Tools on Determining Your Worth

determining your worthThe psychology of determining your worth perplexes me. In a documentary class I attended recently, Den Lennie told me with absolute certainty that he charges “X” amount of dollars per day to come out. His comment made me think about his confidence and he determined his value. I know that I have spent countless hours honing my craft, attending classes, collaborating with inspiring people and focusing on ways to improve each time I take a camera out on a gig.

Although my rates vary with from job to job my goal here is to understand where to I start with determining my value or rate. I break down the charges into four categories of jobs; Corporate, Non-Profit, Pro Bono and Studio. It took a while to understand that my value doesn’t change because I charge different rates to different clients I just needed to understand why.


This type of work is usually the one that pays the bills, but it doesn’t always start this way. In the beginning, you tend to do work for a fraction of what you know your worth. With a few years experience that same company isn’t really fond of you raising your rates, but you tend to keep them on as clients because you are loyal. You begin to realize that without turning down work (because they won’t pay the going rate) you will have a few clients walk away. This isn’t always a bad thing because once you have established your presence with a few it tends to convey your worth in a more meaningful way.


This can get tricky. I only take on a few non-profits a year because they are plentiful, in dire need of my services and always want more out of you. I see it as, you offer them 50% discount on services and they want double the effort. I am not sure why this is the case, but I have yet to actually find a non-profit that appreciates my efforts more than corporate clients. In my opinion, if non-profits showed more appreciation through little things like offering to buy dinner or giving a bottle of wine, they could earn some loyalty from a good cinematographer.

Pro Bono

This is exactly what is says. You are working for free and it is what it is. This is usually your friends that ask you for favors. And because I have the gear, I want to help friends, why not right? This is a healthy part of being in production–paying it forward. The more I can do for others, the more that I know I am leaving good karma. No, it doesn’t pay the bills, but you also don’t get places in life through paying gigs alone, sometimes it is that one instance that you helped a friend, who happens to know someone that has seen some of your work and you are the perfect fit for that project, just saying.


Studio is basically any production work that has a decent size crew and a respectable day rate. For those of you that are doing this full time know that this is awesome, but unfortunately this isn’t my bread and butter.

How I break down my worth:

  • Corporate Clients: 100% of daily rate
  • Non-Profits: 50% of daily rate
  • Pro Bono: 0-15% (depends on equipment needed)
  • Studio Work: 75-85% of daily rate

As a full time DP/ Producer/ Editor I find myself also creating my own work, but that also tends to fall into the corporate side of things. Always remember that when you have an idea that is good enough, there will always be a company out there willing to invest in you. In this business you are either part of the crew or you are hiring the crew and some people are just meant to be one or the other. Determine what your niche is and climb! Your worth only comes from hard work and from what others are willing to pay in order to keep you as part of their crew!

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About the Author

Thaddeus Setla is a Paramedic and Filmmaker, where he believes his perspective gave him a unique view on life. In Setla’s world these two professions have collided giving him a bigger purpose. It was when Setla had an EMS and film career at the same time that he found out that film was his passion. Shortly after in 2006, Setla Film Productions was formed and was a way for Thaddeus to fill his niche. He immediately turned to relationships he had formed in the industry to help fund his dream of improving production values and continued to partner with companies who saw the value of a good story. Today Thaddeus travels the world sharing stories on how to improve patient care from survivors to their saviors.


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