Climbing the Career Mountain

ECA winners mingle with new indie directors at Technicolor event

By Valentina I. Valentini

Building a career as a cinematographer is no easy task. Great visuals are often overlooked if the project is poorly reviewed or little seen. When a film falls flat with festival audiences, or a new TV show doesn’t make it past a few episodes, the DP may not be remembered, no matter how stunning or surprising the look. That leaves some very talented cameramen and women without the exposure to advance their careers.

Local 600 is trying to change that. They hold networking and educational events throughout the year, promoting and exposing their members. One such gathering is the Emerging Cinematographers Awards (ECAs) Honorees/Film Independent (FIND) Directing Lab networking event. Held this past February, it was hosted by ECA sponsor Technicolor (Hollywood), which provided food and drinks, a showcasing location, and even a behind-the-scenes look at their suite of dailies innovations known as FrameLogic, which addresses “on-set” or “near-set” real-time capability for preliminary color-grading.

“Our sponsors don’t just support us fiscally,” Local 600 President Steven Poster said after the event. “They are involved all year long with the honorees. That’s the kind of support that is so important to a career that is just beginning. To have access to a major laboratory and post-production facility like Technicolor is invaluable.”

2011 ECA Honoree David Mahlmann (L) chats with FIND Directing Lab filmmaker Morna Ciraki

Each ECA honoree screened a reel for directors with projects at FIND and also provided a short work bio. Afterward, the mingling began and before long every single DP was engrossed in conversation with an emerging young director.

“Cinematography opportunities come from being at the right place at the right time,” observed Daron Keet, a 1st AC who took home a 2012 ECA for his short, Ripple Effect. “Like getting opportunities to have my work shown to directors at exactly the moment they needed a cinematographer. I really appreciate our Local being at the right place to help us emerging cinematographers at the right time in our careers.”

A general consensus among the attending Guild members was the advantage of being placed in front of a group of handpicked directors, who had all been accepted by the competitive FIND Directing Lab – a nine-week intensive incubator designed to help directors working in independent film improve their craft and take their current projects to the next level. “These [directors] are filtered out of the pack and they are focused and driven to make their movies,” said operator Pete Villani, a 2012 ECA honoree for the visually dazzling short, Carjack.

2011 ECA Honoree Yueni Zander

“This event is like gold for the ECA honorees,” Poster added. “They are put in a room with directors who have projects that are ready to go. I would have given anything to have had an opportunity like that when I was just getting started.”

For a few ECA honorees, the event secured actual work. After connecting with directors at FIND, 2nd Assistant Michael Allen Lloyd (who received an honorable mention at the 2012 ECAs with his short Dawn) landed a job shooting a scene for Jacob Hatley’s horror Carolina Highway Killer. Part of Hatley’s process in the directors lab is to film a scene from his feature for use in fundraising and exposure efforts.

“Events like this further our craft in the sense that we’re having conversations with our contemporaries,” Lloyd pointed out. “Of course, I would love a shot at working with  Paul Thomas Anderson or Nick Refn, who I consider masters. But this event puts us in front of that next generation of directors. It’s exciting when you meet someone you connect with, like I did with Hatley – not only because we’re both from the ‘dirty south,’ but because we share a sensibility that puts story and characters first, yet still relies heavily on bold decisions and design.”

L to R: FIND Filmmaker Advisor Kelly Thomas, FIND Directing Lab filmmakers Amber Sealey and Morna Ciraki

Over the last decade, Local 600 has put efforts into opening up doors for its members, and this event, like the others let’s the independent film community know that these qualified and talented camera crews are available.

“There’s a stigma in the indie film community,” shares David Mahlmann, SOC, 2011 recipient of an ECA for Numb, “that fosters the rumor of, ‘You can’t afford union camera crews.’ By supporting events with FIND filmmakers, we’re letting the indie community know that we are approachable and that they can afford working with us [with the new signatory ultra-low-budget contracts].”

Although the evening could have been branded as a “first date,” like romantic relationships, ECA shooters understand the need for nurturing communication and creativity to develop a successful partnership. They also understand that evenings like this aren’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to finding the next job.

Dan Lion, Vice President of Technicolor Creative Bridge, demonstrating FrameLogic system

Cameron Duncan, who has won two ECA awards, in 2007 (Year of the Dog) and 2010 (Mr. Marceau), recalled taking advice – or rather a dare – from cinematographer Dana Gonzales, to spend at least 10 minutes per day working to get the next job.

“That’s what he did,” recalls Duncan, “so I figured I would take him up on it. Whether it was re-editing my reel, reconnecting with contacts or branding my name in some way, I stuck to it. There are many more avenues available today with social media, but bugging my agent is pretty fun too!”

2010 ECA Honoree Cameron Duncan

One of those calls paid off big. Just before the 2010 ECAs, when Duncan was getting more opportunities, like shooting web commercials and an indie feature that had the ambitions of a blockbuster, he called Jimmy Muro who was prepping to shoot Southland.

“I told him that I had reclassified to operator,” Duncan recalls, “since he’d known me as an assistant. He also knew I was a shooter and he took a chance and brought me onto the show. I’m now operating my third season and have gotten to DP an episode. He’s also brought me onto the pilot for Longmire, which got picked up and I was offered the alternating DP position along with Muro.”

FIND Directing Lab filmmaker Amber Sealey