Jump to content


Photo

NYC for starting out?


  • Please log in to reply
13 replies to this topic

#1 Byron Karl

Byron Karl
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 65 posts
  • Other

Posted 10 January 2007 - 10:45 AM

I graduated from a film program about 6 years ago, where I DP'd a number of projects and a thesis film and then moved out to NYC with the idea shooting some shorts, music videos, anything to bulk up my experience. Recently, it seems like most of the smaller film stuff out there has migrated to a video format, and whereas the area film programs used to be reliable for 16mm and even 35mm short projects looking for a DP, I see that less and less.

The problem is that, I feel with video comes a video mentality of "there's no need for lights or a tripod." And the bulk of the work that new DP can cut their teeth on, has entered an "everyman" category where most people in 5mins could figure out how to shoot it on DV.

I feel that when shooting with film on a low-budget, I've been able get by with existing/minimal light and not much in the way to finishing and have it still come across as stylized. However with low-budget video I feel it sort of all looks the same, without a controlled environment. Meaning, popping in some photofloods and a minimal kit of a few lights. I've done some things on 16mm and a few on S-8mm trimmed stocks, but recently it seems like everything that I am able to throw my name in the hat to shoot has gone the way of video. Which is somewhat infuriating, when you read people talk about how they started out shooting industrials, music videos, etc on 16mm.

So I've sort of hit a lull, in that I don't feel it's beneficial to my experience to be shooting any more projects that involve two-kinos and lowell kit. Meaning, I haven't really added anything I've shot in the last year to my reel. Maybe I'm an aesthetics snob, but I'm working for free/cheap on these things because I have an interest in creating visuals that match an idea that's been conceived, not just to get "coverage" of a performance.

Now I'm also open to the idea that I haven't been looking in the right areas of NYC or approaching things in the wrong way. If anyone local has any comments to correct my viewpoint, I'd appreciate it.

So how does one move on to the next level of networking in NYC, I suppose is my first question (beyond craigslist and mandy, in other words)? I did some recent extension courses to keep in touch with people, but it seems like everyone is shooting a DV feature on that level. Are there other opportunities I could be looking at? Are things better in LA? I feel like NYC is a hotbed of commercial activity, but I have no idea how to prepare for that step.

I've also tried my hand at working in the assisting capacity (2nd AC or 1st when there was no 2nd) and I feel that sort of environment is more about technical fetishizing, than I am interested in. It's like at a recent David Lynch Q&A and after 3 hours of Inland Empire, the the questions were 100% about what camera he used and why. I sort of feel that is comparable to showing up to a book reading at Barnes and Noble and asking someone why they chose the font that they did.
  • 0

#2 Paul Bruening

Paul Bruening

    (deceased)

  • Sustaining Members
  • 2858 posts
  • Producer
  • Oxford, Mississippi

Posted 11 January 2007 - 12:17 AM

Most of the people I know that have "made it" in the industry rose up the old fashioned way... they sucked up to more and more important people. I don't mean to talk down about them, don't get me wrong. But their success has more to do with how people are popular in highschool than with how capable they are. It has to do with a very good basic reason- People have to get along. Good social skills are just a little more important than technical skill. Movies are made under some of the worst "people friendly" cicumstances. You throw a bunch of folks together for 30 days and expect them to all make something that hasn't ever existed before and do it smoothly and make sense? That requires some of the finest social cooperation between strangers that I have ever seen. I lost a whole production (about $13,000 worth of DV feature) because I couldn't keep everyone glued together. I learned that a bunch of artistically inclined sociopaths does not make a movie crew.

If you want to be a success, weasel in and suck up to bigger and bigger figures in the industry. Be easy to work with and a pleasure to be around. It's just like back in highschool. It's really just human nature.
  • 0

#3 Frank Barrera

Frank Barrera
  • Sustaining Members
  • 464 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, CA

Posted 16 January 2007 - 10:36 PM

So how does one move on to the next level of networking in NYC, I suppose is my first question (beyond craigslist and mandy, in other words)? I did some recent extension courses to keep in touch with people, but it seems like everyone is shooting a DV feature on that level. Are there other opportunities I could be looking at? Are things better in LA? I feel like NYC is a hotbed of commercial activity, but I have no idea how to prepare for that step. I've also tried my hand at working in the assisting capacity (2nd AC or 1st when there was no 2nd) and I feel that sort of environment is more about technical fetishizing, than I am interested in.

You're doing all the right things. The answer is that there is no magic bullet. There is no formula. There are very talented shooters who go unnoticed for their whole career and mediocre talent that have great success from early in their life. Why? Well, not to get too metaphysical but what will be will be. And all you can do is get those jobs and meet those people and take those classes and push ahead and be prepared for that day when that person sitting next to you on the bus happens to be a director with a great script and they just lost their dp and they need someone to start shooting tomorrow... But untill then it's one baby step at a time. Take any job that you can stomach, make connections, maintain them and hold on.

Oh yeah and you should start taking the bus...

as for moving to LA- sure you could try that too.

Edited by Frank Barrera, 16 January 2007 - 10:39 PM.

  • 0

#4 Annie Wengenroth

Annie Wengenroth
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 653 posts
  • Sound Department
  • Brooklyn, NY

Posted 16 January 2007 - 10:49 PM

I work in NYC too and unless I'm totally missing something, things are prettttty slow right now...! However, don't let this stop you from trying to make some connections. I got my first job in New York on craigslist. It definitely helped get the ball rolling for me. I know a lot of the stuff on there is not so great, but if you look hard, you can actually get some decent gigs with interesting people. What type of work interests you the most in this industry? Commercials? Music videos? A lot of aspiring DP's decide to work their way "up the ladder" by starting as AC's, especially if they are interested in working on union jobs. I think you make a lot of very good points about the video mentality and I definitely see what you're talking about. It's kinda frustrating. But at the very least, people seem to be getting into the idea of using those 35mm adaptors and similar ways to make video cameras look and feel a little more like film cameras. I know it's not the same thing, but I feel like if people are starting to think outside the box, maybe that will raise the bar.

As far as making contacts, I feel weird that I don't really know what to tell you because I myself have only been working here for a year, and much of that time was devoted to being a prep tech at a rental house (which worked for me, but may not work for you). I have a few friends who own cameras and are interested in shooting spec commercials and things like that. Maybe we could meet up and if I were to get to know you better, I wouldn't feel as much like some industry pimp passing your name on to these people! I'd also be curious to hear about what you've worked on and where you went to school. Shoot me a PM or email if you'd like. Best of luck...winter sucks in New York, but we all get through it!
  • 0

#5 Ken Minehan

Ken Minehan
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 168 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Singapore

Posted 18 January 2007 - 09:48 PM

Hi George. I totally understand your frustration. But maybe i can offer you a different point of view when it comes to shooting video.

You speak of the "video mentality". I feel that it comes down to the dicipline of shooting. If you shoot with video, you can still light it like film. Get the ASA rating of your vid camera and use your light meter to check exposure readings. Also, shooting video is a great place to practice your camera movement. You can practice the basic track shot or even practicing the use of hot heads with your video camera etc. That way you have the comfort in knowing you're not wasting film stock because you need to do take after take because of camera movenment errors. Dont get me wrong, i would love to shoot more film too, 35mm preferably, but until then shooting with video allows me to polish up certain aspects of DPing that i need more training in.

Ken Minehan
  • 0

#6 Byron Karl

Byron Karl
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 65 posts
  • Other

Posted 19 January 2007 - 11:44 AM

Thanks everyone for the replies.

I agree that video is good tool and better suited for somethings. However, I also figure it has replaced a lot of the "intermediate level" film work (music videos, shorts, low-budget spots). Which for DP's that aren't shooting 35mm yet, is an important area to gain experience. I actually sort of feel video is much harder, is that it's smaller latitude and harsh clipping needs more control to look professional.

Having shot projects for 5 years for low/free, I was more asking what the next step is in getting to the "next level?" I know tons of music videos, commercials and what not happen around town and I was wondering if there is some association that might be beneficial to join? Or some resource? Thanks for the comments, as they sort of confirm that there really isn't any process to advancement in NYC, other than personal connections. As everyone I know on the low-budget end is going video, they don't seem to lead to any real connections for future film work.
  • 0

#7 Walter Graff

Walter Graff
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1334 posts
  • Other
  • New York City

Posted 21 January 2007 - 10:03 AM

There are at least 40 names I see in features and on TV regularly who are guys I brought up through the system and now have their own legs. Here is how I see it:

There are two levels of "work". One is this newfangled "filmmaker". Usually that is a person who has been shooting DIY films, mostly for free, little money, or just because they enjoy it. It's sort of a position where the person is between a hobbiest and someone that has interest in further pursuing there dream. Inevitably these people may enjoy making their own films, and perhaps entering them in festivals/competitions, etc, but basically they are limited as to a professional future for the most part. If they do succeed professionally (defined as being hired for more work) it is usually a less than stable career and ofers less room for growth professionally.

The other type is the person that finds anyway they can to work in any position they can in the world of video/filmmaking/TV/etc. This might mean getting work as a PA. Working as an assistant on anything from craft services to set building. Here is one sad reality, if you think you are going to come out fo school and become a DoP, odds are very good you will not. I'd say you have a less than 1% chance of achieving such a goal coming out of school. Unless you have some sort of eye that no one has seen before, or you simply have won th lottery, you are just not going to be a director, DoP, Gaffer, Grip, or any below the line position for some years after yo get out of school in this second type of professional career. DO not dispair, it's okay.

What I think is most important is to gt to know the lingo, feel, methodology of the real business. While owning a P2 camera is great, it does not make you an instant filmmaker. There are over 4000 film festivals currently in the US and more than 6 digits of people all trying to get a slice of it and become the next Speilberg. Statistically these people represent an insignificant number of people who go on to make some sort of sustaining career in film making, TV, or any other media related industry. BUt those that go through the ropes of the system we have in place can often find themselves in a sustaining business model.

A few examples. I had at least a dozen guys that I plucked from the role as PA/Grip (very green) and brought up the ladder to work with me in various roles. Today all of these guys are working in the feature? TV world on a regular basis. I watched a major motion picture the other day and basically saw seven of these names all working together int eh credits. All of them we working for $100-200 a day looking to do whatever they could in the beginning, but because they were learning the real business and I saw their potential, they found that streak of luck that took them to the next level.


I think the key is two things, determination and luck. One guy I spoke of got a taste of the real business working with me as a PA. He furthered his career as a Pa working on shorts and features (not the Mandy variety but rather from lists at the Mayors office of film and from making contacts). He become one of the most respected feature PA's in the city. But he wanted more. So he worked craft services on a TV series shot in NY. Not what he wanted but a position that got him immersed more and offered him opportunities. He really liked the grip department and got the folks over at The Sopranos to get him on the show working as a PA/grip. But he hit a wall as he could not pass the union test. Not because he couldn't but there are only so many people working in the industry and it protects itself by keeping it that way. Frustrated after failing the test three times but determined, he now had many more years of practical experience, something we pros can see in a person. I suggested he try his had at getting a job at one of the studios in NY as a Stage manager. And he landed a job that he now works at, and is very happy. He's doing what he loves and has sewn himself a career that soon he will be able to make more choices with based on real-world experience.

Another example. This was a guy who was finishing up college. He was frustrated because he was talented and no one recognized this. He wanted more. At the time a new studio called Silvercup was just opening up in NYC. As a kid he remembered this place as a bread factory, Silvercup bread. Frustrated by internships he was offered because it didnt do enough to stimulate his tastes, he walked into this new studio and meet a guy named Norman Leigh. Norman later became a mentor. He said he wanted to work for free. Norman said, okay, come in every day. He did. What he got from that year he worked at Silvercup was real-world experience as an assistant stage manager working on everything from music videos, to features, to national commercials. But most importantly he was learning the real business and making contacts. It didn't matter that he was working for free, he was working. He didn't have any aspirations to be a director or director of photography or anything else right out of school other than being a guy who was working in the industry. He was smart realizing that he needed to build a resume and get to know the ropes. Eventually that lead to people asking him to work outside of Silvercup, PAID!!. And he worked on many features, commercials, music videos, and the like in many roles slowly moving up the ladder of the professional system.

A few years later he was asked if he could build an insert stage and cyc. He said yes and helped put in the foundation for one of the most well-known post houses in NYC as a result. He was later asked to work there full time. Having only a background in film, he was fascinated and thrilled to have the opportunity to learn on-line video editing and shooting. All this time meeting more people, becoming more proficient and learning more. For a number of years he worked on well known national programs as a result in both post and the production side. He later got more involved in the engineering end of video which further helped his career as a DoP.

His connection at this facility saw him become a lighting director for five networks. He went on to work as a respected DoP in both film and video, a feat not many have achieved. Today he has a successful business directing, shooting, producing for major ad agencies, organizations, networks (domestic and international), etc. Not a day goes by where something he shot, produced, or directed isn't appearing on a screen somewhere in the world. He has written for numerous international industry trades and is called on to consult on many films and TV projects.

If you asked him what was his key to success he'd say perseverance. It was not easy and often frustrating at the beginning. But looking back now he sees that he simply needed more experience to move up the ladder and while at the time he thought he knew enough, there was a great deal more to learn.

He'd also say luck was a big factor. All the connections he made eventually paid off. But it was a stroke of luck that helped. But it was definitely important to get to know as many people as possible. People that worked in the real industry of TV/film making, not the Mandy variety of people that is the other road that often leads to less success as a working professional. It's not that those folks don't have a chance nor are they any less valuable, but statistics speak for themselves when it comes to careers.

He'd also tell you that you need to swallow your pride and become humble. Your not a DP. Your not a director. Doesn't matter if you have business cards that say you are, and that you directed a 'feature' at NYU, or that you own an HD camera, your not. I'll say it again, YOU ARE NOT A DIRECTOR NOR A DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY. You may have aspirations to be and I have found that if it is meant for you to take an early path in that direction you simply do, but for 99% of the folks that think they are directors, they will never sustain a career as one. That means the best way to head in that path is to work as a PA in that department. Work for a director, even better an AD. Work for free if you have to, just work for the love of knowing you will learn the real ropes. If you have a like of cinematography work towards finding real world connections in that area. Look to work at a rental house. Nothing better. Work for free with an AC just to see what it is really about. But work. Usually you'll find another path you like just as much.

Remember his first suggestion, perseverance. You need to show interest to people and competence, or at least that you are trying. Here is one reality, while you can site an example or two of some kid out of school that made his mark as a director, or DoP or some other above line role, you'll also have about 100,000 that didn't. As I said if you are some sort of wizard luck, and the stars will make you that. But put it this way, you can't feed your family playing the lottery so get in line and learn the ropes like everyone else.

School is great but with the proliferation of affordable equipment that allows anyone to be a "filmmaker", the reality is we have seen many more schools open up, and far too many people go to them leaving a glut of people all looking for a small slice of what is a small industry. I got a friend a job a job as a professor at a major film school in NY. He recently told me how sad it is that so many kids come through all thinking they will be filmmakers but the school is making money faster than they can print it so they don't care, they are just doing their job. The Mandy route is great but odds are good you'll spend far too long trying to make the same connections you would if you simply worked the bottom rung on what I call a real world film/video, etc.

I can name at least five people now who own a DVX and are making films. Lots of them, on their own buck, with no real career path to speak of nor real understanding of the industry other than the lingo they picked up which they carry as a badge and the hope that someday someone will notice them. They spend money as if it's a sure bet. I've watch these people fall at the side of the road over and over. Want to get noticed? Don't buy a camera. Get the notion that you are going to make it on your merits. Get someone coffee and get them a bagel they didn't ask for. That person will move you up a ladder faster than a camera and a dream. The point is to continue your dream but don't give up what is a far better way of making it in the business.


Hope my little rambling helps. I didn't want to sound harsh but only realistic as I see it. There are too many wannabes who will end up being broke and living wit their parents if they think that school has prepared them to step into the shoes of an above the line position and that they have the chance of doing so in a year or two. There are always exceptions to any rule but there are is also one lottery winner out of the millions that play each week. Play the lottery if you want but don't forgo the other methods of finding your place in the industry that will grow better roots and offer more opportunity.

PS That last guy I was speaking about is me.
  • 0

#8 Stephen Williams

Stephen Williams
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4708 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Europe

Posted 21 January 2007 - 10:34 AM

PS That last guy I was speaking about is me.
[/quote]

Hi Walter,

I guessed that!

Stephen
  • 0

#9 Walter Graff

Walter Graff
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1334 posts
  • Other
  • New York City

Posted 21 January 2007 - 10:56 AM

I guessed that!

Stephen [/quote]


:blink: How'd you guess?

Point is that it's nothing but luck, connections, hard work, and the right outlets that will help you find your dream. Of the folks I went to school with, many are working pros today. One is the director of the syndicated program Who wants ot be a Millionare. Another just produced the Peoples Choice Awards. Stilll another just produced a feature and another is the executive producer of major network show, while another runs VH1. All worked hard, worked many hours, and found the niche that worked for them. The key was that they all worked in the real business at the getgo Met as many folks as they could and found work slowly but surely. But for those exmaples I can think of ten others who were talented but simply didn't have the luck.

To reply to the origional poster, NYC is a great place to start out. There are always opertunities but like earthworms you have to dig up the dirt so to speak to find them. And then it's up to you.
  • 0

#10 Michael Most

Michael Most
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 765 posts
  • Other

Posted 21 January 2007 - 11:09 AM

Point is that it's nothing but luck, connections, hard work, and the right outlets that will help you find your dream.


Another, perhaps more succinct way of putting it:

Good: Hard work, willingness to do "whatever it takes," eagerness to learn (even when you think you know it already), perseverence, humility.

Bad: Arrogance.
  • 0

#11 Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes
  • Sustaining Members
  • 11938 posts
  • Other

Posted 21 January 2007 - 11:13 AM

Hi,

The alternative is that you work in a lot of different disciplines (like I do) because you can't afford to turn down, say, a third of your work in order to pursue some sort of idea of "specialisation." This can have a very bad effect.

Phil
  • 0

#12 Walter Graff

Walter Graff
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1334 posts
  • Other
  • New York City

Posted 21 January 2007 - 07:16 PM

Hi,

The alternative is that you work in a lot of different disciplines (like I do) because you can't afford to turn down, say, a third of your work in order to pursue some sort of idea of "specialisation." This can have a very bad effect.

Phil



I think for those than can do it, it is not an alternative but the norm. Some folks only like one thing and that is great. My success has always been in crossover. Even when things were slow for some, because of the variety of work I do, it helped. In the last month I produced, directed, and edited four videos for a major Pharmaceutical company, edited two fashion videos for a large clothing conglomerate. Dp'ed two weeks of shoots for UK's Channel 5 here in the US, DP'ed a new pay per view program, produced two education videos that I both sell to the public and donate to higher learning institutions, directed and shot seven regional commercials, edited two pieces for a large ad agency, produced an infomercial which I also scored the music to, helped an on air talent create a new reel, and a few other smaller projects. If you are a mult-itasker it is great and lots of fun. But the price is that some folks will only see you as one thing or another regardless of your credits or experience. That can be frustrating. And if you are not a multi-tasker I think even so I am seeing more and more people being pushed to spread themselves out to handle more roles. I've always said it's important to learn as much as you can even if you don't think you need to. While young, I was always interested in every aspect of the industry and that attitude helped me to develop some great skills that I would not have now if it were not for my open mind. Best of all, those skills sets have been invaluable to me putting food on my families plate. If you are young and like to do it all, it is a great time to take on as much as you can. I have guys that I grew up with who are now suffering to catch up as being a producer means you learn to edit too these days, and maybe even shoot. As I said it's not for everyone but starting out an open mind and a willingness to learn what you can might help you find an area of production you never considered.
  • 0

#13 John Thomas

John Thomas
  • Sustaining Members
  • 116 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Akron, Ohio USA

Posted 28 January 2007 - 06:55 PM

Now I'm also open to the idea that I haven't been looking in the right areas of NYC or approaching things in the wrong way. If anyone local has any comments to correct my viewpoint, I'd appreciate it.

Work hard, make yourself useful, then go to LA
  • 0

#14 Annie Wengenroth

Annie Wengenroth
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 653 posts
  • Sound Department
  • Brooklyn, NY

Posted 28 January 2007 - 10:51 PM

You're not wrong...It is really, really slow right now. I owe my parents a lot of money and am living off oatmeal and peanut butter and jelly. incidentally if you mix them all together without the bread, it's not so bad. Kind of a casserole. I also try to find gallery openings and other events which have free food. Sometimes at Zabar's they have samples of cheese. MOMA is free on Fridays (I saw Eraserhead last week!). And instead of the 30-day unlimited Metrocard, I just buy them by ride now. I do event photography for a nightclub promoter so I get on guest lists for free, then I flyer for another company so I can get into shows for free. In the past week I've seen two shows at the Knitting Factory and been out to two clubs and hardly spent a dime. There is a way to live inexpensively in New York, just ask me! Ha ha.

In all seriousness, I actually made a decision recently to get any old part-time job for as long as I can stand it as long as things are crawling along (because hey, it's not like I'm missing out on anything)... and then once a position opens up at Panavision NY, I hope to continue my rental house "education". I think I jumped the gun on going out into the world to freelance when I did (October). It was probably the worst timing that anybody could have possibly had.

As much as I care about getting out there into the industry full-time and working union, my card's not going anywhere as long as they keep getting their money, there are still weekends, and the bottom line is that I'm too goddamn poor to realistically live as a freelancer right now. I want to have enough money to go snowboarding if the weather shapes up and buy a digital SLR camera and be able to afford nice things once in a while. I care about my career enough to do things right, regardless of how long it takes. How passionate can you feel about what you do if you're starving and living this spartan existence for it? Don't we suffer enough for our art when most people neither understand, nor really care, what we even do? When I adamantly insisted I would NEVER go back to a "real job" (this was a month and a half ago), my parents reminded me of when they lived in New York 30 years ago and how all the artists back then were waiting tables and doing manual labor to get by.

I also think when you get wrapped up in college, you forget how long things take, if only because every week you have a different class assignment due. But once you're out of school, you start to realize that none of this stuff is going anywhere. And it does take time, to build decent industry connections and to consistently find well-paying work.

My uncle is a camera operator for the Iron Man Triathlon. He won an Emmy. And even he has a day job. There is no shame in being honest with yourself. Anybody can "freelance" in this industry if they're happy with sponging off their parents and friends and never going out to dinner. But to do it responsibly, I think that requires a little more thinking.

I don't think anyone dedicated enough to the film industry, will run a risk of becoming too "scattered" if they choose to do something else as well. We all have to pay our rent. When I realized I couldn't pay mine this month without borrowing an embarrassingly large sum of money from my parents, I knew I had to swallow my pride. My advice to people starting out, whether in New York, or not, is to be humble and realistic. You're out of college now. Nobody's rushing you to do anything. It took me a year to figure this out but now I'd like to share these insights with other people. It's very easy to get caught up in what you love doing, only to forget that it's not paying your rent.
  • 0


Wooden Camera

Opal

rebotnix Technologies

CineLab

Aerial Filmworks

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Willys Widgets

The Slider

Paralinx LLC

Abel Cine

Visual Products

Metropolis Post

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Tai Audio

CineTape

Rig Wheels Passport

Ritter Battery

Technodolly

FJS International, LLC

Glidecam

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Ritter Battery

CineTape

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Tai Audio

Willys Widgets

Metropolis Post

rebotnix Technologies

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Paralinx LLC

FJS International, LLC

Rig Wheels Passport

Aerial Filmworks

Technodolly

CineLab

Glidecam

Visual Products

Wooden Camera

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Abel Cine

Opal

The Slider