Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Lift Gate Ponderables

Day exteriors mean that certain departments don’t have a whole lot of work to do.

Grips end up running around like crazy all day but once we’ve run power to the coffeepot we do a lot of sitting and talking.

Today, the talk turned to the toll that runaway production has taken on all of us.

Personally, I make about half of what I did a decade ago, due to most of the movies leaving town. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge anyone anywhere any work – we all have to look out for each other because no one else is going to do it, but it would be nice to not have to worry about money. You know, like I used to be able to do.

The story’s the same for all of us. For some folks, it involved more material goods (boats, nice cars, dinners out, sexy shoes, etc..) and for some folks it involved family (private schools, ballet lessons, summer camps, etc..), but  for all intents and purposes the gravy train has come to an end.

Now we’re just scraping by, hoping like hell to get enough hours to keep our health insurance (currently we have to work 400 hours per semester to keep said insurance. Doesn’t sound like a lot until you think about the fact that it’s not unusual for crew folks to go a month or so without working when it gets slow), and hoping against hope that we’ll get enough hours to be able to retire with a pension (current requirements: 30 years and 60,000 documented work hours).

Since I didn’t get in the union until I was about 30, the chances that I’ll be able to retire with a full pension are slim to none. I’m just hoping to get enough hours to be able to retire with some semblance of insurance, but if you believe the bleating of the producers, our health insurance is bankrupting them. And by bankrupting, I mean that they have to buy the $50,000 German sports car and not the $90,000 German sports car – plus they have to endure the humiliation of having a girlfriend with real tits.

Oh, the horror.

I realize this is all subjective, and  to someone who is struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage and hoping they don’t get sick because they can’t afford insurance I look like a greedy fucking pig for bitching about my middle class income and reasonable (once you think about the bigger picture) co-pays. Perhaps the same way Mr. Producer with his cut-rate Porsche and embarrassing saggy-tits girlfriend looks to me.

But where’s the breaking point?

At what point do I decide that I can no longer make a living doing a job that I really enjoy and start thinking about a plan B?

And what kind of plan B can I possibly have? I’m not qualified to do anything other than lift heavy things and wax poetic about meaningless shit.

Sure, it’s busy right now (which is great), but the busy periods are fewer and farther between and the bank account gets drained faster. The fact that I’ve had to rely on  charity grants to make my rent twice in as many years is really food for thought*.

When do I throw in the towel? And what the hell do I do after?

It’s a question a lot of us are asking ourselves these days, and unfortunately there are no easy answers.

*The fact that some wonderful people hire me consistently (even though they know me) is the reason I’m still in the industry. I’m very grateful for what I have.

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14 Responses

  1. boskolives says:

    It’s much the same for location sound mixers, I now make a miniscule portion of what I made over 30 years ago when my equipment package consisted of a Nagra, a Sennheiser 415 shotgun mic, a Sony ecm-50 wired lav mic, headphones and a boompole. And those paychecks were in 1970’s dollars.
    Now I have to have 6 (at least) wireless mics, a mixer, and all new versions of the above (replacing the Nagra with a multi track recorder with time code) in addition to Comteks and a host of other toys to do the job. The only accessory that’s new are the kneepads required for interviews with an endless chain of film school wonderkinds that emerge at the end of every semester who have grand plans on how they’re going to re-invent the film making world.
    My plan “B” at this time seems to be laying very still under 6′ of soil. It’s sort of a long term plan with few options, perhaps someone else could kick in a few?
    Jerry w.

  2. JCW says:


    What does it take to become a regular crew member on a long running show? I know it’s probably 80% who you know, but do opportunities ever open up for someone in your field?

    • Peggy Archer says:

      It’s who you know. I’m a semi-regular crew member on a show, which is good – one or two days a week is a lot more than many other folks are getting. For a long time, I didn’t want to be regular crew because I liked day playing and did okay with it – that was before the work dried up. Now everyone’s got me as ‘the day player’ in their minds :)

  3. Great, if depressing post, Peg. I’m in the same leaky boat, if considerably further down the river — and thus closer to the roaring waterfall up ahead. By the time I finally got my precious IA card, it was much too late for any hope of reaching the 60,000 hour plateau. I’ll be scratching and clawing to reach the 20,000 hour/15 years currently required to secure post-retirement health insurance — and that’s assuming they don’t move the goalposts on us in the next few years.

    Which they undoubtedly will.

    Right now there is no viable Plan B. With the economy in shambles, and a very slow recovery ahead, other options have dried up. Any Industry work-bot without a trust fund (fat chance) or a relative willing to give them some other job is pretty much mired in the quicksand. The real killer will come next summer, when that odious 400 hour rule comes into effect for our health coverage.

    I’m sorry to say that the real ugliness is yet to come…

  4. geekhiker says:

    Love this post. Depressing as hell, yes, but so well written.

    And so true, that everything is relative. I know I’m not paid as well as some in my industry, but it’s difficult to complain when one has a job. Like film, outsourcing is a problem in IT too: look at how often you call tech support and get someone in India trying to fake an American accent, all so the head of the software company can buy a replica lightsaber for 100k or something.

    It seems out-of-control, the drive downward, and I only wish I knew some solution!

  5. Keith Putnam says:

    I’d claim that we’ll all end up teaching, but we (30 somethings) may have been the last generation for whom academic filmmaking training was even vaguely relevant.

  6. rickfle says:

    It can get worse: TV/film musicians will exit the MPIHIP (health insurance) plan at the expiration of our current contract, leaving us at the mercy of our divided, shrill and extremely cranky selves to find a plan elsewhere that will provide the care we have come to appreciate. Our pension plan has redefined the benefits package three times in two years and we’ve never had the opportunity to vest in the MP plan, or access to the Country Home or other great benefits. We’ve been hit hard by runaway production, to say nothing of non-union scoring, amateurs with more connections than talent – I’m looking at you, Mr. Producer who hires his college roommate to score his TV series – and hungry bands that will license music for close to nothing just to get heard. Don’t start me talking.
    Agree with Keith Putnam – there will be fewer students when everyone has a T2i and Garage Band and no one needs or cares to know how to actually use the damn things. Those of us in middle age- however defined – have seen the passing of an era and we have to find a way to fit into the current one. It’s just evolution.
    BTW – where in L.A. are execs going to find girlfriends with real tits, anyway?

  7. A.J. says:

    The good news is, I’m hearing a rumor that Producers are starting to realize they’re not really saving all that much money by shooting out of state. Something about having to fly crew members out anyway due to lack of skilled locals and what not.

    The bad news is, I don’t know if that makes a difference.

  8. Sex Mahoney says:

    $75,000 + benefits/household wage earning adult. That’s the limit. More than enough to raise a reasonable sized family in any decent neighborhood in the US. Anything more than that, (with fewer than four dependents) and you’re bordering on greed.

    • Peggy Archer says:

      Remember that crew folks aren’t the ones who need to hear the greed lecture. You can cheerfully aim that at producers and studio heads, many of whom spend $75,000 per year on shoes.

  9. pringleshardwarestore says:

    Hi Peggy – I am a friend of Norm’s, a struggling composer in town and most importantly, I enjoy your blog. Perhaps you should look into publishing a book! I worked for 3 years when I first landed in LA, as an assistant to an author, and — let’s just say you get more bang for your buck publishing a book than making a film.

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