Monday, 14 September 2015

How Making Comics Can be Like Working in Film

I had mentioned doing a post along these lines briefly on Twitter last week, so here it is -

Working in film as a freelance sound mixer means that I have encountered jobs of a variety of budgets, levels of professionalism, genre, style, format, technique, etc etc. It also means that sometimes I encounter those words dreaded by both film technicians and comic book creators alike - jobs that are "good for exposure"

I see a lot of artists and creators who quite rightly rally against this as an idea, and I am incredibly pro people getting paid for the work that they have done. I am, after all, a member of a union.

I have, however, realized that there have been several occasions where I have taken jobs where the pay wasn't great, or even non-existant, for a number of reasons, and it got me thinking about the similarities, the differences, and why "for exposure" can often be the wrong way of thinking of these things.

One thing I would point out now is that, as a technician working in a union environment, a lot of the negotiation work has been done for me - I have benefits and wage levels set out by the union, which helps when making some decisions.

It wasn't always the case, though. In the UK, where I started, and in the world of non-union movie making, there was a lot of job to job negotiations that went on.

When I was first starting to make the move up the ranks in sound, trying to get more work and experience as a mixer, there were a few options open to me. I could do work for experience (sometimes referred to as 'copy and credit' work - that is, you don't get paid, but you do get a credit on the project, and sometimes even a copy), I could do lower budget work, or I could cold call and sit and hope and pray and wait and sit and hope and... you get the idea.

A lot of work in these areas is short (sometimes shot over weekends, or just a couple of days, or a handful of weeks at most), and they do give a great arena in which to learn ones trade.

But even short projects in film take up a lot of time. 12 hour days are pretty much the norm. Often it is a lot more.

I used to have three rules for taking on such work - especially the short movies - and they served me pretty well;

A) Was the movie being shot on film? The thinking behind this was that film was expensive, and so it lent itself a level of discipline and professionalism that many films shot digitally lacked.
B) Was the equipment being paid for? Sound equipment is not cheap. And it gets worn out when being used. Makes sense that these costs should be covered at least somewhat.
C) Did I know anyone producing/directing/working on it? It just helps to have a friendly face sometimes!

If one of the three were covered, I'd think about it. Two of the three, I'd do it if available. All three, and I'd be more than happy to do it.

With lower budget movies I would make decisions job to job, but there was of course a time when I would say yes to most things because I really needed to build my credits. However, as time went on, I was in a better position to say yes to those projects that I found interesting, or thought I would learn something from doing.

Some jobs are great for the experience, terrible for the bank balance.

I still did the job though.

Here's another rule I've always had - if you agree to do a job, have made it through the negotiations for the rates, the perimeters, the rules of the engagement, then you've agreed to do the job. No complaining about the rates, no moaning about the pay.

Here's where I think a different approach to comics would work, along the lines of film work, and were some fluidity in approach could help -

Film rates are determined by the budgets of the projects. In the union world I work in they are set within tiers, project budgets determine the rates one will be getting from job to job.

Non-union or even what are called 'tier zero' are negotiated at the point of the job, and can vary wildly.

I think some people would do well to approach comic work in the same way. Consider working on the big two company books as high end, full rate, or scale, productions. Do the work for the pay (and chances are you will get higher readership - in the same way that if I work on a big budget movie, more people will more than likely see it) and also be expected to have more asked of you.

Working on a professional publishers project for hire that is not one of the big two? Treat it like a medium budget or lower tiered movie. You won't get as much pay, you won't get as much exposure, but you'll still learn something about your craft. If it works for you, do it.

Working on an indie or self published project? Treat it like a non-union project. Negotiate a rate that works for you (even if it is free). Set the perimeters (length of time you are willing to set aside for the project). Establish the rules. Maybe even come up with a three rule system (will it be printed or digitally released? Will it cover expenses and material costs? Do I know the person I'll be working with?)

The great thing about this is that if you establish rules, you leave yourself able to walk from a project that doesn't feel right when the rules are transgressed. And, if all goes well, you still learn something about your craft.

And that's the thing here - and where I think calling it exposure isn't great - each project teaches us something new, and that is invaluable.

1 comment:

Javier Hernandez said...


I was looking forward to this when you mentioned it on Twitter a few weeks ago.

Your point about 'credit/experience' versus the much dreaded and despised 'exposure' makes sense to me. I've taken jobs that have added to my professional experience, and have given me great portfolio pieces. And I certainly have no problem turning down low or non-paying jobs. I decide when I want to 'give it away', if folks want to call it that.

Sometimes I quote someone a price and they don't call me back! Or say they can't meet it...And then I decide if I want to adjust for them, or wish them luck and be on my way. No problems there. It's always my decision.

What I don't do is listen to the voices out there saying 'Don't do that, you cheapen all of us!". Well, the 'us' don't really do anything to build up my professional standing or fortune, so I live my own life and career. I can look at well paid creatives on high-profile gigs and think the same thing about cheapening the 'rest of us'. (Projects or companies I myself wouldn't want to be involved with, and wonder to myself why other people do. But I have no problem with folks making their own career choices. We all need to earn our living). So it's all relative.

You've built your own standing in your industry, made your own reputation. Good for you. May we all follow our own instincts and find our own way.