In Part Two, I talked about how I went from lowly college student trying to get material together for his demo reel to sitting in the hot seat behind a video switcher at Winnipeg Arena for Manitoba Moose games.
Well, I had plenty of other opportunities as well, including ringside camera for WWF Wrestling at Winnipeg Arena (Kane shoved me because I had the camera in his face as he walked out), to an International Military Tattoo (I had hot brass from blank rounds being ejected from automatic rifles rain down the back of my suit jacket while I was live on the video screens), to acting as Master Control Switcher for the in-house feed on the video screens during the Ford World Curling Championships (when asked how much money we made during the 16+ hour days, the answer my brother and I gave was “FIST FULLS!”).
I worked with a lot of Winnipeg’s best camera operators while working at the Arena and I made a lot of friends who have also hired me for their projects.
Scott Carnegie was working for APTN (The Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network) when I first met him. We used to stick Scotty on handheld camera all the time because frankly, he worked harder than just about anybody back then. When I moved into the switcher’s seat for some more WWF/WWE Wrestling, Scott asked if he could take my place at ringside camera.
I’ll tell you this: wrestling at the pro level is a LOT of fun! Whether you consider it a sport or entertainment, what I will tell you is that the wrestlers are true athletes and the production team are absolute top notch folks. During the first professional wrestling event I switched, I had a traveling production team member sitting next to me making sure I showed the guys in their best light. The next time they came through town the touring road manager asked who was switching the show; when he found out it was me he said “oh yeah… we like him. He makes us look good out there.”
Having grown up on AWA Wrestling as a child, I got the hugest kick out of switching the show and frankly to this day, wrestling is one of my favourite things to switch.
Scott left APTN and started his own video production company Media Circus. He contacted me to switch a live wrestling event for two television series he developed and produced for Action Wrestling Entertainment.
In fact, for the longest time, the SOLE entry on my IMDB listing was one of these gigs. (I don’t maintain an IMDB presence myself). I also got a chance to meet some pretty cool folks, like Solofa Fatu Jr. who was known in his days in WWE as Rikishi.
Again, this may not mean anything to you, but I’ve met some pretty darned cool people.
I later went on to direct and switch the first handful of events held at the new MTS Centre in Winnipeg, including the staff appreciation night closed-doors, invitation-only event and the Northern Lights Northern Stars concert that OFFICALLY opened the doorrs at Winnipeg’s new arena starring Randy Bachmann, Burton Cummings, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Chantal Kreviazuk (whose father owned Krevco Pools and Spas that I mentioned in my last post on this topic…).
I eventually directed and switched a show by my mother’s favourite singer Daniel O’Donnell for the in-house video feed.
She was in the audience that night (quite a feat for my mother who doesn’t really like to go out…) and she commented how much she really enjoyed the “TV show” that they put on.
I told her it was me that was directing and switching it. I think at that moment she started to understand what her eldest son did for a living.
So what does all this have to do with getting compensated for work?
My buddy Dylan Couper, who runs my favourite indie ciné gear rental house in Vancouver, put it succinctly today when I was telling him about this series:
“I may work for no money but I’ll never work for nuthin’!”
After all this rambling I’ve done trying to explain how the choices I made early in my career to partner with a guy who didn’t necessarily pay top dollar have paid MASSIVE dividends to my career and made it possible for me to have some incredible life experiences, Dylan sums it up incredibly well.
We live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – often called Hollywood North due to the large numbers of productions that have (historically) come here to be filmed. There is a vibrant independent film scene here as well as a large student/first-time filmmaker scene here. Craigslist is filled with requests for crew to work “for food and IMDB credit”. As well, what has happened in the last three or so years is that small and large companies alike are posting ads with little to no budget looking for film students to shoot their events, corporate videos, online web commercials and the like “for students or new filmmakers looking for material for their reels”.
To make matters worse, there is a movement in the film festival circuit to brag about how little a film cost to make – in some cases “we made it for NOTHING!”
Now let me be clear – your film wasn’t made for nothing. It was made with volunteer labour, and the best short films are often made by folks who work in what we colloquially refer to as The Big Industry, as in folks who work on feature films or episodic television. These are hard working and talented folks who get together to help other folks in the industry make their short film on days off from their day jobs. Sort of a “we’ll shoot yours this weekend and I’ll finish up my script so we can look at bringing it to life in the fall”.
There is a word for this: CONTRA.
Businessdictionary.com lists contra as “barter arrangement between two parties who exchange goods or services without any cash changing hands”.
Sort of a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” deal.
But of course, a lot of this has been “lost in translation”. Going to Craigslist to beg for people to work for free for your film that you were too lazy to develop relationships with talented and likeminded individuals for is all too common today in my new home city.
I have friends that will give quite generously of their time to help get a worthwhile project off the ground – from acting to set-decorating to stills photography to script supervising and gun armouring, the film community is a very giving one. I get incensed when I see new lazy directors posting an ad on Craigslist on Thursday night looking for a lighting director and camera operator, both with their own gear, for a shoot that starts at 5PM the next day.
My opinion (which when added to $2.75 will get you on the SkyTrain here in Vancouver…) is that films are best made by TEAMS of creative people who are working together with a unified vision. You don’t get this bringing together a crew of “the lowest bidders” 24 hours before you go to camera.
If you want to build your own body of work and increase your value as a working professional, I strongly encourage you to work with other people that take your discipline seriously. If you are going to spend 20 days working for no money on an indie film, you should either have complete buy-in or you should be working under experienced professionals who can show you the ropes and teach you new things.
I once turned down a buddy of mine who asked me to work for way less than my day rate on a television series I had already worked on. My rationale was I knew there was a budget for my services; the producer just didn’t want to spend it. My refusal did create some bad blood between us at the time but we are all good now. I also explained to him much later that if he had asked me to do this as a favour to him, I would have gladly, but had to turn the offer down because of how it was presented – I felt my contribution was being massively undervalued. Had he simply said “we could really use the help; I’ll owe you one” and meant it, I would have happily gone on set and shot for the required number of days.
But at the time, I was being offered nothing of value for my time.
You should ALWAYS get something of value for your labour.
One of my best friends does promotional stills photography. She is a sponsor for the Women in Film and Television Awards at the level that her photographic contributions would command at fair market value. It costs the festival nothing but she receives a quantifiable benefit for her contribution of time, skills and equipment.
I love the old adage: “anyone who is completely self taught has a fool for a teacher”. When you agree to do a corporate video for a company fresh out of college on your own without a mentor, all you are doing is reinforcing bad habits.
Work with people who are better than you and need a bit of help that they may not have a full production budget for. Real-world experience has intrinsic value. The sad truth is that apprenticeships seem to be disappearing when they are quite possibly the most valuable of any learning experience.
Next time around, I’ll talk about other creative enterprises that suffer from and perpetuate the same sins…
Yes musicians, I’m looking at you…
Thanks for reading!