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Diary Services and Agents

First of all to quash a big misnomer. A Diary Service is not there in order to ‘get you work’. That is what an Agent does. Now – to more detailed thoughts.

When looking at Diary Services it might be wise to take a brief look at how they emerged and why. In the late 80s the TV business particularly, as well as film making, was far more labour intensive. The crew for a documentary film (for they were being shot mostly on film in those dim and dark days) would usually consist of Lighting Camera, Camera assistant, Electrician, Sound Recordist, and often a sound assistant. Five people, as compared with quite often one these days (do we now call them ‘Preditors’ – Producer/Director/Editor 😉 ) Mobile phones were either not yet available, huge, or enormously expensive, so it was not uncommon for most if not all members of a freelance crew to queue up for a payphone at lunchtime in order to collect messages from their answerphones at home, and then to call the production companies who had left messages enquiring about availability for work. Managing one’s own diary could be at times tricky; what to do when you have taken a booking by mobile, only to find that another (maybe regular) client had left a message on your answerphone asking about the same day. It was also not uncommon to return a call to a production company only to be told that since they couldn’t get an answer immediately, they had booked someone else who had answered their phone sooner. Thus was born the Diary Service.

The idea was that someone could set up a Diary Service and look after the diaries for many technicians. They would be available at all times during office hours, could tell a client if you were available for any particular day, and could take a message to ask you to call said client or whatever. They could take bookings, or indeed ‘pencil bookings’. A pencil booking is more than an availability check, but less than a confirmed booking, thereby not committing the client to have to pay you should the day’s work not happen. In the late 80s when business was very busy, particularly for location sound recordists, it was not uncommon to have 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th ‘pencils’ in the diary for a particular day. A 2nd pencil is where a company want to take a pencil booking for a particular day, but there is already another pencil booking in there, so they become a 2nd pencil, or second in line. Bear in mind that in the 80’s pencil bookings came and went regularly as potential shooting days moved around, so it was not unusual for one to end up on any particular day working for the company who might have started off as the 3rd or 4th pencil booking.

So, traditionally, Diary Services were there to manage the bookings in one’s diary, and to give instant answers about availability to potential clients. They were not so much there to bring in work, more to ensure that no work got away. They offered other benefits as well. A production company might call a diary service to try and book, say, sound recordist Bloggs, who might not be available for the particular day concerned. Given this info they might ask if the diary service look after any other sound recordist of a similar ilk. Some employers might not know of any particular technicians, and might call diary service in order to book a generic sound recordist. In these ways it could be argued that by signing up with a diary service one might increase one’s contacts and circle of employment.

In the last 20 years or so there have been massive changes. More and more technicians have (had to) become freelance. Multitasking has gained in popularity. Technology in the form of mobile phones, call forwarding, and texting has changed communication beyond all recognition. It is now perfectly possible to be emailing back to the UK from some far flung part of the world using a handheld device, whilst recording something with the other hand! So why have a diary service now. The obvious answer is possibly back to where we started off – ‘to get me more work.’ Many of the diary services now do a lot more than to take messages or to pencil things into your diary. Many of the diary services now promote a ‘corporate, or ‘brand’ image. Many of them advertise themselves as ‘one stop crewing shops’ or similar. Many of the current (possibly) undertrained production types have learned what they are doing so quickly that they understand ‘book a crew for the day’ to mean ‘call xyz diary service and ask them for a crew.’ Though undesirable it is quite common these days, so it could well be argued that one might well increase one’s workload by being with a particular diary service. Many of the current diary services offer extra incentives for technicians who are signed with them:- CV preparation, website publicity, CVs on the diary service website etc..

Whilst some diary services offer technicians for all walks of work, others specialise in, say, commercials, or docs, or pop videos or whatever. You might want to expand your working horizons into a particular sector, in which case signing up with a particular diary service that specialises in that genre might be a good move.

Diary services tend to charge a flat rate for their services either monthly or quarterly. Current rates quoted to me included £125 plus VAT per month, whilst another charged £260 per quarter including VAT.

Many diary services like to think that they can keep most or all of their technicians busy for most of the time. If they find that they have many of their technicians of a particular type unemployed for much of the time then they are unlikely to take on another of that type of technician. Most of the diary services will interview a technician, check their CV and possibly also a few past employers, before agreeing to add them to their roster. Don’t assume that by offering to write out your cheque they will sign you up.

If you decide that you want to look for a diary service, ask a few colleagues if they know of any that are well thought of. Check which cover any particular genres that you might want to be working in. Look at at their websites and try to get a feeling for what they do and how they do it. Call them to arrange an interview, and remember that when that meeting happens you are both interviewing each other. You to see that they are the right one for you, and they to see that you fit into their scheme of things also. Ask what they do to publicise their technicians, and whether they offer any peripheral services in addition to the diary service (e.g. some will send out invoices for you, and/or even collect payments from clients for you).

An agent is an altogether different scenario. Generally agents charge a percentage of your fees in return for which they actively go out and find jobs for you to do. An agent will research up and coming jobs and send out CVs to productions at the time that (or preferably before) they are crewing up a project. An agent may well have producers and/or line producers with whom they regularly work, and they might ask an agent to recommend technicians for a specific job. You would expect an agent to increase your workload, and/or to raise the standard of the jobs that you are asked to work on. Agents may well negotiate rates for you and/or your kit, and they may well check and advise over conditions contained in any contract or agreement between technician and employer.

An agent will normally charge a percentage of their technician’s fee by way of their recompense, typically 10%. Some agents will charge a blanket 10% of anything that the technician bills out, i.e. to include kit hire and overtime. Most however will charge their percentage on the technician’s fee only. Some might only charge their percentage for particular genres of work, i.e. TV drama or feature films, since these are the main types of work that they will be able to bring in for the technician.

In brief:-

A diary service will manage the work and clients that you already have, for a fixed monthly or quarterly fee. They do not generally agree to get you more work.

An Agent will go out there and get you more work, for which they will charge a percentage of your fees.

Some Diary Services:-

Carlin Crew 01932 568268
The Diary 0208 799 5616
Digital Garage 0207 348 1910
Gems 02920 710770
Linkline 0208 426 2200
Suz Cruz 01932 252577

Some Agents:-

Caroline Cornish Management 0208 743 7337
McKinney Macartney Management 0208 995 4747
Sara Putt Associates 01932 571044

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