Monday, January 12, 2009

Getting into the "Business"

People are always asking me "how do I get into the movie business?" That's kind of a tough question to answer. I can tell them how I got into the movie business. I was a fashion photographer in New York for ten years before I tried for the "industry". I had met a lovely young gal - model, actress - former airline stewardess (yes, we call them that back then) who said to me one day, "why don't you go out to California and get into the movie business." It was a statement, not a question. As the saying goes, behind every successful man there is a good, smart woman. Well, my wife - Scout - was just that. So, in all my ignorant bliss, I took my portfolio of still photos - I had NO reel at that point - and when to Los Angeles. I bought the local production guide - now called LA-411 and starting knocking on doors. Only commercial producers mind you - I started with the 'A's" and kept going. Five days later - I was in the "P's" by then, I knocked on Chris Peteson's door. Chris had a commercial producing company and was then very successful. For some reason - I've never been entirely sure - he liked me...and hired me! As a director/cameraman. Wow. So my bride and I moved to Los Angeles. A few weeks after I'd started with Chris I got my first assignement - as a cameraman - on a Navy training film. The next day I arrived at the stage, introduced myself to the director. Imagine - a young kid from Chicago via Korea (war) via New York was actually on a Hollywood sound stage about to start shooting my first picture. Only problem was, I didn't know how to even begin.

The director gave my my first set up. A nurse leaves a room down the hall, comes toward us to the nurse's station, chats with another nurse for a moment, then walks away up another hall. I thought to myself - she's going to move? Hell, I'd been photographing people - mostly girls - on a seamless background using strobe lights. How the heck do you light a person to get fom A to B? I hadn't the foggiest. So I confessed my sins to the Gaffer. (He's the guy in charge of lighting, usually how the cameraman tells him, but not always.) His name was Cal Bassin and what a terrific guy he was. He just smiled, told me to follow him around and pay attention to what he did and how he did it. I followed his advice. Finally, he announced we were ready and I should tell the director so. I did and he - the director - said fine Ric - just climb on the dolly and we'll get a rehearsal. I took one look at this hugh camera mounted on this funny looking device that had a hand wheel in the back and another small hand wheel on the side. I thought to myself, what the hell's that? I'd been used to a small tripod and either a Rolleiflex or Hasselblad. So, I conjured up myself and said to the director: "You know, I really like to sit in a chair and watch the actors - make sure they're hitting their marks, staying in their lights, etc." He said "okay, we'll get an operator over here right away." They did (And he subsequently taught my how to operate what I eventually learned was called a Worral head) and we were off.

Well, that's how it went for the first six months I was there. A bit of lying, a hint of cajoling; a little bit of stalling and a lot of watching, learning and keeping my mouth shut - but a smile on my face - Always! And I began to learn how to be a cinematographer. My "lessons" continued for another what? Twenty years? Thirty? Hell, you never stop learning. And when you do, you're dead.

I have a sequel to this story which I'll post later this week.

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