Craigslist and Hollywood

The first posting I find today seeks a full time on-line editor with at least three years experience, who is “adept at finishing, color correcting, broadcast specs, etc. Compensation: DOE: depends on experience,” which as non-union Hollywood lingo goes, actually means “we hope to find someone with enough of the necessary skills but no resume so we can pay you shit.”

The next listing: “I have a short script that I will be directing, but I can’t produce it. I’d like to concentrate on the directing end. I believe it can be a good festival piece.
I’d like to work with someone who can raise a small, micro budget, get a cast & crew together, secure locations, and get equipment. This is a NO PAY project at the moment. Only serious inquiries please.”

And there are dozens more listed every hour.

For newcomers, finding that first job is difficult, so it’s not a surprise that many people volunteer to work for free to build relationships and a resume. “Internships,” the interpretation must be loose since there are rarely any educational credits involved, are part of the entrance exam to start work in Hollywood. Services like Craigslist make finding that first job easy. A person can connect with others in the film industry and get onto a low-budget shoot quickly.

Unlike pay and subscription job search services, like, very few of Craigslist’s legitimate jobs offer pay, or when they do they are laughable for the quality of work that is expected. This has created a type of black market labor pool at the bottom end of the industry that allows young people to become exploited on cheap projects produced by aspiring filmmakers and directors and boiler room production companies hunting online for the cheap/free/slave to get their projects shot on limited and/or no budgets. The fresh meat in Hollywood is lured into these sub-par employment “opportunities” with rouses like “this job isn’t paid, but the next one is,” and “no pay, but copy credit and meals provided” and “deferred pay after the film’s picked up for distribution.”

Looking for a FUnky FResh, Fearless, YOung PA, that wants to get their foot in the door and will blow our socks off!!!
Santa Monica based production company looking to hire a PA for their office.
We do everything from Music Videos to Features. We are not a corporate co.
We are down to earth, artsy, and liberal. We are not a shirt and tie company.
Before you just hit reply please read what we are expecting:
Awesome Mac Skills : Final Cut Pro, Photo Shop, etc…
Must have reliable transportation for daily runs and be able to find your way around LA.
Must be Reliable, Honest, Trustworthy and most of all a GO GETTER!!!!
You will be working hand in hand with the Producer/Director.
You must be a SELF STARTER!!!!
Compensation: $375 week – with a bump on every new production…”

That doesn’t mention that $375 for probably 6 days a week is $62 a day, and based on how many hours PAs likely work, 12-14 hours per day, that comes to about $4.80 per hour, not even minimum wage. That will barely pay gas let alone rent.
Since so many people continue to move to LA and want work in the film industry, makeshift production companies are never pressured to pay these low-level employees. Positions like Production Assistant and Runner can be filled with “go-getters” looking for much needed experience in making coffee and making copies. It’s become such a widespread condition that even higher positions in the industry, jobs like Production Designer, Art Director, Editor, and Script Supervisor, positions that require years of training and special skills, are sought for no pay on craigslist as a “resume builder.”

The most heralded feature of Craigslist will always be its status as a non-subscription service, much to the credit of owner Craig Newmark who began the website in 1995 as a place to post his resume and the goings-on in the San Francisco Bay area. The site evolved into what it is today, a free post where anyone can find anything; work, an apartment, a washer and dryer, petrified wood, a washer and dryer made out of petrified wood, etc. Newmark never sold the rights to Craigslist despite promising offers from big business, which would have turned it into a pay service. The decision to retain its flea-market approach earned praise for Newmark and generated more hits on the site,
which manages at times over 75 per second.

“Highly skilled camera man wanted with high end camera to tape maxim and playboy models for new company; motion picture. Girls will be in bikini’s, and some will be topless or nude.
A dream job. Deferred pay after product is sold.
send name, direct tel number, and hyper link to reel of your work to email above
type “playboy cameraman” in subject line
thank you”

When I search for industry jobs, I check two sections of the Los Angeles area craigslist: TV/FILM/VIDEO and CREW, and I check first thing in the morning to catch any early postings offering pay. CREW offers positions for gaffers and grips and PAs, script supervisors and craft service jobs, and anything really behind the camera. TV/FILM/VIDEO, as chaste as it may sound, is usually swamped with notices seeking “hot” models, “hot” girls to be background for music videos, or “hot” girls for internships, with the occasional call for “hot” Latino swing or hip hop dancers. Being none of the above in reality, I stick to the CREW page:

“Short Film needs Gaffer and Electrics. Experience a plus. This is an UNPAID job, meals and credit provided.
Synopsis: True story of a Cambodian rock singer’s struggle under Communist tyranny during the 1970s.
Dates: June 17, 24, 25
Locations: L.A. Area
Compensation: Unpaid, meals provided, name credit.
Please provide a brief summary of experience. Thanks!
Compensation: Unpaid but meals provided on set, name credit. “

For those not familiar with LA or the film industry, some misunderstandings regarding the inner-workings of our local economy may occur, as it must have in that last post where the employer clearly mistook “name credit” for something more beneficial, like money, which can be used to purchase milk, frozen dinners, and other edibles. We in the film industry do not in fact give the cashier at the check stand our “name” and film “credit” in exchange for goods. This has certainly become a widespread misconception among Craigslist posters in light of the number of offers with compensation in the form of name credit.

“I need an assistant editor for a BLANK short film immediately.
Must know Final Cut Pro and Cinema Tools intimately. Must have experience working with film.
Hours: Evenings and weekends, as needed.
Project: This is a 35mm short featuring exceptional talent and excellent production value. It is heavy in visual effects, and a fairly complicated project. You will be assisting a 3 time Emmy winner, and will be involved in a top-rate production.
Email me your credits and experience.
Cheers, Andy”

The obvious solution would be to ignore these dismal listings altogether, or maybe cough up $30 and use media-match. But with so many experienced people in Los Angeles in need of employment, it’s painful to check in a site like Craigslist and see job after job fall away for no pay. Sometimes more experienced crew respond to the seriously inept offers. Responses range from “You really should give more respect to the people you’re looking to hire. These are difficult jobs that require years of training and you shouldn’t expect any sane or talented person to work for what you’re asking” to the more abrupt “you’re a f*cking retard. get a life, then scrape some money together and pay us to work on your piece of sh*t short. go f*ck yourself.”
The dialogue is passionate.

Legally there’s nothing improper about asking someone to help work on a project for no pay, at least nothing I could find (although asking a person to work for anything between nothing and minimum wage is illegal). I put the situation in perspective by substituting asking for free labor on a film with asking someone who wants to learn to be a gardener to come over and pull weeds at my house. It just seems criminal and improper. Although it’s not illegal if someone’s stupid enough to do it.

A less plausible solution would be to separate the listings online from paid and unpaid offers so people know what to expect, but isolating paid from unpaid would still not curb the outrageous curve of the supply and demand for work in the film industry. Until those willing to work for free realize they are not benefiting from unpaid labor, all of us will suffer. In an unscrupulous industry where many will do whatever they can to get ahead, often at the expense of moral indignities, I have a feeling something as innocuous as working for free isn’t going to turn many heads.

So my only hope is to get in the union.

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