Before I found wedding photography, I’d gone to film school for two years. Even now, my diploma for Motion Picture Production hangs in my office, quietly mocking me when I could’ve used my tuition money far more effectively. Sure, some bragging rights came out of it – I directed my first short at 17 and have a meagre IMDb page which is kinda cool – but for the most part, I’m done with the film industry, even though I could’ve gotten rich off it. This is the story of why I left a $100,000/year job.
I’m theoretically qualified to be an on-set electrician. As far back as 2006, I was already lamping indies and rubbing elbows with the likes of Chloë Sevigny. I eventually landed permittee status with IATSE 891, got put on even bigger productions, and now I can’t even remember them all. I know I worked on “Fringe” and “The 100”, but the rest is a blur. I didn’t actually like my job. Before we get into why though, here’s a look at the pay. Film electricians currently make $29.73/hour. We get paid that for the first 8 hours a day, then it’s time-and-a-half for the next 4 hours. A typical electrician day is 12 hours. Per day, we can expect to make $416.22. Do five days a week and that’s $2,081.10. Get on a show call, do four weeks, and that’s $8,324.40/month. Do that for a year, and you’re just under $100,000! For the right person, this is a goddamn dream! You’re probably asking WHY THE FUCK AREN’T YOU DOING THIS. Well, it’s because I seriously can’t be bothered. Here’s why.
1) Though I’m theoretically qualified, I suck at this job. I’m not great at lifting heavy things, mentally keeping track of hundreds of feet of cabling isn’t a strong point of mine, and 12-hour days are VERY draining for me. By the end of even one day, I’m mental mush. Five days in a row, and I shouldn’t even be driving home from set. 2) 60 hours a week FOR A FRICKIN’ YEAR?!? Pass. I live on 20 hours a week now. Those 20 hours support my lifestyle well, and I’m living HEAL with no problems. 3) Most of the job is manual labour. I’d be working under the gaffer, who in turn takes his direction from the DP. Though “lighting a film set” sounds cool, I’m really just plugging in lights where they tell me to, then I sit around in silence while they film. When they ask me to unplug the light, I unplug the light and haul it back to the truck. Continue forever. Like, FOREVER. On-set lighting is NOT creative work. 4) “Mental illness is rife” in the entertainment industry. 5) We’re literally talking about a line of work where someone can die ON SET and production will just resume normally two days later. Or how about the time someone else was killed and “no one from the show” even attended the funeral? THIS IS JUST IN BC. This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME.
There are more reasons, but I think I’ve said enough. $416.22 isn’t enough for 12 hours of backbreaking labour and dangerous working conditions when I already bill $400/hour for wedding photography. It’s just not worth it. Realistically, I’m aware I could do this “just for a little bit”, but I don’t even want to dip my toe in the water. I’ve been in film work since 2005, and I’ve seen enough to know I won’t take film as a serious moneymaker ever again. Even $100,000/year isn’t worth the stress, the punishing hours, the lack of creativity, the boredom, and so on, and so on. It just sucks. And I’ll take “poorer but happier” any day. Allow me to leave you with a story.
Since I used to work in film, I can spot film people a mile away. This time, the giveaway was the “2AD” hastily scrawled on his walkie. I knew he was a show’s 2nd Assistant Director. He brought his bottles to the counter, and I started ringing him through. It was 2012 or 2013, and I was just a cashier that night. Even then, I knew film work wasn’t for me anymore.
“Hey, I used to be film industry too!” I said. “What show are you on?”
“Ah, I can’t exactly tell you that,” he said.
“Oh, sorry. I understand. NDAs and all.” I bagged his bottles, and handed it to him.
I smiled. “You’re welcome. Hey, I got out of film work a few years ago because it was kinda stressing me out. How’re you finding it?”
He looked over his shoulder, then looked back at me sadly. “Uhh, just between you and me…” he said, “It’s kinda killing my marriage.”
He grabbed his bag and left.
That day, I resolved to never let financial success get in the way of My Life. Even now, I understand success comes at a cost.
How high a price are YOU willing to pay?