Burning Money

The One Mistake that Cost Me $400

And getting paid to make films is about as good as it gets in this tiny world, so why would anyone want to screw that up? Well, to be honest, I didn't mean to. I didn't want to. It just... happened.

You and I both know that as much as we love filmmaking, there’s always the issue of money. You’re not in it for the cash, but you do need to make a living.

And getting paid to make films is about as good as it gets in this tiny world, so why would anyone want to screw that up? Well, to be honest, I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. It just… happened.

I’ll admit right now it was a really silly mistake (not my stupidest, though) and it cost me a whole $400.

5 Shots, 8 hours, 1 Day

I was sitting at home relaxing when I got a phone call to day-play on a commercial. The deal was pretty sweet: nearby location, an 8 hour day, and all I would have to do is show up, do a bit of focus pulling, and head on my merry way.

I was asked for my rate and I said $400.

“Perfect,” they told me. Usually I prepare for a bit of negotiating on rate, but whenever you get what you ask for, it makes things much easier for both sides of the table.

Side note: I know a lot of people who read this site are curious what the best rate is, what you should ask, or even what I ask as mine — it’s tricky. While I asked for $400 on this job, by no means is that my definitive rate. It changes depending on job circumstance, the opportunity involved, and where/what/why productions want to hire me. So don’t take $400 as gospel.

On the day of the commercial, I showed up early, I ate some breakfast and got situated with the camera before bringing it onto the set.

The shoot stood to be one of the easiest days I’ve ever had. The spot was 15 seconds long and would take only 5 shots — for the entire day!

For me that was cake. I’m used to kicking through 17 hour days, eating pizza at the end of them, and then sleeping 4 hours before going back for another 30 setups the next day.

5 shots + 8 hours = me robbing production of $400 for standing around a lot and touching the camera to hit record every now and then.

So what could I possibly do to screw this up? Did I kick over the camera because I was so bored? Did I drop a $5,000 lens on the ground and laugh about it? Or maybe you’re thinking I flirted with the actress too much.

Well what I really did was… none of those. I didn’t get fired at all. The day was wrapped, the crew and I got along great and exchanged contact info, and I drove home and went to sleep.

The mistake that cost me $400 wouldn’t come until later.

How Not to Pay Yourself $400

The standard practice on most short gigs is to invoice a producer, production manager or similar higher-up to get your cash. This is a brief exchange of paperwork in which you remind them to pay you and they take your invoice as a receipt for the work you did on the production.

My one, super simple, bang-your-head-against-the-wall mistake was that I never took the time to do this.

I know — it sounds really dumb and really simple. And truthfully, it is. I will readily admit this was such a screw up on my part that I deserve all the crap from you in the comments.

But I want you to know about this so you realize that organization and being on top of things is part of working in this industry too: I was not on top of my paperwork, I was very disorganized, and three weeks after the shoot I simply hadn’t invoiced anyone.

It’s all a part of freelancing to have to deal with these kind of dull tasks.

“I’ve got to do that this week,” I kept thinking. Then I was gone away from home and my computer where my invoice files were for the good part of the next month. It seemed I only ever remembered was when I was away.

This cycle went on for awhile before it became apparent that I missed my opportunity. To send the invoice in months later would’ve been tacky, looked severely unprofessional, and I doubt I would’ve gotten paid at all.

I swallowed the pill and lost $400.

Letting Money Burn Away

Because it was only for a day of work — an easy one at that — I let it slide, but I really shouldn’t have. There should be an extra $400 sitting in my bank account right now, but there isn’t and it’s totally my fault.

I could’ve reinvested that money on a new laser measuring device, a pouch, or paid off a few bills. Instead I pretty much threw it into a garbage can and lit it on fire.

You work hard to get paid good money, so when you forget to invoice, you’re doing a real disservice to yourself and to your career.

Don’t make the same mistake that I did.

Make your invoices easy to send and do them immediately when you return home from a shoot. The longer you procrastinate, the more likely you are to forget about the paperwork and get caught up in your next gig.

  • Tiger_roll

    Been there done that

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Your club membership card is in the mail

  • Jaysonwilko

    Never forgot to invoice, but once had a producer “lose” my invoice.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Sounds very suspicious…

  • 1st time 1st ac

    I wonder who is supposed to yell “ROLLING!” is it the 1st ac or the DOP?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hi there — your comment is a little off topic and probably belongs on another post! But nonetheless, I think the 1st AC should say “rolling”

  • Teddysmith

    I would have definitely sent the invoice in no matter how late. I am the worst at invoicing and its not unusual for me to wait a month or two. Usually when my bank account gets low I look back over my calendar and see who I can invoice for some money. Producers don’t seem to mind late invoices. It just means they can hang on to your money longer.

    Regarding rate, it’s entirely dependent on how busy I am, how bored I am, how broke I am, or how much I want that credit on my resume or that shot in my reel. Also, is it in town or out of town? Is there an overtime rate? Is there a kit rental, mileage, or anything else I can use to get a little more?

    One thing I like about union jobs is the rate has already been negotiated for me and I can either take it or leave it.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Unfortunately I wasn’t invoicing a producer or production company but an individual since I was filling in for him on the shoot. At this point, I have considered it lost money.

      Yeah rate, unless it is a union job, is a complicated mix of factors. It’s sort of like being an alchemist. Sometimes you just arrive at a number and it seems worth it!

  • Jaysonwilko

    Speaking of invoices. Does anyone know any apps for iPhone or Android that can generate an invoice instantly?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Check out this one: Wrap Time http://wraptimeapp.com/

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7717548 Lawrence Marshall

      Are film invoices any different than a standard invoice in any way?

      • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

        Nope they’re as simple or as complicated as you want them to be. I whipped mine up in Excel in about an hour cause I wanted to integrate a nice looking header, but it’s not necessary.

  • Steveo

    I get invoices done 24-48hrs of the last day. if you want to get paid promptly, it starts with a quick invoice.  to that end, this week, I’ve gone 90 days on getting paid from a national network. they have lost my W9 4 times before some one called me, and I faxed it to them while I was one the phone. amazing… check should be in the mail.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      It is amazing how sometimes the money gets held back for so long and it can be a real detriment, especially when you’re fronting costs sometimes for travel/gas, expendables, etc.

  • Bee

    I have a tip for you, a booked day has the color red in the agenda, when a job is done and a invoice is send, mark it green…

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Is this a digital or paper agenda you keep?

      • Schumacher Bjorn

        I always use the google agenda in my gmail account. It very easy to use and you. An share it with co workers so they can see when u r availebel. You can make multiple agendas in one account and set the one on private and the other one on shared. In this way you can hide details for your job. I mark an occupied day in my shared agenda as ‘Booked’

        • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

          Ah yes, I use Google Agenda for other stuff, but just started doing it. I will have to consider tapping into it for jobs — is a great idea!

  • Michael Schneider

    Hey guys,

    first: Evan I really like reading your blog and appreciate the work you put into it. Keep it up!

    second and on topic:  I like doing my invoices with “On The Job” for Mac (http://stuntsoftware.com/onthejob/)  although there is no iOS counterpart. But the templates are easy to set up and even gives you enough space for a nice looking header ;-)

    Cheerio from Berlin!


    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks Michael! I checked out “On the Job” and it looks like a slick program. May have to consider it!

  • Dennis

    Your denying yourself $400 by not sending out a piece of paper/e-mail. I honestly don’t understand your logic or lack thereof.
    The worst it will do is remind whoever is paying you that you exist, and they may hire you again. If they haven’t hired you again it’s probably because they don’t want to remind you they haven’t paid up and your loosing your last payment and future jobs.

    By being late all it shows them is that you are busy and they $400 isn’t that much to you. Making you look like a valuable asset.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan


      It is slightly more complicated, I think, than it is implied in the article because while I worked for a production company, I was going through an individual for the invoice. Basically, the prod company was paying him and then he was going to pay me. So, that makes things a bit more complicated since it is a personal invoice.

      You might be right about reminding them that I exist and no harm, no foul, but I decided I would rather not be the jerk who expects to get paid months down the line — especially from one guy.

      I’m not advising anyone to take the same route I did and perhaps, in certain situations, a late invoice isn’t bad at all.

      I disagree with your statement that being late shows that you’re busy and makes you look valuable. I think, honestly, it makes you look unprofessional, unorganized, and unable to keep up with the basic requirements of being a freelancer. At least that is the perception I would have if I were a producer.

  • Gatorfilms

    Once I made the same mistake, and contacted my client and explained the situation. They verified that I wasn’t paid, and sent me a check after I sent them the invoice. This was many months later. Send the bill, even now, regardless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Waterman/24405657 John Waterman

    I agree, contact the production company, explain the situation, and send an invoice. just because you were busy don’t change the fact that you are owed. You let them hold on to your money and make interest off of it.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Well it’s a personal contact who I would be invoicing — another AC who is not associated with the production company at all.

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  • http://www.diyfilmschool.net/ DIYFilmSchool.net

    Evan, how far into your career was this? I’ve forgotten for a couple of days to invoice, but it’s not something I put off like it sounds like you may have.

    Hopefully over the course of time you’ve made far more PER DAY than this one gig afforded you.

    In terms of invoicing clients, when working with people overseas like I do, the time difference is a factor in terms of promptly submitting an invoice, but a better piece of advice I can give is upon the second or third communication regarding a gig, find out from your contact what the best method is for receiving payment from them and then give them all the information they’ll need to accomplish that. I even give overseas clients a couple of methods to use for convenience.

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  • Cristiana Apostol

    It is never too late to invoice… Even if it is a contact. Explain it to him and tell him to let you know when it’s a good time for you to send that invoice – that way you won’t be putting pressure on him to pay up if he doesn’t have the funds. Not tying up lose ends seems way more unprofessional than tying them up late, at least in my opinion.