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mclaindigital

Breaking-in Ethics for Greens - Question for the Pros

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Hello all,

I've read a bit about this general topic of 'greenhorns undercutting the industry' on this forum and thought I'd respectfully ask a couple questions of the seasoned pros here:

What is the best way for a green location mixer to get involved in the industry without undercutting others? Say the production is OK with a newbie and feels they should not pay a full-rate to the newbie due to their experience level - yet, this undercuts the industry as a whole when that producer should really pay a fair rate. 

Would you say that the newbie should just work on student films until they are 'pro-level' fluidity with their gear?

And with that, the gear is very pricey, so it's hard for a green (who needs the gigs to get the experience to save for the 788T-level equipment that job boards note they want) to know when to invest to maximize their ROI. Should they just rent the mixer and wireless systems and own the rest until they've saved up to invest?

For me, I have taken some training from another mixer, as well as getting Mr. Rose's book - I've done some of my own audio recording/mixing and so the technical aspects of mixers/lavs/trans-receivers etc, is not my hurdle - but rather, gaining experience and fluidity with the gear to get the gigs that require experience and fluidity with the gear. 

What are your thoughts/experiences on how you did it? Thanks in advance! 

(and if there's a post thread here that answers all my questions - feel free to point me to it!)

Jeff

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My initial experience came from a few corporate gigs of varying budgets..then a local producer who took a chance on my skills when his audio mixer for an out of town gig became unavailable at short notice..then it was a few DP's who hired me for many jobs, and I worked under their careful tutelage and watchful eye. Taking their advice as gospel, using their gear until I worked some two or three jobs, I saved each check (working a day job) until I had enough get a used FP33 ~ my old mixer, and a used 415T mic. Those got me through years of small jobs, until I had enough work to get better gear. During all that, business cards and links were handed out to each producer, director and DP on each job. Signing on to production directories was also very helpful. 


Edit: Welcome to JWS!

Edited by Rachel Cameron
Welcome

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No one expects you to insist on the highest commercial sound mixer rate on your first jobs, but in this connected age word of someone lowballing on what most mixers of a given level would consider a normal job gets around really fast.  Very few of us can get along without gigs we get as referrals from other sound people, they will not appreciate being undercut and will only refer an "undercutter" to the crappiest jobs that come their way.  So don't do it.

p

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Thanks for the nice welcome Rachel and good advice. Good advice Old School and Philip also! I wasn't planning to do any undercutting. I am more curious as to how many of you folks got your start. Cheers

Edited by mclaindigital
forgot to tell rachel her advice was valuable also

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I think it depends on what segment of the business you want to start in and gain experience.

 

I got my start doing a lot of work for a guy who owned several camera and sound packages.  He had mostly ENG and corporate type gigs for shitty to mediocre rates, but I wasn't undercutting and I got plenty of experience.  I took a lot of that work for longer than I probably should have, but I wanted to make absolute certain that I had the proper experience for the gigs I would be taking (I got burned by a dying 9 volt early on in my career and lost a potentially great client because of it).  When I felt that I was outgrowing the gigs and the rate, I began buying used gear of my own and putting the best package together that I could afford while renting and supplementing the rest

 

I do some network stuff, corporate, web, reality (occasionally) doc, etc..., but not features or episodics.

That being said, I am sure the landscape in Montana is different than New York.  Best of luck.

My $.02

 

Marc

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Thanks Marc for your thoughts on it. 

True, Montana has thin amounts of feature work (and work, in general) compared to the big cities, but there is some reality tv work based here. I'm relocating in the coming year to a larger market anyhow. Cheers.  

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Try starting as a third or boom op. Learn the ropes. Move up when you know more than you do today.

That still doesn't solve the issue... he'll still be "green" when he knows the ropes but hasn't yet mixed on his own and can't demand the higher rates due to inexperience.

 

This is one of those catch-22's that happens a lot in any job. Can't get a job without experience, can't get experience without a job. Only this is can't get a job without undercutting, can't undercut without garnering complaints from pros.

 

I have experience with this issue as a professional photographer. I get undercut all the time. The only time I am annoyed by it is if the person undercutting misrepresents their skill, which happens a lot.

 

My solution is to undercut, but don't lie about your skill level. They know what they're buying. Once your skill level has improved, raise your prices to match and continue to not misrepresent your skills. But don't work for slave wages. You should do a cost of doing business, and stick to it. That includes amortizing all your equipment and fees, your time, your mileage, your insurance, and so on. (When I see someone shooting a wedding for $300, I laugh....)

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I didn't see Jeff lived in Montana when I offered my otherwise brilliant advice. I'd tell Jeff to move to LA or NYC, or Atlanta and move up through the ranks. You'll get a world class sound education and be worthy of the top rates. There is a need for boom and utility people. Good honest work that may well be rewarding enough to never move up. Or stay in the smaller markets, undercut everyone until you get all the low budget work. You will then be a self taught genius who knows only that that you have experienced. Best of luck which ever path you take.

CrewC

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I've been doing some boom work, and it started out on no-budget short films. And I wasn't particularly good (it's pretty subtle work!), but I showed up when asked. There definitely is a shortage of boom ops, it seems. But from these films, I started getting calls for paid work. And I can listen a whole lot better... I can't believe the things I hear now, that I never heard before, just from active listening.

 

So, that's how I have been getting work as I move into the movie making business. I know I'm green, but I take every opportunity to learn more and make connections with others.

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I don't think undercutting is a particularly good word. 

Instead I believe that unions, or an organization like CAS should publish recommended minimum rates, which reflect various levels of skill and experience. These rates at least should be negotiated for by everyone. Only if you ask for an even lower rate would you be "undercutting".

A pilot starting out has had the same education as other pilots and will be highly skilled, but they'll lack experience. So they get a lower salary even though they do the same job as any other pilot. Only once they've clocked x amount of hours their salary rises gradually. To pay the beginner the same as the experienced colleague would be an insult to the experienced older pilot, who spent years honing his skills. 

I am sure everyone agrees that someone like Jeff Wexler can should ask for a much higher rate, than the OP, even though essentially they do the same job. 

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By far, one of the best approaches is to get to know other sound mixers.

While it makes a certain point, I don't think the "pilot" analogy applies well.  There is a given level of training and tested proficiency one must achieve to even obtain a pilot's license.

If a person's desired career path is to mix features, Crew's advice should be taken to heart in a big way. Working with an experienced sound crew will teach you things that you'll be hard pressed to learn on your own. You'll likely progress more quickly and will certainly be more valuable to the feature world in a shorter period of time.

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While it makes a certain point, I don't think the "pilot" analogy applies well.  There is a given level of training and tested proficiency one must achieve to even obtain a pilot's license.

The pilot analogy was not about how to become a pilot, rather it was making a point about different pay levels according to experience. 

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The pilot analogy was not about how to become a pilot, rather it was making a point about different pay levels according to experience. 

I got that -- hence, the "...makes a certain point." comment.

My point is that anyone can take a job as a sound mixer without meeting any required standards, whereas a pilot cannot.

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I got that -- hence, the "...makes a certain point." comment.

Ok, but you also said that you don't think the pilot analogy applies well, but apparently only applied it to the education issue, so basically you dislike the analogy for not making a point, which it never tried to make. 

I think the analogy applies very well to the issue of "undercutting", but of course I'd think that...

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Ok, but you also said that you don't think the pilot analogy applies well, but apparently only applied it to the education issue, so basically you dislike the analogy for not making a point, which it never tried to make. 

I think the analogy applies very well to the issue of "undercutting", but of course I'd think that...

Sorry, I did not mean to make it an issue.  Your point about incomes increasing with experience is certainly a valid one.

I'll go back to preparing my kit to pilot it for a long day tomorrow.

 

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Getting from point 'A' (where you are) to point 'B' (the next rung on the career ladder) without being sent back to the beginning by pissing someone ahead or beside you off is a delicate dance. Or else it's a boxing match.

Getting 'in' is both Koan and catch 22.

Step forward two, step back 3, step forward 1, step back 2.

A dance ratchet that will inexorably move you in the direction you want.

Will say I never got union work until I worked for union mixers.

I'm sure as hell not going to recommend someone for work that I've not seen dance in a hot frying pan.

Never bought gear until the rented stuff proved more of a PITA than it was worth either for its brokenness or the checkout/return days.

One. Piece. At. A. Time.

Don't try to sell yourself with words: show 'em you're wonderful.

Despite what some have opined to the contrary, the low budget POS production the newbie takes is not interesting to the people on the next rung. What the next-rung people imagine is that with [something], the low budget newbie POS producer will find more of their trust fund baby director's money for sound. Probably not 'cause they haven't yet been burned by not being able to sell their finished project 'cause the sound's bad. Suppose there's a case to be made that if everyone in town says, "No," they will sell the graduation Porche and pay a living wage to the crew. Ha. Sorry.

When you find yourself bitching and moaning about the projects you're offered the simple answer is that...THAT is your clue to say, "No" to that level of project. And when you do say, "No," don't kick the guy's bum who does take it. Congratulate yourself. You've just moved up a notch.

Is it undercutting when an A-list mixer charges $100 a day less than me for kit on a major motion picture? Yeah. I was astonished to learn it but not pissed. and the fellow dropped a notch in my estimation. But you, you have to know what's being charged by others at your level (and the next) in your market. In order to do that, you have to know your market colleagues. Well. You do that by working for/with them, calling with questions, being friends.

It's a business. You are a business man. An entrepreneur. A technician. Part of a community.

Minimum hourly rates are published for union work in the U.S.(@ $20-70/hour); where we sometimes get into undercutting trouble is the kit, but we've kinda solved that thanks to this forum and its cousin on FB. I now ask for and mostly get over scale for my hourly.

Out of time.

Good luck.

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