[PODCAST EP06] Production and Staffing in Live Events with Joe Mertz
In this 6th episode of The Production Channel, Stephen Bowles and Clem Harrod delve into the entrepreneurial side of the live event business with Joe Mertz, CEO of Mertz Productions and MertzCrew. During his 20 years of entertainment production experience, Joe Mertz has successfully created and developed two companies—Mertz Productions, a full-service live event production company and MertzCrew, a payroll and staffing service designed specifically to assist live event industry companies and freelancers.
Joe, a native Pennsylvanian, got his first taste of the entertainment business working a summer job during college as a technician for a small theme park called Sesame Place. He was all set to graduate with a mechanical engineering degree but later decided that he wanted to pursue more interesting and exciting work in film and television. After graduation in the late 1990s, he followed some of his Sesame Place colleagues to Orlando, Florida to see if he could become involved with any of the production slated for the newly-built Disney soundstages. Upon arrival, he realized that the bulk of the film and TV work was done in Los Angeles and New York City so he found an alternative, live event production at Walt Disney World. Joe started as a freelance production assistant in the live events department on various corporate shows, including the Super Bowl Halftime show in 2000. He naturally progressed into a freelance stage manager, often calling shows for Disney or getting hired by other production companies.
Soon afterwards, Joe evolved his freelancing business by starting his own company, Mertz Productions, by planning and executing events for his own clients. He started off creating Halloween theme park entertainment while acquiring a small list of corporate clients needing additional help. He states, “My key demographic is those clients that don’t have any type of production…we get them as they are growing out of hotel A/V, when they’re getting frustrated with the lack of creative design.” Joe says the success of his business is just to really take care of the clientele. “Like I try to tell my clients, you guys focus on the content, on what you want to say. We’ll make sure it is heard and comes across to everybody in the audience.” Many of Joe’s clients have stayed with his company for years because “they’re very happy with our progress and the way we do things…that’s the kind of slow and steady growth I’ve focused on with Mertz Productions.” Aside from theme parks and corporate shows, Mertz Productions has increased their offerings in recent years to include high end cruise line entertainment.
When Joe isn’t acting as a show producer, he is often found involved in meetings with his MertzCrew team. MertzCrew, an online staffing and payroll service used by freelancers and production companies, came about to help friends and co-workers get paid correctly and hold the necessary insurance to accept jobs. At first, it was a small home business with a handful freelance clients, but the load quickly changed when a large production company, LMG, asked Joe if MertzCrew could process their whole freelance payroll. Joe says that MertzCrew has become successful because “it came from an existing need that was out there. And I feel like, the benefit we offer, we work the way the industry works.” Joe understood the way people needed to be paid, and he created a team to implement tools to make it easier. MertzCrew decided to focus on the rental and staging arena and really attend to the nuances of contracting and payment. Joe states, “My end goal with MertzCrew, we want to be a software platform that really handles your personnel and your labor on a show site from the beginning of when you need that role, all the way to the end when the guys get paid…we want to own that.” In this episode, listen in as Stephen and Clem ask Joe Mertz to reveal how his innovation came from necessity and how he continuously juggles his responsibilities amongst his family and all the Mertz Madness.
Full Podcast Transcript
Stephen Bowles: Hey everybody, you’re listening to The Production Channel! My name is Stephen Bowles and I’ve got Clem Harrod here with me.
Clem Harrod: What’s going on man? Chatter chatter.
Stephen Bowles: Hey buddy. Eh, not doing too bad. I was hanging out over at Epcot this weekend…
Clem Harrod: Yeah, I saw you there, I saw you.
Stephen Bowles: …for the Food and Wine Festival. I know! I saw you too!
Clem Harrod: That was pretty random, that was pretty exciting.
Out of all the tens of thousands of people there getting their drink on, all of the sudden I saw this tall dude walking towards me. And I’m like “that is so Clem right there”
That smile on my face, hanging out with my wife, family, sister-in-law, brother-in-law. Great times man, gotta love the Food and Wine Festival.
I know. Well, uh, for anyone new listening this is the Production Channel where really we just kind of cover all topics production. Anything from audio, video, lights, uh, vendors, suppliers, all things. We just kind of get together and try to capture those stories that are going on around the industry because I know it is very, very busy out there. And we don’t always get a chance to catch up. So today I’m really really excited to have Joe Mertz joining us today, welcome Joe.
Hello everybody, happy to be here.
So just a little bit of background on Joe, he is the CEO of Merz Production AND Mertz Crew. Of which will be covering both of those today. But really he’s got 15 years of experience producing his own shows through Mertz Productions. And really before that, was really kind of freelancing for years before that. So just 20+ years of experience. Which is awesome and what what we like to see here. A lot of different sort of angles, right? Joe’s been a freelancer, he’s been a producer, he’s also been now with Mertzcrew which is exciting. More on the vendor, supplier, innovator, right? Just changing the way we interact with this industry on the daily.
We’re gonna cover all of that in a bit but to get us going, Clem, what, real quick, give me your two sentence take on why it is we’re doing what we’re doing.
Clem Harrod: The reason why you and I just wanted to start this thing up was because we travel so much, our lives are just busy crazy. Those friendships, those bonds, that information out there – when you’re not in it all the time, or you’re not apart of the story, sometimes it is missed. And you just wanna stay in the know, you wanna stay in that bond with your fellow coworkers. You want to stay in the know of the industry. But you also want to make a difference in the industry. You also want to leave your mark or if, somebody is leaving their mark you want to hear about it. You want to see, understand the greater good of the industry and understand what we’re doing out here.
Stephen Bowles: That’s right man, and that’s honestly why we bring guys like Joe in because they’ve done that in their own way already. So we’re excited about that.
So, alright, Joe. I’ll actually go ahead and just kick the first question.
So Joe, how in the goodness-gracious, how did you find this industry? How did you actually get into the production industry?
Joe Mertz: That’s a great question. I was actually going to college for engineering – mechanical engineering, in Pennsylvania. And my summer job, was a technician in a little theme park called Sesame Place. It was based on Sesame Street
Clem Harrod: Ha!
Stephen Bowles: What?
Joe Mertz: Great summer job, fabulous, you know, all teenage kids. And it was such a small park, you got to do some amazing things. Some of my colleagues were writing shows, performing them. We really got to do some amazing production type stuff that you really never would get at that age to do like at a…
Stephen Bowles: That’s cool.
Joe Mertz: …at a park like Disney World or Epcot where they have full on production companies.
Stephen Bowles: Yep.
So I was doing the engineering thing and about halfway through I said, “you know, I really don’t know if I can be an engineer.” I want something a little more interesting, a little more exciting. And at that point I would rather do film and TV and I moved to Orlando because they were building soundstages and Orlando seemed to be the up and coming film, TV, sound location. And then I moved down here and realized the above the line work all came from LA and New York. So I either had to move to LA or New York if I really wanted to be a producer in film and TV. So I started to look for alternatives and that’s when I discovered the live event industry and my first real job in the industry was in the events department at Walt Disney World. I worked out of the building which was called Main Gate at the time and I was a freelancer. I never really had a full time job there, I would just pick up jobs on a project basis for 2 years. I started doing, I started with the Boy Scout Jamboree with them as a Production assistant and I finished my career there with the Super Bowl halftime show in 2000 as a production assistant. And at that point I was like, it’s time to move on, and I started freelancing and you know, going out into the real world and trying to pick up some work with some other production companies besides one specific company.
Stephen Bowles: Where you, hold on, you said you did get to work on the Super Bowl Halftime show?
I did, 2000, I was…
Stephen Bowles: I never knew that!
Joe Mertz: …yes, I was the production assistant for the Super Bowl Halftime show number 34 in Atlanta Georgia.
Stephen Bowles: Who was the band?
Joe Mertz: Uh, it was multiple. That was at the end of a huge theatrical production. But it was Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton. They all had like a song in that, and it was a huge theatrical production. It was just a band out there doing their music. It was, you know, typical Disney huge spectacle. Hundreds of people’s, puppets and you know, pyro. You should find it, it was pretty amazing. It was to celebrate their millennium, which they had a whole bunch of millennium projects and this was kind of a markup commercial for their millennium projects that year.
Stephen Bowles: I gotcha, I got you.
Clem Harrod: Wow.
Clem Harrod: You know, I love how you, this seems to be a running themes with people starting in Orlando, and coming to Orlando. I mean, what was that like? How old were you when you decided, I’m just gonna get up and move? I’m going to Orlando because they seem like they have some stuff going on down there? What did that process entail for you?
Joe Mertz: Yeah, I was 22 years old. I had just graduated college with an engineering degree. And my parents were like “What do you mean you’re not going to get an engineering job?”
Stephen Bowles: “What did we just pay for?”
Joe Mertz: Exactly!
Joe Mertz: You know, I packed up my car. It was a Chevy Corsica. I packed it up with everything I owned. I actually had no bed, I slept on the floor for, uh, for a year and a half. But I had a couple of friends who all worked at Sesame PLace with me. One guy was going to school down there, another guy had a job at the Magic Kingdom. We had another guy who was already there. So I had a little bit of a support structure, kind of. It wasn’t like it was just totally wide open and open ended. It was nice to have some friends to come down to. And we shared a house, you know, helped pay the rent together.
Joe Mertz: But it was just all of us in the same area, trying to figure it out. It was funny the number of people, we actually had a party once of all the old Sesama people who had, you know, left Sesame and had come down to Disney and moved on to bigger and better things. It was cool, but I had a little bit of a friendly support structure down here.
But it was still unnerving, I didn’t have a lot of money in my pocket. And to spend money for college, and my first job was that The Rainforest Cafe and then Planet Hollywood – I used to be the door host there. [Laughter]
Joe Mertz: so, you know, you just pick…
Clem Harrod: with the smile and the hair!
Joe Mertz: Exactly! You just picked up whatever work you could get to pay the bills until the first opportunity with Disney World finally came through.
Clem Harrod: Now you talk about bigger and better things, when we were first introduced, it was through a payroll company. I was freelancing for Ellen G, you know, I had to send my invoices over to Mertzcrew. How did that come about? How did the whole Mertz Crew and Mertz Consulting come about?
Joe Mertz: That is an awesome story! I was freelancing, so after I had kind of moved on from Disney and started to produce some of my shows, freelancing for some other folks. I was actually on another show as a stage manager and the audio engineer there was a guy named Louie Hall, who I still work with today
Stephen Bowles: Louie! I love Louie!
Joe Mertz: yes, Louie is a fabulous guy!
We were sitting there at lunch, and he was just complaining that the company that was processing his payment through LMG that year was, They couldn’t really explain his paycheck. He was getting a mixed rate, they didn’t know how to do full 10 hour days. So they were trying to combine 8 hours into 2 hours, they just didn’t get our industry at all. And the crux of it was, he had gotten his paycheck and they had taken a chunk of money out of his paycheck. And they couldn’t explain why, they basically said “we overpaid you”. You know what I mean?
So I felt for him, I was like “that’s terrible!”. You should know how much money you’re getting paid, it’s just silly that this is the kind of, you have to go through. “Well I have to have the insurances to be able to do this.” “Well we have that, can you just run it through us and then we process it and then you can paid for your full rate?”
He looked at me was like “you’d do that?”
And I was like “Absolutely! It’s not hard, let’s just figure it out!”
So we talked down G and he said “Yeah, they’re willing to do it. As long as you have the right paperwork, they’re fine with it.”
“Okay, well here’s the fee we’re willing to do that for and they said “fine”.
Well Louie had talked to a couple of the people and 4 guys all came over that first time and said “you know, hey, I’d like to do that too” We had the original 4 guys who were all willing to process that.
Stephen Bowles: That’s cool!
Joe Mertz: It was me and my wife. I was running Mertz Production side and my wife was handling the processing all of the LMG guys, you know, for a couple of them in our home office. At our, you know, first house. And then, by the end of that year, we were probably like 35 guys. They had all started just moving on and saying, I’d rather do this than that. And they all voluntarily joined us.
And then by the end of that year, the general manager of LMG basically said “could you do everybody?” We just told them to do you.
Clem Harrod: laughter
Joe Mertz: so we said “Absolutely!” So that was the impetus of taking on full time clients, specifically running everything through us and processing for them.
Clem Harrod: So were you nervous about that? To take on that task?
Joe Mertz: No, I mean, it was just more of the same of what we were doing and it didn’t seem difficult to me and I got the industry. Like, I understood the industry, I understood what we were doing. So we started to implement tools to make it easier, I created an excel spreadsheet that calculated hours properly.
Clem Harrod: I remember laughter
Stephen Bowles: Oh dude, that had some crazy formulas!
Clem Harrod: And everything was locked so you couldn’t mess it up
Stephen Bowles: Only type in the green cells
Joe Mertz: Exactly, you know, the guys liked it because it was clear, it was simple, it showed them right there how much they were going to get paid. HOw much there paycheck was, we just simplified that process for them. And everybody seemed to like it.
It wasn’t scary, I did at that point say I needed to fire my wife because she isn’t able to handle that much.
Clem Harrod: Fired? Or asked her to step down?
Joe Mertz: I moved her, transitioned her to a new role
Clem Harrod: There you go
Joe Mertz: And we got Alexia on board as our full time and she’s been with us ever since and you know, we just kind of increased our operating expenses to help manage the amount of people who were coming on board.
Clem Harrod: Nice
Stephen Bowles: That’s funny I remember freelancing as well and getting the Mertz, my first introduction to you was through some just like logo at the upper left corner of an excel spreadsheet thinking, who is this guy? Laughter
Joe Mertz: that’s great
Stephen Bowles: You know, it’s interesting you say that basically it came about because, not only because just you and Louie were problem but having a big first client like an organization like LMG or any other production company. I had the same thing when I started my first company, EScapes Productions with a buddy. We started it by having one client out the door who was on retainer for 25 thousand dollars a month or whatever it was. It’s a lot easier to start up a new business when you’ve got that kind of big contract right out the gate rather than building it one at a time, at a time, at a time. Which you would have accomplished with LMG it sounds like
Joe Mertz: Yeah, it was amazing. When they brought me in, I had no idea that’s the way he was going with the meeting and he was finally like “Can you do all of these?” and I thought what a nice surprise but absolutely.
Stephen Bowles: That’s cool man. So along the way, you’re producing your own shows? You moved from more of an individual show tech, or whatever it is, or just stage manager to more of Mertz Productions. Tell us more about that, what kind of events where you actually producing?
Joe Mertz: Yeah, I had started with a Halloween event for a local theme park, we’ve been doing that since 2001. And then we had got some existing clients and we just started to grow that, I was kind of doing both. I was freelancing for some other people, and I was producing my own shows and they got to a point where the time commitment to freelance for other people was starting to impede on the clients that I had. So i had to just make a personal decision, “hey, no more freelancing. We’re just gonna focus on our clients and our clientele. And go after and really nail those projects”
So we’ve continued to do the Halloween event for 16 years, this was our 16th year producing that event. We’ve got several corporate clients we’ve produced with for multiple years. We’ve had slow growth that way. but when we tend to, when we pick up a client they’re very happy with our progress and the way we do things. And we’ve continued to maintain that clientele. Thats kind of the slow and steady growth I’ve focused on with Merz Productions, just really take care of the clients. We just want them to want to to continue using us and not go anywhere else, and that’s what we’ve been able to do. We’ve even moved on to some cruise line entertainment. We’ve got theme parks, cruise lines and corporate events as our playbook of stuff we produce.
that’s awesome, are you doing more creative and stage management? Or are you renting gear, what’s your offering to them?
Joe Mertz: My key demographic is those clients that don’t have any type of production, we pick those clients up. A lot of our corporate clients we get them as they’re growing out of hotel A/V, when they’re getting frustrated with the lack of creative design. Or even just design for what they’re accomplishing. For years, they’ve been saying “we need this equipment” and the hotels can’t provide enough. They grow beyond those times and they want to do this and want to do this, but they have no idea how to do those things. We want to do more creative, or want to do a morning talk show. And you can’t really get that from hotel A/V, you really need to tell them what they need to produce that. Those are the types of clients we have, and it’s people who don’t have those capabilities in house. Like I try to tell my clients, you guys focus on the content on what you want to say. We’ll make sure it is heard and comes across to everybody in the audience. I can’t sell jeans, I can’t sell timeshares, or whatever the client does. But we can make sure that everybody in that room hears the message you’re saying and is conveyed to them. And then they can go out and sell, and that’s the value we try to offer.
Stephen Bowles: Really it’s that switch from hotel AV, dictating to them what you need. I need a basic lectern with a microphone with one screen with whatever…
Joe Mertz: Exactly
…but once you get to that next level. Really the client needs to be told what they can do, or how they could do what it is that is in their head. And that’s just kind of never going to happen on the hotel side.
Joe Mertz: You know, I can order cameras and lights and you know, audio equipment but that doesn’t mean you can make a movie out of it. Especially a successful one. Anyone can get the equipment but it is the way that is put together and put together to package that stuff into a live event, a movie or TV show.
Stephen Bowles: You know, I was actually on. For anyone listening, I actually came up with Shoflo on a Mertz Show. Down at, I want to say, it was in Naples or Key Biscayne. I don’t even know….
Joe Mertz: It was the Ritz in Key Biscayne
Clem Harrod: You remember!
Stephen Bowles: Your clients man, you picked the right ones!
Stephen Bowles: I remember being backstage, I tell this story in almost every demo I do in Shoflo as far as backstory goes. I always am like, “I’m from the industry, live video director, I was a show site and the producer. Maybe it was Leizl, but someone dropped a new version of a cue sheet, or a show flow on my switching desk. And had to sit there thinking am I going to transfer all of my notes from the old one to the new one, or am I going to fork essentially from what you’ve got and keep my old version but just make notations… and I was like “that right there is the very reason we went after Shoflo.” But I remember being on show site, and telling I think Sandy was on comm. He was your showcaller and popping on column and being like “if this existed, do you think it would be a good idea?” Basically taking a survey on comm and then taking time backstage to create something on photoshop or keynote and then running out to the front of the house and showing you and pitching you guys over the weeks.
I have a very close connection between Mertz Production shows and everything that I do right now.
Joe Mertz: I believe on that show too, I think we had printed the show flows and by the time Leizl had walked it back to you, we already had a change. I think the very first thing we did was “okay, change number 32” like it was the very first thing we did.
Clem Harrod: Nice. Now Joe, with all the changes in your life with the production and the crew? How do you manage that family time? What do you do to stay grounded to your kids and things like that? Joe Mertz: It started early on, I remember when I worked out of the house. Before we actually had an office and you know, and other employees. I used to work all the time. You know what I mean? And then my daughter was born and she would come to the office and stick her little toes under my office door and try and get me to play. And how do you not stop what you’re doing and not go play with her for a little bit?
But the first rule we came up with my wife and I was. I said “if you can give me the time in the office, to leave me alone, keep the kids from distracting me. I’ll work until 6 o’clock as much as possible, get everything I can possibly get done and then I’ll carve that out that when 6 o’clock comes, i’m done working and it’ll be family time. And that was the first rule that we came up with. To try and come up with delineator between family time and work time. And it’s still hard now, your phone, your devices, everything is connected. I try and mentally check out at 6 and then at that point, it’s just emergency stuff and things that must be taken care of. But if it can wait till tomorrow during business hours, that’s what I try to do. And mentally say, you know what, let me have the time with the family. That’s what most people do, they’re done with their job and they go home. They’re all finished and they can work on it the next day, so you have to mentally tell yourself, this is family time and stop working. Because I could…
Clem Harrod: Mhm
Joe Mertz: I could 24/7 if I wanted to. Especially in this industry, its fun. It’s not a pain and you want to do it. But you have to tell yourself that this is where the line is and i’m only going to do emergency stuff. Or client facing stuff. Or stuff that could hurt the relationshipwith the client.
Clem Harrod: I know, it’s really hard in this industry. Working from show to show as a tech, people get caught chasing that dollar. And I know Stephen, you had mentioned before, that you had your budget. Do you remember the number you had to reach by the end of the year, and once you’ve reached that number, you would kind of taper off
Clem Harrod: I wonder if a lot of people do that, do a lot of people truly establish a budget and understand what their operation cost is for the year, to then take the work accordingly so that they can have a life. So that they can think about their families and things like that.
Stephen Bowles: I think it does, your thing with travel with Mertz Productions and shows, and then you have Mertz Crew which is probably more of a regular business hour job. And like for me, you know, speaking from Shoflo. I remember when I would travel all the time, it was fun but it was also exhausting. It takes a toll on your personal life on how to figure out the norm/volatility. But with Shoflo now, I literally come in work from 8 to 6 and working 1000% of my brain is on it, but when I’m done, I come home. I wonder for you, Joe. How do you handle that? Because you basically you might travel for a show, be on show site, have crazy odd hours. But if you travel back on a Tuesday that doesn’t mean that you necessarily get to take the rest of the week off. You still have to go back to the office in on Wednesday and either work on MertzCrew or at minimum just do normal producing management roles that you have to do for the next show. Back to you, how do you handle all of that?
Clem Harrod: How do you do both?
Joe Mertz: The same way that I try to compartmentalize business hours, when I’m on a show that is a long run or is a decent amount of time. I try to then tell the kids, especially when i’m traveling a lot. Kids don’t want me to go and it really takes a toll on them. So we try and have family time and try to travel together, or visit family, or go on vacation or go on a cruise. And I try and explain to them, we get a good quality amount of time together when we can spend time together. And if I can get a day off from the office I try and surprise them or if I get off early, I try and do that.
It’s just mentally trying to compartmentalize when you’re working and when you’re not working to try and… and honestly, my favorite time is when I have a Saturday is taking the girls to dance class, and they’re there for about 4 or 5 hours and I bring in a chair and sit down and get to change their shoes. I just love it, hanging out there and being there. My wife is like “you’re nuts”. She can’t sit for anything, it’ll drive her crazy. But it’s just my time to be with them and be with their friends. I soak it up and whenever I get those moments with them, I try and make the best of it.
Stephen Bowles: That’s awesome, so hey, I’ve got a question for you. Let’s talk a little bit about Mertz Crew, we talked about it in infancy and how it got started and how it really grew into something where you’re servicing one particular organization which was a large one, which kind of touched a certain circle of freelancers… but since then, you’ve really kind of grown that into a more mature offering for the greater industry. I guess just go ahead and tell us what Mertz Crew is today and tell us what your infrastructure is like there and how are you bringing that to the industry?
Joe Mertz: Well, like I said, it came from an existing need that was out there. And I feel like, the big benefit we offer, we work the way the industry works. Everything else that is considered a competitor, is trying to force the industry into other areas and trying to make things work like I said… the original company we are, we took the business from trying to make an industry work in an industry where it doesn’t work and then you have frustrated contractors like Louie.
So we continued to focus on the staging arena, we really focused on the contracting and payment audit area, that is the primary piece that we own and really nobody has been able to capture the way that we have. And since then, we’ve started the grow the other side of it. My end goal with Mertz Crew, we want to be a software platform that really handles your personal and your labor on a showsite from the beginning of when you need that role all the way to the end when the guys gets paid. And that doesn’t matter if he is an employee, a contractor, third party contractor, staffing company. We want you guys to see Mertz Crew as “I need a lighting designer on this project and we’re going to handle that from the beginning to the end.” So we’ve taken the back end and think we’ve owned for a while and we’re now growing into the scheduling side, alerting crew… My end goal is that you just look at your phone and you know exactly where you’re working the next day because it’s in your calendar. And then if there are updates, the scheduler can update that information and your schedule just automatically updates. They’re on your device. So that’s the vision and end goal, we really want to help rental and staging companies… I mean there a lot of software companies out there that focus on the equipment and managing the equipment and where it needs to be. And they’re dabbling on the personnel side, but I think we’re doing it better and really trying to focus on helping you manage your personnel on an event with rental and staging.
Clem Harrod: Yeah, I can appreciate that. Watching your company and your platform and your ideas grow – i love your website and having that profile on there and being able to say what my skills are, having that rate on there and list those jobs or see the list of jobs that are available. And I’ve also had people contact me and have had people contact me saying “hey I saw your profile on Mertz Crew and wanted to see if you’d be available on these dates”. It definitely made it more user friendly and person friendly, because people aren’t gear. I’m totally against the idea of people being shipped around like gear. But to see that option and to be contacted in the way that it all works together has been… I appreciated the way everything has grown and I wanted to say that.
Joe Mertz: Thank you
Clem Harrod: So kudos
Joe Mertz: And I truly look at it that way. All these guys are freelancers, so to me they’re all individual businesses. And they’re selling what they do and I can appreciate the guy who is really good at his job, but he’s not very good at selling himself or getting his invoice out to get paid or managing his payment procedure. He just wants to be a video switcher because he’s good at that. I mean we have some guys who are so good at running a spider system but we can’t invoice them via email because they’re just so into what they do. And that’s what we want to become, we wanna be the platform that allows them to be the best spider operator they are, and just get paid and do their gig and show up to the project and do a great job spider operating and making the rest as easy as possible. They get paid in a timely manner and they get paid… they have a guarantee that they’re going to get paid, and don’t have to worry about if this is a producer that is going to stiff them on their pay. Or what are the terms of the deal? So many times when I was freelancing I started to come up with the deal memo because I thought a day rate meant this, and they thought a day rate meant that. And neither of them were really malicious, it was just a nomenclature thing. So, we settle that now, it’s clear in your contract. This is what you’re going to get paid, this is how you’re going to get paid, and you can either accept it or reject it. You know, you have that right to say no, I’m not going to do that because you guys have adjusted the payments differently. And that is now all on the front end. Its all before you do the work. It’s such a bitter pill, after you do this project, you worked your butt off, and then you find out that they meant that a day rate meant no over time. And you just got done working four 16 hour days.
Clem Harrod: yeah
Joe Mertz: Those are things we want to avoid. We want to settle all of that stuff on the front end, so you can settle how you’re getting paid. MEaning everyone walks away happy, you’re happy with the rate, you got paid the way you expected to get to paid and the amount of money…. And it shows up in your paycheck or bank account in a timely manner that it was expected. So we just want to settle all of that stuff so that there isn’t this negativity… and trust me, I knew as a producer who hired other freelancers, there are some guys who have been stiffed and there are some negative people out there. You see on LinkedIn, chat rooms and people who are trying to uncover ideas like “hey I’ve never heard of this company. Do I have to worry about this?” People have to worry about these types of things, these are real problems that these guys have to worry about and some of them, they’re looking for the next payment as soon as possible. So to give some peace of mind and some opportunities for these guys, I love that. I would love to continue to grow MertzCrew to give these people that I have… I love this industry, I have great camaraderie with most everybody in this industry and to be able to provide some peace of mind for them. That they can just do their job and feel solid that their payment is going to be there and they know what they’re going to get paid. Those are all wins for us from MertzCrew.
Clem Harrod: Now, I have a question in regards to that. If I’m a freelancer, right? And I’ve been requested to work on a show by a company, they’ve reached out to me. Can I say that “okay, I’ll do your job but I get paid through MertzCrew?”
Joe Mertz: Absolutely! And we have guys that do that. Yup. It’s a little bit more, it’s not as easy as a process as it is for companies that come to us that say “hey we wanna pay everybody through mertzcrew” but we can certainly do that. We actually have that in our pipeline, if we could get to a point where a contractor’s payment platform is MertzCrew. Where he does all of his convincing through mertzcrew regardless of who the client is.
Those are the things that we’re looking into the future towards
Stephen Bowles: I have a question for you. You mentioned, if a company wants to hire a great spider op. How do they know that just because they’re in your database, that they’re worth hiring in the first place? Or is there some qualifying that goes on?
Joe Mertz: the qualifying is all on the department’s side. So if a company wants a spider operator, they can certainly broadcast “hey i’m looking for a spider operator” and they can limit it to certain things. They only want it within 25 mile radius of this certain city, or they can open it up to the whole database. And then guys will propose, I can do it for this much money. And they can see on their profiles if they’ve done that job or not. We give them their email address and their phone number, so you can call. So Stephen, if you put it in for a video producer job with a company who has never worked with you before. They all have access to your resume and your phone number and pick up the phone and chat with you. Have you done this? What gear have you worked on? What companies have you worked for?
So we give them a little bit of data. But ultimately, they can pick up the phone and talk to the contractor directly. Let them personally, before they make any kind of movement… we’re not eliminating… we’re not getting to a point where it’s like Uber, where you just a get a video director where you just get one that shows up.
Joe Mertz: it would be nice getting to that point, but the skillset is a little more than just driving a car. It would be nice, most people… we’re kind of eliminating “hey i’ve gone through my five guys who are spider operators. None of them are available”. What do you most people do at this point? They start asking for referrals, “hey can you refer me to a spier operator that you might know?” This allows them to at least to open up the arena to say “hey, maybe there is somebody else out there that I don’t know” But they still want to check their references, and their resume and even just have a chat with them to get the personality correct.
Clem Harrod: Two questions: I notice on the site, there is a star system. How are those rated?
And then, also, do people have access to see some of your show history? Your old shoes that are on your site as well?
Joe Mertz: Yeah, you can only see show history of the client if it is within a company that you work with. So you have…. There is some concern, and validly, some companies don’t want their contractors to be….available to the rest of the world that is their competition. So they’re able to build a fence around their contractors that they don’t want anyone else to have access to.
But if you have contractor that joined publicly, and they’re available to the public. They’ve come to this en they’re available to rest of it. If they’re open to other companies, you can see what jobs they have done or what roles they have done. And what they were rated on those roles, but you can’t see what show it was. Like because we don’t want to allow others rental/staging companies to know those shows exist, to try and poach a potential show from another client.
So that’s the reasons for those types of protections. But you can see that the guy was a spider operator five times and got a 4.7 rating on those five times. That’s probably a pretty good indication that he’s a pretty good spider op.
Clem Harrod: Like uber, when you complete a ride you have to give a rating. So is there a forced rating system for companies, or do people just have the option to rate technicians?
Joe Mertz: It is forced, but the default is a 4 star rating. So if there is a company that doesn’t wanna deal with the rating system, or its too long or tedious, the 4 star rating is kind of the average or the go to. And then what we’re giving them basically “do you want to adjust the 4?” We assume that everybody on a level playing field that they’re all 4 stars roles. But say a guy did an extra amazing job and you really wanna give him something else, then they have the opportunity to bump him up to 5 stars. Or if they’re really someone you wanna call out “we had a real problem with them.” And you want to… out the schedules and callers, you have the opportunity to knock them down. So there are a lot of guys who are frustrated with the 4 star, but I would say that the 4 star is a good thing. It meant you did your gig, they’re willing to use you again. There’s nothing negative, there’s nothing that really happened. YOu should be proud.
Stephen Bowles: I love it, I love that you know, Joe what you guys basically are doing is defining or at least taking the first swing at sort of defining some of these new rules in ways that the industry can sort of assess. That’s great, it’s not that it is exactly perfect, but someone has a thought around it and you guys are implementing it. And then you’ll learn, with software, you’ll run it out there, you’ll see how the collective industry responds to it and then you build off of that. I like any aspect of software that has that more user contribution side to the where the community is sourced and defined. Define those stars, define those reviews. I think that it is usually generally for the better and for the worst.
Joe Mertz: Thank you. We’ve had some people who were a little nervous about it, and I get that. I know that there are some of those equipment softwares that have those rating systems, but they’re closed. But what I like about ours is that you are able to see some response. If you’re only getting 3 stars, you know, you gotta take that and go wait a minute. Is there something I’m not doing? Something’s not right here, maybe I need to self reflect and take a look and see what’s going on. Or reach out and find out what you can do better. I agree it’s all good stuff that allows people to continue to grow and get better their skillset.
Stephen Bowles: Well for anybody who is interested, you can learn more at mertzcrew.com. They have videos and contacting – get a hold of Joe. Gabe is the other contact there?
Joe Mertz: Yup.
Stephen Bowles: Joe, we gotta wrap buddy. Thank you, this was awesome…
Joe Mertz: No, no my pleasure!
Stephen Bowles: …I appreciate it.
Stephen Bowles: Just in general, just for everybody out there, please, if you know of anybody else that would be a great candidate. SOmeone who would be on the production channel, even if it’s yourself and you’ve got great insight into what the industry looks like. That’s what we’re doing here, we’re trying to bring those stories to the industry.
Thanks Joe, thanks Clem. I appreciate you guys and we’ll catch you next week on the production channel.