Early last year I was contacted by two professors at the University about doing some film work for them. They were recreating a version of the Milgrim experiment. This was a psychology experiment done in the 50's where people were asked to do word association tests. If they got the words wrong someone would push a button and the subject would get shocked. The more they missed the worse the shock until it would eventually seriously injure them. The true meaning of the test was to see how long the person would keep pushing the shock button when they knew someone was getting hurt. It was all staged, recorded, and no one was really getting shocked. Even knowing it was fake the set up was so authentic it was difficult to keep watching. It was quite a challenge to recreate that feeling. We put it together, they wrote the script, I cast it, made a board to use as a shock table, and we shot it over two sessions. We weren't sure which would be accepted by the ethics board so we shot two versions of the final stages. One with blood and burns on the victim and one without.
It was the first time I'd ever done this as a hired job for someone else. I didn't have total control and made changes from my original plans. I was putting more drama in to it than it needed. It wasn't a dramatic story I was telling. It was creating a plainly done experiment that was, in effect, torture. I'm glad this happened this way. In the real world it is rarely a one person show. Even a producer and director has other people that have input and have to be dealt with. It was a good real world film making experience. We finished in June, the professors were both excited about the final product and the ethics board approved the more intense, blood versions fairly quickly. Once they approved the project completely the money would be released and I would get paid. Fair enough.
Then the wait began. Wait, wait, wait. The problems the ethics board had was not with my work, it was approved, but with the way the professors were going to conduct the experiment. Who was going to monitor? What details and who the subjects would be and how they were chosen, etc. It just kept going and going. I kept in touch with one professor who kept me updated. Missed deadlines, misunderstood instructions, all sort of things that kept pushing it back month after month.
At the start of November I was told it was going to be finished. "It's a good bet." The November meeting came and went without approval. I had been trying to be nice about it, not wanting to burn bridges and prevent any recommendations for future work, so I just waited. Finally when the end of December came around I hit another missed deadline. I was also informed that one of the professors had completely lost interest in the project. One of the reasons they had missed deadlines was because he was dragging his feet and not answering the ethics board's requests. I was also told that after it was approved and I was paid, it was most likely going to be dropped. It would never be seen or used.
So that was it! Hard work to put together something very effective and 8 months of waiting went by for nothing.
After the new year started I decided it didn't matter anymore about burning bridges. Since it was never going to be seen there would be no other professors taking an interest in what I could do. It had been such work it was obvious these two professors would never do it again. I spoke with a friend, a lawyer, who've known for 15 years about what my rights were. Though we never had a contract with the professors I had kept all of the emails we'd shared and there was enough proof that backed up my claim to be paid. I considered going to small claims court, He suggested that just contacting the legal council at the university would get things moving. Even for small amounts they do not want public records against the university so I sent two requests for information. One to the ethics board and one to the V.P. of the legal council.
Within 90 minutes I got word back from legal. They had checked out the ethics board and the professors about the delay and instructed them to get it done. There was some wrangling after that, a few more delays, but last week I filed out the proper paperwork, invoice, social security number, etc so the budgeting people are setting everything up. A few days to go, maybe even today, and I'll finally get finished.
I really expected better from the University. I'm especially angry at the ethics board who ignored my requests for info, even though they are a publicly funded institution, and send nasty emails to the professors. Ethics board? Hopefully the other work that I've done, an award winning documentary on the University theater, will be seen and get people interested in more work. Since I never actually got the court system involved I believe it'll just be forgotten by the legal council so there are no bridges burned.
I couldn't help but feel it was because we were artists, film maker and actor. Had they purchased a piece of equipment it would have been taken care of along time ago. Since it was artists we could wait. No hurry. Maybe we'd just say "Ok, that didn't work" and let it go.
How many other artists were waiting to get paid for their work? Were we the only ones? Don't treat the artists like they are second class workers. Never ever forget that.