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Film Industry Work Challanges

I’ve just recently finished working on another film at the Warner Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast. This time it’s the third in the series of Narnia movies and again I had the pleasure to work with some of the people that I’ve worked with before on previous films such as Fools Gold, Star Wars Ep3 and Stealth.

Initially there were many false starts as they were getting underway on the preproduction with the continual “you’ll start in about 2 weeks” statements that went on for three months. The whole time I was hoping that I may have had the chance to earn some income prior to my eventual trip away.  Before I managed to get a start I went off to Buenos Aires for nearly four weeks, so all up the work that I could be involved in had been happening for four months before I managed to get a start. It is no ones particular fault that it started like this, it just happens to be the nature of the work that there are no promises and it’s always somewhat up in the air. These type of events create an attitude within those who work in the film industry and that’s what I want to bring up in this post.

Again I was working in props manufacture where we build all the items if they are not able to be purchased that are used either for the actors to interact with or to dress the sets.

Workshop Overview

Workshop Overview

You would be amazed at the different things that have to be made. In the case of this film items from swords to light fittings, decorative panels to dioramas all have to be manufactured to the needs of the set requirements and the action of the film, all to the whim of the art directors.

It’s work I’ve realised that I enjoy and I’m very good at, mind you after 30 years of this and similar work you can’t help build up a large resource of skills that means that not too much fazes me when it comes to manufacturing. It’s simply what I’ve been trained to do and experience.

After Fools Gold I dreamt up a new idea, so for the last two years I’ve been concentrating on developing my podcast Your Story. After spending time using up $40k in having the lifestyle to learn how to podcast and develop an online presence and only working part time, the money that I had set aside to move into a new lifestyle was finally used up. That necessitated me having to get some income after returning from Buenos Aires, a date with destiny that I knew awaited me on my return.

Fortunately on my return I managed to get the chance to work as part of the team on this film. It was a huge relief to have some income and I could relax, at least for the moment. Unfortunately I quickly discovered that things had changed within me and there were new hidden dangers with the industry that I hadn’t been aware of previously.

Film work is wonderful in so many ways which is part of the very problem with it, it is at least in the areas that I tend to work. The people have the highest standards of technical skill available, they tend to be a relatively brighter, more intelligent form of technician who can think obliquely and creatively. The productions always have huge resources towards the materials required and always the very best available including new technologies in materials as they become available. All this adds up to opportunities working within a team, to being briefed on a project then developing a method of manufacture utilising differing techniques and materials to those usually available to eventually see it installed within a greater environment on the set and eventually on screen within the film. All highly rewarding and satisfying.

However the nature of the film beast is that there are constraints within the culture that have developed that cause some huge problems. Films here in Australia generally are worked on a standard 50 hour work week for the technicians with standard 60 hour week for on set crew. Include travel time, the intense and the often away form home nature of the work and there is a tendency to become what I’ve realised is institutionalised. When a film is on, it’s Full On! I don’t think this is unique and I’m sure there are similar institutionalising natures of other occupations that cause very similar problems. Maybe this is more a condition of the Western work mindset.

When I relocated to Sydney to work on Matrix 2&3 back in 2001 I had no social life being in a new city so the film and the crew I worked with were my whole life and the work was such that I enjoyed every minute of the 13 months that I was there, such that it was the best work experence of my life. This latest experience although a lot of fun made me realise the true nature of the industry.

This time around, the film is based in my life and the social environment. Also in the last two years that I’ve been out of the industry I’ve developed two separate social lives and I’ve developed interests away from work. These things have come about because I’ve had the time to nurture the relationships because I’ve had the time away from the industry.

Immediately on returning to the film work I realised that I was struggling to maintain contact with my online friends even though I’m online with my iPhone. The opportunities to continue to go dancing disappeared as the hours I work conflicted with the classes. There was no longer time to go to the gym or spend time on personal improvement let alone work on the podcast and the weekends were simply a case of get some groceries for the week do the washing and get some rest before being thrust into it again for another intense week of work, travel and sleep.

Patterns for Lamp Brackets

Pattern for Lamp Bracket

Now this is fine when I had no life outside of work but as I mentioned as I now do have a life outside of work I found that I was starting to damage it due to the overwhelming nature of the work. This is the trap of this style of work. If I stay in it long term it would swallow my entire life again. Others in the industry say similar things.

Each film is a separate production and work is only until the production is completed which means that there is always an end date. Sometimes weeks, sometimes many months but there is always an end looming. Along with the irregular productions and no promises for future work there is a tendency to make hay while the sun shines, go as hard as possible because there is no surety that there will be any income soon. This adds to the burn rate of the work load and the compromise of the rest of the lifestyle. There is an underlying attitude of “I’ll get back to *** when this film is over”

Before long what seems to happen from my observations, if not diligent, is that those who have been in the industry long term have less outside socialising, failed relationships due to absence, relationships within the industry, constant concern for the completion of a production and what’s next and relief when finally started on a new production, which to my way of seeing it, seems like we have a tendency to be institutionalised within the film industry.

In the last two years I’ve managed to become unplugged but as I don’t have a strategy for income away form the film industry when I plugged back in for those four weeks I had a huge sigh of relief as in some ways I felt like I was home it was all so familiar. As the weeks went on I realised that as wonderful and satisfying as the work and income were all the other aspects of my life that I had nurtured in the last two years were just starting to slip away. Woops, there is a danger here.

Fortunately as would have it just as I started to realise this, I was finished up. It’s not even a week and already I have both of my social fields active again, I have my exercise and fitness routine back and the podcast is back into production. Some of this is due to the income that the film gave me (gym membership) and some of it is just having the time. While I was developing the podcast I was on permanent part time of two to three days a week which worked well. Now that the skills are developed there is less of a need for that much time just for the podcast as it stands.

So now I have the other than work stuff on track again but now I don’t have the income side happening. This seems to be the challenge for me. I’ve created a great life for myself that feels like I’m on the right path but I can’t continue it without some form of income. I’m working on building the popularity and quality of Your Story while continuing to develop my online presence but in the meantime I need to have some form of income.

So from time to time I may still have to drop into film work to get a cash injection but frankly it’s all about balance and unfortunately the way it seems the film industry doesn’t have any way of giving me that balance.

To be continued…

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • David. Dale Tuesday, 8 June, 2010, 2:28 pm

    giday ian. happy birthday. finally got around to reading some of you cerebral rantings. i love it! i think i’m hooked. great read, and much to agree with. will log in again soon.

  • Ian Tuesday, 8 June, 2010, 3:32 pm

    Thanks Dave. Nice to hear from you. Interesting that you commented on this post. It’s the one that is relevant to us isn’t? Hope all is good in your world 🙂

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