Work for nothing…I need the experience…looks good on the CV

Categories: Miscellaneous 10 Comments

Now while I think it is great that media has been acknowledged by the colleges and universities, there is a big, big, BIG problem afoot within the industries. I get a lot of emails from students asking me about how to get started in camerawork etc so I know that such people read this site a lot.

The industry is being destroyed. Literally. It is being eaten from within by a gigantic maggot that won’t stop eating until every last morsel has been devoured.

Recently I was told of someone in broadcast whose day rate had been slashed from £300 a day to £80 a day. Now for many media students the idea that someone who does camerawork can get paid between £300 and £600 a day is very enticing. A lot of people think it is a way to become rich. Still others, the ones who are causing the present destruction of the industry think that they can be clever and start charging far less, or doing the work for free.

Let me tell you guys about the £500 average day rate. You might not work every day of the week. Hell on a slow month it might be your only days work! Not sounding so bloody great now is it? Even if you worked most days of the week, that money still has to account for a pot that contains business expenses such as insurance, electricity bills, phone bills etc. It also has to account for any new equipment that is needed. As well as this it has to account for days when you aren’t working, unpaid time basically.

When all the maths are done £500 a day is roughly what you need to keep your business running and to be comfortable. NOT rich. Please also take into account that camerawork is a very highly skilled profession. With that in mind it isn’t a huge amount of money at all. Many camera guys these days are barely breaking even.

This problem is made far, far worse by the sheer number of media students leaving university and being quite willing to work for free or for very low rates just to get their foot in the door. The trouble is this. The employers know that there is a constant stream of shmucks every year who will work for bread and water. Think you have a future in the industry? Think again. You’ve just helped to destroy your own career. Next year there will be more students coming out of Uni who will be hired instead of you because they, like you in the year before, will be willing to work for nothing.

When mainstream broadcast television sinks to the level of offering a budget for four hour long documentary programmes of £2,225 each, there is one hell of a serious problem. Possibly an irreversible one.

The dilution of budgets and advertisers across so many television channels hasn’t helped matters. But low ballers have made an already bad issue a lot worse. You aren’t being clever by offering really low rates. You are killing your own prospects for the future.

HDW : I came against this problem years ago when I filmed in the lucrative quality end of the wedding video market place, the cheap-skaters as I called them, the one’s too frightened to up their prices so they produced quantity rather than quality.

Joe Public don’t care how much your camcorder cost as long as you give them pictures and sound so this ethic snakes it’s way along the wedding video marketplace giving the lower end a bad name and crap prices… £80 for one days filming and one days poor editing. You get what you pay for.

I was charging £900 for our basic package seven years ago when many of my so called competitors were charging £250 for a heap of junk. I dispare that we have HDSLRs filming weddings today not because they produce lesser pictures but more the fact that it’s an open door for anyone with such a basic piece of equipment to pretend they are professional and charge for their work !

The broadcasters will always chance their arms, budgets have been slashed and so have their commissioning power but if I were told to produce four one hour long documentaries for £2,225 each I would tell them to stick their budget up their jacksie and bad mouth them on the internet…only by whistle-blowing on these cowboy broadcasters will sense finally prevail or will it…remember the hard up media student would be only to glad to earn £8,900 to see his/her work on telly and add the experience to his/her CV !

Simon you are giving sound advice but sadly those of us who have worked up the ranks are a minority to the masses of students looking for jobs and work experience, they have spent at least 3 years being kidded by their college or university that this will lead to a job at the end of it knowing all to well that less than 5% per year stand a chance of getting work in the so called “media industry”. They have also started courses on HDSLRs… for what ?…because it’s fashionable not because it’s anything like practical.

In fact there’s a great documentary… someone should follow 10 media students from 10 parts of the UK for 4 years and see who gets a job at the end of their course in mainstream broadcasting !

You can catch Simon here at : http://www.simonwyndham.co.uk

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10 comments on this post

  1. Arran Eye says:

    While completely agreeing with your comments about the pitiful budgets offered for independent broadcast productions, I would take issue with the main thrust of your article.
    Over a period of seventeen years running our independent production company in Glasgow, there were relatively few times when we actually had job vacancies. Accordingly, applications from young hopefuls went in the bin daily. Occasionally however, we were approached by someone keen enough to offer to demonstrate their value to our company ahead of asking us to commit to them. Over the years we created positions for the best of these bright, gifted people, and of course paid them as soon as we were able. Indeed, one of those hopeful graduates ended up running our company and today runs her own, in partnership with our very first employee!
    If you lack experience (and if all you’ve done is student projects you certainly have no idea what the real world of production entails) what better way of gaining it other than working as a volunteer for a few weeks? It’s only a very temporary situation and would only lead to exploitation if extended.
    Who in their right mind would commission an inexperienced student to take responsibility for a broadcast project, just because they were cheap?
    Oh I forgot, that would be the accountants who run the broadcast companies these days.

  2. HD Warrior says:

    Mr A you were in the heydays of video production, you also took on far too many people, 15 staff at one point, to the extent that they left to go onto other jobs like myself or latterly they were made redundant, due to lack of production work which was always a problem in those early days…having enough work to pay the wages. That is not a criticism it’s just what happened 25 years ago and all those who were laid off went onto bigger and better careers in the media industry, thanks to your input.
    You were a hard taskmaster but that certainly benifited most people who worked for you as they came out the other side better informed and better qualified.
    When I take on larger jobs I try to employ at least 1 student for work experience and pay them accordingly so I might not have the throughput of people that Flashback Video, as it was called, but I can hold my head up to having put a smaller amount of students on my books over the last 20 years.

  3. Giorgio says:

    I think the problem is..price of quality. 20 years ago a professional camcorder costed too much for a student or home videomaker. Now with 2.000 euro you can produce a film with HDSLR…

  4. HD Warrior says:

    Hey when I was twelve I had a Kodak 8mm cine camera and I produced “films” so lets not kid ourselves the HDSLR has opened the floodgates for amateurs to tinker with depth of field at an affordable price but anyone can make a “film” or a “video” it’s down to how good the production qualities are…we can all point a camera at a few landscapes, speed up and down, time-lapse the internet is awash with mundane HDSLR footage that are far from being in the same category as films.

  5. Les says:

    Some interesting points guys, this is certainly one to get a debate going! As someone who teaches students the practical side of video production on a media degree I can add a few points. A general media degree isn’t especially aimed at producing camera crews; in fact I’ve never met a student that actually wanted to be a cameraman, sound recordist or any part of a crew. Another point is that the graduate’s quality of work will be nowhere near that of a pro cameraman and as such they can’t charge full rates, they need to charge low rates (or free) to find their place in the market. There is also the issue of supply and demand, if supply outstrips demand the price drops, same in all industries. I reckon the issue I more to do with the employers and what quality level they want to buy. I remember 20 years ago the going rate was around £1k per minute for what now seems to be £36 a minute going by the 2.2K per hour offer!
    Cheers
    Les

  6. HD Warrior says:

    So what do your students want to do when they finish after 3 years ?

  7. Josh says:

    I think the point is being missed regarding the assumption that media students actualy desire a career in the “industry” as it were .Audio Visual Technology has transformed so much in the last decade, and it’s now fully within the reach of young talented people to make a film or documentary off thier own backs with thier own relativly cheap equipment, and promote and publish it onine, which is what most students want to do; Make stuff and get it watched. Not be part of a creaking, overley bueracratic old business model run by balding men. I think what we are going to see over the next decade from this new school generation is a massive boom in creativity, as production tech is now so accessible and cheap you don’t have to jump through hoops anymore in order to get access to it and use it how you want to; you can edit a feature film on a 600 quid desktop now for christ’s sake! Production is being democratized by the students, and the old guard needs to realize this, and do themselves a favour by actually paying so called “interns/work experince” people, because at the end of the day, working for a production house is not the privellage it once was: consider that a graduate can now work in a call centre through the week and shoot corporate videos or weddings on a hdslr or Z1 at the weekend, do it thier way AND get paid properly, which approach would you take as a graduate? make tea and run the photocopier for nothing, or initiate your own productions and earn properley, it’s a simple choice.

  8. Joe Randall-Cutler says:

    As an editor, I have also seen this trend. However, when I was starting out, I myself was offering to work for nothing. The opportunities I got were on jobs that couldn’t afford experienced editors, and we both gained from those collaborations. I got the opportunity to learn and show my abilities with a reel and they got the job done.
    I think there is a delicate balance to strike nowadays. A tectonic shift is happening in the technologies and models of production and distribution of video and film, and there is no doubt that costs of both are less. We have no choice but to adapt and re-evaluate our own margins and goals. However, we all have a responsibility to consider and support our peers in the industry when pitching for work. Otherwise, as you say, it’s a completely false economy that ultimately undermines the whole industry we are part of.

  9. Les Johnstone says:

    The media degree covers all aspects of media such as cultural studies, sociology, marketing, languages, public relations, business web-site creation, video and film production, events management, most of the students want to work in one if these areas or in management side of thinks. To be fair to Simon Wyndham I reckon he didn’t literaly mean “media” students.

  10. Les Johnstone says:

    AV has transfored in every decade, not just the last one. To be fair, you could have writen the above (perhaps not the prices) When SVHS came out, then when DV came out, then when tapeless came out. The more things change the more they stay the same!

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