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Old October 3rd, 2009, 05:07 PM   #1
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the salary thang... don't sweat it

Iíve seen many posts asking about salaries. First, I have to say if youíre in this for the money, youíre in the wrong biz. There are many jobs in which you can throw on a tie and make an easy six figures. Do that and save room for those who are so passionate about this that the thought of doing anything else has never enter their heads.

Now, because that passion is not that rare, rest assured there is a big stack of resumes on the desk of every production manager in the world sent by people who are very ready, willing and able that will go to work for free in order to get a chance to show somebody what they can do. Some hate the thought of working for free or minimum wage. I thought it was grand to get paid to learn more than what I paid a college to learn.

Letís say you start at 5 bucks an hour. Sweet. Your foot is in the door and youíre on your way. In most industries, holding a job at one place for a really long time looks fantastic. Iím not gonna say it doesnít in this industry but the best way to get a significant raise is to leave and get another job. Cost of living raises are not raises at all. I see them as insults and an invitation to move on. Now, as a receiver of resumes, I like to see a variety of places worked at. It shows a variety in softwares, hardwares, duties and personality combos. It also shows me they are not willing to settle for good enough and I like that.

This industry is a revolving door of talent and ideas so new blood is simply required. The more people move around, the more people can be moved around.
Okay, youíve done your two years at 5 bucks an hour and have moved up 3 positions. Demand 8 bucks or split. If ya get it, stay and keep climbing. If not, just move on. Youíll get a job more in tune with what you need and want to do then.

Needs vary. With a rapidly-growing family I had to push hard every two years or so. I went from 3 bucks an hour to a salary less than that to 8 bucks an hour to 24k per year to 35k per year to 45k per year to 60k per year to 80k per year to six figures a year in a 13 year window. I moved my family to five states in as many years at one point. I worked 3 jobs at a time to get by when I needed to and I hate to say I neglected my family at times.

The closest I have ever come to making what Iím worth is today as a self-employed editor with my own gear. Only because I am weathered by the ways of the industry do I wonder if the hourly rate I now charge is worth the time away from my family. Nothing ever is ya know. Not he 3 bucks an hour your first employer insulted you with, not the raise you just received for a job well done an not the way-too-high rate you pull out of the air because you really donít wanna mess with something. Weíre not talking about that though. Weíre talking about the required hours away from that wonderfulness that puts the food on the table. Man, Iíve put the food on the table some pretty bogus ways. We all know where to find high-paying jobs with security. We just know life is too short for that.

So, the salary thang. Don't sweat it. Take what's offered and grin doin' it. If the pay is low, the pay is temporary. You're makin' movies though. It's all good.
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 06:44 PM   #2
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Thanks, Grinner, for the great post. I've followed your postings at other spots and always enjoyed them It's fantastic to see you come here!

You hit a lot of buttons for me. I'm juggling trying to get satisfying work, that actually pays a bit, but allows me to remain flexible to be there with my family. Especially with a new baby around. It's a challenge and forces one to make sacrifices on the one hand, but gain so much on the other. A balancing act.

Now, that being said, anybody around in Montreal that could offer me some camera or editing work in something that's NOT an event? I'd love to branch out a bit more...

(it never hurts to ask)
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 07:41 PM   #3
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I'm of two minds about this commentary. My first reaction was that in an industry that is notorious for low pay, show biz in general, you are saying, "just take it, lad." When young hammer bangers are making more than young editors and shooters I view it as just wrong. Do we want to justify the cheapskate bosses paying less than a living wage? No, but it's a matter of supply and demand. As long as people are willing to work for the same pay as ACORN pays its picketers the problem will not go away. Much has been said elsewhere on this topic.

After thinking a second, I realized this industry would benefit from a centuries old system that expired for the most part about 60-70 years ago. Apprenticeship. If one thinks about it, it's a logical approach. Experienced staffers take the young-uns under their wing to train them. Perhaps a mutant version is what our industry supports today, without the benefit of a formal "graduation" from apprentice to professional, or whatever it was called.

It's a pitiful situation but a classic example of capitalism at work. Create a better product or service and your business with thrive. (I'm a fan of capitalism, by the way and this is not a political statement.)

So, merging both points I'd have to say to those coming up in this field I would have to say, "know your value and price yourself to that value." Once that has been realistically done, never give up. Never surrender. Those that do drag the rest of us down.

IMO.
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 08:11 PM   #4
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The problem with accepting work at $3 an hour, or $5 or $10 or anything less than the correct hourly-wage equivalent, is that it devalues the industry in general. Every client who pays a young shooter or editor a mediocre rate is a client who is not paying industry rate anymore - and once they receive acceptable work for cheap, they're not likely to go back to outstanding work for big bucks. It's hard to raise prices in an industry that relies on referrals and repeat customers. "Why are you charging me $2,300? Billy Bob got the same package for $1,700 last year!"

How long are experienced professionals going to be able to make six figures a year when small-timers and young blood are working for sixpence? Sure, the top of the top will continue to pull in good money, but the average pro will experience significant devaluation. Look at the professional photography business for a preview of what's in store - quality video work still takes skill and significant capital in equipment, but technology marches ever on. Still photography used to require skill and expensive gear too.

In conclusion, I don't agree with accepting (as you said) 'insulting' wages just because one is new to the industry, with the expectation of still making a decent living after years of accepting half-pay.
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 08:28 PM   #5
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Everyone starts for nada. When I started at 3.35 an hour, that's what minimum wage was at the time. Paying dues is part of opening doors. Don't look at is as exploitation. Look at it as getting paid a little to learn a lot more than ya did in college paying to learn a little.
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 11:22 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Grinner Hester View Post
...Look at it as getting paid a little to learn a lot more than ya did in college paying to learn a little.
What a succinct way to make a solid point. I agree with the arguments about undercharging devaluing the community but at the end of the day we all have to charge the rates we are comfortable with and that our markets will bare. There is a big difference in undercharging for a job and accepting a position with undervalued wages. When you are working for someone else they are assuming most of the risk and generally providing all the equipment, when it is your outfit you assume all the risk and have to price accordingly. Unless, I am misreading Grinner's posts he is mainly addressing employment for someone else not pricing for your independent work.
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Old October 4th, 2009, 12:15 PM   #7
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Just pointing out that you'll start for little to nothing in this industry. Many students get out of school with a degree and a thought or feeling that a career is then owed to them. They then realize they have to get in line behind the guys that started 2 or 4 years before them instead of going to school. They often have a chip on their shoulder about this. I didn't. I enjoyed college and had a blast. I learned a lot too. I'd not trade it. I don't kid myself though. I no more thought I'd use a degree then than I do now.
If a student (or non student) thinks they can just run out and start making six figures in this industry without starting at the bottom, they will be very temporary in this industry and will most likely go get a joe job. Like I said in my OP, if money is the motivator, make room for those of us who would never consider doing anything else for a living. The money, ironicly, will go to those most passionate about it because they will always be the best at it.
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Old October 4th, 2009, 12:47 PM   #8
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There is a big difference in undercharging for a job and accepting a position with undervalued wages.
I strongly disagree. Regardless of whether one is an employee or has an independent business, accepting sweatshop level compensation devalues the income potential for all those below the top tiers of the business. Accepting lower pay than one believes they are worth drags everyone down.

I do, however, agree with Grinner's comment on passion as it is the fuel that fires the passion for quality and creativity.
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Old October 4th, 2009, 01:57 PM   #9
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I strongly disagree. Regardless of whether one is an employee or has an independent business, accepting sweatshop level compensation devalues the income potential for all those below the top tiers of the business. Accepting lower pay than one believes they are worth drags everyone down.

I do, however, agree with Grinner's comment on passion as it is the fuel that fires the passion for quality and creativity.
The truth is, newbies are not worth much. It's why they are hired... because experience is not in the budget. It cost to train. That is worth it to many employers. Same here. I'd sooner hire two new editors who don't have an opinion or a place to be at 6pm at less than what I'd pay one editor with a decade of national network experience. This does not bring salaries down for all... if anything, it increases the salary of that experienced editor. When I need him, I need him now and will happily pay top notch for his expertise. I've hired entry level interns at 20 bucks an hour and have employed veterans I can leave unsupervised for many times that amount. It depends on my needs at the time. They work for what they need. This is the case in every industry.
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Old October 4th, 2009, 10:36 PM   #10
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This does not bring salaries down for all... if anything, it increases the salary of that experienced editor.
You're right. I misspoke. It doesn't hurt everyone. Just those at the lower end of the scale.

Let me try to refine my point. If the universe of newbie editors believe their value in the market is $X and this backed up by research on their part of what the industry pay trends are at their skill level, and some pikey wants to hire one of them at half that rate the rest in that group will suffer. Raises will be lower and longer in coming and starting wages may fall some. There is bountiful information on wage/salary stats and trends including demographic and geographic breakdowns. Some you pay for. Some is free. Regardless, this industry ain't just that big and people talk, so secrets are hard to keep. If Alvin hires newbie Simon at a low wage and Theodore hears about it, he might rethink his salary parameters for his next hire.

I'll repeat, everyone should understand where their experience/skill and value meet. The result is a $/hr figure. When one grabs a gig at a rate lower than that, the rest in their experience/skill group suffers. I know I'm tilting at windmills as there will always be too many who think fame and glitz can be substituted for that other stuff. You know, money.
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Old October 4th, 2009, 10:44 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Grinner Hester View Post
They work for what they need.
Only if they are addled or desperate. Would you knowingly leave money on the table in a deal?

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Originally Posted by Grinner Hester View Post
This is the case in every industry.
In the 35 years since I graduated college, I've worked in five different industries for a dozen different companies and am building my second business into success. I strenuously disagree with your statement. Did personal career planning go out of style whilst I was napping? Career planning should start with the first application, resume or demo reel.
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Old October 5th, 2009, 08:32 AM   #12
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How much did your first TV gig pay?

That's what I'm sayin'.
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Old October 5th, 2009, 08:53 AM   #13
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If, as Grinner states in his above post, he pays interns $20 an hour, I'd HARDLY call that oppressive! And an ENTRY LEVEL salaried employee (with benefits, point source deductions and a "guaranteed" number of work hours per week) could reasonably expect to be paid less.

Now, $20 an hour for a seasoned pro OR someone using their own suite... THAT would be oppressive.

I agree that we should all strive to see fair and equitable wages or remuneration (freelance pay is not technically a wage...) BUT there are widely varied skill sets, especially amongst editors. For my first 2 or 3 years out of media college, I can't say looking back I'm terribly proud of the quality of the projects I edited. Getting the opportunity to be mentored and earn a living wage is a GREAT opportunity. Where I get miffed is the insulting "here's $100 AND it'll look great on your demo reel..."

I also get miffed when a visionary (but technically inferior) young editor tells me he'll work for $50 an hour ON MY SYSTEM but has no media management skills, no sense of timing, no idea what constitutes broadcast legal BUT man-oh-man can he use Magic Bullet Looks!
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Old October 5th, 2009, 02:24 PM   #14
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I think the problem is that in the age of iMovie and Youtube more and more people find video editing a task they need to learn. It's creating a new generation of people that have a use for this skill that was previously only used in feature films, television and corporate videos and commercials.

So now there are tons of people who think they are editors because they edited their vacation video on youtube, or made a video for their blog. So as in with any large influx of people, there will be more competition and wages will go down. It's like that in many fields and one needs to look no further than acting.

I think what bothers me more than the ads on craigslist looking for someone to shoot and edit a commercial for "copy and credit" are the people that counter post that go on ranting about how the people who take those jobs devalue the work of all other people that do the same job.
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Old October 5th, 2009, 06:35 PM   #15
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My take on the salary thang is that wages need to be earned.

If you do not have a lot of experience, then your should not charge the same as someone who does. Your rates should follow your career.

When starting out you can not avoid working for less. Even though this might be less than the industry wage, industry quality work is not being performed either.

At some point the customer needs to decide to take more of a risk or not.

We also do not need people charging an arm and a leg for poor results.

The apprentice approach is good except the industry is quite fragmented so it is tough to make this analogy on a global scale.

I have stated my opinions here before about salary calculators and wage expectations in our industry. In my view they only apply to established businesses. It is great to discover your expenses and living needs, but for somone who has no clients or a lot of work experience to look at a table and say "this is what I am supposed to be charging" does not work for me.

I come from a musical background and the same principle applies: You gain success when you can deliver the goods.

You have to know your craft and the only way is to get out and do a lot of work.

The marketplace sets the rates though, not the workers.
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