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Current time:0:00Total duration:7:41

Director of photography: What I do and how much I make

Video transcript

hi my name is trevor merchant i'm a director of photography and photographer and my annual salary is $80,000 so typically i'm working with universities health systems small businesses and even creative agencies to produce branded content web content and then i also work on short films feature films and i do photography and sometimes i teach so for the last year I've been working as my own business as a freelancer and I decided to partner up with a producer and director here in Denver who's incredibly talented we work as a great team and he takes care of all the stuff that I'm not quite so good at so I'm not amazing with client interaction or like you know client management always stay on top of everything and scheduling and all of that so Matt takes care of running the business as a business and I'm good at making the pictures pretty and making sure the sound is good and the color is consistent and the really technical side my job really starts after he's done a lot of his legwork so he's already gotten a bid on a project and done a lot of the pre-production and I come in to basically take a dream a picture in somebody's head and figure out how we're actually gonna make that real so there's a script there may be storyboards there's probably a location already and it's my job to go into that location or you know read that script or go through those storyboards and figure out what lights are we gonna need what equipment are we gonna need are we gonna need you know Gimbels and drones and all that fun stuff or is it just going to be me with a camera in a really compact situation because of whatever reason my job on set is to oversee the camera department and sound and lighting it all of those those technical things so I'm there to set up the shot make sure that it looks great light light the shot and work with our director or producer to make sure that the client is happy as well with how everything's going how everything looks and then I will adjust as needed when we're done shooting I'll be the one to either hand off the media to an editor or an assistant editor or even take that footage and turn it into a more editable file I did not go into the film industry to make a lot of money the research that I did I found that a camera operator was typically making about $50,000 a year and I think that's about what my parents were making and I knew that we weren't doing that great and so I thought that's that's not enough money you know and if I wanted to go shoot Hollywood movies which is the dream you can make a lot more money but there's maybe 20 people doing that you know 20 really really great DPS and so the research that I did early on kind of convinced me that going into the film industry wasn't a great financial move it just so happened that I got so excited about the projects I was working on that it kind of turned into okay I'm making money doing this because I doing it all the time and so I may not make as much as I could have I went into a different industry but by diversifying what I do so I do photography video production and I teach I'm able to subsidize my personal projects my passion projects and I make a good living that I can afford to travel and do fun stuff when I first started out I was making like $12 an hour as a student intern so I was making videos and there were technically professional quality videos but they weren't up to my standards I knew that they weren't that good and the nice thing about that job was that I was able to make a lot of mistakes and have a lot of leeway I was working for a university and they gave us the opportunity to just try a lot of stuff out so you're making 12 bucks an hour but you're also kind of still learning and near in school and then when I graduated I was hired on a salary of $40,000 a year and so a big jump from being a student intern but still not a great income in the Denver market you know you could could make quite a bit more and so I continue to work in that environment and realized we were charging for our services and they were charging about a hundred two hundred and fifty dollars an hour for my time and I was getting paid about twenty to twenty-five of that and I knew who all the numbers so I decided to bring it to my boss and say I know how much you guys are charging for me I know what kind of value numbering in I build you know this many hours last year that equates to this amount of money I think I deserve a raise and they said we agreed you deserve a raise how does two thousand dollars sound and I said that sounds crazy so I think I'm gonna go out on my own and try try to do this as a freelancer and see if I can make a bit more money and hustle and work on different projects when you work as a staffer at a corporation or a university or a hospital you're only working on videos that pertain to that thing and then when I got freelance jobs I was able to travel and shoot other stuff when I started making more money as a freelancer I realized that you know I could run up a solid business I could I could buy equipment I could rent that equipment and make more money on top of that when I wasn't using it when I partnered with my business partner we decided that we want to build a business that we can have a higher throughput so we knew that we wanted to make more money than we could on our own and so by building a business and hiring more crews we can have higher throughput of video work and we can make money on top of each one of those projects so I do see my salary increasing over time because I can with my teaching experience I can bring people in that are lower costs that don't know as much and I can say okay we're gonna train you and will tear your salary as you go as you get better and we can give you more responsibilities and I can be the one to do that training and then I'm getting paid back for the training that I provide because they get better and we can charge more for their time this year was my first full year freelancing and I made quite a bit more than $80,000 but I decided to at any chance that I got invest that back into new equipment or computers or infrastructure that allowed us to do more work so if I can take that money that you know I made and go on a vacation that's great but it's not gonna make me any more money next year in five years if I can take that money and buy a new camera system and tripod and audio kit then I can train a crew member to go out on his own or her own and use that gear of mine charge the client for that equipment make a little bit of money from the freelancer that I hired on top of their their rate and then I'm making more money with the gear with the people I'm training and hiring and then I don't have to work as hard hopefully but right now I'm working about seven days a week it may sound cheesy but my favorite thing about being a DP is working with my wife she is an incredible production designer and stylist and working as a team with her on set is very creatively satisfying but also really cool for our relationship I think when you're making movies you need to have a common language and and that's probably true for any industry if you want to get something done in its creative work you have to be able to speak in the same terms and that's been pretty cool to be able to work with my wife because she she knows me well enough that we don't always have to talk to communicate
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