HOW MUCH SHOULD I
SHOULD I EARN?
A guide for low-budget independent filmmakers.
Working out what to pay people can be tricky – same as knowing
how much money to ask for on a low budget production. Neither
side wants to be unreasonable and both sides want British talent to
emerge triumphant from a creative and innovative low budget film
We can’t tell you how much money each role should have on every
production, but we can provide you with the following guide to
- what the unions think payment should be
- common practice in low budget film productions
- what the law says
Where appropriate we also point you to what we think best
practice should be.
This guide does not cover insurance or health and safety practices
but we take the opportunity to remind everyone that these are the
essentials on every production and should be in every budget
Basically: Every Deal Is A Negotiation
…as long as it is within the law. The union bodies have
pay scales they heavily recommend – they are only
obligatory where there are legally binding agreements (eg
actors working for the terrestrial tv companies must be
paid equity minimums) but as an independent low budget
filmmaker the only law that probably applies to you is the
minimum wage so we will start there.
National Minimum Wage helpline - 0845 600 0678.
Aged 22 and over is currently set at £5.35
Making a 10 hour day minimum = £53.50
And a 40 hour week = £214
18-21 year olds is currently set at £4.45
Making a 40 hour week = £178
16-17 years olds is £3.30 an hour
Making a 40 hour week = £132
WHEN DOES MINIMUM WAGE LEGISLATION APPLY TO
What’s confusing in this area is that Minimum Wage legislation
only applies to EMPLOYEES not FREELANCERS. In film very
often everyone is a freelancer (ie they are not being paid PAYE but
are responsible for their own tax).
In general the assumption is that vulnerable workers are going to
be employees at the bottom of an organisation whereas
freelancers are more likely to be professionals and therefore less
in need of the protection of the minimum wage and free to
negotiate unpaid collaboration if they wish. However as we all
know, on any film shoot there will be a number of juniors – runners
and assistants – who may only be working a few days but who are
in need of protection from exploitation even if the more senior crew
are perfectly happy to work for free.
So does that mean that if everyone is treated as a freelancer,
minimum wage does not apply? The answer is MAYBE. HM
Revenue and Customs may decide that you have ILLEGALLY
called someone a freelancer who is in fact an employee. They say
that only the “genuinely self-employed” are exempt.
WHEN IS SOMEONE SELF-EMPLOYED?
A self-employed person is meant to be registered with HM
Revenue and Customs within 3 months of becoming self-employed
(or else risk a £100 fine).
HM Revenue and Customs has the following test on their site for
judging whether a particular job can come under self-employment:
“If you can answer 'Yes' to all of the following questions, it will
usually mean you are self-employed.
* Can you hire someone to do the work for you or engage
helpers at your own expense?
* Do you risk your own money?
* Do you provide the main items of equipment you need to do
your job, not just the small tools many employees provide for
* Do you agree to do a job for a fixed price regardless of how
long the job may take?
* Can you decide what work to do, how and when to do the work
and where to provide the services?
* Do you regularly work for a number of different people?
* Do you have to correct unsatisfactory work in your own time
and at your own expense?
Casual, or part-time working
The same considerations to determine employment status will
apply even if you work part-time or on a casual basis. Unless you
can answer 'Yes' to the self-employed questions above, you will
normally be an employee.
If you have more than one job, or you work for a number of
different people for a few days or weeks at a time you will need to
answer the questions above for each job. Remember, just because
you are employed or self-employed in one job, it doesn't
necessarily mean you will be in another job”.
As the employer, it will be your responsibility to correctly assess
whether people are self-employed.
So there are 2 issues here:
1) In what circumstances can someone genuinely be called a
2) When should you take the responsibility of protecting your
junior crew from working unpaid, even if the law means you
can do it?
!BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION!
On micro-budgets: try to make the National Minimum Wage
your minimum payment for everyone on the film. And even if
you pay key creatives like the DoP more money (or on the
other hand key creatives do it for free because they love your
project) try to cover all your actors and crew including
runners with at least a £53.50 a day fee. Budgeting like this
from the beginning will make it easier to make it a reality.
Unpaid collaborations are within the law – such as amateur
dramatic societies where audiences pay for tickets but the
company agree to work unpaid because they enjoy collaborating –
but, as usual, there is some grey area.
If a registered company asks someone to sign a contract then they
are employing them and must pay at least the minimum wage (see
If the filmmakers are not a registered company and their
collaborators do not sign contracts, in theory they are not obligated
to turn up everyday, it can be said that they are not employed
because it is a collaboration. The producer and director can still tell
people what to do and where to be, but it’s not employment if the
person doesn’t contractually have to stay on set. Also even if one
or more of the people working on the project are actually being
employed, it doesn’t mean that everyone is classified as an
!BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION!
If you engage in a genuine collaboration like this, we
recommend that your crew sign a copyright waiver to make
sure that you retain 100% of the film’s copyright and are able
to distribute it. <Download the copyright waiver here>.
If you need more than the promise of free collaboration to tempt
key cast members or heads of department to come on board
(DOP, Camera people, Line Producer, Designer) you can engage
them as a shareholder in the film.
To do this you would need a shareholder letter of status to indicate
what percentage stake they have in the film. This can become
complex and should be drafted with legal advice, so deferred
payments might be a more straightforward option (see below).
!BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION!
If you go seeking unpaid collaborators for your project on
Shooting People on elsewhere you need to think about the
quality of the experience you are offering to people to make
them want to turn up everyday and collaborate with you. Give
clear guidance and thought into what they will be doing and
learning. Also remember you need to spend longer
explaining who you are, and what the project is and what you
hope will happen to it – if you aren’t hiring people as
employees, you need them to be sold on working with you on
WORK EXPERIENCE PLACEMENTS
Can be good for all involved as long as it isn’t used to blatantly
exploit in-experienced young people looking to learn more about
working in film i.e. make sure that there are some genuine benefits
to them working for you for free.
But you need to be aware that Dti rules on work experience have
changed recently (2005) and that individuals on work experience
placements should now be paid the national minimum wage,
unless they meet the HMRC definition of a volunteer (see below).
Skillset is currently working on a “Do’s and don’ts” guide and
PACT have amended their code to Work Experience:
The key change refers to what legally constitutes an unpaid work
experience placement. The code now states:
A work experience person who is:
* not on a placement as part of a recognised college course;
* is over 16; and
* is expected to obey instructions
should be paid at least the national minimum wage.
Any duties on unpaid work experience placements that are not part
of a formal educational course (the exposure to the industry for
completely inexperienced individuals interested in learning what
the work is like) should be entirely voluntary and the placement
should always be very short in duration, no more than 2 weeks.”
A full length version of the code can be downloaded here
So if someone is entirely voluntary (i.e. not receiving national
minimum wage) then the law says:
"For someone to be a volunteer they must give their time and effort
completely free. There must be no obligation on either the person
to do the work or the employer to provide the work. The volunteer
must not be under the direction of the employer during the time
other than in connection with mandatory statutory obligations, eg in
connection with health and safety. They can come and go as they
Pre-16 & post-16 placements are not paid placements but need to
be arranged as part of a course with the school, college or
university and there are legal requirements on how placements are
structured and what benefits are offered to students as they are
protected by educational law.
There are several different types of deferred pay – sometimes
crew get paid nothing up front with 100% deferred. More
commonly they get something, 30% of wages up front (or national
minimum wage – whichever is greater). Then once the money
comes in they either get paid the remainder of their fee, more than
their fee as a reward for risking not getting paid (like 150% or
200% of their fee) or they get a % of the films receipts or profits.
% of receipts or profit is the most complex and time consuming
deferred method and means everyone needs to trust your
accounting! There are few examples of this paying off for crew.
Another issue when offering or accepting deferred pay is where in
the order your payment will come. Crew get paid after the cash
costs have been recovered, but do they get paid before or after
investors get their cut and producers take theirs? Could make the
difference between being paid or not!
There are many examples of low-budget films being made on
deferred payments, but the main thing to remember is that you still
need this to be a legal arrangement to protect all involved from
potential disagreements if a film does become financially
Quite sensibly, most writers, actors or crew will only accept no-
pay, low-pay, expenses only, deferred payment or profit-share
projects where no other individual stands to make a financial gain
from their involvement in the project.
The Relph Report by the UK Film Council (2003) looked at “rising
costs of films in the £2 million - £4 million bracket” and “proposed
ways of bringing budgets down to a more sustainable level to
stimulate better opportunities for filmmakers and more work for
crews and suppliers” but this was balanced by some healthy
criticism from the BECTU response
THE WRITERS GUILD OF GREAT BRITAIN
who are they and what do they say?
“The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is the trade union representing
writers in TV, radio, theatre, books, poetry, film and video games.
In TV, film, radio and theatre, the Guild is the recognised body for
negotiating minimum terms and practice agreements for writers” –
from their site.
In 1992 they signed an agreement with PACT which PACT
members must abide by. Since there has been no update since,
they advise a 35% update on those rates.
The agreement has a category for films with budgets under
The Total Guaranteed Fee is £18,900 for either worldwide
theatrical rights or two UK network television transmission.
This is broken down as
£1350 for starting the treatment
£1350 for delivering the treatment
£4725 for starting the first draft
£4725 for delivering the first draft
£1620 for starting the second draft
£1620 for delivering the second draft
£3510 on first day of principal photography
WHAT DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY PAY WRITERS?
This usually comes down to individuals deals between writers (or
their agents) and producers.
Here’s some examples from writers agents of fees on low-budget
For a film budgeted at £250,000 the finished script was sold for
£8,500 (3.4%) plus a further 7% of the producers gross earnings.
If profits are not seen within three years, further sums payable to
the writer would be negotiated at a later stage.
The aim is to negotiate a purchase script price which is:
2-3% of the production budget BUT an absolute bottom line
minimum fee of £5000 for new writers
And it is common practice to offer a fair proportion of future
successes (i.e. 5-10% of producers net profits)
This would cover writing a script from scratch with two drafts and
buy the ancillary rights i.e. radio, stage, novelisation, pre-
quel/sequel but with 1st option to write BUT excludes merchandise
rights which can be covered by an additional fee of 33% of the
purchase script price.
Further drafts would have to be negotiated at an extra fee
dependent on the overall script price.
Negotiate around 30% of the script fee to be paid in advance, the
rest due on the first day of principle photography (or on producer
receiving additional financing) or whatever reasonable
arrangement suits dependent on length of writing stage. A writer
has to live on something while they write!
who are they and what do they say?
Equity is the actors Trade Union. They negotiate pay scales with
organizations like PACT and the BBC. These are published on
The current film minimums are (but working hours limitations
Daily Rate 100 for 10 hours work with a 1 hour break.
Weekly Rate 400
PLUS either a % of income or gross receipts from all sources. The
idea being you pay them to do the film but if it sells well and then
makes TV and DVD/VOD money the actors share in that too.
Night work is paid at 50% extra
Overtime is one third of the day rate per hour (so minimum of £33
an hour or part of an hour)
Interestingly, their internet-only rates are higher than for film: Daily
Rate : £125 and Weekly Rate: £625 for five working days.
BUY-OUTS – this is when the producer secures all rights up front
to avoid having to calculate and pay % of income later. Equity
strongly advises it’s members not to accept buy-out contracts but
many do – as do many non-Equity members.
WHAT DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY PAY ACTORS
As with all other creatives and technical crew involved on a film,
actors are in a position where they are often forced to choose
between only accepting their standard Equity or union rates and
forgoing work on much smaller productions or taking the risk on
the combined talent of producer, director, writers and crew and
becoming a collaborator in a project which they believe will
enhance their showreel and experience.
But this means negotiating one of the following:
• a deferred payment
• a percentage in the profits
• or often no pay at all, except food, travel/accomodation
expenses and a copy of the finished film
And the figures for these will depend on the length of shooting
dates, other talent involved and the likely critical success of a
project to persuade an actor to give up their time and talents for
little or no money.
There are many well known examples of actors working for
deferred payments (Full Monty; English Patient – both had actors
suing and most producers will say that there are no fixed rules on
how much to pay but that often deferrals are the only way to get
some films made.
BECTU – who are they and what do they say?
BECTU (Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre
Union) is an independent union. It represents 27,000 members
working in broadcasting, film, theatre, entertainment and
interactive media who are primarily based in the United Kingdom.
The union represents permanently employed, contract and
freelance workers within these sectors. Membership is voluntary,
and anyone working or seeking employment in the sectors covered
by BECTU can apply for membership.
BECTU have drawn up a Freelancers Rate Card in association
with the producers association PACT (latest started July 1st 2006)
which divides all jobs into 12 different categories with sliding pay
scales covering different length working days (8-12 hours) -and
weeks (40-72 hours). That chart is copied at the end of this
document or available here:
Do people pay BECTU rates?
PAYING MORE THAN BECTU MINIMUMS
The rate card is meant to set out the minimums and in fact
experienced crew can usually negotiate higher fees than are set
out here. For example Make Up and Hair Artists have a minimum
of only £556 for a 40 hour week and Casting Directors minimum is
only £591 which many will exceed by far.
In addition the rate card does NOT cover any of the heads of
departments – Directors of Photography, Camerapeople, Line
Producers, Production Designers etc. These are grouped into the
final category, number 13, on the assumption their fees are
negotiated on an individual basis above the category 12 fees
which start at £721 a week for 40 hours and rise to £1262 for 72
PAYING LESS THAN MINIMUMS
It’s also true that these key creatives can be easier to persuade to
do a low-budget project at a huge discount to their usual rates or
take deferred payment, if it’s the right project for them creatively.
They are less likely as a group to accuse a producer of trying to
exploit them or undermine their pay scales - they will simply say
yes or no to such an offer.
As for general crew rates, research among industry producers
suggests that it is very difficult to give examples of standard rates
that apply to low-budget films as the factors that determine crew
rates are very different from one project to the next:
• Does it have commercial or festival potential?
• Is additional financing likely or already in negotiation
• Is it a chance to work with recognised talent?
• How long is the project - a few days or a few weeks?
• Is it an opportunity to increase experience in a particular
area i.e. good for the CV/showreel
Because of this the most common practice seems to be a
combination of reduced rate and deferral along these lines:
• Collaboration i.e. nothing if it's really short and/or a
potentially well received project
• 30-50% usual fee in total (i.e. with no deferral payment)
• 30% with remainder as deferred payment
And these will be negotiated dependant on the factors mentioned
The general feeling is that BECTU are pragmatic about the
difficulties with low-budget projects and for a 1st time feature
project they’re likely to be more lenient about enforcing minimum
rates, but as your career advances to a second or third production
you’ll be expected to work within these rates as they have been
agreed by the industry you are now a part of.
Traditionally work for very little. The next step up for them is to be
a second or third assistant director.
BECTU recommends a minimum of
£87 day rate (10 hours)
£252 for a 40 hour week rising to £554 for a 72 hour week.
Minimum wage would be £42.80 for a 8 hour day
£202 for a 40 hour week and £385.20 for a 72 hour week.
!BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION!
If you have runners work as unpaid collaborators (see
UNPAID COLLABORATION ABOVE) you should pay their
travel expenses and either feed them or pay for their meals
CREW: ASSISTANT DIRECTORS
1st AD can earn as much as £950 - £1200 in commercial film but
the BECTU minimum is £638.
The BECTU minimum is £638 for a 40 hour week.
The best film editors earn around £2000 a week. Good TV editors
can earn between £1300-1500.
Many people are coming into editing now that the barriers to entry
have been lowered by easy access to low cost editing equipment.
Editing is more of an art than a technical proficiency (bit like
playing the piano) and art takes practice as well as talent.
New editors with limited experience would not qualify for the
BECTU minimum – BECTU minimum for assistant editors is £510
a week which might be more appropriate.
GAFFERS, SPARKS & GRIPS
These jobs are recognised to be hard graft, often dangerous and
unions will be much tougher in enforcing minimum rates and
working hours, as will the crew member themselves as the pay
they receive is the incentive rather than working for a showreel or
creative portfolio. Always check the union status of your crew, or if
you run over what you’ve agreed in contract or schedule you could
find yourself without lights.
BECTU rates: £556
BECTU rates: £556
DOP: on negotiation
Camera Operator: £638
Lighting Camera: £721
PRODUCTION MANAGER/LINE PRODUCER
Line Producer: on negotiation
Prod Manager: £638 per week
BECTU rate - £638 p/week