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What Happened?

Get Ready for Another Round of Economic Disruption in the Media Business

I recently posted this on my Facebook page… for a second time. This is an updated version… and it’s worth a second and even third posting. The information will help you as you move forward in your media career.

I’ve been in the Grip and Lighting rental business for over 20 years. In that time I realized things change pretty quickly in my industry… the media industry.

Shooting styles change, products change, clients change. It is what keeps the industry vibrant. The next phone call can result in an unbelievable job, or a chance to work with someone you’ve always wanted to, or maybe breaking new ground in your rate. These are changes we like.

Lately I’ve been hearing about changes people in this industry don’t like.

In the last seven years the media industry has been undergoing tremendous fundamental change that is on a level that we haven’t seen since the advent of sound in motion pictures. Truth be told, that change pales in comparison to the economic disruption that is currently taking place.

Just before I entered the business, the transition from film to video took place in the ENG world. I was in a world where the early adopters ruled, and where the people who refused to adapt became less and less relevant. Sooner or later many would come to the conclusion that not adapting would only end badly and stepped up to the reality that the world they knew had changed.

It was a slower change with the advent of HD where adoption wasn’t as relevant at first, but surely enough within a short amount of time the demand of the customers to upgrade the product and fear of not archiving in the new medium forced the adaption.

Another major change occurred in the editing world.

When I entered the industry a great portion of the budgets for production could be hidden in the editing budget. (I worked mostly in the industrial, corporate and commercial world.) In the early 2000s that model began to crumble. Computerized editing systems became very affordable and easily learned. Suddenly independent producers could under-bid larger, more bloated production houses. Once again those who chose to adapt quickly survived; those who did not had a bigger battle to survive the longer they held onto the old model.

All of these examples pale to the changing marketplace we’re experiencing today. The economics of media have been turned upside down.

The disruption started in distribution.

In 2005 YouTube burst on the scene. This new platform was developed by a couple of college students who were motivated by trying to share their videos online with each other. The distribution pipeline had turned into a flood plain. In the previous distribution model it was broadcast, closed circuit, tape or DVD. Suddenly there was a way to share any media message direct with the world with no waiting.

Once again the model change wasn’t immediate but inevitable. The low level of entry into the media game had become worldwide. The cat, motocross and Little Miss Teen videos that were the start of YouTube have given way to international marketing campaigns created by multinational companies, which has changed the entire face of advertising.

Almost simultaneously there was a huge disruption in the media-gathering industry. For years Sony had been the dominant player in the professional ENG camera market. Panasonic was the first major company to come along and challenge their model. They released the Varicam.

Suddenly there was a real choice in professional media-gathering. 

The Red One was an earth-shattering event when it came on the market. It spun the world into a lather with its promise. Soon Sony, Arri and many others were in a scramble to follow suit.

On the heels of the Red One the next biggest game changer to come along was Canon’s 5D. This affordable, low-lux, easy-to-use piece of equipment spawned a movement for every other camera manufacturer to try to emulate the product.

As we now cross the threshold of 4K, it is as affordable to even the beginner. (Edit note: The phone I am making this correction with shoots 4K video.)

Also just a few short years ago Social Media exploded. Today Facebook downloads almost as much video as YouTube. Just about every news organization (including all of the print news who have gone online) have a video component to every story.

More recently, cameras on mobile devices have become better and better. My iPhone 6+ now can shoot 120 or 240 fps as well as time lapse. Many people are cutting back on buying cameras because all they use is their phone!

As this is all taking place, colleges and universities – as well as art and trade schools –  are graduating thousands of students every year who are entering a media world with very little barrier to entry with affordable, easy-to-learn tools that are at their fingertips.

It is dynamic change in a very short span of time.

This is the backdrop to the words I hear come out of my companions’ mouths who’ve been in the business for 20 years… “What Happened?”

Well… 20 years ago we were in a world where the economics were pretty much standardized. It was a predictable pattern of producers selling clients, then calling the personnel to accomplish the task. It made a lot of people in our industry lazy. It was easy to take the mindset that we didn’t have to go look for work; we could just sit and wait for the phone to ring, and then go make money. Hey, it was nice while it lasted.

We worked in a world where technology was slow to change. It was Sony equipment, it was tape, maybe 16mm… pretty predictable year after year.

We had a long run with this model. Of course the DOT COM bubble burst, then tragically on its heels was 9-11, and we had some slow times. However, we kept the work flow rising to the boiling point right through 2008. Then the inevitable forces of change began to take place.

The economy tanked and our work was decimated. Not just crew, but production companies, distributors and manufacturers all took a hit. In fact, the bigger they were, the faster they fell. This started the realignment of our entire industry. There is no comparison of the industry from pre ’09 to post ’09.

Many of the old models and mediocre players were cleared immediately. Others suffered slower deaths. If they didn’t embrace change – and radically change their model – they would see a diminishing work flow year after year. Within a year or two they would drift out of business.

If you are in your 40s or 50s in the business… listen up. 

If you are one of my contemporaries who has survived and are still working in the industry, get ready to face the second wave of massive change.

The people who brought you into the business have all gone by the wayside. The very last of them were more than likely done in by 2009. They have been replaced by a much younger and more diverse group of people.

These individuals do not look at motion media as a monolithic venue; rather they look at it as something that fits into a greater whole. They understand the different levels of production value, but don’t worship production value on its own. They understand the concept of disposable media and that some messages are to only be used once then disposed of.

This younger group of professionals understands that no or low production value IS THE MESSAGE!

These younger players also rely on Social Media to set the standard of the message. Thirty seconds is the new half hour. Where the half-million-dollar budget used to produce 10 videos it now produces 100… with the corresponding reduced budgets.

So my answer to friends when they ask, “What Happened?” is simple.

Things changed. (And they’re going to keep changing, so be prepared, get educated and keep up to date.)

I invite your questions and comments to this and any article your read here at www.OnSetUniversity.com. Reach out to me here and I’ll get back you personally just as soon as I can!

You’re Worth It!

Since I’ve been in the film and video business for over 20 years, I’ve seen my rate rise over the course of time. It is always seemed pretty simple to me, I just followed market rate on what people wanted to pay for their particular jobs. That always worked fine as long as I wanted to run with the prevailing wage and never thought about what skills I brought to the table.

Lately, I’ve been looking at it in a different way. I hear a lot of people that are complaining about lower wages. I understand what’s going on. In the Los Angeles area, there has been a general downgrading of wages and equipment prices. This is due to runaway production and also a general high competitive level of personnel in our area.

It starts with prices going lower and competitive equipment bids. Larger grip and lighting houses are competing with each other and lowering the overall price of equipment downward, sometimes to a .2 day week! Yes that’s right – for .2 day week you can rent equipment on your show.

This is a deathknell for guys like me. The person with a couple of grip and lighting trucks are competing in the same marketplace and we can’t compete with the larger houses that can lower equipment cost just to get market-share. I have held onto my pricing, but it has been difficult. One of the ancillary effects has been to lower overall wages.

It works like this. As producers go to larger equipment houses to get cheaper gear, they do not hire truck owners which maintain their gear and control their crews for things like a high knowledge base and efficient workflow. They now can get a cheaper labor force that’s in the marketplace that’ll be happy to work for lower wages just to get a day job. Even the unions have a lower tier (Tier 0) rate that is something close to $18 an hour. Therefore, if you’re a producer, you don’t think you have to pay a lot more than what the lowest going rates to get your production done. Forgetting about skill, experience and efficiency in the production, these are things they’re willing to trade for a lower wage person.

If you’re somebody who is a real professional and is working in your area of expertise, you have spent a lot of time learning and finetuning how to work efficiently, you bring the producer a great amount of value in production value and time savings. Your rate has increased as your knowledge base has increased. But I see a disturbing trend starting to happen.

As wages lower, people start to panic. A producer calls and somebody offers them a wage that is 40 to 50% below their going rate. In a desperate attempt to get new clients and new work, they will accept a lower rate. This is poison.

If you should go down this road, the only thing you will end up with are clients who only pay low wages.

You need to defend your VALUE and your rate! You need to tell producers your top rate and TELL THEM WHY YOU GET IT!! You have to sell yourself! I will put this in everyday terms. YOU DON’T LET OTHER PEOPLE DETERMINE YOUR WORTH; YOU DETERMINE YOUR WORTH!!

I will only work in a range which is $550.00 to $750.00 for a 10 hour day. I know when a client calls that if I accept a lower rate, I will only be working for that client at the lower rate. I know that this philosophy will not let me work every job that I get called on. That is a trade-off I make to keep my rate higher. I know one thing – that if I work for someone at a lower rate they will never pay me more than that lower rate; it’s a race to the bottom.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Guys take a lower rate from a client, the client keeps calling them back because they have a lower rate and soon they’re losing their overall income. They come to me and say, “These people won’t pay me more.” My answer to them is: “you haven’t given them your value yet. You have let them tell you what you’re worth, because YOU have not told them what you’re worth.”

You have to fight for yourself, the client won’t. Quit being afraid to say no! No is as powerful as yes. When I have turned down work from a producer because of not meeting my money demand, many have called me back when they had a bigger budget. They didn’t call the guy that they had replace me because they didn’t VALUE him!

If you want to break the cycle, add $50 to your day rate and when the client calls, start there. You will immediately start making more money!

YOU’RE WORTH IT!!!

Now Living in the Future

There are certain gifts that age blesses you with, knowledge, wisdom (hopefully), and a sense of continuity with the past. One of the things I’m always grateful for is remembering what people thought the future would look like.

Now I feel I have lived long enough to actually see the future. The future I remember as a young person was best demonstrated by the Seattle Worlds Fair in 1962. Its theme was ‘Century 21’ which is of course is here right NOW.

It went like this. There was a general assumption that quite a few of us would be joyfully living on the moon. Of course anybody, who was anybody, would be flying in their car. The Bell Telephone Company had a huge exhibit extolling the virtues of all of things that the phones of the future could do. Such as leaving a message for someone WHO WASN’T HOME WHEN YOU CALLED!! Another modern marvel was a handset THAT DIDN’T HAVE A CORD!! You could actually walk from the living room to the kitchen without ripping the phone off the table. Also there was a device I tried at the fair, it was a writing pen that was connected to a device on a pad, when you wrote on it, the same device at your neighbor’s house would would automatically write your note (the first fax, which is pretty much a futuristic relic now).

Of course they missed a few things too, like, computers, cell phones and oooohh, a little thing called the internet.

This comes from a guy who was 23 when the first phone answering machine came out (I wouldn’t leave a message, because I wanted to talk to a real person). And a few years later, the first VCR came out (“You mean they can show a movie without a projector?!”).

Sound funny? Well don’t laugh to hard. It is easy to think at anytime that you have finally invented the ultimate technology that will solve all of the world’s problems forever. WRONG!

I’m writing this blog on an iPhone 6+, I created two estimates while I was waiting for my oil change. I also answered emails, texts, posted pics I took on all my social media sites. I haven’t touched my laptop in a week! My technology is friggen AWESOME!

There is one group who is not quite as impressed with it as we are. The eight year olds. This has been around their whole lives. This is not new stuff, it’s the same old stuff.

That’s the one problem with new stuff; as soon as someone assumes that the new stuff has always been there, it becomes old stuff. That’s also what the problem of thinking about what’s coming in the future. You extrapolate what you’re using now, put new wings on it, and really think you’ve done something. You haven’t done anything.

When that eight year old is 18, we should have moved past phone batteries, manually driven cars, and anything that requires a key.

What we are not talking about, is Artificial Intelligence that attaches to your brain permanently or temporarily, nonverbal thought talk between groups of people, food printing, exoskeletons, remote presence, crowd economics, and something to replace the internet.

We need to push the future, not just accept what comes along and tells you it’s the future. Define YOUR needs and go out there and find out who is solving YOUR problems. Don’t think the iPhone 6 is the future, it’s the past. The fact that they call it a phone makes it the past!! The best reason to push for the future is: you own it, it’s yours!

And do it for the eight year olds.After all, they don’t want to be like their parents!

LOOK FORWARD!

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BEING ABLE TO LET GO, BEING ABLE TO GRASP

It never ceases to amaze me the lessons I learn over and over again.

So many times I have been in the times of change in my life and don’t realize it until it is well on its way and somewhere in the middle of the process that it dawns on me and a voice goes off in my head and says, “Hey this is my new world!”

The funny thing is that you don’t realize it is happening when it starts. For this current change (which I am in the middle of right now), it started with a lunch with a new friend. As we were telling each other about ourselves, he asked me if I had ever conducted a workshop. Another friend had suggested I look into it a few months before. I told him it had been a thought, but I was usually so busy, I couldn’t imagine having time to do it.

However, I was intrigued by the thought. I had written the book (No One Talks About Lighting the Elephant in the Room: The Business of Grip and Lighting) so I thought I might be able to leverage that information into a workshop. So, as I continued and explored the subject with my new friend (now partner) it became clear that there was more than enough material for a workshop.

I kept thinking how I would balance this with my schedule. Maybe we could just do workshops on weekends, or stay local. I thought as long as it doesn’t get in the way of my core businesses, I would make it work.

What I didn’t know was that the great boulder of change had started down the hill.

As the materials started to come together, a strange (yet completely natural) thing  began to happen. When I mentioned my plans to someone, they would quite often have a piece of information I needed or a great idea I could use. My partner had a lot of connections in the training field, and seemingly at will, ideas and suggestions would come in that propelled us ahead!

Another longtime friend had called me during this period and said we should grab lunch sometime. I said sure, but not really knowing if it would happen. He called a few days later and said, “Let’s meet Wednesday for lunch”. Because it was his second mention, I made sure I was available.

I hadn’t sat down with this friend for five years. As is the custom, we went right into ‘how’s business?’ He told me about the changes in his business model, I gave my thoughts; we talked about 45 minutes and the subject changed to what I was up to. So I told him about the workshops.

He listened to me intently. He didn’t say a word, I wondered if I was explaining it correctly, or if he understood my vision. Suddenly, he interrupted and exclaimed, “THAT’S AN AWESOME IDEA!! I DO WEBCASTING; WE COULD STREAM IT!!” He was so excited about the project, he exploded with ideas.

Since that meeting, many more great things have happened! We will now have a studio to work from, to stream, do tutorials and workshops!

I have also met with other people on the subject of equipment partnering. I will now have the ability to offer a more versatile packages to my current and future clients.

At the same time, my business has slowed down to allow me the time to put all of these opportunities together (not a situation I would normally be happy with, but it is what I need right now!) I now see, this is the path I need to travel.

I am glad I understand that when you let go of something, it allows you to grab something new. So what I have learned and what I’d like you to take away from this – don’t be afraid of change, it is the only thing you can count on to be constant!

EMBRACE THE FUTURE!!

Burnie

It’s Time to Let Go!

In my 60 plus years I have had many changes in my life. I’m sorry to say until recently, most have been carried out with a lot dread and fear. Being safe is a place all of us feel good in, doing what we know, being around people we like and trust; these are natural places for us to gravitate. But what happens when you want up your game? You must change!

The last 20 years that I have been in the media production business have steeled me when it comes change. I was 40-plus when I started my first day as a PA on set. I was in a completely new environment, new words, new timetable, new workflow. I didn’t know anything about the process, I felt like an idiot. I had that sinking pit in my stomach that said “What are you doing here?”, “These people think you’re stupid”, “You’re making a fool of yourself; they will never want you back”. Very negative, self sabotaging thoughts. The type of thoughts that send you running back to your safe zone. As time went on, of course, I learned the words, the workflow, the process. I felt OK, I was safe, I knew my job.

The self doubt started again as I moved up the ladder, the first time I worked with lighting crew, the first time someone put me on sound, the first time somebody hired me to light an interview, the first years I started my business. All ugly self doubt and loathing. The one thing in all that time I never took into account, is that I kept pushing forward. I look back now and still don’t understand what made push forward so long and so persistently. I suspect I had intuitively learned the lesson that you can’t go back.

For the last 20 years I have been pushing myself forward. Not always for the best motivations; sometimes out of anger, fear or jealousy. I have never had a guarantee of success, most of the time not knowing if what I was doing was right or wrong. Over these last years I have mellowed.

I became more used to the feeling of self doubt, not so worried what other people thought, knowing that I had overcome challenges many times before. I am often less inclined to work from negative motivations. Leading, instead of following.

This is very much in the forefront of my thoughts these days because I am starting a new phase of my career. I am creating a new intensive workshop and website on lighting and the business of media production. Of course, I’ve never done it before.

I have seen the beast raise its ugly head again, but this time it is different. I know I am going to make mistakes, I know some people will have criticisms, some valid, some not. I know I don’t have to be perfect.

I just have to look to the future and believe in myself. It seems so simple.

So as I embark on this next phase of my career, please rejoice with me if you see a mistake, I say something wrong, or do something stupid. For this reason:

BECAUSE I’M NOT AFRAID ANYMORE!

Be at peace with yourself,

Burnie