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Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Sep 12 / Darryl Shreve

ABOVE OR BELOW?

Which are you, above or below?

“Huh?”

Above or below?

“Whassit? Dude, you’re creeping me out”

No, the line, the line. Are you above or below the line?

“Are you cracking on my weight?”

Sigh.

Film and Production positions are often characterized as above or below the line. The “line” separates the creative leadership from the more task-based positions like the grips, gaffers, editors and camera crew. The purpose of this separation originated as a visual delineation of how money was allocated on a film set for the accountants. It has evolved into a hierarchal structure that now feels more or less like a medieval caste system.

“COOK! Bring me Hasenpfeffer!”

Looney Tunes, really?

This blog is not about job titles per say, it’s about developing yourself beyond lines and job descriptors. You can love the game, but if you follow the rules too closely, you might find yourself trapped in a rigged system.

Directors direct, editors edit and never the two shall meet. You can easily find yourself stuck in a room with no exit, or in a job you love that doesn’t garner you the respect you feel you deserve. So how does one transcend the game?

There are several ways…think of it like the game of Chess.

Every piece has value and a function, from the Pawns to the King. And it takes all of those pieces for the game to be played properly.

Most of us start out as Pawns, but you don’t have to remain one. You can change your position in the game by excelling in three areas.

  • KNOWLEDGE: Learn how to jump three spaces and you become a knight, learn how to jump across the board and you become a bishop or a rook. And everybody loves it when a pawn becomes a Queen. You know how to edit, but can you shoot? Can you set up audio or create animations? Your versatility allows you to traverse the board in Chess and in life. Get more “edumacation.”

“That’s not a word and can you use backgammon as a metaphor…or Bid Whist, Call of Duty?”

No.

  • COLLABORATION: A King is technically the weakest player on the board, they draw their strength from the other pieces. Being able to persuade other people to join your cause is another way to get hired, promoted or remain the boss. It’s also the key to having a good work environment, everybody loves a personable boss.
  • ATTITUDE: Can’t be stressed enough! The right attitude is the glue that ties everything together.

“I noticed you didn’t say a ‘good’ attitude.”

The concept of good, bad and fairness has no meaning within this game. Anyone can progress, regardless of circumstance or intent. If you didn’t enter the game as a Knight, Queen or Rook, be patient and keep moving forward.

“So which is better, being above the line or below it?”

Depends. It’s about following your passions. Above the line positions typically make more money and have more incentives, but a person who works below the line can command a larger salary if highly skilled in that position.

Examples of Above the Line
Producers  •  Director  •  Writer  •  Lead actors  •  Stunt Actors  •  Director of Photography (occasionally)

Examples of Below the Line
Camera crew  •  Assistant directors  •  Catering  •  Editor  •  Gaffer  •  Transportation  •  Grip  •  Makeup  •  Production assistants

Is it easy to change your position? No, but it’s possible and that’s the important thing. Think short term sacrifices for long term gains. The real question is, are you happy with the trajectory of your career? If not, what are you doing to change it?

Just asking?

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