Richard is a well-known local filmmaker who, like most Producers, deals with deal making on a daily basis. Some of his deals are based on prior relationships. Some depend on his charisma in the moment. Some are a result of his proven track record. A few come because he has great relationships with press, a number of film commissions, and crew.
This Thursday, Richard described to me a few of his negotiation techniques when it comes to casting. In April, Richard traveled to Burbank to meet with top acting talent and models who would play key roles in a film we produced in June.
What are Richard's deal-making secrets? Here is what I found out:
Many filmmakers, both beginning and advanced, balk at budgets. When it comes to negotiating a cast member's pay, however, a budget can be your best friend. If you know what SAG has allowed you (objective criteria) and you are clear on where every dollar of a budget is going, you can make a take it or leave it offer. If an actor or crewmember is crucial to your film, which is rarely the case, you can sometimes make adjustments if you are willing to take the difference from someone else. This is not good practice. It is better to use other objective criteria to explain why what you offer to start with is a reasonable amount to pay for this role, then show other ways in which this role will benefit the actor's or crew member's career.
Another technique is to use a third party like an accountant to back you up on the exact amount available (budgeted) for the part. This may not be objective per se, but it is a good way to reinforce that what you are offering is all you can reasonably offer without taking from someone else.
When dealing with talent's management, one might build a relationship before asking for anything. A manager of some of the models Richard interviewed had sent him headshots of some of his girls fifteen years earlier when Richard made his first film. Remembering this common history made the manager more willing to work with Richard on price on this film.
Occasionally you can take advantage of someone not knowing the current value of scale, although this (kind of a dirty trick) is not advisable if you are trying to build a long-term relationship and long-term career. What happens when they find out? It is better to be honest in your dealings, and build a reputation for integrity and doing exactly what you say.
There are dozens of ways to negotiate, but the bottom line is to be prepared, be confident, know your job, know what you need from them, and just be a leader that they can trust to keep your word. The more they like you and respect you, the more they will do what they can to make you successful. Filmmaking is all about teamwork, so fairness is vital. If you can't pay talent what they deserve, make it up in intangibles and how you treat them on set.
Thanks for the advice Richard! I hope this is useful to you, my readers, as well.