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#1 Denison Chapin

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 06:09 PM

Hello everyone.

While this might not be the best place to actually post this since I'm hoping for advice from veterans (even though its most relevant area), I'll begin here.

I, sirs and madams, am young, stupid, and ambitious. I will soon be graduating college. I love academia but I know I want to DO something, and that something involves the film camera. As Herzog says, shooting a film is a physical act, almost like playing a sport, and I'd rather be on the field getting bruises than watching on the sidelines.

I'm beginning here but this is not where it ends. I seek advice:

I want to be a steadi-cam operator. When I worked as a PA on The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, TJ Williams told me that I was the right build and height, that I looked promising.

I love the camera and the grace involved in moving it well. I want to spend many hours mastering this physical skill simply because of the beauty I think it produces.

I am determined, maybe delusional, but I MUST do this.

So my question is, how do I avoid the bullshit?

I don't think that working my way up will work. Honestly. I'm not looking to be found, I'm shoving my foot through the door saying LOOK AT ME, I'M HERE IF YOU NEED ANYTHING (excuse the caps).

My thought process for how to "make it" and get experience and jobs are as follows (this is as practical as I can think of it):

I want to work a high paying job while apprenticing with a local in Seattle. Hopefully this doesn't involve sexual favors :) That's one piece of advice I could use (not the sexual favors) but how do I make that contact and show that I'm worthwhile for the operator to teach?

I want to work with an experienced person for long enough that I can get some footage together (more than I have) and develop a good reel. I already own a DVX100a w/ a 35mm lens adapter and a number of DIY equipment (college student).

Then, when I can afford to, I want to take out a decent loan, throw down half the money, and buy a very nice entry level camera, like the Red One.

I want to be DOING operation more than watching it, as getting into the business requires skill.

From there, local commercial work and music videos. Having good enough equipment to attract businesses and groups simply because of the high quality stuff and a good reel.

From there, I think I'll be able to make enough money where I can afford to spend some of my own on my own projects (ultimately what I want to do).

I don't want to run film from a camera to a truck. I don't want to pull focus. I want to hold the camera.

What do you guys think of my plan, what advice would you give me as I graduate college this year and return to Seattle?

Thanks guys!
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#2 Kris Torch Wilson

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 06:37 PM

Dear Denison,

I applaud your attitude and ambition, HOWEVER, you will find this subject has been discussed a lot here so a "search" will save us from retyping the lecture. After reading and taking a reality pill you may find that barging through the door might not be your best tactic.

Good Luck

Kris
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#3 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 06:46 PM

I'll take a crack at this since I'm in a good mood and have some loud punk rock music playing (appropriate for this venue I think).

Wow! You?re so all over the place I don't know where to start!!!!

I'll spare you the lecture everybody that reads your post will want to give you. The one liner would be, "I'll call Spielberg and tell him your doing 'A' camera on his next show". It just doesn't work that way.

For example, my grandfather was a director of photography. My father was a camera operator (two totally different jobs, particularly in the big show world). If you want to be a D.P., buy a camera, if you want to be an operator, buy a steadicam...... But I digress....

I started working on set (with my uncle, a 25 year in the business first assistant) and my father (30 years in, 20 as an operator) when I was a teenager. I humped cases and got coffee for years. I dropped out of college after a year and a half and started working full time with my dad and uncle. I spent the first 2 years carrying cases and getting coffee. Occasionally somebody would throw me a bone and let me work as a PA or an extra and once in a blue moon they would let me load for free on low budget jobs. After 6 years as a second assistant (an occasional job as a first AC), I got a shot on a low budget TV show to do steadicam once a week when I said I would buy a rig if they let me use it. I went about 120 grand into debt and got my first PRO and Preston. That was 1998. I started to not suck in around 2002 or 2003 depending on who you ask. I started to get some decent gigs in about 2005. Finally, coming up on 2009, I've got enough chops that I can hold my own with the big boys. My reel (in my opinion) still kind of sucks.

But let?s assume you have something really special. I'd say, find a steadicam operator in your area (or a DP if that's what you want to do) and ask them if they would let you follow them around, get them coffee and carry their heavy stuff for free. If they say yes, stick with them like glue until you have enough credit or enough money to buy a rig. If you want to do what you want to do, I'd suggest going right for a PRO or something top of the line (don't waste time with mini DV only rigs). Of if you want to work as a DP, a Red is not a terrible option. Now start offering up your services to any body and every body that will let you do their 'pet project' or PSA or student film. Make sure you get a copy of everything you shoot and make sure you shoot (or operate) as often as possible.

I'd suggest one of the steadicam schools if that's what you want to do or maybe one of the Main schools if you want to be a DP.

Keep editing and re-editing your reel and putting it up on your website. Keep it short (start off under 2 minutes and grow to 3 minutes when you have tons of great shots).

If you?re going to give sexual favors, don't waste them on anybody less then 'A' list directors and producers......... Unless you?re into that kind of thing.

Hope that helps,

mm.

Edited by Mike McGowan SOC, 22 October 2008 - 06:52 PM.

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#4 Denison Chapin

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 07:30 PM

Mike I really really appreciate your advice! Very sound.

I think the reason my plan will work is simply because everyone thinks it's impossible, but I don't. So while people settle for the normal conventional way of doing it, I'm going to test assumptions and try something different.

Again I really appreciate your advice and encouraging tone.

I'm going for crazy. :)
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#5 Imran Naqvi

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 08:21 PM

If you're a genius your method might work.

Otherwise, there really is no quick route, it's politics, proving your ability and learning the craft.

The only shortcuts I can see are if your surname is Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick etc etc.
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#6 Jim Chu

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 08:39 PM

I know you are asking for advice from veterans, so in that respect I have to clearly state that I am NOT in that category. I am a guy who has taken a 2 day course (which everyone on this board will rightly recommend to you, if not the 5 day) and has a rig coming in two weeks. As a guy who has taken a very different path from the veterans on this board, I can't speak for them. What I can say is that I have broken a million rules in my life, and I appreciate the fact that you are looking to do the same thing. Having a passion is central to getting anywhere in life. Look around you. Every man and woman on this board has done nothing but drive themselves towards the goal of developing their craft. They share a passion. That being said,

The unfortunate circumstance that you are presenting is that you are looking for a quick way through a path that is anything but. Garrett may have said that anyone can operate a Steadicam, but the part I think that people tend to leave out is that he probably also said something like "it takes years of practice to not suck." When you are asking a professional who has taken years to hone their craft, risked their personal relationships and their primary homes to invest in equipment to hand you their gear, you are showing that you are missing the most key piece of equipment in any operator's kit: humility.

The other thing is that you are valuing the accomplishment of "holding the camera" over the experience of knowing what to do with it. Yes, it is important to have a vision, but the experience of spending time on set, in whatever capacity you can, should not be lost. Steadicam operation is the only position I know that interfaces with every aspect of the crew - you are going to need the grips to hollywood 4 x4s on a windy day, tell the sound recordist you won't fly tethered, confer with the gaffer over what' s in the shot, coordinate with AD's so that the blocking makes sense in your frame, etc. There is no other day player that plugs into the set like that. You don't develop that overnight. That's the bad news.

The good news is that every moment you spend working up to it (and that's all of them) pay off. So take all that passion you have, and pour it into wherever you are going to be. I highly doubt that it is going to be a place where a seasoned Steadicam op is handing you his/her rig, but if it is, congratulations.

Jim

BTW, I am printing out Mike's response and posting it on my wall. If you don't know who this guy his, spend 20 minutes on his site before sitting down and taking his advice. I will.

Edited by Jim Chu, 22 October 2008 - 08:42 PM.

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#7 Kareem La Vaullee

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 09:29 PM

I don't want to run film from a camera to a truck. I don't want to pull focus. I want to hold the camera.


As your message is for the moment this year's most stupid (but it may be beaten by a worse one when I see in which direction things are going nowadays...) I can't help but reply, but I will simply use a text I have found somewhere with three simple examples in it (just the second one should be enough, but who knows), I knew someday it would come handy.

I could have tried to reply with my own words but it would take me so much time and energy it would just cost me too much, because english is not my native tongue and because I like to write messages that I am fully proud of (and that's almost never the case, I am like that)

I hope your topic and all the replies you will get are going to be also useful to the others who are wannabe "Steadycamers" but don't want to "loose time" assisting veterans on film sets...

So here is the text :


-“So you want to be a farmer, eh? Farming ain’t easy, boy, but it’s honest work and it puts food on the table. How much do you know about it?”
-“Not much, but I’d like to get started right away.”
-“I like your attitude, boy! Ever had a garden?”
-“No. Never really wanted one.”
-“Hm. Well, maybe I could start you plantin’ some corn. That ain’t too hard, and it’s good for learnin’ how to put the seeds in right, plus I could take the time to cover some of the basics about weather signs.”
-“What are you talking about? I don’t want to plant seeds or hear about the weather, of all things. I want to be a farmer.”
-“You all there in the head, boy? How else do you plan to grow food, if you don’t plant seeds and keep the fields watered and fertilized? How do you expect to have your crops make it without knowin’ about the weather?”
-“Why would I want to dig in the dirt or listen to boring lectures about meteorology, when all I want is to be a farmer?”

-“So you want to be a sculptor, eh? Well, it’s a long and difficult road, but full of rewards for those who can master the skills. To start out with, here’s a hammer, a chisel, and a block of soapstone. Try sculpting a sphere, and then we’ll see–”
-“Excuse me, but I’m not interested in chipping away at rock. I just want to be a great sculptor.”
-“What?”
-“I said, I’m not interested–”
-“I heard you. I just didn’t understand what you meant.”
-“The goal of a sculptor is to create art, right? That’s what I want to do, create art, not fiddle with these silly tools or get stone dust all over me.”
-“Wait just a minute. You’re saying that you want to be a sculptor but you don’t want to learn how to chisel stone? That you’re not interested in learning the properties of granite, marble, and so on?”
-“That’s right. Why would I?”
-“Well, now I’ve heard everything! Listen, you can’t be a sculptor without understanding the nature of stone. It’s just not possible.”
-“Don’t be absurd. Maybe all that stuff is interesting to you, but I’m an artist. Creation is my business, and frankly it’s a mystery to me why you think I should be bothered with anything else. Now, are you going to teach me to sculpt or not?”

-“So you want to be a graphic designer, eh? Graphic design has a long and noble tradition, as Edward Tufte has made abundantly clear in his various works, and these days it’s done as much on computers as on paper. Accordingly, it’s important to know as much about computers and programs like Illustrator as it is to know about paper and ink. Furthermore, no matter what medium is used, it’s critical to have insight into the human brain and perceptual senses, color theory, and a great deal more. I’m sorry, did you have a question?”
-“Yes. When do I start designing?”
-“Well, of course you’ll be doing some basic design work as you study all the aspects of design I just mentioned, of course. After all, one of the best ways to learn is to do.”
-“No, no. You talked about a lot of stuff that doesn’t interest me. All I want to do is design, not be subjected to a lot of boring stuff like learning computer programs and psychology.”
-“Maybe you weren’t paying attention. Understanding those things is necessary in order to be a designer. Without them, you’re just scribbling. How can you hope to create a great design without understanding how your work is perceived? The wrong color palette, for example, can completely undermine your message; or, alternatively, be deliberately chosen in order to intentionally undermine it, thus giving the design an extra layer of meaning.”
-“You really believe all that, don’t you? Sad. Look, just because you think that kind of thing is interesting doesn’t mean that you should go around forcing it on other people. I’m here to be a designer, not a psychologist or a computer geek or whatever else you think I should be instead.”
-“Look, if you’re not willing to learn the basics, then maybe design isn’t for you.”
-“Oh, sure, whenever someone isn’t willing to quietly swallow your pretensions, you declare them unfit to join your holy order, is that it? The only people who can be designers are the ones who think just like you, right? The ones who play your little games and jump through the hoops you set up? You just keep stroking your ivory tower, okay? Just stop pretending that you know what makes a good designer, because it’s clear you’ve become completely dissociated from reality.”



Kareem La Vaullée - Steadicam Operator who learned the hard way.
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#8 Afton Grant

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 09:54 PM

I know you are asking for advice from veterans, so in that respect I have to clearly state that I am NOT in that category.


I could have tried to reply with my own words but it would take me so much time and energy it would just cost me too much, because english is not my native tongue and I like to write messages that I am fully proud of (and that's almost nether the case, I am like that)


From a "non veteran" and a "non English speaker", these are two fantastic responses to this thread.
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#9 Kareem La Vaullee

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 10:20 PM

Thanks Afton, I know that you are a kind of "me younger" when I see the passion you have for the Art of Steadicam.

I just wanted to add that even if I have a "career" with 14 years of experience working as a Steadicam Operator and a "name" with some of the best DoPs on this planet who want to work with me and no-one else, if tomorrow an operator like James Muro or Larry McConkey tells me that I can be his intern for say 6 months and follow him everywhere to see his genius at work, I would take the first plane to be his intern...

K.
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#10 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 11:29 PM

I want to work a high paying job while apprenticing with a local in Seattle. Hopefully this doesn't involve sexual favors :) That's one piece of advice I could use (not the sexual favors) but how do I make that contact and show that I'm worthwhile for the operator to teach?



WOW

Just WOW

You want top paying jobs but don't want to put in the time.


I'll let the others give the advice and there is some good advice posted here.


Good luck in your quest, I hope reality doesn't kick you too hard.....
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#11 Jens Piotrowski SOC

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 11:33 AM

I think they are looking for speech writer over at the Sarah Palin campaign..... good luck
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#12 Charles Papert

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 11:51 AM

The internet is a funny place.

When I started out, I too was "young, stupid and ambitious". I too desperately wanted to be a Steadicam operator and didn't want to go through the "BS" (aka working my way up). The difference was that in those pre-internet days, the closest I could come to seeking advice would be to cold-call operators who I had read about in American Cinematographer (which I did). I don't know if I would have had the balls to throw out a missive like this, but for those of Denison's generation who have grown up with the internet, it seems to be status quo. So part of me applauds the tenacity while the other half recoils in horror...!

The thing is that the game has changed, the walls have broken down. While many of my esteemed colleague's responses are valid and I echo the sentiments, I feel like I am reading something else into Denison's goals. For many of us, the ultimate goal as a Steadicam operator is to work on a high-end, high paying gig (feature, episodic, live TV etc). However Denison is saying that he ultimately wants to make his own films and his current obsession is with camera operating. The technology has trickled down and improved to the point where one can buy a camera that produces projectable imagery for under $5,000 an actual Steadicam that will support it for the same, fully-featured editing programs for peanuts. For the cost of a single year of university tuition, Denison and his friends can buy everything they need to make films that could potentially be shown at the corner multiplex, whereas for us there was far more gravity and cost associated with the hardware purchasing decisions, forcing a more defined game plan.

The result of all of this is that the age-old "work your way up" paradigm has shifted. Young chaps assemble a low-cost 35mm adaptor setup, or perhaps find a way to buy a RED, and instantly they are DP's. Add a cheap stabilizer and they are also Steadicam operators. Buy (or pirate) a copy of Final Draft, they are writers; put it all together and they are directors. Very hard for most of us to swallow especially as many of us have worked with people in each of those categories who have truly earned it by virtue of their experience, talent, maturity and pedigree. But the new wisdom seems to be, do what you want, call yourself what you want and just get out there and do it. It's that last part that I actually admire the most, as I have seen many great creative efforts on Youtube and the like that were unhampered by the limitations of cost and over-thinking/micro-managing. I've also seen a massive amount of self-indulgent crap by untalented wanna-bees who haven't bothered to learn even the basics.

So what to say to young Denison...complicated. The best part of your plan involves apprenticing or at least getting out to set and observing as much as you possibly can to help clarify your interests. If you truly want to focus on operating, your big expenditure should be a Steadicam, not a RED. Buying a camera like that makes more sense if you want to be a DP, which would mean that you are at least as interested in learning how to light as you are learning how to operate (something like the proposed Scarlet may be a much more appropriate purchase--we'll have to see what it turns out like).

Why not get yourself a Flyer and start right away learning the skill of Steadicam (take Peter's 2 day workshop!); if you get really good at that, the skill will translate right into a big rig when you are ready, and the expenditure is a miniscule in comparison. Get yourself more PA work, particularly camera PA gigs and absorb everything you can because the more you know about working on a "real" set, the more you can bring to your own productions. Yes, you might be doing actual work that you don't like but it's honestly getting paid to learn.

I guess the conflicted parts of my brain are saying to you: listen to us, but do your own thing. The reality is that for every Steadicam operator here who is perfectly content with their job, there are probably at least as many who have other ambitions, who wonder what happened to that bright-eyed kid that they used to be who had plans to rock this industry, make their own films etc. I know for one I'm jealous as all hell that I didn't have access to today's level of equipment when I was your age and had all the time and energy in the world (I still find a way to do my own projects when I can, but it beats me up pretty good!)

Oh and by the way dude--it's "Steadicam" not "steadi-cam"...! (most properly with the "registered" icon following it, but at the very least one non-hyphenated word).
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#13 Janice Arthur

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 04:05 PM

Denison;

What you have discribed; getting enough work to get a reel together and getting money to buy gear is called the movie business. The BS is not BS its how the work is structured and there are reasons for it. You can't escape it and you can't dismiss it and you have to learn it too.

We aren't stupid we want the same things as quickly as possible too but we've got bills to pay like rent and so we take the "PA" and "loader' and "AC" because that's what we're qualified to do when we start in this business.

It isn't an different than any other business, banking or plumbing. We work our way up and you've got bills to pay and you take the jobs you can get and right now you can't talk your way into operating.

Its great to have aspirations and keep trying like mad but reality is hitting right now. You're out of school or almost and you've got to earn a paycheck.

Your post is too broad to answer so I've picked the highlights.

JA
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#14 Dave Gish

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Posted 26 October 2008 - 09:36 AM

The thing is that the game has changed, the walls have broken down. While many of my esteemed colleague's responses are valid and I echo the sentiments, I feel like I am reading something else into Denison's goals. For many of us, the ultimate goal as a Steadicam operator is to work on a high-end, high paying gig (feature, episodic, live TV etc). However Denison is saying that he ultimately wants to make his own films and his current obsession is with camera operating. The technology has trickled down and improved to the point where one can buy a camera that produces projectable imagery for under $5,000 an actual Steadicam that will support it for the same, fully-featured editing programs for peanuts. For the cost of a single year of university tuition, Denison and his friends can buy everything they need to make films that could potentially be shown at the corner multiplex, whereas for us there was far more gravity and cost associated with the hardware purchasing decisions, forcing a more defined game plan.

The result of all of this is that the age-old "work your way up" paradigm has shifted. Young chaps assemble a low-cost 35mm adapter setup, or perhaps find a way to buy a RED, and instantly they are DP's. Add a cheap stabilizer and they are also Steadicam operators. Buy (or pirate) a copy of Final Draft, they are writers; put it all together and they are directors. Very hard for most of us to swallow especially as many of us have worked with people in each of those categories who have truly earned it by virtue of their experience, talent, maturity and pedigree. But the new wisdom seems to be, do what you want, call yourself what you want and just get out there and do it. It's that last part that I actually admire the most, as I have seen many great creative efforts on Youtube and the like that were unhampered by the limitations of cost and over-thinking/micro-managing. I've also seen a massive amount of self-indulgent crap by untalented wanna-bees who haven't bothered to learn even the basics.

Wow. Great post Charles!

I'm also just starting out. Yes, the combination of the internet, great small cameras, and low-end stabilizers has really changed the game of learning and doing no/low budget projects, but I still wouldn't mind doing some PA work in larger productions. Not sure how to go about that.

Also, I'm under no delusion that I'll be operating features next year. We all have to put in our time somehow. Maybe this new path is a little faster track, or maybe it's a dead-end, who knows?

I'm sort of at the point now where I'm eying a bigger rig. Anything up from the Flyer looks like a big jump...
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#15 Matteo Quagliano

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Posted 27 October 2008 - 07:06 AM

The point is specialization. And there's no age or years difference that can burden. The main difference among european and US film productions is specialization. Expecially in Italy we have this attitude where tasks are taken like they come and you can see the results. Not all but a very large part. I think Denison is a little bit confused about this biz but as Eric stated reality will wake him up.

that's in my modest opinion

mq
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