4 Tips for Negotiating Pay Rates

Posted on: Mar 30, 2023

A man fanning out several hundred and twenty dollar bills.Photo Credit: Photo credit: Hammarby Studios / iStock

By Tamarra Thomas

You just got off the phone with a line producer and you got the gig…congratulations! The problem is, they presented you with a pay rate below your normal fee. How do you deal with this situation?

Here are my top money-making negotiating skills for you to try on your next project:

Know your value

The first thing you need to do before asking for more money is to understand your role and what you offer. Knowing your value and being able to bring that on production is key in asking for more money. Learn the project and ask as many questions as you can to give you a good understanding of your responsibilities during all aspects on-set, be it pre-production, production and/or post.

When I was starting out on set, I worked as a crafty. Before I started, I asked what the production company expected from me. I would have to plan all meals and snacks, shop for them, serve them and clean up—the list of duties was long! When I was given a rate I wasn’t happy with, I reached back out explaining the (wo)man hours it would take, why I could do it the best, and why I’m a valuable player to the team.  After a few days of negotiating, I was told I would be able to get an extra half-day rate for prep, and paid gas mileage with proof of receipt.

When asking for more money, lead with your value and break down responsibilities and why you know your payment should represent that.

Know the industry rates

Having an understanding of industry rates is just as key as knowing your value. Check out Staff Me Up’s Industry Rate Search tool. It’s a great database to find out industry pay rates refined by your position, state, union status and more.

As a freelancer, the more aware I am of what the industry rates are, the easier it is to negotiate my rates during early interviews using information about real base pay per job. Combine that with the value I bring on set, then I can always ask for more.

Negotiate everything

Based on what you know about the project, you may be able to ask for more than money. As a freelancer, keep in mind what we do is a business, and working on a production doesn’t mean you get to lose out on the great benefits a 9 to 5 could offer.

Freelancers can tap into not only tax deductibles but negotiate a list of work-related benefits that could easily increase your rate and comfortability on-set. Here are a few things that are always on the table to negotiate on your next production:

  • Mileage
  • Per diem
  • Health benefits
  • Rental car coverage
  • Housing accommodations
  • Union status
  • Kit rental
  • Laptop and cell phone usage
  • Child care reimbursement


Be ok with a “no”

Negotiation is an open invitation for a “yes” or a “no.” As we all strive for a “yes,” we can be hit with a “no” that can feel like a setback, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are some things to think about when you get a “no”:

  • Take time to ask why. Have an authentic conversation and learn more about the project’s setbacks. This can put things into perspective, as some projects simply don’t have extra funds.
  • Are your needs being met? Reflect on your needs and see if the production is still a good fit. If the rate was a deal breaker, you may need to step away from the production. However, if you were not given the extra pay, but got the kit rental fee taken care of, that could be the win you needed.
  • Learn from it. This experience can prepare you for the next project. Learn what worked, what didn’t and try again. For me, usually jumping on a call or a Zoom works. Talking to a producer face to face has always proven to be better than sending a long email. Another thing that works is breaking down my needs, and the benefits the production will get because of it. No matter what, the producer has to protect the budget and script. Explaining why an additional prep day will help you get all props back without having to work overtime may benefit the production. A few things that ended up not working for me were taking a rate that I knew was not enough. Being underpaid can lead to feeling undervalued and an overall bad mood on set. Also comparing another project usually doesn’t work for me. Every production’s budget is different, so knowing how to explain your needs better than making a producer feel bad for being cheap might help you in the negotiation stage. Overall, each production has highlights and pain points, so don’t let setbacks prevent you from negotiating on your next project. You’ll be surprised when you get your next “yes”!

So, there you have it—you’ve now got the tips, and the tools, to help you negotiate your pay rate. Good luck!

Tamarra Thomas has both worked on the production side as a full time employee and as a freelancer. She does incredible work.
Photo courtesy of Tamarra Thomas.
Tamarra is an Impact Producer from Sparta Michigan. Her love of film began when she was in high school leading in both theater and student news. Since then Tamarra has worked on award-winning features and documentaries. Her love for narrative work and community goes hand in hand. Her goal is to create impactful films that influence and expands the creative mindset.

Ready to practice these negotiation skills on your next gig? Find it now on Staff Me Up.

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