Corrections on the ESPN Overtime Issue

I received a lengthy email correcting several points on Thursday’s post. In order to protect the reader’s anonymity (something I’m familiar with), I’ll try to hide any personal details.

First, it turns out Severn Sandt is a woman. I used the masculine pronoun because I was unfamiliar with the name Severn, and a quick google search implied it’s usually a guy’s name. Sorry, Ms. Sandt.

Second, timecards on non-union sports shows work very differently than a union scripted series. They report 30 minute blocks, rather than 6, which seems harsh, but at least explains the 9:00/9:10/9:30 issue Sandt mentioned. Rounding down ten minutes rather than rounding up twenty doesn’t sound quite so bad.

I also received an update– Sandt was fired. And you might be surprised to learn that I think that’s terrible.

Pretty terrible.
Maybe not this terrible, but still.

As I said, I think it’s in poor taste for the higher ups to ask you to not report overtime (or “contribute an hour or two of your OT to the cause” as Sandt put it), but it’s not really the worst thing I’ve heard on a set. Producers, UPMs, etc, are constantly trying to find new, creative ways to cut the budget. Sandt went a little overboard, but not to a fire-worthy degree.

And I sincerely doubt she would have been fired, if this letter hadn’t made the rounds on the internet. If you’re going to fire someone, it shouldn’t matter whether their behavior publicly known or not. And if you wouldn’t fire them until the behavior was publicly known, don’t fire them after.

I’m sure the network was happy Sandt was trying innovative ways of cutting payroll, until this memo embarrassed them. That’s pretty high up there on the list of shitty reasons to fire someone.

I sincerely hope my post did not contribute to Sandt being let go. I don’t know her at all, but if this memo is the worst thing she’s done, she’d still be in the top 10% of people I’ve worked for.

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4 Responses

  1. You’re incorrect about the timecards on sports shows. Union or not, standard practice is that if you’re 1 minute into overtime, that counts as 30 minutes (it used to be an hour, in fact). You can debate forever whether that’s “fair” or not to the billion-dollar-Disney-corporation, but the fact is, that’s how it works. Severn asking people to round down instead of up was in blatant contradiction of how timesheets have been marked for decades on sports shows.

    And if you’re surprised by ESPN nickel-and-diming people over water bottles, you’ve never worked for ESPN. That’s standard practice for them. It’s why many established freelancers don’t even bother answering their emails – it’s just not worth it to work for ESPN when you can fill your calendar with other clients that don’t pull that crap. The only people working for them are people that can’t get work from someone else, or people that like the “security” of working a lot for a network that can jack them around, um, I mean, provide them with work year-round. If you’re any good in this business, you can make more working with everyone else.

  2. She was fired because of her comments about the Brazilian locals. Bad for the Disney image. (Disney owns ESPN)

  3. This is ReaderJoe who was mentioned at the top of the first post regarding this story. Given that the original ran on Deadspin and you didn’t link to that story until several days after it ran, I’m sure you had nothing to do with that person being fired.

    I was going to make the :06 vs :30 point but I see it’s already been discussed. I also think the memo was aimed more at technical crew than PAs, but that’s speculation. It seems to me this is the kind of issue that gets worked out at the wink-nod-handshake level between crew and UPM/dept head. Regardless, something like that should never have been put in writing and sent to the entire production. The whole memo was awful. Reminding people they’re not on a domestic trip, insulting the locals, free work, etc.

    The biggest issue to me is the complete disregard for staff/crew safety, intentional or not. If you are the EIC of a large-scale event like X Games, you can not instruct your employees to “help out” wherever they see something that needs doing. That’s how things get done wrong by well-intentioned people who don’t know what they’re doing. That’s how accidents happen. That’s how people get hurt. I’m sure the Safety Coordinator and insurance company went apeshit when they read it.

    The second biggest issue I had with the story was the stupidity of a $40 billion company, during the production of one of their brand’s flagship events, nickel and diming their crew over craft service. How much does 6 bottles of water cost in Brazil? Maybe $2? And how much does it cost the production if a crew member drinks bad hotel water, gets sick, and can’t work or is far below 100%? More than $2 I would guess. There is so much money that gets wasted at the top of the budget. When I see this kind of thing it drives me bonkers.

  4. I disagree with some of your thoughts on the topic. I think rounding down on a time card sounds horrible, even if you’re “only” ten minutes over. If you work part of that time increment, you should be compensated for it; end of story. She’s already asking crew to do things outside of their job descriptions “for the good of the cause” and asking them to take what essentially amounts to a pay cut on top of that is pretty appalling, in my opinion.

    On that note, I absolutely think she should’ve been fired regardless of whether or not her e-mail was made so public. With the time card rounding, she’s essentially asking her crew to work part of the day for free, and last time I checked, that was illegal which makes her a huge legal liability for her employer. Not to mention that she put such ridiculous requests in (digital) writing without a thought about how this might come back to bite her in the ass.

    While I don’t know Ms. Sandt personally and I agree that this isn’t the worst thing I’ve heard done, I absolutely think the punishment fit the crime.

    Just my two cents.

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