Month: March, 2011

The Job Interview

Interviewing to shoot with filmmakers you don’t know is challenging. I’ve done lots of it. The problem is, I’m a quiet guy who would much prefer to hear about someone else’s accomplishments than talk about my own. I don’t have the gift of gab to rely on, just the strength of my reel, recommendations from colleagues, and a genuine interest in hearing about new film projects.

Generally speaking, I try to leave a first interview with three pieces of information:

  1. Do the director and/or producers have a vision for the project as a film (and not just a script)?
  2. Are they people I could work with 14 hours a day for weeks or months on end?
  3. And do they have the time and resources to make the kind of film they want to make?

In short, I want to know whether I’m a good fit for the project and whether the project is a good fit for me. A location feature with a $25,000 budget and a director who says he is “intense” on set and insists on hiring crew “who can do a bit of everything” is probably not for me. A two-million dollar indy drama with someone who has a notebook full of ideas and is seeking a creative partner, not just a technician? Now I’m interested.

Notice in the above list of questions that I don’t care what films the filmmakers have shot in the past. Sure it’s good information to have, but I’m more interested in whether or not they know what they want, whether they are capable of admiting that there are things they don’t know, and whether they’re smart enough to surround themselves with a team of people who can help them. We’re all nervous going into production. Anyone who says they’re not is either lying or isn’t reaching far enough.

Scouting

From the scout: the most expensive, least convenient, and best-looking of the possible locations.

So much of scouting isn’t really about scouting locations at all, but more a strange introductory dance between the DP and the rest of the management team. It’s not courtship exactly, because if you’re scouting you’ve already got the job, but perhaps more akin to a first date. There’s a lot of covert sizing-up going on, and because it’s Hollywood and we’re all grossly unsocialized, there can be some initial awkwardness. It’s more relaxed if you’ve known the director or producer for a while, but on today’s scout I didn’t.

The director of this project is in Ireland, so I met with the gal who is managing the production to look at a few locations. The scene is simple enough—an instructor leading an acting class—and it will be shot loosely in an observational style. The camera will likely be focused on the instructor while tracking behind the students’ backs.

We looked at several different spaces, and the dance studio featured in the photo above was by far the most engaging. But there is a catch: to make this location work I will need to use some large, expensive lights (outside), as well as a generator to power them. This kind of lighting is par for the course on features and TV shows, but for a short, low-budget piece like this it can be a challenge. Day interiors with big windows are the fiscal bane of short film production.

I’ll pitch it to the director and send the producer an equipment list and some recommendations on some of the cheaper rental houses in town. With a little luck and some creative budgeting, we just might be able to pull this off.

Endless summer, endless hustle

A small victory for the record books:

When I first moved to Los Angeles in 2004, I visited some of the film schools in the area and posted flyers offering to partner with students to shoot their films. I was moderately more experienced than student DPs and it seemed like a great way to build relationships with local filmmakers. Plus, I think students are often the most fearless filmmakers in the industry: I love their willingness to embrace creative risks.

I never heard from anyone and quickly forgot about the whole thing. But a few weeks ago—seven years after posting at one of the local film schoolsI was contacted and ultimately hired by a student to shoot his project, all because of my efforts in 2004.

Every shooting job presents tremendous opportunity for building relationships, both with the filmmakers involved and the hundreds (or thousands) of people who screen the film. How exactly my name stayed on the film school radar for so long is beyond me, but I’m thrilled to be involved. And I’m far, far more qualified now than I was then.