Why This Film & Television Supervisor Rejoiced Over A $1/Hour Raise

ILLUSTRATION BY VERO ROMERO
In our series My Salary Story, women with long-term career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions, and job loss, with the hope it will give young women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.
Been in the workforce for at least eight years, and interested in contributing your salary story? Email us here.
Previously, we talked to a 33-year-old sales manager who was laid off during the Great Recession. Today, we connect with a 35-year-old department supervisor in film who has navigated paychecks in a less traditional industry.
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Age: 35
Current Location: Georgia
Industry & Title: Film & Television, Department Supervisor
Starting Salary: ~$12/hour. "But this was not in the film industry."
Current Salary: $43/hour. "My industry is a little unique in that I do not receive a salary; I negotiate an hourly rate for each film or TV show I'm on, as well as for my assistants. There is a minimum (referred to as 'scale') set by the union I belong to. I currently make about $8-$10/hour above scale, depending on the contract. Different projects have different contracts based on budget. (A blockbuster superhero movie will not have the same contract as a $3 million independent film.) My rate includes full benefits paid by my employer."
Number Of Years Employed: 12. "I have been in the workforce since graduating from college in 2006. (Although I worked all throughout high school and college!)"
Biggest Income Jump: "This a little hard to quantify since I’m paid an hourly rate and only for a period of a few months at a time, but I went from $36/hour in 2016 to $40/hour on the next project."
Biggest Income Drop: "When I started as a department head, I had to take projects with much smaller budgets in order to get credits. (Before then, I had been working as an assistant on larger projects, so my rate was better.) I probably went from low $30/hour rates to mid $20/hour rates at that time. This only lasted a couple years as I got credits and moved up to bigger projects."
Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: "Not realizing I should have been asking for more earlier on. Many times, I felt like I should just take what was offered to me and be glad I got anything. It took me a long time to realize I could and should ask for more because I was worth more."
Best Salary-Related Advice: "Do not undersell yourself. It can be awkward at first to stick to your guns and prove that you deserve what you are asking for. I always follow up negotiations with an email so everything is in writing and I can refer to it later. 'Thanks for your time today. Just wanted to review what we discussed…' and so on."
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1 of 12
"I graduated from college in 2006 and worked as a receptionist at chiropractor's office, making $12/hour.

"I had a handful of non-film industry jobs while trying to get in and received great advice from a friend who had graduated the year before: Don't take the easy jobs right out of college. Force yourself to leave those waitressing gigs behind and do anything even remotely related to your industry.

"It's easy to get stuck in the jobs you had during college after you graduate, but you have to force yourself to move on."
2 of 12
"My first job in the film industry was an internship in Atlanta, GA about a year later. I had not taken an internship while I was in school, which was a mistake; but luckily, the opportunity for this position presented itself through a connection I had from school.

"I made $0 but the company bought my food. I calculated my monthly living expenses and asked my mother if she would be willing to support me for three months so I could give the internship a shot. She said yes; I did that for three months, and it is absolutely the reason I was able to get my foot in the door."
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3 of 12
"My first union job in the film industry was in 2008. I made $22/hour, and this would have been 'scale'. I didn't negotiate.

"These projects last three to four months at a time, so you don't have a position for the full year. We work around 12- to 14-hour days in my industry, getting paid time-and-a-half after 10 hours and double time after 12 or 14, depending on the contract."
4 of 12
"In 2010, I took on my first job as a department head. I made $26/hour and didn't negotiate here, either.

"The way these positions work is that a [studio] will hire me for a period of four months or so for a project. I then hire my department. This department head/supervisor position was for a very small, low-budget movie. I didn't begin to do this position on a full-time basis until years later."
5 of 12
"I made varying amounts, from $26/hour - $30/hour, primarily working as an assistant and gaining experience on set from 2010 to 2016. Each job is different because each movie has a different budget, and you start a new negotiation every few months. Although our union set basic agreements and we can't make less than a certain amount, I could have made $27/hour on one job in 2017, $28/hour on another, and gone back to $26/hour, etc.

"This was a good period for me because it helped me understand what makes a good assistant and what makes a good supervisor. I had a great supervisor, which contributed to how I supervise my crew now — but I learned some things, too. For example, my supervisor never negotiated my hourly rate. I didn't even know that was an option until I became a supervisor myself and talked with other people in my position. I just accepted what I was given. Now, I negotiate my main assistant's rate because I believe this person is more valuable and experienced than the baseline rate that is offered.

"Around 2016, I began working full time as a supervisor when my supervisor retired. This was terrifying — I didn't feel ready. The change sort of forced me into the role, but it was really the best thing."
6 of 12
"In 2016, I made $34/hour on a project for a major studio that is known to pay low, but I figured I was lucky to have it. The person who did the same show the previous season told me he took a film instead because it paid better. He told me not to accept less than $40/hour going forward, which was great advice — but it wasn't like I could instantly start commanding that rate."
7 of 12
"On my next job that year [with the same studio], I made $36/hour. I made $2/hour less the previous season but they always pay more when you come back for a new season. I didn't negotiate."
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8 of 12
"Next, I was hired on a project in 2016 that wanted to pay me $34/hour. I knew they were desperate, though, so I used that as my opportunity to clear that $40/hour goal. This was the first job I really negotiated because I didn't have the confidence or experience to know I could negotiate before.

"They went back and forth but I knew they needed me more than I needed them, so I stood my ground and they eventually gave me what I asked for. This allowed me to tell future projects that my rate was $40/hour and I wasn't willing to go below that."
9 of 12
"In the beginning of 2017, I took a job where they wanted to give me $39/hour and I refused to take less than $40. The same person who had given me the advice to not take less than $40/hour about a year before had been hired to work on this film first. They were unwilling to go above $39/hour, so he quit before he even started. They called me next.

"I didn't know he had been hired and was unable to 'make a deal' with them. But I remembered what he had told me the year before and refused to go below $40/hour, even though it was a lot of negotiating and I almost didn't get the job. They kept saying things like, 'We absolutely cannot go above $39/hour. We would have to get the studio involved.' I thought, Great — get the studio involved. I will wait. Finally, they gave me my rate. It was only $1/hour more but it was a huge victory for me, especially since conversations about the gender pay gap in Hollywood were really starting to heat up. (And I don't think they did 'get the studio involved.' I think that was a bluff.)

"I found out about my friend being hired and quitting over that same $1 later on. He was not at all resentful and congratulated me on getting it out of them, which was so refreshing. It was great to feel like we weren't in competition and we both won."
10 of 12
"The next job that year, I received $41.60/hour. I tried to negotiate to $42/hour and they would not agree, however, they let me start a couple of days early 'out of office,' so I got paid for a few extra days.

"The extra time was supposed to make up the $0.40 difference, but it didn't work out that way. In hindsight, I think I should have held out because I am pretty sure I would have gotten it, but they wore me down."
11 of 12
"I turned down a job earlier this year that wouldn't match me at $42/hour — a figure I promised myself I wouldn't go below after having just made $41.60/hour. The job offered $38/hour, then $39/hour, and finally $40/hour. They also wanted to give my assistant $2/hour less than he had been making at the time.

"We needed the job but we had worked so hard to get to the rates we were at, and I wasn't willing for each of us to take a $2 cut. Several weeks after we turned down the job, our current project came along. We got the rates we requested and it was a much better fit. Being out of work for a time was a little scary — but it was worth it."
12 of 12
"In my current job, I negotiated $35/hour for my assistant — the most he has ever received — and that was a real victory. I got to $43/hour for myself since it was only slight jump from the $41.60/hour I had been making. (Though, they accepted that ask right away, which makes me feel like I should have asked for more.)

"You get a lot of practice when you do this several times a year but it's always a guessing game. There is a budget that details how much they can afford to pay for each position, and sometimes it's hard to know how much to ask for. Are am I settling way too low or asking much too high? Should I turn the job down if they won't match me?

"I've started to talk to other people who do my job (all men!) to see what they are making and what they think about the rates offered. That way, we can all empower ourselves with information. It's difficult and awkward to discuss but so worth it."
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