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Business Myopia and Professional Discrimination


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#1 Marty Hamrick

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 02:25 PM

Over in the 16mm subforum, Adam and I digressed a bit about hiring practices and what constitutes a "filmmaker". While we disagree on what constitues a filmmaker (my main disagreement over his definition is that I'm a little more liberal than he is. I feel that if I applied his definition to the term "musician", only those who had high end recording contracts and charging 200 dollars or more a ticket for their concerts would apply, thus leaving out the folks that play piano bar,entertain in night clubs or even play piano or organ for a church. I mean, what are they if not professional "musicians"?), we agree with professional discrimination (not myopia, more on that later)in that a producer is perfectly justified in not giving a break to the guy who shoots weddings or industrials for a living.

Yet in my long,varied and checkered career behind a cine or video camera, I think I've learned what the difference is and what constitues the difference between general myopia and professional discrimination. Often the line between the two is blurred and the definition can be subjective. I will use my own carreer experiences to illustrate the difference.

I've made my living with everything from TV news to industrials, sports analysis films, corporate sales and training films, commercials and even porn since 1976 when my internships while I was still in high school started paying me for my time instead of handing a broom to me and asking me to sweep up the editing room floor. While I don't expect to walk into Spielberg's office with a reel of commercials and expect to be hired to DP his next epic, I don't feel like I should be labelled as a "news shooter"(in spite of the fact that I've won awards on it and covered many major national and international events)an IMAG camera op (in spite of the fact that I've made some very good easy money with it)or certainly not a "pornographer" (in spite of the fact that at age 17 in '77 I put 5G in my savings account that summer and the connections led to my first "real" full time job at a film lab a year later). Here's some examples of what I feel to be myopia and some of the frustrations I have experienced.

1980: The film lab I worked for closed and I went to production companies and TV stations. I was labelled as a film cutter and none of them would even talk to me about part time work in the video editing departments despite the fact that I had taken several courses at the local cable company that used the same identical gear.Instead, one company hired a guy because he was the owner's high school chum and had been laid off. His only experience with video was retail sales at a department store.1987-91: My video production company folded due to the fact that my two biggest clients got hit with major financial problems. I could've recovered if it had happened to one of them at a time, but not both simultaneously so I went back to shooting news at one of the local TV stations. I had a reel of commercials and industrials to show besides news and during my tenure at this particular station,so I felt qualified to apply for a lateral move to the production/promotion department when the spot came open (which it did three times during those years). I was passed over 3 times for that position, they hired guys from other markets who had backgrounds as studio camera ops and some EFP, but having seen their reels, I didn't feel that they were any better than I was. I mean we're talking about the majority of spots being dollar a hollar used car dealerships and station promotions for their news department.Occasionally they got some fairly big production clents ,which they usually hired freelance help for some of the lighting and grip work, but pllllleeaaasssse, c'mon! Eventually in 1991, they hired me but only because I harrassed them every chance I got and by that time TV stations were scaling their production departments down so they hired me primarily because they could get me on a salary that was about 5% less than the out of town guys they had previously hired. Then there was a guy in my town who's background was in camera sales and somehow he ends up DP ing movies less than three years after he gets a job managing the AV department of a consumer grade camera store, mainly because he could talk a line of crap and played golf and went to church with the right people. I can't really begrudge him because he is good, but he has a reputation for seriously underbidding and basically "whoring" to get a foot in the door making it harder for anyone else to even get near the bidding process. Another guy who one of my stations used to hire to assist me on commercial shoots got a very secure position DP ing high budget commercials (he was offered slots on features but turned them down because he didn't want to be tied down on the long shooting schedules of movies)simply because his sister married a producer. Previously this guy had retired at age 38 when he sold his part of his family's printing business and spent a few years fishing, got bored and asked his brother in law for a job. Now while I understand that luck has much to do with any business, I have a problem with someone being turned down, who has some similar experience, but is labelled because it's not exactly the same thing, while someone with no experience gets a shot that others would kill for because they happened to be related to the right person or play golf at the right course.

Also, if you cut your teeth on 16mm industrials, it's not that much of a stretch to doing big budget commercials and even movies. I remember when there were studios that cranked out 16mm films and they hired full and part time actors, directors, writers, camera crews, editors and such and production values and techniques were pretty much the same, except on a smaller scale. They used dollies, cranes, big lighting packages and the like and some of them even made a few successful features.

With regard to features, I've seen DP's getting pigeonholed unfairly because of their success doing a particular genre for purely subjective reasons. "This guy does wonders with aging actresses, but do you want him to shoot your horror film?" are some of the arguments I've heard. What's up with that? I feel that if you don't understand the different requirements for different genres, then maybe you shouldn't be doing features in the first place.
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#2 Chance Shirley

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 05:25 PM

"...because they happened to be related to the right person or play golf at the right course."

This seems to be the way it is in any profession--who you know is at least as important, and often more important, than what you know.
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#3 Marty Hamrick

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 09:19 PM

Of course it is, Chance and now that I'm 50 and had time to reflect on things, I can kinda understand it. One very successful commercial producer I knew, the one who hired his brother in law wanted someone he could sort of mold in his own image, so it makes sense that he would bring in someone a little green if it meant that he knew the person very intimately. He was known for firing people over seemingly strange, somewhat anal quirks. He might not hire you if he found out that on your time off ,you preffered to unwind with a doobie instead of three martinis or if you drove a Toyota instead of a Ford or Chevy.Of course he would never admit to those reasons, but it was well known. It's all about peace of mind and what you're comfortable with, and if you have that kind of successful track record, who can really argue with you?
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 12:30 AM

No one ever really argues with the people providing the money and wins....


Even me, sadly, when I go to hire out people for crews, I want to work with people I know, just because with so much more on my mind, I want someone who I at least can marginally predict.
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 12:44 AM

Hiring the devil you know instead of the unknown you don't has at least some measure of security. From my experience, it seems that established "hirers" only go outside their known pool of talent when absolutely forced to (because everyone asked is busy or says no...). People in this business have to understand that it's nothing personal to not be picked first or ever if the new client doesn't know you at all or very well. That's just human nature to seek out the comfortable even if it's not perfect.
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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 01:51 AM

With regard to features, I've seen DP's getting pigeonholed unfairly because of their success doing a particular genre for purely subjective reasons.


Well come on Marty we ALL face this problem in our industry!

I spent years being told, "we can't hire you to direct a feature because you've never directed a feature film before."

So I said screw it, and I made my own feature film and got it into distribution. Now, no one could say, "we can't hire you to direct a feature because you've never directed a feature film before." And it worked! When the opportunity to direct The Dogfather came along, I was ready. And now I'm heading into my third feature project. I will fend off the other 10 thousand guys that want the director's chair on this project because I own the script and I have a good chunk of the financing. I will use both of these "hammers" to keep my competition at bay.

When I finished The Dogfather last year I thought about directing episodic TV. After all, I now had two features under my belt and none of those TV guys had any. Well I spent a month being told to bugger off by every agent and producer in Canada! You are a feature director, they said, you have no experience with episodic TV. So that was that. Not that I really care at this stage, they all did me a favour. What does an episodic TV director do any way besides say action and cut? :)

My point is Marty there is actually very little cross migration in this business, and 98% of all moves will be lateral. I got into the directors chair because I spent my own money, at that point no one could say no to me could they? Would I have spent that money and invested in some one else's career? Ha! Not bloody likely!!

I see very few directors that do commercials, episodic TV, and features. There are directors and DOPs that do one of those three, and they generally stay put.

It's quite unreasonable for any one to think that they can be a news shooter one year, and a features DOP shooting 35mm the next. Not very likely.

So now if an episodic TV director ever comes to me and asks if he can direct a feature film I am producing, I already have my answer ready, BUGGER OFF!!! :D

R,
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#7 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 03:14 AM

I'd say, maybe you should take up golf and start attending a church with prominent members who can help your career. Instead of dwelling on how other people have passed you by, deservedly so or not, perhaps you should look at what they did to get ahead, see if there is any value in that for you and start asking yourself what you need to do to change your approach in order to succeed. Ain't much you can do about your age except LEARN from your mistakes and experiences and use that knowledge the move forward.

I've had successes and failures, had friends and people I loath surpass my achievements but in all honesty, even with people I dislike, I never begrudged them their success MAINLY because it has nothing to do with me so unless they are willing to use their success to help me achieve MY goals, I don't really care how much success others have. I mean, I'm happy for my friends, kinda annoyed if my enemies succeed, but that has very little to do with getting what I want to get done, done, other than inspiration as to what can be accomplished. The only time I do care, of course, is if they succeed at my expense, and if I'm dumb enough to let them do that, that's my fault for being naive.

There is something in that old adage, "I'd rather be lucky than good." A lot of times whether you succeed or not isn't up to you, it's circumstance, chance, luck of the draw. I LOVE the film "The Kid Stays In The Picture" and Robert Evans talks about how shear luck set him on the road to becoming head of Paramount and a VERY successful producer when Norma Shearer spotted him at poolside while he was making phone calls, taking care of business for his bother's clothing business. She asked if he was an actor and his response was "I used to be". He said what Norma Shearer had seen in him was a young go-getter that reminded her of her husband Irving Thalberg. She got him the part of Thalberg opposite James Cagney in "Man of a Thousand Faces" and he was off and running. NEVER underestimate luck, HOWEVER, there is another old adage also referred to in that picture that goes "You'll find LUCK where preparation meets opportunity" Evans got lucky, but Evans got lucky A LOT, because he took chances, made tough decisions and positioned himself to take advantage of every opportunity that came along, he ALSO worked his ASS OFF and made the right decisions most of the time so if you're not finding the luck you need to get ahead, maybe you're not doing everything you need to do to get ahead. MAYBE you need to take more risks, do a little underbidding to get your foot in the door or sit down and objectively analyze the career mistakes you've made and continue to make and how best to correct them. This is MUCH more difficult to do than it is to say because it requires total honesty and detachment and a lot of people can't handle that kind of self examination. It's tough to do, but it may be the only way to find your light.

In many ways, I think luck is a lot like fishing, you learn to read the river, find where the fish are, what which bait works, which doesn't, what's the best time to cast in your line.....but ultimately either the fish are biting or they're not so much of the time, all you can do is wait. When you DO get a nibble, though, you better know how to hook that fish and reel him in because if not, you're gonna go hungry until you do. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 19 November 2010 - 03:15 AM.

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#8 Marty Hamrick

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 02:33 PM

All very good points, gentlemen, thank you for the responses and all things I've learned through experiences. Suffice to say, it's not just in our business that it all works this way, it's pretty much in everything whether you make movies or doughnuts. I've never begrudged anyone and I really have no regrets as I've had a blast doing news, commercials, industrials, etc and I look at it as just the way life steers you somestimes. I have a friend in Sacramento that spent years in school learning higher mathematics and computer science only to find his niche of success in his own pool cleaning business. My wife has two degrees in banking, finance and office management and so far has only been able to find work in fast food and at the drive in theatre I used to manage. My daughter just finished school to become a medical assistant and as yet there are no jobs available in her field, so she's doing retail. I told her not to worry, that may be her niche and she won't complain if she ends up making a decent living with it and having fun at the same time.

Actually, I would like to think in many ways I've proved the mypoics wrong. I've transitioned between news and high end commercial production by proving that I could do it. My short stint in porn didn't black ball me like many warned about, indeed, I got the connections to get a lab job as my future boss was one of the biggest patrons. There's another transition I've done, from production to post production and back again.So I don't think it's unreasonable at all to believe that a news shooter can transition to docs, episodic TV and even movies. I have a very good friend in LA who worked as news shooter at one of the stations I also worked at and today he's a steadicam op on episodics.

Stanley Kubrick, one of my early all time heroes in this business advised young filmmakers to get a camera and make any kind of films they can and that's what I did. Like I said I have no regrets. In my hiring practices though whenever I worked any kind of manegerial position, I've always made the effort to go against the grain of comfort and hire someone that showed enthusiasm and were looking for a break. I've never been burned doing that, in fact, it's been the opposite experience for me. If I ever got taken advantage of, it was when I hired friends, family and the familiar ("comfortable").I guess I'm the odd exception.Once I hired a former engineer at one of the stations I worked at who had been laid off when the station was sold. I didn't know her very well and she had no experience actually operating a camera, but yet could open one up and work on one if it crapped out.It was a multi camera gig on a big corporate seminar and I took a very big chance hiring her. At first her camera moves were rough and during a break, I coached her on how to follow a moving subject and pull her own focus and after a little practice she got it. Not long after that, one of the other cameras, a rental blew a power supply and she ended up rescuing the entire shoot by knowing how to fix it, as it stumped our staff engineer ( he knew alot about electronics but very little about cameras).Sometimes it pays to go against what comfort tells you.
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#9 Marty Hamrick

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 02:44 PM

My point is Marty there is actually very little cross migration in this business, and 98% of all moves will be lateral. I got into the directors chair because I spent my own money, at that point no one could say no to me could they?

Read more: http://www.cinematog...4#ixzz15l8FYjqw


Those are exactly my next long term plans and after 30 plus years I've finally got reasonably close to be able to pull it off.
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#10 Adam Hunt

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 07:35 AM

First of all thanks for linking to this new thread for me :huh:

I just found it now by accident.

1980: The film lab I worked for closed and I went to production companies and TV stations. I was labelled as a film cutter and none of them would even talk to me about part time work in the video editing departments despite the fact that I had taken several courses at the local cable company that used the same identical gear.


I have noticed that industrials/news is actually myopic in the way you suggest. I applied for some editor/assistant editor jobs doing corporates when I first moved to t.o. and they wanted nothing to do with me, even though I had some experience doing what were basically commercials/corporates for an ad agency I worked for. I was involved with narrative film so therefore I wasn't one of them. They are myopic. But they are narrow-minded business men and a completely different type than people in the film industry (even snooty studio execs).

I don't find it works the opposite way at all. In my experience people in the 'film biz' don't give a crap about your background. I have never been asked where I went to school, or if I worked in other fields before. Occasionally they want a CV with the credits of productions I have worked on, but that has become so rare (mostly because they just look you up on IMDb). Usually all they want is a reel. Often they may not even ask for a reel if you come highly recommended by somebody they know. The point is, all they care about is can you do this particular thing they want. If you want to direct, show me something you have directed. If you want to write, show me something you have written. If you want to edit, show me something you have cut. That's all there is to it. There is no branding at all. None in my experience.

From the sounds of it Marty you are hitting a brick wall because you have stuff to show them in many other fields but not the specific one they want. Unfortunately that other stuff is worth zero to them. You are in a lot of ways starting at square one in their eyes. But that's not to say your other experience is not useful for transitioning to a new field. It's probably worth a lot in fact. But worth a lot to you not them. What I mean is you have to turn the experience that benefits you into something that will get their attention.

You need to use that talent to build a DOP reel geared towards drama or music videos. Go to LIFT, rent their Konvas for $45 a day and a light kit, get yourself some short ends and shoot. That's what a friend of mine did. The guy used to be an actor, but decided he wanted to be a DOP. Nobody would of course hire him as a DOP based on his acting experience so he went out and found a way to shoot a reel on 35mm out of his pocket, on the cheap, without looking cheap. And he shot a reel. Just individual shots. But shots that looked like they belonged in a dramatic film or a music video. You cut them together with some music and you got a reel. Now he's working constantly doing a mixture of music videos, shorts and features. He was a talented guy from the start, but nobody took him seriously until he had a reel to show them. But can you blame them?

You have the advantage of knowing your way around a camera. You don't really need to learn anything technical here. You just need to demonstrate your knowledge and creativity in the context they want to see. How many interesting and varied shots do you think you can bang off in a weekend when you are not making a film but just setting up interesting shots? Get 'em all processed on Monday. Get a transfer session at Technicolor Wednesday (I bet you can spend less than an hour in the suite and be out of there on minimal cash). Then beg a favour from a friend with Final Cut on Thursday (if you don't have it yourself). Pad it with some material from your commercial/corporate reel that could be passed of as belonging in film, and by Friday you are handing DVDs to people with exactly what they want to see on it.

I know I'm making it sound easy, and I know it's not just a walk in the park but it's doable. Like I said I know people who have done it. Don't worry about this myopia stuff. If you show them a reel that demonstrates what you can do for narrative film they probably wont even ask about your background. Go to some parties and make some connections. I used to (and sometimes still do) carry around those little 3" mini-DVDs in my pocket to parties where I know I will meet industry people instead of business cards.
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#11 Adam Hunt

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 08:15 AM

As to the whole what constitutes a filmmaker thing, I have already said a lot in the other thread and I don't really want to type it all again, but let me see if I can sum it up in brief.

For me the definition of a filmmaker is all about intentions. A filmmaker is somebody who makes and audio/visual work with the intention of it being just that: a standalone work. It's central purpose is not to advertise a product (like commercials or corporates), or to document something for a very limited audience (like a wedding video). A film is made as a work to stand on it's own, to be seen by an audience, most of whom don't have ties to the filmmaker himself. This definition applies nicely to narrative film, documentaries, art films, and creative visual works. It does not apply to corporate video makers, wedding videographers, commercial directors, etc.

Music videos are a grey area. Technically their central purpose is too sell a product (the band, the album) but in my experience they are not approached as such like a commercial would be. The idea is usually to create a cool piece of art that gets people's interest and just provides a cool way for them to hear the music. Combine with that that music video directors and DOPs have more crossover with actual filmmaking than any of those other categories and I think it's safe to call music video directors who approach music videos as a work of their own filmmakers.

I also think that in order to call yourself a filmmaker you have to approach it with a certain intention of professionalism. What I mean is you should either already be a professional at it or be doing work in aspiration to being a professional. We got into a bit of a discussion about YouTube. I think this aspiration towards quality and professionalism is what separates filmmakers posting work on YouTube from YouTubbers. YouTubbers video tape their cat, or do something crazy on camera with the sole purpose of getting lots of views (and therefore the perception of personal popularity), but they never aspire to create a quality work or move beyond YouTube. A filmmaker however creates a work with either professional skill or an aspiration towards professional skill and approaches YouTube as one of several mediums to get that work to an audience. The two have very different intentions.



As for your musician analogy: I am not excluding musicians that don't bring in $200 a ticket. I think that's a very unfair characterization of my views on what constitutes a filmmaker. That would be a fair analogy if I had said your budget or popularity makes you a filmmaker. But that's not the case at all. The billionaire rockstar and the kid with a guitar in his parents basement are equally musicians as long as their intention is to create a quality work that can be appreciated by themselves and an audience. A closer analogy as far as musicians would be that both Lenny from down the street and somebody like Paul Simon are musicians, but the members of an artificially constructed boy band like N'Sync is not. Boy Bands are the corporate videos of the music world. But extending that further, that's not to say that the member of a boy band could not, in some special cases, become a musician. But he would have to prove himself to be a musician before being called that.
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#12 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 09:46 AM

As for your musician analogy: I am not excluding musicians that don't bring in $200 a ticket. I think that's a very unfair characterization of my views on what constitutes a filmmaker. That would be a fair analogy if I had said your budget or popularity makes you a filmmaker. But that's not the case at all. The billionaire rockstar and the kid with a guitar in his parents basement are equally musicians as long as their intention is to create a quality work that can be appreciated by themselves and an audience. A closer analogy as far as musicians would be that both Lenny from down the street and somebody like Paul Simon are musicians, but the members of an artificially constructed boy band like N'Sync is not. Boy Bands are the corporate videos of the music world. But extending that further, that's not to say that the member of a boy band could not, in some special cases, become a musician. But he would have to prove himself to be a musician before being called that.


Does that mean that someone like Michael Bay shouldn't be considered to be a "filmmaker"? I don't agree with the assessment, but a lot of people dismiss his movies as being trite and whatever other dismissive epithets can be conjured up to describe what he does. While something like "Amadeus" is a FILM in every way I can imagine, so too is something like "The Rock" which entertains in its own way, a way that is distinctly different from something like "Amadeus" but equally appealing for different reasons.

So who are any of us to suggest that N'Sync members aren't "real" musicians while Bocelli is? True, they do VERY different things and appeal to very different audiences, but in the end, they both sing and entertain and make money. I don't really see any fundamental difference at all.

The bottom line is that in the world of "art" as it collides with "business," there are plenty of cubby-holes for aspiring artists to inhabit. Some make more money than others but that shouldn't negate the artistry of one or the other.
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#13 Adam Hunt

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 10:08 AM

Does that mean that someone like Michael Bay shouldn't be considered to be a "filmmaker"? I don't agree with the assessment, but a lot of people dismiss his movies as being trite and whatever other dismissive epithets can be conjured up to describe what he does. While something like "Amadeus" is a FILM in every way I can imagine, so too is something like "The Rock" which entertains in its own way, a way that is distinctly different from something like "Amadeus" but equally appealing for different reasons.


Not at all. Michael Bay is a filmmaker. He may or may not be a good one depending on your assessment of his films, but he does fit into the guidelines I laid out. I said it was about intentions.

The directors of Transformers, Amadeus, and The Rock all had intentions of making a good standalone work with professional quality. Wether or not those films or their directors were 'good' in any objective or subjective assessment, or wether or not they appealed to you personally, they are indeed films and their directors are indeed filmmakers. That's why I said it was about the intention of the work not the result. The quality of the results are largely subjective. And just because someone is a crappy filmmaker does not mean they are not a filmmaker at all. Even Tommy Wiseau is a filmmaker.



So who are any of us to suggest that N'Sync members aren't "real" musicians while Bocelli is? True, they do VERY different things and appeal to very different audiences, but in the end, they both sing and entertain and make money. I don't really see any fundamental difference at all.


They are not. Performers, entertainers: yes. Musicians: no. There a plenty of musicians whose music I personally think is awful, but I still consider them musicians. My point about boy bands was that they are a construct and not artists. That does not mean that they are not performers and capable of entertaining an audience. The style of music or my opinion of it has nothing to do with them being musicians or not.
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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 11:03 AM

I have shot corporates, news, and documentaries. I've done motion graphics and animation. I've operated jibs and steadicam on music videos and ENG. I've crewed on high end commercials and feature films. I've done technical writing and technical illustration, print and web, software and systems integration.

In a country with an operating film industry, I would probably be making a lot more money. However, I have never, ever had to get on a train at 6am and go to an office, and thus I win.

P
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#15 Adam Hunt

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 11:08 AM

However, I have never, ever had to get on a train at 6am and go to an office, and thus I win.


Amen.
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#16 Adam Hunt

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 11:10 AM

In a country with an operating film industry, I would probably be making a lot more money.


I don't follow. Aren't you in Britain?
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#17 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 12:10 PM

Aren't you in Britain?


Yes. Precisely.
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#18 Adam Hunt

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 05:29 PM

Yes. Precisely.


Doesn't Britain have a pretty good film industry?
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#19 K Borowski

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 05:59 PM

Amen.


I see. So getting up at 5AM to go out and shoot in the rain, a day after dicking around 'til 10 at night means you win then?



That's a pretty broad stroke, Phil, with which to paint the film industry. What about working on holidays (I just can't understand this one except in fields like medicine, law enforcement, electrical utilities etc.), not seeing your family for breakfast or dinner on a shoot day (maybe one of these if you are lucky) and being held totally at the mercy of your superiors while you are on the set?

Indeed, it's more in line with the type of conditions one must experience on a commercial fishing boat or a coal mine than what one experiences in an office. In New York, it's just like most of urbanized Europe, in that you have to deal with the same daily grind everyone else does, trying to get in early to avoid being trapped for hours in a traffic jam. Plus, if you're late in this field you get fired or black-balled, so no added pressure there!
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#20 Adam Hunt

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 06:08 PM

I see. So getting up at 5AM to go out and shoot in the rain, a day after dicking around 'til 10 at night means you win then?


Yeah, nobody said it was easy, but I know I'd still take it over a 9 to 5 job any day. You don't put up with the long erratic hours unless you love this job.
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