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Why You Should Never Quote “All In” Pricing And Instead Specify Terms - A Cautionary Tale


Robert La Rosa
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A cautinoary tale: Why you should never say $XXX/Day rather than specifying the number of hour terms even in informal text conversations.
 
Company I worked with a number of times this year and is quickly becoming one of my favorite clients hired me for the shoot start of this month. Rate is perfect, job is fine. This has nothing to do with the job itself.
 
Fast forward to billing. In earlier talks, I was booked at $775/10 but long story short, the scope changed and it became a commercial project so my labor was re-negotiated to $975/10. Job is completed. Invoice is submitted. Everything is fine so far.
 
Fast forward a week later - Producer emails me and asks me to change the invoice - Apparently when they shifted my rate, even though I said $975/10 they would respond with “$975/Day.” I thought nothing of it. The deal memo I signed was this term as well. They said that when they list “per day” that means 12 hours as per their company-wide policy (Its a fairly big operation). Because I did not fight to have the invoice say “975/10” on the deal memo, I was roped into their company terms, which were apparently deep into my deal memo contract, which yes is on me but also every other discussion be it email or text I always said /10 so I wouldn’t say I’m at fault either.
 
I wound up on one of the days going into 2 hours and 30 minutes of OT and was asked to remove 2 hours of it based on their policy. Ultimately the producer realized that I was not in the wrong entirely so we met in the middle and I took off 1 hour 30.
 
Moral of the story - When a producer says, "We have $750/Day for you for labor," the word “Day” will be used in their benefit and they’ll likely try to make it out to a 12 if you don’t question it. I’ve seen people put text conversations with producers saying “Lowest I can do this for is $1,000/Day” for example. Get out of the habit of this and specify labor and gear as separate entities. Please don’t quote as “all in prices” even if its as your full day rate and gear rental for say a base package and please please please get out of the habit of saying /Day and instead /8 or /10 even in casual conversation or else you may find yourself in this very one I was in and be out about $200.
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That seems like the cautionary tale is to read your contract & paperwork — it has nothing to do with quoting "all in", which you didn't do — you quoted properly, and the producer ignored your quote.

I too have been burned by a company over overtime (in this, case, they were contractually circumventing our provincial overtime law) — I worked 19 hours, and they paid a flat rate of $50 for the hours above 12 (I don't work in an area where 10h is a thing, so I would have trouble negotiating it).  That meant I worked almost an extra day for less than time and a half.  They justified it saying they had negotiated a day rate, and anything above 12h was an unofficial "bonus" delivered via a gentleman's agreement.  Scumbags, I won't work for them again.

 

Personally, I (usually) find it preferable to bill "all in" so I don't have to deal with producers trying to tell me what gear they want me to have if they are trying to winnow down the price.  I quote them a rate to do the job as described, and I bring the equipment I need to do the job well.  There are limits:  My day rate goes up for more complex jobs, and I don't do all-in for show calls where I do a base package and then add lavs or comteks above a certain number on days where they are needed.

 

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The 12 hr thing became a thing for producers because we let it become a thing.  There was a time (in my fairly long career) when a "day" actually meant 8 hrs, then it meant 8+2 @ t+1/2, then it meant 10 and now it means 12.  I recall several conversations with producers who would tell my that I could "have my rate", ie my 10 hr dayrate, but that "it has to be for 12 hrs".  The illogic of this escaped them: they somehow thought that that a rate for 10 was equivalent to a rate for 12, or so they said.  This was usually followed with "well, everyone else on the crew is on a 12 hr day, I can't have one person on a 10 hr deal".  Oh, really?  And why is that?  The truth is that these people decided to help themselves to some free labor, and we went along with it to the extent that it has become the de facto assumption, vs 10 hrs now.  One more thing you have to watch out for in a world full of people trying take advantage of you.

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That sounds great.  It's never been like that where I work in the time I've been working.  Long hours have been a problem as long as I've been working, and the standard is set by our IATSE local, which apparently prefers to get rich on overtime than to actually fight for shorter hours.

That trickles down to non-union sets.  If I could get the soundies in my area to commit to billing /10 or /8, I absolutely would.

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7 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

There was a time (in my fairly long career) when a "day" actually meant 8 hrs, then it meant 8+2 @ t+1/2, then it meant 10 and now it means 12.

In another decade or two from now then "a day" is going to mean 14hrs! 😕 Hope not. 

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Apart from the hours being demanded from us I've also noticed an uptick in the habit of booking people for a shoot to only turn around and cancel the day before. The other annoyance is the big companies who just turn around and take 90 days or more to pay you. People such as CBS, Disney (ESPN, ABC), NFL Films and many others who have the money but don't want to part with it. I now charge above the normal rate for their privilege of taking so long to pay.  For Union work I've gone to quoting an hourly rate and not a 10/12 hr day rate that is above the printed minimum in the contract. This is not a given rate but a minimum rate and experience should cost more. If we all stand together on stuff like this, the habits will stop.

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How have negotiations gone when talking about the 90 day payable length?  All my invoices already state that I charge interest for receivables longer than 30 days, but a rarely enforce it (partly because I rarely have to, but my clients tend to be small fish themselves).  The odd time I do have to wait that long, I tend to think the headache of enforcing interest rates is more than it's worth ... but it certainly sends a message.  I haven't thought of simply charging more for the longer receivable, partly because I don't tend to know how long the wait will be in advance (and, like I say, I don't often work for the corporate giants that are the worst offenders).

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I've tried including language about "long-pays", and it has either been ignored or I get a call from someone who basically tells me that its corporate policy and comes down from the C-suite.  I know that larger vendors in these situations (like G+E rentals, stage rentals, prop rentals, etc) are in the same boat and not happy about it. 

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With some of the companies it is 'corporate policy' and there's no way out of it if you want the job. I just out and out quote them over the normal amount and they can take it or leave it. I've had both. I'm able to walk away if I don't like the reply from them.

Smaller companies I'll raise the rates by the $150 then give them the ability to take a $150 discount if payment is received within 30 days ( I will specify a date for that 30th day). This has also worked and is now a normal tack when dealing with companies who have ' lost their credit standing' with me. 

This way its a better discount than 10% discount for pay in 30 days so they're more likely to pay on time, if they don't I'm $150 for the day better off and its their choice. Just like with UPS, if you want the signature (in this case 90 days) you have to pay more

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On 12/15/2022 at 3:23 PM, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

That seems like the cautionary tale is to read your contract & paperwork — it has nothing to do with quoting "all in", which you didn't do — you quoted properly, and the producer ignored your quote.

I too have been burned by a company over overtime (in this, case, they were contractually circumventing our provincial overtime law) — I worked 19 hours, and they paid a flat rate of $50 for the hours above 12 (I don't work in an area where 10h is a thing, so I would have trouble negotiating it).  That meant I worked almost an extra day for less than time and a half.  They justified it saying they had negotiated a day rate, and anything above 12h was an unofficial "bonus" delivered via a gentleman's agreement.  Scumbags, I won't work for them again.

 

Personally, I (usually) find it preferable to bill "all in" so I don't have to deal with producers trying to tell me what gear they want me to have if they are trying to winnow down the price.  I quote them a rate to do the job as described, and I bring the equipment I need to do the job well.  There are limits:  My day rate goes up for more complex jobs, and I don't do all-in for show calls where I do a base package and then add lavs or comteks above a certain number on days where they are needed.

 

Yes, read your contract is definitely one part but I’ve seen too many mixers I’ve met over the years talk in flat numbers as in lumping labor and gear together in negotiations and that only helps the producer. 

Everyone needs to get in the habit of saying “XXX/Insert hours” not “XXX/Day” because then the producer will decide what that means. A “day” to them might mean 10, 12, 18! Because it isn’t defined, it's important to specify. I’m sorry that happened to you with that one company. They sound like a real “pleasure” to work for but its a shame they took advantage of your time and work.

I also for the record want to say that this company does treat me well and they assumed that I would know their policy, but I think it was just a big miscommunication on their part. We met in the middle ultimately so it worked out in the end but moving forward yes, even if in text and email you specify the terms, make sure the deal memo follows suit.

You definitely should get out of the habit of “all in” pricing because then the producers expect the next mixer if say they travel to my neck of the woods to do an all in basis and so, on where at least those of us in the US generally start with a base sound package (boom, mixer, two lavs) and then go a la carte per additional gear needed. If a company can’t afford said gear, it gets taken off the list. Makes my day easier! I’ve told other people in person that if everyday moving forward just needed a boom and mixer package, (essentially the smallest package rental you could have, which for me in NY would be $350 a day), I’d be a happy camper.  

Also, I saw your other comment and you’re in Canada correct? I can’t speak for the whole country but I know a good number of mixers in the Toronto market that push for 10 hour days and generally are working around the prevailing US prices (granted in CAD pricing). Happy to send you some of their info to connect if so but there are lots of Canadian mixers fighting for 10 hour days at the very least!

On 12/15/2022 at 4:10 PM, Philip Perkins said:

The 12 hr thing became a thing for producers because we let it become a thing.  There was a time (in my fairly long career) when a "day" actually meant 8 hrs, then it meant 8+2 @ t+1/2, then it meant 10 and now it means 12.  I recall several conversations with producers who would tell my that I could "have my rate", ie my 10 hr dayrate, but that "it has to be for 12 hrs".  The illogic of this escaped them: they somehow thought that that a rate for 10 was equivalent to a rate for 12, or so they said.  This was usually followed with "well, everyone else on the crew is on a 12 hr day, I can't have one person on a 10 hr deal".  Oh, really?  And why is that?  The truth is that these people decided to help themselves to some free labor, and we went along with it to the extent that it has become the de facto assumption, vs 10 hrs now.  One more thing you have to watch out for in a world full of people trying take advantage of you.

A lot of the younger mixers (and quite frankly crew in generally, I’m seeing it in other departments) are realizing that this had happened and we’re all trying to “regain our time back” so to speak. I’ve been on a number of sets lately where everyone is on a 12 except for me because i was the one person who apparently pushed back whereas others weren’t ready to either negotiate or walk away. You’re totally right though.

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I'd love to get in touch with the Toronto mixers who are pushing for 10 hours.  That's not happening out here in Vancouver.  My impression is that Toronto mixers (on average) are charging less than Vancouver rates, though it's hard to substantiate that ... it's mostly based on negotiations with Toronto producers, who obviously aren't unbiased on that point.  My impression is also that Canadian rates have slipped relative to US pricing since the pandemic started.  We *used* to get roughly US rates in Canadian dollars, but US mixers have raised rates in the last few years, and Canadians haven't.

Here, my biggest impediment is not from all-in pricing, but from the fact that a substantial portion of non-union work here is for Movie-of-the-week productions where the going rate is about CAD$600/$300 for a full cart (minimum 4 wires, often more).  Given that I charge more than that for just me and my bag, I've had trouble pushing my rate up to the "US rates in Canadian dollars" standard where I think they should be.  This isn't an issue of being "all-in".  It's an issue of scummy producers with low budgets, and a ready supply of new mixers entering the market who are willing to work for less (I've heard as low as CAD$750/day for labour+gear in some of our satellite markets).  Those gigs are quoted and paid as labour+gear, but they are well below what I charge for my basic all-in package (and, remember, my pricing changes based on gear requirements ... it's not "all-in" in the sense that they get all the gear they need).

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2 minutes ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

Here, my biggest impediment is not from all-in pricing, but from the fact that a substantial portion of non-union work here is for Movie-of-the-week productions where the going rate is about CAD$600/$300 for a full cart (minimum 4 wires, often more).  Given that I charge more than that for just me and my bag, I've had trouble pushing my rate up to the "US rates in Canadian dollars" standard where I think they should be.  This isn't an issue of being "all-in".  It's an issue of scummy producers with low budgets, and a ready supply of new mixers entering the market who are willing to work for less (I've heard as low as CAD$750/day for labour+gear in some of our satellite markets).  Those gigs are quoted and paid as labour+gear, but they are well below what I charge for my basic all-in package (and, remember, my pricing changes based on gear requirements ... it's not "all-in" in the sense that they get all the gear they need).

A lot of the Los Angeles mid-tier "we're creating content" kinda gigs seem to be offering about $700-900 all in a day, at least from what I get contacted about here and there.  That's great if you're showing up with a Zoom F4 and two Sennheiser G3's with really nothing else to offer, but it's a bit comical when someone hits you up wanting to pay in that range for a "small shoot with only 4 wires needed / timecode IFBs" etc.  With how crazy both new and used gear has shot up in price, not sure how anyone can afford to get paid that kinda rate unless you're just turning yourself into a rented government mule that works 80 hours a week breaking your back.

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10 hours ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

I'd love to get in touch with the Toronto mixers who are pushing for 10 hours.  That's not happening out here in Vancouver.  My impression is that Toronto mixers (on average) are charging less than Vancouver rates, though it's hard to substantiate that ... it's mostly based on negotiations with Toronto producers, who obviously aren't unbiased on that point.  My impression is also that Canadian rates have slipped relative to US pricing since the pandemic started.  We *used* to get roughly US rates in Canadian dollars, but US mixers have raised rates in the last few years, and Canadians haven't.

Here, my biggest impediment is not from all-in pricing, but from the fact that a substantial portion of non-union work here is for Movie-of-the-week productions where the going rate is about CAD$600/$300 for a full cart (minimum 4 wires, often more).  Given that I charge more than that for just me and my bag, I've had trouble pushing my rate up to the "US rates in Canadian dollars" standard where I think they should be.  This isn't an issue of being "all-in".  It's an issue of scummy producers with low budgets, and a ready supply of new mixers entering the market who are willing to work for less (I've heard as low as CAD$750/day for labour+gear in some of our satellite markets).  Those gigs are quoted and paid as labour+gear, but they are well below what I charge for my basic all-in package (and, remember, my pricing changes based on gear requirements ... it's not "all-in" in the sense that they get all the gear they need).

Here's the info for two of the mixers in Toronto that are roughly charging at the least $750/10 labor and $450 base package for a boom, mixer, and two lavs. You can always mention you got their info from me if you reach out that way it doesn’t seem too out of the blue.

TORONTO BASED SOUND MIXERS:

Beni Harper
B.harper.sound@gmail.com

Joey Lavoie
Joeylavoie@gmail.com

They can likely give you a few more names of people they know and trust that charge prevailing rates. Beni especially has been doing what he can to get the Toronto market up to speed but it doesn’t seem like the non union mixers aren’t as organized as many of us in the US are. There are no doubt a lot of Toronto productions under budgeting but the more people who see what we’ve been trying to do in the US and try to fight for a better way of life, the better it becomes.

 

 

10 hours ago, codyman said:

A lot of the Los Angeles mid-tier "we're creating content" kinda gigs seem to be offering about $700-900 all in a day, at least from what I get contacted about here and there.  That's great if you're showing up with a Zoom F4 and two Sennheiser G3's with really nothing else to offer, but it's a bit comical when someone hits you up wanting to pay in that range for a "small shoot with only 4 wires needed / timecode IFBs" etc.  With how crazy both new and used gear has shot up in price, not sure how anyone can afford to get paid that kinda rate unless you're just turning yourself into a rented government mule that works 80 hours a week breaking your back.

I would argue that would still be pretty darn bad for that gear package mentioned. I was in NY making the prevailing rates back 3 and a half years ago using my then F8 and G3’s (Which then was roughly around $600 - $625/10 and $350 base gear package for a boom, mixer, and two lavs). The gear mattered little so long as I knew how to use it inside and out and the productions I was working on in the digital, corporate, and high end doc space didn’t care either. I never let the gear brand effect the quote otherwise more people would be undercutting the market and tell new mixers entering that if they plan on taking non narrative or something that isn’t a passion project, they need to ask for the same gear amounts as someone with say a 633 and high end wireless would.  I do agree though with your general sentiment; it makes little sense in the grand scheme for those giving away the farm for what the majority of people would charge double. Some people just don’t have guidance but some may also simply not have proper business sense.

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19 hours ago, codyman said:

With how crazy both new and used gear has shot up in price, not sure how anyone can afford to get paid that kinda rate

It is crazy how high prices for secondhand equipment has shot up vs where the pricing was just a year or three ago!

 

My theory is because the pandemic absolutely screwed up production of brand new goods, forcing many new equipment products to have extremely long backlogs of orders (want to buy a new Shure Axient Digital complete setup immediately tomorrow? Good luck!! As it's not going to happen, you'll have to wait). Or even in extreme circumstances manufacture gets suspended entirely! (as happened beforehand with the Sound Devices 833 and MixPre3)

 

This in turn has forced many people, who'd have otherwise have preferred to buy brand new, to instead look to the secondhand market to fulfil their needs. Which of course applied upwards pressure on pricing. 

 

Plus the general high inflation causing prices of everything in general to go up, including secondhand goods. 

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On 12/16/2022 at 5:24 PM, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

How have negotiations gone when talking about the 90 day payable length?


What negotiations?  These are gigantic corporations and those are their policies and set way above anyone that you are dealing with/that is calling you.  You either take it or leave it.  I’m not justifying what they do, because I think it’s pretty reprehensible that they hold the money and make even more for themselves with it, but that’s the way it is(has become)(one of those companies used to pay in roughly 2-3 weeks, but I have seen them take take over 5-6 months to pay individuals, now).

 

Ironically enough, it’s the smaller companies that I find pay the quickest.  I have a regular client that runs a two week pay cycle and I’ve done work for some others that will pay within a few days.

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3 hours ago, RunAndGun said:

What negotiations?

Go back and dig deeper in to the context of this question ... even with big corporations there is a negotiation on rate, and my question was based on the fact that Alien was negotiating a higher rate partly on the basis of the longer time for payment.  Obviously, he didn't avoid the long payment, but billing at a higher rate to compensate seems to me like an interesting way of handling the situation.

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There is another factor as well--that of a payroll company which may sit between the prod co and the crew folks.  These companies can be very hard to communicate with, have payment policies of their own and have to be included in negotiations about changes to client payment policy.  I also suspect that both the client and the payroll company may be engaged in "ageing" invoices to make interest on the up front money they've already been paid by the "ultimate client" (like a studio or network etc).

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8 hours ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

Go back and dig deeper in to the context of this question ... even with big corporations there is a negotiation on rate, and my question was based on the fact that Alien was negotiating a higher rate partly on the basis of the longer time for payment.  Obviously, he didn't avoid the long payment, but billing at a higher rate to compensate seems to me like an interesting way of handling the situation.

With some, maybe.  With others, no, it can be take it or leave it on all terms.  And both sides are free to do either.

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To answer TDSG's question with some of them I have not had a problem. One company has gotten its accounts in order and is now on 45 days. Due to the size of my 1099 with them I have accepted the situation and we met with a $50 over rate and a very basic package for their shoot with higher costs for second timecode box, over 2 wires etc. CBS accepted the higher rate without question and take the full 90 days to do anything. Come the New Year their rate will rise another step. ESPN always question my rate when they contact me direct. If they move up I will work for them, if they don't I laugh and walk away. A lot of the time I then get called by a Cameraman for the same job who then pays me my normal rate usually within a couple of weeks and they then sit on the 90 day business with 'the mouse'. The same old story, with the little guy being fair and honest and the 'Fat Cats' keeping the money to give to the shareholders and the bosses.

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On 12/20/2022 at 12:41 AM, RunAndGun said:

With some, maybe.  With others, no, it can be take it or leave it on all terms.  And both sides are free to do either.

What I implemented this year and has worked multiple times is, I first mention how my normal terms are net 15. Often times they say, “We understand. Our policy though...” so my response is if I say agree to a net 90, my agreed upon day rate gets bumped up. 

One example in question from this summer was a shoot for a digital video for a major company (non commercial project). My day rate prior to learning the payment terms was $775/10 (plus separate gear rental but that’s irrelevent for here). Once they laid out the net 90 and said they couldn’t change the policy. I said I’d make the net 90 terms work but as concession for me working with their antiquated payment system, they’d have to move my day rate up  to $900/10. They agreed.

Done that a couple of times this year and either they take the new rate or they find a way to at least get me down to net 30 terms. I recommend trying it next time you’re in that situation!

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