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Problems with Producer & Co.


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#1 Jay A. Kelley

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 08:08 AM

I have only been a DP for a few years, but I wanted your advice on this:

I just recently completed a Music Video for a production company and the process was hell. Up to now, on all of my jobs, the camera package lighting package and camera crew was the responsibility of the Gaffer and myself. We would get everything together, as well as crew and submit it to the producer based on the needs of the shoot for budget approval.

In this case however, the producer & director felt that THEY should oversee the equipment as well as our crew. This was an extremely stressful situation. They called the rental houses, and had the equipment picked up with no one from our crew present.. They also handled all communication and hiring of the crew.. This was also stressful because they tried to beat everyone down on rate and I keep my crew at one rate or don't ask them on the set. They are all reasonable and there's no reason to pay them less.

I have always been taught that I oversee the tools and crew I am responsible for on set. They believe that that they do.. Speaking with the exec yesterday I told him I have a different definitaion of my job than he does and he came back with "Well this is how it's done in LA"... I do not agree but I want to make sure I am not off base here. Any feedback from the seasoned pros would be helpful.

To make matters worse, the director is my best friend, and this issue has seriously damaged our working relationship.. I hope I am not off base here.

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#2 Mario C. Jackson

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 08:35 AM

Jay

I totally agree with you. I dont see why the director would have a say so on who you hire as a grip or electric. In fact all grips and electircs are brought on by the Key Grip and Gaffer. Those two are brought on by the dp. I myself have been in a similar situation and it gets on my last nerve. I have never done a movie in LA, but on every commercial, independent film, etc.. it has never been run that way. Just keep your head up and stay focused on your dreams. This is only one of the many obstacles you must overcome.
Hope this helps
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 08:45 AM

It sounds more like the Producer just wanted the control so he could screw everyone on the rate. It's better to walk away from that kind of situation instead of setting a bad precedent for yourself and everyone else you like working with. Your friend the Director should know better than that.

And no, that's not the way they do it in LA. You are the one who has to surround yourself with people who you are confident with. On a non-union job, it is certainly the right of the Producer to negotiate rates with everyone, but you shouldn't be in a position of not having a say. It's hard for newcomers to stick to their guns because every job is important financially (better than sitting at home), but at some point, walking away is worth it. And if you believe that your crew (the people you like to work with) are being manipulated and screwed over, as the head of three departments, you have the responsibility of backing them up both in the deal memo as well as later on while shooting. If the Producer has no problem screwing people over that early, what's to stop him from trying to shoot 20 hour days without proper turnarounds?

If it was me, I'd have a reasonable and calm conversation with my friend, the Director, expressing my concerns. He's relying on you and the crew to help deliver a quality product and the Producer has already established ill-will before anything has been shot. That directly impacts what will happen on set. If the Director doesn't care, he isn't much of a friend.
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#4 Jay A. Kelley

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 03:04 PM

I am very grateful for the feedback... What about equipment? Am I correct in my believe that the equipment list and checking it out is the responsiblility of my gaffer and myself?

They constantly tell me that I am wrong about all of this. The shoot was very stressful for everyone involved and they blamed me!! Meanwhile my Gaffer and crew were ready to kill them. They were communicating directly with my Gaffer about lights, equipment, etc. He was NOT happy.

How do you set people like this straight?

Jay
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 03:24 PM

I am very grateful for the feedback... What about equipment? Am I correct in my believe that the equipment list and checking it out is the responsiblility of my gaffer and myself?

They constantly tell me that I am wrong about all of this. The shoot was very stressful for everyone involved and they blamed me!! Meanwhile my Gaffer and crew were ready to kill them. They were communicating directly with my Gaffer about lights, equipment, etc. He was NOT happy.

How do you set people like this straight?

Jay


Equipment that you are going to use is your responsibility. The way I work (and just about everyone else I know in LA) is to find out what the hell we're supposed to be doing (where, when, etc). Then I put together an equipment list inclusive of everything I believe we'll need to cover every possible situation that was explained. I also make sure to include personnel too just to remind them that it takes more than two guys to move all that stuff around all day. I might even include prices if I know them just to avoid that question later. If you have the luxury of a Gaffer, by all means consult with him about equipment needs. He may have ideas that you haven't thought about before. The two of you should hammer out the list together. Once you're satisfied, let the Gaffer take the reigns while you go deal with other issues with camera, production design, locations, or with the Director.

The Gaffer can then submit the list to the Producer. He's told me and the Gaffer what we're supposed to be doing and now I've told him what I need to do it. It's HIS decision on whether he wants to approve the list or not. If something gets crossed off, it's my responsibility to explain the ramifications to him. If he doesn't care, that is now on him and I stop worrying about it. If the time comes during production when we should have that "X" thing that was not approved, you've got the paperwork to back yourself up.

Once the list is approved, you can suggest where you like to obtain the equipment based on past experiences with quality and upkeep. The Producer may come back to you and say that he's getting it from "X" place because he gets a killer deal. Again, if you know that that place sucks and you'll have trouble with the gear, it's your responsibility to make that known, but in the end, it's his decision on where to spend the money. When/if you do have equipment problems during production, again, you've covered yourself by explaining beforehand that "I told you so."

It's a cover-your-ass mentality, but unfortunately that's what you have to do.

In any case, once you know where you have to go to get the gear and what you're allowed to take, it is definitely the crew's responsibility to go there and check every piece of gear out ... on the clock! If the Producer is trying to save a day's pay by either getting you to go for free or just having the stuff delivered, you again verbally or in written form express your concerns so that when something does F up on set, you've covered your own bases.

Any rational and experienced Producer will already know all of this. If it was me and I'm understanding the situation correctly, I'd walk away and give that cluster-f*** to someone else to deal with.
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#6 Stuart McCammon

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 09:24 PM

Speaking as a producer, there is a great advantage to establishing relationships with crew and rental houses, having P.A.'s pick up and drop off gear and puchase expendables, which are always ten times as expensive if you have to buy them off the grip truck.

Grinding people is just what producers do, it's part of the job description, and although there is a fine line between getting the best deal and destroying relationships (which a good producer will always try to preserve), your director buddy sure isn't spending his own money to hire you, and the producer has people he answers to in terms of the costs of the shoot.

Paying a day (or half day) to have the AC check out the camera gear is just smart insurance, but what value does it add to have a grip pick up a c-stand or an electrician pick up a light at the rental house?

Anyway, that's how I was trained, and it definitely has its advantages for the production company.

And as far as the equipment list, the producer does have to sign off on it, again because he or she is responsible for the cost - yet another fine line between being responsible and penny wise/pound foolish - overall, if there are things that are legitimately unneccessary or would only be used in a best-case scenario, the producer may cut them because, as you well know, the best case scenario rarely happens)
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#7 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 09:40 PM

Paying a day (or half day) to have the AC check out the camera gear is just smart insurance, but what value does it add to have a grip pick up a c-stand or an electrician pick up a light at the rental house?


Playing Devil's Advocate for a second, why would you assume that the C-stand or light works? Is it more expensive to find that out by paying a guy for a proper day of prep at the rental house or when 100 people are waiting on set for the lamp to be replaced?

I've been on the short-end of the stick when rental gear is just delivered to set by a PA after it is supposedly checked out by the rental house. Nine times out of ten, the kids there don't run through every connection, turn on every lamp, twist every knob, etc to make sure it's all in working order.

Not only that, but the prep is also about loading the trucks and knowing exactly where everything is when it lands on set. Production days are costly and if it takes an extra minute everytime the crew has to hunt around to find something that an intern at the rental house (hopefully) packed, how many of those minutes on a production day would it take to make having done a proper prep worth it?

Producers can be very short-sighted at times. You might save a nickel by blowing off a department's prep, but everyone on set ultimately wins as a series of problems eventually leads to lucrative OT. I'm all about being a team-player, but if a Producer is going to play that game, I'll gladly discover and try to fix problems while I'm in Gold. B)
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#8 Stuart McCammon

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 08:34 AM

You know Brian, you are right. At $3,000 an hour, production time is simply too important. I need to meet these perfect grips and electricians though. With such sterling prep amd professionalism, surely they would feel comfortable reimbursing the production company for any delays/screwups caused by their department on the set.
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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 09:24 AM

You know Brian, you are right. At $3,000 an hour, production time is simply too important. I need to meet these perfect grips and electricians though. With such sterling prep amd professionalism, surely they would feel comfortable reimbursing the production company for any delays/screwups caused by their department on the set.


I don't believe I or anyone else has a realistic expectation that a set will run perfectly every minute of every day. But the goal should be to do everything possible to help avoid unnecessary problems whenever possible. Presumably the reason a person is hired is because he has a track record which suggests that he won't "break down" in the middle of the day and require being replaced. The hope is also that a person is being hired to not just be a button-pusher, but because he will bring something valuable to the production. In the same way, equipment is chosen because it is proven to work and will be a valuable tool toward the end goal. Not every piece of gear is guaranteed to work 100% of the time and the same goes for people as well. If I had a nickel for every bone-headed decision made by Producers, I wouldn't have to work anymore. Are there are sterling professional Producers out there willing to reimburse the production for their mistakes and shortsightedness? Somehow I doubt it. The next time you blow off a prep to save a buck and some piece of gear fails because it wasn't properly checked out, will you be personally willing to reimburse the production for it?

But I sense from your statements that you feel that just as one C-stand is as good as any other and will work perfectly every time, you feel that crew members are just as generic and interchangable. No?


Grinding people is just what producers do, it's part of the job description, and although there is a fine line between getting the best deal and destroying relationships (which a good producer will always try to preserve),



I wanted to think more about that statement from a previous post. It made me laugh because you've got two mutually exclusive goals mentioned. "Grinding people" is not part of the job description. A good Producer is indeed responsible for watching the budget, but you're setting up a "us vs them" situation before the project gets off the ground. From experience in talking to a lot of people on a lot of sets, the minute someone senses that they are not being respected personally (because the Producer is trying to "grind them") or the Producer/production cares more about saving a nickel than about what it will take to get the job done right, you've lost them. At that point, wrap-out shifts into low and the crew manages to "earn" back that money that production was trying so desperately to save by "grinding" them earlier in the process.

The bridge between your two stated goals above is to just establish a respectful relationship from the beginning. That means that a person should be paid what they are worth for the specialty that they've trained for. It also means that the Producer illustrates that he cares about the production enough to invest a little more time and money into the preproduction/prep aspect. The minute a crew member (or Producer...they typically can feel the same way) senses the "grind" coming, it's almost guaranteed that the production will suffer (you've hurt the morale before a frame is shot) and they'll find innovative ways to get back what they feel the Producer was "grinding" out of them. Instead of being engaged and excited about the project enough to give a little more than is expected, the crew can quickly adopt the "I'll be over here, call me when you know what you want" attitude. That doesn't happen because people don't want to work in the business. It happens when they are made to feel unnecessary, because if the Producer or Director doesn't care enough to do everything to ensure success, why should they?
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#10 Stuart McCammon

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 11:37 PM

Of all the gear rental houses, I have always been impressed by Clairmont and Mole-Richardson, their equipment is always in excellent shape and well-maintained.

With regard to crew, I try to keep far away from angry, delusional people who twist words into fantastical shapes to fit their own confrontational view of business and life, and prefer instead to work with nice people who exhibit character and a good work ethic as the best guarantee of a lack of screwups on-set - particularly people who own their own gear because they tend to keep it in top shape. As far as the grinding thing, it is more about getting a fair shake for the production company than anything else - it is, after all, still a transaction, even though it is one that may produce art)

Edited by Stuart McCammon, 30 September 2006 - 11:40 PM.

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#11 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 01 October 2006 - 01:37 AM

Of all the gear rental houses, I have always been impressed by Clairmont and Mole-Richardson, their equipment is always in excellent shape and well-maintained.

With regard to crew, I try to keep far away from angry, delusional people who twist words into fantastical shapes to fit their own confrontational view of business and life, and prefer instead to work with nice people who exhibit character and a good work ethic as the best guarantee of a lack of screwups on-set - particularly people who own their own gear because they tend to keep it in top shape. As far as the grinding thing, it is more about getting a fair shake for the production company than anything else - it is, after all, still a transaction, even though it is one that may produce art)


I can understand what you're saying. I suppose I'm having trouble relating because it's been a very long time since I've been on the types of production that you're describing. For the most part, once we're talking about IA or studio well-budgeted projects, this issue of "screwups" is essentially non-existent. I honestly can't recall one instance on an IA project where production was legitimately "held up" because a Grip, Electric, or other crew member "screwed up" due to lack of experience or concern for their job or production on the whole. If anything drags a day out, it is more likely an ill-prepared Director who requires coverage from every angle possible because he doesn't have a clue what he wants it to look like later in the edit. Actors sometimes miss their lines or the lines are changed to something better which requires additional takes. Blocking may not be working. Dolly and camera may miss a mark or the Actors may miss their marks. Focus might be soft. Something in Wardrobe might not be right. Maybe the rehearsal was planned and the DP lit for something that the Actors later on decided to not do. All of those reasons and more are things that happen every day on sets to contribute to longer hours and additional overtime.

But I can honestly say that not once in the umpteen sets that I've worked on (sorry, I've lost count) in the last 18 years have I ever witnessed production being held up because an Electric or Grip "screwed up." I'm not even sure how that would manifest itself. What constitutes a "screw up" anyway? On low budget shows where practically everyone there is just starting out, there is going to be a difference in experience which will make setups take longer than they might on a large IA production, but that doesn't necessarily indicate that anyone was "screwing up." They may just know the most efficient ways of doing things. I do recall a Disney film I was working on a long time ago when a High-Roller actually bent in half and brought the 5K that it was holding down to the floor. An expensive and potentially dangerous accident, but not a mistake on anyone's part. Parts fail. It was a real show so everything had been checked out properly and it wasn't anyone's fault.

So I'm not quite sure how a qualified Grip or Electric could reasonably make a mistake that would cost production legitimate time unless the equipment was not properly prepped. I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I was just shooting something last week with a camera that was delivered to the set by a PA. The F900 that I was using had a Standard Def viewfinder on it somehow. Someone at the rental house put it on and the PA didn't have the knowledge or experience to check it himself. So is that my error that held up production because I noticed it or should I blame the Producer who wanted it that way and can I expect that he will pay for the "screwup"?

While I agree with your statement that owner/operators tend to have better and well maintained equipment, I wonder first why then would you prefer to rent from Clairmont and Mole? And also, do you attempt to "grind" the owner/operators in the same way you'd approach the rental houses? Getting a fair deal is of course important, but equipment and maintenance does cost money too. I've often wondered at Production's willingness to drop hundreds if not thousands on the cost of things and travel but find it perfectly acceptable to fight a crew member (human being) over as little as $50. I guess maybe it's because you can't argue with a C-stand over its worth, but you can badger a human being if you know he could really use the work. How's that for exhibiting character and an admirable work ethic? And if that's the kind of attitude that sets the example for how a crew will be treated, there is no reason to expect the crew to do anything but reciprocate in kind.
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#12 Stuart McCammon

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Posted 01 October 2006 - 11:13 AM

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#13 Gerry Mendoza

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 08:56 PM

I have only been a DP for a few years, but I wanted your advice on this:

I just recently completed a Music Video for a production company and the process was hell. Up to now, on all of my jobs, the camera package lighting package and camera crew was the responsibility of the Gaffer and myself. We would get everything together, as well as crew and submit it to the producer based on the needs of the shoot for budget approval.

In this case however, the producer & director felt that THEY should oversee the equipment as well as our crew. This was an extremely stressful situation. They called the rental houses, and had the equipment picked up with no one from our crew present.. They also handled all communication and hiring of the crew.. This was also stressful because they tried to beat everyone down on rate and I keep my crew at one rate or don't ask them on the set. They are all reasonable and there's no reason to pay them less.

I have always been taught that I oversee the tools and crew I am responsible for on set. They believe that that they do.. Speaking with the exec yesterday I told him I have a different definitaion of my job than he does and he came back with "Well this is how it's done in LA"... I do not agree but I want to make sure I am not off base here. Any feedback from the seasoned pros would be helpful.

To make matters worse, the director is my best friend, and this issue has seriously damaged our working relationship.. I hope I am not off base here.

Jay A. Kelley


Jay,

I could really feel for you. From my experience, Music Video world is very director's realm. I worked on hundreds of them as a gaffer/camera assistant and eventually DP. I even produced my early music videos and I've directed music videos by default. The director gets what he/she wants. It didn't matter whether it was a low budget or a big budget it usually felt the same of too many shots and not enough time. But as the DP you still have to deliver.
As for the producer if he's inhouse and not an owner of the company then he/she answers to the exec producer. Micromanagers are like bullies; that stems from insecurity not strength. Yes margins can be tight on music videos but you eventually work with the same people over and over again because of mutual trust and respect. If the music video is a broadcast deal or if it's label a producer knows that margin. So what's the problem you get deals on the film, the lab, the gear, location and even actors. But having problems with the budget; slash the crews rate. Then make them wait for the cheque for over 30 days coz they're floating the next job. Why not just take a couple more grand and pay your crew. Those people end up on my blacklist. It's a huge business but a small circle no matter what city or country everyone hears and knows of everyone. Do you really want to be attached to that.
The director hopefully storyboards, shot list and preps. Instead of shooting with an insane ratio and shooting with every lens you've got.
You're the DP. Why are they micromanaging you? Where's the respect.
An actor friend once said that "No" is a very sexy word because you might not get the job today but when they call you again they know what you're worth and and what it'll take for you to get the job done.
As for your director friend you might not be working together in ten years. You might not even be friends anymore then. That's just the way it is. But you'll vibe with other people. I'm all about that combination of chemistry between the person and the artist and how they click with you.
If this producer is low balling you now do you think this will ever change with this guy.
What happens when they start doing bigger budget shoots are they going to gun for you because you're their DP or are they going to hire someone more seasoned than you.
Get your reel, bio, resume and press kit out there and start shopping around. It might take a while but your crew will love you for it if you get gigs with people who are respectful of what you're doing.
If people respect you they'll at least at the minimum make an effort to help you do the best job you can.
There's nothing more wonderful than to be paid well for doing something you love. Especially if you had a great sense of accomplishment from the experience. And have fun. Get the job done efficiently, quickly and safely but have fun.
You're the DP the author of the psyche of the film.
Best of luck out there
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