Am I Too Small?

Indy (a college student) writes in:

I’m currently in college, and I’m interested in working behind the scenes for film and television. I would love to someday become a cinematographer, but one question that I’ve always wondered is if I’m too small to hold and operate a camera for long periods of time.

I’m very petite, just a little over 5 foot tall and weigh no more than 100 pounds, I was wondering if my lack of height and perhaps muscle would ultimately ruin my chances of becoming a cinematographer?

Do you think using a Steadicam would be too challenging? I have no experience in using camera equipment or even holding a camera so I have no clue. Sadly, I have no idea if I’m too short to capture the actors on camera (besides low angle shots) and I’ve only ever seen men handling the cameras.

Cameras are getting smaller all the time, but you sound extremely petite, even in this modern era of DSLRs and prosumer cameras on professional film sets.

Working your way up the ranks, though, is going to take time. No one’s going to let you anywhere near a camera just yet. First, you’ll have to be a set PA, then move over to camera PA, then 2nd AC, 1st AC, then operator. Granted, the ACs have to lug the cameras around plenty, but still, you’ve got a good five years to bulk up and practice, at least.

Steadicams are indeed heavy, but that’s also a specialized skill. Not every operator uses a steadicam. Heck, not every movie even uses handheld cameras at all. Most everything is shot on sticks or a dolly.

Women work in the camera department all the time. I’ve been a loader, and the first 1st AC I worked under was a woman. The show I’m on now has a female DP. From my own personal experience, among the “hard crew,”1 I’d say the camera department is the most open to women.2

Don’t assume your limitations will be an impediment. Your small hands might make it easier for you to make on-the-fly repairs to camera and gear, squeezing into small spaces and such. Get yourself out there and do your best.

You might make a fantastic cinematographer some day.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Grips, electrics, camera, sound, ADs.
  2. Sound off in the comments if your experience is different.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sound Mixer Chris Henry

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Today’s guest is a voice you may find familiar– our very own producer, Chris Henry.

Besides recording and editing Crew Call, Chris is an on-set sound mixer for indie movies. He’s relatively new to Los Angeles, and so I felt his experiences might be useful to some of the younger listeners out there, who are just starting out.

Sound is a tough department, because it’s vitally important, yet is often everyone’s last thought. It shouldn’t be your last thought though.

The producer of today’s episode was Chris Henry, who also wrote the theme.1 Follow him on Twitter at @MrStonebender.

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed.

Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Basically, Chris did everything except write this footnote.
Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Shit Happens

I just saw this post on Reddit:

Christopher Nolan breaks the 180 degree rule in The Dark Knight

Can anyone explain why he did it, and also why it works?

I’m new to film making, and I’ve been told that this rule is a rule that you shouldn’t break. But after seeing that Christopher Nolan breaks this rule, I am left confused.

The replies ranged from “There ain’t no rules” to “He was trying to get into the psychology of the Joker and blah blah bliddy blah.” But here’s the truth– shit happens.

I didn’t work on The Dark Knight, but just by watching the camera movement, you can tell how it was shot. The camera was placed over Batman’s right shoulder, slowly drifting to the left as they spoke. Then they turned around, put the camera over Joker’s left shoulder, and slowly drifted right.1

The cameras pass behind their respective characters at almost the same time, but since they weren’t shot simultaneously (each camera would’ve seen the other, obviously), it’s unlikely that they’d be perfectly in sync, no matter how good the dolly grip was.

The fact that they were so close implies that the filmmakers intended to not jump over the line, but rather slide across it during the conversation. Maybe one or two takes even matched. But in the end, the editor, director, and anyone else with input decided that the performances trumped the rule violation.

The camera movement hides the jump a little bit, since we, the audience, are anticipating crossing behind the character’s heads, anyway. The fact that it is the Joker we’re talking about means you can do crazy things and get away with it. In the end, most people probably never even noticed. It certainly didn’t bug me until ilikefruitydrinks pointed it out.

But we’ve had auteur theory crammed down our throats for so long that young, aspiring filmmakers (and, sadly, many film critics) really believe that every single shot and cut is filled with intention and purpose.

That’s simply untrue.

There’s only so many hours in a day, and therefore only so many setups can be shot. Even David Fincher has to call out “Print! Moving on!” at some point. We don’t always get it perfect. Compromises will be made.

A lot of times, the mistake you see in a film really is that– a mistake. Then, in the cold darkness of the editing bay, the post team has to figure out how to make a film with the footage they have, not the shots they intended to get.

This isn’t what people mean when they say “fix it in post;” this is standard filmmaking. Every movie, from your first short film to the most expensive Hollywood blockbuster, is a series of compromises. Sometimes we call those compromises “collaboration;” sometimes we call them “fuck ups.”

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. You do what you can with what you have. Sometimes it works, and you come up with The Dark Knight.2 Sometimes you get Trans4mers.

So don’t look at a movie and assume everything about it was the way the director intended. Because it’s just not.

Some of it is, but some it is just shit that happened.

 

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Yes, there are other shots in the scene, but they’re irrelevant to the current discussion.
  2. Although, not everyone thinks that it’s a great film.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged | 1 Comment

Production Designer Vincent Reynaud

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Today’s episode features yet another department about which I know precious little.

Our guest is a production designer, Vincent Reynaud. We talk about color, design, and many things I just plain don’t understand. Plus, Vincent has a delightful accent.

The producer of today’s episode was Chris Henry, who also wrote the theme. (I screwed up the recording on this particular ep, and Chris put in a heroic effort to save the audio. If you don’t like it, blame me!)

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed. Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping.

Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hey, You! With the Face!

I’m not sure about you guys but one of the biggest problems for me on a set is remembering everyone’s name.

Seriously, though. Especially when you are working a short commercial gig for one or two days? UGH.  Every single time a gig starts and you have to ask someone for the 50th time what their name is?

Really everything is just hopeless until, like, week two. (At least it is for me.)

“Does anyone have eyes on Bill?”

Nope, sorry. I really don’t know who Bill is; he could literally be standing next to me, and I wouldn’t know.

Checks bathroom. There’s no one in the bathroom.

“Well, Bill is not in the bathroom.”

“Hey I could use a water on set for Anne.”

Sounds great. I’ll just bring eight waters and hand them out to everyone on set, and hope one of those waters lands in the hands of Anne. I wonder what she does?

My favorite solution is when the walkies have everyone’s names on them. If you have ever done this as a PA: THANK YOU. Seriously, everyone loves you. Any sort of label on a walkie can help immensely. Even if its just the department, it at least narrows down the options.

For those people like me who have issues with names? I suggest always having the call sheet on you.1 Maybe while you hide in the bathroom to get a 5 minute break you can review names on the sheet and try and place the faces.

Does anyone out there have any solutions for the name predicament?

Maybe can we all just wear “Hello my name is ___” like dorks on set?

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. And really, there are many, many reasons to have your callsheet on hand, anyway.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

October Mixer – Film Industry LA & TAPA, Together at Last!

The next meet-up is happening on October 26th. This time, it won’t be just PAs. We’re partnering with Film Industry LA to invite people from all fields of the entertainment industry.

We’ll be gathering at Barney’s Beanery in Burbank (say that three times fast). We’re starting a little later than usual, 4:30pm, because apparently there is some sporting event that’s regularly broadcast on Sunday afternoons, and we’re avoiding that crowd.

Barney’s is located at 250 N. 1st St., Burbank, CA 91502.

Once again, the good folks at Gratafy will be there, ready to buy your first round. Gratafy is the app that lets you send drinks, dinner and more as gifts to your friends, from local bars and restaurants. Download it for free in the app store before or at the TAPA happy hour, and they’ll send you your first drink! Check out this video to learn more, and watch them on KTLA.

Let us know you’re coming on the Facebook page.

Posted in TAPA Meetup | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Costume Designer Eden Miller

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Today’s guest is Eden Miller, a costume designer who’s worked on everything from soap operas to features. She’s even designed her own fashion line, Cabiria!

This is one of those episodes where I went in almost totally blind. I know almost nothing about this department. Luckily, Eden knows everything, and gives us the lowdown from top to bottom. Even if, like me, you aren’t particularly into fashion, you’ll be fascinated to hear about all the work and care that goes into each and every costume.

The producer of today’s episode was Chris Henry, who also wrote the theme. (I screwed up the recording on this particular ep, and Chris put in a heroic effort to save the audio. If you don’t like it, blame me!)

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed. Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping.

Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Call People “Cunt”

You’d think that would go unsaid, but apparently not.

Xaviar wrote me on Facebook:

Enjoying your site I,m a comedy writer, stand up artist, & have a business which I label as a “Comedy Resource Specialist providing all comedy services. I still have a lot of goals to achieve but I’m at this crossroad where I’m finding that I’m searching for opportunities in the industry and a lot of ppl doing the same and I’m seeing cover letters and the list goes on and on but also I know id blow them away with my work. So what my issue is along with what I’ve achieved and produce it still seems to shadow artists, so I’m stumped at what else I can do to beef up my info aside from I’m absolutely more talented than these fools splashed across the page. You may not even offer advise but I’m going to exercise all potential resources thanks !

I don’t know why, but I felt the need to reply. Maybe it’s because I thought Xaviar was just enthusiastic, and hadn’t taken the time to properly think through his email. Or maybe I just wanted to see what would happen. In any case, I replied–

I don’t know if English is your second language (if so, congrats!), but this is nearly impossible to read.

Okay, a little mean, but seriously, I didn’t know. This is much better written than if I’d tried to write something in French, but I get emails like this from native English speakers all the time.

In any case, I wasn’t going to embarrass the guy by publicly sharing this incoherent email, until he sent me this–

It is and thanks for being an unsatisfactory cunt

That’s just… not okay.

I don’t mean the “cunt” thing (although that’s obviously not okay, either).

I mean, it’s not okay to write an email in anger. It will never help, especially if you’re asking someone for her time and energy on something. If you write someone an email, and get an unsatisfactory response, lashing out isn’t going to change her mind. It’s not going to get a positive reaction. Best case is, she’ll dismiss you forever.

Worst case, she’ll tell her thousands of readers what a dickbag you are, using your own words.

As best I can tell, Xaviar wants to be a comedian, and feels he’s more talented than other comedians out there. Here’s how I might’ve responded, if he’d sent me a polite email about his situation–

The thing is, comedy is largely based in a command of language; most stand-ups are wordsmiths. If you are not completely fluent, and I mean completely, it’s extremely difficult to create jokes.

Comedy is also highly culturally specific. Even speaking the same language, humor doesn’t always carry from one place to another, or one time to another.1

While I’m sure you’re very funny,2 your style of humor may just not be translating (literally and figuratively) to an American English-speaker.

Instead, I’ll just say, Screw you, you misogynist piece of fuck.

* * *

Sorry about the continued lack of Crew Call. Producer Chris is still struggling mightily to overcome the technical difficulties.3

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Did you know The Merchant of Venice is supposed to be a comedy?
  2. Not really; I’m just being polite.
  3. That TAPA caused.
Posted in The Industry | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Where Should I Spend My Money?

Carlos writes in:

I have been working at an office for a little over a year now. In that time, I have managed to save approximately $5,000. I have since quit my boring office-job and am planning to make the move to L.A. to become a production assistant. If I were to move now, I would more or less likely use a good chunk (if not all) of my money for rent / living as I look for employment during the initial months.

Originally, when I first started working, my goal was to save enough money to make my dream short film (which is ultimately still my goal as a filmmaker). So my question is this: should I not be afraid to “waste” my money on living – or should I try to save it? IDEALLY, I’d would move to L.A and have (or find) a job right away – that way I could still save my money and put it towards my short film.

My fear is that I’ll spend all my money in a few months and never be able to recuperate the same amount (or at least not as quickly) – considering the wages I might earn initially, unexpected expenditures, or just plain unemployment. The other option I see is to use the money now for my project and postpone the move to a later point in time with little or no money – and figure it out as I go. I would greatly appreciate your help!

Congratulations!

You have officially reached the decision that most everyone has had to make out here. The decision between following your passion or playing it safe.

On one hand playing it safe and staying in a 9-5 job with consistent pay is amazing in itself. Sometimes after a 14 hour day those 8 hours seem like heaven.

On the other hand, you have your dream. The dream to make a film short is a great goal and most of us out here have goals similar. You won’t be able to make your short directly when you get out to LA. It takes years to build up contacts and the money that it will take to create such a thing.

Even with your $5,000 it will still be a really tough living situation for you out here. It’s rough out here for people who want to work in the entertainment industry.

(Dramatic music plays in the background)

If you come out here, you have to do so with a massive amount of determination. Once you move you CANNOT give up. You CANNOT be lazy. You HAVE to be an aggressive person. Do whatever it takes. Get as many production assistant gigs as you can and work as an Uber driver or at a movie theater in your off time to keep building up your money. Take weird jobs if it means getting money. Eventually, if you work your ass off, you will be able to make your dream happen.

It will be a really difficult life for you but in the end doesn’t making your dream come true make it worth it?

 

Posted in The Industry | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Jogger’s Query

Joe, who is healthier than either you or me, writes in:

I’ve worked as a PA, as an AD, and Location Assistant, which has all been fantastic and what I’ve read on your site has been very helpful.

I’ve found myself in a bit of a lull in the last month, and I’ve had a lot of time to go on some great runs during the day time. What I’ve noticed consistently as I leave the apartment colony that is my neighborhood and head up into the lovely hills filled with nice houses and Teslas, is lots of filming going on in the residences there.

My question is: is there a smooth, non-annoying way for me to go and introduce myself to the crew in hopes of networking and finding a gig? I jog by at least 3 large film crews in there neighborhood per week, and I always find myself wondering, would stopping by with some business cards do me any good or just piss people off?

Three questions:

  1. Do you have a spare surveillance mic laying around?
  2. Are you a good improviser?
  3. Have you considered doing something I like to call “camouflaging”?

But in all seriousness, I think a different way to look at it is to ask yourself this question: “How would I want a stranger to approach ME, if I was the one working on set?”

In my case, high on the list would be “cautiously inquisitive” and “not reeking of desperation.”

For example, I used to work as a stage PA and often times my job would require directing background actors to cross back-and-forth through sets we were shooting on.  In between takes, many of the BG actors would politely engage me to talk about, well, me.  They’d ask things like how I got this job, who I knew to get this job, and where they could apply to get this job too.

And to be perfectly honest, I was happy to answer their scintillating questions. Why?  Because they came off unassuming and were genuinely interested in ME.  (We’ve covered how narcissistic this town is, right?)

But that’s what you have to do.  Scope out the situation, find somebody who doesn’t look too important and/or having the most miserable time on earth, and ask him/her what they’re shooting.  Show genuine interest in them.  Ask them what they do, if they like it, and how they think it’s going so far.  That’s easily a couple minutes of them enjoying the sound of their own voice while you learn more about them.

Then it’s all about reading the situation at hand. Are they in a hurry to go back to work?  If not, this would be the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself. Tell them you’ve jogged by their film set a bunch and have a lot of experience working on sets doing XYZ.  Sell yourself, but be brief.  It’s about them, remember?

When all is going well, and they deem you unthreatening (but more importantly, clinically sane), maybe you could say something like, “I’d really love to work on a project like this sometime.  Do you know a way I’d be able to send my resume over to the ADs?”

If they’re nice, they might give you an email address.  If they’re really nice, they might offer to forward your resume to the POC or AD themselves.  If they’re an angel, they might just introduce you to the person right then and there.  Whichever way, that’s your first “in”.

Afterwards, show eternal gratitude for their time and generosity, and go on your merry jogging way.

Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , | 3 Comments