Ask Jaron: Should I accept a lower rate to work with a specific client?
Hey, I’m Jaron, the founder and CEO of Storyhunter. What you may not know is that before I got this awesome office job (my first), I worked for more than a decade as a freelance documentary filmmaker and video journalist, roaming the planet making video stories. I worked mainly for Current TV, TIME, and The New York Times, and specialized in producing videos in repressive regions like North Korea, Pakistan, Gaza, and Iraq. I really love solving big creative challenges, especially involving video production, and so we created this column for you to throw me any question related to the art or business of video production.
This week’s question is from an anonymous Storyhunter:
Should I ever take a lower rate just to work with a specific client?
This is a tough one! The truth is: it depends. Will taking less cash for a gig prevent you from paying rent at the end of the month? If so, you shouldn’t take it. Will taking on a lower paying project affect your ability to keep your production company afloat? Definitely not worth the risk. Financial considerations are generally paramount, but there are some other things to think about that might make a lower rate worth it.
My first professional filmmaking job, for the start-up network Current TV, netted me $250. I was in Gaza working on a feature documentary, and Current was just starting to accept freelance submissions. This was 2005, and I was just starting my career as a filmmaker, working on a shoestring budget and living for $8 a day in an evacuated Jewish settlement. I was in a pretty unique place in the world with great access. I sent them a quick 4-minute dispatch with some footage and voiceover while Israel was evacuating settlers from the region. It took me a couple days of work to put it together ($125 is a pretty meager day rate!), but I did it anyways. Here’s why:
1. Love: I cared about the story.
As filmmakers and journalists, we should never forget how lucky we are that we get to work on projects that really matter. Don’t lose sight of that.
2. Self improvement: I was able to improve my craft and hone my filmmaking skills.
People say it takes 10,000 hours to be truly great at something. I was on hour 500 at that point, and saw this as an opportunity to accelerate my learning.
3. Diversification: I was able to work in a different format.
This meant I could now market myself to other clients, who were looking for videojournalists rather than documentary filmmakers.
4. Portfolio improvement: The relationship with Current was worth more than the pay.
I knew having another brand/media company on my portfolio would help me land gigs with other companies. I was right: I eventually got to work with the New York Times and TIME.
5. Network-building: I got the chance to work with great people.
The editors and producers I got to work with on this story ended up becoming some of the strongest professional relationships I’ve ever made. While we all have gone our own ways, the relationships I made while working for Current TV have endured.
Indeed, it proved to be a risk worth taking, as I ended up working for Current for the next two years, producing films from nearly 30 countries. After this first project, the budgets improved, and the experiences and memories of my time working for Current will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.
In summary, while making ends meet should always be the first consideration, once you know that you can meet those basic goals, you now have an opportunity to take some chances. This business favors the bold. So next time you’re offered a project at a lower rate, look at the 5 points above. If the project can tick 2 or 3 of those boxes, then it may just be the best career move you’ve ever made.
Have a question you’d like to ask Jaron, or something to add to his answer this week? Tweet at us (@storyhunter) or send us an e-mail.