Salary and OT Questions

Someone emailed me some questions. Below I blather on for a thousand words trying to answer. If you disagree, or think I’m rattling off a lot of dumb shit, please let me know.

I know you did a post on negotiating salary but I had trouble finding relevant info for film specific questions. Questions like do you quote hourly rate or yearly salary?

Before you head into a negotiation, you should have a clear idea of what you want to earn per year, before taxes. I find that’s a pretty standard unit of measurement for someone’s pay. You should divide this number by 52 and then again by 40 so you know how much that would be if they paid you weekly and hourly. That way if the person hiring you suggests a number by week, you’re not frantically doing math in your head trying to figure out if you’re getting screwed or not.

Things can be tricky. One time I started at a studio in town and thought I was getting a nice raise, but then realized it was calculated on a 48 hour work week. It really wasn’t a raise at all, just me working more hours.

Broaching the OT question?

I think it’s in your own best interest to find out a studio’s policy on overtime right when you’re hired. We shouldn’t be afraid to straight up ask the interviewer what a studio’s overtime policy is. We all know that overtime will happen, but good studios will have reasonable policies in place, it should be a warning sign if they don’t.

Without a union to protect worker’s rights, it’s up to the individual artist to look out for themselves. We can look up what the law states, I’ve written about it earlier here. Keep in mind that just because that’s how the law is written, it doesn’t mean that every studio follows the law. We’ve all either experienced, or know someone who’s experienced brutal overtime on certain projects.

There is no easy solution to this. With work being sporadic, there’s pressure on artists to just go along with whatever the studio wants to be a team player. My advice to artists is that if you’re at a studio that doesn’t follow the law is to look for a better studio that treats their artists as how the law is written.

There are sites like The VFX Watchers that allow anonymous reviews of studios, but I think sites like that tend to attract a disproportionate amount of negative reviews. If you had a good run at a studio, you’re not as likely to write up a review than if you had a horrible time. I would take note if a studio received a lot of negative reviews, but I would follow up with asking friends of mine what they had experienced or heard about the studio.

Not sure if I actually answered that question or not. Let me know if I’m as incoherent as I think I’m being…

Protecting yourself from OT in terms of too much work given to you when your not approved for OT. i.e. you’re expected to do it but not bill for it.

What would often happen to me is that at 5 or 6 pm I would get notes on a shot and it was known that the shot was due the next day. No one told me that I was approved for overtime, it was an unspoken command that I would have to stay late and finish the shot.

I can tell you a (true) story of two compositors. One senior compositor had a new baby, and it was made clear that they would be leaving at 5pm on the dot, every day. This compositor had a pretty strong personality, and carried themselves with a ton of confidence. Production managers knew not to give this comper any shots late in the day because they wouldn’t be around to finish them. It just became part of the culture of the studio that this comper could be gone at 5pm, no questions asked.

At the same studio, another compositor would always stay late working on shots, often staying well into the night. Guess who the PMs would give the emergency last minute work to? It became a vicious cycle, with the ‘team player’ getting more and more work, pressure and responsibility.

I think there’s some truth to the saying that you get treated the way you let yourself be treated (to a point). I wish there was some sort of governing body that we could lodge complaints to, but that just doesn’t exist for us right now. Other than ‘if you don’t like it, leave’, I’m not sure there’s a good solution.

Links to finding comparable job rates?

There was a site called VFX Wages where you could put in your wage, and then information about comparable wages of other artists at other studios. Unfortunately this site closed down two years ago.

However, there’s another site called VFX Wages.org that is carrying on the same idea. Not sure how often it’s kept up to date, the copyright of 2013 isn’t too encouraging. Maybe this is something I should look at for this site? Let me know if you think this is a good idea.

Short of unionization, one of the best things artists can do is share with their peers how much money they earn. Talking about how much money you earn is a taboo subject in our culture, so you can only really do this with someone you trust. Something to think about is who does keeping this information secret protect? Who benefits from keeping this info private?

The Atlantic had a very interesting article about this.

As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback.