Need advice on a career change at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > And Now, For Something Completely Different... > Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business
The pen and paper aspects of DV -- put it in writing!


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old March 22nd, 2007, 12:16 AM   #1
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
Need advice on a career change

I’m looking for advice on taking the next step in my career. I’ve studied filmmaking in College for 3 years before becoming an independent videographer. Started out with event videography, mainly concert and recital coverage, then moved on towards the corporate video business. Been doing it for 3 years now on top of recently starting to get freelance work as a DP / camera op / editor for other small video production companies. I’m at a point where I can now make a decent living out of it.

Thing is, I’ve had second thoughts about my career path for well over a year now. When I started out, I naively thought this is great, I’ll be shooting and editing all the time, being my own boss, with my own scheduling, etc. And I really underestimated the business side of things, and how it was not something I was comfortable with. I’m happy when I hold a camera in my hands, experiment with new technology, storyboard a project, light a set and edit footage, not when I have to go through marketing, financial and other business related tasks, client research and interaction, etc. I don’t have the seller or businessman personality type. I also started to feel a certain disdain for the corporate world as things went on.

On the other hand, every time I am asked to do DP work or operate a camera on a narrative film, I feel like I’m truly where I belong. When I create promotional videos for my clients, I’m working and it feels like it. When I’m doing DP work on narratives, paid or not, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just plain fun and exciting.

A few days ago, I finally decided to take a risk and try to get closer to the television and film industry. My long term goal is working as a director of photography, but while I have acquired enough experience as a videographer to master the fundamentals, I’m certainly not up to speed if I ever want to work in filmmaking. Main reason being, corporate work, the kind I did anyways, asks for low budget productions with the gear that goes along. I would be lost and overwhelmed if you asked me to work the lights or even the camera on a multi-million dollar film set, heck even in a TV studio, I’m not there yet, not even close, but it’s where I want to be ultimatelly.

Right now I feel like I lack set experience, in whatever capacity. I’m under the impression that I need to go through the motions first, so to speak, learn the protocols and familiarize myself with the environment. So I thought about joining the film and television technician Union here in Quebec (AQTIS), take the mendatory courses for the related jobs I could apply in, and start working on movie and TV sets in any capacity, even if only as a grip to start out. I just want to get in first. I’m wondering if this is a good plan to move ahead or if there are other paths I overlooked.

I know most people here able to answer and advise me on this matter work in the US but from what I’ve seen it isn’t any different than the system here in Canada. When I was in College, I learned the classic way to becoming a DP was to start as a 2nd camera ass. for a few years, then 1st, then camera op. I’m wondering if it’s still a good and safe way to master the trade while not jumping any steps or if things have changed. Somehow I always questioned the logic behind this. I’m also assuming even getting to work as a 2nd camera assistant is probably not as easy as it sounds, so there may be lower positions I need to aim for first.

If anybody thinks of ressources that could help me take the first step, has career advices based on their own experience, or anything else related, I’d gladly hear it. Thanks for helping me out folks.
David Lach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 24th, 2007, 12:18 AM   #2
Major Player
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Sherman Oaks, CA
Posts: 471
I live & work in Los Angeles, where there is lots of competition.

Fact is, if you want to make money, you have to do event videography & corporate work.

You will never get paid well to be a DP for a documentary or indie film. Just look at craigslist. There are people willing to work for free in these tiny nitch markets.

Life is a compromise.
Scott Jaco is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 24th, 2007, 12:14 PM   #3
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
Well Scott I'm not looking to do work on documentaries and indies per say, I want to move up to main stream productions. Meaning working on big production features, ads and television shows. I'm realist enough to know there is a learning curve and I'm not there yet, that's why I'm willing to start at the bottom. I'm also able to recognize that I might never get there, there are very talented people in this industry, but it's still worth a try to me, and I do have a fail-safe plan.

There are plenty of DPs living from DP and camera op jobs in the filmmaking and television industry, in the US and elsewhere. This is my long term goal. But it is a very departemented industry and it takes time to move up, especially in filmmaking. That's why I'm looking for advice on the proper way to "get in" so to speak.
David Lach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 24th, 2007, 03:02 PM   #4
Major Player
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: 32 44' N 117 10' W
Posts: 820
Quote:
Originally Posted by David Lach View Post
Well Scott I'm not looking to do work on documentaries and indies per say ...
Unfortunately, in this biz, it isn't what you know, but who.

Saying that; working on indies would be a great way to not only to get the lacking

Quote:
Right now I feel like I lack set experience, in whatever capacity. Im under the impression that I need to go through the motions first, so to speak, learn the protocols and familiarize myself with the environment.
... but also a great way to build your reel.

You're not going to waltz into the industry without some kind of experience. I'd do exactly what you seem apprehensive about doing; find a project you can fall in love with and starting gaining real world experience.
John Hudson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 24th, 2007, 09:01 PM   #5
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hudson View Post
Unfortunately, in this biz, it isn't what you know, but who.

Saying that; working on indies would be a great way to not only to get the lacking



... but also a great way to build your reel.

You're not going to waltz into the industry without some kind of experience. I'd do exactly what you seem apprehensive about doing; find a project you can fall in love with and starting gaining real world experience.
John, I hear you loud and clear, and every time I get a chance to work on narrative projects, small or not, I do trust me, as a DP or otherwise, I didn't want to sound like I'm not willing to work on small productions, I was responding to Scott's idea that you can't just be a DP in this business without keeping some kind of alternative way of making money (that's how I read it anyways).

I know I need to build a network of people who can help me move up, but that being said, it seems to me that the quickest way to get in contact with those people would be on actual film sets here in Montreal, working as close as I can to the camera and lighting departments.

Maybe I got this all backwards, but I'm basing this logic on the experience of a friend of mine who worked for some years as a production assistant on pro sets, building a network of contacts in the industry, and recently she found through those contacts an opening to work as a 3rd ass. director.

I haven't laid out any decisive course of action yet, hence this thread, I'm just looking at the easiest and safest way to start up and eventually move up.

I don't want to sound like I have no ground to walk on either, I have directed, DPed and edited on many productions, all of them low production (sub 10K), so I do have real world experience, just not at the level I want to move up (eventually).
David Lach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 12:46 AM   #6
Slash Rules!
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 4,723
You may already know this, but there's basically two ways to do this. . .

Either, as you said, start at the bottom as a PA, and hope to work your way up, or, see who will hire you given your experience level, in the capacity (DP, I'm assuming) you want.

The first way, starting at the bottom, can be a long long path with no guarantee of ever reaching the rank you want. I've heard tales of guys spending 20, 30 years to get there, if they ever do. However, if you start as a PA/AC/AD on these types of projects (in my limited experience), you can work on high end stuff, made by real production companies with real experience, and so you'll get decent wages, and see how the pros work, though you'll be at the bottom of the food chain. I don't know about offering yourself as a PA on some no budget indie project. . .it shouldn't be that hard to get started in the "real" production world in that position.

The other way, trying to DP whenever you can--well, at least you'll be doing what you like, but will you make money? Maybe. Commercials and music videos seem to be the way the beginners break in while still actually getting paid. I'm not recommending you sell your services for less than you think they're worth, but if you do, you might be able to work on these type of projects and bring your artistic sensibilities to them (i.e. not having to settle for crappy corporate video production values), and build up a nice reel, but you won't get paid the way you want to or should, but at least you'd be doing nice stuff.

From what I hear, actual movies are about the hardest thing to make money on (as a DP, I mean) 'til you get way up there in the rankings. David Mullen, who posts on here, has stories about his path to where he is now (he's now in the ASC, just shot "The Astronaut Farmer"). Maybe he'll chime in. Basically, anything you'd be qualified to work on/allowed to work on a cinematographer at this point in your career that even HAS a budget is probably stretching it to the breaking point to get the project made, and so won't be able to pay you at all, or would pay very little compared to your corporate rates.

Those are my thoughts, at any rate.
Josh Bass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 12:52 PM   #7
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
Hi Josh. Well so far I was planning on doing a bit of both. Working in a low position on high profile productions (though PA might be too low in the food chain for me and not close enough to the camera and lighting departments) while also offering my services as a freelance cinematographer/editor, something I'm already doing for other producers and get quasi-regular work from. I'm also watching all of Craig's list ads in the Montreal area and receive Mandy's daily updates. There's not much to be found, but I do apply on everything I see fit, paid or not.

So maybe I should come up with more precise questions.

Like:

What is the best position in the main stream motion picture industry, both film AND television, considering my experience level, to start up and get close enough right away in order to learn from the pros (cinematographer/camera op/gaffer, etc). 2nd camera assistant? Video assist op? Grip? Best Boy? Anything else?

Are those easy to obtain positions or do you need to be well connected for those too? Doing PA work would probably be a waste of my time. Driving equipment trucks and blocking streets ain't going to help me progress. But if there are obscure positions I overlooked that might be good ways to start, I'm all ears.

Anybody knows of other good places to get in contact with indie filmmakers looking for DPs and camera ops save for Craig's list and Mandy? I find it very difficult in the Montreal area to find projects to work on, paid or not. I'd like to augment the pool of possible projects in order to accelerate things. I usually don't have a hard time getting to work on low/no budget productions since I have quite a bit of gear at my disposal.
David Lach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 01:26 PM   #8
Slash Rules!
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 4,723
Well, here's the thing see--

Though you may feel PAing would be a waste of your time, you might not be able to get anything else at a pro level. You can certainly try, just start cold calling production coordinators/unit production managers/production managers around the area, and say "Hi, I'm a (insert position desired here, AC/AD/grip), if you have any projects coming up, I'd like you to consider me for them". They'll likely ask you what else you've worked on in that paritcular capacity. This is where you'll probably run into problems. Unless you professionally gripped/AC'd/etc. before, you're kind of lost. They don't wanna hear "well, I do my own movies, and I do corporate video, and I've DP'd on a bunch of low budget stuff" because that won't mean anything to them. You really need experience specific to the position you're applying for.

That's why people PA. Even though you're doing crap, you get to be around the people that do the things you want to do at a pro level, and eventually you can start to work your way in to those departments. YOu can even TRY to be a PA in a specific department (meaning you won't just be blocking streets and driving trucks around; you'll be serving the department you're interested in, if it works out). If you have no experience and still try to break in at a higher position, you'll just have to hope to be really lucky, which certainly happen sometimes. An example: I know a guy who, somewhat fresh out of film school, offered to grip for a 5 week feature for free just to learn, and then went along on a number of grip jobs for free with his roommate, also a grip, who got paid. Producers were getting two grips for the price of one this way. Eventually this new guy started getting paid too, and there you are.

Even 2nd AC and grip aren't beginner positions. Below 2nd AC is camera PA or maybe loader (not precisely sure how this chain works), and you have to know a lot of gear, what it is, how it works, when to use it, to be a grip. I don't know about video assist, how people get into that. That might be one to look into.

Maybe it's different in Canada. I don't know.
Josh Bass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 04:38 PM   #9
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
I have a few friends who are pro PAs and according to them, you can probably move up when you PA, but within your own department, not switching towards others. That's why I'm doubtful about the pertinence of starting there. I'd rather start in the good department right away. I had never heard about department specific PAs though. I'll have to look into that, see if it works that way too here.

In Quebec, when you apply for a position within the tech union for the Motion Picture industry (AQTIS), they have you follow a mendatory course that will last a few days and cost a few hundreds, where they will show you everything you need to know in order to occupy the position you're applying for. I was hoping this would be sufficient to start at a low level position other than PA, but it might not be. Again, I'll have to check with a Union rep on that.

I could obviously do my "time" as a PA for the necessary hours to get my Union membership, then switch departments and hope this status will help me move up a bit more easily, but I hope it won't have to come to that.
David Lach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 05:10 PM   #10
Slash Rules!
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 4,723
Sorry, I hadn't thought about unions. I have nothing to do with any of that, so I have no idea how it works here (or there, of course).


Yes, we have department specific PAs (in the US, I mean). Transpo PA, camera PA, etc.
Josh Bass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 06:07 PM   #11
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
Thanks for your input Josh. I'll ask my friend who worked as a PA if it works the same way here. I wouldn't mind doing PA work if I could choose the department I would work in.
David Lach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 07:39 PM   #12
Slash Rules!
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 4,723
No problem. The other thing I thought of (and again, this is going off my experience here) is you might try to intern in the job capacity that you want. Work for free as a grip (an actual grip, not a PA) to learn gripping, 'til you get good enough to work at it and get paid. You'd want to get yourself on something legit (even if low budget) for that, something where real pros would show you the ropes.
Josh Bass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 08:28 PM   #13
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
Yes I think that would be a good idea also, and something I'm comfortable with. I just wonder if finding, say, an intership position as an AC., wouldn't be as hard as finding the actual paid job in such a position. Seems like this is a very close-knit world and based on friends' experience, even internship isn't something that you will be served on a platter when you request it. Again, I'll ask around.
David Lach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 10:07 PM   #14
Slash Rules!
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 4,723
You talked earlier about the union deal where you pays your money, take a class, and then you're more or less qualified, but one way or the other, you have to be proficient at a job to get hired to do it. Somehow, you have to get trained before you can get hired. That's all I'm driving at. From what I understand, it's not common to get paid for this training in the US, don't know how it is there.
Josh Bass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 25th, 2007, 11:30 PM   #15
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Posts: 570
It works the same here, or so I assume. That friend of mine I talked about earlier had to do about 3-4 years of PA work before getting a chance at an internship as a 3rd AD. Once she got it though, just a few weeks later, she found a paid job as a 3rd AD. Which leads me to believe the intership is harder to get. Once you do have it, the wheels are in motion (granted you've performed adequatly during your internship).

The courses are mendatory from a Union stand point, meaning they won't let you in unless you go through those courses first, which makes sense, but that probably doesn't mean a producer will actually hire you because you got the course completed, so like you said, intership makes sense as a transitional step.
David Lach is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > And Now, For Something Completely Different... > Taking Care of Business

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 07:42 AM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network