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Filmmaking / Directing : Breaking In by Brandon Marks

Brandon Marks

Breaking In

Hi, I have very recently graduated film school and the one thing that no one ever really taught me is how to get a job working as a crew member on larger productions. My ultimate goal is to one day in the (distant) future become a cinematographer. If anyone has any advice on how to get started and make some great connections I would love to hear it! The avenue I have considered so far is to enter some local film festivals, but any advice, again, would be greatly appreciated.

Denise Hill

Brandon where are you located?

Joseph M. Armillas

Brandon, this may seem like a crazy idea, particularly since you've just graduated from film school and surely having spent considerable money on your education. But, working as an extra in either film or TV for a few weeks or months might be an invaluable learning experience for you. Just a thought.

Brandon Marks

Denise, I am located in Pittsburgh, PA.

Brandon Marks

Joseph, I have considered it and have had roles as an extra in film before, but sadly there aren't many productions in the area currently that are looking for extra work. Or PA work sadly.

David Landau

Brandon, many cinematographers started in camera rental houses. Working there you learn all the cameras and meet the camera crews, which will become people that might hire you once you leave and go freelance. Also, look into local TV stations and see if you can work for them on their news crews. Tell them you want to be a camera PA or 2nd AC. Focal Press has an excellent book called the Camera Assistant's Manual and the ASC publishes the ASC manual. Learn as much as you can by reading the American Cinematogrpaher Magazine and from books on cinematography (like mine on lighting available from amazon, which has a list in it of excellent books). Go on Mandy.com and websites like this one and work on some crews. Since you just graduated, you can still work for free for the experience - but I would advise avoiding undergraduate or NYFilm School projects. They won't teach you anything or lead to future paid work. Work on graduate projects from well known film schools (NYU, Columbia in Chicago, UCLA, USC, Emerson, etc.) becuse these people often end up working professionally after graduation, so keep in contact with them. The best is to work on a low or no-budget feature that is being crewed by professionals working for the love of the project or for their reels. You will meet people that, if you impress them, will refer you to others for jobs or hire you themselves on future projects. Don’t work for free too long. And never expect that any producer will ever consider you anything other than what they first hire you as. If you work as a PA for them, in their eyes you will always be a PA - for the next 20 years. If you work for free, they will never consider paying you in the future. So avoid any producer that says "Work for free on this one and I'll pay you on the next". Honest producers will say straight out - I have no money and can't promise anything in the future - only the experience and contacts you'll make on this project Good luck!.

Joseph M. Armillas

Brandon, David is absolutely correct in his comments. I might add that Pittsburgh Pa. might not be the best location for you. Check out this link: http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/print/winter-2014/best-places-to-live.... You might consider relocating in order to kick start your career.

Brandon Marks

Thanks David! All of that was very good advice. I will keep my eyes open for jobs on Mandy and try to look into some camera rental houses in the area!

David Landau

Good Luck and Happy Winter Solstice!

Brandon Marks

Joseph, thanks! I definitely will keep up with articles such as that when relocating becomes a more feasible option for me.

David Rakowiecki

Indie films are always looking for PA's. You might want to check mandy.com for crew jobs in your area.

Debbie Elicksen

As you are seeing first-hand from this feed, you have found the community you were looking for. There is a wealth of experienced voices here who will give you the advice and push you need. :) Welcome aboard.

Mike Saintsbury

Hey Brandon you might want to become a member of your Local IATSE Union near you. Good Hunting! http://iatse.net/member-resources/local-union-directory

Mike Saintsbury

Pittsburgh has 3 Locals 787, 820 and 862 all different arenas, Film , Theatre and Stage Show locals. Hope this helps

Brandon Marks

Mike, I would love to become an iatse member, but how easy/ costly is this?

Mike Saintsbury

You gotta make the calls and research because every local has different Dues structure varying from local to local. I know that Pittsburgh had the First Avengers flick produced there. I would suggest applying for at least Film and Stage locals to balance the Work experience to eventually focus your efforts on your favorite department and to keep yourself busy while moving up the ranks. The Fees as a Permit are minimal but as a full Member I'd say your first full week of Work will more than pay off the costs of entry. Think long term employability, and with all the Courses and Certificates that come with Membership. Priceless!

Brandon Marks

Thanks Mike! I'll most certainly look into that!

David Landau

Brandon, don't hurry to join the union. I'm a long time IATSE member and extremely pro union. But to get union work, you really need to know a lot of union members who will hire or recommend you. You also really need to know your stuff - as they don't cut you any slack on union shoots. As a union member, you have to pass a written and practical test and expect a high level on skills on set. Start by working as many professional non-union shoots as possible. Corporate video is the best paying and treats everyone the best - and is all non-union. Many union members, myself included, often work on corporate videos, so you will begin to build contacts. Work on local TV commercials. Work on music videos (the worse treatment you'll ever get, so it will make you appreciate everyone else all the more). And work on a low budget feature if its only 3-4 weeks if it has professionals working in the key positions. I produced and directed a feature past on a play of mine many years ago - I called in favors from a few of my union buddies to be the DP, gaffer and soundman. Everyone else we got off Mandy. We shot for 8 days. The AD who worked for free got hired for a year afterwards to work at Merrill Lynch Video, as my gaffer was the LD there. The AC got hired by the DP on a number of his non-union shoots after that.

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