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Phil Rhodes

What's happening to LA?

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I wouldn't say the unions are the main reason for the higher costs (in fact, the US crew day rate is on par with most of Europe), but certainly having to have a Teamster drive out the truck to set and then just sit for 10hrs until it's time to drive it back, isn't the most cost effective way. More culpable are the SAG costs for talent. Friend once shot a thing in Cape Town just because it was cheaper to do a whole new commercial then renew and re-up with residuals on the one they'd already shot in LA... Shouldn't be that way.

 

I shoot all over the world. And crews are great everywhere. But LA just has that little extra when it comes to them. As much as unions drive me crazy at times, I will give them that; there is a barrier and minimal skill level and experience that they protect. And when you're on set in LA, you can count on the people that are there to know their job and be professional.

 

Professionalism doesn't manifest itself in big things. It's the small stuff. A monitor goes up and just like that, so does a courtesy flag to block the sun. That's stuff you have to ask for everywhere else. Lights have scrims on them on the stands, so that you can quickly change intensity. That's normally something they'll have to go get from the truck, if they even have it, when you ask in other places. Frames are made and skinned already, so you don't have to wait for 3 sparks to put some 1/4 CTO on a frame whilst you're losing the sun. Furney pads are always standby and ready to be slipped under when you're handheld in case you drop on to your knees. The police officers you hire actually help you make your shots by blocking traffic and facilitating, not the opposite. Etc etc.

 

LA is a "company town". It grew up with film, it's made from film. And sometimes LA forgets who built that town. Every location and every permit is more expensive than it needs to be. Everyone got used to seeing the film business as a cash cow. I hope we can change that and bring even more film back.

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I've been working on "Westworld" in Los Angeles since the start of September and it's so busy in town right now that our multiple shooting units sometimes struggle to find crew people. But before that, I was shooting in NYC and it was busy there too. With all the TV series in production right now, there is a lot of work spread out all over, but it still flows towards whoever has the best tax breaks. I'd say that tax incentives are far more a reason why a production goes somewhere before any union issues.

 

We're shooting a lot of 35mm film stock on this show too...

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Yes, but when you combine, tax credits + exchange rate + no unions = great place to shoot. It's hard for a producer to say no to that deal.

 

I have little issue with unions in the sense that they ensure that the people on set meet a skills level proficiency, that's a good thing.

 

However, how many of you here have actually dealt with your union bosses as a producer? I'm guessing no one on this thread. Well it's what I have to do, and when you come at unions from that side of the coin, you quickly realize.....I'm better off shooting in a place like South Africa far far away from the union bosses.

 

Just for fun I decided to review my emails with the union boss for IATSE 600 on one my shoots, which will not be named. Not only were they a nightmare to deal with, sending me a number of threatening emails, it took ages to get our bond back. Here's an email from the union boss when I ask for the 50th time...where is our bond? They also threatened to quote, "throw your DP out of the country."



Hi richard. We are holding the bond for two reasons, one; the remainder of the fees for the crew, which appear to be in now and two; for XYZ as it was written into the agreement.


I will look into this first thing in the AM again and will most likely return the bond regardless. We have been in contact with EP extensively but what I understand is the funds are missing and EP can not locate them.

I will be back to u tomorrow or XYZ from our office.

Thanks richard.

Sent by XYZ Blackberry

 

R,

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Adam tells us that US crew rates are on a par with everywhere else.

 

I hate to be picky (well, I don't, but you know.) However, it's worth being clear on this. US crew rates on big flash productions may be similar to those paid elsewhere. The issue is what proportion of people actually get paid those rates, which I would hazard a guess is a rather larger number here in the USA than it is internationally.

 

I fall between two camps on this. Partially this is caused by market forces, they control of which are really the purview of central government. Places like the UK (of which I know) are never going to be able to compete until measures are put in place to control the total global domination of the American film industry. I don't blame American producers and crew for taking advantage of this - I would - but it is no secret why American crews are on average better paid, and frankly just better, than those in other places.

 

I should point out that I am not blind to the plight of low-budget independent filmmakers in the USA who are in much the same situation as those elsewhere, although their chances of real success, while still fleeting in the extreme, are still orders of magnitude better than in other places.

 

I do find myself objecting to the idea that unions really help people. Unions don't help "people," unions help "their members," and invariably, behind the scenes and under the table, tend to control their membership rather unsubtly to ensure the status quo continues. I don't think most unions in industries where the supply of labour so gigantically exceeds demand are very valid constructs. From what I've seen most of them are job protection rackets for an already-rich minority who then claim to be helping the little guy. It's distasteful. I wouldn't mind if they were a bit more upfront about it. I just don't like being lied to.

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Have you tried to hire foreign workers lately? Give it a try.

 

WETA in New Zealand relies on a majority of non New Zealand VFX artists in order to maintain a viable business, as NZ only has 4.5M people. I realize the US has 330 million, but the VFX industry needs access to the best talent, regardless of citizenship.

 

R,

When the industry was booming in LA, it seemed to me that fx studios did a lot to expedite the employment of foreign workers. Demand for artists was high, and even in the US, there weren't enough back then. If they wanted someone, they usually got them, no matter where they came from.

 

Besides the tax subsidies, the other reason often cited for the industry's decline was the inherent weakness of its

business model. Bidding was intensely competitive and everyone always felt pressured to low ball. As a consequence, even with high profile, big-budget projects, vfx studios were often operating on the edge of financial disaster. They were also dependent on the repeat business from a tiny group of deep-pocketed clients, an advantage the clients often exploited to ruinous advantage. An unnamed executive was once quoted as saying that if he wasn't putting fx studios out of business, he wasn't doing his job.

 

Also, the demographics changed. The global vfx labor pool ballooned, barriers to entry collapsed... it's economics.

 

Edited by dan kessler
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I do find myself objecting to the idea that unions really help people. Unions don't help "people," unions help "their members," and invariably, behind the scenes and under the table, tend to control their membership rather unsubtly to ensure the status quo continues. I don't think most unions in industries where the supply of labour so gigantically exceeds demand are very valid constructs. From what I've seen most of them are job protection rackets for an already-rich minority who then claim to be helping the little guy. It's distasteful. I wouldn't mind if they were a bit more upfront about it. I just don't like being lied to.

 

I will 100% agree with you on all of this.

 

R,

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On the whole, the unions are a good thing. You only have to look at the Wild West of non union film production to see how many producers are all too willing to cut corners, break rules, and exploit their crew. It's important to have some sort of check on that kind of behavior. Collective bargaining is what has kept rates where they are, and ensured medical and pension benefits are still available.

 

That said, I've heard from more than a few producer friends that the unions can be a pain to deal with. Although most of the business reps are perfectly pleasant, reasonable people, it seems there are a few who like to behave as if they are gangsters working for the mob. The 'them and us' mentality has created what can be a quite aggressive adversarial system, which benefits no-one and leads to a lot of bad feeling. I'm also sure that there are many producers who have behaved equally badly toward the unions.

 

Unions and employers, by their nature, are at odds with one another, but they do need to be able to work together. I think sometimes they forget that.

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You only have to look at the Wild West of non union film production to see how many producers are all too willing to cut corners, break rules, and exploit their crew. It's important to have some sort of check on that kind of behavior. Collective bargaining is what has kept rates where they are, and ensured medical and pension benefits are still available.

 

Well not sure what you mean by that? Shooting non union in South Africa for instance does not mean, "the wild West." There are still strict labour laws in place, and the crew's payments still go through a payroll company. These labour laws also exist in the US as well, even on non union shoots. There are also plenty of union shoots that run into financial trouble and the crew doesn't get paid.

 

As for medical benefits, I will argue until my dying breath.....this is the job of governments to provide via a national health care program, it is not my responsibility as a film producer to provide this.

 

R,

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Well not sure what you mean by that? Shooting non union in South Africa for instance does not mean, "the wild West."

Perhaps I should have said, the 'wild west' of US production.

 

 

 

As for medical benefits, I will argue until my dying breath.....this is the job of governments to provide via a national health care program. it is not my responsibility as a film producer to provide this.

I wholeheartedly agree, but until that happens in the US, film producers should be like every other employer, and offer health benefits, in this case via a union scheme.

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Stuart, the problem is that the unions do not really help most people who work in what we might call the less desirable end of things. In fact, they do anything but help, by encouraging producers to restrict their pool of potential employees.

 

Unions help people who would be doing big, well-paid work anyway, at the expense of those who aren't. As evidence of this, I offer you the situation in the UK, where there are no unions worth the name but still well-paid people doing high-end work and poor people doing everything else. The union does not create that situation, it simply seeks to codify and formalise it.

 

Unions do this to protect their members from competition created by non-members. That's not fair.

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But what would it be like with no unions.. not fair thats for sure.. I can see both sides.. it took me an age to get into the then so called "union" in the UK in the 80,s.. that was not a union but a very corrupt mob style members club.. the idea is that everyone should be allowed to be union member.. if they are crap at the job they won't get work anyway .. but at least all crew would be covered by some rules.. the US union is also not great.. look at Haskel Wexler trying to even get a 10 hr turn around.. and the union totally ignoring him.. and well if he didn't have clout who does.. they don't care either.. how many more people die just driving home.. its like any industry .. no union .. working conditions get worse.. but its a shame the unions are not run by better people..

 

The problem is the so called Unions are not really run as trade unions are meant to be..the idea was not to be a members club keeping people out, quite the opposite.. that everyone should/must be a member .. maybe one day ..?

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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Hey Greg, I live in Newport Beach, too. If you need a house sitter, I'll do it for free! ;)

Where in Newport? Im in Newport Coast. Thanks for the offer but I have family already watching it. 🙂

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Stuart, the problem is that the unions do not really help most people who work in what we might call the less desirable end of things.

Phil, not all union members in the US are working on $100m blockbusters. There are many who work on Tier 0 and Tier 1 movies where the rates are not noticeably better than the non union world.

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Phil, not all union members in the US are working on $100m blockbusters. There are many who work on Tier 0 and Tier 1 movies where the rates are not noticeably better than the non union world.

We call those jobs non union with a dental plan!

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We call those jobs non union with a dental plan!

 

I am forever befuddled as to why I have to contribute to any film workers, dental plan, health care plan, retirement plan. I have NONE of the afore mentioned.

 

R,

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I am forever befuddled as to why I have to contribute to any film workers, dental plan, health care plan, retirement plan. I have NONE of the afore mentioned.

 

R,

Employer contributions to their employees health and pension plans are a common thing in every industry. If you were a member of the PGA or DGA, you'd be getting them too.

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I had lunch this week with a member of the American camera union who told me he hadn't worked enough hours to qualify for the healthcare.

 

I assume they still charge the dues.

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Healthcare and Pension is funded by the producers, so if you don't work, you don't get the contributions. The threshold of hours to qualify is something insisted on by the producers.

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Employer contributions to their employees health and pension plans are a common thing in every industry. If you were a member of the PGA or DGA, you'd be getting them too.

 

The DGC has asked me to join several times. I would then be in the absurd position of having to pay myself more money, to fund, well.....myself. Obviously that is ridiculous. Look I don't work for other people, and I never will. I will also not walk onto a film set to create an asset which I will not own. Doing so is the film equivalent of paying rent.

 

So I am stuck paying a lot of BS fees and contributions to film employees. The ones that make me maddest are health contributions for Americans, good grief...pay for your own healthcare, I have no idea why it's my responsibility, I don't even live in the US for Pete's Sake!

 

R,

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