As straightforward as it is to pick up a camera, point it at your friend, and become a “filmer,” a lot of the knowledge needed to actually make a career from filming skateboarding isn’t self-evident. It’s downright cultish. So to try to make the business side of filming more transparent, we talked with three full-time filmers to get their different experiences and insights.
If you’re a filmer, hopefully something here is useful, and if you don’t film, at least you’ll understand why that filmer buddy of yours is always stressing to stack those precious clips.
( ILLEGAL CIVILIZATION FILMER )
How do you arrange selling a clip to a skater’s sponsors?
The skater will usually be like, “I want to use this trick for my adidas part,” or “I want to use this trick for my Nike part,” and then I send my clip to whoever is in charge of that over there. Once the project comes out you send them an invoice and get paid. Certain people will pay you up front, but in most cases you have to give it to them and hope they use it. If they don’t use it, you don’t get paid.
What’s the average price for a clip of a single trick?
It depends on the company but $75 is the average. Nike and bigger companies pay $100 for a single clip and $150 for a line, so that’s what I charge.
Do companies offer more money if you send them b-roll footage or slams?
Yeah, a lifestyle clip is like $50 and a b-roll is like $50-75. If you documented anything in the video there’s a way to get paid for it. Not all companies will pay for them, but most companies will.
Can you sell clips filmed on a phone camera?
Yeah, they’d probably be a lower rate like $50, but you could still sell it to them. But that’s like an “if they ask for it” type situation. Sometimes they’ll buy it and if they don’t use it they’ll post it on Instagram, or they’ll just buy it for Instagram so the rates will be lower.
If you sell a clip to a sponsor, could you ever reuse it somewhere else?
Yeah. The licence just gives them the right to use it, I’m not signing over ownership. Some companies buy the whole thing so you can’t use the clip anywhere else, but most cases they just pay you to use it for whatever they need it for. Which is how I’m able to post YouTube videos without getting in trouble.
You have a pretty active YouTube channel. Is that a steady source of income for you?
Now I work for Illegal Civilization, so most of everything I’ve been doing has been going toward that, but if YouTube was my main focus I could make good money off that. But even if I don’t post stuff it’s a recurring money cycle because people re-watch videos all the time and new people discover it. My channel has been monetized since like 2011. I learned that early on and kept it going.
“Don’t rely on the [full-length] video to be the one big thing for your company.”
Because brands constantly need video content for YouTube and Instagram, does that create more opportunities for filmers?
Exactly. If every company was only working on full-lengths, then every company would have one filmer to do that. The internet has made more opportunities for filmers. I’ll use Primitive as an example. They have three different filmers because they do so much. They make full videos, they do Instagram, YouTube, they shoot commercials. Back in the day they would have one filmer on payroll, but because of the internet they have three filmers on payroll and some editors as well.
So brands have to be more strategic about making full-lengths today?
Don’t rely on the video to be the one big thing for your company. IC is making IC3 but we still post YouTube videos and short films, so there’s other stuff to add to the full-length. It’s not like back in the day when it was the end all be all. Now you need Instagram stuff, YouTube stuff, it’s a bunch of factors.
( ADIDAS NY FILMER / NY-BASED FREELANCER )
How do you arrange selling clips to a skater’s sponsors?
Usually the skater will put me in contact with whoever is doing the video for that company and I’ll send the footage over to them. Then they’ll talk to you again when the footage is being used. Maybe they’ll give you a heads up about what they’re using it for but not usually. And if they don’t use the footage because it’s not the best, other sponsors might not want it also. Or the skater might not want it used. Skaters don’t want half-assed footage of themselves coming out. So if you get 20 things and people only use five, then a year later those 15 that were never used, the skater probably won’t even want to use them anymore.
What do you do with leftover clips?
I usually hold on to them. I filmed tricks of a couple people a few years ago and they were never used, but they might be used in the future. Those people are a little older and the footage could last a little longer for them. But younger kids are progressing really fast, so if something isn’t used right away they’re probably much better when their next thing comes out.
If you film a clip of someone, then they change a major sponsor, like their board or shoe sponsor, how does that impact your ability to use that footage?
If they change their shoe sponsor then the new shoe sponsor isn’t going to want any footage of them in the old stuff. Board sponsors are a little different because you don’t see the board graphic in every clip. If the skater is planning to leave their sponsor, you could try to get an independent video part on Thrasher, not for any company, that way you could get rid of all the footage before it gets lost. I think Nyjah did something like that when he was leaving DC for Nike. At least the filmer can get paid a little for the project and the skater will have all the footage seen.
Can you sell clips you filmed on your camera phone?
Social media is really tough to get paid for. A lot of time sponsors will repost whatever you put on Instagram, thinking it’s fair game, but in all reality they should be paying you to use your content as an advertisement on their page. Usually if you hit them up about it they tell you that they don’t have the budget for that kind of stuff. I’ve never gotten paid for anything on Instagram. If social media is your best form of marketing then you should have a budget to pay the people that are contributing to your brand’s marketing scheme on Instagram.
“I’ve never gotten paid for anything on Instagram.”
The Berrics has been going social media crazy to try to continue to draw attention to themselves. They continually repost other people’s content without asking, and they have no plan to pay the people they are stealing the videos from. They have used my videos without permission and would not take them down after I asked. One of those videos was at Pyramid Ledges, and I still can’t figure out how my video relates to their indoor skatepark. Still waiting on my checks, Berra! I got unpaid invoices dating back to 2016 for projects done with you guys! But I’m not the only one. Unfortunately many other photographers and filmers are in the same boat as me when it comes to getting paid from them.
Is it easier or harder for you to make a living as a filmer in New York versus California?
I think it’s easier for me because there’s not many people doing it. In southern California, every filmer that wants to make it is living out there, so it’s probably tougher for all of them. Whereas there’s not as many filmers in New York so it makes it a little easier. Throughout the summer people are constantly doing trips to New York, so if you know a bunch of people, every week you’ll have a new crew and maybe you’ll be getting a paycheck to show them around or they’ll buy the footage later on.
( FORMERLY ETN / CALIFORNIA-BASED FREELANCER )
Have you ever lost a clip?
Oh yeah, I’ve lost clips and filmed them so shitty that they couldn’t be used. I chopped off half of Felipe Gustavo’s body on a line that took him three hours. He was pretty bummed on that.
You gotta come clean because you have to give the skater an opportunity to do it again, as embarrassing as it is. Nobody has ever been so pissed that they don’t want to film with me anymore. It’s always filler anyways and that’s what I’ll say, like, “Who cares, that shit was filler. Let’s get all bangers.” Like flip it back on them.
How do you usually go about selling clips to sponsors?
I try not to come at a company with a random clip. I make it more of a pitch and less of just the clip. My pitches are all about the marketing of the media and what it’s gonna do for the company. If I go to Baker and say, “I wanna film a fuckin’ Rowan part,” they’d be like, “No shit. I guess we’ll work on our own video.” But if I go, “You know how Rowan’s really into kayaking? What if we made a board that had this graphic, and we filmed a part where this happened, and then you could sell the kayak board with the release of the video?” Not that Rowan’s into kayaking, I just made that up. My career as a skateboarding filmer has been completely dependent on my ability to come up with a concept and write it out in an email that makes sense.
As a freelancer, would sponsors pay you for bail or b-roll footage?
You have to include that shit for free. I don’t know what the game is like right now because I haven’t been on the independent struggle for a minute, but when I was doing the Plan B video dudes would send clips and say they had b-roll and I would be like, “Sick, send it through.” What are you gonna do, hold onto that b-roll? You just guaranteed your trick in the video, but don’t shake me down for the fact that you filmed him roll up from the other side. Maybe I’m being rude but when I was doing it that’s how it was.
What if the trick is someone’s ender? Would companies pay more for that clip?
Don’t shake down a company because you got the gold, it’s a bad look for you later. In this industry there’s not enough spots to be a kook. You have to play the game and have some fun.
Do you prefer to work freelance or as a staff filmer?
It’s definitely better to remain freelance because a lot of companies can’t afford to pay you a radical salary. When I was working for Plan B, I worked out something with them where I was basically full-time except when I got cool gigs. If I have an opportunity to make some good money, I’m gonna have to go on some Red Bull trip to get that money. A lot of skateboard companies are cool with that ’cause they know you’re not gonna get rich filming for a board brand solely.
If you sell a clip to a sponsor, can you reuse it somewhere else?
You have to wait ‘til they used it for what they wanted to use it for. Obviously if a part just came out, I wouldn’t go posting that trick to your personal Instagram or reselling it right away. But if it’s been a year, do whatever you want with it. I just sold Tech Deck some clips that I filmed with Torey Pudwill like five years ago. They needed some shit with Torey and I’m like, “Here you go, take it.” But if you’re gonna resell a clip you should let them know it’s been used before.
If a sponsor buys a clip from you, then later licenses it to a documentary or some other film project, are you entitled to royalties?
Red Bull has done it to me before but Red Bull has a contract that says when I sell them any clips they can use them “in perpetuity, for the rest of time throughout the universe.” I’ve seen clips I’ve filmed for them on national commercials during a fucking basketball game or something on TNT.
If I were to do it all over again, I would be smarter with the contracts I’ve created. You should have some kind of contract that you send out with your clips that says, “I’m selling you this clip for this purpose, at this price, and this is the distribution you’re allowed to use it for. Anything beyond that will require renegotiation.” If you want to use the clip at the beginning of a documentary, I’m not gonna hound you for $200 for a clip I filmed five years ago. And if the company paying for it is a board brand or any endemic skateboarding company, if they are able to relicense that footage, good on them. Take some more revenue, let’s keep skateboarding companies alive for as long as possible.
“You should have some kind of contract…that says, ‘I’m selling you this clip for this purpose… Anything beyond that will require renegotiation.'”
If you film a clip of someone, then they change a major sponsor like their board or shoe sponsor, can you still sell that clip?
You better hope you’re in the know about that contract switching over, and if you have a relationship with that skateboarder, they’ll typically let you know that something like that is happening. Deals are pretty hush hush when they’re on their way, but you better hope that happens because you can get totally fucked.
I could be wrong, but I want to say P-Rod had a bunch of footage with éS before he went to Nike. I think when Nike signed him they bought all that footage from éS because they never wanted it to see the light of day. Because now P-Rod is their shining Nike rider and it wouldn’t behoove them for a bunch of epic footage to be released of him in another shoe.
How do you grow a big enough network to support yourself on filming freelance?
When I started filming with Sheckler we just developed a relationship, and once that happened I became his filmer for everything. Whatever sponsor needed something it was understood that I was gonna do it. I did a Samsung commercial with Ryan and it was like, “Samsung wants to do a Ryan thing. Here Samsung, talk to Erik.” Once you have that relationship, it’s fucking awesome.
If Ryan has 10 sponsors, now you have 10 avenues of income. Then while filming with Plan B I also got Felipe. Now I’m Felipe’s guy, he’s got seven different sponsors that Ryan doesn’t have. Now I’m dogs with Torey, Torey’s got another eight. Now I’ve got like 23 companies all with their own budgets. When you compare those 23 and the other relationships along the way, you got the whole industry ready to pay for clips. They all have different budgets and that’s a big pool of money. But if you try to work full-time for one company, they got a little bit of money for you. I’d rather be available for 40 companies than one.
If you’re filming a clip of someone and they decide to come back because they didn’t land the trick, are they obligated to go back there with you?
Fuck yeah! Especially if I’m freelance. You break my goddamn back for three hours and make me sweat my balls off for nothing and then have some other dude film the make? You dickhead.
Sometimes I’m hungover that day and I can’t make it, so call someone else. But there’s definitely a courtesy. Also I’ve had it where I got the call to go back on the mish and I was like, “I can’t do it today,” because I did not want to film that three-hour fisheye line again ’cause I know you can’t do it. But then you risk losing that relationship with the skater. If it was Torey, I would never recommend someone else because I’m his dude. Now he has the time of his life with some new guy and he’s got two dudes, I just lost half my fucking salary.
Do you prioritize filming skaters who have more lucrative sponsors?
It depends. Are you trying to buy a house some day or are you trying to just have some bros? I think balance is important. Sometimes you gotta be like, “Sorry, I gotta fuckin’ go get this paycheck.” And sometimes you gotta be like, fuck the paycheck, I wanna hang out with this homie. That is almost like the balance between life and work. Sometimes my life is filming the bros and it doesn’t feel like work.
How can full-length videos serve brands today?
It’s really hard for someone to spend four years doing the best shit in their life with a professional filmmaker other than to have a big project like a full-length happen. How is a hardgoods company supposed to pay one filmer’s full salary for four years to film one part with one guy? That’s expensive as hell. So I think full-length videos are the solution. You get to let some people spend a lot of time showcasing what they’re capable of with a professional filmmaker, and the only way to make that financially viable is to put out a full-length video.
For a company to not see that they can do everything else they need to do on social media while they’re filming a full-length video is silly. While those guys are out creating a full-length video, you could be getting all of your assets that you need along the way for Instagram and photos for your season book and all this shit.
Should brands pay filmers for using their Instagram clips?
I thought about starting a union for skateboarding filmers long ago to protect us in instances like that. Let’s say you started it and got a bunch of the big dogs involved, all you would do is require a couple things. If you use our clips on Instagram, you have to pay us X amount. If you resell our clips, we want X percentage of that sale. You couldn’t be too much of an asshole, but just enough to feel protected. I don’t think that’s that far-fetched.
I did start talking to some skateboarders about it when we saw this shift of social media but I was too busy filming and editing to give a shit in the end, I guess. I’m fucking lucky to be doing this at all. I’m not gonna try to ruffle some feathers.
I’ve seen filmers and photographers come in and say, “I’ll do all this shit for free, just @ me,” and that creates a fucked up economy. You’re never gonna get paid appropriately and now no one else is either. A staff filmer I know got fired because there were too many people to do the work for nothing that he was getting paid to do. But at the same time, those kids are coming from butt-fuck nowhere and they’re able to make names and careers for themselves. They should get to do whatever they want.