Ande Schurr explains why it's important to stay competitive in today's changing film industry environment and become indispensable to your clients.
"Quite simply, we have to be more competitive than ever before. We have an opportunity like never before to become excellent in order to survive."
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Some fine technicians and production houses are suffering because there are no big film jobs shooting in NZ at the moment. Being adaptable, they move overseas or more likely on to other work outside the industry until the government changes its ways; seeing how its lack of competitiveness with other countries has cost this industry dearly.
A lot has been said already on this subject, it's now time for action, on oneself. The wheels of politics are too slow, relying on large factors that we can't control in a hurry. We can control however, our own attitudes towards work and our personal character. It may be as hard if not harder than changing political forces but at least the factors are in our control.
My interest is in being very competitive in our industry. I don't mean that in a narcissistic or conceited way. I hold the other sound recordists with great respect and count many of them as my friends. It's a desire to follow something that Henry Ford, the father of mass production, once said, in that olden day sexist language sorry:
“The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.” Henry Ford
Please hold this thought.
Here is the reality. Each year $120 million of contestable funding is available for television broadcasting between NZ On Air ($80 million) and the Maori funding body Te Mangai Paho ($40 million). Enough for all of us? It doesn’t look as impressive when you realise that this is the size of one small to medium sized Hollywood film! While a decent number of people make a living from this funding, it’s not enough to sustain everyone if all those from 'film-city' come to 'TV-land' and they will and they should come. Thankfully we still have a reasonable diet of TVC's or web-based commercials and a healthy corporate video sector to keep many others employed.
When we take away the negative sting from what it means to be a competitor and competitive, we can embrace the current situation of an over-populated industry, struggling to survive in some quarters, and use it to our advantage.
Quite simply, we have to be more competitive than ever before. We have an opportunity like never before to become excellent in order to survive.
We all want lots of work, but there is all the difference in the world between those who want work and those who are willing to put in extra effort to find it.
In some cultures they say, "during tough times, build a house". Why? Because it takes your mind off your current situation with a very high level project that demands everything of you. If you have a hefty mortgage, you might know what I am saying. It is so inconceivable - the thought of you failing to make your fortnightly payments - that you will work with the astuteness and determination of ten people just to keep you and your family out of harm's way.
This is the crux of this article. We need to look to wherever the business is and not become fixated with only doing a very specific kind of work, such as only on feature films. The TV industry is a good place to expand into for example. Then, having found where the business is, give so much back to the people you work for, that you carve a solid reputation. I'm not saying be cheap! No, keep your rate, or at least adjust it a little to suit the job, but your value comes in the extra things you offer.
The person who does just what is required - not a minute over the ten hour day, not preparing adequately, not maintaining fitness for when a physically demanding job comes - will come second to the person who is willing to not only do their role with great professionalism, but also add value in every conceivable way.
Why do these extra things? Because I am scared of becoming a mindless technician who holds a boom pole and doesn't have to use his brain. I want to become indispensable to the directors I work with. I watch those DoPs who go from job to job, at the request of their directors, who regard them as the secret ingredient to the smooth technical running of their production. That inspires me. It’s the greatest feeling to be trusted by a director and appreciated for the effort you put in.
To revisit Henry Ford's quote, he’s saying that we have to use our skill and constructive imagination, obviously quite different from a ‘pie in the sky’ type imagination, in finding ways to give more to the productions we work on.
We have to think; what else could we do to raise the quality of the sound, the images, the editing, the production, the acting, the work flow, the experience as a whole for the client? I hasten to add however that we must do our job well before we can dare think of other ways to increase value for those who hired us.
Let me restate where I stand in this exciting age of more people vying for less jobs:
Bring on the competition. Let's find new ways to deliver our business and take on more responsibilities; new ways to use our imagination to whip up solutions to problems that have always been lurking in the background but no one wants to tackle. The higher we take our abilities, the more our industry benefits.
Here are three things we can do immediately, to put Ford's advice into practice:
1. Increase pressure on yourself to succeed
Build a house, buy a house or commit to a WISE financial investment that puts you in the hot seat to keep on delivering year in, year out, until it's paid off. Nothing is more motivating to find work and refine your work ethic than the tireless demands of paying the mortgage and desiring to maintain a high quality of life for your family.
2. Solve a problem that has never quite been sorted
Consider all the known problem areas in your particular profession be it technical, production, directing or in front of the camera and resolve to solve one or two of them. They may be very small too. Problems that everyone talks about but nothing gets done to solve them. Anything from inventing a new work flow system, to a new sound or camera device or even wider issues like finding a way to earn a decent living for yourself and others as an actor or voice artist year after year or even finding a new way to memorise a script.
3. Share your knowledge without fear
I dare you to be a guest at a film school and see for yourself who will give you a run for your money and poach your business within a few years of graduating, unless you become truly exceptional in what you offer. This thought scares me and motivates me to improve.
I just gave the end of year lecture to the students at South Seas film school on freelancing and business strategies and I encouraged them to go out there with humility yet confidence. At least five years, maybe 10 must go by before real autonomy in our industry is possible, but that time will come and it will be our business that they will take.
I say don't hold back anything. Let them come and try. Give them the same good advice and opportunities that people gave you when you first started in the industry. Their drive to succeed will help you get off your laurels, your comfy skill position and encourage you to improve even more.
If you aren't already, start now to give as much as you can for the dollars you earn, then you have nothing to fear. No one can catch up with a person who is continually improving their character and increasing their capacity. What wins in the end is not skill alone. It is consideration for others, care and concern for the details of the job, and a desire to increase value for those whom hire you. Let's be that kind of person for our clients.