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Am I being unfair?

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Here's a conversation on email between me and a documentary film maker who wants to shoot for a month in India and looking for a sound person. 

She wrote: 
You don't have to sell me on getting a good sound person! I agree 100%--  Audience will tolerate sloppy camera work but not bad sound.  Trust me we are
not going into this with a "we'll just fix it in the mix" mentality.  I know that there is no magic button that fixes over-modulation.  At the same time we are indie documentarians and you know how that goes.

From what I've been told by several friends in the doc industry in India the going daily rate for sound person is 3000-5000 rupees with a weekly rate being negotiable.  That is without gear of course.

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I wrote: 

Let’s get to the chase:
 

>from what I've been told by several friends in the doc industry in India the going daily rate for sound person is 3000-5000 rupees with a weekly rate being negotiable.  
You’d be better advised by people who have a sensible idea as to what to pay a professional a consummate fee for a job. I am sorry but your friends in the doc industry are the very reason why a person like me does not do documentaries out here in India. They have NO idea what it really takes. What they are talking about is an ABERRATION of what really it takes to get GOOD sound. You can quote me to your friends, if they are in the circuit out here, they will surely recognize who I am. Sometimes, it is important to figure who to listen to and not.

If you are looking at sub-100 dollar sound people, I cannot help you. Rather, I WON’T help you. And you don’t need my help anyways... :)

Warmest regards

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She responds: 

Whoa! Hold up.  I just asked people I know what the rates are in India because that's what one does when one is doing research.  I have no idea what rates are in your country having never hired crew there.  Obviously rates vary from place to place, city to city, country to country.  It is not fair of you to answer so aggressively when I was just communicating information that I received.

I understand your frustration but you could have just said "There are a lot of sound people who will work for such a low rate but those aren't the best-trained people.  What I offer is XYZ and that is why my rates are much higher..."

I am a reasonable person and I say this with sincerity and kindness and realize that it is hard to judge tone over email.  Your answer was unfair.

 

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We all get calls offering lowball rates. Yes it is irritating. Lowball offers always land very near to my REACT STRONGLY button. All we can control is how we react. I try to deal with it by using humor. Sweetie tells me "you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". I tell her I don't want to catch flies.

I met Vinod at NAB and he is way more polite than I am. 

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I was negotiating a rate to be boom operator on a Michael Winner picture years ago. The initial offer was unacceptably low and when I asked if it could be improved I was offered an even lower rate! So I missed out on the opportunity to work with this gentleman*, a sad loss that I had to come to terms with. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

*Other epithets are available.

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<I just asked people I know what the rates are in India because that's what one does when one is doing research.  I have no idea what rates are in your country having never hired crew there. >

She mentioned the rates in an earlier email, so i had to tell her that the people she knows know nothing and are completely out of line. 

better call a spade a spade early on rather than embark on some long winding discussion. she's getting the best advice from me. if she chooses to go with 75 buck sound, it's her call. but i wont be party to this. 

in similar situations in the past, people have come back to me saying my rate is too high and if i would know someone who will do the job at their low rates. I am not willing to be party to such a process, recommending somebody else, etc. 

-vin

 

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Why are people so afraid of getting an angry answer? If a person is asking a question based on a weak source of information, clearly (unknowingly, perhaps) out of line, why does that little bit aggressive answer scare them? Why does everyone have to be so polite all the time?

I was walking the stroller today and at the same time answering an important text on my phone. And I almost crashed into another stroller but just before we collided I steered clear. The other person muttered "look up!"out something, aggressively. First, I thought "what a douche ". But then I realized my mistake and I understood why she was upset. I'd be too.

You could ask her back, I'd like to shoot a month in your country and I've heard that a good DP will cost me this much - insert insane low amount -. The answer you'd get back probably wouldn't be super aggressive (which yours wasn't, by the way), but it'd probably contain some form of teaching.

Don't worry. This industry is harsh. The world is harsh. Why are people surprised by that?

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I think maybe give her just what she asked for, quoting her own words -- something along the lines of:

I apologize for my unfair knee jerk reaction to an insultingly low rate.

There are a few basically unqualified sound people who will work for such a low rate but those aren't the best-trained people.  What I offer is professional services and that is why my rates are much higher.

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Less is more (except when it comes to pay :-). I know you don't need my advice with this matter Vin but i can relate to the issue.

~ Send a rate card, they'll work out the rest (or not) - no opinions or (other) positions need be stated (by you).

~ If the rate card doesn't scare them off (from making another derisory offer of employment) tell them you pay yourself more than that NOT to work and they need to send you the itemised budget if they want you to consider being an investor.

There is something unusual going on in her correspondence though. Eg. Why would she bother responding and extending a dialogue which is clearly going nowhere. To taunt you? Or seduce you onto set with more pearls like, "I know that there is no magic button that fixes over-modulation"? If she or her producer were half as good at their jobs as they expect Vin to be, they would have a budget and they wouldn't need to waste everyones time trying to get skilled people to work for small change and crass lip-service. I'm probably over thinking this as i've just watched 'That Obscure Object of Desire' but there is something about this that resonates with the themes of this film. 

 

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My reply which i sent this morning before i posted here: 

Cheryl, Apologies, but I just had to call a spade a spade. I am not an aggressive person, but what riles me is how people in the business shaft sound people in general.

I have equipment worth about 200k USD. Anything that costs a 100 bucks in the US or Europe costs 150 by the time it lands here. While my rates are not the same as US or Europe, they have to be consummate to what I bring to the table.

My documentary film package:

Multitrack digital audio recorder (Aaton Cantar X3)
Sanken CS3e and MKH50 microphones (boom)
Ktek boom pole
Rycote windshields (x 2)
Audio Ltd wireless systems (x 3)
IFB (foldback for director plus another person to listen to audio during shoot)
Powering and batteries (I am fully Green power, no usage of disposable batteries, and therefore no additional cost)
Tentacle sync box for camera (or Betso)
Accessories (professional equipment bag, harness, Pelican hard cases, cables, headphones, etc)

The rental for this equipment package is 15000/- a day.

The sound mixer I will recommend to you will charge 10,000/- a day.

Total cost of location sound – 25,000/- a day which comes to about 385$ a day... We are talking about TOP END quality work, world class.

Compare this with American or European rates and you will see this is about 40% lesser, if not even more.

I totally agree with you that it is hard to judge tone over email. I will be glad to have a skype conversation or even on the phone if you would like it and you will see that I am not an aggressive or hard person at all!

Once again, no offence meant in my last email, even if it was direct and to the point.

Warmest regards
-vin

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5 hours ago, Olle Sjostrom said:

Why are people so afraid of getting an angry answer? If a person is asking a question based on a weak source of information, clearly (unknowingly, perhaps) out of line, why does that little bit aggressive answer scare them? Why does everyone have to be so polite all the time?

//Don't worry. This industry is harsh. The world is harsh. Why are people surprised by that?

Oh, i'm not worried at all, and i very much know people like this person here in question - they get their work done at peanut costs and then go sell their documentaries in Europe and other places to TV channels to fund their entire lives for a chunk of time. 

 

1 hour ago, daniel said:

There is something unusual going on in her correspondence though. Eg. Why would she bother responding and extending a dialogue which is clearly going nowhere. To taunt you? Or seduce you onto set with more pearls like, "I know that there is no magic button that fixes over-modulation"? If she or her producer were half as good at their jobs as they expect Vin to be, they would have a budget and they wouldn't need to waste everyones time trying to get skilled people to work for small change and crass lip-service. I'm probably over thinking this as i've just watched 'That Obscure Object of Desire' but there is something about this that resonates with the themes of this film. 

Ah, -Obscure Objet de desire- that is something. I have seen it so many times and yet want to see it again. This woman "proposed" rates that she got from her noble friends in India who make documentaries and then when she is confronted she says i was just researching and i am innocent. Very typical of this kind, of which i know a lot. No, i am not the one to be seduced, and neither am i going to 'recommend' anyone to this woman. The boys who have trained under me deserve MUCH more than sub-100$ a day rates. As i said in the email to her - the worst kind of exploitation is actually in the documentary and short film work, much more than in the feature film world. And I think this stands for almost everywhere else in the world - not just India. 

-vin

 

1 hour ago, daniel said:

// < they need to send you the itemised budget if they want you to consider being an investor.

Ah, this one also - i have tried. Hah! Imagine the reaction when you see the current reaction to my email that simply said - you are low balling - whether it is based on recommendations from here or there. 

Secondly - as if this woman does not know what are the rates in the US? Can't she make the math - that she is offering 75$ a day out here, whereas she has to pay a lot more out there? All this is a charade, and these people know VERY WELL what they are offering and i can tell you - they will eventually get someone to do it for 75 bucks and be happy with the results. So- that's that. :)

-vin

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I figure that it's best to assume good intentions and maybe some ignorance on this kind of thing.  I don't bother listing all the gear I'd bring--most of them don't care and just assume all soundies have a pile of stuff that they make work anyhow.  If they are way low re what I think I'm worth I just tell them I'm not avail at that rate, and good luck with your project.  If I know of hungry newbie at that time I might pass their name along if the project seems interesting and the people nice.  In my area there is so much ultra lowbudg stuff going on all the time that an out-of-towner with connections to that kind of work could be forgiven for thinking that a very low rate is normal.  Now they know better.

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A very useful aspect of the newsletter put out by BECTU, the TV and Film Trade Union in the UK, is a column naming and shaming producers who should not be trusted on financial matters. 

Generally speaking (and not referring at all to the particular circumstances arising in the postings above) I like to try to show urbane equanimity when I am faced with a low offer. I explain that I don't work for that rate, I give them a chance to increase the offer and if this is not forthcoming I politely and regretfully withdraw, like a Victorian gentleman refusing to buy shares in a railway proposed between two obscure villages over marshland. Haggling is not in my nature and most producers are much better at it than I am, so I won't go down that road. But politeness costs nothing and gives one the moral high ground. Added to that, if the producer has shown signs of being a right card carrier, I will phone round my pals in the business and warn them.

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When i am told that "indian documentary people have told me that the rate is such and such" i am reacting to two things: 

1. the indian documentary people of course. these are the devils who need to be exorcised. 

2. the american woman who is making this documentary - and she's not a first timer, for sure, so she should know if rates are at 600$ for a GOOD sound person in the US, it should be at least 75% or maybe even 60% of this? 

I also got an email from an Indian- American film maker coming down here to shoot a short film. I was offered 220$ a day for sound person AND equipment.

 

AND - i DON'T think i am being impolite. Impolite according to me is saying 'buzz off'. Not if i am saying 'look, you got it all wrong, here's how it is. if you want it good, you gotta pay for it good". 

 

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Hello all, I spent many years as a photographer prior to sound. I remember I used to get bothered, to myself, no one else, about the people that didn't hire me. Then one day I realized that I didn't care about the clients that didn't hire me based on cost, because they were not hiring me. In other words, why care what someone thought who was not hiring me. One day I told the lady that I worked for, lets raise the rates 10 percent. She was panicky and said what if we get less work. I explained that even if business dropped off by 10 percent, we still made more money, because we would get the same revenue, but spend less time on film, gas, wear and tear, etc. So we did it, and business didn't drop off any. So, I really don't care what people who AREN'T hiring me think.

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