Well, there certainly was a major turn of events on Friday. I've been thinking about what I was going to write here to describe what occurred. Fair and balanced? A little gouging perhaps? I realize I just need to say it as it flows out of my head, and however the thoughts unspool onto this post, so be it. Think at this point I just need to say exactly what's on my mind. So here ya go...
After starting work at Playground Media Group one month ago, cutting a trailer for "The Bounty Hunter" and a featurette for the "Cougar Town" Season One DVD, both to great feedback about my work and producer repore, I was basically told that things were 'not working out' and they needed to 'cut their losses'.
I was informed by Brandon (the post production director) that, ultimately, the promotional department at Sony Pictures was unhappy with all of "The Bounty Hunter" cuts and decided to pull the contract out from under Playground, opting to head back to the original trailer house that had cut the first trailer for the movie. This somehow was funneled down to being my fault, which of course is untrue. Why? Because the three women at Sony who were in charge of giving direction on this project....gave very little direction at all! Their notes were incredibly scant and generic, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous and absurd, culminating in a phone call that came after viewing my third cut where they literally and angrily hung up on one of the production people at Playground. That was pretty unprofessional. This also combined with the fact that the producer I was working with, Liz, had never produced trailers, instead having worked exclusively on television DVD featurettes. How could they assign someone so inexperienced in theatrical marketing to a project that needed a special 'eye'? This was red flag #1.
Amazingly, after five versions, there came a cut that they really liked. So once the supposed final cut went out the door (and before I knew Playground lost the contract on "The Bounty Hunter") I picked up speed on "Cougar Town". BTW, when I started this project I was told that there was a specific budget amount of $3,500. If we went over that amount, a new agreement would be made with myself and the studio (ABC, in this case) for additional days and money. However, when I went into Brandon's office to drop off my invoice for the previous week I was informed that once the $3,500 budget ran out, any hours or days over that time would not be paid for. Red flag #2. Not the standard way a post house works a budget. In fact, no matter what happens on a project, you always get paid for your time.
So basically from 12:30pm last Tuesday, I was working for free on "Cougar Town". I remained there hammering away for three and half days after that. Showing Liz my first complete cut Friday morning, she commented that it had great energy, the music was working, and the pace was pretty solid. The only changes she had was to add a couple of interview bites and a couple of dialog scenes that I needed to locate by watching sections of individual episodes. This would be a little time consuming, so Liz decided to go to lunch while I worked on things.
About an hour later, as I closed in on finishing those minor changes for her review, Brandon came by the edit bay, closed the door, and informed me things were not working out.
I was kind of dumbfounded. What?!
I knew my work was solid on both projects based on my assessment, as well as Liz' and even Christopher's (the head of the company), and firmly made the case that I was certainly not to blame for client or producer miscommunication. I learned a little later from the graphic designer (who I'd gotten friendly with) that she'd always been two-faced, in this case telling me that my cut looked great, then heading to an edit bay down the hall and confiding with another editor that my entire piece would have to be recut because it wasn't 'there' at all. A very unprofessional lack of communication. So at this point I was looking at weeks of work in front of me coming to an abrupt halt.
But my being told my services would no longer be needed was just the half of it.
The good news: Brandon had come to my bay with a check in hand. The amount of that check was another story. The bad news: they were only going to pay me $2,000 for my work on "Cougar Town", not the $3,500 I was originally promised and had even billed them for. The $2,000 was a so-called 'buy-out' because the first cut had not gone out the door yet. Even though for professional reasons I couldn't show it fully, I was pissed! Again I state, no matter how a project goes at ANY post house, you always get paid for your complete time.
A couple of side notes about the people I was working with...
Liz had this curious habit of interrupting the cut in mid-viewing to give on-the-spot changes. Usually a producer will watch the whole thing down while taking notes. Not sure how she's managed to work for Playground over the course of the last three years. But then again, CEO Christopher never seemed like a straight shooter to me either. Always 'on' in a pretentious industry way, it was obvious that he treated editors, graphic designers, and technical people merely as tools. They weren't individuals, they were just a means of doing the work that made the money. Yes, you certainly see this attitude sometimes at various post houses, and the industry in general for that matter. But his demeaner was particularly brisk and impersonal. One day while he, Liz, and I were all in the edit bay hammering out what we thought the women at Sony wanted (again, they never seemed to know themselves!), he turned to ask my opinion, ending with 'you may speak freely'. What, are we in the military here? 'Permission to speak freely, sir?'. Give me a fucking break.
Anyway, after Brandon waited for me to get my stuff together, he walked me to the door. Along the way I wanted to stop and say goodbye to the audio editor / sound designer. He was a pretty cool guy (we connected as movie fans) and was shocked to hear I was leaving so abruptly, giving me his card to stay in touch. Afterwards, I headed straight for the bank to make sure and cash that check immediately. Had no problem.
A one might think differently, but telling me the truth about why I was being let go was yet another mishandled situation. The normal procedure for when things are not working out with a freelance person is to tell him or her that the project is 'being reassessed' or 'coming to a halt for a period of time' and that they would be contacted when or if it started up again, or for any future projects. That way the post house doesn't have to deal with the potentially ugly situation of someone getting angry, causing a scene, stealing copyright material, etc. Wouldn't it have been easier to just tell me the same to avoid any of this (if I had been that type of person, of course)? Instead they now risk bad press being spread around by an editor who feels cheated. Just doesn't make sense on their part.
So ultimately they STIFFED me for $1,500. And to just to call it what it is, I became a SCAPEGOAT for their loss of "The Bounty Hunter" and a victim of Liz' two-faced producing style. That was pretty apparent just minutes into my exit conversation with Brandon. This has never happened to me before, and I realize it was not my fault in the least. Just poor project management, poor handling of client relations, and really poor communication. All adding up to the fact that I am way more valuable to be associating with a post house that has unacceptably poor concepts of working with freelancers.
I truly believe this happened for a reason. The checks I received for my work allowed me to get my rent paid and level off with some other debts. With time on my hands now this week, I am turning my full attention to putting together all those reels and resumes I've been trying to get done, packaging everything up, and getting those materials in the mail as soon as possible. I just contacted Happy Hour Creative today to have them upload a copy of my "Bangkok Adrenaline" trailer to add to my reel as well. Chris did say they had gotten busy and that they'll more than likely need me for the very next project that comes in. Hopefully something will come of this soon.
I feel pretty confident that the next gig is right over the horizon. And because everything happens for a reason, I believe my time at Playground was cut short to make room for a better opportunity. Just need to focus on what's next.