Cables, Adapters and Converters Oh My!

Quite some time ago, I published a post on what basic items you should have in your camera assistant kit. You can find that post here. A number of folks just getting into the camera department found the post useful, so I thought I’d build on that.

Do you know how many times I need just the right connector or cable to make a camera or monitor build work? Many times. All the times. Some of the times.

The fact is, sometimes when you’re working with someone else’s gear or renting a kit from someone, you might be surprised when one or more cables is missing, or you need a special connector to make something work.

I’m going to introduce you to my tackle box of connectors and useful screws and well as the common cables I keep in my kit.

One of the great things about working with other AC’s, camera operators and DP’s is I can see what they have in their kits and ask them what works best for them. Shop talk like that helps everyone build on their knowledge and slowly add in new pieces to their kit that will help them on future gigs.

The Tackle BoxScrews and Adapters

Many, many times I need a specific size screw in order to mount the camera on a pair of sticks or a Steadicam. I’ve slowly been adding to my pile of screws, but the basics will always be 1/4″ 20s and 3/8″. Having a couple short and long ones, as well as a washer for that rare occasion when there’s a gap between the screw and the mounting plate is crucial.

I got this little box at a craft store, but you can find a similar one in the fishing section of Walmart, so I call it my tackle box. It helps keeps things organized and neat, and when I need to send a 2nd AC to grab something, I only need to say “find the clear tackle box” and they find it right away.

Some items I have in the tackle box:

  • SDI Splitter
  • barrel connectors
  • Screws of various sizes
  • washers
  • HDMI to micro HDMI adapter
  • Double ended screws, different sizes

Cables

Wires are essential to get a video signal from Point A to Point B. There are many ways to keep and organize your wires. For now I’ve settled on different colored pencil cases. I usually have three cases with me: 1 for SDI cables, 1 for HDMI (on Blackmagic shoots) and 1 for “Other” – for me it’s Steadicam related wires.

My commonly used wires include:

  • SDI cables – coiled and regular, several sizes
  • PTAP splitter
  • HDMI

I recommend not buying the thin “spaghetti strand” SDI cables. I’ve had them several times and they always fail. A thicker gauge wire is a safer bet.

Also good additions to this are:

  • HDMI to SDI converter. I use the Blackmagic HDMI to SDI Microconverter. I’ve seen a larger version used on bigger shoots to provide a signal to off-site directors. Keep in mind this needs power. A cell phone power cable to USB can work on a camera with a USB power input. Another option is mounting a portable cell phone battery charger.

  • Arms for mounting – Noga arm or Smallrig or similar. All useful for mounting a Teredek, monitor or whatever else you need.


  • There’s no shortage of things you could add to your kit to make your life easier, but this list should get you off to a good start.

    A Film Is Born Three Times Pt. 1: Re: Writing

    “A film is born three times. First in the writing of the script, once again in the shooting, and finally in the editing.” — Robert Bresson, French film maker.

    I think folks at first take for granted that a film is a thing born of an idea, written, produced, and edited and then it just exists… but there’s so many changes along the way. Your first draft is almost never, ever going to be what appears on screen. And it probably shouldn’t. Some first drafts are better left being forgotten, but you can’t make a final draft without suffering through the whole writing and re-writing process.

    The Road Less Traveled

    I talked a bit about my short horror film The Road Less Traveled in my how-to post here: Making the No Budget Horror Film – Bridget LaMonica

    The very first very rough draft was written in 2014 while I was at SCAD. Cassie is abandoned at a bar by her friends and captured by two bad men named Miles and Dawson in a cool car.

    While in their nefarious clutches, Cassie calls her mother, who races to try to find her. Cassie gets her revenge, only to have her mother finally arrive in time to bury a couple bodies. I called the story Werewolf because that was the monster at the end of the story.

    Hunted, an early draft of The Road Less Traveled:

    Cassie talks too much. There’s a lot of her talking on the phone, to a friend at a bar, to the kidnappers. Blegh.

    She has a cell phone and is able to call for help (kind of a horror movie no-no).

    Cassie is resourceful. She knows ways out of her situation but finds her methods were anticipated.

    I sent the draft to my friend Masha, who gave me a great critique. Eventually I created the story that was much more interesting to me: Mia (formerly Cassie, now with a more appropriate name – Missing In Action) kidnapped by a lone serial killer named Clyde (the name is never said out loud) who brings her to an abandoned slaughter house to do his evil work. Jokes on him, because Mia fights back. This was called Hunted.

    The script was presented to director Lindsay Barrasse. With Lindsay’s attachment to the script and her love of classic horror, we leaned further into classic horror tropes and set the story in the 1970s instead of modern day. No more convenient cell phone.

    Draft 9:

    Cassie is now Mia and she has no spoken dialogue (only a few lines of voice over).

    This version mentions a “90’s style watch” but later we changed the date to the 70s.

    Mia is adept at survival — she knows some skills but is unable to escape until later.

    I wanted a horror story that played on the classic tropes while delivering some surprises. I had a not-so-subtle reference to a favorite TV show, Supernatural.

    Hunted became The Road Less Traveled, inspired by the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken”, Supernatural‘s “The Road So Far” and the fact that we had a female victim who would prove herself capable. The film became more and more about female empowerment, especially since most of our production team was female.

    A note: I almost never find my title until a few drafts later. Same with a theme or tone — sometimes it just takes that long to finally whittle down to what I want to say.

    Routine Procedures

    Before The Road Less Traveled was produced, I had a thesis film at SCAD called Routine Procedures.

    This script began in a short script writing class. The basic premise being a group of soldiers discovering an alien box in the woods that could spell doom for all mankind.

    The very first (equally very bad) draft saw Johnson, your average Gary Stu with his boss Magnus and a feisty Latina soldier Reyes (inspired by Private Vasquez in Alien). Reyes ends up being an alien. There might have been some idea about aliens enslaving humanity or something? I dunno. This draft doesn’t exist anymore and nor should it.

    This script went through several drafts in the class, becoming a time travel story in which these soldiers discover this alien artifact that forces them to relive the same day over and over as they deteriorate. Only one soldier notices, and he is freaking out, man.

    Draft 3, Page 1:

    In this version we have about 5 characters: Johnson, Sterling, Reyes, Magnus and Hopkins.

    This draft was way too talky with too many characters. Still I can see all the major things I kept from this draft forward: Johnson as our lead who figures things out, Magnus as the hard-as-nails superior who is afraid of change, the story starting by mentioning de ja vu.

    I condensed the best parts of Hopkins into Reyes and deleted Sterling entirely. He was a useless jerk.

    I worked with director Nick Bow to make the film. He suggested Johnson should be a woman. I stopped. I was about to argue. And then I realized, yeah, why didn’t I think about that? The genders of Johnson and Reyes were flipped and we put out a casting call. We got some excellent people to fill out these roles and it wasn’t who we originally expected.

    Draft 9, page 1:

    The characters were reduced to 3.

    We wanted to be clear what happened where (time travel stories get complicated). We labeled the repetitions and the different sections of landscape we were shooting in.

    In Draft 3 Reyes saw a snail stuck in a loop. Here it’s a millipede.

    Less dialogue and more focused.

    As I recall, the title Routine Procedures was there for most of the drafts. I think the first one or two were called Maneuvers or something vaguely military-esque. When I settled on Routine Procedures, it helped sell the fact that this was a time travel story.

    Let’s Wrap This Up

    Drafts are called such because they are a continuously changing process. The first draft is often called a vomit draft (ew) because you might need to get your initial idea out fast. You bring it to a critique group or a trusted friend who can give you notes, and then you incorporate that into a rewrite. The script is never actually done until it is filmed, and even then it’s open for interpretation.

    Next up, Part 2: Production.

    Feast or Famine in the Freelance Film World

    I’m the type who keeps an up-to-date Google Calendar and a physical planner. I keep track of special events, due dates for film festivals, writing deadlines and yes — many random film gigs that come up.

    I was particular when purchasing my 2020 planner. It was gonna be a big year. I settled on this hardcover sparkly planner, being picky to choose one that I liked the layout of best.

    Coming out of a pretty slow winter (I only had a couple gigs, the longest of which was a short film that ended early March) I was happy to start booking gigs for the next couple months. Things were looking good. At first.

    “This was the year I was going to –” starts literally everyone I talk to. Major life events. Decisions to make a big gear purchase or invest in a new skill. Joining a union. All of that changed in March, when it became clear that things were not going as planned.

    The calls, emails, and texts started coming in. “We’re holding for now.” “The shoot is canceled.” Job after job disappeared, some of them going the “ghosting” route. At least three different productions just stopped communicating midway after heading full speed into production. It’s hard enough being a freelancer, but things had been dialed up to 11.

    If you looked at my planner, flipping month by month, you’d see vast columns devoid of any work. The only notations being the occasional webinar or Zoom call or writing sprint hosted by an author on Twitter. I was doing what I could to keep busy, but as each month passed and the potential “end date” for coronavirus kept being pushed back, all of us in the entertainment industry were sweating.

    Just since this August have I seen a reversal here in Georgia. Suddenly, I’m getting calls and gigs are holding fast, following recommended CDC guidelines and — for the most part — keeping crews small.

    I’ve personally been COVID tested four times now. It’s unpleasant, sure (they don’t call it the “brain tickler” for nothing) but it’s a necessary precaution and I have no problem with it.

    Every time I see one of those “I just moved here who wants to hire me” posts, inevitably someone will comment “Have you not heard of the pandemic?” Hold in there. We’re just starting to recover.

    We’ve just started December, and that could mean things will go right back into the normal winter holdup. Gig’s usually dry up from about December 15th to around the first week of January because of the holidays, so there’s typically not a lot going on during that time. Again, freelancers in the film industry who’ve only gotten to work for a few weeks or months for this whole year will have to tighten their belts and ride it out again.

    If you’re navigating your own joblessness and having trouble finding your path — give yourself time. Polish up that resume, tweak your reel if you have one, put your best foot forward (digitally) but don’t be too forward demanding work. Keep your eyes peeled as a number of short films and non-union productions are starting up all over, and will certainly need your help. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to comb these job boards and find those gigs asking for someone with your skills. Bring your best attitude, mask up, and wash your hands.

    Networking in the Digital Age

    Earlier this year I borrowed a book on networking from the local library. Build Your Dream Network by J. Kelly Hoey was not likely to help me much in my business, and I knew this going in. The film industry is less about LinkedIn and corporate ladders as it is about building a reel and meeting people who want to hire you again. Reading this book was slow going–

    –and then the pandemic hit. Suddenly a book on networking just seemed ironic when everyone was stuck at home and every gig and job for the year was cancelled.

    Thanks to a very generous library return policy, I finally finished this book and wanted to share some insights on networking as it applies to working in film.

    I’m also keeping in mind the quarantine aspect of our current situation. Going to any sort of networking or meet-and-greet event is currently out. Stay socially responsible and do make your connections from home while things are still slow and social gatherings are not possible.

    Networking in General

    Networking is defined as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”

    Making connections is how you get jobs. Sure, you can get gigs by applying to online job postings, but if you’re a freelancer, much of your work will be through repeat hiring by people who like you and projects that received your name as a recommendation. Expanding your network is a way to get some sense of job security. The stronger your network, the more likely you will work. See what I did there?

    Also, networking should be considered an ongoing process. It’s not just something you do until you get the first job, or for the first year of your career — it’s continuous. Contacts come and go and production companies can move. You don’t want all your eggs in one basket.

    I also highly recommend having some sort of network in place before you move to a new place. Reach out to some folks in the area you want to live, ask questions, put examples of your work out there. You’ll be more established than if you go in blind.

    My Networking Experience

    When I first moved to Georgia, I spent the first few months living off my savings and reaching out to as many people as I could. I also went to some networking events with varying degrees of success.

    Most of my connections were made through Facebook groups. Thanks to Atlanta Film Community’s bi-weekly “Self Promotion Posts,” I was noticed by a local DP and director, both of whom have continued to hire me on their projects.

    Networking is connecting through shared stories and experiences. Its building a human connection, not simply stating a need to be filled (or, in the case of startups, a check to be written).” – J. Kelly Hoey

    I’ve connected with other people by seeing their online presence on social media, reaching out and having a chat, exchanging resumes and reels.

    One sound designer I networked with put up a self promotion post on a general film page. I saw it, looked at his work and contacted him. After seeing his quality of work and interacting online, I knew he’d be a talent to have on set. After our first film together, I continued to recommend him for numerous jobs, and he’s done the same for me.

    A fellow camera assistant posted about wanting to connect with like-minds in Atlanta. I reached out, and we’ve both recommended each other for jobs. She even had me over at a dinner party (ahem, in January, pre-COVID) where I was able to connect with even more people.

    You should be getting the sense that networking is not about saying “hire me,” it’s about developing a relationship and mutual respect with another person. This should be done delicately. Don’t spam post anywhere, don’t eek out desperation, and know the right time to send an unsolicited message to someone you don’t yet know. You should know when the time is right.

    Reach out to people you admire, whose work you appreciate. Check out someone’s work on Instagram, Twitter feed or their website and demo reel. Send them a quick message if you like their work. It means a lot. That might even open up a dialogue, but you shouldn’t try to force someone to hire you.

    Thanks to these weird times we live in, the latest film festival to show my short The Road Less Traveled — Cat Fly Film Festival of Asheville, NC — held an online streamed event. I reached out to two people — one in Atlanta who I hadn’t met before, and the director of the film I liked the most in the festival By Sunrise, a superbly done short horror film. Thanks to interacting at this streamed film festival, I made excellent connections I may be working with in the future.

    Networking fails

    Build Your Dream Network also had some great pointers on how not to network.

    One such piece of advice is very sound: don’t just reach out to someone when they’ve landed a big job or coveted position.

    “But,” you argue, “Didn’t you just say to reach out to people whose work you admire?”

    Sure! But did you establish a relationship with someone, only to ghost them until that success and it looked like you could get something out of it? Don’t be selfish. Keep up on your contacts, check in with the people you like and recommend people for jobs. It’s all good relationship fodder.

    Now, you can say “congrats!” to them if you feel necessary, but if that’s the only time you’ve contacted the person, the contact might be too little too late — at least according to J. Kelly Hoey’s book.

    I’m proud of my friends and colleagues when they post their successes, and I try to do my part by sharing what they want shared, supporting a fundraising campaign or posting when they’re going to do a livestream or a radio interview. It means a lot to have that kind of support.

    Conclusion

    If you have a garden, do you only water it when the tomatoes are ripe? Think of that daily watering and maintenance as a way you should approach building your network. In the film industry we meet scores of new people at every job — you don’t want your name to disappear in a thrown away call sheet.

    So, while things are still slow, this is your time to reach out to people, make those connections, and maybe polish all your public profiles and make sure things are up to date. You’ll want to hit the ground running when production starts back up.

    Reading List: Screenwriting

    Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Outliers: Secrets of Success that in order to become an expert in anything, you need 10,000 hours of practice. That is also true for screenwriters and film makers.

    I am of the belief that if you want to be good at something, you’re constantly working to enhance your knowledge, hone your craft and try new things.

    When I interact with young screenwriters, I find myself recommending the same reading material over and over again, so my next logical step was to list them here.

    The Short Screenplay: Your Short Film from Concept to Production

    Before you run, you must walk.

    Before you write a feature, I highly recommend you write a short film.

    A short film can range anywhere from 1 min to 45 or so, but usually around 5-10 mins is the common format that can find itself programmed into film festivals. That’s the sweet spot, so you might want to look in that range specifically.

    Find it here.

    Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

    Often touted as the “Bible of Screenwriting,” Save the Cat! is a famous book on the craft. This book takes a more Hollywood approach to screenwriting that’s beneficial for those wanting to understand the formula of most popular films.

    From the initial idea, to creating a beat sheet to marketing your script, Save the Cat! is a great resource to dive into.

    the book’s strength lies in its foundation of the formula of story arcs and organizational tools such as the beat sheet, so this is definitely a book you should check out.

    Find the book here.

    Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Make it Great

    I always send this book recommendation with the disclaimer “This is by no means a commentary on your script!”

    This book is broken up into digestible chunks that go into details on common problems and how to fix them. This book explores structure, the nitty gritty of story and other details that might have been missed during your first draft, such as a deep B story or multi-faceted characters.

    Find the book here.

    Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box

    This is the book for any sort of TV writing. Here you learn about the particular format of broadcast television writing. TV writing is a different game than writing a feature by a long shot, as it pertains to act breaks, teasers, tags, and how to best tell a joke (the funny word comes last!).

    This book also has a meaty section on agents, navigating the world of spec script writing and pitching.

    Find it here.

    Honorable Mentions:

    The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script 10 Minutes at a Time. Find it here.

    Secrets of Film Writing. Find it here.

    Designing Impressive Long Takes and Oners

    The mark of a good director and cinematographer duo is telling a story clearly through the images that appear on a screen. The great ones find a way to go above and beyond.

    One particular shot that separates the women from the girls is the “oner” or “one shot” take. The camera follows the action for a long period of time. Often this can be on a Steadicam, but you might find a fantastic oner accomplished handheld, on a dolly, or on a camera crane. Usually these are dynamic moving shots that change framing and action before your eyes, whereas a normal setup would be to edit a series of shots together.

    It’s harder to do things this way, and so the oner must be deliberate and planned to perfection. It’s something you might want to try in your next film.

    The best way to design something complicated is to study those that came before you. Here I’ve given four examples of incredible oners that I admire and I know you will too.

    The Haunting of Hill House Season 1 Episode 6 “Two Storms

    A large chunk of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House Episode 6 is a 17 minute long oner that spans huge passes of time, flashbacks, special effects and more. It’s an incredibly complicated task that helped tell this unique story.

    Part of what makes this scene so surreal is the fact that it doesn’t break away, doesn’t give a respite from following each character around during this pivotal storm. This genius choreography couldn’t have been pulled off without careful timing and a large well-rehearsed crew and cast.

    You can watch the whole episode on Netflix, but you also can get the idea from this clip:

    Also worthy of watching is this Making Of Featurette, which shows some of the ways this complicated long shot was choreographed:

    Children of Men (2006)

    The car scene. Not only is this a long take, it’s fraught with anxiety, showing different views out the windows of the car, placing the viewer in with the passengers of the vehicle. The drama unfolds in real-time, starting off with an innocuous car ride and conversation, escalating into a mad dash away from a hoard of crazy people attacking the car’s occupants.

    The way they filmed this scene is actually pretty incredible and technical. At about 1 minute into this featurette, they discuss this particular scene. They used the Sparrowhead Doggie cam, a camera suspended inside the car on a track. The car was also specially designed for this scene. The driver is not actually driving it — there’s a man in front of the car low to the ground who is actually doing the driving. They don’t show it here, but they actually had seats that folded out of the way so the camera could get past the actors. 

    Birdman

    Now this one gets an honorable mention because the whole movie is structured like it takes place in one long take. There are a number of hidden cuts that make this possible, but there are certainly a number of true long takes. You experience in real time Riggan getting stuck outside the playhouse during the performance and having to navigate a busy Times Square in his tighty whities.

    At about 45 seconds into this video, you see a grip positioning a silk in order to adjust the lighting on the actors faces on the fly. The whole movie had to be choreographed with the actors and crew in this way in order to avoid setting up classic lighting scenarios and keep things on the move.

    Baby Driver (2017)

    It’s Bank Robbery: The Musical but oh so much more. I recently re-watched this movie and I’m telling you — if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s no time like the present.

    Baby Driver‘s premise is genius — Baby has tinnitus from a car accident, so he’s constantly playing music through his headphones to drown out the ringing in his ears. That sets the soundtrack to which all the action happens throughout the movie. The car chases, bank robbery, shootouts — everything has been meticulously choreographed and timed to fit the music of the scene.

    Check out the “coffee run” scene from early in the movie to see the level of choreography that went into the scene. Not only do the Steadicam operator and Ansel Elgort walk perfectly timed, the action also lines up with key bits of set design — watch for the trumpet and certain bits of graffiti and poster designs that link up with lyrics in the music.

    Look at the graffiti that says “Right” at 0:32 and 2:31 you’ll see they added in the lyrics “Shake, shake, shake” and several new lyrics on that wall during the shot. Excellent details.

    Kidding Season 1 Episode 3 (2018)

    Check out this incredible scene from the Showtime series Kidding.

    This scene shows how the character Shaina is inspired by a show and how her life dramatically changes in a shifting scene that transcends time.

    This is some incredible behind the scenes here because you can see just how the crew choreographed and shifted the scene from the drab, dreary beginning to a lavish apartment by the end of the scene. Watch and listen to the careful choreography dictated by either the 1st AD or coordinator.

    6 Types of One-Take Shots

    For some more examples, and descriptions of specific oners (the establishing long take, the exposition, the tracking long take, the fake long take) check out Aputure’s video with Ted Sim and cinematographer Emma Kragen.

     

    The Artist’s Achilles Heel: Imposter Syndrome

    “I’m not good enough for this job. At some point, someone will find out that I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t deserve this.”

    If you’ve found yourself saying something like the above to yourself, you may be suffering from Imposter Syndrome, a rather nasty form of self doubt that plagues anyone… including writers, actors and filmmakers.

    “The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud,” Megan Dalla-Camina writes in an article for Psychology Today.

    This also presents itself as social anxiety, valuing your work less and frankly just believing you’ve only gotten where you are as an artist by luck.

    Imposter Syndrome is present in people who consider themselves perfectionists, who strive to know every detail on a topic before they feel they can be an expert, or those who try above and beyond to make up for perceived shortcomings.

    Famous people you would never expect have suffered from self doubt and full blown imposter syndrome. This massive list includes the likes of Serena Williams, David Bowie, Tina Fey, Lady Gaga and Tom freakin’ Hanks.

    Maya Angelou said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find me out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”

    Natalie Portman said in a 2015 Harvard commencement speech, “Today, I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999. I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”

    How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

    As an artist, you can start by more openly sharing your work, and keeping track of personal accomplishments. Did you win an award for a piece of writing, or learn a new technique during your last film production? Know that art is a continuing education. If you practice it, you get better. And so will your feelings of self doubt, as long as you don’t let those feelings control you. 

    Acknowledge the existence of imposter syndrome when it rears its ugly head, then find a way to reframe it. Knowing that other people in your position are no more capable than you helps. It’s also important to value constructive criticism and not take it too personally. Someone who can learn and grow from constructive criticism becomes a better artist, especially when they know who is a good judge for that sort of thing.

    If you feel lacking in some area then practice that skill, study that subject and get legitimately better at what you want to be good at. The point is not to overcompensate and obsess, but to level up your skills and eliminate doubt.

    You can also talk over these feelings with a trusted friend. Friends are great at reminding you of your best traits when you can’t see them yourself. Just know that if you need to delve deeper, it’s time to explore that with a psychologist.

     

    Sources:

    The Reality of Imposter Syndrome – Psychology Today

    Yes, Imposter Syndrome is Real. Here’s How to Deal with it – Time.com

    8 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as an Artist – Artwork Archive

    12 Leaders, Celebrities and Entrepreneurs Who Have Struggled with Imposter Syndrome

    5 Reasons For and Against Volunteering on a Film

    On your usual search for gigs and opportunities in the film industry, you might come across more than a few posts like this:

    “Looking for camera operator. No budget, sorry, but we’ve got a great project!”

    “Student film in need of actors. Unpaid. Copy/meal/credit.”

    Depending on what stage you are in your film career, you might consider working free gigs. The thing is, not all these opportunities are created equally. Here’s a quick guide on how to decide whether to volunteer on someone’s set.

    Why you might want to volunteer:

    experience

    1. Completely new to film industry.
    2. Trying to move up a position.
    3. Working for a friend.
    4. It’s a good project.
    5. You need it for your reel.

    If you’ve never worked on a film set before, volunteering on a few productions might be a good idea. You’ll get the experience you need while having less pressure since you’re not technically any sort of employee. Plus it’s very difficult to get yourself noticed as a production assistant in a very competitive job market without prior experience and/or a contact on the production.

    Or maybe you’re already working on films, but you’ve really like to level up your skills. Maybe you’re a well-practiced 2nd AC looking to move up to 1st. Volunteering as a 1st on a project is helpful. Again, less pressure, but gaining experience.

    Most of us are pretty cool for working on a friend’s project. Plus it’s a small world and people tend to like to do each other favors like this.

    #4 and 5 go hand in hand. If this project looks like a good quality project, plus you’d like to add it to your reel? You’re still benefitting.

    Why you shouldn’t volunteer:

    exposure meme

    1. You have plenty of experience.
    2. The project sounds like a hot mess.
    3. The project asks above and beyond what they should get for free.
    4. Particular skills required. (Examples: DP must have drone/Steadicam. An actor needs to do a nude scene or stunts).
    5. “It’s only going to take four hours!” Trust me — it won’t.

    You need to value yourself enough to be paid for your skills. You don’t need to do someone’s project “for exposure” especially since exposure means hardly anything. Anyone asking you to do something for exposure should be treated with caution.

    A feature shooting in 4 days? All overnights? The previous crew bailed? The job poster is nasty about the unpaid situation IN the job post? These are all red flags and indicate a project best worth avoiding.

    A project asking for an inordinate amount of equipment — a DP with a specific camera and lighting package, a specific drone – are also ones I say to avoid. I also keep seeing posts asking for makeup artists for free. Makeup artists are using up their materials to do your project. They at the very least need a kit fee to cover expendables.

    Maybe it’s a gig that’s mashing too many jobs rolled into one (Camera PA/Media Manager). This happens on paid gigs too, which can still be a problem.

    I’ve worked on enough films that I can tell you if a project says they only need you for a handful of hours…it’s likely not true, or they grossly underestimated how long it takes to put together a shoot. Always figure a 12 hour day in.

    In Conclusion

    Working for free is your decision. If you think it will benefit you in the long run with experience on a new skill or you want to help somebody out — that’s great. Not volunteering is also your decision. Weigh your pros and cons list on each unpaid gig you see and make the smartest decision for you.

    The Dragon Prince: Beautiful story, Problematic Production

    I’m always late to get into the newest Netflix trends. My latest acquisition, The Dragon Prince, I binged all three seasons over New Years. I loved the series, and I had to talk about it.

    Got halfway through Ep 1 of Wakfu. Not the same. Nice try, Netflix.

    The Dragon Prince is a beautiful and dark fantasy epic. Two human princes and a Moonshadow elf must bring the young dragon princeling to his mother in the land of Xadia in order to end the war between their peoples. They face all sorts of death-defying odds and fun magic adventures with a healthy dose of humor.

    What’s great is it’s incredibly diverse cast. Women are portrayed alongside men in combat. General Amaya is mute, and communicates only with sign language. There’s several LGBT characters and it’s not made a big deal of. There’s also wonderful themes of finding yourself and helping others at any cost.

    TDP reminds me of one of the best animation series I’ve ever watched — Avatar: The Last Airbender. In fact they share some crew, including a voice actor and the head writer on ATLA Aaron Ehasz, who is showrunner for The Dragon Prince.

    Unfortunately, after I tweeted my love to the two people on Twitter who see my posts, I uncovered the controversy associated with the showrunner, and why there likely won’t be a Season 4. Several women accused Aaron Ehasz of misogynistic behavior.

    After the trailer for Season 3 dropped in November 2019, several women started talking about their problems with the company.

    Lulu Younes said she needed to leave the company for her own mental and emotional health:

    Danika Harrod, the former Head of Community Development at Wonderstorm (TDP production company), also said her experience was “painful” and what she witnessed drove her to leave the company. “It was just so much shutting women down, not taking women seriously, not listening to women, firing a woman and then shit talking herHarrod stated on her Twitter account.

    At least three women left the company. Soon to be followed by co-producer of TDP Giancarlo Volpe, though it isn’t clear if it’s in relation to the allegations. 

    Then there’s this thread by Diandra @Work (@MesaanaSedai) who worked with Aaron — this time at Riot games. As an editor, she was in charge of making sure the narrative of what they were producing was consistent. Instead, according to her, Ehasz usurped her job and make it a team activity, all while treating her as a personal assistant.

    Her experience is worth noting, as it corroborates the other women’s accounts.

    ehasz response
    The comments on Ehasz’s response were a mix split between indignation that he avoided the allegations to promote his own company, to people claiming they’d never believe the women. “If they have proof, awesome, but I’m not going to believe the rumor mill on social media,” one commenter stated. “Word of mouth is not proof, sorry. Camera footage from the offices is proof. Text messages or emails are proof.”

    But that’s the thing about workplace sexism and gaslighting — it’s not something that’s often handily encapsulated in an email or text message. It’s an employer or employee acting in the way that these women described — not respecting them or their jobs and treating them a particular way because of their gender.

    This inherent disbelief of women’s experiences is the very reason why they don’t come forward on these allegations in the first place. They’re afraid they won’t be able to work again. Television is a flighty career path — cross the wrong person and you find you never work again.

    A company — and the product it creates whether it be a TV series or video game — benefits greatly when you bring a variety of voices to the table. That’s why seeing this kind of controversy associated with a piece of media I really enjoyed is so upsetting. It’s why seeing articles like this after the #MeToo movement is head-smacking-against-the-desk frustrating.

    I may be slow on the uptake when it comes to watching the latest Netflix craze, but the powers that be are incredibly slow in treating their women employees as equals — and that needs to change.

    The Dragon Prince is still a beautiful series, worthy of being made an example of for its incredible characters and deep world building, though the real stories behind the scene do negatively color my experience. Luckily the women who had to leave the company found good jobs, but the problem of gaslighting still persists. Let this be a two-fold lesson: How to write a good series …and how to treat your employees as people.

    Sources:

     

    Grab the Audience’s Attention: Opening Shots

    When my DP Tery Wilson told me a particular Steadicam shot she wanted in the feature film we worked on, it struck me as important. And important it was. “This,” she said, “Is the beginning shot of the whole movie.” No pressure!

    It struck me how big and weighty the first scene — and really the first shot — in a movie is. It sets up story, character and tone. It has to hold your attention from one moment to the next. The first minutes of a film are prime real estate. If you’re not hooked, you might bail. Next movie on Netflix. Next attempt at entertainment.

    We are far too impatient as a modern audience to sit around for setup that takes too long.

    Pace is influential here as well. Although It Follows is similar in structure to an old school horror movie — slow mounting dread throughout the story — it gets to the meat of the matter right away. That’s something I always thought the old horror movies back in the day had trouble with.

    The screenwriter has to catch the attention of the first reader through to the first audience who see the film and can recommend it to their friends.

    Having a bombastic beginning also relates to my earlier post about title sequences. You don’t always see flashy title sequences in movies but when you do, you better believe they are doing an important job. You can see that post on title sequences here.

    It Follows

    That first shot in It Follows is not just a great beginning, but also an example of fabulous shot design. The shot doesn’t break away into any edits as the girl runs from the house, is chased by an unseen follower, and eventually rushes away from the home.

    What’s genius about this shot is how it follows the first person you see, establishing the horror element of an unrelenting terror. We first see the girl run out of the house, track alongside her as she runs down the sidewalk, then we become the mysterious follower, never taking our eyes off her until she flees the scene. This shot never stops moving, perfectly simulating the monster of the story.

    The Dark Knight

    You can see a fantastically simple yet effective opening shot in for The Dark Knight. It’s truly brilliant in its simplicity, as the very first shot doesn’t show any people, but succeeds in building tension and expectations of sudden violence to come.

    An extreme zoom into a building as a window suddenly explodes outward tells us everything we need to know about the upcoming scene: stuff is going down, and it’s going to be shocking. The whole film is a slow boil to an epic, explosive showdown. It’s only fitting that we see that echoed in the very first, seemingly innocent cityscape shot.

    And that whole bank robbery scene is so engaging that you can’t help but be hooked — ready for the ride.

    Make it your goal to master creating a beginning – and especially opening shot – to your film that not only captures your audience’s attention but says something about plot and tone. You’ll be more likely to get an opportunity to make another film and then we’ll be studying your film making choices.