I woke up with a “whoosh” today.
If it’s possible to wake up with a “whoosh”.
The previous night had been an alcoholic monday, made possible by a marker owed to a friend, Andy Roehm. Andy is a laid-back So-Cal fellow, the type who says “bra” a lot and means felow (instead of thing that’s difficult for me to remove) and the type one might think a Neurotic-New-Yorker such as myself would not get along with.
Yet, Andy is such a chilled out guy that it seems hard not to get along with him. What’s more he’s really generous and easy-going with his time. A couple of weeks ago when I had got roped in to working on a classmate’s film shoot, that classmate told me, pathetically, that he didn’t even have anyone to do sound and his shoot was tomorrow. Immediately, I called Andy and when I explained the situation, he sounded like a kid asked to do chores by his mom:
“What time is the shoot?” He mumbled, downtrodden.
“8-8 tomorrow” I replied.
“What time to meet at the van.”
Here was the kicker. We’d have to be at the van at 6:45 tomorrow morning to get to the location. I was calling him at 9:00 PM the previous night.
But instead of a world-weary “no”, Andy said, “Alright, see you there.” And I was so touched I promised to get him drunk as fuck one night at his convenience.
This was that night.
We ended up at a dive bar, Doc Holiday’s, the sort of place where the bartender seems hotter as the night goes on. Cans were 3, Tall-boys were 4 and a Shot and a Can was 5 according to her (the bartender) and when we asked what the cans were she said, “Busch, Cream Ale or Rolling Rock.”
We were taken aback.
“What’s the best one out of those?” I asked.
“Probably Rolling Rock” she replied.
“That’s a sad story.” I told her and forked over the money for some well-whiskey and a can of Rolling Rock to sit down with Andy and begin the night of drunkeness.
It was a tense night, even for our drinking, because due to some shifty behavior on all parties’ parts, New York University Film School had decided to terminate their insurance coverage for rented equipment. This seemed like a crisis, but the real crisis is that none of us really knew what this meant, even a snoop like myself.
Since I managed to weigh in on the protest when it happened, let me try to weigh in here.
To clarify, as far as I know:
1. The four years I have been going to NYU-Film, I have heard repeatedly that “we are on the verge of losing our insurance”. From my freshman to sophomore year, the insurance deductible doubled from 2500 to 5000 dollars. For those not in the know, this is because students lose their equipment, often in comical ways, but sometimes through sheer theft. To illustrate this, NYU has lost 3 full camera rigs to the ocean in the past 7 or so years. Well now you might be thinking, why were those projects shooting on a fucking boat approved, but that is a different question. What I knew is that every year students lose equipment or have it stolen and that we were now down to ONE company that was willing to insure us, due to the number of claims.
2. You might be asking, why do we as NYU students need film insurance provided to us by the school? Well, it goes as follows. A rental house will not rent equipment to students without supplemental equipment insurance. Many locations will not let you shoot without location insurance, to make sure they can make claims when you (as often happens) break their stuff. A car rental house won’t rent to you without location vehicle insurance. Even worker’s comp insurance is provided for your full actors and crew if anyone is hurt on set. NYU-Film students only pay $128 a SEMESTER or ($256 annually) for ALL of this, while buying them separately can costs THOUSANDS of dollars added up.
3. NYU is ONLY cutting off supplemental insurance covering equipment. We still have all of the other insurances FOR NOW, which includes all insurance for all the equipment provided to NYU-Film students by the school for their film shoots. Which brings us to:
4. And this is important to distinguish: THIS IS NOT THE INSURANCE COMPANY CUTTING US OFF. THIS IS THE FILM DEPARTMENT. Now why they are doing this is the question. Recently, last week I believe, an intermediate undergraduate film lost $110,000 dollars worth of equipment when students on that set left thir truck unwatched. This is one of NYU’s largest claims, ever (against a million-dollar insurance policy) and it is clear they did this to preempt the insurance company (mentioned in point 1) from refusing to cover us upon NYU’s contract with them expiring in July. BUT:
5. The loss of supplemental insurance could be seen in another way. As someone friendly with several administrators in the department, I’ve heard this insurance issue phrased as a boon. Simply put: some people are tired of $100,000 dollar student films, especially the ones that SUCK. They think students should be shooting on the rigs provided them and not spending money flagrantly on student films, especially in a time of economic downturn. IN ADDITION, there is some talk of this as an ideological battle against the DPs (cameramen, directors of photography) who encourage their student-directors to shoot 35mm or the RED camera or whatever in an effort to make the best-looking movie to showcase their (the DP’s) own experience. These people see the loss of supplemental insurance as commensurate with other departmental changes such as the limiting of intermediate films to a $5000 budget shot on 16mm or Digital Video only and the limiting of advanced films to 15 minutes in final length. In short, they see this as a way to potentially “reign in” their student-directors and DPs.
6. SO: This effectively means that NYU students for THIS SEMESTER, which includes me, are asked to purchase their own insurance with coverage of $25,000 for $110 a year. A modest sum, except that nearly ANY camera package will run over that amount of coverage, essentially not allowing you to rent that equipment. You would have to go through a third-party vendor, which, while there has been NO information yet on what that supplemental insurance would cost, numbers have been floating around starting at $1000-$2500 for a shoot.
7. FINALLY, IN SUMMATION: Students this semester must budget anywhere from 5-25% of their budget for insurance. It is entirely possible (if not probable) that students next semester will not have any insurance, making the even costlier option of point 2 seem more and more likely. While some professors in the film department probably commiserate, others feel that this represents comeuppance for those students and DPs that would spend exorbitantly on their shoots. Either way, we NYU-Film students are all, in some way, mildly fucked. All but those who have already shot their films or who are shooting this upcoming weekend, as those shoots are grandfathered in.
A rather more political hottie from my class posted this earlier today, her opinion on the whole matter. I think it’s eloquent, though not necessarily right.
For those interested, here’s my opinion:
This was bound to happen.
Like it or not, you sign up to be part of a community at NYU-Film and we as a community fucked up.
Insurance is not a charity. It’s gambling. They gamble that they won’t have to pay us insurance money. When we do have to make large claims, sometimes multiple times a year, we become a bad bet and worse, potentially unprofitable. Thus is capitalism. Thus is the world.
Face it guys: We as NYU-Film students are one of those “toxic assets” everybody is talking about now that we’re bailing out “A.I.G” and other insurers.
NYU-Film’s insurance is a privilege and one that similarly costed film schools, like USC, do not have.
As long as we are going to be a risky investment, we, like the rest of America, will have to face a denial of credit.
As for blame, there’s plenty to go around.
Certainly fuck those juniors who lost $110,000 dollars worth of equipment because a PA wouldn’t stand by the truck. But how about the PA, an untrained freshman who perhaps didn’t know the importance of such things? How about the administration that allows intermediate films to rent equipment worth so much money and to put in the hands of people that are untrained.
To a degree, the naysayers are right: You don’t need to spend the cost of a school in Africa or a house in Detroit in order to make a student film. If you take a look at the hottie’s letter, the first people it’s signed by… are the DPs. Directors: You can shoot your film on digital or 16 and if it has a good story people will still be able to tell. DPs: You can shoot a good intermediate film with the rig and make it look good. It’s a challenge.
To the administration: This is the last film some people will ever make. Let the advanced students (Narrative, Advanced Production, Advanced Experimental) have their supplemental insurance. The new policy of 15-minute length is good for the school and will help students get accepted at festivals. Still, if at all possible, while we have the insurance, we shouldn’t deny it to students who want to try to make their thesis film, their calling card, as good and professional as they can.
To the rest of my fellow NYU-Film students, well, this is going to be a headache. But it was a long time coming.
There is much to take away from all of this and much more to be said. But for now back to drinking.
The night passed in a blur. I had can after shot after can after shot after tall-boy (a 16oz can of Natural Light) after tall-boy until my azn-nerd-buddy Matt Chao came by to have a beer and pick me up, a task I repaid him by eating 5 of his Wendy’s chicken nuggets on the drunken stumble home. By the end, the guilt over the nuggets were more pressing on my mind than the insurance.
Andy for his part seemed relatively unfazed by it all. As a hard-partying so-cal German-Irish, he was only buzzed off the many drinks we had, but at least I must have provided some drunken amusement for him with my incoherent jabbering/drooling and I managed to pay for all the beers I had the motor control to buy him, thus fulfilling my debt.
When I say I woke up with a “whoosh” it was because my sober-self had finally returned to me pissed and half-dazed. Tall-boys of Natural Light, Rolling Rocks and Well Whiskey don’t make for a formula for redemption. When I realized it was actual Formula 50 and not a refilled bottle by my bed, I realized I didn’t remember buying it.
Another night but you couldn’t say this Feitel wasn’t a Feitel of his word.
Finally, one last aside.
I gave a pitch today in a Freshman class, as I have for the last two years.
I showed my film “The Big Night”. I looked cracked out standing on stage, sans a shower, plus hangover, plus filthy sweater.
I told them my film’s name was “LOSER’ and that if they wondered if it was an autobiography then “screw you”.
I am looking for people to work on the film.
If you’re interested, let me know, here, on Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It should be fun and stuff. And you’ll eat well.