Monday, March 29, 2010

What to Charge

Pricing a job can be as tricky as figuring out how to do it.

Friends frequently ask for advice on what to charge for a particular job, most often these are illustrators making their first foray into animation.

Traditionally, in a commercial job, the illustrator (or designer) is budgeted at 10% of below the line costs before peripherals (payroll, pension, welfare and benefits) and mark up.  The more expensive the project, the higher the illustration fee.

All pricing has variables and illustration is no exception.

Foremost, an artist has to ask: "How much of my time will this project take?"  From there you need to put a price tag on your time.  If a job will take a week and you need $1000 per week, that's your starting point.  The more creative and managerial responsibility you bring, the higher you can negotiate your fee.

In the olden days, animators would get paid by the foot -16 frames of film.  This method allowed producers to control costs and encourage simpler, speedier work.  As recently as the 1990s these fees could range from $25/foot to $200/foot depending on complexity of animation, project budget and animator's experience (or desperateness).  We'll still utilize this gauge on drawn films.

Assistant work, art production, compositing, digital animation is generally paid on an hourly or day rate basis.  Again rates for this vary on project complexity, experience, production budget and length of job.  Entry level rates can begin around $10/hour, high end commercials can pay $50 or more.  In the last few years, we've seen very few jobs which can afford the latter salaries.

A staff or long term position will typically pay lower than a short term position.  This makes sense for both the employer and the employee.  Built into your fee for a short term contract is the "down time" between gigs.

In animation production, artists are generally employees -although it is commonplace for studios to pay them as independent contractors.  A recent New York Times article discusses this, and the government's crackdown on the practice.  In cases where the artist is a legitimate independent contractor, a flat fee is negotiated  -an example would be the illustrator cited above.

The ultimate question everyone asks -that includes the company doing the hiring -is, "How much can I charge without scaring them off?"  If you want to do the project, make sure you're open with you fee.  State your hoped for number but allow for "room".

Companies have to do this dance on just about every project they land.  The "ballpark" quote can be a scary moment when you grossly over (or under) estimate what the potential client is willing to pay.  We'll generally say "this is our number, but we can always adjust higher or lower if you need it to change."

Even before getting to the ballpark, always ask "How much are you planning to spend on this?"  Always be upfront with costs. 

If you're just a cog in the production, don't worry about the overall costs of the project or what your colleagues are making.  If at any point these are your concern, the producers will make you privy to that information.

1 comment:

Liesje said...

From a blog I check regularly:

"Tezuka was a visionary with the storyboards but not so much with the balance sheets. He successfully established a marketplace for televised anime, but the absurdly low sums of money he agreed to per episode established a culture of poverty that persists in the industry to this very day -- a phenomenon popularly known as "Tezuka's curse." While it's true that his characters enjoyed massive popularity throughout the world, it's also true that his company went belly up in 1973."