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hypothetical union question


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#1 Josh Silfen

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Posted 10 August 2005 - 03:09 PM

I am a struggling non-union DP and have a hypothetical problem that may arise in the not-too-distant future. I have a good friend from film school with whom I have often collaborated, and all of whose student films I shot. In June we made our first feature together. He directed and I shot it. It was a low-budget project (Super16, a couple hundred thousand dollars), but had some pretty recognizable faces and a great script and a lot of talent that went into it. Who knows what will happen with it, but by all accounts it seems like we may really have a great product here. Now one of our lead actresses may be helping the director get represented through her agency and his career may really be taking off. Now, this is purely hypothetical, but my concern is what will happen if the movie actually does go somewhere, and he gets starts getting big jobs and wants to hire me, but can't because I'm not union.
What would be the possible courses of action here? I'm not sure I'm eligible for union membership as a DP (I hear you need 100 days of paid DP work. Is there a minimum you need to be paid or does $50 a day count? And how do you prove you worked? I've read you need pay stubs from payroll companies, but what if your low-budget jobs pay you in cash or personal check?). What if I were eligible to join as an AC? I once heard that you can shoot union shows for 100 days as an AC before you have to pay the upgrade to become a DP. Is that true? Or is there any way to just shoot a union show and not be union? Or if he wants to hire me to shoot a union show is there some other way that he or the producers could get me into the union? Basically my question is: If that scenario were to happen, would I just get screwed and have to sit back and watch as he becomes phenomenally successful and leaves me behind, or is there some way the situation would work itself out?
I appreciate any insight anyone may have into this type of situation. Like I said, it is a purely hypothetical question, but I'd rather know any info now than wait until it actually happens. Thanks a lot.
-Josh Silfen
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 12:22 AM

It doesn't matter how much you got paid. You just need to prove that you worked those days and got paid. Without pay stubs, etc., you'll have to get letters from the producers.

It may be possible to get "grandfathered" in to Local 600; you first get hired before the film is officially a union film and basically you're allowed to join if you pay up.

But assuming this is even an issue, the problem might be that whoever is financing this big union film may convince the director that you're not experienced enough to shoot it. So the union issue is sort of peripheral to the bigger issue of whether you're qualified to shoot a big-budget film, and whoever is putting up the money may say "well, if he doesn't even have the 100 days of experience to get into the union, how can he be experienced enough to shoot a multi-million dollar movie?"

And the truth is that sometimes you don't climb as fast as a director; you climb at a different rate. Truth is that a DP needs a lot more knowledge and experience in some ways than a director does. Look at how many first-time directors are paired with pro DP's -- have you ever heard of a pro director hiring an inexperienced DP? I'm about to shoot my fourth feature for Michael Polish, his fourth feature as a director and my thirtieth as a DP. So basically for every film he directs, I go out and shoot six. Just a different rate of work and career growth for a DP. And even with thirty features to my credit, and two Spirit Award nominations for my work with this director, he still had to convince the studio to let me shoot this.

But if your director is insistent enough, and the production company agrees, they will basically go to the union and get you into it, assuming you want to pay up and join.

In the meanwhile, since it isn't an issue yet, I'd be spending my time collecting all the documentation you need for Contract Services, especially on your current jobs. Then when the time is right, you'll be prepared.

As for myself, I didn't join the union until after I shot 24 features... just didn't come up until then.
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#3 Eric Steelberg ASC

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 02:14 PM

Josh,
If you are a struggling non-union DP, joining the union is not going to help, only hurt. On top of the $10k it costs a Dp to join, there are also dues. And if you are not known enough to get independent work, then you definitely won't be getting union work. You only should join the unoin if you need to. I've been qualified for a long time but haven't joined because I haven't been offered any union features or TV.

"Now, this is purely hypothetical, but my concern is what will happen if the movie actually does go somewhere, and he gets starts getting big jobs and wants to hire me, but can't because I'm not union. " "...would I just get screwed and have to sit back and watch as he becomes phenomenally successful and leaves me behind..."

This is something that unfortunately happens to every DP in their career. You should also realize that if he gets big jobs, he probably won't want to hire you. Why would he if he can work with John Doe, ASC who is willing to take a pay cut to work with a hot new director? See what I mean? I speak from experience.

I'm not trying to put you down but I think you are worrying about the wrong things. Focus on getting more work and really standing out with your stuff. When the time is right to join it'll happen.

The fact of the matter is that Directors don't need to be as good or have as much skill as a DP. Many peopl can make a director look good, only a DP can make himself look good. A new director has a big DP as an insurance policy, a new DP is seen as a liability.

Edited by Eric Steelberg, 11 August 2005 - 02:17 PM.

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#4 Josh Silfen

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 08:43 AM

Maybe I am being naive, but I'm not questioning whether or not he would WANT to hire me, only whether or not he would be able to. I guess my question is more how likely or unlikely it is for a film to jumpstart a DP's career as well as a director's. They let the guy who shot "Clerks" shoot "Mallrats", and they let the guy who shot "Slackers" shoot "Dazed and Confused." I can't really imagine David Gordon Green making a movie without Tim Orr anytime soon. I'm curious just how rare these types of situations are.
-Josh Silfen
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#5 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 10:37 AM

If the film you did goes anywhere, and gets recognition, then that will be great for your career, whether or not you keep working w/ your director friend. I wouldn't worry about "what if he gets the big jobs ..." Either he'll take you w/ him, or you benefit from having done his breakthrough film.

You know the law of this land is that you can not be discriminated against on the job based on your union affiliation. That's the law, the practice is somewhat more complex! But, if a director really stands behind you and insists on you for a big, union, feature, you work your 30 days and then 600 can't legally refuse your 10 grand initiation.

More importantly, where did you get your s16 package, and is your crew list on imdb?

Fellow NYer, J...
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#6 Josh Silfen

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 01:21 PM

We shot on an Aaton XTRprod from TCS (http://www.tcsfilm.com). The crew list is on imdb (http://www.imdb.com/...721/fullcredits) but most of the crew isn't on there yet. If you want to know more about the crew specifically, email me off-list.
-Josh
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#7 shootist

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 12:34 PM

If you read the IATSE 600 contract, it says something along the lines that they have the first right to recommend someone. They cannot and do not claim that you have to be a member 'in good standing' in order to work. That is illegal in all 50 states. If your producer/director wants to work with you, you have every legal right to do that work. The union cannot legally stop you from working. They can require you to join or else become a non-member paying the core fee for contract negotiations.
See www.nrtw.org for more info.
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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 01:36 PM

Hi,

> The union cannot legally stop you from working

Back down here in realityville...

Phil
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#9 Sam Javor

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 07:44 PM

well I've only known of people being beatup by the teamsters and the american federation of musicians... :)
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