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A Threat to Steadicam operators


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#1 keithjordan

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Posted 28 June 2004 - 01:17 PM

I am a fellow Steadicam owner operator and have been in the local 659/600 nearly a decade. After doing the pilot for the CBS/Spelling/Icon show Clubhouse. I have just passed on an incredibly low ball offer to do the series as the B operator for scale with no bump to do Steadicam when it is called for. Even worse, I'm told the producers have this deal in place on another show and a list of Steadicam operators ready to jump in for this one. Evidently this is not a new trend. It is an obvious tactic to not only reduce but eliminate any finacial recognition for what we do because our union does not dictate this area of pay. With operators willing to undercut commonly accepted rate ajustments, the future looks dim. Once this precedent becomes policy in TV, feature production will aggressively jump on the bandwagon and in a few short years the specialty of Steadicam will no longer be acknowledged finacially beyond the rental of equipment--- soon to be undercut by some new short sighted member. We need a united front on this or we can expect our unique finacial compensation to be a thing of the past very soon!
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#2 PaulSommers

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Posted 28 June 2004 - 09:42 PM

I have to agree with Keith. There seems to be a general erosion of rates in television. Historically as operators we have been able to demand a premium for our speciality. When steadicam began the operators worked very hard for these benefits that we all enjoy. Let's face it Steadicam requires more out of you than traditional operating, and for that we should be copensated. All of us have heard others complain that steadicam operators "make so much money" Sure a substantial portion of our income derives from our gear, but let some one else take the risk that we have taken by purchasing the equipment. This thankfully has not been the issue that I have run into. Consistently I have heard of deals out there for operators to work for scale in TV.

All of us have given deals. Each one comes with it's own reasoning. Either it's to cement a relationship with a DP or you want the credit, but let's be real. On a network television show they can afford the small premium that most of us have been getting for the last few years. All of us are worth more than scale and we should demand it as a craft.

Paul
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#3 David Allen Grove

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 11:04 AM

Interesting timing on this thread. Just yesterday while on the set of "Monster-in-Law" Bruce Doering and Tim Wade came by to visit (actually they were visiting the set next door and made a wrong turn.)

They introduced themselves to me and it was funny because THEY brought up the issue of declining rates among Steadicam operators! (I was wearing my Osvaldo Steadicam t-shirt.) I said, Yep it's getting worse. Bruce said he would like to meet with the Steadicam Guild. So they are very aware of it. (Steadicam ops must be complaining...)

I haven't been in the union long enough to really understand how it all works and the politics behind it but one thing I did notice that seemed to scare the hell out of the producer I worked for a couple of months ago was that he saw Steadicam Guild on my business card, he said, "oh my God, there's a Steadicam Guidl?!!??!" I said, Yep, smiled and didn't say another word. I thought he was going cry like a baby. :lol:

So, you steadicam ops who are members, put Steadicam Guild on your business cards and ask for a bump in pay! Wouldn't that be something if that's all it took. (I can dream can't I?)

On a side note: Becoming a DP might not be a bad way to go...I was certainly inspired yesterday. It was awesome to see Russell Carpenter work (monster-in-law). Even when things weren't going as well as expected and the clock was ticking. Russell was very calm about it and it all came together at the end and ON TIME! He was also very nice to me. He went out of his way to show me how he organizes shots. It was just an awesome experience. Who knows.. maybe one day I'll hang up my rig and grab a light meter. hmmm.
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#4 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 05:13 PM

Keith, I was offered the same job and passed as well. I'm sure they will find some asshole to do it. Maybe we all will be lucky enough to meet that person some day.
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#5 David Allen Grove

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 05:37 PM

I'm curious what were they offering to pay? rate and rental?
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#6 denmoran

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 05:50 PM

If the union dictates a Steadicam (minimum) rate then that is what most will get paid... not a penny more.

Denis
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#7 Charles Papert

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 06:27 PM

Gents, this "DP's make twice as much--don't have to wear the rig--that's the way to go" reasoning is about as realistic as the company grip who looks at us and figures "Steadicam operators have it made".

In today's environment, the responsibilities, pressures and politics in the DP position are only increasing; and except for those at the top, the good money is becoming harder and hard to get. I know for a fact that I have often made more as a Steadicam operator than the DP (I'm talking full-on union shows here), and that's not even considering the countless after-hours and weekend meetings, discussions, phone calls/visits to the lab or telecine, all of which is included in that flat weekly deal. Obviously not every DP has to do this, but many do. Today's cinematographer is held accountable when days run long even if it is the indecision/inexperience of the director that is causing this. Dealing with the studio pinheads, the production company, the producers and the UPM on a near-daily basis is exhuasting (different than humping around a Panavised Cinealta, sure, but bona fide exhaustion nonetheless).

I'm not denying that it can be a great gig. I've seen (and myself had some experience with) the dark side of the position to know what kind of a toll it can take, and how little monetary return is involved considering the importance of the job.

And honestly, considering the amount of bristling that goes on in here about the attitude "buy a rig, become a Steadicam operator", isn't it the same thing to suggest "buy a light meter, become a DP?" (I'm referring back a few posts).
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#8 David Allen Grove

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 06:49 PM

I was hoping that that would spark discussion! That's whats needed!

Now thinking about it, if there was an hourly minimum for steadicam operators, it would more than likely reduce the number of days they would use a steadicam.

Charles, although I really was in awe of how Russell works, I was only kidding about DPing. LOL Are you kidding, me DP? I couldn't light a match, let alone a set! ;) (I promise to always use smiley faces when I make a joke, I promise to always use......)
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#9 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 07:20 PM

Keith, I was offered the same job and passed as well. I'm sure they will find some asshole to do it. Maybe we all will be lucky enough to meet that person some day.

So did I...
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#10 PaulSommers

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 07:52 PM

I totally agree with Charles. None of us should work for operator scale on shows. As to the rental issue. When they put their money where there mouths are then we can talk. Anybody else sweat it out the first year or two they owned a rig? In the end we all sink or swim together in this industry. Don't think the producers don't talk. I have hjad conversations with UPMs that started and ended with "Well last year I know that you made X, and that is what we are willing to pay."

We all know that the days of 100$ an hour on an episodic are long gone, but some renumeration and recognition of the art of steadicam is deserved. Should there be a union scale rate for episodic TV? Maybe that is what collective bargaining is about.

Paul
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#11 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 08:31 PM

Having a scale for Steadicam would be the true end. If you give them the lowest denominator, they will insist on it. At least now you can say no with true justifcation. The offer, David, was some form of weekly 1st year of a TV show, which airs on a Tueaday, but not on odd days, scale. The amount is not the point. There has to be some recocnition from the producers of the extra skill and effort involved in operating a Steadicam. It's not woth puting up with without it. And as more people say yes to this, then that will be the end of it too. We do need to stick together on this and stand firm. We also need the support of the DP's. They need to stand up for the people they want to work with.
And like Charles has said I too have found myself making more than the DP on some television shows. This may breed a certain form of resentment which has led them to say to production "you find someone"
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#12 Charles Papert

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Posted 29 June 2004 - 11:39 PM

David, I knew you were going to think I was razzing you, I should have pre-empted that, sorry. There's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't have a goal of becoming a DP, and no reason why you can't learn to light (that's one of the great things about operating; you get a free education in watching someone else light a set, and take as much from that as you want). I guess I'm just pointing out that it's getting sucky for just about everyone out there working below the line, although I can't say that there are many positions that have seen as great a percentage drop in rates as Steadicam operating. Of course, in many people's minds it was just too inflated to begin with.

I take that back, there is one below-the-line position that never ceases to amaze me income-wise: colorist. Those guys and gals are making BANK! Mebbe we should all be learning the DaVinci.
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#13 keithjordan

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Posted 30 June 2004 - 12:11 AM

This is not about our DPs. They make a great living and I'd be no where without them. Our problem is production deciding to take a collective postition that an AN OPERATOR IS AN OPERATOR REGARDLESS OF WHAT WE ARE OPERATING that is going to kills us. With that agenda in play, our minimum rate has already been set (like it or not) and it's roughly 43 bucks an hour, scale operators rate.

Production is of a mind that if the union doesn't specifically recognize the specialty then they have no obligation to do so either. The networks/studios woke up one day and realized they where paying a high fee for our services but the only one holding the gun to their heads was us. So they found some "other talent " to work for less - and a lot less is what we are going to get until production is satisfied. Are we Okay with that?

The big dollar steadicam guys are still going to get their rate on a big dollar projects just like their DPs do, whether the general industry is forced to repect a minimum or not. Production knows they can't really mess with those guys. They are trying to change the future and squash the second and third wave of us. The wolf is in the chicken coop friends, hoping we don't notice. I'm just not Okay with that.
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#14 Dave Bittner

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Posted 30 June 2004 - 09:09 AM

Seems like a simple issue of supply and demand, in some ways. There's been a flood of new steadicam operators, thanks in part to the easy availability of inexpensive new and used rigs. Someone with a lower equipment investment can afford to charge less and still pay the rent and make a decent living. The growth of the industry has taking the pool of steadicam operators beyond the small group of gents who all know each other by their first names, so there are plenty of operators out there hungry to make a living, prove themselves, get their foot in the door and show their stuff. And they'll take a lower rate for that opportunity. (And I dare say many of us did the same thing when we were starting out, to varying degrees!)

If the producers are happy with the work of the low-cost ops, seems like there's little you can do to stop them. You could call your union, but they don't seem to really care about your plight. (Makes me wonder what you're paying those dues for!)

You could try to educate the producers, but it seems like they are more concerned about the bottom line than the subtle differences in operating between a top-notch operator and one who's just okay. Let's face it - we've all seen high-profile gigs with borderline operating, and it doesn't seem to affect how much money the movie makes opening weekend (Ebert - "I was going to give this film a big thumbs up, but midway through the movie there was a steadicam shot with a floaty horizon. Thumbs down!") or how well the series does in the ratings. To many producers, steadicam is steadicam.

I've been a bit extreme here to make a point, but I don't really see a practical way out of this situation. As long as there are more operators than jobs (and the union turns a blind eye) this situation will continue. Anybody can go to a steadicam workshop, walk away with a certificate (and therefore, by definition, be "certified", despite arguments to the contrary), plunk down $15K for a beat up 3A and set the world on fire.

Anybody think of a good practical way to address this issue?
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#15 David Allen Grove

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Posted 30 June 2004 - 12:33 PM

David, I knew you were going to think I was razzing you, I should have pre-empted that, sorry.

No problem.. and actually that was a good anology.

And Dave B. You have a good point. Less jobs, too many ops.

However, I think just discussing this issue on this forum and even during our gatherings is a small step in the right direction. I think times have changed and I believe that because of this, this forum and having a Steadicam Guild is so very important.

It's all about getting to know your fellow steadicam operators, and just learning from each other (as well as the deals that are going down and what's generally acceptable and what is not acceptable)

It's weird, I have never seen any of you as competitors, I view you all as friends. Maybe that sounds crazy but that's how it is with me.

I hope to include many more steadicam operators into our Steadicam Guild.
I would love to have every single steadicam operator (that meets our minimum requirement) be a part of our group and those who aren't qualified, encourage them to take the workshops.

Maybe this cohesiveness could bring our rates up. Knowledge is indeed power and education is the bottom line.

My assignment to ALL of you is to let all the steadicam operators you talk to know about the guild, encourage them to sign up on our email list.

You know, it might not be a bad idea to have some sort of Steadicam Guild mentorship program. (SGMP for short) What do you guys think about that? I know the new guys would love it and even the guys that have been doing it a while... I know how the mentorship program works through the union so it would be fairly easy to manage. We would need seasoned ops to volunteer to be a mentor and those who wanted a mentor could sign up. There will be Strict rules to protect the mentors of course.

So, if anyone is interested in being a mentor, let me know.
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