Rey Barrera: Technician On a Mission

Rey Barrera and his father were both somewhat saddened in 1984 when Barrera boarded a Greyhound Bus to leave Gary, Indiana and head for Las Vegas. Now, Barrera couldn’t be happier that he left the cold Midwest. Barrera once worked for the Star Plaza Theater in Merrilville, Indiana as a production assistant. He liked the work and after coming to Las Vegas, he found a 25-year career in the film and television industry. He says even now he can’t believe his good fortune. “I’ve met wonderful people, learned so much and have visited locations I’d never dreamed of.”

Barrera was working on a video production by a German company when this photo was taken.
Photo courtesy of Rey Barrera

Barrera is a production location electrician – sometimes its chief lighting technician. He’s worked on movies such as Casino and Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, and television productions including Mad About You and Chicago Hope. He is passionate about his work, but admits the early days required so much travel that his personal life suffered. “No girl is thrilled with a boyfriend who may be gone for weeks at a time and when he is home on the weekends is tired or has to do his laundry. At the time, I was living half the time in Los Angeles and half in Las Vegas.” For the last four years, however, Barrera has stayed in Las Vegas where “Every day, there’s a film crew somewhere in this town.” He has, however, also been disappointed that local production crews are not used as often as they should be.

I met Barrera after he spoke as part of the “Comments from the floor” section at the end of the monthly Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) Board meeting. His subject: LVCVA and its advertising agency, R&R Partners, who make commercials about Las Vegas. He suggested that those commercials should be using more local Las Vegas production crews. “Maybe in the old days there weren’t many skilled production members in Las Vegas, but today, we have the talent – me included,” he said, “and yet ad agencies continue to bring whole film crews from Los Angeles to do work for Las Vegas clients.”

He showed me a May 2, 2011 Call Sheet for a commercial filming project set in Las Vegas about Las Vegas. The production crew, (Director to Storyboard Assistant), totaled 55 people. Only 15 of those people were from Las Vegas. The rest were brought in from Los Angeles. The equipment suppliers on that shoot were all from Los Angeles as well. “I was on one shoot where even the trash cans and traffic cones were trucked in from Los Angeles,” said Barrera. “You mean we don’t have trash cans and traffic cones that could be rented here?”

Barrera has done the math proving that local hires save money.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Barrera points out that money paid to the Los Angeles crews goes to California. Money paid to Las Vegans goes to grocery stores, landlords, barbers, and movie threaters HERE. “With the unemployment situation we have in Las Vegas,” he continues, “why aren’t clients demanding the use of local crews and local equipment?”

The Nevada legislature has a bill before it, AB506, that will encourage filmmakers, via tax credits, to come to Nevada and use local crews. For Barrera, it’s much simpler: “The one who is paying for the commercial should insist on local talent.”

Barrera pointed out another advantage of using local crews: knowledge. “I was on a recent commercial filming at Caesar’s Palace where the ‘crack crew from LA’ was bringing in a generator and a 750-foot cable to provide power. Yet the area where we were shooting was loaded with power boxes. We brought in the cable as we were instructed and logged in overtime at double time…all of which was unnecessary.”

Although it is true that a production crew from Los Angeles will fill up a certain number of hotel rooms during their stay, the cost of bringing in the crew ultimately costs the client. A chief lighting technician may get paid $600 for a day’s shoot and that cost is the same in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. Airfare from Los Angeles to Las Vegas adds another component as does housing for one night and a per diem expense. “A Los Angeles technician may cost the client as much as 30% more than a local,” Barrera estimates.

And what if the Las Vegas hire isn’t competent? “He or she should be fired,” says Barrera. “There are boneheads and under-skilled crew everywhere you go, even Hollywood. Go on to the next person.”

Barrera promises he and others in his union will continue the “hire local” campaign in between jobs in Las Vegas. “Hiring local people for film, TV and commercial production is the right thing to do,” Barrera says. “Everybody wins.”

Comments

9 responses on “Rey Barrera: Technician On a Mission

  1. Apparently, I am a member of a ‘crack crew from LA.” I’ve never worked professionally in LV, but stayed between both places for well over a decade. On the surface Ray has some good points. Dig into the details and his argument falls apart.

    1) Regarding cabling into Caesars: Maybe more work, but use the local power supply and blowing it out might effect the entire hotel floor, wing or building. No insurance company will pay out for that plus the potential lost revenue.

    2) Hiring and firing of crew members: I’ve worked 20 years in the business and in all that time only released a single crew member for drinking on the job – and that was in the mid 90s. Union rules forbid the simple firings of “incompetence” Any union member can file a grievance against the production company. It’s a long arduous process which is distasteful to both sides.

    EVERYONE across every industry in every city, state and town works with someone who seems less than competent and yet keeps their job.

    Additionally, shoots are gatherings of teams of specialized individuals. These teams (lighting, grip, production, security, location management, etc.) work together on job after job, sometimes year after year. You just can’t “fire” one team member without angering the other team members, and perhaps create a worse situation than simple incompetence.

    Firing people should never be an issue – ever.

    2a) The Director hires a DoP. The DoP hires the crew. Both people and the Producer decide what they can afford and who they want to work with. Are you going to tell a Director or DoP they HAVE TO work with a particular crew member ? Would you tell Spielberg, Mike Bay or someone of similar stature on a TV show, commercial or documentary that they MUST work with a certain person?

    You’ll never have the production company, Director, DoP work in that state again. You can’t LEGISLATE someone’s co-workers.

    3) Traffic cones and garbage cans: On a show that MIGHT NOT ONLY shoot in Nevada, but might also shoot in Utah or Arizona, a production company will bring their own gear in to a location to keep a tight shoot and travel schedule. They will do that also for budgetary purposes. A long time LA vendor might give a better price than a local Vegas retail rental vendor. If a truck with a camera travels from LA, putting cones and trash cans on board is a no brainer and doesn’t cost anything, while saving money in the larger scheme.

    4) Location crew depth: Las Vegas has a gross population size of just under 2 million people. LV was founded in the modern era by mobster Bugsy Siegel in 1946.

    Approximately how many of LV’s 2 million work in the film and television industry?

    If one crew shoots in Vegas, how deep is the talent pool for secondary and tertiary crew talent?

    By contrast Los Angeles area has a gross 2010 population of just under 4 million. Many entertainment workers have been in the industry for generations going back to the first stages in Hollywood. Crew talent pools are nearly 100 active people deep per position. Even Ray spent significant time in LA. Perhaps in this economic environment, he might consider doing that again.

    It’s great to say that governments should legislate co-workers. It’s popular in a down economy to say that locals should be hired immediately. The thought processes described in Ray’s interview are expressed by every area where filming is done on a part time basis. San Francisco, areas of North Carolina, areas of Florida, Texas (massacred by the Louisiana financial filming incentives.)

    You can’t fight the established production money centers of LA, NYC, Orlando, Wilmington, Vancouver, New Zealand, etc. There is too much money and too much talent of all types easily available.

    The best way to deal with this situation is to give tax incentives for businesses to build sound stages, supply infrastructure and provide deep crew bases at cheap cost.

    Dallas, Austin, Wilmington and Albuquerque are examples of cities in states which understand how to attract production dollars. They have state lobbyists who know how to market the proper legislation to change the perception of what those places offer creatively.

    I write this comment not as an antagonist, but as a reasonable person who has worked across North America and the world. There is no need to re-invent the wheel.

    There is no reason to create unnecessary legislation which WILL HURT the long term viability of Nevada as a state to work in. Image is everything and once a bad impression is created, even if it is in fact corrected quickly, it takes word of mouth for the the impression to be changed. This can take YEARS.

    Think long and hard before deciding to go against the flow of inbound dollars to those corporations not based in Vegas who own the hotels.

    I am a fan of Las Vegas. It COULD BE a huge player in the film industry. Vegas has already taken over NYC’s Broadway and Los Angeles’ stage community with aplomb.

    There is no place on the planet like Vegas. If it had the facilities to match Los Angeles, similar to Albuquerque, production would migrate from LA to Nevada instantly.

    There is a New Mexico vacuum now that their financial incentive program has been severely curtailed. The program administrator moved to Massachusetts. I expect that state’s production to rise and New Mexico’s to fall.

    Nevada has had a long standing window (which hasn’t been capitalized on) and as states tweak their incentives program, now has a few years left to create a pro-production atmosphere.

    Think creatively, not defensively and revenue will roll in. Vegas has a multitude of resident stars. It has a plenty of cheap space, and great landscapes. Actively market these aspects and add tax incentives and you’ll see production companies migrate very quickly.

  2. I personally know a couple of local directors, actors and a bunch of production personnel. There has been a long-time bias against using local crews by production companies hailing from British Columbia, California, New York, etc. and I think I know some of the basis for that . But there’s also lots of opportunity here.. so it will be interesting to see how many Hollywood-based production companies set up satellite offices here.

    mark

  3. I’m in general agreement with all of your points… I’ve had a similar discussion about hiring local with colleagues. Prevailing point of view on that: Time is ALWAYS money — Given the practicalities of what is required to complete a shooting project on time — on budget — all DoP’s will use people they can personally rely on to get the job done. That usually means those they’ve worked with at some length…

    There is however, a glaring mistake in your comments…

    “…LV was founded in the modern era by mobster Bugsy Siegel in 1946…”

    Bugsy Siegel didn’t found anything. He was an canny opportunist, but only a colorful footnote in history. Modern Las Vegas doesn’t owe any lineage claim to a murderer and a thief. Hoover Dam and a source of water on a significant trading route is the reason that Las Vegas flourished.

    Mark

  4. “…There is no reason to create unnecessary legislation which WILL HURT the long term viability of Nevada as a state to work in. Image is everything and once a bad impression is created, even if it is in fact corrected quickly, it takes word of mouth for the the impression to be changed. This can take YEARS..”.

    I agree. When I first moved to Las Vegas the Nevada Film Office was a powerful and influential state agency. One doesn’t hear much from them these days. And that’s too bad. The potential exists that the film/video/Web TV industry could bring a lot of money to Nevada but that will require some investment and marketing dollars on the part of the State.

    Thanks for posting your comments!

    Mark

  5. Outstanding article and very interesting comments. Thanks to you all for the great insight to this aspect of the entertainment field.

  6. great piece about an interesting guy, with a very interesting viewpoint, and the comments keep rolling in!

  7. Just a few notes on the article;

    1. Power panels at Caesar’s pool are everywhere. Just so you people know, this location was scouted twice: day and night, same day.

    2. You are right. People are not “fired” per se, just asked not to come back (no call-back).

    3. Having worked in L.A. and Las Vegas, and distant locations, and having been Union in both, there are well-trained crew members in both locations, and crew members that shouldn’t be in the business.

    4. But if you’re in a position of responsibility, and you make poor decisions that cost the company money (additional man hours, equipment, etc.), that to me is a requirement of being part of a “crack crew”. I could go on about this at many other shows.

    5. We do need some kind of film Incentives as in AB506 that will put qualified, talented, dedicated film technicians to work.

    6. I Choose to live here in Las Vegas, and not make the trip to HOLLYWOOD anymore for big jobs. The 10 years of commuting have expanded my horizons, working with some very talented crew that are good friends of mine. I have turned down some of the biggest shows, to sleep in my own bed. I am a gaffer/electrician with grip and electrical trucks. If you want to join the campaign for locals, contact me at: Vegasreyb&yahoo.com.

  8. Hi my name is Tony, I grew up in Las Vegas, moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to pursue a career in Film, After 10 years in L.A. working as a Grip out of IATSE Local 80, I returned to Las Vegas to continue my career, the local Union was unimpressed that not only was I skilled but was also a native of Las Vegas, forced into the shadows of the good ole boys club regarding Film and Television Production, I still joined the Local, as a mixed local I was excited to take advantage of their training program, recieved cards in A/V-Sound-Electric-Projection, they even held classes by Panavision.

    After 30 years 20 of it here in Vegas with a Union Card in my pocket I have the honor to represent this locals membership as a Business Agent, dedicated to 1 thing JOBS, jobs for the workers who live right here in Nevada, securing wages, working conditions and benefits through collective bargaining.

    I am currently in Carson City Lobbying and testifying on behalf of assembly bill AB506 which would extend a tax credit to Producers who shoot here providing they meet the requirements, if passed this bill would create many jobs for not only crew but related business’, we do not tell Producers, Directors or DP’s who they can and can’t use, we understand more than anyone how important it is to have Key People in Key roles, we are standing by to provide trained crew members to supplement every need of the Production team.

    Unfortunately Production rarely contacts the Local Union to secure labor, at this point they leave that up to local production coordinators who use their network, back to the good ole boys club, but it is getting better!

    We are building a roster of skilled professionals and can always use more..to answer how many people out of our population work in Production? lets find out! if your reading this and work in production or know someone who does, please submit your resume (locals only please) for consideration by the Producer to- tgennarelli@iatselocal720.com and let us help build a crew base that is unsurpassed in the skills required to be an asset on a Production of any size.

    BTW Thanks Rey for all you are doing!

    (Editor added some white space to make this easier to read)

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