Since returning from my travels in July, I’ve been shooting various video assignments all over the bay area. Granted, I picked up the 5D in February and hadn’t anticipated this to be my primary role leaving grad school – in all honesty – it’s been the most challenging and eye-opening experience thus far, mainly because I’m doing it solo, whereas for the last two years, I’ve worked with crews of shooters, grips, gaffers, PAs, sound guys, etc. Doing this on your own (and being a petite female) is a whole ‘nother story. And one that I could probably write a book about…someday.
Here, I’m just going to drop some knowledge (or evidence of past ignorance/naivete) so that anyone who’s reading is or has been in a similar situation can at least learn what to or what not to do. I’ll call it:
Lessons I’ve Learned Since Finishing Grad School and Being Hurled Out Into The “Real World” (if San Francisco can even be considered that…)
1) You’re going to come across eccentric (good & bad) and even downright unpleasant clients – clients who patronize you, who undervalue what you do, who have no idea what they want nor what is required of them before a first meeting/shoot, clients who don’t consider nor care that you’re parked in a garage across the street and paying a pretty penny to spend 8 hours there, but continue to divulge irrelevant details about their personal lives to you after you’ve wrapped. Some clients can be assholes. Some clients can be really amazing, fun, and inspiring to work with. Be prepared to encounter both, and if you’re lucky, everything in between.
2) You’re going to make mistakes. Realize that. Expect that. And accept it. You will only get better as you make mistakes and learn from each and every single one of them. You’re going to kick yourself when you hit record, realize you really should’ve remembered to ask someone to move those bins that are now showing at the top right corner of your frame every time you pull out for a wide shot, and can’t move to re-frame because it’s a one camera shoot. You barely have enough room to stand there with your giant ass Manfrotto among a sea of guests, and everything the speaker is saying needs to be captured. Whoops.
3) Audio. Audio. Audio. Know what circumstances you’re dealing with before you even arrive to the location of the shoot. If you’re using new or rented gear you’ve never used before, show up an hour or two earlier and test all your gear at the location. If you know there’s going to be a handheld mic (being passed from speaker to speaker with no buffer time nor intermissions) and a mixer, bring all your cables, adapters, and accessories. Don’t just rely on one source of audio be it a wireless lav or a shotgun mic. Bring it all with you just in case. And don’t be afraid to ask the A/V guy for help. He can be your best friend during event shoots. I can’t stress that enough.
4) Tell your client what they need to bring or expect the day of the shoot. Clarify how and when you want to transfer the footage, how long you’ll hold onto the raw footage (before transcoding/compressing), and how you prefer to be paid prior to the first day of shooting. It’s communicating these things that will lessen the stress on both you and your client because logistics will be laid out preventing miscommunication, frustration, confusion…all that good stuff.
5) Do your research. Before you go and shoot for a client for the first time, read up on their bios, their work, their organization, who to look out for if it’s an event, and what questions to ask on the day of the shoot. Even if it’s a one-time gig, prepare yourself so that you feel invested on the day of, and your client will usually appreciate the fact that you feel connected to your subject(s). It makes a huge difference, trust me. Plus, it makes it less boring for you behind the camera.
6) It’s okay to splurge on fancy gear if you can afford it and it makes sense. Read the customer reviews, forums, blogs on any piece of gear you want to own. Keeps your ears perked and eyes open for gear you commonly see being used among your peers and people who produce work you are inspired by. It usually pays for itself with the production value it adds to your work. I may be going broke with everything I’ve invested in, but I also feel that I’m learning more and more about the technicality of shooting than I would be without all of these purchases. It’s worth it if you want to get better and know what you’re doing.
I feel like I could go on and on, but it’s late. I’ll end with God Speed and Good Shooting…
Last week, a former classmate sent me a message on Facebook asking for help on a paid project over the weekend. A producer/talk show host was coming from Nigeria and wanted to do as much shooting as possible for her series pilot and a potential documentary project about Nigerians in diaspora. It sounded exotic and like a great opportunity to start freelancing, so I offered my services to shoot both days and enlisted my friend Caiso to be second camera op.
The experience was an awakening. We arrived at Stanford’s Humanities Center on Saturday afternoon thinking we’d be shooting fairly straightforward interviews for the three hours scheduled, but ended up shooting an entire Nigerian wedding ceremony (complete with rituals, gospel singing, the most amazing colors and traditions), alongside interviews with the bride, groom, and both sets of parents. What the producer really wanted to capture were their experiences and sentiments on the Nigerian culture (particularly the Yoruba people) and its impact on relationships and marriage. The bride was African-American, and the groom was Nigerian-American.
The families were helpful and patient, the venue was fine, and the ceremony itself was entertaining and just plain beautiful to film – but the experience working with this particular producer – it will forever be engrained in my mind. I probably learned more in those two days than I did in 18 months of graduate school.
During most of our shoots for class projects, we had opportunities to re-shoot, to take our time in getting things in frame just right, to change the color temperature, and then changing it again and again until we were 100% sure we were happy. We were spoiled. Thinking back, we really didn’t take into consideration the fact that most of these gigs would be paid by the hour – meaning your client is going to try to squeeze as much out of you in that hour as possible. There is no room for mistakes. There is no room for hesitation. You better know what the hell you’re doing or you’re out.
A few things were reaffirmed. I made some observations and took mental notes for what I call…
The Rules of Working With A Client (and Crew) On Set
1) Be prepared. If possible, get all the details in advance so that you know exactly what your goals are for the day. Whether it be a clear schedule, a shot list, names of the individuals you’ll need to speak with for the day, addresses, phone numbers, emails, etc. Get it ALL before you even arrive on location.
2) Work contracts, release forms, agreements, etc…I cannot stress this enough. As my friend Mark would always say, “Get it in writing before you even lift a finger. Protect yourself.” Be clear about how much you expect to be paid for the job, clarify and provide receipts for travel/parking/miscellaneous expenses, determine how and when you will be paid. There is too much room for miscommunication when it comes to this. As a producer, I’ve never shown up without having a few copies of release forms, for locations and general interviews. Even though this particular producer was related to the groom, I was still shocked to find that there were no releases for the interview subjects who spoke on camera. Looking back, as a last resort, we should have had them give us their permission on camera.
3) Be flexible, but realistic about changes to the schedule or plan. Offer your opinion, but understand (and accept) that your client doesn’t have to like or implement it. If your client makes changes to the schedule/plan so frequently that miscommunication is inevitable, be articulate and sensitive in how you communicate that. Shoots can be chaotic, but being stressed and unable to adapt to changes will only set you back in the eyes of your client, as well as your crew. If it’s not life or death, it’s really nothing to sweat. Just make sure your client knows that you are trying to be as efficient as possible, under the given circumstances.
4) Make sure that each person on the crew is aware and understands their responsibilities. If someone borrows something from the client or from the venue, make sure that it’s returned at the end of the shoot. Do dummy checks, put everything back where it belongs, and leave no items behind. Don’t assume everyone knows what they’re in charge of – direct them and be explicit in your directions. Don’t get lazy and forget to do this. Trust me, it will save you time in the long run.
5) Troubleshoot, troubleshoot, troubleshoot! Another one I can’t stress enough. Learn how to resolve common problems with the gear and software that you’re using. What is it that they say about filmmaking and Murphy’s law? Oh yeah, they go hand in hand. Accept it. Embrace it. Learn everything you can.
6) Lighten up. Everyone likes to have fun on a set. Don’t be afraid to crack a few jokes before an interview, even if you’re not the one interviewing. It’s usually appreciated and welcomed warmly.
7) Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know how to do something. Sure, we want to be confident and come across as willing and able. But if you really don’t know how to operate particular equipment or you’ve never done it before, say so. I’d rather have someone willing to admit they don’t know how to do something than have to confront a problem that could have been prevented by a minute of teaching or delegating a task to someone who knew how to do it.
On Sunday, it was a 12 hour day. It was long, frustrating at times, but when I went through all of the footage the next day, I was so proud of what we shot. Not only did it look beautiful, but the content was rich with culture, knowledge, respect…I felt honored to have been allowed to be part of it, even if I was just shooting. No regrets whatsoever. In fact, I’m really looking forward to the next gig.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my parents’ home in Rio Vista. They moved here 5 years ago. It’s a gated senior community sitting on a golf course located an hour and 15 minutes northeast of San Francisco. I’m not sure how likely there are other 28 year-olds living at home in this community.
I arrived at SFO last night after having spent a month and a half in Asia, road-tripping through the U.S., and helping my sister settle into her new studio in Los Feliz, CA. For the most part, I was able to put aside any feelings of anxiety towards what I would be looking forward to upon returning ‘home.’ Being a new graduate in a challenging and competitive economy can raise fear, or it can be a blessing in disguise. Having supportive and loving parents who have welcomed me back into their home is allowing me to take some time in my next job and apartment search.
It’s really easy to rush into things for the sake of necessity, or really, what we think is necessary. I remember my first job out of UCSB. I moved up to the Bay because many of my friends had found work there, and my parents were living there at the time. I stayed with my parents for three months while working as a contractor in Google Blogspot’s legal department. Because a lot of Google contractors were dissatisfied with the unstability of the positions at that time, we continued to look for jobs with more definitive, or foreseeable, futures. I finally went to an interview at a real estate marketing startup in Oakland and secured an account management position. I should have known several things – I wasn’t ready to make cold calls selling ad services to huge development projects in Asia, the startup founder was literally funding the company from his own pockets, and this was not the job for me.
When I left for a technology services sales startup, I was then able to move into my own studio in the Piedmont area, eventually transition into a San Francisco apartment, save enough money for annual travel, live a very comfortable lifestyle, and even put away for a rainy day. That rainy day turned into a grad program at the Academy of Art.
Now that I’ve spent almost all of my savings on tuition for the last 18 months, I’m starting over again. This time, I want to take my time. I’m not rushing into anything, I’m going to do everything in my power NOT to feel the need to settle on something just because I want to get back to SF or Oakland – I’m going to look for something that feels right and is right for my skill set and personality. And if I don’t find it, I’m going to create it. There’s something to be said about being young and just plain ballsy. The optimism, the idealism – I still feel it within me. Sure, I’m more mature now, so that I’m realistic….but I do still feel a fire that tells me to go for things. Just do it. Nike was onto something.
I read this op-ed in the New York Times last night before going to bed. It was about how we self-impose traps of being too ‘busy’ in our everyday lives. For the past few years, I know that I’ve answered invitations, emails, text messages with, “I can’t right now – crazy busy.” How many of these ‘crazy busy’ days were because I overbooked or committed to events/workshops/shows I really didn’t need to attend? Too many times. As I sit here and look out the window, the pace of life is slow. I can swim in the evening, read old books, watch all the movies I’ve been wanting to see, re-cut versions of videos I’ve been wanting to finish, sift through all the footage that’s been shot on my new camera and do something with it, and…I can take some time to find the job (and home) that is right for me.
During the eight days on the road, Wendy and I encountered watercolor sunsets, hippies selling cheese at farmer’s markets, men fly-fishing hours on end, bison holding up traffic, reminders of the Native American presence throughout this country, people piling all of their belongings in cars, crossing one coast for the other, eyes filled with hope…it reassured me that life isn’t about how you fill up each of your days, how many people you see, how ‘busy’ you were – it’s about how you feel at the end of the day. Are you happy? Are you proud?
I hope this patience lasts…ask me how I feel in a month or two.
In light of upcoming Father’s Day, Refinery29 published a roundup of 11 of SF’s coolest dads. Most Dads don’t get the every day recognition they deserve, my own included.
Last week, I had dinner with four women who used to work with my dad when we were still living in Hong Kong in the 80s. Although they (and the rest of their old PR crew) see him only once every blue moon, the long-lasting dynamic between the group is truly something special.
These were the women who held me in their arms weeks after I was born. During breaks, my sister and I were shuffled between the PR staff at the VIP office of HK’s airport and received royal treatment as only first ‘work babies’ would. I can go home now and flip through faded old photos of each woman, and some of the men, holding us up tickling us to laugh for the camera. Wendy and I grew up thinking these people were such cool adults – they’d always be reserved a special spot in our hearts.
I took a bus back to my aunt and uncle’s after dinner, and one of the women, Melissa, wanted to accompany me since she lived just a few stops after mine. We talked a bit about what she’d been up to, what I’m doing now, and about the past.
She then brought up the day that my family left for the U.S. It was 1987 – 10 years before what would be the Hong Kong ‘handover.’ I was almost four. She said she remembered so clearly – almost haunted by – the look in my Dad’s eyes when he looked back. He was last to step through the gate at the airport…he looked back at the closest friends he had made in his adult life. She said he looked like he almost couldn’t bare it – to leave everything he had known, loved, and felt safe with…all to pursue a possibly better future for his two daughters and his wife. At the time, no one knew what it would be like once HK was handed over to the PRC. To this day, I wonder what life would have been like if we had stayed. I do know that my parents made countless sacrifices for us. They left their loved ones, they left a city they both loved, and they left for the unknown. That, to me, was the most selfless thing they could have done.
Now, every time I return, I weep just a little knowing that I will also have to go. Hong Kong is about holding onto memories of what it once was and hopes of what it will always be. Hong Kong, for me, will always represent my parents’ love.
Contradictions. This city is full of them.
After finishing my grad program at the Academy, I came back to Hong Kong to visit family and spend time with my sister, whom I haven’t been on vacation with since 2009. Our plan was a few weeks in HK, four days in Bali, scattered day trips in and out of New York, and an epic 10-day road trip from Brooklyn to LA towards the end of this month.
Hong Kong always feels like coming home. But it’s a home that feels like slivers of memories slowly slipping away from me each time I arrive and get settled. Most people who visit Hong Kong as tourists don’t know what to make of it. They’re either overwhelmed by the quantity of people amassed on the streets of this urban jungle, scurrying from MTR stations to air-conditioned high-rise shopping meccas, disgusted by exotic delicacies being served up in dai pai dongs (food stalls), wowed by the luxurious, elegant, most beautifully designed hotels, museums, galleries, mansions, boutiques, ecstatic about being able to find anything they could ever need (or didn’t even know they wanted) in majority of the neighborhoods they’d explore, or purely exhausted from constant sensory overload.
It takes more than a few days to witness the oxymorons that are scattered throughout the 200+ islands that make up this SAR (Special Administrative Region). One country, two systems – You’ll see this posted or hear this term if you really pay attention. It’s poor, yet it’s awfully rich. It’s buzzing with color, youth, attitude, and potential, yet it’s population is aging rapidly. It’s buildings are classy, shiny, and new, but it’s alleyways are unhygienic, shady, gray, and crumbling. You get dripped on when strolling down sidewalks – air con. When you look up, you see faded neon signs, bamboo scaffolding, or a reflection of the eighty floor Bank Centre across the street. It’s conservative when it comes to what grandparents expect and value in the following generations, yet it’s so liberal when you compare any aspect of life with those in the PRC.
A few years ago, maybe more than a few actually, I was told by someone that I might be living life awkwardly because I was forced to use my right hand when I was a child. I was three when I started kindergarten in Hong Kong. My Dad, at the time, felt it was necessary for me to use my right hand and neglected my natural inclination to use my left. From that point on, I was uncoordinated. It’s not to say I don’t love being active and trying everything at least once – I’m good at most things I try – but something always feels off. When my friend told me this, I couldn’t help but laugh. But it’s true.
Maybe I’m also full of contradictions. Who’s to say you have to be one thing? Who’s to say you have to fit into some kind of category? I’m different things on different days. I can be moody, I can be sweet. I can be kind, I can be vindictive. I can be genuine, I can be obliged. I can be affectionate and cold as ice. I’m human. I make mistakes. But I try not to make the same mistakes twice.
There are some things that I will never understand about Hong Kong. But I can’t deny that it’s always going to be inside of me and such a part of me that every time I come back, I feel torn once again.
The longer I wait to write this, the less I’ll remember from my trip to the UAE last week. I flew over with my friend Kelly from college to visit my old roommate, who’s now living and working in Abu Dhabi. Kelly is the person who introduced me to James during my last year at UCSB, so this trip really closed the circle for us.
Before getting on the plane, I had just left my job at Joyus, which had consumed most aspects of my life for the last 9 months. I wasn’t up-to-date on current events, I barely had time to read, let alone learn more about where we were heading for the week. When I got on the plane, I realized I knew almost nothing about Abu Dhabi and it’s naughty sister to the north, Dubai.
When you think of the Middle East, you associate it with dry sand dunes, flavors of saffron, dates, and mint, and never-ending religious, territorial, and ethnic conflicts that plague the region. Well, the UAE is the new Middle East. I would liken what Dubai is to Abu Dhabi with what San Francisco is to Sacramento. In Dubai, you’re either a poor migrant from the Philippines, Pakistan, or different parts of India working in the service or hospitality industry, a trust fund baby, or a privileged ex pat who plans to stay only 2-3 years spending just as much as he makes. In Abu Dhabi, where it’s a bit more conservative, mature, and low key, you still don’t encounter many native Emiratis on a daily basis.
One thing I did observe was the culture and acceptance of infidelity, especially within the ex pat community. It seemed as if every man we met was cheating, was willing to cheat, or was looking to cheat on his wife or girlfriend. It was depressing that when we went out at night, if we were dressed a certain way, we were also treated a certain way. Men in the UAE (those who can afford it) have access to an extremely diversified population of prostitutes, it seems. One morning, we witnessed a plethora of girls walking out of our hotel in 5-inch Louboutins, wearing last night’s makeup, sporting sex hair. When we asked our friend, he said this was just like any typical morning in Dubai. When I asked our dune driver, he also confirmed that it was very easy for him if he wanted to “find a woman.”
Something else that threw me off was how new Dubai is. I was looking for more history and craftsmanship in the things I bought for coworkers and friends by home, but all we could find in old town Dubai near the Gold Souk (market) were manufactured souvenirs made in India, China, and the Philippines. I was disappointed that I didn’t see anything traditional that represented an actual culture there.
In the end, I’m happy to have experienced that part of the world and to have spent time with good friends. But having been there, I don’t think I could ever live there. Unless I was there working on a project, of course…