On Set Support
So the next part of your team is that on set support. These are the people that are gonna be essentially, I mean, with the exception of maybe a little bit of the art department, which may be included a little bit more in the pre-production, these are basically on set people. These are the people that are gonna be helping you while the shoot is going on. But I'll talk about art department first and get over to the other stuff. You know, I'll give ya an anecdote. So we're on set and we have a kitchen set. It's a big, deep V kitchen set. And the table in the front is where the hero was. And the hero food was on the table and it was gonna be a closeup. So that stuff in the background was just shapes. But you could tell it was the shape of a kitchen. Client looks at the frame, all of the creative had been approved throughout this long, arduous process. Client looks at the screen and goes, I don't like the cabinets. I'm like, okay. Huddle with the art team. And that art team basically made t...
hat kitchen look different. Now, clearly, it's not in focus, right. Remember, it's just shapes and color. They basically created a new kitchen out of gaffers tape and big cards. You know, V-Flats. Cutting stuff up, painting them, sticking them, making countertop edges with gaffers tape. It was incredible. And when you see the pictures, and you look at it and you go, and knowing that that's what they did to save the day, you recognize just how important those people can be on your set. And then every time you see a fork sticking in something in an ad, what you don't see is the guy who's got lead wire wrapped around it, strung up here on the C-Stand, with the arm booming down. And that guy has got that angle down perfectly. So your art department can really, especially when you're working like with a locked off camera in a very restrictive, creative kind of space, right. You've already been approved for this. You're not really approved for this, or that, or this. And you have to make that work. That's where your art department comes in and can really rescue you and make your whole scene better. And communicating with those people and letting them know. You can, you know, you're talking about people who are very kind of conceptually creative, you can just be like, you know, I'm thinking about, like, maybe it has, and you're just totally not specific, and they're like, yeah, I got that. (audience laughs) And they're right on it. Your digital tech is also like, I think you have spoken about this a little bit before, but it is that kind of buffer between you and the client. And you'll see that later, when we put this together. It's the person who's protecting your files. And it's the person that can keep you honest about all those little things that can go wrong. You can easily rip off five shots that are not in focus. Because you're not really hand focusing the camera. You know, you're working tethered and you got 25 people on set. And if that tech isn't checking your focus and keeping you honest, and you pop off five shots that you think are hero shots, and then they're out of focus, you know, you don't look professional. Your head's gonna explode and that's why that person is there for you. They're there for you to make sure that the client is not seeing your flat, dead file that you're gonna under expose so that you can pull it up in post. They're readjusting that image to a little bit more palatable standard so that they aren't seeing what they may see after post-production. And then, you know, it's also somebody that understands and trusts. If you work with somebody regularly, they know your style. They can tell if something is in that frame that doesn't belong there. Who's there looking at it this big instead of like this. So it's very easy to miss something. You know, that's the guy who looks over to you and he goes, go lens cloth? Yep, you gotta little smudge. You know, like all that little stuff. And it's important to understand that the software that they use, too, is complicated. It's a very skillful job. It's not just somebody sitting behind the computer watching them come in. You know, somebody who really can operate Capture One. Or be able to operate in Lightroom. And every piece of software that you use for capture has one hole in it. They all do, they all have one thing that doesn't do the same as the other. So you have to figure out which capture program that you're comfortable with and the tech that you work with is comfortable with. Because if that thing is that it doesn't automatically adjust the frame when you move the camera and that has to be manually done, that could be a pain in the neck. Especially when there's people on set looking at your pictures. So if that's the thing, then use a different piece of software. But if the other thing is that it doesn't do live view, where you can adjust the camera remotely, then you should use a different, you know what I mean, they all have a little piece. And the tech will know all of that. They'll know, okay, what's important. And then you can talk about that. It's like, yeah, I need to be able to make adjustments from the camera and from the deck. And they're like, yeah, okay, well we're not gonna use that software, we're gonna use this software. So those people, and they get paid too. I mean, they're negotiating with a DigiTech. Their standards are pretty much like stylists in a way. Probably a little less. 750, a thousand bucks a day. For a really good DigiTech on an advertising job. So, you know. The other thing you might learn from this exercise is that if you have these skills, you can market yourself not just as a photographer. I know lots of photographers who work as techs. And they make money. When they're not booked to be a photographer, they go out and they tech. And it's a great thing. And assist. You know, if you're on the spectrum of still learning, you're still building your career and you wanna get out and assist. I mean, clearly that was always been the path for young photographers has been to assist on jobs. And, you know, PA's become assistants. And assistants become first assistants. Or first assistants become techs. Or they're interchangeable. Sometimes your first assistant is your tech. And then those people start to build careers of their own. So all of the mechanisms of the people who are on set supporting you is they're learning, they're supporting the process, but they're also, in and of themselves, their own business people too. And they're building their businesses. And if you are a photographer and you're still figuring it out, these are all options to figure out how do I get into the business. And I get five emails a week from people saying, hey, I would love to assist you. Hey, I'm a tech, hey, I'm a stylist. And I look at their websites. And if they catch my eye, I'll save it in a folder. And when I need somebody, I'll look them up. And that's what we all should do. We should be reaching out to people. And when they reach out to us, we actually remember where they came from. Because I've had this happen too, where I looked at somebodies website, I didn't have a need for them at that point, I didn't save it, and I totally forgot who they were. And then I'm digging through my emails because I'm like, I think I wanna hire that person. And I couldn't find them again. So you have to be organized about your contact lists. You know, we don't keep Rolodex's anymore. Everybody's looking at me, what's a Rolodex? (audience laughs) But yeah, you organize your kind of, you know, what do they call that, you bookmarks in your browser. And I got folders that say stylists, I got one that says techs. And I sent all of that over to my agent. When I changed agencies, they said, who do you like to use? I said, I know how to do that. And I just copy and pasted everything into a document and sent it off to my agent. So now they know who I like to work with. And then they cross reference it with the people they've already worked with. So there's all this communication that happens to keep your operation moving smoothly and on track for everything.
Can you talk about ways to meet a network with perspective dream teams. People that, once an opportunity arises, you're able to draw on people that you already know.
Yeah, I mean, I think forming relationships, like we talked about earlier, where I have relationships with other photographers in the industry. It's also about communicating with them about who they like to use. And we have these conversations all the time. Then you start to reach out to people and say, hey, so and so told me that they really liked working with you, I'd love to see your work, let's have a meeting, let's talk. And it's really about making those personal connections. Whether it be just an email or an actual face-to-face, which I do pretty often. If I meet, particularly, an assistant who's gonna be on set. I don't invite them to my studio until I meet them in person. I wanna meet somebody in a neutral environment. And I wanna talk to them. I wanna see what their personality is like. And I wanna see if we can get along. And then if I feel like that relationship works, then I'll invite them to come to the studio and see how we work. And observe for a day. And then if they feel like they wanna still work with us, cause they like our dynamic, because it has to work both ways. Cause I've had that experience too, where you throw somebody into, a new person into a team of people who've been working together for a really long time, and they're totally intimidated and they shut down. And they have a very hard time with that. So, to Rodney's question, it's reach out to the other people that you know in a region, in a city, whatever it might be, and say, hey, who have you used, who do you like, and then have those conversations. Because I don't know that there's gather place. There's no bar where all the stylists hang out. (audience laughs) But, you know, it would be cool, yeah, it would be very cool. All the food stylists go there, they hang out.
Can you talk a little bit about when you're talking about DigiTech, art department stuff, when you were training and you were learning your craft, where did you go to sort of learn how to do these sort of things, like food styling? Can you give us some advice, as like, if we wanna do it ourselves?
Well, you didn't have my grandmother, so, you're out. (audience laughs) I mean, I learned how to cook as a kid. And you gotta remember, we're talking 15 years ago when I started doing all of this. And so much of it was trial and error. There wasn't as much resource as there is now. And I think assisting with, especially in food styling, working as an assistant to a food stylist, even if you're coming in a as PA to a food stylist and working in a kitchen and watching how food gets prepared for camera, especially food styling. I don't know that there's a training program for propers. I think propers are just hoarders who make a job out of it. (audience laughs) You know, I know that's me, man. It's just another excuse to collect like random junk. But as far as food styling is concerned, I think your best bet is to just contact food stylists that you like their work. And you gotta go and get in their kitchens and help them. And get some culinary training. Because the majority of people who have become the better stylists in our industry right now all have culinary training. And it doesn't mean you have to go and take a four year college course at Johnson & Wales. That's not what I mean. But I do mean you gotta go to courses, classes. If you go into a kitchen with a food stylist and you don't know the difference between the different types of cuts on vegetables, that's not gonna work for people anymore. You know, like at the highest levels. They need to be able to call out to you, I need this, this, and this on the bias, blah, blah, blah. And you need to understand that terminology. So getting in their kitchens and learning. Cause when you're in there as a PA, they don't necessarily expect you to know everything. But if you get some culinary training beforehand, and then start to work into that, or you've worked in kitchens before with chefs, because, you know, that that's really demanding, making the transition is easier. But going cold with no culinary training and never having worked in a restaurant, it's really hard. You gotta kinda work on that craft before you've actually step into that environment.
Can you tell us, actually, I'm just gonna make it a double question. Do you ever use interns? And what skills do you look for in an assistant?
Great. The first question is a good one and it's intentional that they're not on here. Because I feel like the name and word, intern, implies people are working for free. Nobody comes on my set and works for free. For a lot of reasons. One of them is fundamentally I disagree with the idea of people working for free. It makes me uncomfortable. I don't wanna take advantage of people, particularly young people, who are tying to learn the things that we know. So I may pay them what they may work as a part-time job, you know, per hour, it may not be a lot of money. The reality is they're gonna walk away something at the end of the day besides knowledge, you know. They really need to earn money. And the second part is that, from a liability perspective, if you're not paying people and they're on your set and somebody gets hurt, you got trouble. So that's more of a secondary piece, but it's definitely something about self-preservation as a business. And the idea and the concept of unpaid interns is kinda falling out of favor in many, many industries. So even if it's a minimum wage internship. I prefer to use the word production assistant. Because I think it also implies that those people are doing a job and they're gonna get paid for it. The second part of that question was what am I looking for in an assistant. That's actually also a very clear process for me. Is that begins with that process of meeting people in person and seeing their body language and watching them work. Because, let me tell you something, you take that phone outta your pocket when you're on my set, it ain't coming back. It's very simple. Especially as a PA or an assistant. You need to be looking at me, you need to be looking at the other people on set and make sure they don't need anything. And if we're taking a break, you know, text your girlfriend, that's fine, whatever you wanna do. But when we're on the set, once we cross over onto the field of play, that all has to go away. You have to be focused, you need to be attentive, and you need to be watching everyone around you. Cause you're there to learn as much as you are there to help. And that is essential for me, to watch an assistant work. And if you are not engaged, and I've seen it. And people just like. (humming) Waiting to be told to do something. Don't wait. Come up to somebody and say, hey, can I do anything? Do you need something? And the best assistants, particularly the ones that have training, you know, have been on sets, they know what you want before you know it. They anticipate your needs. And the best assistants I've ever had are ones where I never had to talk to them. I go like this, I turn away from the set with my camera, and before I turn back, there's something there for me. Right. I'm looking for a card, I'm looking for a filter, whatever, they know it. Because they're watching and they're paying attention and they're looking at the monitor and they see what's happening. And that's what a good assistant is to me. So it's lots of stuff, but it's really ultimately about being really serious about being there. You want a person who really wants to be there and absorb it all.
I know there are a lot of tricks to the trade for food photography, like plastic ice cubes or mashed potatoes instead of ice cream, but there's also truth in advertising.
But I'm gonna.
That's the question. (laughs)
That is a product of the pre-digital age. Because mashed potatoes for ice cream and all that stuff. Plastic ice cubes, yes. We still, you know, a plastic ice cube and some glycerine spray and you can shoot a drink all day long. That's still a real thing. But actual fake food is not as prevalent, particularly in the kind of photography that I've done. And with truth in advertising, that's part of it. But it's also because the equipment has changed. So we've been sitting under these lights. And all day on set sometimes, you're sitting under lights. They're not hot, right? Because we're not using hot lights for food anymore. We're using strobes, we're using LED's, we're using daylight. So that changed the dynamic. Plus, the idea of the whole process moves faster now because of digital photography. So we're not shooting Polaroids and testing those, and making test prints to figure out if the creative is on point. We look at the monitor, we go yes, no, let's go. And we move on. So that need is no longer there. But the myth still exists, right? There's so much of that still there. But it's definitely true in the past. And certainly not as true anymore.