Film & Photo Production–It Beats a “Real Job!”

Just another day at “the office” in beautiful southern Utah.
Ivo the German car photographer always had a sense of humor…

One of the things I’m most grateful for is that I never had to work a “real job” after graduating from ASU in 1987.  If you’ve read my story “Do You Have the Term Paper Blues?” you know about 10 years of one of my accidental career paths, but the bulk of my career (almost 28 years!) was spent working on photo and video shoots for advertising projects. 

My career in advertising production began completely by accident as well when I was introduced to Marc by my friend Robert or my neighbor Rick (I think—You guys can let me know how Marc and I actually met.)  Marc and I were casual friends for a while, and at some point Marc gave my number to another Mark who called me a few weeks later (July 1991) asking me if I wanted to be a production assistant (PA—a fancy word for “go-fer”) on a beer commercial that was shooting the following day.  I had never been on a set before, so Mark was authorized to offer me the princely sum of $75/day for an unlimited number of hours working in 115-degree heat!  Me being me, I thought “what the hell—I’ll give it a try,” and the assholes with attitude from a Miami production company worked my ass from 4am-10pm for the next two days!  I did ask Mark though what the hell anyone would be doing out in the middle of the desert in the dark, and he told me that I would soon find out.

In hindsight I did manage to do something smart after I got Mark’s call for the job though.  I called my friend Marc who had about a year or two into the film production biz by this point, thanked him for the referral, and told him a little bit about the gig at 4am the following morning.  I shall be forever grateful for the two pieces of advice Marc gave me before my first PA gig.  The first thing he said was to let anyone’s snotty attitude roll off you “like water off a duck’s back.”  And the second piece of sage advice Marc gave me was to look around closely on set and see where I wanted to end up in terms of my ultimate job goal.  He told me being a PA was strictly entry level and I needed to figure out what I really wanted to do as quickly as possible to have any long-term success in the film biz.  He briefly described the various departments to me, and I was off to the races on a few hours sleep (imagine that—Hahahaha!)  Life-changing advice to be sure.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Marc!!!

When I showed up at 4am at the corner of Hayden and Dynamite roads in Scottsdale (vacant desert then—now upscale homes worth seven figures!), a few other PAs and a location manager were wandering around in the dark with flashlights telling people where to park, etc.  Someone grunted that I was “the new guy,” told me where to park and to get out and follow him, be quiet, and do what I was told.  I followed Marc’s first piece of advice and did exactly that!  I was still wondering what the hell was going to happen out here at zero-dark-thirty am, and as the sun rose all my questions were answered.  By 6am the dark, lonely desert was full of cars, trucks, motorhomes, horses, piles of equipment, and about 100 people or so.  I soon found out that we were shooting a Stender beer commercial, and the client was from Holland I think. 

As the initial shock wore off and the sun rose ever higher, I began to follow Marc’s second piece of advice and look around at the various departments and what they were doing.  I immediately ruled out the grip & electric department when I saw about 10 dudes sweating their asses off unloading 18Ks and such from a couple of 10-ton trucks!  It was pretty much the same for the art department as I watched them build a set as fast as they could in the blazing heat.  At some point, I had to go into the production motorhome to meet the Miami production team and get my first “go-fer” assignment.  When I saw a bunch of people in a mobile office working on typewriters, calculators, etc. (yes—Stop telling me I’m old—Hahahaha!) in a somewhat air-conditioned space (hey–90 degrees in the shade sure beats 110 in the sun!) I made a mental note that production was definitely something I could do.  I had a college degree and some organizational skills, so I knew production was a strong possibility for me. 

As the day went on, I eliminated some obvious things like hair, makeup, and wardrobe (no straight dudes back in those days, although dressing beautiful women certainly had its appeal—hahahaha!), and I knew I didn’t have the technical skills or patience to learn them required to be a camera geek.  About mid-afternoon I noticed a guy sitting in an SUV with the windows rolled up, the motor and A/C obviously running, and he was looking at a map.  Now I had always loved geography and maps as a kid (I was one of those geeks who stapled all the National Geographic maps to my bedroom wall–it was literally almost completely covered much to my Mom’s chagrin!), and that guy seemed to have the best job on the set at that particular moment.  I asked someone who that was, and it was Mike the location manager.  I asked what the location manager did and was told that he scouted and photographed various location options for the client and then negotiated all the details in terms of prices, logistics, paperwork, made maps, etc. and made sure it all went smoothly on the shoot days.  Ka-Ching!!!  Production job #2 was staring me in the face! 

Marc and I eventually bought a production motorhome and both ended up as location scouts and production coordinators before Marc got a more steady corporate gig as a cameraman, which is what I think his goal became at some point.  I continued on as a location scout/manager and producer for the next couple of decades, and damn I miss not doing it anymore!

There are literally hundreds of production stories any of us in the industry could tell (and I’ll probably tell a few pretty soon), but I’ll sum up what I loved about production in a few bullet points and let all of you share your own memories, stories, photos, etc. in the comments (or send me an email if you don’t want to go public—Hahahaha!  I’ll keep your secret—“Scout’s Honor!)

–I had the pleasure of traveling all over the state (and occasionally a few other states) to more amazing locations than I ever dreamed possible.  I’ve seen the most scenic spots imaginable, the rattiest underbellies of cities and towns, and been in mansions and hundreds of other places I never would have been in if it weren’t for my “job.”  (Remember—It’s not a “real job!”) 

–I had the even greater pleasure of working with a lot of amazing local people who I consider friends to this day, and I met clients, crew, actors, models, etc. from all over the world.  Although we often worked very long 12-18 hour days, there was typically a lot of down time on set when some of us were free to stand around and socialize, tell jokes, talk about life, etc. waiting until someone needed us.  I’ve met everyone from famous athletes, actors, rock stars, and models to regular folks just like me from all over the planet.  Who wouldn’t be grateful for all of that?!!  It sure beat sitting in the same cubicle day after day like many people do.  Thanks again, Marc, Mark, and all of you I met along the way!

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