Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Great work if you can get it …

Over on the mighty antville, there was a discussion about commissioners and commissioning of jobs. Read the post, and the 100 plus comments here.

Refused TV is a production company in LA with a stable of directors. The head of Refused, Cathy Pellow, is also a free-lance video commissioner (who works mostly with Atlantic, I believe). I have written before, more generally, about the role of the director's rep.

What that means is directors repped by Cathy at Refused have their rep deciding who gets the job. Quite an advantage for the director and it also means the production company takes the production fee on a job they have given to themselves. Directors from other companies might also be writing on the jobs as well, but it is easy to see how the Refused directors might have the, um, inside track. This is not an incredibly rare situation but it obviously has attracted some attention.

This is certainly a conflict of interest. This does not mean that the directors at Refused are not talented or that they don’t deserve the jobs they get. Jobs get steered or pushed in a variety of directions all the time, but this is a text-book definition of conflict of interest. "A conflict of interest is a situation in which someone in a position of trust, such as a lawyer, a politician, or an executive or director of a corporation, has competing professional or personal interests. Such competing interests can make it difficult to fulfill his or her duties impartially. Even if there is no evidence of improper actions, a conflict of interest can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the ability of that person to act properly in his/her position."

If music videos were a city government, this would be like someone in the Public Works department handing out contracts to build a bridge or repair a sidewalk to the construction company that they own. That doesn’t mean that the streets won’t get fixed – but it does make one wonder. There is certainly room for problems in this situation. No real competition means that the city taxpayers might be paying more than they need to or getting substandard work for the dollars they are spending.

In a big city – there are rules and regulations that restrict how city contracts are awarded. There are oversight committees and inspectors to insure the work is done properly. In a small town, those protections and oversight don’t exist – the system is just not that big or sophisticated. Of course, big isn’t a guaranteed protection either – the US Army is a massive entity but they seem to be blindly giving contracts to Halliburton. Perhaps Cheney is the commissioner on those ones.

Well, that is where music videos are. Friends give jobs to friends. Cousins are on both sides of the equation and sometimes romances (shocker!) exist between label types and production types. We, as an industry, are still pretty small time so no one with power seems to be overly bothered by this. Obviously, a $20k job doesn’t deserve serious policing by anyone.

The part that struck me about the discussion on antville was the “Ooh, noo – don’t talk about that” tone of the comments. Not all, but many, commenters seemed to think that this kind of debate/discussion was pointless. Some were borderline hysterical that this kind of talk was somehow wrong. It seems completely on point to me. The only way to get videos on your reel is to get commissioned. I’m surprised more directors aren’t concerned with how that commissioning is done. Getting the gig is part of the craft, after all.

Out of all this hub-bub around Refused – nothing really has been done “wrong.” Chances are the record labels are happy with all the jobs commissioned by/to Refused. It smells fishy to other directors and production companies – but they are also certainly jealous of the inside position that Refused and Cathy have.

There are many instances of similar double dealings. There are major reps that used to be commissioners at certain labels and still have excellent relationships with the artists they used to work with. In that situation, the directors now repped by the former commissioner obviously have an excellent shot of working with the afore-mentioned artist.

Some commissioners hate certain production companies. Sometimes with good reason. A director at the hated company is gonna be SOL as long as that beefing commissioner is pulling the trigger.

Some labels owe big money to certain production companies from past jobs. So much back money is owed, at times, that the label will avoid using that production company for future work (and thus avoid paying the $ owed) – even if a director there might be the perfect one for the job.

One noted R&B manager type directs many/most/all of the videos by his artists. The label doesn’t really like it, but the manager has the juice to push himself through as the director. The label asks for treatments from other directors but those prod companies are often reluctant to waste their time, because they know they have little to no chance against the manager.

One big-time commissioner, now out of the business, was known for sleeping with directors and producers that they worked with. Obviously there is lots of room for things to go sideways there – try asking your ex for five bucks, let alone a six-figure job.

Jobs get commissioned the way they get commissioned. It’s not changing now and it’s not changing anytime soon. Directors have to control the things they can – their reel and their concept. Other, political elements will always be there. Always. Waiting for the industry (or life) to be conflict free would be futile, so it sure helps to play the game.

If a commissioner with ties to other directors or production companies is taking the treatments on a particular job, you might wanna move that job to the bottom of your to do list. Like somewhere below cleaning out the gutters and organizing you Palm Pictures DVD collection.

That being said – directors who are not the ones with the advantageous position should look around when they are deciding what production company to sign with. We all make our own breaks and it is a lot more fun (and profitable) to be the guy on the inside.

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