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Getting paid or taken advantage of? ADVICE!!!


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#1 Andrew Wheeler

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 02:10 AM

Hey everyone I need some advice! I'm at a point where I feel like what I know on a film set as a grip/gaffer is more than a beginner. I sometimes take gigs for free based on the advantages outweighing the disadvantages and whats available in the city I live in, which at times seems like not much. The last job I took as a 1 day job on a music video was for free and I ended up having more experience and being more effective than people who were getting paid. No big deal it was 1 day. Now I'm on a 6 day short film that I also came on as a grip. At first for no pay and then a few days before the shoot they said I would get 200$ which I was happy with because i was expecting nothing. Now I'm not happy about the 200$ Here's why. The shoot is a 45 page script to be done in 6 days and there is many larger setups including lots of dolly moves. I just finished the first day and every shot was on a dolly. I have been put in the role as key grip and Im basically gaffing as well. I have more experience or at least it seems than all the grips theyve hired, they are mostly just starting out. They all are coming to me for answers, I organize the grips to get things done, help out with them, teach them as i go and Im prelighting the next shot for the DP. I talked to 1 grip and he is working 3 days of the shoot and getting 150$ DOesnt that mean I should get at least 300$ Now this still is not that big of a deal. If everyone is working for around the same amount of money on a lower budget shoot thats fair, but they hired on a sound guy from NYC at the last minute who they talked down to 40$ an hour. I overheard the producer talking about it. They also have to pay him overtime which is 80$ an hour. I just got back from our first shooting day and t went from 830am to 200am. CAll time is 10 am the next day as well not even 8hrs of sleep. so it was a 17hr first day where the sound guy will be getting in 2.5 hrs of overtime what im getting for 6 days. I hesitate making an issue but i also have a hard time when things seem not right and unfair. A 17hr day where you arent really paying seems inexcusable. Can anyone give me some advice. I really want to ask for more money. Im pretty sure things are running a bit smoother cause Im there.

thanks,
andy
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#2 Evan Winter

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 10:50 AM

personally,

i feel that if the job is for free then the job really shouldn't go past 12hr days and it absolutely shouldn't go past 14hr days.

i've shot two short films and the only person paid on both was the sound guy (i guess they're hard to come by or something). :) but even in that situation the sound guy was paid a flat rate for the job. what i'm saying here is that i don't think it's uncommon, on low/no pay jobs, for the sound guy to still get paid.

also, since you've already agreed to do the job for a certain amount of pay and you've already started the job it's not really appropriate to ask for more money. although, you do have more information about the job now - other people are being paid $150/3days, sound guy getting quite a bit, etc. so perhaps there is a moral leg to stand on for salary re-negotiation.

my main point/belief, however, is that it's totally inappropriate to ask a crew, who are coming out for basically nothing, to work more than 14hr days.

if you don't have the money to pay decent rates then you don't have the money to shoot that ambitious project.

evan
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 11:37 AM

It's appropriate to ask for more money if he's taking on a bigger job than he signed on for, like Key Grip instead of grip.

This is a case of bad producing basically. It's always dangerous to negotiate different rates for each crew member because the crew WILL start comparing notes (and paychecks) eventually, leading to a lot of bad feelings. Now if they had to pay some sound recordist more to come out, that's a little more understandable, but some grips shouldn't be paid more than others to do the same work.

This is why some low-budget shows just offer the same flat rate to everyone, take it or leave it, high and low.

Now if everyone signed on for the same low rates, then I don't think you can complain after you've agreed to the deal, but if you've been bumped up to department head, basically, you have the right to renegotiate the deal, and if they don't agree, you could always quit. I don't know if you should get double the old rate necessarily, but you should get a symbolic raise at least. But you'd have to be willing to quit if you are going to go to them and demand more money for a different job than the one you signed on for.

I was on a show where it went union in the second week, but unfortunately there is no union rates for DP in the low-budget IA contract, so I remained under my original deal. But because of long hours, everyone on the camera, grip, and electric departments were getting bigger paychecks than me every week. The producer was a friend of mine and I basically said being stuck under the old contract was unfair for me now that everyone else was getting union rates with overtime. Eventually I got a retroactive pay bump that was more in line with everyone else.

It happened to me again on the next film -- it went union in the second week, etc. It drives me nuts that the IA left the DP hanging to negotiate their own rates under the low-budget agreement (covers under 6 mil. features).

I guess their thinking was that the DP could arrange much higher rates on his own, but that's not really true. On the second film that went union, the producer wanted to just bump up my rate to match the camera operators - actually I think he offered me one penny more per hour than they were getting. Whereas in the normal IA contracts, a DP rate is usually 1.6X the operator's rate, so making one cent more per hour than the operator wasn't really in keeping with the intent of the rate system, even though there was no DP rate listed in the low-budget agreement. Nowadays I have to check the wording on my deal memo more carefully because of these little loopholes.
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#4 Arni Heimir

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 11:47 AM

David,

If a producer wants you (or some other DOP) to serve both as a DP and a operator. Would you (or the other DP) want to be paid the operator's hourly rate in addition to the DP fee? How would that work?

What is the highest you've heard a DP has been paid. I read that Roger Deakins made 20.000 a weak on "The Village".
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#5 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 11:49 AM

I guess their thinking was that the DP could arrange much higher rates on his own, but that's not really true. On the second film that went union, the producer wanted to just bump up my rate to match the camera operators - actually I think he offered me one penny more per hour than they were getting. Whereas in the normal IA contracts, a DP rate is usually 1.6X the operator's rate, so making one cent more per hour than the operator wasn't really in keeping with the intent of the rate system, even though there was no DP rate listed in the low-budget agreement. Nowadays I have to check the wording on my deal memo more carefully because of these little loopholes.



David,

Aren't these issues that you could bring to the union and file a grievance? Do you guys have delegates floating around...?
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#6 timHealy

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 12:40 PM

Personally, I had to develop a policy when it came to free or no low budget work. I would do something for free if it was a friend (and I mean a real friend, not someone I work with once in a while and never spend free time with) or if I can get something out of it meaning: work experience. If Vilmos Sigmond was going to shoot something and they needed a gaffer or if I was asked to shoot something in HD for the first time.

Anything else is no. I'd rather spend time with family or friends no matter how great the people are, no matter how great the script is, no matter how great anything else associated with the job is.

Best

Tim

PS Yeah I beleive sound people are harder to come by and they usually come with their own gear.
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#7 Sam Wells

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 12:41 PM

also, since you've already agreed to do the job for a certain amount of pay and you've already started the job it's not really appropriate to ask for more money.


Oh I think Andy has a legit bargaining position..

-Sam
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#8 Brian Wells

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 02:02 PM

it was a 17hr first day where the sound guy will be getting in 2.5 hrs of overtime what im getting for 6 days.

You have just learned a valuable lesson. When you own the gear, you have an enormous amount of leverage. Without it, you have practically none. If you decide to walk, it will be bad news for them. Even though you are very experienced and valuable to the production, remember you can easily be replaced with another warm body just to help move stuff around. But, they would have a much harder time replacing the sound guy and his equipment in the event he decided to walk. So, it's in the best interest of the production to pay him more to keep him happy. That doesn't mean it is fair or reasonable to the rest of the crew. But, that's how it works. You might think about investing in a 1Ton package so this won't happen to you again. Or, perhaps do sound work to fill in your camera dept and grip jobs.
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#9 Tomas Koolhaas

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 03:24 PM

Hi,
The point about being a department head and not just a grip is agood point, you signed on as one position and now you are doing another, therefor a pay rise seems logical. However the fact that they are shooting way over 12hrs a day, or more importantly that your aren't getting close to 12hrs turnaround, to me would also suggest you deseve a pay rise, but unless they specifically indicated that they would try and stick to 12 on 12 off before they started shooting, nothing has changed and therefor a pay rise may not be logical just because they are scheduling badly.
Cheers.
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#10 Thom Stitt

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 04:25 PM

I hate it when producers pull this kind of thing. I once signed onto a low-budget feature as an electric - I should have listened to the warning signs early on. It was a last-minute call, and I didn't see a single sheet of paper, deal memo, call sheet - I saw nothing on the first day. It was "meet here at this time" over the phone by the best boy electric, with a promise from him that I can expect around 150 a day.

A 16-hour day, and no money. I'm talking with - whoever it was that showed up at the end of the day - line producer, UPM - it wasn't THE producer, I know that much. I told him that I was promised 150 a day.
Oooh, that's a lot of money! Someone promised you that? Yeah we can't afford that. Tell you what, I can give you 100 a day for maybe a little while, but not today, I don't have it today. Come in tomorrow, I'll pay you then.

Sound a little sleazy?
More warning signs. Some people may have considered bailing at this point, but I needed some quick cash, so I worked the second day. Early on day one, I had my reservations, so I began planting the seeds for a possible bail. "I have another shoot" etc, "I may need to take a couple weeks off, maybe I can help on weekends," etc.

At the end of the day I had to practically wrestle the cash from the producer. It came to 50 bucks a day. Two long days, at only 50 bucks a day, and he mentioned that that would likely be the last he'd be able to pay. After that it was volunteer.

I'm telling you this kind of abuse is outrageous. I completely understand how tough it is to produce such a low-budget feature, crew is a really really tough thing to manage, and it can get expensive. And I have to say I felt terrible about bailing on the lighting crew, but the best boy promised me pay, and obviously he didn't know what he was talking about. The entire production was so unorganized - I felt I had no other choice.

So many people get taken advantage of by the producer who I think generally feels he has "bigger fish to fry". There's this ASSUMPTION that you can get volunteer crew on any no-budget production, kids fresh out of film school hungry to get on set. But they get little out of it, and really it becomes this dangerous assumption made by the producers trying to shave costs.

At least it was catered!! They spent more money on food than they spent on crew.

When you get into productions on these kinds of budgets, consider it the part of the filmmaking map labeled "Here by dragons". Proceed with caution.
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#11 Bob Hayes

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 05:55 PM

?You can?t make a silk purse out of a sow?s ear?. Sure you deserve more money. Can you get more money out of this level of producer? Maybe, but probably not much more. Now that you are developing a skill level you must look for producers who are worthy of your skill. Also if you are going to give it away start giving it away to the best people you can find.
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#12 Andrew Wheeler

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 11:56 PM

Thanks for the advice everyone. It helps and its good to hear other people stories. So Today was our second day we had a 10am call time. Being that Im now in the key grip position all the grips were coming to me expressing how they felt about the extra long 1st day and they wanted me to talk to the producer and director. I spoke to them on behalf of the grips and told them how the crew was feeling and that they were in danger of people walking, which was true. They told me they would have us out by 11pm. Already 13 hrs and the call time for tomorrow is 8AM. At 10pm a scene was still playing out that had alot of equipment up. I told the DP and director they had better have it done by 10:45 if they wanted everything cleaned up because people would be leaving. We waited till 11:15 on behalf of the DP and they were still shooting. Everyone was getting more angry and I told everyone to go home if they wanted to and they did. Everyone is real nice and felt bad leaving but theres nothing else to do i suppose. I told the DP I would stay around to prelight the last scene for him but i ended up bailing because of how ridiculously long things were taking. And because of the big mess around the set, i didnt want to be the one stuck cleaning it up alone. It takes more than one person to lift a Fisher Dolly!!! Now to put everything into perspective, this wasnt the last scene. THere were still 2 big scenes left including a fight scene I had already prelit. So where is the g&e crew to draw the line. Had we stayed to do what they wanted to still do it would have gone until at least 3am. The DP and Director told us they would be shooting the 2 final scenes by themselves and that we were free to go. They said the producer and someone else who came with them from LA would clean up and light everything. These guys are nuts. We packed everything into the truck as good as possible and I left everything out neatly that the DP wanted for the last scene which was a bedroom/sex scene. So their last 2 scenes were a fight scene and a sex scene, not exactly quick shooting there. Its like they have no concept of time. They alone had 2hrs of breakdown to do and they were still trying to shoot 2 separate scenes one of which had nothing done to it at all. How is this possible. If they do everything they want to do they will be done just in time for call time at 8am!!!
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#13 Garret Graves

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Posted 18 August 2006 - 12:27 AM

Many of you have probably found this to be true, but it seems that if you take a freebie, and make contacts- they do indeed call you back... for a freebie! There is a large pool in Los Angeles of freebie and cheapie dudes wanting to get their foot in the door. Its part of it, until you settle in with a group or two of "made" guys and girls, and are actually making money in your craft- keep those horror stories coming- I just got offered to Gaff a horror video- $100.00 a day for 9 days- think I'll pass, It would quickly become a horror job, and I have better in the pipeline.
all the best,
Garret
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 August 2006 - 12:56 AM

The issue isn't so much the 13-hour day, which is not uncommon (although it sounds like it was going to be more like a 16-hour day not counting the wrap), but the turnaround. The director and AD have to keep track of the time if it's vital that they start the next day at 8AM, presumably because they need the maximum number of daylight hours. Either that, or push the call and start rewriting some day scenes into night.

Hopefully you put them on notice to try and be more organized. Although I've done shoots where the first few days went very long -- Day One on "Shadowboxer" went 20 hours! And because of the 10-hour crew turnaround, we lost half our daylight for the next day's work, turning a major scene in the woods into a night exterior, which wasn't planned. But we started to catch up.

So I can feel for the director and DP... but they have to take the turnaround into account when they go long, and there are not many days they can go long in a week considering the rate they are paying people.
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#15 Wilkin Chau

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Posted 20 August 2006 - 07:02 PM

I hate it when producers pull this kind of thing. I once signed onto a low-budget feature as an electric - I should have listened to the warning signs early on. It was a last-minute call, and I didn't see a single sheet of paper, deal memo, call sheet - I saw nothing on the first day. It was "meet here at this time" over the phone by the best boy electric, with a promise from him that I can expect around 150 a day.

A 16-hour day, and no money. I'm talking with - whoever it was that showed up at the end of the day - line producer, UPM - it wasn't THE producer, I know that much. I told him that I was promised 150 a day.
Oooh, that's a lot of money! Someone promised you that? Yeah we can't afford that. Tell you what, I can give you 100 a day for maybe a little while, but not today, I don't have it today. Come in tomorrow, I'll pay you then.

Sound a little sleazy?
More warning signs. Some people may have considered bailing at this point, but I needed some quick cash, so I worked the second day. Early on day one, I had my reservations, so I began planting the seeds for a possible bail. "I have another shoot" etc, "I may need to take a couple weeks off, maybe I can help on weekends," etc.

At the end of the day I had to practically wrestle the cash from the producer. It came to 50 bucks a day. Two long days, at only 50 bucks a day, and he mentioned that that would likely be the last he'd be able to pay. After that it was volunteer.

I'm telling you this kind of abuse is outrageous. I completely understand how tough it is to produce such a low-budget feature, crew is a really really tough thing to manage, and it can get expensive. And I have to say I felt terrible about bailing on the lighting crew, but the best boy promised me pay, and obviously he didn't know what he was talking about. The entire production was so unorganized - I felt I had no other choice.

So many people get taken advantage of by the producer who I think generally feels he has "bigger fish to fry". There's this ASSUMPTION that you can get volunteer crew on any no-budget production, kids fresh out of film school hungry to get on set. But they get little out of it, and really it becomes this dangerous assumption made by the producers trying to shave costs.

At least it was catered!! They spent more money on food than they spent on crew.

When you get into productions on these kinds of budgets, consider it the part of the filmmaking map labeled "Here by dragons". Proceed with caution.


Unfortunately everyone has horror stories like that. That's why I like union shoots so much because I don't have to worry about whether or not I get paid or not.

I have had production lie to my face on many occasion. From saying "oh this is strictly a volunteer shoot" to "only keys are getting paid". Not smart since everyone talks to each other on set, as if I wouldn't find out other people were getting money.

Sucks but that's the indie world. Producers know they can do that so they do. Like kit fees. Some productions I've worked on had a no kit fee policy. Productions know that if you won't take the job, someone else will. Yeah, sure they can go with students but product would suffer, plus someone could get hurt. I mean I wouldn't feel comfortable with a gaffer or key grip who's fresh out of school running the set with a genny or rigging really big lights over people's heads.

My advice to the original question is to threaten to quit. You can be surly about it or passive ("I've got another gig coming up"). I suggest passive although I've been guilty of choosing being abrasive. But it's not easy. Especially when the industry goes through the famine phase.
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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 August 2006 - 04:58 AM

Hi,

My position tends to be "how am I going to feel about this in six months."

Most often, the answer will be that it was a valuable experience even just from the knowing-who-to-work-for perspective, which is much harder than the doing-the-job perspective. In your position, on a six day shoot, I'd just knuckle down and do it. You can probably do without the negative kudos of a walkout.

However.

I recently made a big mistake by ignoring my own advice on this, having repeatedly concluded "in six months I'm still going to be fuming about the way I'm being treated on this job", and because it was a big job I didn't walk. I absolutely should have done.

Phil
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#17 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 21 August 2006 - 05:33 PM

You have just learned a valuable lesson. When you own the gear, you have an enormous amount of leverage. Without it, you have practically none.

In theory this is correct, but I don't find it to be true in practice, although there are always exceptions. I own about $85,000.00 worth of steadicam gear and I often get called by producers wanting me to work for $200 or $300 a day, and they know that if I won't do the job they can most likely find someone who will. Whether or not that person is any good is of no consequence to them it seems. If you pay crappy rates you get crappy people. Sure, they sometimes get lucky and find someone just getting into the business or that particular position that is worth much more than they are getting paid, but most of the time the crew is very inexperienced.
I can't afford to work for $200 a day when I'm giving so much. I was making $200 a day as a P.A.! If someone wants GOOD steadicam they are going to have to pay a real rate for it.
Also, this should interest any prospective equipment buyers......I was recently called to do an episodic for Fox. It was for "B" Camera/Steadicam. They were already in production and were struggling to find a permanent operator because the operators kept leaving. I inquired as to why operators kept leaving and I found out that the studio wasn't willing to supply insurance for the equipment. It's VERY standard for the producers to supply insurance for any rented equipment, which of course includes my steadicam and many other crew members equipment (sound mixer, grip truck, etc....). Of course Panavision wasn't giving them cameras without insurance, so why would they try to do this to owner/operators? Well, it seems that a few of the studios are trying to do this now, and it's a big problem. I haven't had this problem with other production companies so far, but if the studios set the precedent this practice could spread quickly. I'm not sure how this will all work out, but it's a good warning to folks considering buying equipment. They use the equipment how they see fit, and many people on the crew use this gear. If it gets broken on their job they should pay to fix it. If my steadicam gets stolen over night while it's on a stage at Fox should I be expected to pay to replace it? It's just silly. Hopefully this practice won't take hold.
Sorry for being a bit off topic.
Getting back on topic....Anytime I'm offered a job I consider what's in it for me. The first is money. Are they paying a decent rate? If so, that's what I'm getting out of it....money to pay the bills. Is the rate low? OK, what else could there be in it for me? Good contacts or someone I've wanted to work with for a while is a good reason to do it. Or maybe it's for a great cause and I don't mind helping promote the cause, or maybe it's a friend who I would like to help further his/her career. These are all good reasons to do a job. Otherwise, what's the point? Working for nothing is a bad business decision unless you are getting something out of it. This business is tough enough when you're getting paid well. Why make it any tougher?
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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 August 2006 - 08:04 PM

Hi,

Don't you have insurance that would cover it as a matter of course? I do, although of course you don't want to claim on yours, you want to claim on someone else's...

Phil
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#19 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 05:16 AM

Hi,

Don't you have insurance that would cover it as a matter of course? I do, although of course you don't want to claim on yours, you want to claim on someone else's...

Phil

Well, you answered the question yourself. If a driver on that show runs over my gear with the grip truck should I have to pay the deductible and have my rates go up, and also be without a rig until I get the insurance money? I don't think so.
This is obviously just some silly policy that an accountant in an office somewhere (someone who has never been on a set) came up with.
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#20 Hal Smith

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 09:30 AM

This is obviously just some silly policy that an accountant in an office somewhere (someone who has never been on a set) came up with.

An accountant who probably has been told by Corporate that the most important priority was to make an extra dollar so the company can make another acquisition. Not an atmosphere that breeds compassion for the little guy.
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