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#1 Brian Rose

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 01:35 PM

Hello All,
I've searched a bit on the forum, but wasn't having much luck coming up with something concrete, so I thought I'd resurrect a major issue a lot of people are faced with.

I'm due to graduate from film school in a few more months. I've got a thesis film which I'm hoping might open some doors, but I'm trying to be cautious and not get my hopes up. Still, I ought to have a decent reel. Still, I'm about to confront a very scary thing, namely entering the real world and finding a place in it where I can live and achieve something meaningful. I want to run camera, rig lights, and eventually call the shots as a DP. A lot of people want that too, so it's very competitive, and I've no illusions about starting at the top. It's going to be a long slow climb.

What I'm most scared of is getting sidetracked. I realize I've got to work while I build a name for myself, in order to pay the bills, get health insurance and all that good stuff. But I worry that just doing that will become so all consuming that the dream dies, and I spend 40 years in a rotten job pushing paper.

I don't feel I'm ready for the big show in hollywood. I'd like to first start in someplace smaller. I thought about Austin, but I hear things are slowing down there in a big way in favor of Michigan or Albuquerque. I might even return to KC where I originate, which has a fair number of commercial and doc outfits, along with the occasion film shoot.

But I digress. What I'd love to hear from are some of the rest of you who surely must have gone through what I am. How did you find a balance between a job of necessity (i.e., to pay the bills) and the work you WANT to pursue. Was there a way you made the two overlap? I was considering looking for work in a rental house, or post house, or something like that.

Any anecdotes would be great to read!

Best,
BR
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#2 Luc Allein

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 02:10 PM

Move to LA. Work for Panavision. Give it about five years there. Hurry.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 02:53 PM

You're going to hear a lot of advice, but what is most important is that you decide what YOU want out of life.

At this point, "career" probably seems like the most important thing to you. But what do you want out of life itself? What kind of life do you want to have outside of work? Do you want to be married? Kids? A house? If so, how big? A backyard and pool? Horses? Can you be happy with a small Los Angeles home or will you only be happy with a "real" home somewhere else where reasonable income can buy you an acre or two and a "real" house? What about retirement, after you're too old to be taking orders from a young know-it-all Director? Do you want to keep working forever or would you prefer to do "this" for a while and then retire to a quiet life somewhere else?

The question is, what do YOU want from your own LIFE? Everybody who is in the business goes through the same kinds of trials and tribulations. Most of the very successful ones (financially) don't post here, so you aren't likely to hear the "success" stories from those who can afford million dollar Spanish style homes in the Palisades. Relatively speaking, there aren't many of them anyway.

The point is that you must enjoy the work itself without concern over being famous or becoming overtly wealthy. It likely won't happen. It might, and for that, you can rejoice, but you can't go into this thinking or hoping it will happen. Very few people who choose "entertainment" for a living are basking in the limelight with extraneous income to burn.

If there is any "trick" to this at all it would be to keep your overhead expenses low. Not having to pay for things enables you the freedom to take opportunities that may not pay very much. Those who have monthly overhead expenses to pay are limited to jobs that pay X amount so they won't miss a payment. Things like wives, kids, school, mortgage, vehicle, insurance, cable, phone, water, gas, fuel, etc. all demand that you make X amount of money per month to pay for them. Some things are unavoidable, like water/gas/shelter/vehicle/insurance.... but the others you can control. It's all about setting priorities at various points in your life and deciding what is really important for YOU during your 80 or so years you have to live.

You might become "successful" (as defined by you) and you might not. Entering this industry, you have to know the risks and the realities of the business and be "okay" with whatever might happen. Everyone has a different "getting started" story and everyone has different places they've ended up. All YOU can do is improve your own odds of success by learning what it takes to get where you really want to be and working every day toward that. There aren't any easy answers, the way most books and filmschools try to suggest. All you can do is work hard, meet the right people, and remain passionate and motivated. There are no guarantees, but by remaining driven, you're several steps above most of the aspiring "filmmakers" out there.
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#4 Richard Boddington

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 03:35 PM

and I spend 40 years in a rotten job pushing paper.


Many people would be glad to take a job like that right about now.

What I'd love to hear from are some of the rest of you who surely must have gone through what I am. How did you find a balance between a job of necessity (i.e., to pay the bills) and the work you WANT to pursue. Was there a way you made the two overlap? I was considering looking for work in a rental house, or post house, or something like that.

Any anecdotes would be great to read!

Best,
BR


Well if you want a practical approach....you get married and your wife supports you via a "real" job and also via her employment you get the all important health insurance that Americans need.

Before you laugh, don't knock it, many guys on this forum have used this approach. I know of two personally that are on this track right now. These guys work when they can in the film biz, but their wives provide 90% of the family income.

Problem is that it would be a rare breed of woman who would be willing to make such a sacrifice for you. Especially since many women have visions of the man going out to work at a real job and earning real money. In one case I know the woman has been waiting 15 years for her husband to "make it."

There have been thousands of doctors that have used this technique, their wives "put them through" medical school. The main difference is that a doctor is guaranteed a stable high income, film school graduates are guaranteed nothing and most end up with nothing. Fact is that statistically speaking you won't be working in film five years from now. Sorry, but that is the cold hard reality. I discovered that my neighbour two doors down went to a four year film school, he quit after 18 mos of trying to find work. Then he got a "real" job.

In my case it's not an option....my wife's position is you earn the money or you get a "real" job. Well being threatened with a "real" job is enough to keep me going, I mean what's a worse fate than that? :D

I did the big corporate network TV job for five years, oh gosh what a nightmare, that's five years of my life I won't get back.

R,
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#5 Brian Rose

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 03:52 PM

And I didn't intend to knock "real jobs." To each his or her own, I suppose. I guess where I'm coming from is I have no clue what awaits after this life. I'd like to think there's something more, but I'm not betting on it. I'm choosing to assume that this life is the one shot I've got to do something substantial, to leave a positive mark. I believe cinematography is my way to do this. I know that at the end of the day, you gotta pay the bills, and you've gotta put in your time before you get those big pictures. I just figure, now, while I'm young and in good health, is the time to take risks. What I'm after is something that can pay the bills, but also something that I can use at least SOME of my skills, as opposed to something that requires no skills, or basic skills. Someone asked me what I aspire to in life, and if I had one answer, it would be to "be needed." If I could find something where I'm valued for skills, or I can pick up skills that could make me valued, that would be enough for me.

BR
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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 03:57 PM

If I could find something where I'm valued for skills, or I can pick up skills that could make me valued, that would be enough for me.

BR


Really? Then quit film and join the Peace Corps. The world has enough film school grads. If you really want to put your money where your mouth is then help feed the hungry.

R,
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#7 Matt Workman

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 04:50 PM

Hey,

In my opinion I would move to NYC or LA. I chose NYC. There are a lot of indie features, music videos, commercials, live events, live shows, etc. that getting the first job is pretty easy.

The hard part is keeping it going. Stay INCREDIBLY positive on set and most importantly make good relationships with everyone. You might meet a PA/intern on set your first year, then one year later get a call from them as an AD/Producer/Director.

Definitely keep your overhead low but try to enjoy life, even if its a simple one at first. Having a significant other who can support you is an amazing help, trust me. Not necessarily financially but emotionally, its a tough world in general and its harder alone.

Hope that helps some. :lol:

Good luck.

Matt
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#8 Brian Rose

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 04:50 PM

Richard,

Did I catch you at a bad time? If I wanted to be told to quit, or do something else, I'd talk to my parents, or my professors. I've heard enough of the "it's hard, find other work" poop. I know it's d*mn hard, but obviously people have done it. I'm interested in learning how they got there. That's why I come here. I feel safe to express my aspirations knowing I'm with people who share those aspirations, who are striving for the same things I'm striving. I go here because there are a lot of experienced people with great advice, and I'm eager to learn.

Yes, there are a lot of film school kids like me out there. And yes, a lot are out for fame and glory and generally their own enrichment to the exclusion of all others. They want to be rockstars and fanboy demigods like Tarantino, Smith and Anderson. I'm not one of them. Would fame and wealth be nice? Sure. But if it does happen, it will be incidental, because that's not what I'm after. I love to run camera. I love to sculpt with light and shadow. I love being able to bring a director's vision into reality. I love the reaction from people when they see stuff I've shot.

Am I a bad person because I want to contribute to the world through cinematography, rather than the Peace Corps? There are ways to improve the human condition other than feeding the body you know.

If my work can get someone else motivated to make their own movies, or pursue the arts, isn't that worthwhile? If for a few hours someone can escape their troubles into a world I helped create, isn't that commendable? If through my visuals, someone can gain greater empathy or understanding and awareness of the troubles of the world, isn't that an important contribution too? Films have such an amazing reach. A good one can continue to touch people long after we're gone. I think that is a heck of a contribution to humanity.

I love cinematography. I have developed a set of skills based around it. While I realize the dream of being a DoP is far off, and may never happen, I figure surely there is someplace where I can use the skills I have, where I can employ them to do something positive until I reach my goal, or decide I'm happy where I am, or die. Whichever comes first. Others here I'm sure have been in similar positions, and I am eager to hear how they used the skills they had, and developed new ones, so they could contribute in a positive way.

I am aware of all of the reasons not to do this. And who knows. Maybe I am just another film school punk who doesn't have the chops for this business. But I won't know until I try. And before I try, I'd love to hear what others have tried, what they thought of the experience, and what they'd try differently if they could have a do over.

Thanks a lot everyone who has contributed useful advice. I really appreciate it!

Best,
BR

Edited by Brian Rose, 30 November 2008 - 04:52 PM.

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#9 Richard Boddington

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 06:02 PM

No you didn't catch me at a bad time, and I didn't tell you to quit per se. The stats I gave you are accurate based on empirical data. There is no way to sugar coat any thing in this game.

I still think the wife working to support you idea is the best way forward! :lol:

R,
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#10 Ira Ratner

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 06:58 PM

Brian, it all boils down to this:

Life basically sucks, and when you eventually ACCEPT this basic fact, you'll make GREAT films!

But I digress:

There's simply no right or wrong, correct or not, advice on how to proceed with your career/life. If there was, life WOULDN'T suck!

It's all a crap shoot, buddy. And as said above, do what you want to do. And don't listen to any butts telling you not to.

Least of all, don't listen to your PARENTS!!!

You can love them to death, but for film career advice--forget it.

Unless someone in the family's last name is Coppola.
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#11 Richard Boddington

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 08:00 PM

Least of all, don't listen to your PARENTS!!!


Unless of course they are your landlords and the rent is due!

R,
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#12 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 08:51 PM

1-Do whatever it takes to try to get on a movie set, even working for free (hopefully just for the first time).

2-Work your ass off.

3-That may lead to more work, so be cool.

Repeat the last two and (maybe even the first one as well) as necessary.
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#13 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 08:58 PM

Be friendly with everyone, be respectful, and work on interpersonal skills. It's not what you know, it's who you know.
I get paid for shoots and I still work free just to network/experiment/keep myself in practice.
Learn all you can, and get as close to production locations as you can (LA/NY are the big ones). Don't get equipment lust, know what you need/should own for the job you're doing. Establish and maintain relationships. Call people who you've worked with and wish them happy holidays, try to recall how your superior likes their coffee and offer to get them a cup when/if you ever have some downtime. Treat the crew to a round of beers after the shoot wraps (if you can). And keep at it. I think of the film industry as a war of attrition. If you can survive it, then you'll get where you're going.
I started out working with my dad who was a lighting director here in Philadelphia. I learned and got on some TV shoots. I joined the army, lost my connections, came back, went to film school, rebuilt connections, and now I'm clawing my way back up. There is nothing that you can't do by your wits.
good luck.
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#14 Alfeo Dixon

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 09:41 PM

I guess where I'm coming from is I have no clue what awaits after this life. I'd like to think there's something more, but I'm not betting on it.


That pretty much summarizes it right there!
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#15 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 10:54 PM

I still think the wife working to support you idea is the best way forward! :lol:

R,


Damn, I'm dating an artist. . .

but it's a very important point that I don't think one really can make it entirely on their own. We need some form of a safety net, and not just financially (as we could work day jobs/crap jobs etc). I think more so we need a psychological safety net. I have been shot at numerous times, and I can tell you it's not nearly as stressful as just doing this job! There is the stress of long hours, uncertain work, bad areas to be in, the chance of totally screwing up with someone else's money. . . disassociation from people with "normal," lives, expectations of friends/family, conflict of film lifestyle and the social realities of the world (do I go to my girlfriend's parents house or do I take a shoot for the money? what are the consequences of each?) etc. . .
This isn't a job, it's more than an art, and it's deeper than a passion. I think it is just the way you are, a lifestyle which is not really by choice-- you have to do it-- for whatever reason, you HAVE to shoot. It's a wonderful drug ;)
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#16 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 10:59 PM

Hey does anybody want to marry me by say, New Year's? It's getting a little slow this winter and I'm starting to feel like I spend too much time by myself. I hope you like cats, South Park, and coffee made with a French press.

I started out by working at CSC (in New York). LA scared me so I decided to go someplace that was 1) still cool and 2) familiar. I started trying to make connections right away, just to have people I could talk to about work in general, even outside of camera.

I remember the exact moment I decided it would help me to work at a rental house first before going out to work as an AC. I was on the set of a low-budget indie, working for free, wondering if I was doing things right and if I would learn the gear I wanted to learn if I were to stay in the low-budget indie world (a world which is, incidentally, still quite close to me...). I realized that for me personally, it was more important to learn the gear and to do it in an environment that was structured and full of the people who could get me work someday. The pay sucked but I didn't care, it was better than making $0 a day. I was staying with friends rent-free and I had money saved up so I knew I could make it work.

It was a tough job in many ways that I wasn't expecting; lots of physical/manual labor, more downtime during the winter than I'd anticipated, surprisingly long hours. There were days where I'd fall asleep on the train on the way uptown from Columbus Circle because I was so wiped out from cleaning cases and running around all day. My arms hurt, like, ALL the time. And sometimes I felt frantic with the idea that I was wasting time there. But I can't imagine not having worked there. Learning my way around the cameras and meeting the people at CSC gave me the confidence to get out there as an AC. So for me it was a good path. Some people might be able to go right onto set and be totally cool and do fine, it just depends on what your strengths are and where your priorities lie.

I hit the ground running and was looking for work before I'd even graduated...that's another thing. Don't lose momentum and don't hesitate to make contacts while you're still in school. The film industry is not this holy, mysterious, prestigious world. You shouldn't have to sell your soul to Break In ™. The hardest thing is networking, learning how to talk on the phone to strangers without feeling like a jackass, stuff like that. But you'd be surprised how fast you can build a solid base of people who will call you and recommend you for work.

It can be really, really freakin hard, but then again, so is life after college anyway.
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#17 Paul Bruening

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 11:19 PM

Hey does anybody want to marry me by say, New Year's? It's getting a little slow this winter and I'm starting to feel like I spend too much time by myself. I hope you like cats, South Park, and coffee made with a French press.


How are you on the idea of polygamy?
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#18 Chris Keth

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 11:48 PM

Hey does anybody want to marry me by say, New Year's? It's getting a little slow this winter and I'm starting to feel like I spend too much time by myself. I hope you like cats, South Park, and coffee made with a French press.


I'm a dog person. How's 2 out of 3? :P

Anyway, here's my take. I'm still young and I consider myself as still getting started and I've been in LA a year and a few months now. My experience has been good when:

1. I'm an active learner on set. Show interest and that you want to improve everything you do.

2. I work my ass off. Speaks for itself, really. Don't just work as hard as the rate.

3. I keep my mouth shut unless it needs to be opened. You don't belong in many of the conversations (arguments) on set. Learn when you belong and when you don't. If you don't, grab some coffee. Set gossip is an important one. Just don't do it. It'll get you in trouble. I got fired once for the DP overhearing me say how I would light the scene if it were me. He took it as "this guy sucks and should be doing it this way." Learned my lesson.

4. I learn to carry myself on set and around people who can get me work. The nature of the business is - with wrap parties, location work where you're in hotels, etc. - that you often socialize with many of the same people you work with. Have fun but remember that they will probably remember if you act like a jackass, whether it's at work or after.
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#19 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 03:49 AM

Hey does anybody want to marry me by say, New Year's? It's getting a little slow this winter and I'm starting to feel like I spend too much time by myself. I hope you like cats, South Park, and coffee made with a French press.


Cats, South Park AND gourmet coffee!! You and I were made for each other, plus I dig a chick who can do an ollie or at least willing to fall on her *ss until she can get it down. How does New Years Eve sound? I'm figuring an out of the way church in some rustic hideaway in Connecticut then a quick trip to Times Square for the countdown followed by a honeymoon in the Hamptons or maybe at Niagara Falls, just to be so cliche, it's actually kitschy which of course would make it cooler that Steve McQueen in a 390 Mustang GT Coupe. B) Think about it and get back to me. :D

I don't know about "making it". I've wanted to be an actor since I was 15 and I've had some moderate success but nothing earthshaking. I decided about oh I don't know maybe 5 6 years ago, I wanted to make movies. I had converted a commercial garage into a theater, built the stage, installed bleachers built lighting and a curtain system ect. and was teaching acting but I wanted more. We moved to my present location and I turned that into a theater as well. We did a few productions and made to cover of El Paso's entertainment paper, El Tempo, which actually beat out some much bigger events. I also staged a kind of unique show of the Nativity for the Mission trail Association done in three acts in three separate locations at the 3 16th century missions here in the city where the audience and lighting sound ect traveled with us to each location setting up almost like moving from location to location on a film, in fact Mel. my DP lit that one. That was really unlike anything I had ever seen done. I had a quote in the paper that "you've heard of theater in the round, this is theater on the run." It was stressful but a blast. I quickly figured out though that there is only so much I can do in El Paso, It's not the cultural center of the universe as you might has surmised. I have a need though for artistic fulfillment.

For me if I go too long with out doing something artistic, I start having real problems but my family is here and I can't really leave, plus when I lived in LA, I LOVED it but DAMN was it expensive and I didn't want to work my ass off just it have somewhere to sleep. The ONE thing about El Paso is you can get things done cheap, REAL cheap, so like I said, my solution was to make movies. I FIRST started out thinking shoot 35mm so a called the only rental place in the area which is in Albuquerque and talk to the guy and after seeing I was a COMPLETE novices, recommended video production, SO I bought a JVC GY-500 well then I started to learn more and more and decided film was 35mm film was the ONLY way to go. My parents actually bought me my little Konvas-1 package for Christmas. They got a KILLER deal on it and it was damn near complete. I've actually never seen anther one in this condition with this many accessories go anywhere CLOSE to that price. I then went about turning my studio into a film studio only to eventually realize we're gonna need t better place. We have NO support facilities here so I decided to create them myself after I read about how big studios had done that back in the day, so I set about gathering everything we would need to shoot, process, edit, record and transfer sound, telecine film if needed and screen a motion picture. Now we are closing in on completing that part and have gathered up almost every major components needed to do everything in house and are looking for a warehouse space in which to house the new studio.

I have also been working on a script that can be done inexpensively on location in our surrounding deserts and taking advantage of what's here. I intend to take lessons gleaned for Mr Boddington's successful venture and put them into practice in mine. I financed this excursion into the cinematic world by having a business that I could tollorate, was good at and made decent money. It's sales which can only help an indy producer. I bought a trailer to live in which is 3 bedrooms and quite comfortable. I own it outright so no rent. I keep my expenses VERY low which is the only reason I can do this. I've borrowed money fpr equipment but pay it back so I can borrow more if I need it. I feel I'm right in the verge of changing my life dramatically for the better, not so much by getting rich but by being able to do this full time which is really what I want. Hell, if i was a doctor, I'd give back by saving people, if I was a politician I'd give back by making good laws, but this is the only thing I've ever been any damn good at so I guess this i what I'll have to do to give back and IF I can make a living at it, great. I'll tell ya what, you spend a lotta time at your job so it better be something you like doing 'cause otherwise your life is gonna be miserable and that such the life right outta ya.

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 01 December 2008 - 03:53 AM.

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#20 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 08:41 PM

and decided film was 35mm film was the ONLY way to go


:wub:

The other thing I would add is that nobody's holding a gun to your head making you do ONE THING with your life FOREVER. And if they are, they're an idiot. Unlike college where you had to pick a major and stick with it or else risk being up to your neck in loans and not graduating until you were 35, in Real Life ™ you can do all kinds of amazing things and you don't have to lock yourself in to one decision.

Case in point, and most of you cine.com guys know this having read my posts...but, I am a major camera geek. To the point where it's actually almost embarrassing. I love, love, love the gear. There are Arriflex manuals and parts books on my coffee table and my favorite thing to do at CSC was bug the guys in the shop to tell me about what they were working on and how it worked. Last winter when the strike hit, I decided to take a job down in Savannah as the film camera technician at my old school, Savannah College of Art and Design. I ended up coming back to NYC at the end of the summer because things were not perfect and I think it would have been harder to justify staying down there in the long run, for a few reasons, personal, political, and practical.

However, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world, I LOVED working in the shop with the other engineers and being a part of that group, and it was incredible to have an opportunity to make contacts at Arri and learn this stuff from the inside out. And the funny thing is, now that I'm back in NYC, even though I'm still working as a camera assistant and enjoying that, the interest in being a technician still hasn't left me. So in all honesty, I don't know where things are gonna go for me, or when. But it brings me to an interesting turning point where I'm becoming aware of how there are so many facets of this business which are all connected...and like Steve said, the film world doesn't start and end with New York or LA.

So who knows. Play to your strengths and figure out a way up that works for you. Progress is not always a straight line from point A to point B. It can often be circular. Most people never have a chance to realize this because they get stuck working in an office before the ink has even dried on their diploma.
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