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!
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.