, it’s not you versus them. A perfect example of this type of relationship building are some of the groups that industry professionals have formed to collaborate. This includes anything from Facebook groups to professional organizations and unions. In these communities you can often find job postings and career advice, as well as a group of people ready and willing to share their rate or salary information. For example, one of the organizations I am a member of keeps a working shared doc of their freelancer’s current titles, the show or studio and the rate they accepted for the position. This has allowed other members to easily reference and compare, as well as to ensure no one accepts an excessively low rate.

Whether you are a member in numerous organizations, or you simply decide to take the initiative to start the conversation with coworkers at your current company, there are many ways to gather information about industry rates. The more you learn and share, the more confident you will be walking into each new interview or annual review and the stronger your professional relationships will become. The more we foster transparency, the more we can all succeed.

Kealey McGray studied Creative Writing and Film & Television at the University of Michigan. She has worked in almost every part of the entertainment industry for the past 14 years including live TV, unscripted TV, and scripted TV, as well as independent films, commercials, events/concerts, and for a major Hollywood studio.

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