I have done one of these before but took it down prematurely because someone I believed to be credible asked me to.

proof

I’m mostly here to answer questions based on covid based on my own opinion and experience. but will happily answer questions related to the job in general as well.

I am not a spokesperson for the industry, my union, or even those I work alongside. And like last time, I will remove this post if it is brought to my attention that it needs to be. In order to limit the chances of that, I will not be answering questions that increase the chances of that happening.

Comments: 79 • Responses: 27  • Date: 

MisterMN16 karma

I’m an electrician in Minneapolis, how do I get in to doing studio electrical work?

Also, are you IBEW?

FirAndFlannel13 karma

I was a manager at chipotle on Hennepin when I switched to this.

While I value real electricians highly in my line of work, it has almost no benefit to actually getting in. The main thing is you have to know someone. Not even in person. You could go on IMDb and dm gaffers and rigging gaffers based in LA and you might find one willing to help you out. You’d basically need to be able to drop what you’re doing and get out here with little notice just at a chance in the industry. You need 30 days of what is best described as apprentice work within 365 days starting the date of your first day. The catch is that as a non-union member, you can only get those days if every one of our members has been offered work. It’s tough. But people get in every year.

Not ibew. IATSE

squeevey6 karma

I'd add to this, get involved in the MN film industry. That's how you start to meet those people. That's how to begin learning the ropes.

MPLS has the scene and it is tight knit, but if you are honest in your intentions they are pretty open. Do good work and be open to help the team.

The people you meet can get you experience and that experience can get you bigger experience. I know enough people who have left the cities for NYC & LA. But they definitely figured out that MSP was just too small.

Start small, earn your stripes, and meet people.

FirAndFlannel5 karma

I’m sure none of this is wrong. I just never got a taste of it.

The sooner you meet people, the sooner you’ll be on your way.

veracassidy3 karma

Whats the hourly rate for union and non union electricians?

countvoncastro4 karma

union is around 43ish.

Once downtown LA, some union electricians working on a building asked my coworkers if it was a cool job, and how much we made.

The electricians laughed, and said never mind, when we said $43 an hour.

Its really not much in LA, and you couldnt survive without the over time.

FirAndFlannel3 karma

I’ve never had an experience like this. We hire outside electricians fairly often when working around power lines and many of them make more than us hourly, but rarely see a check for over 50 hours/week and don’t have benefits like us.

Maybe you and I have different standards of survival, but I know plenty of people who still live here on $15/hr with a roommate. They’d be absolutely thriving on $45.

veracassidy2 karma

Yeah doesnt seem alot but uou seem happy so why not

FirAndFlannel3 karma

$44.70 at 40 hours a week comes out to just about 90 grand a year working every week. I don’t think I’d continue doing this job if that’s what I made.

Last year I made $115k and took roughly two months off over the year.

Without the overtime due to long days, I don’t know many that would stick around.

VictorMortimer1 karma

Are you nuts?

Ok, maybe you'd enjoy it more, or maybe you'd really value having your name in a movie credit that scrolls by so fast that nobody can read it after 99% of people have already left the theater/hit stop.

But you're trading decent pay for that.

If you want to play with stage lights, you've probably got a local community theatre where you can volunteer and do it for fun.

FirAndFlannel2 karma

So just to step in here a little...

There’s absolutely nothing I’ve experienced quite like what I’ve experienced through this job. I’ve gone places you can’t pay to go. I’ve gone places I’m not allowed to talk about. I’ve been invited to play golf with famous people. A good buddy of mine is close friends with guy fieri and they just hang out. And all that drama that makes money outside of the industry? It’s a joke and we get to see and hear about it so early we’ve forgotten about it by the time it comes out.

If none of that appeals to you, I completely understand and that part of this business isn’t for you. But there’s a lot of people, myself included, who would do this job for less money to have the same experience.

Regarding the credits...meh. It’s cool when you land a big movie. And the point isn’t for random people to see your name. It’s so that friends and family can watch the movie and wait for it or pause at home to see it. Sometimes only the boss of each department gets a credit and someone I know will ask “hey, didn’t you do this? I didn’t see your name in the credits.” And that makes me feel good that someone stuck around to see because of me. But it’s absolutely one of the least important parts of the job.

Okay how about pay. He didn’t mention what he makes but let’s assume $60,000 a year. You’re right. That’s decent. 60k goes pretty far in Minneapolis. I know because I made 40 and that went far when I lived there. But I’ll tell you this, the 115k I made last year felt a whole lot better than 40.

I’m not sure if you’re basing your comment on assuming he stays in Minnesota or not, but I’m willing to bet that if anything I said sounds good to him, it’s worth moving if it ever became a reality.

VictorMortimer2 karma

Ok, yes, I can see if you want the travel and probably some seriously crazy experiences, it's worth it to you, and maybe it would be to him.

I've never done film, I've done stage electrics. I worked some part-IATSE crews, never joined the union because other things happened in my life, I do IT work now. I had some great times doing it, but I wouldn't go back.

But at $115k how long have you been doing film work? And how much overtime was involved in that? Looks like an IBEW journeyman in Minneapolis gets $38-$43/hour, so I'm guessing a lot of overtime...

If it's the kind of job you love then it's probably wonderful, because obviously you're going to be doing a lot of it. I know the stage was like that, it consumes your life during a production.

FirAndFlannel3 karma

I’ve been doing it for 3 years this year. In 2017 I paid taxes on 62,000 for 5 months of work the year I got in. 88 year two as I built my network. 115 last year with 6 weeks vacation and a few partial weeks.

I will have to delete this, but overtime is on paper. We don’t have managers watching us location to location. I’ve worked many, many days that we were paid for ten hours but only worked 4. Our crew has a budget for the duration of the production. If we don’t use it, it turns into bonuses for producers and higher ups. I think in 3 years I have worked maybe 5 true 60+ hour weeks.

magomra11 karma

Do you feel safe?

FirAndFlannel23 karma

I think the measures being taken are good but are heavily reliant on them being followed to a T. That worries me but I think that it will be enforced to the point of success. If I am totally honest, I feel a bit like a lab rat and I think the industry will shut down again before it really starts back up fully.

countvoncastro6 karma

You are man.

Im not calling my Gaffer, and we are on the rigging side which is even safer. Still, its just to risky for me, and luckily the gf can float us for several more months.

Good luck stayin safe man. I couldnt do it.

FirAndFlannel9 karma

I’m also rigging right now. I don’t think I’d be comfortable at all shooting right now.

We’re basically single income for two of us so I need as much as we can get right now to get us through the next months. If I didn’t need the money, I definitely wouldn’t be working. But I already had corona so apparently I should be good for a month or two.

CasualSexist9 karma

How's that union money?

Also, assuming studio electricians are normal electricians with special skills, what are your thoughts on running exposed Romex in a storage space?

FirAndFlannel36 karma

The money is fair. I don’t mean that to sound negative, I think we’re paid fairly for what we do. We work really long hours, carry heavy equipment, we’re outside in the sun, rain, snow, cold...whatever because those conditions don’t stop a movie unless it’s really dangerous.

Our rate scale is publicly accessible so I can say that I typically make $45/hr with 10 hour days being standard/contracted and many weeks being 60+. Overtime is where the big checks start though.

I would say that I am less than a regular electrician. I’m not legally allowed to do anything outside of the entertainment industry. I’d be lying if I said I knew anything more about Romex other than what it is. I work with large gauge cable and off-grid power for big lights and getting electricity to a spot that doesn’t have power quickly, as safely as possible, and without being seen by the cameras despite being above ground.

eveningsand5 karma

Let's take the personal financial situation out of the equation for a moment.

Is this (or any entertainment related) profession necessary enough to warrant going back to work while pandemic numbers are going the wrong direction?

I love what you do, and have seen the madness folks like you go through first hand.

FirAndFlannel15 karma

This is an awesome question. I think that if you take ALL financial situations out of the equation it’s an easy and resounding “No.”

If I was not terrified of not being able to afford my home in the next month or two, I would absolutely not have accepted this job. My job is dangerous. No doubt about it. The provided insurance plan is proof enough of that. But it’s a kind of danger that comes with being stupid. I’m confident that I can go to work, do my job correctly, and come home safely because it’s in my hands. This takes that control out of my hands and put it in literally everyone but mine. That’s a red flag for any job I believe.

That being said, the entertainment industry pays too many people for it not to be taken into consideration. Most of us make pretty good money too. Not all of us are great at saving, but I was and I’ve basically blown my safety net. I’ve been out of work for 4 months and I’ve gotten one month of unemployment. Each of those other months cost $5,000 to keep my apartment, car, and other necessities. I have a girlfriend but that’s it. No kids. I can only imagine that many, many others are struggling more and for that reason, yes it’s important that we resume soon.

This part I’m iffy on answering in detail but there’s only so much content saved for later release. Hobbies are great but tv is easy. Subscriptions have increased greatly. New content us being consumed faster than ever by more people. I do actually worry that without an abundance of new content, people will stay inside even less.

On the flip side, we’re kind of in a space race when it comes to entertainment production. Yeah, there’s deals and laws and contracts, but so, so, so many people are employed by the industry here in LA alone that we can’t lose spot of number one producer of media entertainment and depending on how long the US industry stays shut down, that is a possibility. Maybe not in the next year, but that’s something to consider.

ellarree4 karma

What sorts of new safety precautions have you encountered? How do they affect the way you do your job?

FirAndFlannel13 karma

We are tested at a private lab every Thursday and receive our results by Saturday to know if we can work the following Monday. That alone has been what I am most comfortable with. We must always wear masks. There is an “access card” system that only allows certain people into certain areas (an electrician can no longer enter cast holding areas without permission). And instead of every crew working on top of each other, we get our own prep days. So set builders might come on Monday and Tuesday, painters on Wednesday and Thursday, grip and electric on Friday and Saturday, day off on Sunday (maybe), and then they shoot on Monday. Obviously movies have many locations so we’re all somewhere every day but we rotate so the chances of spreading any virus is lowered significantly.

gwoz88813 karma

What are some movies you have worked on?

FirAndFlannel6 karma

I typically do tv but I did birds of prey, kissing booth 2, and the prom. As for tv...this is us, euphoria, insecure, the good place, how to get away with murder, mixedish...those are the bigger ones.

Morganbanefort2 karma

What did you hear about the synder cut

FirAndFlannel1 karma

Honestly, nothing. While we do have easier access to information than most do online, leaks are a big deal. So if I heard something legit that isn’t accessible online, I probably signed an NDA. Things that seem to be a big deal in the media typically doesn’t even make news to us. Sometimes because the news that you’re just now hearing about happened to us weeks, months, or even years ago to us. A great example of this is avatar (the blue people). We knew/know a lot of details that are only just now surfacing.

gwoz88812 karma

Nice. This is us is a great tv show

FirAndFlannel5 karma

Good time working on it too. Lots of studio sets so once we get our stuff done, there’s not a lot of outside work to do.

chickaboomba3 karma

How does someone get work in the industry?

My son loves film and has been working on indie projects, but I’d love to see him actually make money at some point.

FirAndFlannel2 karma

I’m sorry I missed this. I think I’ve lined it out fairly well in another answer and the person that replied first is mostly right. They make it sound easier than it is but it’s basically true.

New York, Atlanta, and LA are the hotspots for film. You need, need, NEED a contact. Don’t move on to step two until you have someone that has a real connection to the industry. All those homeless people that tried to “make it” in the big city, they skipped step one.

Keep your job. This isn’t a quick process. Save money. There’s gonna come a time when you need to pick up and leave. That notice might be on Friday and they want you on Monday. Maybe less. But that’s only gonna come if that connection was made.

I told my job “hey, I have a once in a lifetime opportunity coming up soon. I can’t tell you when, but I hope it’s soon. I’d really like to stay here until then maybe on a week by week schedule. If that doesn’t work, I understand.” They made it work but I was ready to go work at McDonalds so I could leave at any minute.

From there, you just don’t stop making connections. Ever. Because that first person might not always have work or good connections. Build your own network because work in this industry is never guaranteed.

Research the different unions and positions. Learn the rules and regulations on how to join. It’s a daunting process. And if he’s already making movies, this might not be the move because that’s not what we do. As soon as you start really making movies, you’re not making your own movies and you only get to see small parts. I think there’s money to be made outside the bug industries.

azneorp1 karma

Move to a production city and know/meet someone who works in the business, join the union. You get hired based on relationships, at least that’s how it is in the camera department. Warning: even if you do know someone it’s still very difficult to land jobs because there are hundreds of other people competing for them. Half of my job is calling, texting and emailing my contacts for jobs or dayplays, it sucks because I feel like I’m constantly bothering people. It’s definitely a tough business to break into but worth it if you can succeed. Being single with no family helps because the hours and commitments are brutal but it pays very well with the overtime.

FirAndFlannel2 karma

Don’t feel like a bother. That’s the job and we all know it. The person that makes the most calls gets the most jobs. It’ll pay off when you get called instead of having to call.

Joe4343 karma

Are people more excited or nervous to be back at work?

FirAndFlannel8 karma

If you take those two emotions only...certainly nervous.

We are certainly eager to go back though. The safety precautions are pretty good and honestly we need a paycheck.

The $650 added to our $450 unemployment has been nice but that ends this month. A common mortgage for someone in my industry is close to $3,000 a month. Same for rent. Add a couple hundred dollar car payment, insurance, and regular monthly bills and you’re looking at $4,500+ for living expenses and that’s not covered by $450 a week.

Forderz2 karma

I'm an electrician out in manitoba, Canada and my union rate is 44 an hour but my living expenses are about 2.5k for my house, car, insurance, etc. Ouch.

FirAndFlannel2 karma

Yeah man. It’s expensive here. But in my mind living near mountains and beaches on the ocean make it worth the cost in most ways. The money I make here would go a lot farther elsewhere.

Do you mind me asking roughly how much you guys make yearly? Hourly rate doesn’t mean a whole lot if you only work a few hours ya know? Same for my union. We all make 45 hourly but a good buddy of mine made almost half as much as me last year. It can be really tough if you lose a good contact or have a string of dry weeks.

Forderz2 karma

Well, I personally have had some rough luck with the companies I've worked for getting stiffed by clients, having incompetent general contractors royally fuck up jobs resulting in month-long delays, and arson from attempted insurance fraud on jobsites, so I haven't worked more than 6 months straight in 3 years.

But! I have worked on jobs that were 7 days a week, 14 hours a day up north, complete with overtime and paid food and housing. I've done the wonderful 4-10s for months straight. Trump steel tariffs sucked hard last year and oil prices getting dumpstered have increased costs for materials and sent us a huge influx of electricians back from the oil patches, respectively.

I'm actually waiting to receive word tomorrow to work on a dam for 20 days on, 8 days off, with my lodgings being a 4 star hotel/resort/work camp.

So, not amazing, not terrible.

No mountains but plenty of lakes! I'm at my cabin right now.

FirAndFlannel2 karma

That’s good to hear. I’m always curious about others in similar fields but different areas. Hope that job works out!

Playisomemusik2 karma

People are going to be fucked in September. It's going to be bad.

FirAndFlannel2 karma

I agree. I hate that we’re trying to start working again.

Playisomemusik1 karma

I mostly mean after the $600 payments end and everyone is broke in sept

FirAndFlannel2 karma

Broke and sick

oldskoolflavor3 karma

How can one start in the field you’re working in? Say, what would my first step have to be?

FirAndFlannel8 karma

This is the hardest question to answer. It’s incredibly difficult. While the industry is growing due to streaming, my union has low rates of membership increase. Almost like one in and one out. While that sounds daunting, it is possible and people do join every year. The harder part is staying employed. Nothing is guaranteed. Some people get in, work 8 months and then can’t find work for many months. If you think networking is important in the regular world, you have no idea how important it is in this industry.

That all being said, the process is outlined on the IATSE local 728 website. Your first step should be to find, read, and truly understand what it means. From there, do whatever it takes to get your name in people’s heads. I just drove around town stopping by lighting related businesses and asking to talk to a “manager”.

It may literally take years but if you’re young and have the time to try something for a while, it’s worth it. If you live in LA and truly believe this is something you might be interested in, find the information regarding joining the union, read it, and then dm me.

enoxxen72 karma

When did you decide to become a studio electrician? Are there other related jobs in the film/tv industry that you might consider pursuing? (Once all this covid stuff is gone)

FirAndFlannel7 karma

I was so, so tired of corporate retail. I did well in school but couldn’t bring myself to do more than 6 months of college (person finance and accounting). I was pretty high up at chipotle but got wiped out because of some bad management in our “patch”. I couldn’t restart that path or go back to minimum wage. Thankfully I had a contact in the business who I knew would try and help me even if it wasn’t possible. I made that call desperately very late at night and I was on a plane from Minneapolis to Los Angeles within 48 hours.

It took 8 months to get a day of work I’m the industry and I had worked two part time low level management jobs before then. Was one of the toughest times of my life this far followed by some of the best, most fulfilling weeks and months and now two years.

I don’t know if I’d pursue anything else in this industry that’s on the same level but outside of the obvious “promotions” in lighting, I’d be interested in taking on the finance side of a few shows. I’d really like to do this for a while, but I’m not opposed to a 9-5 type job as long as the money’s there and I still am close enough to some action to be interested and interesting.

Vladthedrumpaler2 karma

IATSE 479 Data Tech here...

I was so close to getting a 728 permit before the shutdown. Do you think that it will get busy enough for permits to open before the end of this year?

FirAndFlannel4 karma

Oh man that’s rough. I seriously doubt it. I’m guessing things will open for a bit, a couple people will work for a few weeks, and then close again. We shut down over a thousand cases. I just don’t see how we stay working with the current numbers.

beachtrader2 karma

Can you describe a typical day for you (realizing that every day is probably unique in some way, but generalizing)?

FirAndFlannel3 karma

I wake up between 4:30 and 5:30 depending on when we start (usually between 6 and 8am). When I arrive at the work location I’m typically 30-45 minutes early because beating traffic is better than sleeping in so I enjoy my coffee and catch up on news/Reddit in my car for a bit.

Everyone is on time or early. Always. If you’re late, you’re making it up to the crew. Small crew - probably buying lunch. Bigger crew - probably donuts tomorrow.

The first task of the morning if we’re on location (not at a studio sound stage) is to unlock and unload our truck. The truck is either a ten-ton or a full 40’ trailer (or both) depending on the size of the job. We carry a lot of electrical cable so it’s heavy. Roughly a pound per foot and they come in 50 or 100 foot lengths. We also carry big metal power distribution boxes and small power distribution boxes. The boxes are kind of like a giant outlet. They take the raw electricity from the cable and spit it out as something usable with a couple regular outlets and some big ones for special plugs that the lights have. Some of it is lighter, but none of it is light. We also carry carts to transport the cable, carts with drawers with electrical supplies, big lights, as well as everything you could need to hide that cable from the camera shot (tape that the painters can cover to match the background is a good example).

Once that is done, the boss (rigging gaffer or best boy) will go over the general plan (notes) of the next few hours with the whole crew so we all have an idea of the immediate task at hand. We’ll walk the perimeter of the location where the big cable will lie as well as where the generator will be that the cable will feed from. 3 or 4 guys will break off and start that project.

The remaining guys are classified slightly higher and will do more intricate work on the inside of the house or building. Lightbulbs need to be swapped out, electrical boxes need to be wired, lights that didn’t originally dim need to be dimmable, lights that were added by set decorators need to be powered up (usually they are not placed by an outlet so we have to find a way to provide power to them that won’t be in the shot), and fluorescent tubes need to be swapped to the right color temperature.

For one house this could take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. Just depending on how much cable we need and how much interior work needs to be done. I’ve done a house that only needs 100’ of cable, two boxes, and 6 lightbulbs. In and out in an hour and onto the next set (sometimes the next set is home).

On top of the core power, things like Ethernet, fiber, and other data cable needs to be run. On big shows and movies that’s another group that just does that because so much is needed, but on many shows, the main rigging crew does that too.

That process is very similar for most locations but gets bigger and harder the bigger the location is. Sometimes we have to close down a mall and do work from the ground floor all the way to the roof. I’ve worked a parking garage and the mall it was for (same parking garage as Tokyo drift) and that took us two weeks of ten hour days with almost 30 guys to get everything done. Sometimes there’s no elevators. Sometimes the only roof access is with an aerial boom lift. It can be easy, but it can get tricky and dangerous fast.

If we’re at a stage with a fake set, things are very different but the end goal is exactly the same. We need there to be power for lights, the cameras, monitors, the actors’ phones...but sets don’t work the same as real houses and buildings. Sometimes the cable needs to drop down from the 40’ ceiling of the stage. Or needs to snake across the floor from the nearest generator but in a way that’s out of shot and not a tripping hazard. Sometimes doors don’t open so we can’t hide things “right around the corner.”

Somewhere in all that we take a nice breakfast break usually paid for by the production. Then a couple hours later we take a good lunch break. If it’s a shoot day, that lunch is the shooting crew’s “breakfast” so we can eat that for free or take an hour to go do our own thing.

If we have the opportunity we talk to the shooting crew and ask if they need any help before we go home. They will always say yes but the real answer is usually no. Once they’re confident they don’t need us, we pack up the truck/s and head to the next spot. If it’s a day where we mingled with the shooting crew, the next spot is probably home. But sometimes we do 3 or more locations in a day. Sometimes they’re all in the same neighborhood but sometimes they’re across town from each other.

Most days I start at 7, off at 4, and am home by 5.

There are short days and there are really long days. Sometimes I work four days a week, sometimes I work 20 days straight. It’s about doing what you need and thankfully this job allows for that if you have the connections to stay as busy as you like. I like to make as much money as I can for about 9-10 months, take a good vacation for two weeks or so, and then dip my toes in different shows here and there for about a month.

Thanks for the question!

xXIIIx1 karma

I dont know if this can still be answered, but, OP how does one get into being a studio electrician? I myself am less than 4 months from being taking my NEC Jcard test and going through training for an instructor at a trade school. I would love to switch it out and try something different in the field.

FirAndFlannel1 karma

I apologize for being on mobile so it's hard to link my previous comments. I have answered this in depth earlier.

I can only offer advice for the LA industry though. I'm sure many are similar, but will differ union to union

ArchitectofExperienc1 karma

Have you had to sign any COVID Liability Releases yet? How has your crew deal memo and worker's comp paperwork changed with the new safety regulations?

Most importantly: Are the safety precautions being followed? Do you feel safe?

If it matters, I work in LA as a NU AD and do labor advocacy.

FirAndFlannel3 karma

So I actually do typically read over my deal memos and get laughed at for finishing my paperwork last on the truck, but because I was previously on the movie that I just went back to, the only additional paperwork was covid related. We did sign releases stating that we would follow guidelines and that if we test positive we can’t work until we test negative. No liability on the side of the production and they will pay for all of our testing weekly with 24 hour lab results.

As of now (second week back), yes. They’re being followed as well as the can be. But a plan on paper works a lot better than in real life. I simply don’t believe that anything can work the way we need it to work without killing covid at home first. I don’t want to be working. I’m not comfortable. I had corona. I always believed in it. But I need money and I don’t know what happens to unemployment after the 25th. My union was handling it very well but we can’t strike when the whole industry is trying to start again.