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Hoping for advice on working in camera dept in NYC


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#1 Spencer Campo

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 11:51 AM

Hey everyone, I'm 21 years old and an aspiring cinematographer, however I certainly have no ego and I love being a part of the film making process on any level, although in every way I prefer the camera department. I love the 2D medium and the creative struggle to produce as good of a piece of artwork as possible. I've done a fair amount of work, but really I'd love to get into feature films. There is something special about a crew working hard together all for the same purpose, to produce a high quality, convincing narrative. My passion undoubtedly lies in cinematic storytelling and working toward that mutual end goal through creative problem solving with the other crew members is my life, there is nothing else I'd rather be doing.

At 18 right after graduating high school I went to a 9 month, 40 hours a week film program in Boston that focuses on hands on training to prepare students for working in the field. There is still so much I don't know about film making and sometimes it is daunting, but ultimately that fact just makes me want to work more and more so I can learn as much as I can. Graduated in 2007 and have been freelancing in the Boston area, living simply and sometimes barely making rent. The more I talked to people working in camera, and working with crews flown in from LA or NY, the realization dawned that Boston didn't have enough work to allow me to support myself only doing what I love doing. I decided to make the move to NYC to try and break into the camera department, hopefully on feature films.

I'm currently living about an hour outside the city while I get my feet on the ground and my bearings in the city. I don't know anyone living here and I know it's going to take a good amount of meeting people before I get any steady work going. I was hoping to get some feedback on my resume, and any advice in technique for getting work in NY specifically. In Boston I was a part of a booking service which got me most of my work, even my references went through that service, is there something similar in NY? I heard the local 600 has a trainee program to get ACs started, but I found very little information online, however it's quite possible I just didn't know where to look.

Thanks in advance for any help and sorry for the novel. This forum has been an invaluable service to me for research in the past, and I'm really glad it exists. :) My resume is too large to be attached but it can be viewed here.
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#2 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 01:01 PM

Hi Spencer,
I think you might have PMed me on here before asking me about NYC but I forget...anyway, Local 600 does not have a training program anymore...they do have seminars and workshops, but it costs money if you're not a member, and registration is often pretty limited.

As far as how to get work here, at this point I'm quickly becoming the wrong person to ask for a number of reasons...the main one being that this year has been extremely slow for me and that I'm not really involved much with the union. So I don't know what to tell you there...maybe go by the mayor's office and see what's shooting around town. I do get Production Weekly on occasion which, if you PM me with your email address, I can forward to you.

It has NOT been that busy here for the past few years, from what I can tell, between the SAG bullsh*t and the WGA strike. I've heard people say otherwise, but I think overall, things have really slowed down in this city. If you're really looking for advice on how to get work in NYC, I would even say that in this economic climate, you're better off getting a day job first, something part-time that would still free you up to work once in a while, until you get enough big jobs that you can live comfortably. This is something I really wish I'd done 3 years ago, but instead I spent/wasted a lot of energy just LOOKING for work when at the very least, if I'd stooped so low as to juggle plates of Italian food while sucking up to rich people or some similar thankless job, I would have at least been able to pay the union without having to gradually sell off my possessions and live off peanut butter all winter.

There seems to be this slowly dying myth that one can magically find all this work in the film business if they just meet the right people and work hard enough. I subscribed to this as recently as 3 months ago. But in all honesty, 3 years from the day that I walked out of CSC and took the union test, I really wish somebody had told me to make sure I had a backup option...additional skills and experience in other areas so that during the slow times, I'm not struggling as much. I know how easily this industry can suck you in and how much of your time you have to give to be able to get good at it...but I would strongly suggest making sure that you have other options for work lined up if it doesn't work out. Struggling artists figured this out years ago... think of all the SVA painting majors waiting tables so they can continue doing their art. As much as film is WORK and not play, as much as it's a CAREER and not a hobby, sometimes reality likes to pretend otherwise.

See, look, now I wrote a novel too! Enjoy! :D
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#3 Gus Sacks

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 06:26 PM

To possibly be a bit contrary to Annie, I would say it is possible to make ends meet and make your way working in Camera Depts in this city if you're just willing to start from scratch and diversify your business enough to where until you're where you want to be, it's best to be able to work in a variety of formats, job titles, and with as many people as possible. I started while I was in school ACing for free, and as a few months went on began picking up paid work, and trying to do as many roles as I could... so now I DP and AC and Camera Operate, blah blah blah, for as many companies and filmmakers as I can. Someday I won't have to work 50 jobs a year to make what I need to pay the bills, but until then I don't mind it ;)
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#4 Annie Wengenroth

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 09:35 PM

Too true, Gus...let me re-phrase...it IS possible (and often challenging) to make a living in the film biz in this city. To add:

1) I just suck at it, and

2) you have to be willing/able to do a bunch of different things to make it work. Which, again, I just jumped right in as a camera assistant and nothing but a camera assistant...so for me it's a different story.

I dunno, man. You're gonna hear 50 billion things from everybody. It's a different business now than even a few years ago, especially in regards to non-union, lower-budget work. I would say, be direct with people in regards to what you're ultimately interested in, but be flexible enough to try different things until you get there. There aren't as many cut-and-dry paths to success anymore...nobody really trains you unless you're lucky, the hierarchy within the camera department itself is rapidly becoming irrelevant and obsolete thanks to digital jobs, and it's a weird time to be working...but if this is what you want, then do it!
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#5 Spencer Campo

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 08:56 PM

So you think it would be valuable to not rush to join the local 600, as that would limit the type of jobs you can take? Instead working as much as I can in as many productions as I can get into and then join the union later when I've already established a good base of contacts in the city? I don't mind what jobs I'm working or how hard they are I just want to work, I would prefer to be working on feature films as my passion is for fiction, but I certainly enjoy working on anything.
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#6 Marque DeWinter

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Posted 08 November 2009 - 10:33 AM

So you think it would be valuable to not rush to join the local 600, as that would limit the type of jobs you can take? Instead working as much as I can in as many productions as I can get into and then join the union later when I've already established a good base of contacts in the city? I don't mind what jobs I'm working or how hard they are I just want to work, I would prefer to be working on feature films as my passion is for fiction, but I certainly enjoy working on anything.


First off if you really want to be a DP...join the electric crew and work on becoming a gaffer first. A DPs main job is lighting for the camera, not operating the camera.

As for joining the Union... I would wait. Personally I did wait a number of years to join. I waited until I had some contacts. And I still got completely screwed, but by the economy. I joined last July right before everything tanked and many of the guys that said they would get me work suddenly weren't willing to have their regular crew sit out for a few days for fear that they might not make it. I totally understand that. What I really didn't expect was all my non-union people wouldn't hire me because they were afraid I was going to try to unionize their shoots. Now, no offense to them, but most of them were too small and I like working enough where I never would have, but a number of the producers go fearful and I stopped getting phone calls.

I'm lucky enough to have my rental company to fall back on (having a full lighting package and 7 cameras is a definite plus). But like Annie there isn't much else I know how to do not in this business that in this economy I could get a job at.

So do you need to work your @ss off, yes. Are contacts essential, yes. Will that mean you'll find success, maybe. There are still "family" union members whos contact list is good enough to work for their entire lives, but for most of us that just isn't the case.

Also.... Boston isn't such a bad place to be, and its getting better. If the new tax incentive passes and the studio bill passes it might even be better than NY because there is less crew there and the number of productions shooting there is increasing because of the incentives. (I have a place in worcester and one in ny)

~Marque
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#7 Justin Simpson

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Posted 13 November 2009 - 01:00 AM

As much as you guys might not think, this is really inspiring stuff. It's tough out there. Thanks.


-Justin

Edited by Justin Simpson, 13 November 2009 - 01:01 AM.

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