Thursday, September 26, 2013

The realities of "really cool gigs"

I recently landed a gig with the NFL for Thanksgiving Day.

You likely have at least one of two reactions:
1)  That's cool!  How did you get that job?
2)  I bet you're making a lot of money on that!

I will use this blog post to address both of these potential reactions.


I don't believe it is truthful to say "you can't get a job unless you know someone".  However, when it comes to high profile jobs or shows, this weighs more than you or I would like to think.  Several years ago, when the Washington Capitals started getting into the playoffs on a fairly regular basis, I had a contact with great connections in NBC Sports, who was working full-time at one of my regular W-2 jobs at the time.  He was asked at one point if he knew anyone who would be willing to do some PA work when there were home hockey games during the playoffs.  He suggested me, and I started getting called regularly.  I've been working those games (only about 4 a year before the Caps screw things up and get ousted typically) for the past three years, but I'm definitely qualified to do much more than make coffee and help with craft services.  I've been verbal about it to the folks who do the hiring.  Not in a whiny way, but "hey, I'd love to learn some more about live sports production, and I have background knowledge to bring to the table- are there any other opportunities for me?  Who should I contact?".  I was put in touch with the crewer for NFL Sunday Night Football this summer.  I dropped the names of my best NBC Sports contacts and told them about my experience and asked if there were opportunities that might be a good match, if there were any openings.  This week, I was confirmed to work as assistant stage manager for the Thanksgiving Pre-Game show and assistant bug operator for the Ravens/Steelers game on Thanksgiving Day.  These are great opportunities, necessary to move up to other technical roles.  I've got my "in" now.


Oh, my friend, how wrong you can be on this.  I've learned this time and time again, and it is one of the great myths out there that no one is telling those high school students who dream of working on television shows.  Here's the real reality:  THE MORE GLAMOROUS THE JOB, THE LOWER THE PAY YOU WILL BE OFFERED.  I should also add "and the longer hours you will be asked to work for this crap pay".

This is not an isolated reality.  I have been in the business for almost 20 years, and I have found it to be true, time and time again.  The stations/production companies KNOW that you will take whatever they are offering, just to be able to say you worked on __________.  And if you say "no", they have a line of people willing to say "yes", so they don't give a damn about your principles.  Realize this.  Accept it, or don't pursue the work.  I've chosen to not pursue the work, as I have more self-love than that, and my standard of living requires me to make more money than what they offer most of the time.  Yes, I'll take these NFL gigs and the really cool stuff when it comes my way, because yes, it's pretty cool.  But I also know it's not enough money to live on.  So this really cool job on Thanksgiving Day?  It's paying me the EXACT SAME AMOUNT as I was being paid to get coffee and manage craft services.  And I know I cannot complain.  I will enjoy the experience (I hope), and comfort myself by saying "Well, you usually don't make ANY money on Thanksgiving, so this is good!".

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back to School? Yes and No.

Last week, all the kiddos went back to school.  So did I, but not in the way you might think.  But it did inspire me on two fronts.

Primarily (please pardon the pun), the enthusiasm of all of the kids and staff is such a positive thing to be around.  I work for two area school systems, in their television departments.  I don't teach kids, I don't even have interns.  But I produce programs for the school systems' PEG channels, on an assignment basis.  So obviously, I'm more busy during the school year, then the summers.  When I get that first call, that first assignment of the new school's exciting.  One of the school systems that I work for has a separate building that houses our department, so I'm not in an actual school and there's no kids there.  So September 3 feels a lot like August 3.  But at the other school system, our department is adjacent to the TV production class.  And there's lots of kids.  They're all excited to see their old friends, to make new ones, and they're still excited about all of the stuff they're going to learn in the upcoming year to set them on their way to what they hope could be a successful career.  I identify with them even more this year.  I've picked up four new clients in the last month, all with work starting in September.  I'm excited about where these opportunities will take me.

And on the second front....about what I think you originally thought I meant. (Did you follow that?)  No, I have no intention of going back to school to further my education.  I have no desire to get a graduate degree.  To be frank, I don't understand why anyone in our industry would go after a graduate degree, unless they wanted to teach, and it was needed by their future employer.  Too many times, I've heard peers complain about not being able to find work, and they're assuming that if they get a graduate degree, that the work will follow.  No.  No, it won't.  Employers hire people based on their skills and experience.  They don't hire people based on their degree.  I promise you that.  An undergraduate degree is great.  There are fabulous programs out there that will teach you everything you need to know to get that first job.  That first job will get your your second, because you'll have gotten additional on-the-job training, and work experience.  That counts for SOOO much. Don't de-value it.  Another scenario:  you got an undergraduate degree, but have been having trouble getting a full-time job in the industry, and you're waiting tables instead.  How do you move into the industry from here?  You get the experience and skills you need, any way you can, whenever you can.  You're making money doing SOMETHING, so that's great.  Get some experience at the public access station.  Participate in a 48-hour film project.  Take some pro-bono work for a good cause and experience.  Then SELL this stuff on your resume.  Don't even mention the waiting tables thing on your resume.  Your resume needs to reflect the kind of work you WANT to do, not whatever the hell you're doing to pay the bills. 

The only time I go back to school these days is to do TV work, and make money. 

I do want to mention however, that "continuing education" is a whole different thing.  Taking classes to learn new software is fantastic when you can afford it.  If money's limited, visit