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Getting jobs on larger films


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#1 Daniel Smith

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 12:47 AM

Slight cliché of a question, but how do you actually get jobs working on these Hollywood sized films?

Reason I ask is, I sometimes wonder if it is really all that difficult to do, maybe people just go the wrong way about it. People make 100 short films and expect to someday work alongside Spielberg, which just doesn?t happen.

There is obviously a way of doing this. Working on the next Harry Potter movie is hardly impossible. I know we sometimes make it seem that way, but it's probably because we aren't trying directly (and we just assume it's insanely difficult). We just make films, hope to get better, and hope that our skills and experience will get us onto the sets that we want to be on.

What is the recruitment workflow for these huge production companies? Do they only employ internally? How do I get a job?

Thanks for any advice. I know this is a real cliché of a question, but I feel that this hasn't been directly discussed, we just dance around it all the time and share this common understanding that working on huge movies is the impossible dream and you have to be stupidly experienced to get onto one. Which I think is wrong.

I just want to get past the short film stage at an early point. And cut to the chase.

Edited by Daniel Ashley-Smith, 22 December 2007 - 12:49 AM.

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#2 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 01:50 AM

This post caught my eye because I used to feel similarly impatient, dying to get out there...ready to leave classes if I had to, to go work on jobs. For perspective, I first got seriously into film in 2004. So let me tell you my advice and hopefully you'll find it useful. I'm still a rookie in this scene, but it's possible that I'm at a point in my career that's a little closer to you than someone who is 20 years older than me who's been doing it forever. So anyway...

First of all, there is no way to cut to the chase. I'm 25, I've only been out of school for 2 years (and thus, in this industry up to my neck- and often over my head!- for 2 years) and I can tell you already without blinking an eye that there are no shortcuts. Believe me, I lived fast once I got out of school. I hit the ground running and went to New York with one duffel bag, Doug Hart's book, my lap top, and my tool belt. I hightailed it out of a rental house after only 9 months, took the union test, and then joined...it's been a little over a year now, and in retrospect, I think I moved too fast. I have been successful but in many ways, this has been one of the most difficult years of my life. I wouldn't trade it for anything now, and it's pointless to think of the things I would've done differently...but my advice to people still in school is- SLOW DOWN! Nobody is standing there with a stopwatch holding a gun to your head...it's not a race! And even if it were, guess what happens to MANY film school grads...NOTHING. I am not condemning those who went to school for film and decided it wasn't for them, I'm just saying, this is a perfectly legitimate reality.

But then again, I'm sure you've heard these types of things already. On a more practical level, see if you can get hold of Below The Line magazine or something similar and try to find out what jobs are out there. Call the production offices and ask if they are looking for interns. Look on www.mandy.com too, even Craigslist! Do not be afraid to work for free. Reach out to the people on this forum and see if you can tag along on set. You are still at a point where you can get away with learning through trial and error without having it seriously affect your reputation or your career...so soak it all in, learn everything you can.

Humility is the key. Breaking into the film industry is like a beginner practicing Zen. You have to open yourself to everything and sometimes it hurts. I'm still doing that and some days it never seems like it will get any easier. My first real job out of school, a freebie might I add, I went strutting onto that set like I already knew everything about ACing. By the end of the day I was cold, tired, hungry, sore, and my ass had totally been pwned by people who have been doing this for years. I went home and cried. Then I woke up the next day and did it again. Same thing with working at CSC...I walked in there and thought I knew all the Arriflex gear...man, what I knew and what I had been exposed to, was a FRACTION of everything that's out there. I went home tired, angry, and poor many days...but I stuck with it to the best of my abilities and made an effort to SHOW people that I wanted to learn more. And that was when things began to shift.

A friend of mine, who works in the business and whose advice and lessons have been absolutely critical to my development as an AC (and as a person), once said that it all comes down to your attitude. And only YOU can change that. Everyone else can show you every piece of gear in the world and walk you through how to light a room, how to build a camera, how to load a magazine. But you have to project an attitude of wanting to learn and wanting to be open to all that they know. Most people in this business are thrilled to teach others and inspire them. The energy this will create, is way more positive than the time you waste feeling impatient with short films or fed up with where you're at now.

It took me f***ing forever to figure this out!... and I'm STILL figuring it out! But once it starts to click, things will start happening. I've seen your photos...you have a good eye and you ask good questions. I'm sure you'll get there in time. I really hope this helps you. I'm kind of at a critical point myself and I like to think that maybe I can help other people out even while I'm still asking my own questions. Good luck, man. Keep us posted. It is NOT an impossible dream!
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:00 AM

When someone finds the answer, please tell me.
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#4 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:54 AM

When someone finds the answer, please tell me.


Nepotism always helps ;)

But yeah, really, it seems there really isn't any fast track. I mean, you look at the credits for most of those big features and many of the crew members are in their late 30's or older. So it takes a while still to become well groomed in the industry and to develop the tricks to work efficiently and professionally as a filmmaking technician.
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#5 Walter Graff

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 09:17 AM

'Annie Wengenroth' date='Dec 22 2007, 01:50 AM' post='210015'

Nice post Annie and very realistic realization. If you plan on working a career in this business, you can expect at least 30 years doing that. Why become Spielberg over night? Sort of like knowing you have a long bus ride so you bring snacks and reading material, but rush through it and finish everything before the bus left the terminal. Now it's not going to be such a fun trip is it? It took me 8 years before I figured it out. In the mean time I did whatever I could. Sure I had aspirations, but realized I need a good foundation before I could focus.

Nowadays the 'thrill' of being a filmmaker is more a disease than a dream in many ways. It's sickening a lot of people and there simply are not enough beds in the hospital to take care of everyone. I see a lot of dysfunctional filmmaking out there which is what I call societies ills and folks need to be recognized, and nowadays they think filmmaking is going to do that for their psyche. Sort of like what reality television was. I worked for years with a great unit manager named Martha Mason. Old school. Martha also had degrees in Psychology. I was sitting in the control room with her one day watching a talk show we produced called Ricki Lake. While watching the segment, I had to ask Martha, why do people come on TV and reveal their lives like this? Her response was that television was still one of the last authorities left. As the family structure in this country has broken down over the years, the outlets in families that people had to reveal their problems and discuss their lives disappeared. So you had a lot of people who had issues in life and no outlet to release them. Along comes talk television. If you can go on television, you are going on something that will allow you to feel better about yourself sort of like how you used to be able to talk to a family member and release your pains. But TV was even less judgmental as the camera didn’t talk back. I look at how many folks these days are interested and trying to break into this field in the same way. With the advent of recent marketing by camera manufactures ‘you too’ can be a filmmaker. And with all the pain out there and no one to talk to about it in your nuclear family, everyone now wants to tell their story to the world.

Disclaimer: Nothing I said here is a reflection on you Annie or anyone else here. Simply a general comment about the recent interest in an astounding number of people at becoming ‘filmmakers’, in an industry that will never support as many folks that now want to get involved in it.

Edited by WALTER GRAFF, 22 December 2007 - 09:19 AM.

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#6 Ram Shani

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 10:20 AM

i to wounder this every day of my career. evey now and then i look at new"big shot" DPs wounder were they came from and why not me but as i do a search i often find that there are at older age then me (late 30 and in to there 40) and the few how is younger for shore came throe nepotism.

3 years now after i finished film school i am the only one from my class how is working full time as a DP providing my wife and 2 kids which born during school. most of them do nothing same of them is waiting for same found to give them money for there script ( found that give to 10 scripts over 200 applications)

by the time i shot over 80 music video 10 commercials 3 documentary 1 TV studio drama 2-realty shows

but still think that i didn't do it

why?
cou'se we always dream for higher gool
not only as filmmakers but as person and for shore it has to do with the capitalism dream and cinderella dream

as for me i try every day to enjoy what i do and at the same time to think were i want to go.

i think it's more important to do something you love
otherwise it can became chasing your tail
every time you get new toy it make you happy for few days then you want the new one thinking this will make you happy
it's never end

i have been with Michel chapman asc for a few days he came to israel to give master class
you think i will meat a genius this is what i dream to be
but then you talk to him and he is not consider him self good DP only good operator
he said that every thing he did on scorsese's film was Scorsese ideas
and he will never be as good as Gordon Willis ASC

so it's never end and it is always in the eye's of the beholder
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#7 John Thomas

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 12:29 PM

I don't usually work on giant films, but my camera crew is put together by my 1st AC. He often hires a loader who he's met checking out at Panavision. Someone who has hustled for him.
If I was looking for work on a set, I would make friends with the people who hire. If you work as a PA, find out who the 2nd, 2nd AD is, leave the other AD's alone. Non union grip and electric best boys hire "green" people and when it's busy they can fill out a union job with non-union crew.
As a cinematographer I usually get a few resumes from crew at the start of each job. I got one from a guy from Ohio who had been in NYC for 5 days living on a friend's couch. He had his resume and DVD reel out there before he had a place to live. I was able to get him about 15 PA days doing light study shots for me and helping my crew at the camera checkout. He couldn't stay on as an intern because he was broke, but he managed to meet some people. He was impressive. Good luck.
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#8 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 12:49 PM

Everyone finds their way in different ways. For me at the beginning, it was about being young and energetic mixed with a fair dose of naïveté. I worked on anything anyone offered, mostly for free, until that time when opportunity met my level of experience and I was able to join a "big" show which then turned union. Being on that opened up a host of doors as now I was working with and meeting people who do "big shows" and, of course, I also had that "ticket" (union card) that allowed me to work at that level.

It comes down to putting in the time to learn the job and making the effort to meet the right kinds of people who can help you get where you want to go.

I still haven't achieved my ultimate goals so the feeling of being "settled" into a job or a career has yet to hit me. There's a kind of excitement that comes with that idea of "not there yet!" but having that also has side effects to contend with that a lot of people don't have the courage to face or the perseverence to endure.

You have to REALLY want this to even have a chance and even then, there are no guarantees.
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#9 Matthew Buick

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 03:37 PM

I would say raw passion would help, sure, you can have beautiful work, but to make a passionate impression on everyone you meet connected with the industry. Word of mouth, in essence. Perhaps also meeting a direcotr who goes on to make it in the industry. I'm not implying that one should trawl around to look for such a director, or that it would be that easy, I'm just guessing that has a lot to do with it.

Me, I'm only 16, I'm not intending on looking for paying work just yet, right now I'm taking Level 2 (GCSE Level) courses in College to rebuild a school career shattered by illness.

And I love it! :)
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#10 Rodrigo Prieto

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 03:48 PM

My two cents:
Enjoy what you are doing NOW and do it to the best of your abilities. Even if that is making sandwiches for the camera crew, if your attitude is one of being where you want to be that instant, putting all your effort into making the best sandwiches, someone will notice and ask you to do another job later. There is a spark you see on certain people that makes you want to have them in your team to make your job better or easier. Recommendations are very important, but you only get recommended if the person recommending you is confident that you are professional, serious about your job, and have a good attitude.
I also think that there is never really a moment when you know or think you have "made it". There is no arriving at your "goal". I have the same excitement and fun working on the films I do these days as when I was in film school in Mexico City. It is all about doing the best you can every moment regardless of where you want to be in five years. Annie makes a good point about slowing down and this not being a race. Just work hard, enjoy the people around you, shoot anything that comes your way (I filmed all kinds of horrible no budget stuff for a long time, but always felt it was an opportunity to learn and to me it was no different than shooting Gone With the Wind), and forget about the "future", it has a way of becoming the present constantly.
Good Luck!
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#11 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 05:07 PM

Dunno. . if they were really good sandwiches you might never move up!

I haven't "made it," in any special or spectacular way. I get paid for jobs now, which is great, but I always want to do more. How I got here, I don't know. One day the phone rang and then it kept ringing here and again for paid shoots. I think it has a lot to do, as was mentioned, with your ability to get on with the people you work with and remaining cool under pressure, and working to keep the set moving along. Whenever I read interviews with other DPs, it seems what comes up most often in their stories is how they got along with people on set, and were able to work at a good clip. So, work hard, keep the set moving, and be as personable as possible. Just my .00002 cents
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#12 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 07:27 PM

Dunno. . if they were really good sandwiches you might never move up!


I agree. Never be too good at something you don't really want to do. It sounds illogical somehow, but people have a strange way of failing upwards in this business. If you're too good at something, those above you are less willing to let you advance for fear of losing someone so good at that position.
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#13 Rodrigo Prieto

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 11:40 PM

I agree. Never be too good at something you don't really want to do. It sounds illogical somehow, but people have a strange way of failing upwards in this business. If you're too good at something, those above you are less willing to let you advance for fear of losing someone so good at that position.


I beg to differ. Of course, everyone has a different path, and what works for one may not for the other, but my experience has been that excelling will always give you an edge. My first big break came after working as a PA and stills photographer in a small commercial in Mexico City many moons ago. I worked very hard, and at the end of the shoot, the owner of the agency remarked on what a smooth production we had ran (the UPM and myself... small crew those days.) I told him that I didn't want to be a producer, that I really wanted to be a DP. I was in my second year of film school and had just turned 22, having only shot Super 8 and 16mm, but he asked the Production Company to hire me as the DP for his next campaign!! I had no reel, and was obviously very green, but I did it, and it turned out all right, and that launched my career as a Commercials DP. A few years later, I shot my first feature, and eventually met Alejandro González Iñárritu in commercials. That let to Amores Perros, and so on. Yes, I was very lucky, but if I had done a mediocre job as a PA on that small commercial back in 1987, my career would have been different.
When I see someone working with passion at brooming the set, or making the best slate you have ever seen, I make a mental note of that person and who knows when I may be asked for a reference of someone to do some other job. I see your point about wanting to keep someone at a position he or she is good at, but when that person is ready to move on, and expersses the desire to do so, I will be sure to help that person along if I consider the talent is there (I can only speak for myself, but I am sure most people would do that.)
I truly believe this is the best way to live your life and career, with passion and joy, every day...
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 11:56 PM

An aspect of this is the luck of finding a good collaborator, the director, who not only brings out your best work but also moves up the budget ladder and carries you along. Of course, you have to be ready when the opportunity arrives. And eventually you have to hook up with other artistic directors, because a single director usually takes two to three years between projects.

I've struggled for years with this problem, how to move up. The only comforting thought is that there has been overall progress since I left film school in 1991. But you worry about peaking and then sliding back. Sometimes you go through periods where you have to turn down work because it doesn't advance you enough either artistically or in terms of greater exposure, so you hold tight and wait for a better project to come along.
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#15 Chris Keth

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 01:20 AM

I truly believe this is the best way to live your life and career, with passion and joy, every day...


Absolutely! I'm certainly not far into my career. I'm just out of school and just barely getting AC jobs but I really, truly believe in doing whatever job I do the very best it can be done. I feel old fashioned working like that in LA.
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#16 Allen Achterberg

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 02:31 AM

I personally feel simple luck plays a large role. And when Luck comes to you, and you have the passion and ability you've got a fightin chance. I've never looked at this as trying to make it big in the biz. I am extremely passionate about the art, the technical side, and so on. It's a hobby I'd work to pay for. To me, as long as the bills are getting paid, and I am still involved with moving images through a camera I am a happy camper.

I just want the Job, if success comes great. But I won't hold my breath.
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#17 Bill Totolo

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 03:44 AM

I applaud those lucky few who make it.

As long as I continue working with creative people and continue learning, I'm satisfied.

I think it's important to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and know whether or not you can overcome them.
These can be technical, creative or personal challenges. If you know your voice as an artist and play to that you'll attract like-minded people.
This may not land you the multitude of gigs like some of the working men and women on this site but it may give you entry into a niche market
that you enjoy.

Like Annie, I ran a little headlong into this as well in the beginning and have learned a little more patience and exploration have been more rewarding over the long run.
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#18 Matt Workman

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 06:34 PM

I'd like to add that wow, Rodrigo Prieto is posting. Sorry, I'm a fan. :lol: I'd read that story of you cutting your hand or something and the producer driving you to the hospital.

A Mexican DP I know named Demian Barba told me that in Mexico the DP's don't get too specialized, or rather they specialize in everything. He just did a commercial down there and he was expected to shoot all the aerial stuff himself. DP/Operate/AC/Load while in a helicopter.

I think that one of the hardest parts is just living a "normal" life while pursuing your dream. Paying for an apartment, food, entertainment, health insurance (whats that?), car bills, cell phone bills, etc. Having no predictable schedule reeks havoc on your social life and not knowing where your next pay check is coming from is a little nerve racking.

I've seen some very successful husband/wife teams that both work in the industry. That seems like a good deal.

If you can deal with all of the emotional and physical stress of working in this industry then that is the first step. I've seen a lot of film school kids come into this "lifestyle" and immediately take full time jobs. Don't blame them.

It seems like an "all or nothing" kind of mentality. Maybe NYC is like that in general. <_<
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#19 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 07:01 PM

I'd like to add that wow, Rodrigo Prieto is posting. Sorry, I'm a fan. :lol: I'd read that story of you cutting your hand or something and the producer driving you to the hospital.

A Mexican DP I know named Demian Barba told me that in Mexico the DP's don't get too specialized, or rather they specialize in everything. He just did a commercial down there and he was expected to shoot all the aerial stuff himself. DP/Operate/AC/Load while in a helicopter.

I think that one of the hardest parts is just living a "normal" life while pursuing your dream. Paying for an apartment, food, entertainment, health insurance (whats that?), car bills, cell phone bills, etc. Having no predictable schedule reeks havoc on your social life and not knowing where your next pay check is coming from is a little nerve racking.

I've seen some very successful husband/wife teams that both work in the industry. That seems like a good deal.

If you can deal with all of the emotional and physical stress of working in this industry then that is the first step. I've seen a lot of film school kids come into this "lifestyle" and immediately take full time jobs. Don't blame them.

It seems like an "all or nothing" kind of mentality. Maybe NYC is like that in general. <_<


One of my problems getting into the movie industry, is that coming from television, we are expected out of necessity to know more than one single job. The movie industry runs on a division of labor, that at times, seems to be counterproductive to efficiency. Whatever the reasons, attempting to move from the world of TV where you do learn how to do a multitude of jobs, and do them well (not half-a$$ed), into an arena (film) where you are only allowed to do one thing at a time can mean that boredom can set in quite quickly. The joke among Videographers is "how many people does it take to run a Panaflex anyway?" Of course there are reasons for every person on the film-style camera crew, but it can seem on this side of ridiculous when see from the point of view of a Videographer who must learn how to transport all the lighting/grip/and camera equipment himself, set something "brilliant" up in a matter of minutes, and be "insulted" because he isn't a "film DP" with the cache that goes with doing just one job.

Sure, there are "hacks" within the video world who don't care and churn out an image that is "good enough." But the same exists within the film world too. I think video just gets the short end of the stick because of it's history as a news capturing device and because of the smaller budgets and limited resources available. I've seen film DPs utterly fail when placed in a typical "video" style scenario because they don't know how to operate without three trucks full of equipment and twelve guys backing them up where in the video world, Videographers can do the same or better with a magliner of equipment and thirty minutes. This isn't hypothetical, I've seen it firsthand.

Bigger doesn't always mean better. It usually just means you get paid more and have more respect whether you've earned it or not. Image is everything and I'm not talking about what you see on screen.
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#20 timHealy

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 11:23 PM

Just to play devils advocate, sometimes it is worth not getting on larger films. The larger a film gets the more remote most people will be from the center of the action.

Smaller films are a lot less intense and a more intimate experience than their larger film cousins. Some people will understand that and some won't.

Best

Tim
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