Cameraman screwed up royally

I hired a cameraman on StaffMe Up. This is what happened. He arrived an hour late although he drove from LA to Vegas but on a Sunday there is no traffic. We were using his equipment. He arrived without correct batteries and we had to go out and buy them. It took him 2 hours to set up, it should have taken one. It was obvious he didn't know what he was doing. When we finally finished, the main cameras media card was blank!! We could not reshoot. We were doing interviews and the subjects were already pissed off because of how long it was taking. The second camera for the closeups were soft. His excuse for his media card was that it might have been too old. I had my own, but they were less capacity and he wanted to use his.

What should I have done? Should I have paid him the full fee or just his expenses to drive to Vegas?

I feel he should have tested the cameras to make sure they were operating properly.

I don't want to ruin his reputation by posting a negative review but.....

I have never had this happen to me before.


  • Wow, that is a hard one. Perhaps a discussion about the issues and see if you 2 can come up to an arrangement. Make sure to tell him that even basic expectations were not met.

    I can tell you that as a rule I bring at least 2 cameras per camera position. That batteries were wrong, well mistakes do happen but that was incredibly bad. And obviously he is either not experienced at all or just plain irresponsible.

    Now, I do ask you, was your budget so low that a real cameraman would not apply. I see postings here for interviews at $250/10h and they want an Alexa. I will only bring a7sII and Blackmagic Pockets for $500 minimum. Usually rate is $1000 as I can also do audio without issues.

    Can't say to ask for references as I hate when someone asks me for any, hate bothering people. So the only way would be by seeing the reel of interviews or if the person is referred by someone.

    Now, while I agree not to ruin his reputation, you can also be saving thousands of dollars to a production that will not hire him by knowing the truth. Perhaps your comment should be something like "have a face to face interview with him prior to hiring him". This is a really hard topic.

    Good luck,

  • edited August 2017

    I think Carlos is leading to the conclusion... did you hire someone for super cheap?

    From a Producer's POV, it's a re-shoot with a different Cinematographer, Re-Schedule, Re-Shoot and forget about the Cinematographer. If he continues to do this, he'll never work again.

    Should you pay him? No. But, you should explain to him that he cost you other money and expenses, other than his fees. In the real world you would have a contract

    If you don't plan to re-shoot and use the footage, then you have to pay him.

    Best thing to do is offer a hotel(Vegas hotels are cheap, as is AirBNB)
    Possibly rent a Camera Package, but you will need to pay them him for a Prep and Shoot day.


  • I paid him $400.00 for 4 hours.

  • Tami, from the fact that you could "purchase batteries from a local store" for his camera sounds like he had prosumer/DSLR cameras.

    Two Cameras, Lights/Grip(?) and Sound Gear(?) + 8 hours of Driving for $400/half-day...

    way it usually breaks down for Camera is u give them a half day for travel and pay for their expenses to travel, or a full day if they travel and prep a camera in the same day. Pay for Hotel + Per-Diem, because they are traveling.

    this all goes out the door for owner/operators and DoP's as they make their own deal and control the process with which they record the video/sound/lights, what gear is used... etc

    Is $400 reasonable for this? Sure, for some guys it is... 550 miles is about $65 for gas and you own all the gear you can pocket about $325 for a 12 hour day.

    it does trouble me that it's two cameras, which should be like another $200. So $600 is a the super low/no budget day for Labor + 2 Cameras and if you add in lights and sound gear, probably another $150, so $750 for half a day would be the super low. Not to say that $400 or $325 after gas, isn't enough or that he could turn down the gig if it's too low.

    Probably, next time budget for around $750 and include a hotel for like another $50 and nice buffet for $25, like $825, be fair for gear + Camera + travel... you get them there the night before and prep for free and everyone is happy and ready to work the next day.

    PS: yeah, if they either didn't record from the A Camera or deleted the footage(also, had problem in B Cam), it's super unprofessional and strange.

    It could be they were having a bad day and you got angry with them and just worsen the situation, but yeah Crew does that farfegnugen if you piss them off... I haven't, but guys do. Very unprofessional, but it happens.

    PPS: good Producer or director gets the best out of each crew member, by helping them be their best.

    Good luck next time

    PPPS: what cameras? did you get the card and try and recover the footage?

  • Hi Tammy,

    As a producer, company owner, and also regularly a camera op, I can empathize with both sides of this situation. The challenge always of hiring freelance talent is that they can WAY oversell themselves and be short on delivery. $400 for a half day is very fair rate. There are plenty of really good camera ops who would provide gear and shoot amazing footage at this rate. For simple talking head type stuff there is no reason really from a producer's perspective to pay a bunch more.

    If your scope of work was clear, and your expectations clearly briefed up front, then it's surely the fault of the cam op for not showing up prepared. It sounds like with some of the technical and professional issues that this was an unexperienced camera op who did not know his/her gear. However, gear does break. Cards do go bad. If that is truly the issue it is neither your fault nor that of the camera op. It sounds like this is not your first shoot, so I am sure you know what to expect and can make the best judgement call of whether this cam op was honestly having weird unforeseeable tech issues, or he was bullshitting you to cover his mistakes. Sounds likely to me it was the latter.

    My personal 2 cents. A professional cam op, even a less experienced one, would never ask to be paid if they screwed up the job, either by their own fault of the fault of the gear he/she agreed to provide. A fair producer in this case might accept that maybe they did not do their due diligence in briefing or researching the camera ops capabilities before shooting. They might decide to take care of some of the minor expenses such as gas mileage and food.

    Ruining his reputation publicly might not be a good idea, but I would definitely make notes in your personal freelancer database to never use this cam op again and share the name privately with fellow producers and production companies that respect your opinion so they also do not make the same mistake.

  • Under the labor laws you do have to pay him for his time, despite the fact he screwed up royally. Maybe you could hold back on paying the gear rental because the equipment failed, perhaps split the $400 into two $200 labor/ $200 gear and just pay him for his time. This would depend upon how the deal memo was written. This sounds more than an equipment failure, and you unfortunately were working with someone who was not competent in the job, but legally you still have to pay him for his time, unless he chooses to waive his salary.

    We've all had things go wrong- In my ten plus years as a sound mixer, I have only had one incident where a catastrophic equipment failure ruined a part of a day's shooting. On that day I invoiced labor only and discounted the entire equipment rental despite the fact we only lost one small, but important scene.

    This kind of thing is why I am strong proponent in traveling a crew you know and trust whenever possible, although I totally understand for a couple of quick interviews it might be more cost effective to use a local crew.

  • You should not pay them.

    As an independent contractor you are responsible for the the finished result and shouldn't be paid unless you fulfill the contract. That's the law, you're not an employee, as you provide your own equipment and are responsible for how it's shot and independently determined what gear, exposure, lenses...etc is used.

    that being said, if for some reason the client or act of god prevents the contractor from fulfilling the contract, e.g. change dates, disaster at location, anything that makes it unsafe or prevent you from doing the assigned task(which some camera guys would consider a crazy producer or director) they are not responsible for a shoot gone wrong and producer/client should allow for a reshoot or pay the Cinematographer.

    on the flip side, if the producer changes dates location or any of those things and the contractor doesn't agree to the changes, then he can get his full agree to rate(or whatever the contract dictates)

    As an Employee would pay them, but they also be on an hourly, can only work for a single competitor and has little to no responsibility for the end result, as you manage them.

    I've never seen a card just not have anything on it... you can
    -Shoot on the same card twice and in turn format and rewrite on it
    -Not press record on Camera
    -Intentionally delete the card or format it

    A corrupted card would not record or format, if the files became corrupted by a bad card or camera, then there would be files, but they would be unplayable.

    I would just ReShoot the interviews

  • A camera NOT RECORDING???? I find that very strange. Sorry this happened to you. If the footage is not usable at all just schedule a re-shoot.

  • Continuing an earlier response : NO you should not have to pay him anything. If in fact he screwed up as portrayed, you did not get ANY usable footage. If you used ANYTHING that was shot, however, he MUST be paid. Having said that, if he was at all professional or conscientious, in return, the payment (with, perhaps an exception for a portion of travel reimbursement) should have been refused...along with a profuse apology on his part.
    On "getting what you pay for":

    You didn't really specify what type of gear you requested/expected, but if you want a true professional package, the guys I know in LA get a MINIMUM of $850 a day for a very basic ENG package (camera, wireless mic, tripod a camera light and MAYBE a basic Light kit.).
    On top of this you would be expected to either pay for airline tickets of at least $.52 per mile driving. (At least $300.00) Most of the LA guys would also be expected to be paid for A FULL DAY of shooting, and generally a half day or more for travel days. In subsequent posts you stated this was a two camera shoot, with one camera being a lock-down....Budget at least another $400 for this second camera....Throw in lunch/per diem money and at least one night in a business class hotel, incidentals, expendables, and you should have budgeted around Three Thousand Dollars for this shoot...If you wanted a real pro...With real gear!!!

    I repeat, you get exactly what you pay for!

  • Try to hire local when possible, I own Producers Advantage, a MP&TV rental firm in Denver. We don't have gear problems because we check & prep every item several times and over-supply accessories (batts, cables). The hired shooter appears to have not prepped his gear or this problem would never have happened. I would pay him little, you contracted for content which you did nor receive.

  • No way you should pay him. But, for the rate you were paying, you shouldn't have expected much. Are your clients happy to pay you for choosing this guy? How do the interviewees feel? You say you can't re-shoot. How valuable is your savings now?

    I've been doing this 40 years. In all that time I've had footage screwed up, twice. Once was bad tape supplied by the client, the other was when the client insisted on adjusting the camera he had rented for me to use. Because I was the DP, it was my responsibility to ensure it was right. I could have argued and pointed fingers, but the best course was to not get paid for either instance. I learned those lessons the hard way and have never repeated either mistake. The best way for this kid to learn is to eat his own mistakes. Just like you hopefully learned that cheap is not always cheerful.

  • If you didn't get what you asked for, regardless of price, then don't pay a penny. Your camera op should have done a test of equipment before filming. 10 percent of good shooters do that every time.

  • I do not understand. You hire an unknown with unknown equipment for a important job. That may be fine - but for a unknown crew member and unknown equipment there has to be extra allowances - especially if you have no backup.

    We are in the digital age. Why was there no test and check before the shoot? I've used rentals, other crew's equipment, emergency equipment finds - and all goes through the same process. Do a test first. Takes only minutes. Then, after first take - check playback. For any new equipment, never go to second take without checking the first take - even after the initial test. That's standard operating procedure. Always, without fail.

    Cost is not the issue.

  • Where did the cameraman RANK on Staff Me Up? Fair question, seeing as experienced people improperly ranking low cause producers to hire incompetent workers instead.

  • I am sure you don't need another lecture. But, the general axiom is you get what you pay for. Having repeated this phrase ad nauseam, you owe the cameraman, technically, NOTHING. He did not provide services, whether implicit or not. I am sure there is another side to the story but given the info you provided, he deserves nada. We have all had those days and they are gut wrenching. Chalk it up and move on.

  • The problem with today production world is the wide range of talent and little measure of professionalism. Your rate for for this project was very low and I would not consider this a professional rate for what you needed.
    I tell all my freelance crews, you are not being paid for your time on the set, you are being paid to deliver a product of your skill set, whether that be camera files with proper footage, good looking shots that tell the story or great audio. If you do not deliver the goods, no payment.
    But when you're dealing with professionals, this is rarely a problem.

  • $400.00 for a 'camera person' and equipment is pretty unrealistic imho, from a producers point it may seem like a bargain but then when it turns bad its the camera persons fault. Budget rules but really if you want to go cheap, cheap is what you get. Tv shows make a lot of money, not sure why that doesn't trickle down to the people that actually do the work but you roll the dice every time you pay as little as you are. Thats poor producing, if its worth recording than its worth paying for, if not you get what you got and if thats the case why bother. Pay a decent wage and 99 times out of 100 you won't have this problem...assigning blame is not a productive approach, be serious and if you want to get it done 'pay' for it.

  • There's a famous saying, "Penny wise and pound foolish." There are many excellent DP's in Vegas and LA that make an investment not only in gear, but in time and education to be able to provide top notch service for their clients even on lower realistic budgets...Unless you can book that same crew for the 2nd half of the day, half days aren't half days. You look for the best in a Dr., Attorney, plumbers, electricians and yet producers have no qualms about trying to find the most inexpensive camera op to provide the most amount of gear and when the shoot fails, it's the camera op's fault. Is it, though? When you producers are looking for crew, maybe it would be wise to reconsider your budget if you can't afford the crew you'd really like to matter how simple the shoot might seem.

  • Hire Local.

  • I keep seeing a lot about pay, but honestly he could have just started out and actually have talent, but accepted lower wages for whatever reason. What’s more important is having integrity and professionalism once you decided to accept a job period! If you agree to a wage, then your job is to build your brand and reputation. Bad days don’t exist at work! That’s no ones problem, but yours. We are all human yes, but professionalism is what’s required here. I’m sure you’ve already paid at this point, but if you believe in his talent, i would tell him the truth and ask him to reshoot and guarantee his work. If you don’t want to deal with him further, write the review! This will not only help others not to be in your position, it should also serve as a wake up call to him letting him know that this is not a game, and that he needs to figure out if he wants to take this seriously or not. It’s not your responsibility to be empathetic when it was your project, money, and reputation on the line as well. Good luck!

  • Unacceptable on every level. There are AV kids at UNLV you could have engaged I'm sure. I get the "You get what you pay for" argument but DANG. He should not have taken the job for that rate, especially with the driving. However, to then basically ruin a shoot through his neglect, is just terrible. The battery thing just kills me. Wait no, the card thing. OMG

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