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Old April 21st, 2011, 02:55 PM   #1
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Documentary Edit - How to Charge

Hi all,

I'm an Australian editor and I've been offered a job working on an American feature length documentary for a company who has already shot most of the footage (on 7D) and needs an assembly.

We have not yet talked about money. When we do discuss it, I'm unsure of whether to tell them my hourly rate or to give them a kind of "package price" for completion.

This will be my first documentary (so a package price is something I'd just be guessing at) and my first work for an American client (so an approproate price that they'd be used to in their market is unknown to me (they're in Los Angeles)).

What do others advise?

Secondly, they may want me to fly to Los Angeles to do the work. That's all well and good but it means a few things: there's other jobs I have booked in Australia when they want me, which will cost me money to lose or outsource, and it means resigning from my other part time employment (which is ok by me if I can earn enough from the editing job). What is a typical arrangement fot this type of situation? Should I expect the comapany (which is very small) to fly me and put me up for the duration of the edit? Or is it expected that if I am offering to do the job that I am in turn offering to fly myself and pay rent for my stay in the U.S.?

Thanks for your help everyone,

-- John
John Hewat
Mammoth Media Productions
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Old April 21st, 2011, 07:25 PM   #2
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Re: Documentary Edit - How to Charge

IMHO you need to figure out some sort of package rate. Be it $10,000 USD or $1,000,000 USD (only throwing out numbers here-no real hard fact to any of the numbers just examples). In my mind it's how many hours of raw footage is there, what do they want from it, what is the finshed length supposed to be ETC ETC. It's tough but if you give them an hourly the first question I would ask is "how many hours will it take?" so you need to think this one out carefully.
As for travel and the like, when I have done work out of town that requires a stay be it overnight or longer the client takes care of those arrangements OR I do it but using the clients money. Since I prefer NOT sitting in coach when possible and staying at a nice hotel not the motel that charges by the hour I actually prefer to do it myself BUT I NEVER use my own money. I use theirs by figuring out my travel fees/costs and telling them what they are and getting the money upfront with the retainer but seperated in the form of 2 checks for instance so that money doesn't get confused with the retainer money. This way IF the job cancels at the last minute I'm not out the travel costs since many of them are not refundable especially airline tickets. Also small point but when you travel you still have to eat. I also charge a per diem fee. How many days am I gone X the fee is the number seperate from the rest of the charges. I seperate all the charges so if there is a question later either by the client or the taxing body (IRS) I can prove to them what the charges and fees are for.
As for the work you wouldn't be able to do while gone, well either you give it up or outsource it, keep a small percentage for being a middle man and be done with it. It soesn't seem like you could do both since the doco is being done here and the other there.
Just a few thoughts for ya.
Good luck
What do I know? I'm just a video-O-grafer.
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Old April 23rd, 2011, 08:02 PM   #3
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Location: Tucson AZ
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Re: Documentary Edit - How to Charge

Hmm - interesting point in Don's post - IRS. If you're doing the work here and getting paid here it seems to follow that you will pay taxes here as well, both to the IRS and to the state (or stateS) in which you do the work.

Which then opens the whole can of Social Security worms as well - not to mention appropriate work visa formalities.

Doing the work in Oz and getting paid in Oz sounds so much easier! Even if you have to come to the US for meetings etc.

Maybe if you are an Ozian business and they pay the company to do the work and you come here as an employee of the company on a business trip things will be easier. My clients are in Japan and they pay me in $ in the US and my trips to Japan are business trips and I'm not on the radar of the Japanese tax office, but I don't know how it works in the other direction, although some Japanese employees of my client came here for several months to work on a project and there were no big tax issues as they were paid in Japan.

I'm starting to recall that Oz doesn't try to tax citizens on overseas earnings EXCEPT in the US because the US DOES tax its citizens on overseas earnings so there are usually special reciprocal tax treaties in place.

This is all just rambling - you need to talk to a good tax guy who knows the peculiarities of the US tax system and how they would apply to you under several different potential arrangements.
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Old April 27th, 2011, 07:00 PM   #4
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Re: Documentary Edit - How to Charge

I cannot conceive of a situation where you would pay for your own travel expenses for a job like this. Don't do it - or have it be part of your fixed fee.

Editors have this major advantage - it's possible to do the work without actually going to the location. Take advantage of that. Though I will say if you are working closely with a producer or the rest of the team, sitting together and looking at the timeline is a major plus, especially in a documentary edit where you are constructing the narrative in the edit.
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Old April 27th, 2011, 09:04 PM   #5
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Re: Documentary Edit - How to Charge

I think I have to agree - a business trip every few weeks should suffice and will be a lot easier in the long run than camping here for several months - to say nothing of the tax implications.
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