The High Cost of Filming for Free

Photo by Danielle Waters

Dear person who wants me to shoot and edit a video for you for free:

I would love to help you. I really would. I think the issue you are working on is important. But as a person with limited capacities (both because of disabilities and the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day), I usually can’t afford it.

I know you “only” want a 2-3 minute video. What you likely don’t know is how long it takes to make such a video. Yes, there is “only” two hours of shooting time at your event. However, I have to spend several hours prepping my equipment (which cost me a fair amount of money, by the way, and won’t be insured for this volunteer gig if something happens to it) as well as time commuting to and from the event. On top of that, since you have no budget, I’ll have to carry my equipment on public transportation, which can be quite physically painful and difficult, especially on the way home after standing and carrying everything for several hours.

Then there is the editing. First I have to process the footage (copy it on to drives, transcode it, watch it) and then start building an edit. Like writing an essay, I start with an assembly, then another pass to a rough cut, then there is refining. It usually takes me at least 8-10 hours of just editing (after all the prep) to get to the rough cut stage for every 2 minutes of material. Then there is the processing of refining and polishing the material, adding titles and text, and all other necessary elements. If I have to do any color correcting, sound mixing, or if any technical problems at all arise (and they often do), that is even more time.

Then there is exporting and uploading the final video.

So, at a minimum, that 2-3 minute video you want me to shoot will take me 20 hours. Due to various disabilities and other capacity issues I have, this is essentially an entire week’s worth of work. I would have little energy left over to work on my own projects (of which I have so many).

Then there is the issue of the fact that I am unemployed and have no income coming in right now. That is one week where I will likely have no capacity to write grants or do other things that will lead to paying work (like finishing my porn site training).

It is also a devaluing of my skills and labor. I went to film school. Twice. And paid for it myself both times. I’ve also had to invest in equipment (not just cameras, lenses, lights, but also a computer to edit on, etc.). For this reason, I usually charge a minimum of $50/hour for film work, which I would round down to a $1000 flat fee to do this project, if I were getting paid. That’s one month’s rent and more. Asking me to donate such labor at a time when I don’t know how I’m going to pay next month’s rent adds a psychological toll I don’t know how to quantify.

So while I would love to support your cause in this way, unless it is already related to a project that I’m working on (in which case I am happy to donate footage or spend a little extra time cutting something together in order to give back to the community), it may not always be possible. I hope to someday have the energy and resources to donate more of my time and skills, but capitalism and the continual devaluation of arts labor make it difficult to imagine how I can create such a future. I’m working on it though.

In the meantime, I’m truly sorry I can’t offer you more, and I wish you the best of luck in achieving the outcomes that you seek!

The Role of the Documentary Filmmaker

Documentary filmmakers are not journalists: it is not our job to be “objective” – as if there even is such a thing as objectivity that one could actually practice in fields like journalism. It is not our job either to tell the whole story or give a full history, again, as if such a thing were even possible to do (especially in two hours or less of screen time). Rather, as far as I am concerned, it is a documentarian’s job to tell stories that challenge established narratives, and to do so in a formal and artful manner that encourages spectators to question how they come to understand and interpret the world around them. The best documentary filmmakers have a firm point of view, but they also don’t rely solely on facts to support the story they want to tell. They shift, whether subtly or radically, the foundations from which a spectator comes to understand an issue or topic.


Continue reading The Role of the Documentary Filmmaker

My Current Documentary Viewing List

As I wrap up my last documentary, Pride Denied, and am developing my next documentary on citizenship, I’ve decided to do an intensive review of art and experimental documentaries. On this list are films that I have seen and loved, as well as films I’ve yet to see (probably about a 50/50 split).

I’ve tried to develop a list that is diverse in terms of subject matter, form, and ethnic/gender/sexual positionalities of the directors themselves. However, this list is far from exhaustive and could still use considerable expansion, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

I’ll try to post reviews as I watch.

Trinh DVCAM4-4R
Filmmaker Trinh. T. Minh-ha

Continue reading My Current Documentary Viewing List

Wedding or Prison? and the Privatization of Queer and Trans Sex

One of the major problems with the push for same-sex marriage, as I wrote about in somewhat more detail before, is the complicity with the privatization of sex, which has been at the core of most of the so-called major gay “civil rights” advances since 2003 when the US Supreme Court overturned anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.

Queer and trans sex, at least since the late-1800s, has been routinely conflated or associated with sex work both culturally and legally, and anti-sex work laws have in many places been used to target and criminalize queer and trans sex, both public and private. Toronto’s 1981 police bathhouse raids are a great example, where almost 300 gay men were arrested by police and charged with either operating or being “found in” a “bawdy house,” the Canadian legal term for “brothel.” Today, trans women, especially trans women of color, are still routinely harassed and arrested by police for “looking like” a sex worker, simply for existing-while-trans.

Bathhouse raids protests, Toronto, February 1981.
Bathhouse raids protests, Toronto, February 1981.

Continue reading Wedding or Prison? and the Privatization of Queer and Trans Sex

Why I Won’t Boycott STONEWALL (But Will Support Indie Queer & Trans Film)

I think many of my friends may be wondering why I haven’t yet commented on or shared numerous articles condemning the new Stonewall (Roland Emmerich, 2015) film or calling for folks to boycott it that have circulated in the last few days since the release of the film’s trailer. It’s not because I’m incredibly busy finishing my own documentary about the whitewashing of LGBT politics, history, and pride events (though that is really what I should be doing right now instead of writing this). Nor is it because I don’t have any thoughts or concerns about the film. It’s because… wait for it…

I haven’t actually seen the film yet.¬† And neither have any of the people who have written criticisms about Stonewall or called for a boycott of it, as far as I can tell. Continue reading Why I Won’t Boycott STONEWALL (But Will Support Indie Queer & Trans Film)

The Limits of Identity: Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith

When news reports excoriating Rachel Dolezal’s representation of herself as Black first surfaced (the question of her presentation of herself as Indigenous seems to have not sparked similar interest or concern), she was almost universally condemned. The NAACP, however, for whom Dolezal worked as the President of the Spokane chapter, released several statements of support for Dolezal, saying this upon her resignation: “The NAACP is not concerned with the racial identity of our leadership but the institutional integrity of our advocacy.” But few seemed to share this position, or even ask what the value of Dolezal’s work as an activist, scholar, or teacher may have been.

My point here is not to undermine the outpouring of grief and anger regarding Dolezal or question the forms it took. Rather, I’m interested in the questions and stakes are emerging now that a much more well known scholar and activist, Andrea Smith, has become the subject of a somewhat similar scandal. Soon after the Dolezal story broke, a series of Tumblr posts, and a dedicated page, emerged under the heading “Andrea Smith Is Not Cherokee” (see Joanne Barker’s blog for a detailed chronology and analysis. Here is a statement from the author of the original Tumblr post about her motivations for writing about Smith. A Tumblr archive dedicated to outlining the issues around Smith’s representation of herself as Cherokee, and calls accountability around this, can be found here). Continue reading The Limits of Identity: Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith

All I Feel Right Now Is Shame: The High Cost of Marriage “Equality”

Two days ago, an undocumented Latina transwoman risked her own personal well-being to disrupt a self-congratulatory love fest between so-called LGBT leaders and Barack Obama, an event celebrating the “success” of the inclusion of some lesbian and gays into the fold of US citizenship.¬†Jennicet Gutierrez interrupted Obama’s press conference, calling attention to the abuses of the US immigration detention system, including the disproportionate harms experienced by LGBTQ people caught up in the system. This was the response of Obama and the LGBT leaders in the room:

Continue reading All I Feel Right Now Is Shame: The High Cost of Marriage “Equality”

Immigration Canada Infographic on “Streamlined” Process for Revocation of Citizenhip

Check out this handy infographic that details how Canada is streamlining its process for revoking citizenship. Under the new law enacted through bill C-24 in 2014, anyone who is a citizen but was either a) not born in Canada or b) was born in Canada but also holds citizenship in another country (dual citizens) could potentially have their citizenship revoked.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship - Streamlining Citizenship Revocation

This law is part of a disturbing trend across the globe of various nations taking steps to limit and reduce citizenship rights, and is an issue that I will be tackling in my next feature documentary, Citizen.¬†I will be starting pre-production for Citizen in fall 2015 as part of my artist’s residency at York University’s Osgoode Law School.

For more information on the implications of bill C-24, click here.

CUPE 3903: We’re Winning, and Now Is the Time for Solidarity with International Students

York University is finally back at the bargaining table and addressing some of CUPE 3903’s core demands. Everyone knows the writing is on the wall for York, as rumors swirl of intense pressure for the administration to settle before April 6. However, York appears to still be holding back on some key issues, especially regarding international students.

I spoke at the general membership meeting the other night, where I argued that York administrators have now accepted that they are going to have to meet CUPE’s core demands in order to end this strike. What seems clear, however, is that they are attempting to lose in such a manner that do the most damage to the solidarity politics of our union, which is home to three different units (one for graduate student TAs and course directors, another for contract faculty, and a third for graduate assistants and research assistants). Each of these units has different interests, and the administrators already succeeded earlier in the strike in driving a wedge between the interests of Unit 2 and the rest of the union. Continue reading CUPE 3903: We’re Winning, and Now Is the Time for Solidarity with International Students

Strikes Are Not Disasters: On “States of Emergency” and Democratic Processes within University and Union Administrations

As a graduate student and member of CUPE 3903 at York University, I am currently on strike. Our fellow grad students at the University of Toronto, members of CUPE 3902, are also on strike. And as both unions go into our fourth week of withholding our labor, I’m starting to hear one word repeated more and more frequently: “emergency.” Continue reading Strikes Are Not Disasters: On “States of Emergency” and Democratic Processes within University and Union Administrations