When the Going Gets Tough...

These days, the government isn't too fond of admitting that the economic picture is less than rosy.

(click thumbnail)But the simple fact is that since the infamous events of September 2001, business -- all business -- has been bad. Not "so-so," not "could be better," just downright bad. And thanks to trickle-down economics, our industries have been affected, too; commercial production is way down, broadcasters are laying people off, and that perpetual bastion of stability -- corporate video -- has nearly been bean-counted into oblivion.

All of this takes a high toll on the people who earn their living doing the things we all do. For the half or so who hold "real" full-time, permanent jobs, permanence is now understood to be a fleeting thing. And as for free-lancers and contract employees... well, forget it. There's no existence more miserable than waiting for the sound of a phone that will never ring.


In case you missed it, there's been a less -- than -- gradual paradigm shift (don't you love that phrase?) away from big post-production houses and over to "editing boutiques." That's a cute name for a guy in his underwear sitting in the basement using Final Cut Pro. The result is that the big post houses are almost completely gone now, and all the veteran staffers are on the street, so to speak. But where do you look for work when you've been an editor for 20 years?

One free-lancer I know always answers the phone on the first ring, never a sign of prosperity. What's even more depressing is that every single time I call, he's nearly drowned out by the sound of his washing machine

-he's busying himself with the laundry, washing the kids' clothes and folding the towels. Luckily, his wife's job has kept them afloat, but even that isn't a sure thing.

So what do you do when the going gets tough? You get creative. Look for other ways to put bread on the table. And it doesn't necessarily mean weddings and bar mitzvahs, although from what I hear, that's pretty good money.

Our friend Dennis Degan is a talented Avid Symphony editor who worked at one of the biggest now-departed New York post houses, cutting a popular afternoon talk show. Today, Dennis free-lances on the big systems when he can, but in between times, he's hung out his shingle as a desktop video specialist (www.desktopdigitalvideo.com), willing to design, build and maintain your system, or to train your fledgling editors. Would he like to be in a well-paid staff position? Sure. But work is work, and his decades as an engineer and editor make him a gem of a resource for desktop startups.


My favorite example of this homespun American entrepreneurialism is our old friend Rob O'Gorman in Chicago. He's a great shooter, one who's been a trusted resource for the big Midwestern industrial clients like McDonalds and Whirlpool. He's a good friend to little out-of-town producers like me, and yet completely at ease with big assignments for Oprah's Harpo Studios.

But when work grew thin in recent times, and Rob's endless energy didn't seem to be bridging the gap, he was forced to put his thinking cap on. To make a long story short, Rob designed an ingenious, must-have accessory for shooters like himself: Lenzcap, a baseball cap that serves double-duty as a lens cap. It's a wonderfully clever thing, well-thought-out and executed, and includes a drawstring to cinch around the lens, a belt clip, a neck cape to combat those painful sunburns, and even a pocket for a lens cloth.

In addition to selling Lenzcaps on his own Web site, www.lenzcap.com, Rob's started to take a few hints from the sales training videos he's shot for years, and is out pounding the pavement, wheeling and dealing. So far, he's convinced industry stalwarts like Barbizon Electric and Mole Richardson's Studio Depot to stock the Lenzcap, and Web outlet ENGGadgets.com was an early and enthusiastic supporter. If all goes well, part of Rob's income will soon come from an idea that was conceived-well, off the top of his head.


Resilient, resourceful individuals like Dennis and Rob seem to come out of these trying times in better shape than their more lackadaisical counterparts, to be sure. Nietzsche's often-quoted line, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger," seems like it was written with the out-of-work production tech in mind.

I don't want to jinx anything, but as the summer of 2003 begins in earnest, we seem to be getting the faintest whiff of an upturn. I tried to assemble a crew yesterday and found so many folks already booked that I'm down to third choices in some cases, and my laundry-folding cameraman friend has had job offers for every day of his planned vacation week. Are better times coming? For all our sakes, let's hope so.

Walter Schoenknecht can be reached via e-mail at walter@mmgi.tv