Saturday, February 7, 2009

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!)

1 comment:

The General Secretary said...

Good post. A lot of our Craigslist ads get deleted by annoyed crewpersons. Now I know why!