The Cinematography Internship Program was an educational labor of love for Hurlbut Visuals for the 2010-2011 year. It has been our way of educating and inspiring young filmmakers. The goal was to create a variety of hands-on immersive experiences: shooting, lighting, theory, and storytelling, Let’s meet The Dream Team!
French, sophisticated, creative, incredible instincts, intense work ethic. We met Julien, our first intern, on “The Last 3 Minutes” where he was the most dedicated and passionate 20-year-old film student we had ever seen. Those valuable assets continue to this day. We rewarded him by making him a department head for our BTS division. He is now producing/directing/shooting all of our BTS videos, Blog Sponsor interviews and HV-produced documentaries.
Jose De Los Angeles
Our intern who traveled and decided to relocate from Orlando, Florida. (He wouldn’t take no for an answer though Anne Gaither, our Operations Manager, really tried to warn him about the costs and minimal access to Shane due to schedule). He flew out on his own dime and put himself up to work with the Elite Team and me. Two days after landing, Jose was assisting me on an “Act of Valor” pick-up sequence. That was passion, follow through, and commitment.
Jose quickly became our tech guru in rentals. After being an apprentice under Mike Svitak for 6 months, he was ready for Prime Time. Jose has worked on many commercials with me as a second assistant: AAA, Sports Authority, Toyota 6, Volkswagen, and Navy just to name a few. Jose is now second assisting full-time.
Great energy, amazing composition, always a smile, and filmmaker to the core. Nick first came to help with lighting our Halloween Haunted House and we instantly bonded over stark lighting and cable management.
Throughout the year, Nick has operated on many BTS shoots, and live concert events and has worn multiple hats with media management, and producing. He worked on AAA, Toyota Tundra, and Sports Authority with me, to name a few. Nick is now a free-lance operator and producer.
The crazy skateboarder dude. We received his resume and immediately invited him to be a part of our team due to his shooting experience and understanding of the DSLR platform. Danny has a huge smile and a great attitude. He is very smart and has a never say die approach that he gets from skateboarding.
He is a prep tech in rentals and gets his share of shooting: Jeep “Call of Duty” and Sports Authority. You can always recognize Danny as the roller-blading skater with our Chipper rig on the Sport’s Authority BTS video.
He has the loyalty of Old Yeller. No matter what happens Freddie is there to save the day. He is quiet, observant, and passionate about filmmaking. Freddie has an incredible eye, which all of you experience on a weekly basis with his Blog pics.
When Freddie was asked to lay 1000 feet of banded cable to power up the MCS launch event, he did it with a smile. Freddie rocked out the Jeep “Call of Duty” spot and has worked on many of the Blog Sponsor interviews and the In True Fashion Charity Event.
Go-getter, can-do attitude, aspiring young filmmaker. Ben came to us via my Alma Mater, Emerson College. Very experienced film student. Ben was an integral part of building the stage at the MCS launch event for our Rocking Girl Band, laying cable and setting up many of the lights on the stage that he built. We have loved having him, but he is back to Boston at the end of the year.
Intelligent, focused, master electrician, check-in testing specialist in rentals.
Mehul has been a shining star in our rental division. Heading up all check-ins and testing gear. His work ethic during our move to La Cienega Blvd was endless. He was ready for any task and he delivered.
On the Mountain Dew game fuel commercial with McG at the helm, Mehul was brought in for the tech scouts and the pre-light to understand how to prep a commercial and then see the camera, grip, and electric order come to life as the Mini Mart illuminated from within.
Genius Bar, tech Yoda, filmmaker, cinematographer, aspiring director, and now my assistant. There seems to be nothing that Derek cannot do. He always comes with a smile of confidence and a calm demeanor at every turn. Nothing flusters this guy. He came to us because Apple wanted him full time and he wanted part-time employment so that he could make his films.
We capitalized on Apple’s mistake. Derek recently ran one mile of cable and helped me light the Jeep “Call of Duty” commercial and ride experience, Mountain Dew “Game Fuel” and the MCS launch event.
Sports Authority “Shoe” Spot
The Sports Authority “Shoe” spot below is a perfect example of our Dream Team in action. We found success in educating and inspiring young filmmakers by embedding 2 or 3 Elite Team members in a shoot and then filling out the rest of the team with our cinematography interns.
We call this “In the Line of Fire” educating and it has been my practice since teaching technicians back in the 80s when I was a Key Grip.
My Experience as a Hurlbut Visuals Intern
by Derek Johnson
Being a cinematography trainee has increased my education exponentially, raised the bar for me as a filmmaker, and helped me build good instincts by making me think on my feet. The past 4 months have been an intense and fulfilling learning experience with hands-on training in all aspects of production and the rental division covering cinematography, composition, lighting, and organization. I definitely have much more to learn. However, I wanted to take a moment to look back on a few helpful things I learned so far. I hope that it can provide some insight for other aspiring filmmakers, like myself.
I started off as a follower of the Hurlblog and read it regularly to educate myself. At the time, I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, and would soon complete my Bachelor’s of Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance from Arizona State University. My time there gave me a good foundation to hone my creativity and find my love for filmmaking and cinematography.
Seeking Filmmaking Mentorship
I had been shooting a lot of short films and music videos and I knew where I wanted to be, but the road map wasn’t very clear yet. My mentor and professor Charles St.Clair encouraged me to set my sights on a good film internship in LA and guided me through the process of preparing my resume, reel, and website. I planned and prepared for a semester and had everything ready to go. Then one night, I checked the blog, and I read that Hurlbut Visuals was looking for Cinematography trainees. I knew it was exactly what I was looking for, and I applied right away.
When I heard back, I was asked, “Are you living in the Los Angeles area?” I planned on moving but was working an I.T. job in retail trying to transfer to an L.A store. So the first lesson learned was: to get an internship in LA, you need to be living there when you apply (ideally). Luckily, I was visiting San Diego when I was contacted for an Interview. I made the drive up and went through the interview process.
Joining Hurlbut Visuals
When we were finished, Hayden Houser, the Director of Hurlbut Visuals Rental Division, asked me how soon could I start. I was still trying to transfer my job but did not want to pass up the opportunity to learn from Shane and the Elite team. So, I took as much time off of work as they would let me, and moved to L.A.. I started my internship at Hurlbut Visuals while trying to transfer to another store before my “vacation time” ran up.
It was definitely a big risk leaving my steady job and home to start an unpaid internship. But I knew it was what I wanted to do and I had to make it work. After several phone calls and interviews, I realized I was not going to be able to transfer to another store in time. As frustrating and scary as that was, it served as a pivotal moment for me.
I decided that I was going to focus completely on film and try to support myself that way. So, I had some money saved up and relied on the generosity of good friends letting me sleep on their floors and couches. Then, I tried to get as many gigs as possible, paid or unpaid. I knew the more time I spent on set, the better my chances were. Every time a Camera Assistant or member of the Elite Team came through the office, I always offered to help on any shoots they had coming up.
Make it Gucci
Attention to detail is a must as a camera assistant and prep tech. Probably the first thing I learned at Hurlbut Visuals was the phrase “Make it Gucci” from HV Prep Tech Jose De Los Angeles. He would say this every time we needed to scrub cases, clean filters, or prepare a camera package.
The mentality behind it: keep everything clean and organized to the highest standard by paying attention to every detail. How will the equipment shift around in a pelican case in shipping? Could anything be labeled for quicker access? Are all the necessary cables and pieces included?
This also applies on set to keeping all the camera gear organized and knowing where every piece of equipment is. That way if anything is needed, it can be pulled without hesitation. These are just a few examples that come to mind. This is a great work ethic to have and I try to apply it to any work I do.
Preparation Meeting Opportunity
The old saying that success is “preparation meeting opportunity” is cliché but very true. For example, a couple of weeks into my internship, I got to work under Shane on the Jeep COD (Call of Duty) XP ride experience. It was my first shoot with Shane and I wanted to do my best. Fellow cinematography trainee Freddy Fernandez and I were soon running hundreds of feet of heavy Cam-Lok Banded cable along the ground, through windows, and along rafters.
We distributed power under Shane’s guidance and tried not to fry any lights or electrocute ourselves in the process. We were also rigging practical and fluorescent lighting in the terrorist base portion of the ride. By the end of day two, after a lot of hard work, we had powered and helped light the whole event. Definitely a hands-on learning experience.
The big opportunity came when we filmed the ride experience. I was one of the 12 shooters and got to operate a camera. It was the magic hour; the sun was setting, and the pressure was on to get the coverage we needed. I was in charge of getting a drive-over shot of the Jeeps going from 0-60 mph and was told to put the camera in the road.
Unfortunately, I was overthinking and didn’t want to risk breaking my camera. So I placed it on the side of the Jeep’s path. After a few takes, I came back to show my footage to Shane, but one look at his face and I knew I screwed up bad. My shot was supposed to be the Jeeps driving OVER the camera dead center in the road. Panic set in and I felt terrible.
The sun had almost set and we had one take left. I needed to fix this fast, so I grabbed a second camera and bolted back to my position. I placed the cameras in both directions back to back in the center of the road. Long story short, I got the coverage needed and it made it into the final cut of the edit. It was quite the internal struggle, but it was a relief to come out ok. This a lesson I learned the hard way, but will never make that mistake again.
What I’ve learned
When an opportunity comes, if preparation is done well, it ensures success and prevents headaches. Preparation comes in a few different forms. Being mentally prepared for any challenges, knowing your equipment including the ins and outs of the camera systems, always keeping your tools at hand. (This has saved me a few times.) Keeping a spare set of clothes and rain gear handy, and being able to switch roles are just a few examples. In summary, do whatever you can to be at your best when an opportunity comes. If you can switch roles, more opportunities will come your way.
The demands of filmmaking always have the potential to catch us off guard or manifest a situation where we wish we were more prepared. Trusting your instincts and stepping out of your comfort zone are essential for improvement. I have heard Shane call this “punting” when all else fails. Murphy’s Law applies on set a lot and you need to be able to improvise. I don’t think there is a formula for this, but you improve with years of experience.
The second half of this is being able to accept mistakes and learn from them. Being the new guy, PA, intern, etc., it is natural to become defensive and avoid admitting mistakes. However, if you don’t accept your mistake and learn from it, you’re bound to do it again. I had an old co-worker refer to this as “failing forward.”
Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You get what you put into an internship and you’re there to LEARN. So, when appropriate: ask questions and absorb as much information as possible. This also applies to receiving instructions on set as well. I have found that if something is unclear, it’s best to just ask instead of assuming and doing something incorrectly. My experience on the Jeep shoot is a prime example of that.
Have a Great Attitude
Getting your foot in the door and making yourself stand out as an intern/ PA /trainee can be difficult, but the best method is to have a great attitude and work ethic. The person that stands out is the one who can work hard on long days and maintain a great attitude. The majority of production gigs you work are the immediate result of someone recommending you and no one wants to bring back someone lazy with a bad attitude. Enthusiasm and passion can go a long way and help make up for lack of experience when starting out.
Always Carry a Camera
Lastly, a piece of advice I hear a lot, ALWAYS have a camera on you. Like a writer always keeping a notepad on them, you don’t know when inspiration may come to you, or when an unexpected opportunity may arise. After wrapping up on the Jeep/Call of Duty set, I was able to attend the Call of Duty XP live event which had one of my favorite bands playing, The Dropkick Murphys.
I had listened to them a ton growing up and had seen them perform probably half a dozen times. Luckily, I had my camera with me and was able to shoot stills of their performance, which was an awesome experience.
The Bottom Line
Those are some of the lessons I have learned so far, and I strive to learn more every day. I have survived the chaos and instability and have landed on my feet. My hard work has paid off and I am now putting my IT background to use working as Shane’s personal assistant. I feel very inspired learning from him and the Elite team and look forward to working on more productions in the future. I would love to hear your tales of hard work breaking into this industry or as a fellow intern.
What are some of your experiences? Good or bad. How did you break through? Or if you’re just starting out, what steps are you taking to make it?
Looking for mentorship in the film industry? Schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with DIT and Colorist Derek Johnson today! This is where you can get expert advice from an industry professional on your career or a particular project.
Derek Johnson is a Digital Loader/DIT with credits in commercials and films like Need for Speed, Nightcrawler, The Ridiculous 6, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows.
Since 2014, Johnson has worked as a freelance colorist and on commercial projects that include Cartoon Network, The History Channel, and Jeep. Other color work includes the documentary The Undocumented Lawyer (streaming on HBO) and Broken (ABC series) as well as music videos and short films.
Johnson works as a Digital Imaging Technician and colorist on feature films, television, and commercials where he values each project as an opportunity to collaborate and learn. As of 2020, Johnson also works at Streamland Media as a Software Operations Specialist supporting numerous feature films and episodic projects. Taking a holistic approach, Johnson pulls from his vast knowledge of set work and post-production to help inform his work.