I’ve been a non-student for a year…

It took me awhile to figure out how to word the title of this post. I guess it’s still unbelievable to me. This weekend marks the final weekend of the BUinLA program, meaning that a year ago today, I was done with college classes and essentially out of school. I didn’t officially graduate until January 25th, so I guess I really have a little over a month, but I know that month will go by before I know it.

It’s been an interesting year. Last December, I knew I wanted to move back out to Los Angeles, but I was unsure of when. It took me about a month to decide, and then another two weeks to plan the week-long, cross-country trip my father and I took at the end of January. The week’s worth of driving and traveling was a good cushion for me to reflect on the huge life move I was making. Once I got to LA, the Friday night before Superbowl Sunday, it hit me – I’m in Los Angeles, I’m here to get started on the rest of my life. College is over, welcome to the Real World, Josh.

That weekend, things happened quickly. I was staying with my friend Rob on his couch, and as comfortable that situation was, I was really eager to find my own place, so I could settle into this new environment as quickly as possible. I went looking for apartments on craigslist and after viewing the second place I looked at on Sunday afternoon, I took it. I’m still in that place now, despite thinking I may move on a couple occasions throughout the year.

Obviously at this point I’ve settled into the living arrangements, and my general life schedule. I’ve been working the same internship for about seven months now, on and off depending on what other project I’ve been involved with. Despite not having a full-time, or even part-time job, the internship has helped give me experience, a regular weekly schedule and kept me busy three days a week. My off days normally consist of heavy job searching in the morning, a couple hour break in the afternoon at the gym, and the rest of the day working on whatever editing project I’m involved with.

The editing projects, most of which have been visual effects work with After Effects, have also kept me busy and given me great experience in post-production. While the work is also on an unpaid/deferred basis, I don’t mind because I need the practice and eventual footage for a reel.

The production work I did, while not very regular (I’d work as a PA about once every couple months, on average) was also valuable in the fact that I got experience, met some great people, and was able to learn all about things that you just can’t learn in school.

Sure, it’s a bit disappointing and discouraging when most of my friends out here have more substantial jobs than I do, but I made choices about what kind of work I would look for early on and stuck with them throughout the year. I could have gone a different route and probably got a more regular job, but it would have been at something I wasn’t as interested in doing. In that same sentiment, I could have stayed in Boston, lived at home, not be paying rent and working a job that I was even less interested in doing. To me, the whole point of moving out here was to pursue a dream of working in entertainment as a writer (now I’ve revised that goal to include being an editor). Obviously there isn’t one path to get to a goal, especially not in this industry, but a personal goal was to remain happy with what I was doing, and to be honest there are some jobs and paths that I could not see myself being happy in doing, even if I was happy to be getting a regular paycheck at each week’s end.

There’s a balance I do have to address, in that I can’t live off savings forever, and eventually will need some form of income. That may very well end up being a part-time job of some sort, but as long as I can keep writing and editing in my spare time, and as long as I keep pushing toward that career goal and don’t get sidetracked or distracted by other things, I can stay out here and keep at it.

I’m nervous but excited for the “1 year in LA out of school” mark. There are things I’ll have to deal with – do I risk driving around with an expired Massachusetts inspection sticker just to keep my Mass plates and Mass ID, or do I go through the process of registering as a California resident? Up until now, despite living in the state for almost a year, I still don’t consider myself a resident. That may change if my car and my license say I am.

There are also things I’m excited to try out – a few friends and I may begin to take Improv classes, something I have only really done on a very small scale – a class at camp, joking around with friends, etc. I figure as a comedy writer I should flex or at least train my comedy muscles in as many areas of the genre as I can. I even started writing a standup act (although have no real plans to perform just yet).

I’m also writing music again, and with the great decision to bring my electric guitar back to LA with me, there’s more potential to jump back into that arena. Why not? I’ve always considered music to be just a hobby, despite how talented people have said I am, and how much I enjoy it. But why? I’m out in Los Angeles now, pursuing a dream of becoming an entertainer, why would pursuing music be any different?

Ambition is a great thing to have out here, and while I may not be the most ambitious person in the world, or the city, or even among my own friends, I do want to succeed, and I do want to be happy with whatever I’m doing. I’m not sure I needed a whole year to convince myself of that, but hey – we all work at our own pace.

Things I Like About Being on Set

For the official launch of joshglassonline.com, I wanted to publish an appropriately themed blog post. So I decided to talk about what I like about being on a film set. Enjoy…

For those unfamiliar with the film set work environment, there isn’t an easy way to describe it. Maybe if you start with the view from the actors’ perspective – they may be positioned in a normal circumstance and setting, except the desk they’re sitting at is pushed away from the wall it’s supposed to be against, because that’s where the camera needs to be. If having a camera aimed right at your face isn’t strange enough, try having hundreds or thousands of light wattage aimed at you, modifying or creating the shadows and lighting around you, to fit the desires of the Director of Photography. Let’s step back a bit. On the other side of the lights and the camera, dozens of other crew members are buzzing in and out, performing whatever preparatory duty they’ve been given. Grips moving lights and C stands. Camera operators changing lenses. Art directors and set dressers moving set pieces around. An Assistant Director asking when the shot will be ready. Production Assistants bringing people water. Or getting yelled at to get out of the way. From an outsider’s perspective it can be chaos. Sometimes from an insider’s perspective it is chaos. Hopefully it’s organized chaos.

There are things to like about being on set, and there are certainly things to dislike about being on set. Let’s talk about the things to like.

If you’re like me, although this chaos is a bit overwhelming at times, you can’t help but admire the whole thing. Depending on the players involved, the shoot can go smoothly and you can look back in wonder at how amazing it was that the whole thing came together. If things didn’t go so smoothly, it becomes very easy to point fingers and figure out why. On set, you’ll hear enough stories about what can go wrong, that no matter what happens, there’s always someone who’s been in a worse situation.

On most sets, like any other job, there is a variety of rookies and veterans, so to speak. Those in lower level positions, the entry-level PAs and in some cases Grips, and ACs, can brush shoulders with the veteran DPs, Directors, ADs, etc. Whether it be to teach a lesson, or compare with a current situation, or maybe to show their expertise, you’ll find some veterans love talking about other thing’s they’ve worked on. Let’s face it, everyone loves talking about something else they’ve worked on, if it adds to the conversation. Especially in a business where jobs can last all of a number of days or weeks. People who work in production can rack up dozens of projects to put on their resumes within a couple of years. Each project has it’s own stories – something similar, something different. It’s a great way for the new-comers to learn about the ins-and outs of the business. What to look out for, what to aim toward. It’s great on-the-job training/education, almost without having to do anything.

Of course you have to do things. Everyone has their own job. In the big scheme of things they’re all aiming at the same goal. On a smaller level, every department gets in the way of the other departments, and whatever department you’re working for is the most important, of course. In my experience, a major example of this dynamic is the constant fight between visual and sound.

Unless you’re doing a music video or silent movie, you need production sound. That means an annoying Boom Operator standing next to the action, out of frame, shoving a skinny microphone on a stick at the actors. Not only does this sometimes bug or distract the talent, but if you don’t watch it, you can find yourself creeping into the frame. Basically, your sound mixer wants you to get as close to the action as you can, because that will get you the best sound. It makes sense. The major problem I’ve noticed, in the few examples I’ve had, is that sound is often treated as a second-class citizen. A director and DP don’t care where the mic is positioned, as long as it’s not in the shot. If the take is good for the actors and the DP/Director, but someone in the background dropped a water bottle and the microphone picked it up, your sound mixer has to let someone know that in post, you won’t be able to use the take because the sound went over someone’s lines. Oh yeah…and if you forget to turn off the Air Conditioning, or it’s on for half the takes and off for the other half…the two halves won’t cut together, because although you may not notice it in real life, you certainly notice the absence of a hum that will be there in some other takes.

Back to the Boom Operator and funny-looking microphone contraption. While to some people, myself included, it may look hilarious when you see the tip of the microphone drop into frame, it can be a very annoying thing that ruins a take. And if you’re the operator, even if the rig you’re lifting is starting to burn your muscles and you can’t hold it up for 1 more second, too bad – you’ll ruin the shot if you drop it any lower. And if you ruin a take it’s no one’s fault but your own. Deal with it, it’s part of the job. One AC I’ve worked with once asked me how I was doing as the boom operator. It was my first real gig as a boom op. I told him that, and he said he could sympathize – he’s had to do the job before as well. “People were always yelling at me to get the boom out of the shot. I was like, ‘Well where do you want me to go?’…Although,” he added, “when I’m not doing it, I’m usually one of the ones yelling at the boom op to get out of the frame.”

That leads me to my next point. Most people in the industry don’t have one particular interest. In such a creative industry with such creative and ambitious people involved, there is definitely no lack of multi-taskers or multi-hyphenates as we call them. Someone who’s hired as a grip may know a thing or two about sound or camera, or even editing. Someone who’s acting may also know all those things. These multi-faceted crew members can be very useful on a low budget set, where there isn’t enough money to pay for 20 grips, 10 PAs and a team of Camera operators and assistants. Sometimes you have to make due with 1 of each. And if you’re working on job and know something about another, on a low-budget project you can really help with the efficiency of the shoot by helping out another department when needed. I worked as a PA on an AFI Student Thesis, and depending on the day was also a Set Dresser, Grip, Stand-In, Runner, and Craft Services person. Fun shoot. Learned a lot, in really small doses.

To finish this off, I want to talk a bit about working with the different kind of people you meet on set. There’s a camaraderie that occurs when you’re in the thick of it with your fellow crew members. There’s always something to commiserate with, even when the shoot is going well. Sometimes it’s the 1st AD, and how they’re in everyone’s face, trying to get things moving (the basic job description of a 1st AD). But it could also be the Director, DP, Producers, other department heads…just like any other job, where employees complain with each other about their bosses. But because production is such a collaborative environment, other crew members can also talk about your boss with you, or vice versa. If the sound guy is slowing down production by bugging the director with comments about the sound on every take, a grip or a camera operator can see this and can talk about how they’d be done so much earlier if that wasn’t happening, or if the Director and DP had story-boarded their shots beforehand and knew what they would be shooting, so they didn’t argue for 20 minutes about it before every shot.

I say all these things about being on set, and of course I understand that I’ve only been on a small percentage of sets that other people in the industry have been on. Some of the things I’ve mentioned may not  be true for everyone, and I may have different opinions the more sets I work on. I just wanted to talk a little bit about things that have come to me after a handful of on-set experiences. I look forward to learning more and working more of course, and as I move on in this industry I hope I can use the knowledge I’ve learned so far to my advantage. It’s a great field, and I’m glad I moved all the way out to LA to be in it. Let’s just see how far it takes me.