Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just Say No

So I arrived at the shoot location of this "Comedy Central pilot". Turns out it was someone's house--I think the guy that had concepted everything and was directing the pilot. It was a series of skits involving a 2-foot talking puppet that was nothing more than an enormous body part---that talked. I won't go into detail, cause it's irrelevant and not something I want to be attached to anyway. Several things came of this...

First, I learned to always read the script, or at the very least, find out what the shoot is going to be. I was stuck photographing garbage ALL DAY! In retrospect, I should've just left. But I try not to burn bridges and I had committed to be there and didn't want to leave them in the lurch. Either way, there wasn't a good solution.

Secondly, I met Anthony Deptula and Stephen Hale. They were a couple of the actors in the skits, that I'm guessing got roped in like I did. Anthony and I hit it off. He's from Ohio, I had just moved out from Ohio not too long ago. We chatted throughout the day, between takes and when he wasn't shooting. We exchanged numbers and have become friends over the years.

I finished up with the pilot and was glad to get out of there. I guess there are times when it's good to just say no.

Not long after this, I reconnected with Anthony. He was working on a film short called La Dentista and they needed some Mariachis. I had just booked the Mariachi Divas for a shopping center event I put together at my job at the ad agency. So since I had gotten them a paid gig, I called up Cindy Shea and asked if they'd be interested in doing this little movie. They agreed, Anthony got his Mariachis and I got a co-producer credit for helping out. I also shot some behind-the-scenes stuff at the shoot. It was fun to be on a set again.

So now I had a couple of shorts under my belt along with some good celebrity content. Over the next couple of years I did various projects...

I produced my first music video for Larry Bagby, who played Marshall Grant in Walk the Line. We shot this in one very long day, but this introduced me to my dear friend, Brad Johnson who directed this video. I did some camera work, but mostly produced and then edited it:

I shot a party for Lacoste that had some great celebrities there including Teri Hatcher and Nicolette Sheridan who were at the peak of Desperate Housewives. I ended up winning a Telly for this one. The top-tiered one at that:

I started doing fashion shows for Gen Art. And a lot of them:
Still one of my favorite edits:
One I shot for mark cosmetics:
A mix of film, fashion, music and art:
Another fave:

And I kept doing the Costume Designers Guild Awards:
9th: Stripped of audio - thanks a lot stupid YouTube!

And I started doing videos for shopping centers. This became a great revenue source. I shot their events, I even started doing some commercials for their events that nabbed a couple of awards:

And this was good for a couple of years. The business was growing steadily each year. Corporate was paying decently. Hollywood paid poorly, but gave me the credibility I needed. To be able to walk into a shoot and tell someone in the corporate world, "I last used this mic on Sandra Bullock" for whatever reason does wonders, lightens the mood, and helped me get booked for the next gig. And it was never a lie. I was constantly able to talk about the different celebs I'd mic'd.

But it came at a price...or rather, no price. For example, I shot a party for Ludacris--the launch of his Release Therapy, who had "no budget". So I had to shoot it for free. It's sort of the attitude, if you don't want to shoot this for free, I'll find someone else who'd love to be at my party and shoot it at no charge. And so free it is...or was.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Just Say Yes

Working with the production company that puts on the Costume Designers Guild Awards led me to another company that promoted emerging talent in film, fashion, music and art where I met the fabulous Jennifer Egan. Gen Art was holding a huge "Hollywood" part in Hollywood of all places that focused on all these areas. And they needed someone to shoot it.

So Jen and I talked about what all it would entail and then budgets. I remember very clearly her saying, "Now don't laugh. And you can say no, so please don't be insulted. But our budget for this is $250. Are you still interested?"

Now keep in mind, $250 was about what I made per day at the ad agency. Maybe a little less. I honestly don't remember what I thought of that number. Was I a little disappointed that it was so low coming off of some better paying shoots? Perhaps. But this was HOLLYWOOD! And promised to be a fabulous party that would inevitably lead to me becoming super famous merely by association.

So of course I said yes.

SIDE NOTE: Here's one thing I've learned about doing business. ALWAYS SAY YES!! There is almost no down side to saying yes to a project.

- If it ends up not paying enough, hire someone cheaper to do it and deal with it. Pay them even less and still walk away with a few bones for coordinating the dang thing.
- If you don't know how to do it, figure it out after you've said yes and gotten over the initial, "What have I gotten myself into?!?"
- If it's boring, raise the rates until they find someone else or you become rich from doing the mundane.
- If you realize you should've said no for some other reason, go back and say you can't because of 'xyz'. And usually if you're honest they'll totally understand.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

So I went to this party and I created this video.

They thought it was brilliant. And thus began my long relationship with Gen Art. I ended up shooting their fashion shows in both the fall and the spring--I think pretty much every year after that. Budgets did go up. That was good. I think I eventually got too expensive and so I started shooting for their sponsors. First "mark." cosmetics. Then the American Chemistry Council. And then Gen Art went bankrupt and that was the end of that.

But I shot LA Fashion Week, NY Fashion Week, had my videos featured numerous times on and made some great fashion videos during those years. Here are a few of them...

This is actually one of my favorites:

It was a 10-year retrospective of Gen Art's Fresh Faces in Fashion. I got to run around and interview a bunch of designers in LA. It was really cool.

And there are tons more. It led to working with Kaley Cuoco, Molly Sims and Maggie Gyllenhaal on some shoots. That was fun.

Simultaneously, the shopping center business started to pick up as well. And I was able to leverage what I was doing with LA Fashion Week to bill myself as a high-end videographer and thus command a higher rate from the corporate realm because of my involvement with LA Fashion Week and Gen Art. It really was working out quite well.

SIDE NOTE #2: If this is the route you want to go, shooting video particularly with a Hollywood slant, you really should straddle both worlds: corporate and entertainment. Here's what I've found...Corporate isn't always the most exciting, but it generally pays really well. And there are great contacts to be had. Hollywood will give you the credibility within corporate, but doesn't necessarily pay that well. The one helps the other in a sense. And if you can master both, you'd do really well.

And... we're back.

The biggest problem was that I wasn't having enough work coming in. And then the edits I was doing would take a while. So while the total dollar amount was great, the time I was starting to invest in some of these edits wasn't necessarily worth it. But I was still somewhat of a start up and learning the ropes. So I guess that was some what expected.

Then one day I was looking on Craigslist and trying to supplement my shopping centers and Gen Art gigs with something else. I found a "pilot for comedy central" that needed a behind the scenes videographer and a behind the scenes photographer. This was perfect!!! I was so excited that immediately I applied. The videographer position was already filled, but the photographer wasn't. I had dropped $1,000 on a 5-megapixel camera and had no real clue how to use it. So of course I said yes and I got the job.

It only paid $50 for the day, but I couldn't wait to be on the set of a real pilot. The day arrived and I made the long drive to the specified location. Little did I realize I was about to be taught a lesson in a somewhat painful way.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I'm not going to lie, the road ahead was rough, financially. I had about three months worth of money to make things work and I didn't really have a back up plan.

The person that had hooked me up with AMP (which led to United Airlines) started producing one of the coolest events in Hollywood....the Costume Designers Guild Awards. She called me up, and asked if I would be available to shoot all the backstage happenings. I, of course, said yes. I desperately needed the business, and a celebrity awards show too!?! I was appreciative then, and as I look back now, it was something nothing short of a miraculous blessing.

That night I met (and more importantly got footage of): Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Goldie Hawn, Bernadette Peters, Elizabeth Rohm, Princess Leia (yes, I'm a nerd), Brenda Strong, Camryn Manheim, Michael Mann, Kurt Russell, Kelly Carlson, Roma Maffia, Leonard Nimoy and Debbie Reynolds. That was one of the most amazing nights of my life! I'd never met that many celebrities and nonetheless all in one excruciatingly condensed evening.

And let me set the stage for you of how these things go and what my role in it is/was. It begins with the red carpet. It's a frenzy. It's like upscale paparazzi. All the majors are there: ET, Extra!, CNN Showbiz, Access Hollywood, E!, Hollyscoop, Reelz, People, InStyle and the list goes on. There are photographers, videographers and even radio or journalist interviews all packed in a relatively tight line, or small room, depending on the set up. Most people are very cordial--both celebs and press. The celeb's "team" are probably the "rudest" and I say rude as a comparison only. Most of them are actually pretty nice as well, but they'll be the ones to dictate demands, cut off the interview if it's going to long, or even not grant the interview if you're not "press-worthy" enough.

But here's the celebrity secret...the celebs have to be nice to the press, because in a sense, it's the press that makes and keeps the celebs famous, which gets them their high paying gigs. So the nicer they are to the media, the more exposure they're likely to get. And positive exposure at that.

So all in all, it's loud, crazy, fun, but ultimately friendly.

After the red carpet is done, it's dinner time for the attendees. Pretty much all the press leaves. I have the all access pass. So I go into the awards hall with everyone else and head backstage. And there I get to spend the next two to three hours. It's a small room with a couple of couches, a wall of mirror and lights for hair and makeup touch ups and some standing room. It's really not much bigger than an average living room.

The hosts are back there already. That year it was Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. So when I arrive, it's basically just the three of us. A few minutes later, the photographer from Getty Images shows up and sets up his gear. We are the only two cameras video (me) and one still photographer (Getty).

The presenters are all celebrities of one sort or another--directors, producers or actors. They are called backstage a couple of awards before they present. And it's just them. Not their people, not their entourage, just them. It's unprecedented access. And all the sudden, everyone in the room are just "people". Not camera and celebrity. Not moviegoer and actor. Just equals talking about their kids, the next project, what their favorite movie is that they've done, who they liked working with, etc. And my job, was to sit there are just capture it. And when no one wanted to be captured, it was to just shoot the breeze with anyone looking bored. And that happened.

I could talk about this night forever. It was everything one would dream it should be. Glamour, glitz Well, maybe it wasn't that. That's the one thing about that level of Hollywood. It doesn't always pay that well. But it sure was fun.

And now I really had a reel that I could use to promote my business. But I needed to do it quickly as funds were TIGHT!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Stupid Leap of Faith

So this event was AMP, the Association of Music Producers awards show. Sounds like a big deal, huh? Well, it was to me!! This was awesome!! It was hosted by that guy that hosted Blind Date. And there were stars from the UPN there! This may be sounding sarcastic, and it kind of is, but it wasn't at the time. And it sort of still isn't. I was really excited. And even to this day, I think it was still pretty cool. Here's the link to that video:

At that shoot, I met up with the people that do the music for the United Airlines commercials. A VERY nice agency!! They asked me if I'd be interested in shooting a behind the scenes doc on the making of a United commercial. I of course said yes, and a few days later, I was in the studio shooting a mini documentary for them. Originally, it was slated to play in-flight, or at least that's what I thought, and so that's what I said. And that sounded very good!! Very official!! My video was playing in-flight on United Airlines all across the world! Was it true? I don't know. It was a case of "ignorance is bilss". So it made a good sales pitch for the next year.

That aside, I have to say, that shoot was sort of a tipping point for me. I actually had to call in at work sick that day because it shot on a week day. It was really close to my birthday, and it was almost like a really cool birthday present shooting that gig. I made three times that day what I made in a day at the agency. And there I was sitting in a legendary recording studio with two concert pianists on 9-foot grand pianos back to back playing Rhapsody in Blue. It was nothing short of amazing!! And then after that, 25 members of the LA Philharmonic came in and played a few bars of strings for a couple of hours. It was really cool.

We interviewed a few of the orchestra players and cut together a nice behind-the-scenes video segment of the making of a United Airlines commercial. Here's the link if you want to see it.

I submitted this to the Telly Awards. I received an envelope back. I already knew what it was going to say. I was prepared to be denounced of any sort of peer accolade. After all, this was only a fake real job. One where I had to lie and call in sick to pretend I was in the industry.

I opened the letter of rejection, only it said that I had won a Bronze Telly! I was elated!! This was exactly the validation I needed. My work had been noticed by my fellow video peers that it was at least good enough for a second place Telly.

Just as a side note, a Telly is for video production that hasn't aired nationally on one of the major networks.

So this was a really big accomplishment, and one of the elements, that I feel propelled me to continue in the video direction.

In July of 2004 I had my first kid. I got a leave of absence from my ad agency job compliments of the state of California for a ridiculously long amount of time. I returned to work for two weeks and then quit to venture out on my own. So now I had a new kid, I had just bought a house the year prior, I was up to my eyeballs in camera debt and then both my wife and I quit our jobs about the same time.

Would I succeed? Would I fail? The housing market was about to fall out and the busted economy would hit in just a couple of years... It really was a stupid leap of faith.

Monday, March 14, 2011

And Here Comes the Lie...

I got a call from LaserFiche document imaging in Torrance, California. Torrance is NOT Hollywood. Document Imaging does NOT deal with celebs. Document imaging is like being a parking lot attendant, but for college graduates. I interviewed with them and got the job. And all this before I even started my gig at NBC. I told them I had a commitment with another company and that I couldn't start for four weeks. They nearly retracted the offer, but said okay, as long as I promised to not bail on them.

I kept my word. SUCK!

I did my two week temp job--dream job--at NBC and then the dream ended and I became a drone of the corporate world once again. This time only a few miles from the world's dream factories. It was practically torture being so close, yet still feeling a million miles away from what I wanted to be doing.

LaserFiche, or LaserHell as we liked to call it get the picture right from the nickname. This should sum it up:

President - woman (I mean nothing derogatory by this, just stating a fact)
Vice President #1 - her husband (who has/had a brain tumor and mostly just monitored employee email accounts)
Vice President #2 - her ex-husband; office right next to VP #1 and they didn't get along.)
Marketing Manager - son of President and VP #2
Lead Software Developer - also son of President and VP #2
Financial Controllers - auntie and uncle of President

and the list goes on.

Everyday was a new nepotistic connection that I learned about. It was a weird company and did nothing for my career except bump up my pay grade. I was there for a year and a half and then got a job at an ad agency on the business side. Pay raise, great office, nice company, great bosses, no nepotism, sucky number crunching duties. I was there for five years and learned a lot about marketing, advertising, etc. I worked on great clients like Cirque du Soleil, Macerich, Fox Television, etc. Finally a step in the right direction, but still not close enough.

Now here's the thing, and kind of the beginning of my point of this whole blog. From an outsiders perspective, I'd kind of made it. Window office with ocean view in Southern California at a cool ad agency working on some world renowned clients in the entertainment industry. So why did I still feel like an outsider?

One of my clients was Macerich. They own 100+ shopping centers across the US. I did the advertising for a couple dozen of being Pacific View Mall in Ventura, CA. Occasionally they'd need video for a commercial, or to shoot an event and I'd been referring her to my wedding videographer friend from San Diego. For one particular event--a lemon festival-- he wasn't available.

And here comes the lie...

So I told my client, "Jeff isn't available to shoot Lemon Fest. However, I have an amazing camera that shoots 24P so it'll look like it's shot of film, but will be video and you'll absolutely love the footage I'll give you. And it's $1000 for me to come shoot it."

She said, "Okay, sounds great."

So I went and bought the camera. I spent around $6K getting started up. Money I didn't really have, but I figured, if I did that five more times, it'd be paid for. Fortunately that shoot was on a Saturday since I was still at the ad agency and had to work Monday-Friday.

After buying the camera, I called my friend Larry Bagby, who had been on Buffy and a number of other TV shows and movies. And I asked him if he wanted to make a film short so I could learn how to use my camera before the LemonFest shoot. He graciously agreed and we made a little movie. You can see it here...

I actually worked with a couple of great people on that little film, Larry Bagby and Courtney Cole. Both of them, to me, were huge Hollywood insiders that had both worked on successful Hollywood films and now I had them in my first movie! I felt like I was heading in the right direction, but by no means had breached that impenetrable Hollywood caste system.

While I was at my agency job, I went to lunch with the publisher of a local magazine. I don't even remember what it was, but I think it was one of those LA hotel pubs of some sort. She was 45 minutes late and then threw a mild fit that the Italian restaurant we went to didn't have Worcester sauce. It was indeed a strange lunch and I left a little ticked, but still was as nice as could be to her.

She quit and started her own production company producing events.

I finally quit and stated my own production company doing video. And then I got another life changing call, this time to join the Hollywood ranks and shoot a Hollywood Event. A real Hollywood Shoot, complete with real D-List celebrities who were on real shows on the UPN!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Call Not THE Call

So I got a call from my dad's friend who was running a couple of businesses--primarily one that sold security systems...door to door. Now I had worked at Nordstrom as a way to put myself through college over the summers and Christmas and I was almost always in the store's top 10 in sales. I was pretty good at it. I didn't really like it, but I could do it.

We'd known this family for years and he suggested that I move to Ohio to live with them and sell security systems. His top guy was making $100,000 a year. For that kind of money, I'd do almost anything as long as it wasn't unethical. So without giving it much more thought, I gave my two weeks notice, packed my bags and headed for Ohio. Little did I know, I was just trading one unpleasant winter for another.

My time in Ohio, is mostly irrelevant to the rest of my career. Suffice to say, I hated it. Even worse than being at the ad agency. It was a horrible job and no money in the world would make it worth it to me. I guess that's the one lesson I got out of it. I lasted less than three months and then finally quit. For the next six or seven months after that I ran my dad's friend's paintball field that was part of their backyard. It was fun, but was only busy on the weekend and didn't really make much money.

I was finally ready to make the jump and head for California. I told the family I was staying with that my time there was done and it was time for me to move on. I packed my car with everything that I owned and headed west with no place to stay and no job lined up.

Just before arriving in California, I called a friend from when I had lived in Huntington Beach. We had moved away when I was nine, but the years I did live there, we were best friends. I asked him if I could crash with him for a few days while I got a job and a place to live. He said sure. Day one, I got a PO Box so I'd have an address to put on a resume.

Day two, I got a cell phone so I'd have a local phone number to put on a resume.

Day three, I was back into Hollywood, trying to find a way to crack those impenetrable studio gates. This time, via the temp agencies. It worked!! Within a couple of weeks I landed a research job at NBC!!! I was elated. TV wasn't movies, but hey, at this point beggars couldn't be choosers.

But before I even started my job at NBC, I got another call that would change the course of my professional life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Lied and Started a Company

I lied and thus launched a company.

A little background first. I hated school. In 7th grade grade I took one of those "what-should-I-be-when-I-grow-up" tests. It came back with two choices... a bartender and a parking lot attendant.

Now not to say those are bad jobs, just not lofty careers to which middle school kids usually aspire.

So I made it through high school and went to college. I could barely decide what I wanted to do in college.

Originally I wanted to be a lawyer or an actor, but actors have it easy or tough. There's generally no safe route or middle ground. As for my lawyer aspirations, that was quickly dashed after about the first week of a law class and they said I had to do some reading. And not the Cliff Notes kind of reading. The actual book! Next.

Here was my way of picking a major...

"What's the easiest?" I asked.

"Well," responded a friend, "you can watch TV for homework if you get a degree in advertising."

I QUICKLY quipped, "Great! Sign me up for that one!" And that's how I chose my major.

I graduated with a solid 3.14 or something like that. I wasn't really keeping track nor did I much care. I just wanted to get out with a degree, not look like an idiot and have spent as much time ditching class for waterskiing or other fun activities as I could get away with. I did it just like that and had no intention of going into advertising.

Then I fell into a job at an ad agency. My friend's mom's cousin's lesbian partner was looking for an assistant. I said no. They said, just interview and see how it goes. I got the job. Uugh. I was a "Research Assistant" now. I was there for a year. I hated it. It was number crunching. I earned $20,000 a year and I was stuck in a town I hated, complete with winters. Gross!! I got busted once for printing my resumes at work.

I even tried to move out to California by flying out to Los Angeles for a week with the hopes of just not going back. My goal was to find a place to live and a great job at a movie studio in a week.

I remember my first day in LA, I drove up the 5, and saw a sign for Paramount. I got off the freeway and drove around looking for Paramount Studios. I was in the city of Paramount. If you don't know what that means, Google it. It wasn't good.

I finally made it up to Warner Bros. I was dressed to impress. Tie on, ready to conquer the motion picture industry. I drove up to the security gates and announced that I was there to get a job. They took my resume and in that drone, monotone, parking guard voice said, "We'll turn this into human resources and keep it on file for a year. If any qualifications match up, we'll call you."

Qualifications? What qualifications? I was fresh out of college with a few weeks as a "research assistant". I didn't HAVE any qualifications!! Maybe things will go better at Disney Studios. And so off I went to the dream factory, Walt Disney Studios. I'm sure you can guess what happened there. If you can't, just read the previous paragraph and substitute WB for Disney.

Not to give up after just two tries, I went to Universal Studios next. I GOT ON THE LOT!!!!! Oh, I was so excited! I went to the human resources department and they had a huge book of jobs. I started looking through it and found some jobs that in my head I was perfect for. On paper, I didn't exactly qualify for, but maybe it'd be close enough. I applied for a half dozen jobs or so, turned in my paperwork and they said, "Thank you for applying at Universal Studios. We'll keep this on file for a year. If any qualifications match up, we'll call you."

Seriously? You'll call me?! Can I call and follow up?


I have 6 days left to find a job at a major motion picture studio, and I'm running out of studios after just a few hours. I don't think it's going to happen. So I went to Disneyland for the rest of the week, before returning back to winter wonderland as a "research assistant." And there I stayed for one year. Broke, depressed, desperate to get out of there.

Then I got a call...