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!