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Advice for getting onto a studio lot.


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#1 Sean Prasso

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 05:18 PM

Hi Everyone,

 

I am a recent SUNY Purchase grad who currently lives in New York. I just got back from California after taking the ASC Masterclass and Shane Hurlbut ASC Filmmaking Workshop. After my time spent there I am positive it's the place for me to pursue my dream.

 

I need advice on how to get on set in any capacity in a studio lot. Ideally in the camera department. I searched up and down on all the studio career pages and there are no opportunities available to work on set.

 

Best

 

Sean


Edited by Sean Prasso, 28 November 2016 - 05:20 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 05:54 PM

Even I rarely get to shoot on a studio lot...

 

Most studio shoots are union productions, so if you're not in Local 600 and working on the camera crew as an assistant, I'm not sure how you'd get onto a set there other than as an intern, and that's something specific -- you'd have to be an enrolled student at an accredited school working for units and covered by the school's liability insurance.  This is the only way to deal with issues like minimum wage laws, Workers Comp, not being in the union, etc.


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#3 Sean Prasso

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 06:00 PM

Okay gotcha. Thanks David.


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 08:31 PM

It was at least a decade of shooting features before I ever stepped onto a traditional soundstage at a major studio lot, so I'm not sure it's absolutely necessary for your education.  Of course, I started lighting sets on smaller stages even in film school.


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#5 Sean Prasso

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 08:44 PM

Right. Since Im out of school Im trying to get leads on P.A. work. I just talked to my buddy who works at Fox and said he can get me day player gigs over there so I'm definitely going to take him up on that. I'm just trying to find something more secure for consistent cash.


Edited by Sean Prasso, 28 November 2016 - 08:45 PM.

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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 08:59 PM

Yes, P.A. work is one option, it's just that I know nothing on how that is handled -- P.A.'s are hired by the production office or the A.D. department.


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#7 Sean Prasso

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 09:12 PM

Alright, Im going to do some research on contacting the production offices. Thanks.


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#8 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 11:47 AM

Working on a lot won't help you. I was working on the CBS and Warner lot quite a bit over the years and even though I mingled with lots of higher-up's, it wasn't the right place to be.

Here in California, there are plenty of on-set jobs. Good P.A. positions are everywhere on the job boards. As David points out, production offices do the staffing, but generally it's done through nepotism. They know someone from another shoot and call them first, to which they call their friends and all of a sudden the PA's are on set. They'll only put an add online if the pay is too shitty for their connections and/or if nobody they know can make it. You would also need to drop a resume off to the P.A. office, of other shows you've been a P.A. on. Can't mention your aspiration's for being a cinematographer.

If you want hands on experiences with cameras, I'd honestly suggest working at a rental house first. They're always looking for young blood and willing to train from the ground up if you're willing to stick around. If you work up that ladder first, to gain experience with different cameras, I think it will pay dividends up the road for you as a cinematographer. The second choice would be P.A. work because even though you'll meet some great people and understand what it's like on a set, you won't be able to interface with the camera department much, the P.A.'s are kept separate on most shows and are not allowed to have interactions with the higher up's. Both experiences are valuable, but I think the rental house experience for someone wanting to work in the camera department is MORE valuable. Plus, it will give you steady income, which is nice when you're living in Los Angeles.

I landed in CA with a decent demo reel, lots of references and starting shooting features right away. I only stopped because both of them screwed me over financially and one of them, the producers ran out of money so it was never finished. It destroyed me mentally and financially, so I had to get a full-time job and I spent 10 years outside of the creative profession because I was too scared to leave it and become a freelancer again. I've spent the last 3 years freelancing once more with no steady income and it's been VERY difficult to make ends meet. You've gotta constantly be hustling, looking for little gigs here and there, shooting anything you can shoot, even if it's for friends, just to constantly meet new people. It takes a long time and that's why working at a rental house will help. I honestly wish I could have afforded to do that years ago, but they didn't pay enough for me to survive. I did try P.A. work as well, but it wasn't for me. If you're a creative guy, you've gotta be working on your creative stuff all the time and spending 12-16hrs on a set every day, wipes you clean of any creativity.

So those are my thoughts... it's hard at first, but if you work your ass off and have a good attitude, you'll move quickly through the ranks like I did. The big catch is to have plenty of money when you move here, don't come with $10k... come with $50k. If it takes you a year of working in NY to get that money, do it. You need money so you can work on smaller gigs that may not pay the rent. I also suggest before you get a job at a rental house, to try and start shooting stuff... anything. Just go on craigslist and take any shooting job you can get. Try to do the freelance thing first and hey, if it works, you will get more work out of it. It's also nice to invest in a decent camera package, something you can use for smaller personal stuff. I have the blackmagic pocket cameras and Rokinon cine primes. Whole kit cost me less then $5k and it's a worthwhile investment for yourself to have something like that in my opinion. Wish I had it 15 years ago when I moved, but back then digital was just getting started and film cameras were still very expensive.

Alright, that's it for me!
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#9 Sean Prasso

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 05:53 PM

Thank you Tyler! Great advice!


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#10 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 06:53 PM

I went to Purchase for Cinematography.  They weren't happy about that. Haha.  At that time they wanted to graduate writer directors.

 

This is going back a while.  I dont know if they screened that documentary Misfire for you but if not, they really should.  It's all about The Shooting Gallery and their rise and fall. 

 

When I was at Purchase most of our cinematography teachers were out on location shooting so we often had substitutes.  A regular sub was an operator on Law and Order.  He extended an open invitation to us all to check out the set sometime.

 

So when I randomly bumped into them on Broadway I dropped his name and got a tour of their sets.  It was pretty cool.  Eventually I ended up in a truck chatting with a DP.   Nice guy.  I mentioned I was a student at Purchase and he said "What are you doing here? You don't want to get into this.   You should be hanging downtown at The Shooting Gallery"

 

Not long after that, The Shooting Gallery closed up shop.  Meanwhile Law and Order went on to create a few spinoffs.   My point is, I think your idea to go straight into union work and contacting studios to join something stable is a good one.   Indie work is not at all what it used to be.  I recently asked some folks at Purchase if there was any alumni who had any development funding that would be open to hearing a pitch or two.   Not surprising that there's pretty much nobody.  Maybe one small outfit is still holding on. Hal Hartley crowdfunded his last movie and released it on Vimeo.  If that isn't a good indication of how unreliable this business is, I don't know what is.  I think you have the right idea.


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#11 Sean Prasso

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Posted 30 November 2016 - 03:11 PM

No they did not screen Misfire! I'll check it out. Thanks Michael. I'm going to go for the camera rental house, I think that is my best bet. I can always do freelance work on the side.


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