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  • Drone rates

  • Daniel Waldron

    October 15, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Hi all, I mainly participate in the After Effects and Premiere forums, but like to lurk around here and glean advice whenever I can.

    My reason for posting is that I am branching out and starting to offer a drone as part of my services as a side gig. I’m mainly an editor/After Effects artist, but getting aerial shots is something I enjoy and can hopefully make some money doing it. I have my FAA Part 107 license and get liability insurance through Verifly on a per need basis. I’ve had a few paid gigs already, but am still struggling on what an acceptable rate is. I’ve seen everything ranging from $200 to $2000 for half day on a corporate shoot. Does anyone here have experience in this area, whether it’s flying or hiring?

    I know there are many variables to the rate, but I am just looking for a ballpark I can base things off of. I’m in fairly large production market. My current drone is by no means a top model carrying a RED or anything, but it takes professional, high-quality shots. My market is mainly corporate with maybe some commercial or real estate sprinkled in.

    For what it is worth, I am fine losing out on some jobs if the rate is too low. I’ve had great success in the stock footage market and if that’s where I end up using this the majority of the time, I can be ok with that. I am more just looking for info as I am new to this market and am curious what is and isn’t reasonable these days. Any thoughts are welcome. Thanks!

  • Mark Suszko

    October 15, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    You might want to also ask this in the COW’s Drone forum. My first impression when reading your question is: “what’s different about a shooter pitching his or her skills for a job, just because the camera flies?”

    Now, from reading your post, I can already tell you’re squared-away on the legal aspects of Drone shooting, and that certainly distinguishes you from the grand-variety freelance shooter who doesn’t do that due diligence. That’s part of what daisies the cost: flying safe and legal, and you want to point this out to potential clients, that they are also paying for a guy that will not potentially entangle their name in any legal problems when they need an aerial. “Yeah, that guy’s rate sounds low… but is he legally cleared with the authorities to fly, is he insured?”

    That said, I guess you can pitch your jobs by day rate like a regular terrestrial shooter, or you can pitch each job as if it was a stock footage sale. Either way, you’re doing the same thing: you have already calculated your day rate and half-day rate, your travel and insurance/clearance/paperwork costs, and come to a number, below which, it doesn’t pay to take the gig. Stick to that number as your bottom line, and see what they’re offering you. Remember; first one to say a number, loses. If they insist you go first, remember your magic number and start out ten to twenty percent higher than that. Leaves a little room to negotiate down if they balk and you really want the gig, without low-balling you into taking a loss. You might also want to describe your work in terms of levels of service packages, even before you drop that number. “With this package you’ll also get alternate versions of the shot that can be used for bumper shots, still photos for web, brochures, annual reports, etc.”

    You should be checking out anybody nearby that offers the same services and ask them for a rate card. Compare your bottom-line rate to theirs. Ideally, you’d want to price yourself half-way between the cheapest local provider and the most high-end guy/gal. If the pricing competition is tight, see what you can offer in other incentives.

    But whatever else, never, never fly below minimums on your established rate 😉

  • Todd Terry

    October 16, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Mark’s advice is good as usual.

    People on the COW for some reason generally seem loathe to talk about rates, but it doesn’t bother met at all and I’m happy to share.

    It’s very rare that we do “drone only” shoots, I’d say 99% of the time a drone shot is something that we need in conjunction with a regular shoot we are doing. For example, we recently spent two days in a neighboring state shooting a television campaign for a credit union… virtually all of the footage was “on the ground,” but we did need two aerials, and they were snagged at various points through the shoot days. When that’s the case, we’re charging our regular base shoot rate (which is $300/hr), plus I tack on $200 if the drone is used at any point in the day. Not $200 per hour or per flight, just a flat $200 added to the day’s shooting charges.

    On the rare occasions that we’ve been asked for drone-only work, I just charged the flat regular shoot rate of $300/hr.

    Those have all just been one-off shots that we needed, or a shot or two for a separate project… or in the case of one client that is constructing a new $26 million HUGE building, they have us document the construction progress every couple of weeks. But no one has ever booked drone work for a day…. that need hasn’t come up here, and I don’t really expect it to. I’ve only got about an hour’s worth of batteries, anyway.

    We do what I call “mid level” drone work… we’ve flown various flavors of Phantoms through the last few years, and right now have a Mavic Pro but will probably switch up to the Pro 2 soon. I’ve rented the Inspire before (back before the Mavic existed), but that’s as high-end as we’ve needed so far. If I need to fly something like a RED or 5D, I have a buddy with the “big birds” who will do that for me. He used to stay super busy doing high-end drone work, everything from corporate to feature films… but not so much anymore since now everybody and their brother is doing it. I have to say my little Mavic’s camera is pretty unbelievably excellent. If you’d told filmmakers 10 years ago that this would be so easy and cheap and good they wouldn’t have believed it.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Daniel Waldron

    October 16, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    Thank you both for your thoughts! Some good stuff to consider. I agree that on most shoots it will be used for a few establishing or creative shots and not needed for a full day. $200 seems like a fair rate as a “throw in” on a shoot. However, as Mark said I do need to account for all my costs including pre-production, license, insurance, travel, etc since I won’t necessarily be making money from the rest of the job. I looked up rentals comparable to mine and they range between $180-$300/day. That’s without a pilot. I do plan on asking around in my area to see what rates other companies are charging. That should also give me a better feel for rates as well.

    I appreciate the input!

  • Todd Terry

    October 16, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    [Daniel Waldron] “I looked up rentals comparable to mine and they range between $180-$300/day. “

    Yeah, I understand, but that’s irrelevant. That’s just hardware. You’re not charging for the hardware (although that of course is a part of it and a financial consideration on your end). You are charging for your time and talent. As fellow COW Tim Knox told me a long time ago (is he still around?… haven’t seen him in forever), “Talent comes before technology in the dictionary,” and it should it our business, too.

    You have to think of it as that you are not charging for the bird, you are charging for what you can do with it. If you need an operation you don’t care what the hospital paid for the scalpels (although these days no doubt they charge you for it), you only care what the surgeon can do with it.

    Technology has become a leveler, because the cost of entry is almost nil now. My company is 22 years old. Thirty years ago it would have taken $10M to do what we can do, but by the time we began it in 1997 it only took about $100K. Today, you could do it for about eleven bucks.

    Same with drones… 10 years ago that silky smooth cinematic aerial might have taken a $2M Bell Jetranger, a Tyler mount, and an Arri pulling 35mm film. Today it takes a thousand-buck DJI…. that can fly smoother, quieter, lower, cheaper, and much more nimble than a real helicopter. But you can’t get braggy about owning one, because your neighbor does too… and the guy across the street. But can they do with it what you can? You are charging for your talent.

    A lot of it is marketing, too. At my little company we say we have a distinct advantage because the drone pilot (which happens to be me) is both a veteran cinematographer and has also spent many hours in the pilot seat of “real” airplanes… a double threat. But of course, in reality it makes no difference… I’m undoubtedly no better at it than many kids around (those darn video games) who could fly circles around me. Quite literally. It’s all in how you sell it.

    And yeah, definitely find out what your competition is charging.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Daniel Waldron

    October 16, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Oh I agree completely. I’ve been in the business long enough to see what used to be a struggle to do on high-end NLE systems can now be done on a smartphone with a couple taps and swipes. I figure the companies are hiring me as a licensed and insured (and somewhat experienced) pilot. Anyone can rent or buy a drone, but as Mark alluded to, the pilot who has the legal, technical, and creative expertise is more rare. I only referenced the rental rates as what a prospective client might be expecting based on some Googling. I am aiming for higher, but I guess we will see what the market has to say about that.

  • Greg Ball

    October 16, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    For me, we hire drone pilots and equipment often, but it’s part of our shoot.In that case it’s $200 to-$300 additional, since it’s the same operator who os shooting our other footage.

    Otherwise it depends on what we’re shooting. A large commercial property or a small house have different rates. If we’re shooting real estate, it may involve shooting the local community as well. That rate comes in higher.

    Greg Ball, President
    Ball Media Innovations, Inc.

    Miami Video Production Company | Miami to Orlando Florida | Corporate

  • Tom Sefton

    October 18, 2019 at 9:07 am

    The only time we pay more than an additional £3-400 per day for an operator to bring a drone for a few shots, is when the drone needs to carry a red or an Arri mini. That gets very, very expensive.

    Co-owner at Pollen Studio

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