STUDENT TO PRO
Networking effectively. Long hours at film school. Toiling on other people's student films. Winning prestigious "student of the year" awards. Developing a stunning reel. All these activities require intense focus, hard work, determination and talent. But younger people with their sites set on a creative job in post production also need some down-to-earth habits — like never changing your cell phone number. And luck — like walking into the right place at the right time. And once they land that dream job they may be in for a surprise. Working for a living can be a big change compared to college course work. And making the adjustment to full-time employment can be a shock, even if you get to wear the same clothes you wore as an undergrad.
Post interviewed five post production professionals from around the country to see how they got their jobs and how they adjusted to work life. One thing they all needed to do was master people skills — that's how to work with others, especially clients.
The best way for an editor to hone his art is by editing, and at USC's School of Cinematic Arts a student with editing chops can easily get his name around and pick up lots of gigs cutting other students' films as a means to an end — eventually becoming a skilled professional editor with a good job.
That's what Chad Galster did to the point that he would practically live in the USC Avid lab, cutting others' thesis films while also doing his own work. Galster honed his reputation among his peers while still in school. "There are times when I had two or three thesis films concurrently," he says. "I just wanted to get as much experience as I could. We were able to spend so much time on the equipment that really quickly I had a really good understanding of the software and how it works."
Today Galster is in his second season as an editor on MTV's reality series The Hills, but he points out that pushing the right buttons is only part of knowing the editor's many-faceted job and mastering the art of storytelling.
Galster went to work full time in 2004 after four years at USC, but he also worked part time during his last year at school. One way to hold down a job, edit other students' films and also satisfy course requirements was to stay up. Sometimes Galster would put in 18-hour days at school. Five years ago USC would have its Avid lab open 24/7, but today the school closes up the lab to give students a chance to sleep.
USC is known for its solid networking among graduates, and for Galster's first few years of employment there was always some direct connection to USC grads. In one case one of Galster's instructors — Matt Kregor, who eventually became a friend — hired him as an assistant editor on one project and later Kregor hired Galster as an editor on a Discovery Channel series.
One of Galster's first paying jobs was at Silhouette Films in Culver City. He actually worked two night jobs the same night in the early days. "One was from 6pm to 2am and the other was from 3am to 10am," he says. "The way I did it was I didn't sleep hardly at all." The second night job was on an indie film called Dry Cycle. "They needed someone to hook up their Avid. They said they also needed someone to sync dailies." So the production hired Galster as an assistant and about six weeks later the editor left and Galster became the editor of his first feature film.
All of this was while Galster was still in school. "I'm sort of an example of that cliché of opportunity meeting preparation. I was able to rise to challenges and was fortunate enough to have a lot of people have my cell phone number. You can never change your cell phone number once you get into this business. I get calls from people who knew me three, four years ago — out of the blue they'll call."
Networking in Hollywood editing is not some sleazy, cocktail-party banter Galster says. "You network through your work. You demonstrate that you have a strong work ethic and decent interpersonal skills — it's a network of people who you've worked for. This whole business is entirely referral-based. What keeps you getting jobs, I think, is how much someone enjoys spending eight hours a day in a dark room with you. My goal as an editor is to always make people feel that they're in good hands when I'm working for them."
When jobs come, they come sporadically at first, but there's a tipping point, if you work hard enough. "You take whatever you can get and you do the best you can," Galster says. "After a while, if you stick around long enough, all of a sudden you realize that you're never out of work."
Galster saw an old teaching at USC come true: "The people in your class are the people you are going to be working with. And you hire the people you know and the people you're comfortable with."
His "transition" was unusual since he was working before leaving school. Once you get your first credit on a television program as a full editor — Galston's was Expeditions to the Edge on National Geographic Channel — finding work comes much easier. "You're an editor, because you've had something that's been on TV."
Today Galster has been a full editor for going on six years. He's worked two seasons on Discovery Channel's Surgery Saved My Life and is currently in his second season on MTV's weekly reality show The Hills. Galster edits on essentially the same version of Avid Media Composer he was cooking on at USC. "The reason being it's a workhorse — it's incredibly stable. We're tied into a Unity system with between eight and 10 of us editing the series at any given time."
Another way to get a solid start in a post production career is to intern your way through college summers. This way, when you graduate and return to the shop where you interned, the real shock would be getting paid.
Adam Greenberg is a new hire who's been around New York City's Post Factory so long, he's more like an old hire. He put in three summers of intern work there, starting at the end of freshman year, and wound up having a talk with management around graduation time last year.
Greenberg attended Boston University's College of Communications, where he learned Avid Media Composer and Adobe After Effects. Thanks to some deft maternal networking (Greenberg's mom knew film editor Tim Squyres who has cut many of Ang Lee's films), he got an interview with the owner of the Post Factory. "I'm very lucky," Greenberg says. At his interview with Jim O'Hagen, Greenberg showed up in suit and tie. "I got here and everyone's walking around in sandals, flip-flops, shorts," he recalls, adding that his initial chat with O'Hagen "was more about personality than skills. Especially with film and television, you have to have the skills. But if you have the personality, if you know how to work with people, it makes it all that much better."
Greenberg spent his first summer as a basic intern, going on runs to drop off and pick up tapes, making dubs, and even "some forms of online editing" on a Symphony Nitris. Cash Cab,which was a new show then, had an online editor and an assistant. Post Factory had about eight full-time clients at the time and, as now, was attracting indie film and TV series production companies looking for Avid editing space.
But not all films at Post Factory were indies — Greenberg got a thrill one day in his first summer when he walked into work to find director Sam Mendes and editor Walter Murch at work on Jarhead. "Walter Murch was probably the nicest and most intelligent person I'd ever met and talked to in my entire life," Greenberg says.
Post Factory is an all-Avid house for offline and online editing, but O'Hagen brought in Final Cut Pro editing systems for Murch. Another notable aspect of Murch at work is that he stands — Greenberg and the Post Factory crew set up his editing system and monitors so they could be seen and used from a standing position.
For Greenberg it was important to be putting in his 40-hour weeks at Post Factory — staff soon began to recognize him as a valuable employee rather than a student popping in once or twice a week. "That was probably one of the best decisions I made — to be coming in every day, all day," he says.
"Whenever they had a big workload, they'd just show me how to do stuff," Greenberg says of the Post Factory staff. "I was doing titles and graphics while they were doing music and sound effects for it."
He worked in After Effects and they then moved his work onto the Symphony. As far as his acuity on Avid, Greenberg says he could "open up and find a file, but I could by no means finish something or troubleshoot anything" at his new job.
His second summer, O'Hagen hired Greenberg as a production assistant making dubs, arranging rooms, providing customer service, hooking up Avids and "basically doing everything a concierge would do to make sure clients are happy." Interspersed with the client contact Greenberg also learned the machine room at The Post Factory — and its many digital video formats.
Greenberg, as you'd imagine, had to deal with life on a zero-sum budget during the summers that he interned and lived at home. "But it really turned into something where those five days a week were worth more for the people I met and the connections I made. I've heard that a good internship is worth its weight in gold, and it's totally true." At a staff party at the end of Greenberg's third summer, he received business cards from 20 or 30 industry pros who all encouraged him to call them the following year once he graduated for a job or a reference.
After graduating from Boston U, Greenberg checked in with O'Hagen and learned that the facility manager at Post Factory's expansion space was leaving. As a full-time employee Greenberg would come in early, work late and work occasional weekends. "This past year was such a shock getting out of college and realizing that this was the real world."
Today Greenberg's hours are more predictable, and he's working as an all-round production assistant back at Post Factory's main facility. After hours, although clients do work at night, "there's always an open system and to just get on it and mess around for an hour, even if you just go through a manual, is really helpful." Cash Cab's production team is still working at Post Factory and Greenberg gets to "add a graphic or two" for the show on the DS Nitris. Cash Cab's post supervisor is Nick O'Gorman and the show uses Post Factory online editor Jimmy Drakoulias and assistant Josh Luddeni.
The best thing about the Post Factory, Greenberg says, was that "the people taught me what I needed to know and how to get things done. Every day I'm learning something new."
Superfad's motion-graphic installation for Target, set up in Dallas's Victory Park last year, is a mesmerizing, ever-evolving black-and-white cityscape that seems to grow organically and spread fruitfully to a jazzy beat as a male and a female voice define the word "connected" at a cool, rhythmic pace. The :46 Art Connects (which does show some red when the Target logo appears) won an award at this year's AICP show in New York and was co-directed by Will Johnson and Will Campbell.
Campbell was given his responsibility for the high-profile-client job shortly after joining Superfad (www.superfad.com) and Campbell has since gone on to work on broadcast campaigns such as a humorous three-spot package for Pony running shoes.
Campbell is a recent grad of SCAD — the Savannah College of Art and Design — but like many creative post pros, his route to his first full-time job was somewhat circuitous.
Campbell got into motion graphics because it "allowed me to touch a little bit of everything, so that each job I got on I used a different set of skills." Campbell started his college career as a photography major at the College of Santa Fe and then branched out into cinematography. His interest in art and design and "taking different media and combining them into one thing" eventually brought him to SCAD's Savannah campus where he had heard about the school's motion-graphics program.
As a SCAD undergrad, Campbell was savvy in his design choices for his own Website (www.woccovision.com), which would serve as a kind of online demo reel for seeking jobs: "I modeled my work, my Website and my demo reel after the companies that I wanted to work for. My role models were actually people in the industry."
Campbell spent the summer of his junior year interning at motion graphics house Stardust in LA, making contacts and "getting an idea of where I wanted to go. That made the transition much, much easier."
During the winter of 2006, his senior year, Campbell took a week off and went on interviews he'd set up with 10 companies in LA. Although he had some contacts established, many of Campbell's interviews were the result of "cold emailing." He says, "I would email them in the middle of the night so it was at the top of their email list the next morning. I'd leave a link to my site and tell them what I was looking for." On that site was Campbell's award-winning senior thesis project, The Lemon Tree, which he created with a team of SCAD students. In fact, The Lemon Tree consumed most of Campbell's time during his second-to-last semester. That was on purpose, so he would have a stunning visual in his reel to attract potential employers while job-searching in his last semester. Another attractive item in his resume is Campbell's 2005 BDA award for student of the year for one of his SCAD animations. In 2006, The Lemon Tree won the same award, giving Campbell back-to-back wins in the same category.
As Campbell interviewed, he encountered Kevin Batten, a partner at Superfad who interviewed him, and "he liked my work and understood that I also wanted to build my body of work and he seemed interested in helping me do that as I helped the company." The first question in that interview was, "Are you an animator or a designer?" and Campbell's answer was, "Well, both — I like animating what I design," and Superfad gave him the opportunity to do both.
As graduation approached, Campbell didn't fool around. He arranged to pull up stakes a week prior to graduation day and used that time to drive cross-country to Superfad's LA shop. Today Campbell is doing some live-action directing along with "a ton of animation design and art directing. This is definitely what attracted me to Superfad, playing all the different roles."
As far as where Campbell is headed artistically, a lot of his interests and talents can be seen in the 3:06 The Lemon Tree, which he created with co-director Tuyet Anh Vu. "It's a piece I wanted to make and a story I wanted to tell," he says, but it's also a job-finding tool.
The video fuses live action - four actors and props via greenscreen — with Campbell's memorable, intertwining 2D artistry; 3D architectural modeling of an aging cityscape; and old-fashioned tenements all of it (mostly) rendered in an ashen gray. The Lemon Tree (www.thelemontree.tv) has an original score by Dan Decon and a warm voiceover that describes a young boy's imaginative life in a dreary apartment.
Next up for Campbell is a new short film he's directing called The Nature Between Us.
With a memorable name and even more memorable visuals on his reel, Gabriel Tick quickly became a valuable staff member at New York's Click 3X, where he is now a junior animator/designer. An employee now for a little over a year, Tick originally got his name in front of a Click 3X talent scout while still at the Parsons School of Design. His focus at Parsons was illustration — drawing and painting. So how does that get you a cool job at a hot shop?
Tick likes to paint realistic figures in surreal landscapes and that talent ultimately came to the fore in his work for a Dr. Ocatgon music video called Trees. The artist started out as an intern after first meeting Click 3X partner Jason Mayo at a Parsons career day. "I had a sketch book with me and he took a look at it and said, 'Wow. I have no idea what I'd do with you but I really like what you're doing and I'd love for you to come into my company and we'll do some work together.' I didn't even know what motion graphics really was." Still, Tick had been learning Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop at school.
Tick's sketch book showed a lot of type over imagery, textures and photographs. In addition to collage work, he did realistic drawings and Mayo could see useful applications in computer work. Tick interned the summer following his junior year.
"My first day as an intern I saw the place and thought the office was amazing; it looked great and everyone was really nice," Tick recalls. Click designers were conceptualizing the look for a new Dr. Octagon video for the song "Trees." Mayo got Tick working with head Flame artist Mark Szumski and Szumski loved Tick's original sketches of character design and backgrounding for the video — so did the decision-makers at MTV. The video debuted in November 2006 with a lot of Tick's background design and environments as well as the trees visible in the piece. "A lot of the clouds you see are paintings that I did that were animated in 3D in Flame."
That first summer, Tick's one-day-a-week internship quickly turned into "why don't you just try and be here every day," Tick says. With that, he was offered the same pay he was earning as a part-time assistant to a fashion photographer to come in as a paid intern every day. "It was a great opportunity and a dream come true," he says. "I loved getting my hands on real world projects and getting experience. I learned so much so quickly about the post world and motion graphics and compositing that it inspired me to push in that direction. By them telling me what elements I needed to animate I learned the whole pipeline."
Back at Parsons for senior year, Tick pursued his major — painting — but also took as many additional computer courses as he could fit in, including After Effects, 3D, Final Cut and compositing.
Tick continues to enjoy working in pre-production, creating artwork or elements in After Effects that are subsequently manipulated in Flame by Click 3X artists. He doesn't feel a burning need to become a Flame artist himself. "I'm having a lot of fun doing what I'm doing now," Tick says. "I just want to keep learning more and doing more interesting things and doing more creative jobs."
Recently, in addition to more music videos and commercial spots, Tick and co-worker Erica Gorochow contributed the opening logo treatment for Twenty120 (www.twenty120.com) a site devoted to the work of motion-graphic and video artists who produce one-minute-and-20-second themed films for the site. Click 3X staffer Aaron Vasquez helped polish Tick's After Effects work in Flame.
Brickyard VFX in Boston has a new junior compositor — Charles LaPage — who had interned at the shop during his senior year at Boston University and started full time this summer after graduation. While there are many schools offering training in editing, audio, animation and graphics, there are not too many that will sit you down at a Flame and teach you compositing beyond the After Effects world. So it would seem that LaPage's new career will make a fine setting for his college major: psychology.
LaPage had been very interested in the art of compositing dating back to his high school years and decided to research who was doing what in TV commercials. Brickyard VFX (www.brickyardvfx.com) came up as local compositing heroes right in LaPage's neighborhood. "I just came down, knocked on the door and asked if they'd be interested in hiring me. I'd brought some of my previous hand-drawn work and had a conversation with Dave Waller, and it worked out from there," says LaPage. Waller himself is an accomplished Flame artist and he was impressed with LaPage's extra-curricular efforts in editing, After Effects course work and short animations. While at BU LaPage saw plenty of production and post production action, including Avid and VFX courses, as well as design classes and 3D CG (he created a short animation in Maya) while maintaining his psychology major.
"When I started as an intern, the agreement was, if I worked during the day I could stick around at night and learn my way around Flame," LaPage says, "and that was huge. I spent every night here that I could until midnight just trying to learn Flame. It's not something you have lectures on in class. But everyone here has been super helpful in explaining concepts like lighting and the way layering and compositing works."
As a psych major, LaPage would not be doing a senior thesis film. However, he did create a cool animated short for his CG course. In LaPage's animation, Teddy Experiment, a teddy bear sits on a couch in front of a TV and tries to open a bag of chips. Lacking the necessary opposable thumbs, the stuffed teddy begins to fight the bag of chips. Ultimately, the bear throws the bag onto the floor and jumps down on it, causing the chips to burst out. (However, his mouth, being stitched shut, presents another problem.)
"The story wasn't too complicated, but it allowed me to explore different areas of 3D," LaPage says of the Maya job. While LaPage was completing his 3D animation he was still taking a full course load at school, working as an intern and working in a neighborhood bar on nights and weekends for extra cash.
Brickyard's Waller did not see the teddy bear short at the time of LaPage's internship interview, but he did see hand-drawn work and promotional opening graphics LaPage had done that demonstrated his skill at rotoscoping and effects work created in software packages like After Effects and Sony Vegas.
Today, LaPage's hours are less outrageous than they were during his school days, but he fills in the after-hours honing his craft on Flame. As a junior compositor, LaPage works on Foundry's Nuke during the day. LaPage feels lucky to find full-time work at the same place where he interned — Brickyard recently opened a subsidiary, called Brickyard Filmworks, devoted to feature film work.
At press time, LaPage was working on a major feature film being shot outside Boston. Since the film has scenes set in Alaska, LaPage was helping senior compositor Eric Wilson create frosty-looking sky and background replacements. As the production sent in extra shots, LaPage was soon working for "everyone that I could help out."