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Newbie in Contract Limbo

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Mike PatrickNewbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 8, 2008 at 1:57:38 am

I'm in need of some serious career advice. Sorry about the long post, but I felt the need to tell the interesting/frustrating situation I’ve been in at work for the last year and a half. Feel to skip my story, the real issue begins on the last paragraph. Thank you.
For the interesting part, i was chosen for an amazing internship in the broadcast production dept. for a professional sports team in '06. With a year outta college, six months into a freelance videography career, and fresh off a final cut master course i though this would be a great opportunity to not only learn the in's and out's of the TV industry, but also work for my favorite team. My duties were fairly standard, PA on shoot days and log tape on the others. Things changed drastically about a month into the internship when one of the team producers thought I’d be better utilized to shoot and edit and even produce small segments for the web site. A website, i might mention, that was being run by one person at the time. They purchased a Power Mac with all the bells and whistles for my own personal use, and even threw me a few bucks a week. I was told though that this was NOT a new position created within the organization. It would only be experimental. I didn't care; i was shooting editing and getting paid. What’s better?
As the season moved forward, I began catching word that this experimental position was exceeding what the higher ups had intended, in terms of hits on the website and all that corporate jumbo. Before I knew it, and I’d like to think my work in this experimental position had something to do with it, the organization launched a complete overhaul of my departments structuring. They hired a VP as well as a production coordinator to oversee all of the broadcast, web, radio, and gameday productions. On top of that, a menagerie of experienced producers, directors, editors, and graphic designers would be hired to help out the small team we already had to create whatever the team needed for whatever medium. And best of all, before any of this happened I was finally offered a job.
I’d be writing, producing, shooting, and editing content for not only the two new TV shows that were in the works, I’d be working on various pieces for the website and the gameday video boards. The new position would require that I become a freelance contractor, which I was told was common practice in the industry. I was fine with the measly contract they offered me for the first year because I knew working under the wings of seasoned DP’s, Producers, and Editors would be more valuable to me than anything. Also, I wasn’t quick to forget that less than a year ago I was nothing more that a tape logger. It seemed my first job in the industry was like stepping in a pot of gold.
A few weeks into the new hired production coordinator, I realized a few things seemed odd. The dates for the numerous shoots that had been planned were rapidly approaching and none of these new people had been hired. Being young and hungry, I was up to the challenge to do whatever needed to be done in order to execute these new productions until more people could be brought in. As weeks turned into grueling months of production work, our supervising producer had confirmed our suspicions.
This “amazing” new VP, who’d supposedly executively produced hundreds of pieces for TV and knew all the ins and outs of producing, sold the team his vision of revamping the entire entertainment department with a budget that could barely support the production of one TV show let alone the two that were currently in production, as well as content for the website, and the gameday video board. The producers, directors, DPs, sound mixers, and studio engineers that were desperately needed were never part of the original budget. I wish I had the time to be upset over being lied to, but I was too busy meeting a hundred deadlines a week. Which brings me to the next issue which was brought up by the only competent and experienced producer on our production team who by the way to this day I don’t know how he hasn’t completely lost his mind and wound up in a mental hospital after dealing with this VP. My work was beginning to suffer severely. Like I said before, a year earlier I was nothing more than a tape logger, and although I excelled behind the camera, and knew my way up down in and out of final cut pro, my story telling abilities needed much work and the lack of time, professional QC, and experience just wasn’t there to nurture my skills. To this day, I’ve never sat down with a producer and cut a piece for TV or web from start to finish.
Of the many issues I need advice on with my current position as segment producer/ DP/ Cameraman/ Editor, I’m going to start with the one that’s become the most critical at this point in time. The Salary Contract. In June ’07 I agreed to an unwritten very lowballed benefitless one year contract to do the work stated above. The VP did acknowledge that the work I’d be doing was worth substantially more. In May ’08, one month before my contract was up, I sat down with the VP of Entertainment and proposed three options for my new contract.

1.Same job duties and work schedule as ’07 at an increased salary.

2.Same salary as ’07 with an decreased work week. If needed on scheduled off days, a day rate would be applied.

3.Or, put me on the teams full-time employee payroll with full benefits at a slightly increased salary. Work Schedule would be same as ’07.

He seemed eager to put option 3 in motion, and would get back to me soon. I didn’t ask when I’d hear about a decision. After an extremely busy training camp this summer where I barely had time to think about a new contract, October arrived and no word about my new contract had been delivered. All the VP keeps crying the blues about is how there’s no money for this or that yet everytime I turn around he’s hiring crews for various tasks. My supervising producer, who has mentored me from the beginning and is just as fed up and burnt out with this operation as I am, has told me to lose any hope of a new contract and just wait until next year. Although I haven’t told him yet I don’t plan to renew any type of new contract for next season. I also feel it’s important to note that I’m one of two in the production crew of about 10 whose contracted to show up to work everyday, and the other guy does radio. So anything video related falls on me in the offseason. I would like to resolve something for the rest of this year though, but I’m not sure what my best approach should be at this point.

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Mike PatrickRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 8, 2008 at 11:59:59 am

I did read the DO I HAVE A BEEF thread below, and picked up some useful info. But i'm still looking to pick your brains.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 8, 2008 at 3:33:26 pm

So, let me get this straight: you're working without a contract, but still being paid as per the previous contract? Then that's the contract.

I'm not a labor mediator, but from my own experience, while negotiations are going on, all previous agreements and protocols from the expired contract usually remain in force until the new contract is signed. However, if management substantially alters something from what was customary in the old contract, like a radical shift in hours, pay, or rules, at that point the old deal is usually considered broken, and then the parties make choices about strikes or arbitration. That's for union deals, and this is not a union deal, but the money man seems to be operating under similar rules so far, is how I look at it.

You are at plankton level in their food chain. Your only power at this point is based on if you come in the door or not, if you do something they cannot live without or find a quick, cheap replacement for.

And they know it.

If you think about it, they are treating you not unlike they would a farm club ball player coming onto the team. You show some innate talent that needs development, but have no record yet, and nobody else wants you. Until you turn into a scoring monster that wins games single-handed and packs the stadium with raving fans, you could be sent down or traded any time.

FWIW, I think perhaps you overstepped when you suggested the mutiple payment scenarios, but perhaps I'm reading in too much from your descriptions. Two prime rules of negotiating are, first guy to name a figure loses, and you have to be willing and *able* to walk out. From what I read, you named three kinds of figures/deals and so you gave away a lot of negotiating power. And you are young and starving and without an impressive resume yet. So you're down two strikes already.

Not that the thinking behind the 3 options wasn't good, it was. I think though that you should have held them close to the vest and waited to use them as counter-proposals to their opening bid, if you didn't like their offer.

You have several things going on in your situation and not all of them have anything to do with you, nor are they anything you can control in any way. So try not to go crazy over those things you can't control. The situation where the suit came in with grand plans and bad or no execution, you can't control. All you can do is deal with the results best as you can, until the suit gets replaced or gets a new idea. Until your work becomes so critical to them that they HAVE to keep you, I think you have to keep taking it in the neck, for now.

Concentrate instead on a plan to make yourself more valuable, and to cultivate some sponsorship or at least interest from other people in the organization's management. Say hi to everyone in the elevators, strike up innocuous chat at the water coolers, etc. and just become known by face and name to everyone, even if they can't do anything for you directly. Dress for work as if you DID get a little bump in pay, send out the vibe that you are looking to move up and expect it to happen, by the way you carry yourself. If jeans and t-shirts are the daily norm, go to Khakhis and a polo, or a dress shirt and vest with the jeans, and every once in a while, a tie, for no reason at all. If asked, say "no reason"; they'll start to wonder if you are interviewing elsewhere.

Have more than one exec become aware of you and your worth, what things you can do. Maybe at some point they'll get into a bidding war over using you. See if you can take a lateral shift into another area of the operation, under another suit's sphere of influence. The larger the number of people that have a say in your pay or your continued relationship with the organization, the more secure you are. From that secure base, you can build up networks of people that can help advance your career in large ways and small.

Another way to go is to take your work for hire status they stuck you with... and run with it. Become more of an outside contractor, and not just for these guys; start building up freelance gigs elsewhere. You need to create options so you *can* eventually have the "I can walk away from a bad deal" attitude. That position is never easier to take than when you're young and single, with nobody else relying on your steady income, and perhaps friends and relatives who will take you in temporarily if or when you crash and lose work for a while. This is the age where you can most afford to be bold and take risks. The older you get, the more responsibilities you take on, as a spouse or parent, the more risk-averse you will have to become.

Finally, young people are impatient as a rule, even if they are polite about it, and nobody likes to spend inordinate amounts of time "paying their dues" (Are we there yet? Are we there yet?). But maybe that's all you need; to remain patient but alert to sieze an opportunity when it arises. Suits come and go; if you just outlast the bad one, the next one may be better. You lost the negotiations this year. OK. Consider this your "rebuilding year" then, and work hard on building those storytelling skills and related tech skills. Keep coming up with ideas and innovations, pitch a new idea every week or two, even if they don't go anywhere. One of them may catch on and lift you out of your hole into a new negotiation situation. Worst case, you will be one year better and smarter than you are today, and maybe you'll take a better position somewhere else that will appreciate you and pay what you're worth. The freelance may take you in some other, better direction you can't know today. If you don't own an editing setup at home, I suggest you invest in one, but don't let on at work yet.

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Andrew KimeryRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 8, 2008 at 5:39:07 pm

I can't write as, or good, post as Mark, but here are some of my 2 cents.

You don't get what you deserve you get what you negotiate.

This industry is built on 'maybe.' Maybe if I do this guy a favor he'll hook me up down the road. Maybe if I work for slave wages now the producer will bring me onto his bigger projects. Maybe...

If you want to move up you have to move out. Getting promoted from w/in, and at a competitive pay rate, can be very difficult so typically if you want to move up a rung on the ladder you need to move out of your current company.

The only person that really cares about your career is you. You have to always be pushing forward and working the system to get to where you want to be. I don't mean screwing people over, I mean keeping your career goals in sight and always making decisions that move you towards them, not away from them. For example, when I first got out of college my goals were basically:
1. Find a job in the industry.
2. Find a job in post production.
3. Find a job as an assistant editor.
4. Find a job was an editor.

Every job offer I get I ask myself, "does this keep me moving in the direction I want to move in?" And if the answer is "no" I pass on the job. And passing on paying work can be hard but sometimes it's necessary. I've also had to quit jobs when promises of advancement weren't followed through on. It can be scary, but like Mark said unless you are willing to walk away the higher ups will always walk all over your. Also, as quickly as you can you should squirrel away at least 6 months worth of living expenses (rent, internet, cell phone, insurance, car payment, etc.,) that you can use as a rainy day or bail-out-of-a-bad-gig fund.

If I was in your situation right now I'd be looking for another gig. Learn as much as you can at your current job and use that to get yourself your next gig.


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Ron LindeboomRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 8, 2008 at 6:47:09 pm

Once again, I have to take my hat off to yet another prosaic masterwork by the inimitable Mr. Suszko.

When I grow up, I wanna be just like you, Mark. (Unfortunately, Kathlyn tells me that the likelihood of my growing up remains a remote, but hopeful, futuristic possibility.)

Ah, the power of hope. ;o)

Ron Lindeboom

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Mark SuszkoRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 8, 2008 at 6:56:10 pm

If I'm so smart, why ain't I rich? :-)

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David Roth WeissRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 8, 2008 at 7:27:23 pm


Ride it out, whatver it takes. You're an essential part of the team and you got in on the ground floor with your favorite team.

However, keep pressing that V.P. with all the promises. Don't let your ego or your pride get in the way, but don't be arrogant, just be positive. Remind him how great an asset you are. Remind him of all those promises he made. And, if you need to, tell him you're getting married and you need the benefits, because you're starting a family.

But, whatever you do, stay put... The economy sucks, and the competition for jobs is going to get mighty tough.

David Roth Weiss
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.

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Mick HaenslerRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 9, 2008 at 11:39:01 am

[David Roth Weiss] "But, whatever you do, stay put... The economy sucks, and the competition for jobs is going to get mighty tough"

That about sums it up right there.

Mick Haensler
Higher Ground Media

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Mike CohenRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 10, 2008 at 1:52:52 pm

I have a friend who, a few years ago, got a summer internship with a sports team on one of the two coasts (is that vague enough?). He was promised all sorts of great opportunities and given a list of job duties. This was in the marketing department.
In reality, he spent the Summer surfing the internet, because the executive he was working for kept telling him there was nothing for him to do. And he helt like he could not complain to the boss or to his advisor, because the executive had made some remarks, like "you can't take time off, I need you here every day." It was an untenable situation. Thus, he finished the Summer having learned nothing, but not wanting to piss anyone off in an organization he may one day apply for a job in, he let it go.

This is different that the original post, but I thought I'd mention it.


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grinner hesterRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 10, 2008 at 2:08:33 pm

I did not read all of that but I'll say when things become far more confusing than they have to be, you have outgrown that joint.
Selecting door number one, door number two or door number three is probably not the best way to attack your future.

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Mike PatrickRe: Newbie in Contract Limbo
by on Oct 15, 2008 at 2:58:17 am

Just wanted to thank all who replied to my post. I've taken some time to digest the threads and after re-reading them over a few times i feel a definite relief from the anxiety of situation was causing. For some reason Mark's advice about being patient has struck a note. Not sure if it's because I'm confident the VP will be out the door sooner than i think, or because i realized i was in such a rush to get paid a salary i didn't necessarily deserve. Either way, in the end i think my best move is to move on. The funny part about taking all your advice and making the decision to move on with my career is that i've inadvertently become so focused on getting work stuff done, so i can spend more time on side projects on home, that I've found myself accumulating more time at work exploring new creative ideas... All the while i'm brushing up my reel. Go figure. So for the time being I'll let patience let all the pieces fall into place.

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