Friday, February 13, 2009

Holy Weekend

Just another note, which I alluded to from my post about Uncle Woodrow's birthday, I want to say Happy Birthday today to my sister Dorothy, Happy Anniversary (February 14) to her and her husband Michael, and Happy Birthday (February 15) to the very same Michael. What does that mean? They conspired with a higher power above to create a unique three-day celebration, which they dubbed Holy Week. Since it falls on a weekend this year, it naturally becomes Holy Weekend (the excuse of all excuses!!!)

Isn't it so romantic? Being married on the ultimate day of romance, which happens to take place between two lovers' birthdays? Yeah, I'm kinda queasy too, but hey... I'd probably try to do the same around Easter if Aqua Boogie's birthday were two days from mine >;)

SCAM ALERT: (800) 921-4557 - The Career Hotline on Craigslist

I'm re-posting this from a thread I put up on the NY Craigslist Jobs Forum as a warning to job seekers:

"There are several postings floating around Craigslist in New York offering Warehouse and Engineering jobs starting at $20-30/hr or $40-$60 thousand a year. The short post lists the usual offerings for perm jobs (benefits, blah-blah-blah) and offers an 800 number to call.

When you call the number, you get a short speech; a female voice introducing the company as The Career Hotline, offering their services as a job service where you're guaranteed placement in one of the many jobs they have. You are told that you must be available to work immediately within the next two weeks, followed by being informed that there is a guaranteed placement fee of $195.

The voice then offers the option of pressing '1' to speak with a representative, but immediately following that announcement, the line you have called attempts to transfer you to another line. I hung up before being connected and searched for references to this company.

Apparently the number 800-921-4557 pops up in ads around the country; in Chicago, Indianapolis and even Aurora, CO; offering the same exact thing.

I searched the Better Business Bureau, but they had nothing. I searched the 800notes database, but again nothing. I then came across a page from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which essentially confirmed my suspicion. This is definitely a scam. Outside of the obvious that a company cannot guarantee that you will be hired for anything, the fact that you have to pay an up-front fee (likely over the phone) should raise anyone's hackles immediately. But worse, the attempt to switch you to another line would likely have dropped you onto a 900 pay-per-call or pay-per-minute line without your knowledge, which is illegal.

So bottom line, if you see a job listing with 800-921-4557 listed in it, don't waste your time. If you call any number and here a recorded voice introducing The Career Hotline or a similar name, hang up immediately. Luckily I had the wherewithal to avoid this scam, but others might not be so lucky, so pass it around.

The FTC's page on identifying and avoiding scams like this can be found at this page:

Good luck!

The thing that gets me is how many of these scams have become more prevalent during this economic crisis. It's bad enough so many people are down on their luck and out of work, maybe just getting by or hanging on by a string. If you're a job seeker or someone who is legitimately seeking work and trying to get by, you might get caught up in something like this fairly easily, and then BOOM, you're out of money and on your behind while someone else gets rich for nothing. These are the pocket Bernie Madoffs; the ones that play the shell game with a smile on their face and a song in their heart, while their accomplice picks your pocket. If we should be outraged about anything (and I'm really not outraged by what I talked about on the last post anymore), it should be by this.

Craigslist had a fine business model that has affected print publications like newspapers in major ways (remember the yellow LOOT newspapers? Look where they are now!), but I would argue that the business model is suffering because there's little to no oversight from the company that posts or publishes this crap. Self moderation in Craigslist has often bred laziness, scams and disrepute from people who go there regularly or not-any-more. Craigslist has even been on the news lately for published posts that turned out to be middling-to-deadly scams and ripoffs, or people selling drugs using coded dialogue. You would think that the company executives that oversee Craigslist and other sites and publications like it would take a more proactive approach to monitoring this kind of crap, but the thing is that they obviously see this as a turnkey operation that can fix itself with minimal oversight; anything more would jeopardize the feel-free relationship they have with customers, posters and site viewers. While Craigslist is not total anarchy, the lack of oversight has fostered a community of maligners, disreputable business practices and disrespect to potential customers who are trying to transact business or make contact with others about jobs, items or even relationships. You might be better off by just avoiding the site altogether, as others have posted expressed similar experiences and observations.

What would I recommend? Hire mediators, PT or FT, who would verify the info on the posts for veracity and contacts. They could screen illegal transactions and warn away scam artists. If nothing else, it would create jobs for people who needed one, and it would help right the ship so that Craigslist can once again be a reputable and respectable site to do business or meet people again (if it ever was before). Some (not total) oversight and responsibility on the company's side is better than total domination from one side or another.

Until then, I'll likely stick with Amazon and Ebay... >;)

Saturday, February 7, 2009


And as if to complement my previous post, here is a report in that tells us that urine samples taken in the 2003 baseball season show that Alex Rodriguez used steroids. This from unnamed sources, of course, because we all know we wouldn't want to be caught dead with my name on a reports that shows that I also leaked proprietary information to the public, no matter what the ethical question may be. That's all beside the point.

What it says to me is that there is nothing worth being honorable about or for anymore. The tanking economy has pretty much taken care of that. But there has been little to no honor among anyone for years in sports, in public or private life, in anything that involves our capitalist part of the world. I am only beginning to accept that, I suppose. Maybe not, given what I wrote to my friend Alex Belth:

I'm so tied up in knots for no reason, or perhaps there is reason for me to be angry. I might as well just give up following sports altogether; I already gave up following college sports and there's really nothing left except to play in rec leagues. I am not surprised or hurt by A-Rodman and woman for his or herself, like everyone's fighting over scraps; reporters, coaches, athletes, owners, everyone. I'm angry that my love of the game is being obscured and stomped on by such menial and disingenuous arguments over honor, when such honor has not existed in years.

And if I had kids, what could I say? Play fair and you'll be poor, but honorable to the fans who remember not to boo you for not being as good as the cheaters?
And then, my roommate chides me for getting mad, saying that we live in a capitalist society and that it's set up this way so that the only way you can be successful is to do something dirty. Well, what's the point of an education? Why can't we just banish ethics and legalize narcotics and guns? Every man for himself, right?

Let kids just drop out of school whenever they feel like, because ultimately they will learn to be successful by following the criminals with the most money, and then when they get into a position of power they can decriminalize the very acts that made them rich and powerful. Why lie? Just put it all out in the open and say what you're doing is for money, not for any good of the game or for the people. Screw people, it's every man and woman for themselves.
It's a farce, isn't it? Why don't I start selling drugs and stop complaining about not getting those opportunities I've been working hard for? It works for a lot of others, why not me?

Have I hindered myself with ethics, did I buy into a great lie that says I should work hard and stay on the straight and narrow? I don't get it, and that's why I'm where I am, I guess."

Am I wrong for feeling this way? I must be naive, but what difference does it make? I've been hanging on by a thread since I came to the City, and now a whole lot more people are joining me and saying that the rules don't apply anymore. I'm heartbroken over having to choose over being an honorable fool or a well-off bastard. If I had gone along with what was expected of me by most, I wouldn't even be thinking about this. I'd either be dead, in jail, or living a lavish life in a penthouse in the most expensive city in the country.

Well, tough.

The Kind of Film Gigs You Often Find On Craigslist

I know this was a gag, but I had to repost this entry from the NY Craigslist Crew Gigs section here before it was flagged (props to whomever posted this):

Feature Film needs DP/SteadyCam op and 1st ac (Midtown West)

Reply to: (redacted)
Date: 2009-02-06, (time redacted)

Festival Feature entitled: "Sign of the Times"

DP needed who owns an HD or 35mm camera, grip truck with gas, lighting, crane and generator (also with gas). There is no pay and you must feed yourself daily, but if you want to stay home and just let us use your stuff, that'd be fine too. Must have 10 years experience, references, reel and major award for cinematography. You will not be involved in color timing. If we can shoot in your house too, that would also be great. IMDB credit only offered.

We are also desperate for a super experienced Steadicam operator with "A" list credits and top of the line gear that we won't pay for. This should include a preston system, super post and gyros for a one-shot scene lasting for 8-9 minutes where you will ascend 4 levels of stairs backward, duck through a window, get on a crane, step off and then run full sprint. No pay offered, but we have a PA who might rub your shoulders if he's not busy being a human sand bag. If you own a sand bag, please bring it. Some water and Fresca provided.

We will also need an experienced AC to be a one-man camera support team, pulling focus, slating, loading, setting up camera, marking actors and doing time cards - No pay, but you still need to do time cards. More importantly, you need to be technical experts at pulling focus on Steadicam, working with remote heads as well as picking up and returning the gear in your own car.

Since gas and mileage are not provided, a pass van can shuttle crew for a reasonable fee. Red vines and Fresca provided.

  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
  • Compensation: no pay

You don't have to be in the industry to know how much of a joke this is, but the thing about it is that on Craigslist, there are a lot of postings that are similar in spirit or vein; the posters seriously believe that they can post an advertisement seeking people who are not only willing to sacrifice time, labor and equipment for a film that may or may not be even seen in a festival, but would also gladly seek the chance to "network" with future A-listers. Then there are the ones who have supposedly won an award or two, or "worked" with known actors and/or key set people and sell the opportunity as a chance to step up the career ladder; so long as you're willing to trade earning a living for a chance to bask in their afterglow. Many crew people in the industry have a word for people like this: scum.

Mind you, there are two sides to every coin; producers working on a low or no-budget must try to extrapolate whatever funds they have over many areas that require payment up front (equipment, stock, expendendables, transport, etc.) and crew pay is almost always the first thing that is trimmed to meet all these expenses. Sometimes crew pay is deferred as long as possible in order to cover post-production expenditures; the footage has to be put together after all, or the production was a waste of everyone's time. Then, depending on who the target audience is, the film has to be distributed (easier for commercials since these are mostly funded by and created for ad agencies, harder for pilots, shorts and features) and marketed. Plus, producers frequently have to work throughout the production process on a scale that minimizes their pay; they are often paid a commission for the money they bring into the project, and any back-end deals are predicated on how successfully the project is in making a profit; on low-budget films, this might take years, if ever.

However, from a crew person's point of view, he or she is living from project-to-project and must pay bills that cannot wait for the success of the film (rent, utilities, food, transpo, etc.) ; when opportunities to work are low paying, not paying or deferred beyond reason, it puts the crewperson at risk. It is especially risky and harmful when there are slow periods such as now, when filmmaking is either on hiatus and commercials are made on a limited basis, thus raising the competition to high levels along with the stress of unemployment. Ultimately, one has to choose whether to stay focused on a career in which thay have invested so much time and money acquiring skills to perform their functions well, yet has fewer opportunities available to utilize those skills and earn a living, or to chuck all of that in order to survive; ultimately it's an either/or situation because neither affords time for the individual to do the other on a balanced or even supplementary basis. Is that reasonable?

In my case, I am a production assistant; in general a utility crew person that supports various departments (mainly the Assistant Director on set, and the Production Coordinator in the office) and though not necessarily a tech-savvy or management-oriented position (and therefore lower-paying), there are opportunities to "move up" into these responsibilities via training and likely by the good will of key personnel willing to offer the chance. The thing is, that's becoming less and less likely in a failing economy, and with many producers looking to scale back costs within the guidelines of union rules that protect tech-specialized crew positions, PAs are especially susceptible to attrition and (often) abuse. I have experienced increasing incidents of "deferments", and I've heard stories of productions simply not paying PAs the agreed amount due after the jobs were done. Often this occurs with producers from out-of-town or even out-of-country who simply skip town and refuse to return calls, and often there is little recourse for PA's to recoup their pay and/or losses resulting from such action, simply because PAs in New York and other regions outside of California in the US do not have a formal union to support them in such cases.

The Director's Guild of America (DGA) may get involved if the project is sanctioned by the Screen Actor's Guild or if guild members are involved, or if other union members involved in the project from other departments agree to file complaints on their behalf. But in no-budget projects, the chances that union members are even on the set are slim to none, and our only recourse is to pursue civil action in court, which of course is cost-prohibitive for most PAs.

Arguments were made in support of both producers and crew members in Great Britain in discussing the costs of low-budget productions and how to maintain them reasonably. The argument presented in this article, a must-read if you want to understand the dynamics responsible for this rant, apply in America (particularly on New York sets). I see it both ways as well; as a PA, writer and aspiring director I know the reasons for the need of specialized crew positions firsthand, as well as the thinning opportunities for eager newbies. As a potential producer, I also know the need to minimize costs in light of the by-definition underfunding of low-budget films and the need to balance quality with flexibility to produce, distribute, promote and exhibit projects. There is a need for the industry to seriously address self-destructive issues on both sides (management and labor), and this article leads to valid points on both sides.

As for me, I'm trying hard to get by. I can't step too far outside of the industry for work, because if I do, I will quickly lose out on future work and opportunities to move up. But, having worked for a while in this industry, potential employers often exploit the "lack of experience" in other fields, thus making finding permanent work economically and fundamentally unfulfilling and worse, making your previous experience a sadly futile waste of time, energy and major resources. At this point, I have to succeed at what I started. I'll let you know when my first directing project is up for viewing (soon!)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Like I've Been There Forever

Somewhere in this world, there is a man who says that he's a failure for not sustaining a brilliant effort that has spawned even more brilliance within itself. He should not feel this way. Not at all. Because he should take a good look at where that brilliance has gone and what it has fostered on it's own. He should be proud of what has become of the persons, places and things that can trace themselves back to his efforts. He should enjoy the shade of the tree that generated from what he planted, or tended to in his own domain.

I owe so much to Bronx Banter for being here and sharing my idiocy with you, but I owe a tremendous amount of thanks to Ken Arneson, founder of Baseball Toaster. His design of the umbrella site for some of the best baseball blog writing in cyberspace captured my attention, and his guidance within helped to shape my attitudes in space itself. It is a place where you feel like you've been there forever.

I told my friend Alex Belth about how bad I felt about this, "like when you leave home and come back later and it's gone." I've come very close to visiting my old neighborhood in Wappingers Falls, going as far as within a minute drive of turning up the familiar road to my old address. But something always turns me back, and I think of what Uncle Woodrow says:

"Don't ever go back; in your mind, home is still there and in your reality, it always will be. "

Happy Birthday, Ken, and Happy Retirement. Hope we'll see you grace cyberspace again soon.