By David Weldon
In Part 1 of this series, I dove into how my career began in college and subsequently how it began to take off as I was graduating. There are a few things that I want to dive into that I feel are important to know, that I hope will help you in your process on your journey.
Where do you start your career?
Internships. “Spec” Projects. Volunteer. Low-No Deferred Pay. Do not be afraid to work for free right out of college, it will pay off. (I still work today for free a lot!) The relationships you are going to make will become what give you the ability to open doors to new projects and ultimately better pay. When you’re coming out of college you know nothing and you have to understand that. When you match your skills up against someone who has been doing it for 20 years, you could actually be better than they are at particular things, but this isn’t going to give you an advantage. You will lose out because you are missing the relationships required to get people to allow you to get involved in those particular projects.
It’s a Mindset
If you go into a project with the mindset that “I’m not getting paid” or “This is Bullsh*t,” “It’s not fair” – you will fail. Your attitude isn’t going to be what it needs to be, you are going to be negative about your approach to the day on set.
Kill that mindset right away. Embrace your opportunity, because that is exactly what it is! It is an opportunity! You may have been asked to come grip on a passion project that you knew nothing about, only to find out that the project was being put together by an up and coming Director who has built a pilot to an episodic series, only for that series to be picked up and then you may get an opportunity to come work on that series.
When I was starting out, I got an internship with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL. This was my Senior year at Robert Morris University just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. At that time, I was Producing/Directing NCAA Men’s and Women’s Division 1 Hockey for a live broadcast on the local community access station (as we talked about in Part 1 of this series). I had a pretty good thing going, something to be proud of, our whole team was proud of this accomplishment.
The moment I came to the Penguins, I had to get knocked down a few pegs. I was ready, I wanted to get going! Let’s make some awesome content! I want to help! It makes sense right? Wrong.
You have to consider your role and the overall position of the environment you become a part of. Inside the corporate structure that was the Pittsburgh Penguins, there’s politics to consider. Certain things have to happen in a particular way in order for them to get done. Sometimes you’re going to disagree with that process, but learning why it happens this way and how you work within that structure will play a major role in your future development as a filmmaker.
My goal at this time was to be a Television Sports Director. I wanted to be inside the TV Trucks calling out the shots, “Ready camera 1, TAKE CAMERA 2!” Haha, always my favorite, camera operators hate that. (Obviously my taste for narrative work and filmmaking grew stronger and I changed my career path, one that I am on now, working as a DP). Learning and understanding how the “machine” works only gave me the ability to get ready and get my mindset together.
The People In Your Corner
When you get to the top of your game, as a Director, DP, whatever it may be, you get the choice to pick the people you put around you. It’s on you to make the right choices. When you’re starting out, you don’t always get to pick those who go around you, because you’re at the bottom. So how does this work? What do you do?
You must learn in all aspects of relationships. Maturity is a skill, and it grows with time and experience to people, techniques, and environments. You must remind yourself that no matter what age you are, there is more than just how old you are that equates to maturity. You could be 35 years old and not mix into a team, but it has nothing to do with your experience, and could have everything to do with your interpersonal skills.
Here is what I suggest you should do:
- Break yourself down by reminding yourself that you know nothing.
- The environment you are walking into, the people within, know everything because they have the keys to the answers you are looking for. You must learn to work within their structure
- Do not attempt to change the world in one day. Take small bites so you don’t choke.
- Being reserved and quiet, waiting for your moment, does not make you weak and does not say that your voice is not “heard.” Oftentimes groups of people will look to the person who works hard and works with the least amount of noise to find unique answers and points of perspective.
- Work hard by working smart. Be straightforward and honest as often as you can, but remember that the people around you want solutions and are not always interested in hearing the entire story of what is going on, but just want the solution.
- Solutions only. As mentioned above, give a Reader’s Digest version of what you have found, unless you are asked specifically.
I want to share a little Behind the Scenes of the television show I worked on for the Penguins called “Inside Penguins Hockey.” This was sometime in 2008, possibly even 2007, so roughly 10 years ago, thus the 4:3 aspect ratio. I was part-time with the team as a Camera Operator/Editor and we did this show at the old Civic Arena (before it was torn down) about once a month. Most of the people you’re going to see on camera are the people who built my career and guided me for many years. I still talk to a lot of them today, they’re all still in the industry, some are freelancers and a few are still with the team as full-time employees. Those are the people who were in my corner. I did my best to be myself and soak up as much knowledge as possible.
If you are interested, you can take a look at an episode of “Inside Penguins Hockey” from 2011 when I was the Producer/Director of the show. I’m glad I saved some of the old videos I worked on in my career, Vimeo is great for that!
Remember that this industry is all about relationships. As I am writing this article, I got a phone call from a DP that I met a few years ago when I first started working with Shane. We have followed each other’s work and stayed in touch a little bit and recently he mentioned that he was going to be shooting a feature and he was looking for Camera Operators. I am currently working towards becoming freelance full-time, now that I’m a member of Local 600 (International Cinematographers Guild) as an Operator, and he was aware that I was moving on from my position here at Hurlbut Visuals.
Next Steps For Your Career
Don’t stress so much about your journey, as it will constantly be changing and altering. I remember how my journey began with Shane and Lydia, by seeing a Tweet while I was sitting at the Toyota Dealership in Moon Township, PA. I was waiting to get my oil changed and Shane posted about needing 10 interns for a few months. That process began with one Tweet back to Shane, which led to an in person meeting at NAB, an interview in LA, and my life/career taking a major turn. Perhaps I’ll tell that story sometime as well.
It is interesting when you capture something on social media, only to have it remind you of the moments of nervousness of meeting & speaking to the person who would forever alter your future…
Shane Hurlbut, ASC