Jobs on Set
What are some of these jobs on set and some of these crew members? I'll kind of show you guys a few more images. This is actually a personal series that I just did called uniform. And this is the solo exhibition I just mentioned that I did in January. So this was at the shoot. And this the hair and makeup artist that I work with. Who you guys will actually get to meet at the shoots here, Jennifer Popochock. And so she and also Hayley Olsen who's doing hair and makeup, they painted all the subjects green. And then we had John Leben actually who painted all the wardrobe and the props. You'll meet him pretty soon as well. He's an art director that worked with me on that project. And then here, this is Alexis who's a wardrobe stylist who I work with. She wasn't able to be on this particular project, but this was another personal series I did called Con Man. And basically I took one person and I dressed him in seven different characters. So we used wardrobe, we used some light facial prosth...
etics, wigs and makeup to change his appearance. And so, again this is like a perfect example of what does a wardrobe stylist do, what does a hair and makeup artist do. You know, you prep and you talk about all these things beforehand and they you know, they will bring the things to kind of make it a reality. And then they're also working with you on set to get everything looking just right. And we'll go more in depth on that kind of stuff here in a second too. So the natural question would be like, what are the jobs that I need to have on set? Or who are the people that I have to have? And the answer is, it totally depends. There is no single answer. It's not going to be the same for everybody. But I can tell you how I started, and then you can kind of hopefully start to figure out based on your process and what you do, what's gonna make the most sense for you. So for me, the first role that I ever worked with and hired was an assistant. And basically, an assistant is someone who will work with you to, whether it's picking up gear from a rental house, or um, you know, help picking up gear from your house or whatever it is. You know, helping you set up that gear, helping you get the gear into the place, helping you be prepared and be ready for the photo shoot. An assistant in photography is working on lighting typically, and they're also working as kind of your right hand person. One good example is, when I started, when I first started and I didn't have an assistant I was using a lot of lights. I was using very technical lighting and I kind of prided my self on that. And I had like cases and cases of gear. And so back in the days when I was doing editorials, I would show up and I had like an hour and a half you know total, and I'd have to park somewhere and then get like seven heavy cases up to the fourth floor with no elevator and set it all up and everything. And by the time I was shooting, I was exhausted and stressed. And just like, "Okay turn your head to the left", and like, "Okay good." I wasn't in the right frame of mind to actually do a good job. And one thing I realized in hind sight after working with an assistant was like, I can go up, I can talk to the subject, I can visualize where I want it to be while they're bringing everything up. I can communicate with them how we want to set stuff up. And then I can be present and calm in the moment and thinking about like, "Okay, what is this shoot gonna look like?" And actually doing my job really well. So that's an assistant. And that's not giving assistants enough credit. We'll get into detail about all the many things that they do. And there's some people who'll you'll find are phenomenal assistants and they'll do things that you're like, "Oh my gosh." There's been so many times where I'll come home after I work with a new assistant and tell Michelle like, "You wouldn't believe what they did today, "I just never even thought about that "but it was amazing." And then you'll work with some people who, they just kind of wait for their instructions. And that may be fine too, but for me the bigger the productions get the more I need someone who's thinking ahead and someone who's kind of understanding what I'm gonna need before I even know what it is. The next job that I started working with was a wardrobe stylist. And for me that came because as we're talking about conceptual ideas and production value, so if I'm trying to create a vintage feel portrait, you know pull it if, I don't wear vintage clothes. Like pulling clothes out of my own closet or whatever isn't gonna really make that work. So as I started to discovering the characters, and oftentimes characters not necessarily based in current times where what I was interested in, I started realizing the value of having someone who not only was able to source all that clothing, it's partly a time thing, It takes forever. But also someone with a vision. Someone who I can tell them what I think I might want it to look like, but they can take that vision and enhance it. And they're like, "Actually, have you thought about this like 1970's Ralph Lauren plaid suit." It's like, "Wow, I didn't even know that existed." and like, "Oh my gosh I've seen one, "and I know where to get one." A good wardrobe stylist, that's their life, they live and breathe wardrobe and creating characters. And also as you communicate an idea about, this is what I want them to feel like. They might be like, you know they would probably also have a bolo tie or something or whatever it is. They're gonna help you flesh out that idea even more. And that was something for me in my process, added tremendous value. It also helped me not stress out so much about, where am I going to find these clothes, when am I gonna have the time, I don't know the first thing about clothes and all that kind of stuff. So what are some other roles that you consider as your business grows? Maybe, maybe one of these is the first role that you start with if you decide you want to start working with other people. Art Director, who you will meet our Art Director for these shoots here, John Leben. An Art Director, basically what they do is, they will, often times you'll hear art department, Art Director, and it goes back to kind of what we talked about earlier. Like, if I need to say, "Hey, I need to make it look like "I'm giving a speech "and we're gonna give a talk or whatever." It's like they're gonna find the table, they're gonna find the chair. They're gonna put the glasses in here. Maybe they're gonna fill this with you know, if it's water, or if it needs to be whiskey, they're gonna put some food coloring in there or whatever. They think about the environment and the space and color, and they're creating all of those little things that make the space feel believable and make it fit into your vision. A Makeup Artist. If you're a beauty photographer, a Makeup Artist might be the first role that you decide to go with. Especially maybe you're doing like close in portraits or something and you feel like, I can still handle lights on my own for a while, but you know, what I can't do on my own, is hair and makeup. I need someone who can bring that look and that aesthetic. So maybe that's a role that you start with. Even if you, obviously, to give you more context, I don't do fashion. I'm rarely doing it, unless I'm painting someone green. I'm rarely doing like anything super extensive in the sense of like beauty and all that. But a great hair and makeup artist, they can help you create a look that ideally people won't even know was there. It's kind of like a great Retoucher would say, "The best work, you don't even notice." It's the same thing with hair and makeup. Like, they can create a look that you may not notice but if they didn't do it, holy cow it would make a big difference. Even just like toning down the shine on someones face when your bright lights start hitting them. Hair and makeup goes a long way to making that, your finished look really take on like a whole new level of production value. A Producer, this is one that can again, if production, if the idea of production in itself is kind of scary. What is a Producer? A Producer is, I can't say enough about Producers, in general I don't think you can be a good Producer unless you're just like an amazing human being. Because Producers get like everything thrown at them at the last minute and the most frantic and hectic and stressed out situations, and they always handle it like, "We'll make it work and we'll figure it out." I don't know how Producers are as patient as they are, but basically a Producer will work with you to produce all that stuff that we talked about. They're basically in charge of pulling the crew together. Now, you'll still get the decision. So for example, last week I mentioned I did this casting. I was working on this commercial, and so the first thing I did was we got sign off on the job, I hired a Producer. So I got the Producer on and we talked about the whole project. And they go out and they start pulling everything together. So the first thing we needed was a crew. So they got five people that they've already vetted that they thought made sense for this particular job. Then they send them to me, and it's my job to look through those five people and say, "I like this person for Director of Photography, "I like this person for Wardrobe Stylist." Or I say, "You know I'm not really feeling any of these people, "I feel like we need someone who's got a little more "edge to them or someone who seems to work more "with characters. "These people seem to do too much fashions." Whatever it is. And then your Producer says, "Okay, I understand that." And then they go out and they find someone else. So they're allowing you to focus on the creative. If you hadn't done it before, or if you didn't know where to find all these people, just finding a Hair and Makeup Artist, or a couple to choose from could take you two whole days on your own. So I mean, a good Producer is not only saving you that time, but they're also drawing on all their past experiences. Every time they work with someone new, they're kind of bringing them into their mind and they're able to kind of reference, "Oh you know what, "you want someone who does great wardrobe for "lifestyle outdoor, I know the person for that. "Or you want someone that is high fashion, "I know the person for that." Anyway a Producer, I could go on and on, but they basically make it all happen so you can focus on the creative. Now again, a Producer might be something that's just out of reach for a while, or maybe you find someone who really wants to produce and they do it for you and maybe there's a trade, or maybe it's a lower rate so they can get experience. But there are ways to make it work for you. Don't let it be an excuse if you think that, that is something that you need. A Digital Tech, A Digital Tech is someone who's on the computer while you're shooting. They're helping organize and backup and save all the images and name the images, put them in the right folders. If you're not focusing properly, or if the lights are too hot they're gonna tell you. They're kind of like you're digital gateway as you're shooting. A PA is a Production Assistant. So usually a PA works with a Producer. You could hire a PA. Again, a lot of times you could hire a PA and they might be able to Produce for you if you're starting out. Then finally a Retoucher. We talked about that. A Retoucher is, for me, a Retoucher is not someone who can color correct an image. It's not someone who can take pimples off of skin you know. A Retoucher is someone who's gonna help you craft a greater story and bring greater depth to an image that you created. So for me, I think Retouchers are artists. My Retoucher Victor, who is Guild Studios, who's in Hungary like I talked about, he's an artist. Like, I'll come to him with an idea, but he has ideas also and we collaborate together really well. Sometimes his ideas are not what I was thinking but he's able to show me something that allows the idea to grow, be bigger than what it would have been on my own. We get emails on a daily basis from Retouchers who want to work with us. And I would say probably 95 percent of them, they just show me that they just color corrected an image. So I would say you know, be wary of that. Make sure that you are looking, you're seeing what you want in someone's work. Don't just expect because someone has a job, that they're good at it. Or not that they're bad, but make sure that you know, if you're hiring someone, they can actually deliver what you're expecting. If it's just color correcting or blemishes, you could probably do that on your own. So make sure that you kind of understand the distinction there.
We did have somebody who asked about how you find that Producer, because a lot of people think about Producers with film, but Producers for these types of Photo shoots, where do they exist? What are their backgrounds? Where do you find them?
What are their backgrounds? I mean, everybody's different. You know, I've worked with Producers who started off as PAs, Production Assistants, and then they became Producers. I've worked with people who had backgrounds in television, or people who worked for ad agencies, and they learned about production because they hired producers a lot. And maybe they decide they wanted to work on their own and not be in an agency anymore. So I know a lot of people who start production companies from the agency side, and they have really great perspective on that. It really goes back to if, how you find kind of any of these other roles, it just goes back to asking around and talking. And most of the producers that I've worked with have come from referrals. I have an agent now and so, there's three people that work at the agency, so you know, if I have a project aside from the people that I know of, you know, if they're not available, or if there's a project that feels like it's a bit specialized, and they need a certain type of producer I'll ask one of my agents and they can say, "Oh you know what..." Because they work with 15 different photographers on the roster, they can say, "Hey, you know, we just did a job with so and so, "and they worked with this Producer who might "actually be worth reaching out to." So that's for me obviously a great resource, but if you don't have that again, it's asking anyone else. I'm sure there's a creative live board where you could ask other people. I do a workshop on my own twice a year called Survival Guide. And we have a private Facebook group, and there's people in that group who are constantly, we're all helping each other out anytime someone needs a role or something. And again, there's all kinds of Facebook groups, but it's just putting it out there. It's letting people know what you need. Don't expect to find it right away, but that's why, that's another reason why I think it's really important to try to find these people now, even if you can't hire them now or can't use them now. Because there will come a time before you realize it when, "Oh my gosh, I just got my first job "and I can hire a Producer." And congratulations that's awesome, but that's not the time to start looking for a Producer, because oftentimes tomorrow you need to send in your production schedule, the day after you need to send in your casting. It's like, you need a whole day or two just to find a Producer at that point. So you've got to have all that ready to roll. So start asking those questions now. It's not weird at all. It's not inappropriate to even write a Producer and just say, "I don't think I can afford you right now, "but I love your work "and I just want to introduce myself. "And someday I really hope to call you "and work with you because I think "what you do is awesome." Like, that would be so flattering and probably that would make them really excited to work with you, you know. Maybe there's even a way to work on a personal project with them if you guys connect. So, don't be afraid to say hi and just put yourself out there. Again, it's the same way as we talked about with portfolio building. There's never a better time then now. If you find yourself saying, oh I should wait till then, you're already going down the wrong path. Yes?
For projects that you're directing, why with your skillset would you need to additionally hire a Director of Photography?
Well good question, so that pertains specifically to directing in terms of motion work. So when I direct, when I direct a video, I'm working with the talent, I'm working with the Producers and the crew to get the dialogue or the action or the motion that I want in creating that whole set. I'll be the first to tell you, I don't know the first thing about those film cameras and all that kind of stuff, that's like a skilled profession in of itself just understanding how to operate a motion camera. The other thing is, if I'm really focused on directing, you can't be focused on panning the camera and pulling focus and all that kind of stuff. You can only do one thing, so a Director's job is to work with the actors, and to bring out the life and dialogue and emotion that you want to see. And you've got to be able to focus completely on that. So you need a Director of Photography who can think about framing and who can think about like movement and all that kind of... And you can work with them with that, but they're bringing their vision to you know, how we going to frame this up? And how are we gonna move in? And they're working with someone else who's actually pulling focus. The Director of Photography is running the camera, they're not even running the focus. I mean, so it's a whole different ballgame. I think in photography it would look silly, if I was standing here, someone was holding the camera and someone else was focusing, but that actually is what you need to do when it comes to motion work. You know, some documentaries photographers they can do it themselves and stuff, but for the type of commercial work I do that, that's what makes the most sense.
I'm wondering if you are not afraid of you giving your work to a Retoucher, or somebody else that the clients could say it's not your handsign, and if you would, do you make a special contract for that that they couldn't say, "Well, the photographer couldn't make the images "because I'm the real star and not the photographer." You know what I mean?
Yeah. I mean I think that just goes back to again finding people that you trust, and people that you can work with. I'm not saying that couldn't happen, and I've been in some touchy situations with crew of all different types of roles where you learn some stuff the hard way. But I think it goes back to kind of learning those lessons and growing from it. And you know, communicating. You know, I did have a situation where I did a job and I started just letting my Retoucher work directly with the client and eventually I just got squeezed out of the situation, you know. And that can happen. You know, sometimes that's just out of your control, but then sometimes you have to maybe decide like well maybe I need to rethink kind of chain of command here. There's no rules to that, but...
Do you make a special contract for that?
No, I don't have a contract for it. But again, that's why I think again it's so important to like, to know and trust the people that you work with. And for me, that kind of stuff is done on a handshake. We certainly have contracts for certain things, but in terms of like the people that we work with, I mean, If we want to keep working with each other we know that if we burn somebody it's going to be the last time. So you know, most people are gonna value... It's rare that someone's gonna be crazy like that but yeah.
Michael Gibbon says, "Can you share a little bit with us "about how you're normal discussion "would go with the Retoucher, "or the way you would fully explain your vision, "what you're expecting from them. "How does that usually work?"
You know, that's a good question. It can be tough, and there's been times where, there was a while again where I mentioned I grew with a certain Retoucher. I think we know, we did things a certain way. We were young and we were able to, we had a lot of time. A lot of times I'd go over there and sit there while he Retouches stuff. I don't have that luxury anymore. But I think as fun as that was, I probably learned some really bad habits in that way as well and so, I think I didn't learn until more recently the importance of communicating my vision. I think I just, there comes a point where it's like, yeah, I'd rather have someone else figure this out for me and then I get really frustrated because it doesn't look like I wanted. Well it's like, they're not a mind reader, why would you expect someone to just know what's in your head? But I kind of did that, I was getting lazy. So now typically, and again, sometime I revert, but ideally what would typically happen is you would have an image or a series of images. And you would present them to the Retoucher. First you're going to ask like, do you have the bandwidth for this? Are you interested in doing this? What's it gonna to cost roughly? And then if you decide, if you're gonna do it together, and then you need to be able to provide them language or reference images of what it is that you're looking for. And it takes, it takes probably three to six months I'd say to find the groove with the new Retoucher. Excuse me, it's not fair to judge a Retoucher on the first few things that you do together, because it's not a reflection on them, it's not that they're doing a bad job, it's just as I mentioned earlier, they can work in many different styles, but it's like understanding what you're looking for that takes some time. And so, you've got to be able to present images and be like I want it to kind of have this feel. Or I want it to, I want to make the background blue. You know, the more you can describe and show, the better off you'll be. The benefit of having relationships the more you work with someone is now I can say, "We have all this like "shorthand together so it's like, "I want this to feel kind of like Anthony Hopkins. "We did this Anthony Hopkins portrait together, "and so he knows what that means, "because there's all these "little things that we put into that." Or, "I want this to kind of have a uniform feel "in terms of the treatment, "but instead of the background being white "I want to make it a little more hazy "and put some blue into it or something." Like, you can start drawing from previous projects, and that's actually a good thing because again that shows that you're specializing and focusing in on something. So hopefully that helps. It's really just again, boils down to communication and setting up the Retoucher to succeed. If you just hand them a bunch of images and be like, "Make something." They will, but don't get upset if it's not what you wanted it to look like you know, so.
Okay, thank you for that.
You mentioned you have an agent. Is it like for your commercial work to bid on work? Or is it for every job that you are in, when you get an inquiry about?
Yeah, that's a good question. It's for all my work, my photography agent handles. To back up, because I'm sure this question will come, when do you get an agent, how do you get an agent? The time to get an agent is when you need help managing the work you already have. You don't get an agent to get more work, that doesn't happen. It used to work like that, it doesn't work like that anymore. When photography was scarce, and when people needed just someone to create a beautiful image, an agent could get you work. There was, I experienced that for about six months. The last six months of that era. I was doing editorial work. I had never shot for a national publication before, and I had only done local magazines. And I had written an agent, and we had communicated for I think a couple years. And then out of the blue one day, they expressed interest in me. They hadn't been interested before, then all of a sudden they wanted to talk and I ended up signing with them. They were in New York. So the first thing we were gonna do, is my wife and I would fly out there and meet them face to face, sign some paperwork and all that kind of stuff. Get to know each other, come up with a plan, build a portfolio, send me on meetings. So I thought, okay I'll get all this together and then we'll see what happens. So they signed me, put me on the roster. The next day I got a my first job for Rolling Stone. Then a couple days after that I got a job for a Foreign magazine, and they flew me. I'd never flown anywhere for a job before. I was like, it was like that. It was like two or three things a week and it was crazy. And it was just because I had an agent. And then, six months later that stopped. That's when it kind of, 2008 and then 2009, partially it stopped because of the economy, and now you know, the whole editorial world has changed a lot because of the crash in 2009, but also things are changing now because, they won't talk about this, but clients don't want just a photographer or a button pusher anymore. People want an Art Director, they want someone who has a vision. They want someone who's gonna be able to do something unique and different from anyone else. And so, no one's gonna hire you just because you're available. They're gonna hire you only if you do that one thing that they're specifically looking for. And so, what an agent's job is now is they certainly help you market yourself, like this week my agents, one of my agents is in San Francisco, so I'm here talking to you guys and she's in San Francisco meeting with agencies and showing my work and other artists on the rosters work. We're divide and conquer, that's a great thing. I also still have to market myself, I cannot just rely on them to market for me. I have to be doing all the same things that they're doing. And also again, people are not gonna just call up an agent anymore and say, "Hey, who do you got?" You know? Like, "I have this job or whatever." They're gonna say you know, "Hey I want John for this job, "we specifically like the fact "that his portraits are kind of quirky "and they are very stylized or whatever it is." So at that point an agent, they talk to the client, they get a sense of what the budget is, they get a sense of what they want the production to look like. They do hundreds of back and forth phonecalls that I'm not even privy to, that I don't want to be a part of you know. Like, it's all that planning and stuff and then they facilitate all the creative calls that happen. You trying to understand the client's vision. They're also interviewing me, to make sure that they feel strongly that I understand their vision. The agent's a part of all of that. And then they facilitate all the contracts and stuff. So you know, if you do a shoot and it gets canceled three days beforehand, do you get paid anything? Do you get paid half? Do you get paid all of it? If you don't have an agent with those contracts, maybe you get paid none of it. And that kind of stuffs come up for me. Thankfully you know, an agent saved us on all that. But they're helping you ideally, also they're helping you with your career direction. Like, I'll have calls with my agent all the time and I'm just like, "I'm so frustrated, like what is going on? "We're not getting any jobs." Or, "I feel really good about this work, "but it doesn't seem to be..." Whatever it is, like pep talks. You know, talking you down from the ledge. Or saying, "Hey, you know what? "I'm really getting more into environmental work, "I know we've been focusing a lot on studio work "last year, "but I'd like to start pushing environmental work more." Or, "You know, I'd really like to start shooting in LA more "and doing more celebrity work. "Can we come up with a plan to start showing that, "and kind of getting me into some meetings?" You know, that kind of stuff. They'll help with all that. But if you don't find yourself really busy with commercial work, and you're already getting paid, don't expect to find a rep. Because they need to be able to make money from you instantly. Very few reps are willing to kind of like take years to build you up, because that's a cost to them. And they're running a business too. It's a long winded answer.
So how do you get from, where your schlepping all of your gear up the stairs and doing the shoot all by yourself to actually hiring a team and getting to the place that you feel like you can justify a team?
I mean, it's just one at a time. Like, I've been doing this for 17 years. So again, you're seeing some pictures and here 17 years later I'm working with all these people. But like I said the first thing I did was, I asked around and I found someone at a photography school locally. And they were, at some point I think they wanted to be a photographer, but they were assisting. That's how they were learning and making money and stuff. And so, we agreed to terms that worked. I mean, I can sit here and tell you what every role typically gets paid, but that shouldn't be a deterrent for you making it work. Like, just because someone gets paid X, doesn't mean you couldn't work on trade with someone. If it's mutually beneficial you know, kind of thing. So, you just start out again with what you need and you just go from there. And before you know it, you'll look back and be like, "Oh my goodness, "I worked with an assistant for two years "and I can't believe I'm working "with the wardrobe stylist too." It happens, but you can't make it happen all at once. And there will be times where just because you have an idea of something you need doesn't need you get it right away. Like, there may be a year or two where you're like, "I really need a wardrobe stylist." But it's still not working out, or you haven't found that person yet. But there will come a time when you can strike when you're ready, then it can happen. But the answer is, it's gradual. It just, it take time.