Okay… maybe that last post was going a bit too far for a joke but my position is that whenever you work for free, you devalue yourself, your work and the work of others around you – working professionals like me, which is why I have a vested interest in educating those starting out on the damage that working for free does to us all.
“Okay hot shot… are you going to tell me that when you were starting out you never worked for free?”
Yup. That’s what I’m telling you.
Even when I was starting out, I always received something valuable for my labour.
That compensation wasn’t always purely financial – sometimes I received pay commensurate with my ability at the time, sometimes I got to work alongside seasoned professionals who took me under their wing and taught me more than I could learn in a strictly academic environment, like media college. Often, it was a combination of both.
By the time I left media college, I already had numerous local and regional television credits and some great material for my reel. This culminated in DoP’ing a regional television commercial for Winnipeg hot tub and spa retailer Krevco Pools and Spas.
The education I got after media college though is what has made me into the video professional I am today. I started working with infamous Winnipeg sportscaster Peter Young as a camera operator in his fledgeling business providing multicamera live switched video service to the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team.
I was there when the video boards were first turned on in both facilities. Working with Peter at the Blue Bombers meant I was the east side sideline camera operator, tasked with getting crowd shots during breaks in play as well as ISO shots of the visiting team. At the Goldeyes, I started out as the 3rd baseline tight follow camera operator.
I was paid according to my ability – I made $75 a game working for the Goldeyes, $125 a game working for the Blue Bombers. This was back in 1999. Standard day rate for first call shooters back then was about $200. I did not have the skills of a first call shooter, but I had the enthusiasm and the will to eventually become one!
Working at the Blue Bombers stadium, I was working alongside some of the very best in “the game”. Names like Kenny Gable & Nelson Jones (both CTV) and Alf Carboni, who is quite possibly the best tight follow guy in live sports – he has worked at several Olympics and International sporting tournaments especially in hockey and ice skating. He is also one of the most genuine people you will ever meet.
These were the people I had to “earn my keep” against. I became one of the best handheld camera operators in the business.
Peter would have me pan-and-scan the stands on the east side for extended periods of time with a Sony Betacam on my shoulder, lens at full zoom looking for cute kids or couples just waiting to kiss for the sponsored SmoochCam!
He worked me hard. He was unforgiving if I missed focus or started to waver after being live for a full minute at full telephoto. But I ate it up and I got better. Much better.
Eventually, I started working my way up the proverbial ladder on the events that didn’t have the full production day budget as a CFL football game (Canadian Football League for the non-Canadians out there). Peter even started cycling me through the switcher’s seat on low stress gigs so he could wander off to chat with some old buddies of his who might be hanging around the press box.
I learned EVERYTHING I could. I became Peter’s resident expert on all things technical.
Then one day, Peter called me up and told me to report to an address to get my picture taken for a new credential…
In 1999, the Pan-American Games came to Winnipeg.
Three guesses who Peter had in mind as technical support for all the video screens in Winnipeg…
I was put through some fast paced training to learn how the video boards actually worked and how the graphics and video playback servers operated at three venues and had a crash course in a glow board at another facility. I was on-call for the run of the games at the CanWest Baseball Park (baseball – scoreboard with video screen), the Winnipeg Arena (gymnastics – 4 video screens) and the Pan-Am pool (aquatics – glow board). I had been out of college less than 8 months.
I made a very nice chunk of change that summer, proved my worth and learned a bunch of new skills, which came in handy a few months later…
The IHL (International Hockey League) Manitoba Moose, later to join the AHL (American Hockey League), were looking for new game night production crew. Peter Young’s oldest son Jason and I put together a pitch to provide staffing for game nights. This would include my brother, a talented graphic artist who loved sports, an affinity I never really had, strangely, despite just how important live sports was to my development as a working videographer.
In the beginning, I was a bit of a utility player, taking any position that needed doing from game night audio to handheld camera to the occasional stint on the swing seat tight follow camera.
Eventually, I earned the hot seat…
At some point, I moved into the director’s chair, sitting behind a wall of monitors and VTRs, pushing buttons and yanking on the T-bar of a ROSS Video RVS210 video switcher. I had arrived!
As much as I love shooting, I’m most at home calling the show.
All along the way, I learned new skills, networked like mad and ALWAYS got a pay cheque – not always at full scale but I weighed the benefits against my time. I trusted those around me and they brought me along for one heck of a ride.
There is more to come…
Thanks for reading!