An Open Letter to Young Filmmakers & Photographers

Silouette crewDear Young Filmmakers and Photographers

A terrible thing happened on a movie set. Somebody died. Her name was Sarah. She was an experienced Camera Assistant in a Union. She was young.

I am writing to you with hope, as your elder brother and a student of the old school, to ask you, to plead to you – if you EVER feel unsafe on a set – SPEAK UP.

In your career, you will be asked to work in dangerous places. Some will be glaringly unsafe, others maybe not so obvious. An order might even be as crazy as setting up on an active railroad line! But more likely it will be near busy traffic, on the top of a building, over deep water, in bad weather, close to explosives, or worst of all – shooting anything anywhere with a crew that has zero experience doing what they are about to do. From the next giant action adventure movie and a crew of a thousand to shooting french-fry grease in a studio with a crew of three – you will find yourself in the shadow of risk one day.

All of my old school colleagues can tell you at least one story of being asked to do something UNSAFE. Some have even said yes. I have, and I hate that I didn’t say NO.

We were young too. Youth breeds passionate ambition and naiveté. It is too easy to be blinded by the flame. There are inherent pressures of being the new person on the crew and you want to prove worth. You don’t want to rock the boat or you think you need the job. You certainly want more work another day. Or maybe – you just don’t know any better.

Sets should be controlled environments where artists in filmmaking and photography can work comfortably and safely. Terms such as owned, permitted, and locked-up should mean, that you as a professional crew member, are now safe to proceed to do what we all love. NEVER EVER should you be on any set – in fear of injury or by no means, working and waiting to escape from danger at a second’s notice.

If you ever need to shoot anything in a dangerous environment, SAFETY is always first. Many discussions should be had, permissions need to be granted, safety meetings should be held and those measures need to be applied, experienced professionals MUST be part of the crew, and ALL of your sets need to be CONTROLLED.

Sarah was killed on an uncontrolled set.

To all the writers and producers or that person with that vision for that shot – STOP!  Ask yourself: does it really have to be in a location that will put the crew in danger?  Surely, if you have the resources and experienced pros that can create the shot within the parameters mentioned above – consider it.  But if something is so obvious to your human nature that the shot has probable RISK of injury – THINK HARDER.

And frankly, if you are calling yourself a film or photography professional and not getting any of this or if you are an admitted unsafe set instigator, LEAVE this business immediately and stop saying you are one of us!

My plea is not exclusively to moviemakers. I have seen too many photographers shooting local fashion or the next music video – draping their models on train tracks or having them swim in a polluted, high-current river. Graduation and engagement pictures are being taken on rickety fire escapes or in abandoned private properties that have weak floors, broken glass, and numerous environmental hazards.

STOP putting people in harms way.

I disagree emphatically with those who say, “It’s easier to apologize then to ask permission.” Today’s trespasser is tomorrow’s unsafe set decision-maker. There is no amount of sorry that can repair the loss of life.

Doing what you’re doing is a privilege and an honor. We work in one of the most fantastic industries on the planet. The work can be dangerous. Please, be equally respectful of the gift and the danger within it.

Work with like-minds and speak up – together.  Ask questions.  Be smart.

Stay safe.

And don’t ever be afraid to say no.

Jamie
Jamie Vesay
Location Scout, Manager, Producer for Motion Pictures
Been doing it for 20+ years.
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Production Nirvana

It is a feeling – when a creative project’s subject matter or locations or fellow crew or all of the above meet… production joy happens.

Perhaps it was a concept design meeting or brain-storming session or a shoot, which you find yourself walking away from feeling THIS is why I do what I do. Things clicked. Weather was optimum. The light was… awesome. Shots were magical. The vibe was perfect.

Production nirvana. If you experienced it, you know. If you haven’t, you must do so… to understand. Production nirvana.

On a few of mine, the location was the obvious embrace. Natural locations; from coastal towns to annual harvests to national parks. Special places that instantly warm you prior to frame one.

People do it to me too.

I have met centurions for a project and wept as they told stories from their childhood. I experienced double nirvana on the same project when we returned to film them. I experienced young kids with troubled beginnings that were rescued by forces greater than us all. The project was for a cause. It too made me cry.  A good cleansing cry.

When I work with top-shelf professionals, from the crafts to on-camera talent, and the collaboration turns out to be a wonderful overall fit – it overwhelms me and stirs me to career pause. It is inspirational nirvana.

I relish that I’ve been paid to: watch sunrises and sunsets, scout beaches, go fishing, interview unique characters, play golf, travel, eat new foods, and set-off fireworks. We all have a list of notes we can compare. Never ever feel like you have done enough – yet.

One wonders, out of all the projects there will ever be, why can’t they all be like this? Until then, I wish production nirvana for you all. When you feel it once you will wish it too. Promise.

 

 

Content COPYRIGHT Jamie Vesay   USE requires permission.

Definitions

Edited April 2016

cropped-sunrise-in-trees-and-fog-jamie-vesay-trd-via-cameraplus-iphone-small-wm.jpgWhat if you woke up one day and everything about what you do for a living was different? From the tangibles and tools, from the process to the people; all of them have been renamed. The services you use for your job and work life now mean and do something else. All technical formats you are familiar with have changed. Your crew, titles, and tasks have new names – and definitions.

As a twenty-plus years working professional within the production of commercial images (new definition) – and more often struggling to find the best match of project, fair wage, and career equity – the answers to What the hell has happened? can be found within the comparison of meanings.

In my opinion, the dictionary has been rewritten.

Most businesses (of any kind) experience change in their lifetimes and as the saying goes, ‘adapt or die.’ But since our industry’s paradigm has been so altered – many of the titles, processes, paperwork, and technology (dressed as latest-greatest meets previously-used hybrids) have become unrecognizable.

Theories aplenty are spewed daily about how the creative industry can be better and how we can ALL thrive – not just survive. Aside from the obvious upside down math of too many cameras for not enough clients, old-school colleagues will still retort the basics of business:

  • “If your product is good, people will find you – and pay.” 
  • “If your process is consistently smooth, clients will return.” 
  • “Bring and build value.”
  • “Provide a return on investment.”

I agree with these practices in an industry where the buyer knows the definition of these things. But in a business cycle of good-enough, project award decision-making reflecting nepotism, and race to the lowest price (even FREE!) – words such as skills, experience, craft (?), mindset, and client services are rarely part of conversations.

It wasn’t always like this.

I try to remain idealistic about the latter elements still hanging on and in some circles, still being required. Yet I continue to experience their decline and disinterest on new projects. Embarrassingly, I find myself pining for the basics of a worker; loyalty, dress code, safety, communication, and being on time.

Yes, this post is a subjective to marketplace. Some of you may be so busy with work, you couldn’t give a flying about any of this. If you are crazy busy, you’re not even reading this…   Perhaps some of the big picture answers are located near the fact that standard operating procedures in our industry were never ever defined and effectively enforced.

As the questions continue to waste more of our time, one thing I know for sure. Nobody knows the definition of the future.

 

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Photos / words are COPYRIGHT Jamie Vesay 2012-2016  USE requires permission.