How To Get Better At Negotiation
Cinematographers are great at what we do because we care about our craft- we put in a LOT of time learning, experimenting, and preparing for what our job requires of us - and we LOVE IT. :) However, we are usually horrible business people. The creative side of our brain is massive and strong, while the business side is anemic - as is often the case with people in the creative world. This translates in to our inability to negotiate appropriately when landing a job. I know I've made a lot of mistakes over the years in this area. Unfortunately, I haven't put in as much time as I should have learning the business end of it as I have put in learning the creative and technical side of cinematography. Fortunately, however, it is never too late.
Learning how to negotiate will help you better succeed in your career- especially as we are in the middle of a time where the gear has become the superstar instead of the artist. I wish I could offer you years of sage advice on how to always win when negotiating - but I can't at this stage of my career. Maybe in another couple of years. However, I can share with you some great advice I have found on the matter on the Cinematographers Mailing List. If you are not familiar with CML, I HIGHLY recommend that you get familiar with it. It is a GREAT resource of working professionals who have developed a community built around helping each other succeed in the industry. It originally began as a mailing list only, and has since added additional resources. If you are new to CML please spend time reading the conversations and learning the policies before posting. The internet is full of useless noise, and CML does a great job at keeping that noise away, unlike other internet sites. SO DON'T ADD ANY NOISE if you join up.
With that said, here is a great excerpt on negotiating that is taken from a conversation that was had on CML recently, I hope you get as much out of it as I did:
[marty] Does anyone have suggestions as to where or how we can improve in
[lucas] There are dozens of online courses and lots of good information if
you simply google "rules of negotiation."
I don't claim to be Donald Trump or Mark Suster, but here are a few of my
tips. Some of these may seem obvious and childish, but I only mention them
because I am regularly surprised at how many of them are ignored by
professionals with decades of experience, and then they wonder why they
didn't get the job.
1) Practice negotiating. Everywhere.
Next time you're making any single-item purchase over $100, whether it's at
Best Buy or Crate & Barrel, try to negotiate a discount. The worst thing
that can happen is that they say "no." Get in the habit of treating
everything as a negotiation. In most of the world's cultures - almost every
purchase actually is a negotiation. In the US & UK especially, people just
assume "the price is the price." The price is never the price. And the more
you do it, the more techniques you will acquire and skills you will
discover - and most importantly - the more comfortable you will feel doing
it. I don't do this every time, but at least once a month, I do this with
something, and 90% of the time, I get a discount.
2) Enter *every* negotiation with a walk-away number, and stick to it.
If you don't know what your true refusal point is, then you have lost before you started. And if you don't have a walk-away number or can't stick to it, go into a different business.
3) Build rapport.
Learn everything you can about the person you are going to be talking to
before you talk to them. Find out all the jobs they have worked on, who
they are, where they went to school, where they worked in the past, where
they post online, etc. Google is an amazing tool when used properly. This
is not for stalking purposes - it is to help you do the single most
important thing in any negotiation - build rapport. The more you know about
a person, the greater the chances are that you have something in common
with them that you can use to build a commonality, so you are not just
another guy looking for a job. You are someone they have something in
common with - all of a sudden, turning you away or refusing your rate
becomes personal, not generic. In many cultures (Korea especially in my
experience) - an hour-long meeting is filled with 55 minutes of
pleasantries and getting to know each other to build mutual trust, and then
5 minutes of almost apologetic business at the very end of the meeting.
4) Be prepared.
You have no idea how many DPs and crew members I have seen walk into a
meeting that don't know much about the Production, don't have a reel or
resume with them, have a sloppy IMDB site, forgot their cards, etc. Or come
in unshaven, dirty shirt, etc. This is a creative business and a lot of
leeway is given to individual appearance, but sloppy is sloppy. It makes a
big difference to the other side of the table.
5) Be nice.
Never ever ever be hostile, bitter, defensive, or unpleasant in any
negotiation, no matter how unreasonable they are. If they're wildly
unreasonable and pissing you off, then you probably know it isn't going to
work out - and get off the phone or leave the meeting before you respond
with emotion. People remember nice guys, but they remember angry guys for
muuuuch longer - and no business I have ever been in nurtures a grudge like
this one. The best revenge is living well.
6) But hold the line.
There's a big difference between being pleasant and nice, and getting
7) Write thank-you notes.
When was the last time you received one? You remember it, don't you? 'nuff
Some of these might sound silly, but they've helped me a lot in my career...
Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot,
Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer