Cristi Badea is a props master for films, TV series and commercials. He has been running his own business since 2005 and works with various production companies to construct stage props. In 2011 he sued Tandem Film production company for failing to pay what they owed him. I talked to Cristi about working conditions in the film/commercial production industries, about the (im)possibility of unionizing and about taking production companies to court as a method of fighting back. (David Schwartz)
Did you ever discuss with other props masters the possibility of unionizing, or maybe just adopting some common work principles, to prevent companies from imposing their own contracts and terms & conditions?
Yes, we did, but it’s not doable. How do you keep everyone in check? How do we keep ourselves in check, for that matter? Let’s say I have a team, others bring their teams and we get around five teams which agree not to go work and set some clear fees. That leaves ten other teams which will go work. They don’t care, they’re going to work anyways. There’s a lack of solidarity. I think the only solution might be a union led by a racketeer. Seriously! I think someone like Nicu Gheară might be very good at this. You know he’s the head of the union and you’re bullied into listening to him. Isn’t this how unions also emerged in the US? Otherwise, how could you or me go up to a guy and ask him why he works for such little pay and argue with him? I couldn’t do it. So a racketeer would be the best solution. Besides, it would make things simple – there would no longer be unpaid overtime, no shooting frantically for an entire day, for 12 hours, we’d have normal lunch breaks…
How are these things regulated right now?
I think for the past one or two years there hasn’t really been much of a lunch break anywhere. Everything is running lunch, you eat as you go, these production people are obsessed, they keep saying “come on, eat faster!” And there’s not much you can do about it, production people are basically your bosses – they tell you what to do. At the end of the project, they’re the ones you go to with the bill, so you can’t argue with them.
Is overtime a common practice?
Yes, it is. And it’s mostly unpaid. Because there’s no precise moment when your work starts being considered overtime. If you stayed for 12 hours, it’s implied you’ll go on. Because you’re paid by the day, so if they postpone shooting for the next day, they have to pay you an extra day.
“If I could sue them, maybe so will other people!”
Do you know of anyone who approached things the same way you did? Did anyone else get their money back after going to court or after hiring a repossession firm?
I know the guy from Gastrom, he’s the one who told me about it. Other than him, there’s only Alo Casting that I know of. I know them from Facebook, they provide extras.
So most people somehow put up with this?
Well, they do, but how long can you put up with it? There are times when there’s no job for you. And you wait and wait, you know you have money that’s due, you know you have no work to do and you have to do something about it. You need to get your money back one way or another.
Why do you think other people put up with this?
They’re scared they might not find other jobs, that no one else will hire them. But now I don’t care anymore, because I don’t want to work with them.
Interview by David Schwartz