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.

Monday, January 5, 2009

More on Second Generations in shobiz

It occured to me how many second generations there are now in the "industry", as it's so often least in LaLaLand. Other day I saw a movie with Zoohey Deschanel...daughter of Caleb Deschanel - a most excellent cinematographer. Then a saw a Director of Photography credit for Florian Balhaus...son of Michael Balhaus...and the list goes on. Hurray. Some people might want to accuse the "industry" of being nepotistic. Of course it is! It's always been that way! Heck, the industry was practically founded on nepotism. You don't think lawyer's son's get into schools like Harvard or Yale because their fathers are alumni? Or doctors whose sons want to follow in their father footsteps into a top rated Med school. How about Wall Street? Or the plumbing industry. How may fathers and sons do you see advertised on their trucks? Or electricians? The only reason people might gripe about the movie industry being that way is because they want to be in it...and don't know how to do it! Viva la difference! After teaching film making at the Colorado Film School for five years...I have told ALL my students...if you want to get into the "industry"...really want it...then go to Los Angeles, buy the local production guide book (LA411) and start knocking on doors. And don't stop until you've got a job. Then start paying your dues. There are no short cuts. I would guess from the time you get your first job in the industry until you get your first really BIG break? Ten years. Some go faster, most don't. So, be paitent, work your butt off - keep smile on your face - keep asking for more and...if you have any talent at all, you WILL succeed. I can practically garantee it.

Friday, January 2, 2009


My wife and I saw "Marley and Me" yesterday. Nice little picture...Marley kind of steals the movie but then, that's almost always the case. Two rules in Hollywood...never costar with animals or children. Second rule: never costar with children and animals. I enjoyed seeing Jennifer on the big screen. I used to bounce her on my knee. I have pictures of Jennifer and my son, Richard floating in our pool in the backyard. Her parents, John and Nancy Aniston and my wife and I frequently would go on camping trips up north where we'd play bridge all day and Jen and Popper (Richard's nickname) played in the dirt. Fond memories.

As for Kate Hudson...another one who bounced on my knee. My wife and I have known Goldie Hawn for over thirty-five years. Scout, my wife who was quite an accomplished still photographer took pictures of Kate and Oliver Hudson with their mom on many occasions. She has certainly grown into a beautiful young woman. It's really a pleasure seeing them both succeed in careers that are - generally - very difficult to even get started in. My son, Popper grew up to become my assistant on the set. Richard jr. worked with me on over twenty-five feature and television films. It's great to see second generations in the industry.

The only tough part of all this is that they are the constant reminders that I'm growing older...and no one likes to endure that! Kate's got a new pic coming out this month - starring with Ann Hathaway. Promises to be very funny. Like her mother, Kate's a natural comedienne.