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IATSE 127: Will being a stagehand help or hurt?


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#1 Jeremy Jones

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 08:42 PM

I'm aspiring to be a Director of Photography and I live in the Dallas. I want to package myself as a DP who can also edit/fx work as well as color grade. I've done everything from student work and non union freelance gigs, to salaried corporate work. Though I still can't seem to get any type of feature work outside of the ProsumerHD realm. I was advised by a good friend of mine that our local unions might be the next logical step. But the only unions in DFW are all theatrical unions (IATSE 126 & 127). The only thing close to a motion picture union in Texas is the Local 484 in Austin, which is a "live non-non recording" union (VTR and Live Cam OP). I also inquired into the Local 600 in LA but apparently the only way to get on the industry experience roster is to have either 30 days paid union work at your desired position or to have 100 days non-union work (for which my previous experience is invalid). So I'm trying to make the best of my situtation.

My question is this: What can I do in a theatrical union that would help me in my endeavors to be a DP? Will doing this type of work help or hurt me in the long run (ei should I just be trying to get legitimate production work instead?)
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#2 Hal Smith

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 05:39 PM

My question is this: What can I do in a theatrical union that would help me in my endeavors to be a DP? Will doing this type of work help or hurt me in the long run (ei should I just be trying to get legitimate production work instead?)


The stagehands I know (and have hired) here in IATSE 112 OKC have found that they have trouble getting movie and television work because the working practice and lingo is so different between stage and film/video. They have been able to get on large features like "Twister" a few times because they need a lot of hands but that's about it.
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#3 Jake Kerber

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 09:06 AM

Depending on the requirements to join the theatrical union, I wouldn't put too much focus on it if you're ultimate goal is to D.P.
What I mean is, don't waste time on something that takes time and dedication in its own right if it ultimately has nothing to do with
getting you hired as a D.P.
Having said that, I think there is great value in stage lighting experience and learning from good lighting designers. There are also times
where you may find yourself (as a Cinematographer) using lights originally designed for theatrical or stage productions. Depending on the
size and sophistication of the productions in your area, you may learn a lot--creative and technical.
So, I'd pursue it only if you're willing and able to give up a chunk of time to furthering your knowledge of lighting, knowing that it might
make you a stronger D.P., but not necessarily lead directly to jobs in filmmaking.
And I agree with Hal's post...theatrical electricians usually run in a different circle than movie electricians. There is crossover with features that
have a lot of stage/theater sets in them--Chicago, Walk the Line, etc. and in L.A. a lot of game show/reality competition shows--American
Idol, The Voice, etc.--have a lighting designer that often seem to hire a Gaffer, BB and juicers with more of that experience than location filmmaking
experience.
Good luck.
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#4 Jeremy Jones

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 08:42 PM

I definitely feel like I want to use my time efficiently. There isn't much going on in Dallas. So with that said should I just keep doing student projects (UTA,UNT,TCU) and shorts? I have also wondered if taking the plunge and seeking work in NY an LA would be more productive.
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#5 Jeremy Jones

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 08:47 PM

Depending on the requirements to join the theatrical union, I wouldn't put too much focus on it if you're ultimate goal is to D.P.
What I mean is, don't waste time on something that takes time and dedication in its own right if it ultimately has nothing to do with
getting you hired as a D.P.
Having said that, I think there is great value in stage lighting experience and learning from good lighting designers. There are also times
where you may find yourself (as a Cinematographer) using lights originally designed for theatrical or stage productions. Depending on the
size and sophistication of the productions in your area, you may learn a lot--creative and technical.
So, I'd pursue it only if you're willing and able to give up a chunk of time to furthering your knowledge of lighting, knowing that it might
make you a stronger D.P., but not necessarily lead directly to jobs in filmmaking.
And I agree with Hal's post...theatrical electricians usually run in a different circle than movie electricians. There is crossover with features that
have a lot of stage/theater sets in them--Chicago, Walk the Line, etc. and in L.A. a lot of game show/reality competition shows--American
Idol, The Voice, etc.--have a lighting designer that often seem to hire a Gaffer, BB and juicers with more of that experience than location filmmaking
experience.
Good luck.

I kinda figured this might be the case. I just want to use my time efficiently. I want to join the Local 600 industry experience roster, but the only way to do so is to have union credit work. The only avenue for union work for somebody basically just starting out is through the theatrical unions working as an electrician.
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#6 Chris Keth

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 10:19 PM

The requirements to join 600 aren't for any union work. It's union work in the classification in which you are applying.

Joining a union to work as a stagehand is a bit like farming when you want to be a chef. It's tangentially related but that's about it.
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#7 Chris Millar

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Posted 01 August 2011 - 12:07 AM

I've worked in theatre a lot and have worked in film a reasonable amount to know a bit also... The one time the two worlds combined for me was the theatre scene in Peter Jacksons King Kong, its sure was interesting watching the film guys come in and waste all that time building stuff the hard way, a little theatre knowledge would have had the sets and rigs up in say yeh about half the time if not less... But we were in a theatre, I get the feeling if a bunch of us theatre types went out on set (anywhere but a big black box) we'd make just as many stupid decisions as the 'filmies' did in the theatre and in the same way not even be aware of the time we were wasting Posted Image

i.e. if you want to get into film - get into film
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#8 Justin W. King

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 10:48 PM

What everyone has already said is useful. I think there is one thing that you should know, if you don't already know.

I believe theatre lighting can be useful in your goals to be a DP, but you aren't going to learn it as an electrician. You would need to be a lighting designer. Although some Lighting Designers work as electricians, it is not a prerequisite to being a lighting designer, other than the fact that you probably won't have many electricians working for you when you first start. Just being a lighting designer isn't enough though, you have to think beyond the realm of textbook theatre techniques, and learn to observe light, and study both theatre and film lighting. Also you should not use color as a crutch. Color is easy to misuse in theatre, but when you do the same in film it tends to look bad. Also, the biggest thing that you don't have access to in theatre are large diffuse sources, because they are so hard to control in theatre. Make sure you see the difference between a leko with frost, a 2k with diffusion and light through a 4x4 silk, on camera because that is one thing you don't really learn in theatre.

If you really observe light as a lighting designer, then you will be in a better place to light people moving through space from multiple points of view, which is something that takes some of the filmmakers I have studied with a lot of time to learn. Now that cameras are more sensitive than ever, DPs I've met set their lights by eye, and then meter to make sure the contrast fits the camera, and lighting design is one way to develop an eye for light.

Theatre Electricians, don't get to learn about light, they learn about the equipment, which is not very useful for Filmmaking (except the S4, which has become more popular on film sets). The don't get to sit in tech and see how the lights are used, and why the designer makes the choices he makes.

Justin W. King

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Light is Light. It doesn't matter whether its coming out of a 2 million dollar chandelier at an architectural installation, a 20k fresnel on a film set, a 2k fresnel in a tv studio, 26 degree fresnel in a theatre, a followspot in a concert, an area light in a 3d program, or the sun when walking to your car after work. Each lighting industry has it's nifty techniques, and they are all valuable in every other field of lighting.
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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 11:00 PM

All true Justin; except for the fact that DPs lit by eye since the dawn of cinema.... just really need to clarify that it has nothing to do with new cameras being more sensitive. Ok, pet peeve satisfied.
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#10 Justin W. King

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 11:25 PM

All true Justin; except for the fact that DPs lit by eye since the dawn of cinema.... just really need to clarify that it has nothing to do with new cameras being more sensitive. Ok, pet peeve satisfied.


That is very true, I am glad you corrected me there. I only put the sensitivity part there because because the more sensitive cameras allow you to achieve light levels comparable to what you might find in the theatre. But then again theatre lighting has gotten a lot brighter than it used to be, just compare Tharon Musser's Chorus line plot, to SpiderMan the Musical. But it is true, DPs, have been lighting by eye since the beginning, with the added challenge of needing bigger lights.
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#11 Luke Lenoir

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Posted 26 October 2011 - 09:06 PM

Hey I'm actually a stage hand and work habitually as a rigger for theater and arena shows. I'm telling you flat out there is NO connection between stage/film. It's two different worlds. If you want to work as a pro DP you need to:

1. Have SEMI-PRO equipment i.e. a high-end Sony, RED, or 5d-Mark II
2. Whore yourself out for food/credit and build a show reel.
3. KNOW how to cut, edit, and shoot BY YOURSELF.
4. Eventually take paid gigs on commercials and shorts.
5. Then make friends with a really talented crew with a good writer/director and some financial backing. Work with them to get projects completed until you can sell a completed film. At this point you are taking the festival route and will meet many other film people. Hopefully you can get work through them.

It's possibly the hardest field to break into. Good luck.
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