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Dealmaking and Rates


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I've had some recent experiences when making a deals on features, TV and commercials that point to a seismic de-valuation of the steadicam operator and his craft. There is such a downward pressure on rates that the sun may be setting on efforts made by many fine operators to secure steadicam as a valuable contributor to the production process. It may be that we are now dealing with a newer brand of executive that does not have the sense of history that we nurture, but I suspect that the real issue comes from within our ranks. These are no doubt difficult economic times which the studios will take advantage of when severing our tendons but it is our own willingness to roll over too quickly that points to the end.

 

I personally have walked away from two features, a TV oportunity and even a commercial recently. This has not been convenient, but a matter of principal on which I hope other operators feel the same, but what I would like to suggest is that we start re-engaging each other in an effort to keep the value of steadicam where it belongs. Naturally talking about money is a bashful exercise, but I think that the newer operators may be looking to some of the older operators for some historical perspective and possible guidance. This is obviously a way to public forum in which to air our financial laundry, but I wonder if we were able to set up a discussion away from here that would remain specific to our working group. My one thought has been to create a facebook entity that would require a password sign on similar to what was put in place during the " Back To Work" campaign by Jon Philion. Or maybe we all just need to get together and have a piss-up at the pub. Either way I really feel that there is a certain urgency to this and I would be interested to hear comments and ideas.

 

Chris Haarhoff

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Chris--

 

Well said as always.

 

We are all in this together whether we like it or not; disbelief of this reality does not constitute exemption from it's effects.

 

We must work to stem the flow of dollars away from our profession and our hard working backs, feet and expensive equipment.

 

Let's start the discussion here and work to build some local and regional connections that endeavor to rebuild and maintain the worthy wages and rental checks so many individuals established over the years and miles.

 

Together we win, divided we fail.

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Well, this is a great debate. But I think everyone is missing the critical point here. Rates are being driven down because of supply and demand. When I attended the Steadicam Workshop at Silvercup Studios in Astoria NY back in the early 80's, there were only a few hundred operators in the world. Rates were high and people were doing well. The success of Steadicam and surely the marketing success of the Workshop concept has seen the numbers of operators skyrocket into the thousands worldwide. Also, the price of a rig has fallen significantly. Along with the remarkable new technology that goes into the newer rigs comes a reduction in costs and a wide variety of choices and pricepoints for potential operators. Now anyone with a few thousand bucks can buy a rig and attend a workshop. Voila! A newly minted, "qualified" operator willing to accept any work at any fee. Can you see where this leads...? It's not a pretty picture, but I'm not sure there's a simple fix, either. I'm not offering solutions, just my perspective and a couple of pennies... Maybe we outta do what the American Medical Association does; put a cap on the number of people allowed into medical school to train to become a doctor. In this case, substitute "steadicam operator" for doctor, and "workshop" for medical school. I dunno. Whaddaya think...?

 

 

 

 

I've had some recent experiences when making a deals on features, TV and commercials that point to a seismic de-valuation of the steadicam operator and his craft. There is such a downward pressure on rates that the sun may be setting on efforts made by many fine operators to secure steadicam as a valuable contributor to the production process. It may be that we are now dealing with a newer brand of executive that does not have the sense of history that we nurture, but I suspect that the real issue comes from within our ranks. These are no doubt difficult economic times which the studios will take advantage of when severing our tendons but it is our own willingness to roll over too quickly that points to the end.

 

I personally have walked away from two features, a TV oportunity and even a commercial recently. This has not been convenient, but a matter of principal on which I hope other operators feel the same, but what I would like to suggest is that we start re-engaging each other in an effort to keep the value of steadicam where it belongs. Naturally talking about money is a bashful exercise, but I think that the newer operators may be looking to some of the older operators for some historical perspective and possible guidance. This is obviously a way to public forum in which to air our financial laundry, but I wonder if we were able to set up a discussion away from here that would remain specific to our working group. My one thought has been to create a facebook entity that would require a password sign on similar to what was put in place during the " Back To Work" campaign by Jon Philion. Or maybe we all just need to get together and have a piss-up at the pub. Either way I really feel that there is a certain urgency to this and I would be interested to hear comments and ideas.

 

Chris Haarhoff

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Now anyone with a few thousand bucks can buy a rig and attend a workshop. Voila! A newly minted, "qualified" operator willing to accept any work at any fee.

 

As my grandfather used to say..."Just because you have a baseball glove it doesn't make you a professional ball player."

 

What is the bottom accepted rate and deal?

 

Kevin

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I think listing rates on a public forum is not a good idea. Don't kid yourselves if you don't think this is a public place. If we discuss rates, someone googling the subject will come across this in no time. This IS a VERY public place. I like Chris' idea of a password protected page.

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I think listing rates on a public forum is not a good idea. Don't kid yourselves if you don't think this is a public place. If we discuss rates, someone googling the subject will come across this in no time. This IS a VERY public place. I like Chris' idea of a password protected page.

 

I keep asking what the bottom rates are -- so I might not decide that taking a job to feed the children would not insult my peers and degrade the art and business of steadicam.

Organize?

 

Kevin

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production companies are using the "hard times" excuse to really lower their budgets and tighten their belts...if you think they will loosen their belts when/if it's ever over think again -- we have to stand up quickly.

 

I don't think getting an ok rate on the gear has been as big of an issue as getting our hourly rates lower and lower until we are at scale. That's what bothers me most -- watching people work for scale or only a few dollars above it.

 

the facebook idea is a good one, seems easy and free and we can screen who goes in there.

 

rb

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Heard it was illegal to organize without being an official organization to establish rates... something called Colluding or Conspiring.

 

Now, if the Steadicam Guild OR the Steadicam Operators Association did such a thing, we could organize and put forth a tiered scale for gear minimums. But I think it needs to be done is such a way using the Robert's Rules of Order.

 

Seeing that nearly all serious operators are members, then SOA or SG can become a part of the bargaining table with the Producers Association. After all, our rates and jobs are negotiated by the International and 600. Kits could be a separate agreement. But to go that far we would have to be ready to not work at all with a steadicam if it came down to it to get far rates established.

 

Are we still one for all?!?

 

-Alfeo

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A lot of great points here. I agree with Chris, we need to discuss this sooner rather then later. And Ron is right, when economic times are better, rest assured that the producer's belts and budgets will NOT be loosened. And everybody is correct--this is a very pubic forum.

 

While negotiating with a producer for a job earlier this year I was literally told, "Well if you won't do it for this [rate/rental] I can easily get another operator, a good one with a good resume." I was really stunned. But I stuck to my guns and as a result didn't get a call back... until a few days later when the job had increased from one to two days and they "found" the "extra money" I needed. I really thought I lost it though and was prepared to. I don't mind doing favors for close friends, but nothing feels worse then being taken advantage of by a production with the means to make it right.

 

Alfeo, not sure about the legal implications or where the line is drawn. I would assume there is a difference between us cueing each other in, and a hard-list of numbers for a select group. Of course the producers talk with each other about our rates and what they are paying for us. I know because they have told me as much.

 

This time to discuss this is now.

 

 

Best,

Matt

 

P.S. I am not a fan of Facebook, or any of the social networking sites for that matter, perhaps meeting in person (obviously this doesn't work for everyone), or using another site that is not heavily data-mined would be possible.

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Talking to another operator today it seems that we should not be taking this subject to the web. One suggestion is that we gather as many West Coast Ops together as possible and hash out our opinions and experiences. Once this is done, each in attendance can venture out into the wilderness and relay what was discussed to a few of their closest steadi buddies. This would keep our exchange verbal and away from prying eyes. There has always been apprehension about being seen as price fixing, but we are so far away from that...all we will be doing is communicating a historical perspective and undertaking not to eat our own children. Can we do this?

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<<Alan Lifton said: "Also, the price of a rig has fallen significantly. Along with the remarkable new technology that goes into the newer rigs comes a reduction in costs and a wide variety of choices and pricepoints for potential operators. Now anyone with a few thousand bucks can buy a rig and attend a workshop. Voila! A newly minted, "qualified" operator willing to accept any work at any fee.">>

 

This could literally be applied across the board in the camera and post departments if you substitute "rig" for camera or edit suite.

 

I had a well established clientele as a camera / jib / aerial operator coming into Steadicam so I knew the negotiating process and was comfortable with it. Rates and rental specifics were never discussed and those questions from students were NEVER really answered in any of the five workshops I've attended. However, I was lucky enough early on to ask other ops and get straight answers which enabled me to come out of the box so to speak asking for a proper rate, even though at first it seemed pretty ballsy.

 

I've said this a thousand times before but:

 

"Our job is not to be a Steadicam Operator, our job is to run a Steadicam Operator / Rental business".

 

It's simply not enough to just buy the kit, take the workshop and put yourself out there; you have to also educate yourself and work at marketing, sales, negotiations, contracts, finances etc.. We all seem to agree there's a lot of good ops with good kit who suck at one or more of the other five areas of running a business.

 

The negotiations part of this is not that hard; but few have studied it, most are intimidated by it and many take it as a personal issue rather than a business issue.

 

A good start would be to turn off the TV, put down the latest copy of American Cinematographer, lay off studying and dreaming about the latest greatest tech toys / specs and read some basic business books on the other five aspects of running a BUSINESS.

 

If the identified challenge here is a weakness in pricing and negotiation skills then let's bring in some experts in that area for our meetings or weekends rather than some vendor hawking another rig variant / gadget?

 

Meanwhile, skip the film / tv / movies section at the book store and head over to the business section until we can all get together.

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We had such a meeting a couple of years ago in LA. We tried to rally up people. Quite a few ops showed up (but compared with the number that actually work in town, it was trist) and we discussed the matter in length...

Big name guys were a no-show. Many good points were raised... good discussions were had...

 

No viable results were found... and 2 guys in attendance ended up under bidding everybody on two current jobs that were discussed at the meeting, once a minimum had been "set"...

 

Not trying to be a party pooper, but it takes just one guy to set a president that pulls everybody down.

 

Time after time people refused to make it a union matter to set a minimum price for Steadicam Operators as they didn't want to be under priced and/or have a set price... actually we reached it now... it's called scale.

 

Why is it price fixing if we decide to not work for less then X-amount of money, but when the Producers sit down and decide they won't pay more then Y-amount, it's okay?

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