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How to get into the industry in US as camera crew


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#1 Andrea Altgayer

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 01:19 PM

Hi there guys,

It's me again! :)

Do you guys have any tips on how I should get into the film industry in the US as a camera crew member, especially if I haven't studied film formally?

Seing that I live in South Africa, what can I do over here to start establishing contacts and making inroads?

I would also really appreciate your advice on how to get a foot in the door in the American film industry, especially when I am still at the beginning of my career over here. Do you have crewing agents?Over here, we have crewing agents that provide production companies with crew members. If you are working in the film industry, or would like to get in, you can contact one of them, speak to one of the consultants, tell them what you do, whether you are a best boy, sound person or whatever the case may be, they will then put you on a database, and then if a production company is looking for sound people, or whatever the case may be, they will contact the crewing agent, and then they will put your name forward to the production company and send your resume, showreel and whatever else they may need. (As with an actor's agency, if the production company then hires you for their production, they will pay your salary to your agent, and your agent will take a percentage of your salary as commision).

It sounds really easy, but it isn't. The business here is still very small, and it seems like people like to stick with crew members that they have been working with for, say, five years. It doesn't really matter, for example, if you have just recently graduated from film school, and the other person has been working with that production company for 5 years, and that that person does not have a degree in film or whatever, they will choose people they know over recent graduates, and that makes it really difficult for new people to get in. It took me a total of six years to get into the industry, because I knew nobody at all. I did exactly what I was advised to do, which was write letters to and call production companies and ask them if you could work as a runner or PA in the department that you are interested in. In many cases, I was even told to F*$# off! , and two years to get onto the database of one of the best known crewing agencies here.

Do you also have crewing agencies in the States? If you do, please could you forward me their names and contact details. I have a sister in New York, and I am presently making plans to go over there next year, and then go to LA if all goes according to plan. Otherwise, I would welcome any suggestions that you may have about how I could try to get in, especially bearing in mind that I haven't studied film, but have about 18 month's experience and have undergone informal training at various equipment houses over here.

Are there any websites that you could reccommend, and that you know are used frquently by important players in the industry over there, where I could register my resume, etc?

How should I go about establishing the right contacts in the industry, especially with DOP's who may be looking for assistants, etc?

Would it be advisable to send my resume and showreel to production companies directly? I am afraid that my resume will be one amongst hundreds of millions that they probably receive every day.

What if I register as an extra at a casting agency? This is basically how I found out about the crewing agencies over here.
Would I be taken seriously? Would I be allowed to talk to crew members on set? Would the crew members take kindly to it? I know of a few casting agencies here that have a code of conduct that says explicitlty that extras are not allowed to talk to crew members on set, and was wondering if this is also the case in the States.

I am also planning to do a loaders' course, so that when I go, at least I will have something on paper that says that I know something about film cameras! :) I am also putting together my showreel, and will hopefully have it ready by the end of January next year. It will be a while before I can afford to go to film school.

I would also welcome any suggestions that you may have about how I could get a green card or work visa for the States while I'm still here. Can I get them at the American Consulate, just like a normal travel visa?

If I am not able to secure employment on a film set before I go, approximately how long will it take for me to get working on film sets (commercials or feature films - obviously my preference would be working in the camera department, but I am prepared to work as a runner or PA if necessary) , especially considering that I have a foreign passport?

If you haven't studied film, how long does it take to progress from being a runner, or camera assistant, to become a clapper loader or focus puller?

The reason that I am asking is that I have thought about trying to develop my international career at roughly the same time as my local career. I know it might sound crazy, but I really want to try to avoid a situation where I have spent about 10 years establishing myself as a DOP (and a top DOP, too!) , and then having to start at the bottom all over again when I go to the States. (I am not sure if this has happened to South African crew members who have tried to get into the industry in the States, but I have heard this has happened to many talented South African actors (except for Charlise Theron), who worked in our industry for around 15 years and reached the peak of their careers here, and then have tried to crack it in the States, and found themselves working as store clerks at Planet Hollywood or Starbucks, or as set toilet cleaners).

I also regularly keep in touch with the South African Society of Cinematographers, which is affiliated to the American Society of Cinematographers. I made an inquiry as to how I could join the society and become a member, and they told me the bad news, namely that it takes about 14 years of experience to become a member, and even then, you can only become a member if you have been recommended by two other members. However, they have also told me that they host regular workshops for non-members, so as you can imagine, I am really working my way in there wherever possible!



How do I get started as a camera crew member in the States, especially if I haven't studied film formally?

I would really appreciate your advice on how to get a foot in the door in the American film industry, especially when I am still at the beginning of my career over here. Do you have crewing agents?Over here, we have crewing agents that provide production companies with crew members. If you are working in the film industry, or would like to get in, you can contact one of them, speak to one of the consultants, tell them what you do, whether you are a best boy, sound person or whatever the case may be, they will then put you on a database, and then if a production company is looking for sound people, or whatever the case may be, they will contact the crewing agent, and then they will put your name forward to the production company and send your resume, showreel and whatever else they may need. (As with an actor's agency, if the production company then hires you for their production, they will pay your salary to your agent, and your agent will take a percentage of your salary as commision).

It sounds really easy, but it isn't. The business here is still very small, and it seems like people like to stick with crew members that they have been working with for, say, five years. It doesn't really matter, for example, if you have just recently graduated from film school, and the other person has been working with that production company for 5 years, and that that person does not have a degree in film or whatever, they will choose people they know over recent graduates, and that makes it really difficult for new people to get in. It took me a total of six years to get into the industry, because I knew nobody at all. I did exactly what I was advised to do, which was write letters to and call production companies and ask them if you could work as a runner or PA in the department that you are interested in. In many cases, I was even told to F*$# off! , and two years to get onto the database of one of the best known crewing agencies here.

Do you also have crewing agencies in the States? If you do, please could you forward me their names and contact details. I have a sister in New York, and I am presently making plans to go over there next year, and then go to LA if all goes according to plan. Otherwise, I would welcome any suggestions that you may have about how I could try to get in, especially bearing in mind that I haven't studied film, but have about 18 month's experience and have undergone informal training at various equipment houses over here.

Are there any websites that you could reccommend, and that you know are used frquently by important players in the industry over there, where I could register my resume, etc?

How should I go about establishing the right contacts in the industry, especially with DOP's who may be looking for assistants, etc?

Would it be advisable to send my resume and showreel to production companies directly? I am afraid that my resume will be one amongst hundreds of millions that they probably receive every day.

What if I register as an extra at a casting agency? This is basically how I found out about the crewing agencies over here.
Would I be taken seriously? Would I be allowed to talk to crew members on set? Would the crew members take kindly to it? I know of a few casting agencies here that have a code of conduct that says explicitlty that extras are not allowed to talk to crew members on set, and was wondering if this is also the case in the States.

I am also planning to do a loaders' course, so that when I go, at least I will have something on paper that says that I know something about film cameras! :) I am also putting together my showreel, and will hopefully have it ready by the end of January next year. It will be a while before I can afford to go to film school.

I would also welcome any suggestions that you may have about how I could get a green card or work visa for the States while I'm still here. Can I get them at the American Consulate, just like a normal travel visa?

If I am not able to secure employment on a film set before I go, approximately how long will it take for me to get working on film sets (commercials or feature films - obviously my preference would be working in the camera department, but I am prepared to work as a runner or PA if necessary) , especially considering that I have a foreign passport?

If you haven't studied film, how long does it take to progress from being a runner, or camera assistant, to become a clapper loader or focus puller?

The reason that I am asking is that I have thought about trying to develop my international career at roughly the same time as my local career. I know it might sound crazy, but I really want to try to avoid a situation where I have spent about 10 years establishing myself as a DOP (and a top DOP, too!) , and then having to start at the bottom all over again when I go to the States.
(I am not sure if this has happened to South African crew members who have tried to get into the industry in the States, but I have heard thst this has happened to many talented South African actors (except for Charlise Theron), who worked in our industry for around 15 years and reached the peak of their careers here, and then have tried to crack it in the States, and found themselves working as store clerks at Planet Hollywood or Starbucks, or as set toilet cleaners.)

I also regularly keep in touch with the South African Society of Cinematographers, which is affiliated to the American Society of Cinematographers. I made an inquiry as to how I could join the society and become a member, and they told me the bad news, namely that it takes about 14 years of experience to become a member, and even then, you can only become a member if you have been recommended by two other members. However, they have also told me that they host regular workshops for non-members, so as you can imagine, I am really working my way in there wherever possible!

Your help and advice would be greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Andrea Altgayer
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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 06:33 PM

I think your post set a new length record. :o

R.
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#3 Andrea Altgayer

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 01:17 PM

No kidding! :) Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated - but the subject is really very important to me, and I would really appreciate any advice that you may have.

Regards,

Andrea
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#4 Richard Boddington

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 02:47 PM

"I would also welcome any suggestions that you may have about how I could get a green card or work visa for the States while I'm still here. Can I get them at the American Consulate, just like a normal travel visa? "

For starters I assume you know that the odds of you getting a greencard to work in the US film industry are near zero? You won't get a work permit either.

There are essentially four ways to get a greencard.

1) Marry a US citizen.
2) Win the greencard lottery (you will still need a full time job offer from a US company even if you do win)
3) Set up a business in the USA as a "treaty investor." This will require several million dolars.
4) Be in the US for many years working on a different type of VISA which will need to be employer sponsored and very difficult to get. FYI, since 911 the INS has dramatically cut back their number of work permit VISAS.

Ask your local US consolate if you don't believe me.

Since this will be your first hurdle, finding out about where you can get crew work is really not relevant since you won't be able to accept the work any way.

The only way the INS will look at you is if you have extraordinary abilities and a job offer from a US company. Take note, you can't use freelance work on film crews as your job offer, it has to be full-time and salaried. These positions don't exist in the film industry as a rule.

Why do you think there are 13 million illegal aliens in the USA? Few can meet the requirements legally so they just sneak in.

R.
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#5 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 04:53 PM

You do realize there's no way anyone is going to read through your entire post?? Immigration issues aside, a common career start is to get a job in the camera dep't of a rental house, endure that for a while (1 to 2 years) and then start going out on jobs w/ the AC's whom you've met when they've come in to check-in and check out their jobs.

No, we don't have crewing agencies over here.

I'm curious, can you go and work in any of the "commonwealth countries?"

Edited by J-Ro, 13 May 2005 - 04:54 PM.

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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 05:40 PM

FYI, as there are number of non USA people out there with dreams of working in Hollywood.

Here is the official site of the US Immigration Service, aka INS.

http://uscis.gov/graphics/index.htm

Prepare to have your mind boggled.

Please keep one important point in mind, as I have seen non US citizens burned on this before. Just because a US employer wants to hire you, does NOT mean you can work for them.

ONLY the INS can grant you permission to work in the USA, not an employer. It doesn't matter if that employer is Universal Studios or Ed's Video Store.

Do not fly to the USA ready to work, only to be turned back at the airport. It can and does happen.

Also keep in mind that Hollywood is not in a mood to presure congress to let more foreigners in to work in Hollywood, they want congress to keep foreigners OUT of Hollywood.

R.
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Visual Products

Willys Widgets

Technodolly

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The Slider

CineTape

rebotnix Technologies

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Rig Wheels Passport

Opal

FJS International, LLC

Metropolis Post

Ritter Battery

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Tai Audio

CineLab

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Glidecam

Paralinx LLC

Aerial Filmworks