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Local 728 and Local 52

Hamilton Yu

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I'm currently a junior studying at NYU. I will be graduating around January 2015 and I am trying to plan for my future afterward. Long term, I'd like to become a cinematographer but I'd like to get there through gaffing because I genuinely enjoy working with lighting. I figure I gotta start getting grip and electric jobs. I am pretty skilled working with most basic to intermediate grip equipment and lights and am able to run power from breaker boxes to distro boxes to lights while adhering to the ring of fire.

I'd prefer to join a union as soon as possible in order to get consistent work rather than freelancing too long.


I'd love to stay in NYC if possible but it seems pretty difficult to get paying work for legit productions and impossible to get union gripping jobs without being in the union. From what I hear and can tell it is extremely difficult to join Local 52 the NYC gripping union.


Alternatively, I could move to LA. Joining Local 728 seems decidedly easier than 52 with lower union dues. Also, from what I hear, it seems much easier to get legitimate production work in LA.


Does anyone have advice on how to start gripping in NYC and joining the union? How much easier is it to get work in LA and how difficult is it to join 728? How plausible is it to join 728 soon after film school?


Thanks guys.

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It is very unsual for a recent college graduate to join any production union. There are many ways to join but the most common is applying for membership after gaining anywhere from 5 to 20 years of experience in the classification that you are on the way to mastering. It took me 15 years to join Local 600 as an operator and then an additional couple of years to qualify as a DP.


You mentioned that you think union membership will lead to more work. That is incorrect. In fact, when you join, they will be very clear to you that they do not provide labor and you should not have that expectation. You find your work, always. They negotiate contracts, attempt to organize non union shows, produce workshops and other activities that could be discussed in another thread.


To gain experience most people start working for free on student films and then no-budget movies. Then you meet some people who have a low paying job and they like you and like your work so they hire you. You do that for a few years. Then you meet someone who has a job that pays a little more money and they hire you. You repeat this cycle for many years and ideally every year you not only make a little bit more money but you also get better at and more focused on what it is that you do. One of the keys, of course, is meeting people, making solid connections and not usually having a lot of disposable income. My income hovered over the poverty line for several years.


You have chosen a very competitive field. There are way too many workers for too few jobs. Combine this with inexpensive filmmaking equipment and the result is a massive low pay segment of production. Most of us have to push through this low wage level for several years in order to gain expereince to even compete with technical positions on mid to high budget production jobs. And just doing that requires a certain amount of luck. I hate to admit it. But it is true. You'll need some luck.


As for LA or NY? There are too many subtleties to be discussed on this question to address here. But when you are starting out, it is probably best to be in the city where you know the most people either in the business already or attempting to break in.


And most of your questions about getting into any union should be asked directly to your union of interest. They have people whose job it is to answer questions from people like you, and me.


Good luck


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