Monthly Archives: October 2014

Freelancing for The Tennis Channel

Annnnnd, we’re clear.  I just finished up my first chunk of time working as a Stage Manager for The Tennis Channel during their coverage of the WTA tournaments in Moscow, Stockholm, Luxembourg, and Singapore.  This freelance gig has been a lot of fun and a great introduction to working in LIVE television.

Remember when I was talking about networking?  It really is the lifeblood of the freelancer.  Case in point, this job came directly to me via a (very thoughtful) friend.  I didn’t see find this posted on Craigslist or Mandy.  There was no crew-call that I am aware of.  It just goes to show you how important it is to communicate and put yourself out there when looking for work in the film/television world.

Because of the time difference and the need to cover this tournament live, I have been waking up at 1am the past few nights to make it to the studio around 2.  Although it has been a little draining, I haven’t had to deal with the typical rush-hour traffic that plagues Los Angeles.  I stumble around the house, make some coffee, get dressed, and sleepwalk to my car (don’t even get me started on that contraption…it goes into the shop tomorrow…).

Acting as Stage Manager is both exciting and fast-paced.  Working with the Talent, Camera Men, Sound Techs, and the folks in the control room really allows me to see all sides of the production.  It’s fun being on the set and watching everything unfold LIVE, no room for errors.  Also, I love food and The Tennis Channel has fed me really well.

I am currently enjoying a few days off to recuperate before going back for another weekend of work.  I am extremely thankful that I got this opportunity to work with a great group of people and hopefully I’ll work with them again in the future.

And to end this post, here is a meme that I came up with.  I know it’s pretty bad.  Cheers!

My first attempt at a meme.

My first attempt at a meme.

Adventures in the Sequoia National Forest

This weekend was a good one, full of well-documented adventure.  Oh how I love to get out of this terrible, oppressive sprawl.  It’s not so much the density of people, or even the urban-ness of an existence here.  Honestly, it’s the air, stagnant and thick with hot exhaust and particulate.  I’m certain that I’m shaving years off my life every time I take a deep breath of this city’s vapors.

Andrew navigates the craft.

Andrew navigates the craft.

We found ourselves packed like sardines into the black GTI.  It’s elegant German engineering lost beneath the provisions and equipment for four of us to enjoy a weekend of camping.  We sacrificed ergonomics and leg room (temporarily) for a taste of the natural world which exists somewhere outside this concrete labyrinth.  Speeding North, the early morning pinks and reds slowly began to illuminate the sky.  Every now and again I caught a glimpse of the PCT as it paralleled parts of our trek to the Southern Sierras.

Breakfast found us in an outdated beige and tan building serving Mexican inspired cuisine.  Juevos rancheros filled my belly and would give me some discomfort later.  Over cups of coffee my travel companions and I discussed the details of life.  We also discussed whether or not the painting of the waterfalls on the wall behind us had the ability to turn on, projecting tranquility on the patrons of this affordable dining establishment.  We never could find the switch.

The Desert

After eating up miles of asphalt through the desert and hugging the corners of a winding canyon, the People’s Car zipped us through the isolated town of Kennedy Meadows.  We blinked and it was gone, Tom’s disc gold course a blur on the side of the road.  Jeremy recorded high-definition, time-compressed video while Andrew piloted the black rocket ship through the pines.  Marcy and I grasped the ‘oh-shit’ handles and felt secure under the groceries and other assorted wares.

Choosing our campsite and erecting tents, we explored our new surroundings.  A curious place, this forest.  We found ourselves perched on the edge of a large meadow, three strands of barbed wire separating us from it’s golden openness.  Trees rose up giving luscious shade, shelter from the alpine sun and it’s radioactive ways.  We walked amongst these elements concluding that we were happy and eager to trek.

We began by eating, a great way to begin.  Setting off on foot, our objective was clear – a rocky outcropping rising up from the far edge of the meadow.  We chose it because it was a high point and we explorers are always drawn to these types of places.  You know what I mean.  A place high above everything that surrounds it.  A place aching with the freedom of unbridled views and brisk winds.  From this aerie perch we viewed the landscape as if it were a model, a perfectly represented miniature world stretching out below us and outward to the horizon.  We ate more food.  We scrambled across and gripped at the rock with our talons.

Jeremy navigates some rock terrain.

Jeremy navigates some rock terrain.

Upon returning to camp, we promptly assumed horizontal positions on the ground or in a hammock.  The shadows lengthened, the sun turned more golden.  The woods embraced our tired souls and comforted us with a quiet that only a living landscape can provide.

Waking abruptly, we got back into our transportation and drove on dirt roads, upwards to the Bald Mountain Fire Lookout.  A brisk walk saw us to the base of a steel tower rising upwards into the afternoon sky.  Our natural instinct as adventurers is to climb upwards, upwards, higher!  And right there, at the top of this metal geometric fortress was a man.  His duty: viewing this stunning landscape of granite.  He watches the heavens, carefully identifying Vulcan’s electrical outbursts, plotting the locations where they smash into the earth.  This wonderful BLM employee is named Tom.

Tom points to coordinates on his specialized apparatus.

Tom points to coordinates on his specialized apparatus.

A day fully enjoyed.  We retreat to the comfort of our dirt patch to kindle a fire and fill our stomachs.  All manner of fancy appetizers whet our pallets for some schlongs which Marcy tosses on the cast-iron grate above our flame.  Wine is uncorked.  Memories are shared.  In this tradition of eating, drinking, and enjoying the company of others, great bonds are forged between friends.  We take time to play with the camera at night, truly a fun group activity.  Later, as the last one awake, I bask in the warm glow of the coals, red and orange, pulsing radiant heat.

Day two greets us travelers with cold morning air.  Reluctantly our entourage breaks camp, eats cold yoghurt (Noosa, the best), and piles back into our vehicle.  We’re rolling further West through the forest, over a mountain pass, and into the Kern River Canyon.  The landscape is changing.  Gone is the dry, thin air that once desiccated our lips and noses.  Now, the shadow of large trees holds in the damp smell of the forest floor.  Lime green moss clings to the red, deeply-furrowed bark of old giants as we turn at a sign labeled ‘Trail of 100 Giants’.

That sense of insignificance we all feel in the presence of great things is washing over me from high above.  This colony of giants is both welcoming and unsettling.  Are these trees happy or vengeful?  Would they say to us, ‘thank you for preserving this grove’?  Or maybe, ‘fuck you Henry Ford’.  I’d like to think the former.  I just hope they don’t drop an un-needed branch on my head in an attempt to settle the score.

Marcy navigates the forest.

Marcy navigates the forest.

Our troop frolics and meanders through the ancient sentinels, heads cocked at an awkward angle to glimpse the highest reaches of the canopy.  Some of these trees are over two-hundred and seventy feet tall.  Strolling right up to them like they are old friends, we run our hands over their spongy bark and duck under their exposed roots or into their burned out centers.  This amusement park beats the hell out of anything made by the hands of men.  Individual cells organized themselves over millennia into these magnificent organisms.  How humans could commit such a crime as defiling this amazing planet that has nourished and provided for us is beyond my capacity of understanding.

The weekend is coming to an end and we must return to the coast.  We would love to remain in this mystical place, among rocks, sticks, and soil.  These places are not ours to keep.  Embracing the impermanence of ourselves we can embrace the impermanence of the world, the dynamic and chaotic collection of matter that makes up our reality.  Organizing and reorganizing, elements and thoughts blend together into a collective consciousness which vibrates and echoes out into the black void of the cosmos.

Photo Credit - Jeremy Rousch

Photo Credit – Jeremy Rousch

Jeremy’s photo really shows just how large these giants are.

…and some recent work…

Our friend Andrew turned 29 and we threw him a banana-themed party and put more then 3000 balloons in his backyard…it certainly made for some good photos!

Our friend Marcy sets 3000+ balloons free in the backyard at Nerdingham Pallace.

Our friend Marcy sets 3000+ balloons free in the backyard at Nerdingham Pallace.

It's beautiful when lighting, space, and props come together to produce an unforgettable experience.

It’s beautiful when lighting, space, and props come together to produce an unforgettable experience.

Becoming a freelancer

My latest endeavor, as the title of this post would suggest, is becoming or developing myself as a freelance photographer.  A little background before I get into the guts.

I first became interested in photography in high school and took both a basic photography (film) course as well as a black and white darkroom.  These two learning opportunities had a certain element of purity to them in that I was pursuing the art out of an interest in the medium.  I had not yet thought or considered trying to earn money.  I continued taking photos through high school and remember getting my first digital camera, a Sony cybershot, 3.2 megapixles with a 32 megabyte memory card, woohoo!

Fast forward to college.  I had graduated to a digital SLR, a Nikon D200.  This camera was amazing when it was released.  I immediately found an online stock photography website where I could upload images and start earning some income.  Shooting these general, stock images wasn’t very exciting but it did generate (a little) income.  It was fun to get creative, searching for subjects that weren’t widely represented in the database.  I had hoped by focusing on these subjects I might get better exposure and earn better income.  Now, with over 25 million photos in their database, my insignificant portfolio hardly even qualifies as a % of what they offer.  Either way, I still manage to get a check 1-2 times a year in the mail.  How much could I earn if I got my portfolio up to 2000+ images?

As I continued honing my abilities I had some great opportunities to work as a second photographer at weddings.  This led to me getting a gig as the sole photographer on a wedding, shooting, editing, and delivering a finished product by my own prowess.  This was a great experience and bolstered my confidence in attempting other gigs.  I eventually got an opportunity through a friend to do some product photography for a website he was creating.  This was my biggest professional job to date and I traveled to shoot on-location for a business on the coast of Maine.  Arranging and shooting food was a really fun project, especially eating what was left after the shoot!

This point in my professional photography experience was a pivotal moment.  I was no longer taking photos out of pleasure or love of creating beautiful images.  Instead I was looking for opportunities to earn money.  I had lost the love of the art form.  It was a sad day.  I eventually sold off my gear and decided to take a break, telling myself, ‘photography should be about more then just money.’

Jump to the present.  I am now in Los Angeles trying to get my life in order, searching for career paths that suit my personality, passions, and values.  While getting all of those facets to align is a challenge, I don’t think it’s impossible.  I’m finding myself coming back to photography.  I never really thought that a career in photography would simply fall into my lap – you have to put in a serious amount of effort and time to be able to make a living with this art form.  It is especially difficult to expect to make a living as a freelance photographer.

Some of the major barriers to entering the industry as I see it are, a saturated market, ‘everyone’ being a photographer (thanks to digital), networking/connection development, and typical career paths to the position of photographer.  Lets explore a few of these.

The saturated market – It is clear to me that a LOT of people in Los Angeles are talented photographers.  In fact, I think a lot of talented artists live here or have moved here in general.  This is partly due to the high demand for artists and creative types in the film/television industry.  It’s a double edged sword – high demand and lots of people offering the skill in demand.  It is clear that to have a shot in this saturated market, individuals need to stand out, we need to develop our ‘brand’.  What is my brand?  I’m working on this one.

Next, everyone is a photographer.  Literally, everyone has a camera with them all day, it’s called a smart phone.  I’m not saying that everyone who HAS a camera IS a photographer.  Digital has definitely made entering the industry much easy for some folks who previously wouldn’t have wanted to invest the money in developing REAL film to see the results of their ability.  I remember having to spend money not only on film but on materials to develop and print photos.  All of a sudden it’s nothing to fire off 1000 shutter clicks at an event, sort through them and come away with 20-30 decent final photos.  This is a beautiful thing, especially if you know a thing or two about composition,  giving you no excuses to stop shooting.  This is ultimately is a good thing for any photographer with even a basic understanding of the art.

Typical career paths to be a professional photographer are like most film industry paths out here.  You start at the bottom.  While it can be demoralizing to get coffee for people, clean up after others, and be reduced to a role of physical labour, perhaps it’s a good way to learn.  I would venture a guess that most talented and successful photographers have been there done that.  Starting at the bottom could give us an appreciation for the amount of work and time that goes into rising to the position of photographer.

And finally, networking/communication within the photography community.  This, as I see it, is the most important, especially when it comes to working as a freelancer.  Literally every job lead or actual job I have had so far is through friends and word-of-mouth.  It’s amazing how far chatting up the right people will go.  You literally have to be ‘working’ 24/7, offering/talking about your services to find these opportunities.  My experience so far is that one job will lead to the next.  This has lead me to the realization that being a freelancer is about correlating your work and life into one continuous social experience.  Going to a friend’s birthday?  Nope, your meeting potential clients. Having drinks with a few friends?  Nope, you’re looking for job openings.  I obviously don’t mean this in a literally sense – your friends might get sick of your presence if you are constantly soliciting them for work.  However, you do need to be persistent and constantly looking/seeking opportunity.  It’s a numbers game like dating.  Of course, not everyone is going to want a date but, the more people you communicate with the more potential partners you will find.

A shitty interview & the importance of positivity

What is the most disappointing interview you have ever experienced? Sitting outside the restaurant at 10:05, I glance at my watch for the third time.  I was already informed that the manager (who is supposed to be shaking my hand and subsequently interviewing me) is running late.  This is a good start.  When he does show I am informed that he was ‘in traffic’ for over an hour.  I’m not sure that I believe him.  It is LA and otherworldly traffic does exist here: the kind of traffic that makes you utter every four-letter word you know and also consider how so many of these people haven’t killed themselves in previous moments of vehicular stupidity.

When he does squeeze through the door and shake my hand, we make our way over to a round table with black vinyl-upholstered seats.  I’m immediately asked about my availability to which I reply, immediate and open, weekends, evenings, whatever you need.  “Good, good”, he says.  Then, less then 2 minutes into our interview he is glancing over the resumé I just handed him (he didn’t bring the other copy I had previously put on file).  With a puzzled look on his face, his eyes come up to meet mine and he asks, “so where is your serving experience?”

Let’s take a step back here.  I have been into this restaurant, a fairly reputable one on Ventura boulevard three times now.  I brought them a resumé previously, then checked in on the status of that resumé a month later.  I then followed up with an email to update my phone number which had changed.  I was then called by the manager who asked me to come in for an interview.

So I’m sitting here and it is apparent to me that he has not yet actually read my resumé.  I explain my experience as a Wildland Firefighter, doing chainsaw work while things are literally on fire all around me.  I explain my experience as an Interpretive Ranger, speaking to groups of as many as fifty people, delivering original presentations 30-45 minutes in length.  I even mention my experience back in high school working taking orders and cooking food at a country club.  It is at this point in the interview that he explains to me that he is looking for someone with 3-4 years serving experience.  Let me add that this restaurant doesn’t have any item that costs more then $50 (an overpriced steak).  This is not a formal experience, rather an overpriced typical LA eatery.  Sure, the food is good and it is well-reviewed, but it’s not some exclusive, black-tie ordeal.  Needless to say he said that maybe in a month they would be looking for hosts and he would be in touch.

I immediately had another interview, also for a serving position.  It was a similar experience, although I was under the impression that the person interviewing me had actually prepared for the event – she asked me questions, engaged me a bit.  Still the same disappointing results.

Here is my little rant.  I can be a server.  I know this.  Yes it is a high-stress job.  Yes, it takes experience to be GOOD at it.  I don’t want to devalue the ability of someone who does this job well.  But guess what – any decently intelligent person can fulfill this job.  Yes, there will be a learning curve.  Still, as someone who has worked in many high stress jobs, I know I am capable of this.  Rant over.

That evening I was feeling a little down, drinking beers, enjoying the hot tub at my friend’s condo, when I got an email asking if I was available and interested to work as a freelance photographer on a project for an advertising agency.  Finally I was getting the break I have been looking for.  In a whirlwind of forms, information exchanges, days in the field, and finally uploading work form the project, I am just about done with my first paid photography gig since getting to LA.

self

Sometimes, when we are the most demoralized, disappointed or discouraged, we are also on the verge of something wonderful.  It’s a perfect example of my situation.  I was really unhappy after having two very inconclusive and seemingly useless interviews but something great was just on the horizon.  I learned (again, as I have learned in the past) that you cannot give up hope that something positive will happen.  As someone who has experienced a shit-storm like most will never know, it is sometimes the only thing that can keep a person going – the hope for the positive.  It will always be there, even if we are not always experiencing it.