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Production Coordinators Fight for Equal Pay for Equal Work

In the film world, it’s rare to run across a unionized position that doesn’t have a set pay scale, but such is the case with production office coordinators, who just happen to be the indispensable individuals who keep the entire set running smoothly. Every department — from the bottom rung up to the studio level — interacts with POCs on a regular basis.

Production coordinators, who report to the unit production manager or producer, help tie together all the elements required to ensure a production’s success. Yet even though they perform such critical functions as balancing responsibilities and pay rates, they’re left to justify their worth at each job negotiation, unlike most other film workers.

Producer-UPM Butch Kaplan, now working on Jamie Foxx’s “All-Star Weekend,” says television POC salaries are generally budgeted at a flat $1,800 per week based on a 70-hour workweek. That amount can vary significantly by show or producer, since there’s no contractually set rate. The figure may seem adequate at first glance, but when compared with the pay of others with similar jobs, a clear disparity becomes apparent.

Coordinator X, who prefers to remain anonymous, compares POCs to best boys, who are assistants to gaffers and key grips. “We’re not even making an assistant rate,” the POC says. “The best boys are making $40 an hour [or more].  … We’re making $15 to $20 an hour less.” Yet both jobs involve organization, scheduling and hiring.

Kaplan agrees there are similarities to the two types of work and speculates that the lower POC pay likely stems from the role once being considered more secretarial. But “as the business grew and became more complex, [the POC position] became less secretarial and more managerial. [Salaries] never moved on.”

A production coordinator’s assignments vary greatly based on the show and its producers. In describing the job, coordinator X says that it’s almost easier to say what the job doesn’t entail than what it does: “I help order equipment for [multiple departments] and keep my producer updated on what we’re spending. I’m responsible for making sure the producers, the studio, the cast and the crew get all the information they need at all times — be it via email, phone call or memo — and I put out fires.” And that’s just a partial inventory.

Coordinator Y, who also prefers to remain anonymous, thinks the low pay rates stem from an uninformed impression of the job’s responsibilities. “The only time people really understand what I’m doing is if something gets messed up,” this coordinator says. “If I’m doing my job properly, people have no idea what I do, other than the people I work with directly. If they did, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.”

Another possible reason for the status quo: The position is widely regarded as a stepping-stone for rising up the production hierarchy. “Every production supervisor I know has been a production coordinator,” Kaplan says.

Yet that doesn’t help career POCs who don’t move up the ladder. They wind up in the tricky position of trying to negotiate higher salaries within a structure that doesn’t typically value their vast levels of experience with significantly higher pay.

“As the business grew and became more complex, [the POC position] became less secretarial and more managerial. [Salaries] never moved on.”
UPM Butch Kaplan

During a prior contract negotiation period, IATSE Local 871, which reps a variety of production workers including production coordinators, surveyed POC member salaries with the goal of bargaining for scale pay. “What they told us,” says coordinator X, “was that the rate the studios were willing to settle on [for a single standardized pay rate] was so low that they had to say no.”

Members weren’t provided the ultimate amount, but averaging salaries across all manner of production budgets will always be skewed. No one expects a coordinator on a sitcom pilot to earn the same as one on a tentpole feature. The solution, many believe, is a multitiered pay structure based on a combination of experience and the level of the overall production budget. Some other unions have a similar framework already, so there’s a precedent for this type of scheme.

Kaplan sees IATSE as sharing responsibility for the low pay rate. “Part of the problems stem from the fact that their union has not been a lot of help to them, quite frankly, and you have to ask yourself why,” he says.

One possibility is that it’s easy to join Local 871: Work for 30 days as a coordinator, pay the membership fees, and you’re in. Since it’s so simple to gain entry, heavy-handed negotiating techniques like threatening a strike don’t carry weight; part of the strength of other unions stems from the difficulty of replacing their membership, since it can take years to join.

Local 871 declined to comment for this story. Calls and emails to multiple studios were not returned.

“Nobody pays attention or cares to pay attention because we’re not strong enough to make noise,” says coordinator X. “It’s not really a problem for them yet.”

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