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Lens Lover, But Broke


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#1 J R

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 10:44 PM

When I was in college, I discovered a love of photography and cinematography - I took all of the available courses at my university, some at the art school in the city, and did a semester exchange program of 16 mm production at NYU. However, my school did not have a degree option for film, and limited resources, both equipment-wise and career counseling-wise. I hoped to get into the industry after graduation and somehow soak up more technical know-how on set.

I am now 4 years out of college and currently work as a PA in NYC. I've realized that my plan was a bit naive. I work 16-18 hour days, most hours of which are devoted to bringing coffee orders to the ADs, locking the perimeter of set, and controlling background actors in a holding area. Obviously, not much time or opportunity to network or work on my reel outside of the day job (not to mention I make $9 an hour and pay NYC rent, so no extra cash for fancy equipment of my own). I realize that I have work that loads of people would love to have, so I'm not really complaining, but I have come to a crossroads. I definitely don't want to be an AD (logical endgame of PAing, as far as I can tell), but I'm clearly not making the connections or building the reel I need to work toward a career as a DoP.

I have a very good eye, but as I said not much real-world experience or technical confidence. Also worth noting is my gender, female - not a problem for me strength-wise as I can easily lift at least 50 pounds above my head, but I am relatively small in stature and frame so I don't think I would come to mind as a good candidate for the camera department, regardless of my hustle on set (seeing me, well-meaning coworkers might assume I'm not as strong as I am, and it's not like I can give on-the-hour weight-lifting demos). Hard to strike that balance between proving I could be of use and avoiding being in the way...

Any tips? Should I quit the day job, get something unrelated that will pay the bills, and work on beefing up my art and technique and reel on the side??

Thanks.

Edited by J R, 28 August 2012 - 10:49 PM.

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#2 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 11:16 PM

J.R, you need to use your real first and last name. It's one of the forum rules.
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#3 Max Gutfeld

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 12:44 PM

Why do you think you are having problems building connections on set? I understand you aren't working around the camera crew a lot, but if you can find any opportunity to strike up a conversation/friendship with any of them, that can be worth a lot. In my experience, expressing interest and showing some talent can really do a lot to help you get your foot in the door.

I know NYC is expen$$$ive, but if you can find the time to work for free, you should try to get a higher-up role on a student or spec shoot or something. I recently graduated from film school in Chicago and am pursuing a career as a gaffer and grip. My strategy is to work as a PA when I can for $$$ but to try to get G+E roles on no-pay gigs until contacts start calling me for those roles.
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 12:52 PM

All you need to do really is talk with the camera people when you get a chance to. When doing your coffee runs ect; make sure you get to edeliver coffee to the AC and maybe DoP, get it so they know your name and you know what they like. Maybe help them to strike and load if you get the chance too. And, most importantly, be PATIENT. It takes a long time, often, to get anywhere in life worth going. Work as you can for the money. Get on student/low pay stuff as what you want to work as (cam department). Be friendly ect and always take chances and opportunities as they come up.
Express to ADs you know, and other PAs, you desire. Maybe they can help you-- maybe not right this second, but in the future.
As for learning technical things; practice on the cheap. Get a SLR and a roll of film and a cat, or something, and light it. Make little scenes. When i was in highschool I played around with Legos and a VHS recorder; figuring out what worked and what didn't.
I am not sure how old you are, but trust me, there is still a lot of living left in most lives.
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#5 J R

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 11:21 PM

Thank you to all - will try to edge in there more without stepping on any toes... do occasionally bring coffee to the DoP but usually in the form of dashing onto set, handing it off, and running away because he's in the middle of it.

And I guess maybe fake-it-till-I-make-it on non-paying gigs on the weekends...

Apologies for the anonymity, I understand the rules now and won't post again.
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#6 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 03 September 2012 - 05:38 AM

apply for work at a rental house, cheap gear, steady pay and you meet every camera assistant/cinematographer around.
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 03 September 2012 - 07:29 AM

J.R. I certainly do hope you post again. You just have to use your real first/last name is all. I mean this whole forum is a networking opportunity.
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#8 Sean Elder

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 08:52 AM

apply for work at a rental house, cheap gear, steady pay and you meet every camera assistant/cinematographer around.


That's the route I am personally taking, but that might not work for you. Someone passed on this advice to me and I am glad to share it: 'Shoot anything you can, work for free, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, then do it all over again!' Not in that order and I am definitely paraphrasing! It's helped me out a lot; just like a lot of the people here on this forum!
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#9 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 09:40 PM

Not everyone is good at or even able to strike up conversations with strangers.
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#10 Matthew Greiner

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 10:13 PM

Not everyone is good at or even able to strike up conversations with strangers.


True, but there is hardly room for shyness in the film/TV industry.

OP: The most important thing you can do is let everyone you come in contact with on set know what your ultimate goal is. Do that, and assuming you're a good PA, an AD might assign you to work as a Camera PA or let you wrangle cables later. Then you'll be forced to converse with the camera team and be able to maybe get a job as a loader or 2nd AC down the line. If you don't tell people what you're interested in, they can't help you out. Hope this helps. :)
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#11 J R

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 03:32 PM

Thanks again! Didn't think of rental houses, that's a good idea... and should try to be more vocal on set, hopefully in time it will become more natural to me!
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#12 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 09:40 PM

The forum rules still apply, J R. There may be many people here who could help you, but why should they take that chance when you won't even use your real name.
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#13 J R

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 09:45 PM

I realize that - I'm just responding with thanks to those who provided insight. I don't plan on using my real name, so I promise I won't be posting any new questions as I did understand from your first comment that anonymity is not allowed. Sorry, but I don't want to just leave these nice responses hanging with no thanks!
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#14 Christopher Sheneman

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Posted 19 September 2012 - 01:21 AM

Not everyone is good at or even able to strike up conversations with strangers.


Better see a therapist about that. Hollywood is all about the informal chat, it's everywhere and it's everything.



Here's what you do, JR, photocopy your naked rear end at Kinko's and hand those copies out - write "Willing to work this off!" then your name, # and the position your prefer.
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#15 J R

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Posted 26 September 2012 - 11:03 PM

Hahaha
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#16 Victor Nhat Nguyen

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 01:38 AM

I thought this thread was gonna be talking about lens...Anyway, how do you find New York JR? I live in Houston, Texas and there are barely any work here. Why don't you count yourself lucky you're living in a hub for production?
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