The Race to the Bottom: A Pandemic Story
By Robert La Rosa, Production Sound Mixer / Producer
As productions start to slowly get back on track in this new normal, there has been an uptick on downsizing, and the trend is only getting worse even as the numbers of new COVID cases in certain states were for a time improving.
All over the web, ads for "one person band" (or OPB) owner operators with lights, camera, and sound are wanted for a fraction of the cost of what it would be to hire a cam op, sound mixer, and gaffer respectively. The pandemic has created this environment where we now have an abundance of remote shoots where no one is present on set leading to low production values and a lack of work for many people trying to safely get back to their respected field during this pandemic.
Safety needs to be paramount and we all have to take this pandemic extremely seriously. As numbers in certain states remain high, options like this might be the only real choice, but there comes a point when a line is drawn and this safety measure becomes a massive budget saver for the sake of it rather than a health risk.
It's distressing when a job that used to have 5 - 7 crew members is now just a lone person with a remote producer (or in some cases just a pre-built camera that the talent hits record on). Budgets that could easily pay for all these people are being snatched up by those desperate to work that they'll take the first thing that comes their way. This unfortunately is not only hard on the industry, it's a surefire way to burnout quickly in this field.
The “race to the bottom,” is not a new concept, but COVID has in some cases brought out a desperation in people that are thankful to work even if it's a third of what they used to make. This can become a problem when this pandemic is behind us and we have a strange new normal where jobs that were plentiful are now scarce.
End of the day, everyone wants to get back to work and part of the way we build one another up is to ask for more crew since it can safely be done with proper care and testing. Union sets have been getting back to work with an even greater level of crew at times to keep the departments safe and there is a lot we can take from their approach (rapid testing on site, sanitation stations, zones for various departments, individually boxed meals per crew member, etc), that can be copied on smaller sets so that way we can have a gaffer, HMU, and sound mixer in their own space rather than getting one person doing a rushed job in all of these areas. Film is a medium that I love being in and there are many good people that want to continue bringing stories to life so let's raise one another up and remove this OPB mentality. There is a market for those people in the local sports / weddings / family party scene but not in the general film, commercial, corporate and digital world. Stand up for your crew and they will stand up for you too.
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Robert is a producer and production sound mixer based in Brooklyn who works all over the TriState area. He also is a co-owner of the NY production company, The Majors Productions.