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Hi all,

I'm a Los Angeles based indie DP, union gaffer & lighting technician (IATSE Local 728).  I'm on the cusp of putting some of my lighting technician work behind me and going full time freelance as an indi cinematographer and commercial gaffer. 

I've been in LA for nearly 10 years, and while I love what I do, I don't know that I see myself living in Los Angeles long term.  Atlanta has become a strong contender as a place to relocate to and continue to work in the industry.

I'm curious if any folks on this forum can speak to the independent film scene in Atlanta.  Obviously major studios film in ATL, but I'm talking about independent features with budgets of a couple hundred thousands to a couple million, not Marvel movies.  Can you speak to the numbers of indi films that originate in Atlanta, as opposed to LA producers and directors that simply seek out Georgia as a location because of advantageous tax credits and take their DPs with them?  I'm trying to see if an independent and commercial DP career could advance and continue with residency in Georgia.

Thank you in advance for any insight.

Mike

 

 

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I've had this conversation with a few mentors of mine when I was in college. I was in Chicago and didn't know if I should stay or move to LA/NYC. I brought up tax incentive states like Georgia or Louisiana and it was virtually agreed that those states are great for work as crew, but department heads like a DP or PD almost always come from LA/NYC for productions big and small.

I would imagine there's an indie scene in Georgia that chooses department heads who live locally, but it may be difficult to crack into that network given how many people do move to Georgia for the productions that are shooting there. Luckily, there's a lot of work happening there, so it may be a similar experience to starting out in LA in terms of crewing for projects while trying to meet new filmmakers local to the area.

Timing wise, I'm not sure when you should move given how COVID is surging through Georgia and California. That's a personal choice and you don't have to explain it. 🙂

---

Anecdotally, I moved to LA almost immediately after college and since have shot indie features at the budget levels you mentioned in states like Oregon, Illinois, Missouri, and New Mexico. All of those filmmakers were living local to those states and my network in LA connected me with them to shoot their productions. It's a tough choice to make, but I hope my anecdotal experience helps!

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AJ, thank you for this information. I'm in a similar position and am not sure if I should stay local or eventually move to a larger market such as LA or NYC. I'm located in Upstate New York in a small town between Rochester and Syracuse. I'm currently working as a freelance cinematographer and camera crew member on local micro-budget short and feature films on weekends and nights, as I have a main job during the day Monday-Friday that is unrelated to film. Whenever things (hopefully!) get back to normal with Coronavirus, I plan on leaving my day job and freelancing full-time, as long as I feel I can get consistent work. I also want to try and find work as a camera PA on larger-budget productions to get experience on larger sets. A local professional told me I could find enough work locally without moving to a larger market such as LA or NYC, but I'm not quite sure. New York State also has tax incentives for film production and there have been some major studio films shot here, but I believe a lot of them bring in their own crew from outside. There aren't a ton of indie films shot around here and a lot of local indie cinematographers shoot weddings as well for additional work. Moving to a larger market would definitely be a major decision I would have to think carefully about. Did you know other professionals and/or have jobs lined up when you moved out to LA?  Mitchell 

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16 minutes ago, Mitchell Priebe said:

Did you know other professionals and/or have jobs lined up when you moved out to LA?

Fortunately, a good chunk of my friends in film school were living in LA when I moved out and they were able to get me on one of their jobs as an AC/Juicer/Grip. Those crew jobs allowed me to cover my living expenses while I shot micro to no budget shorts and features in town. Eventually those micro to no budget projects become just low budget projects and then ok budgets, etc etc etc. While in LA, I did a wedding gig every now and then too, so it's not unusual. (A gig's a gig) [I'm also still shooting low budget films, the struggle is still real]

The thing to keep in mind about moving to a larger market is managing your overhead. A lot of film students move to LA/NYC and get on set crewing. It's a good idea because you meet a lot of people quickly expanding your network. However, more jobs like that will pile on quickly and the pay will increase substantially. Some people just save the extra income for rainy days and still live like they're new in town, but most get used to the higher revenue. There's nothing wrong with that at all; your car dies, your apartment/neighborhood isn't safe, or your student loans are mounting. The issue, though, is that once you get a new car, new apartment, and start tackling your student loans, then your income becomes dependent on those higher paying crew gigs while the DP gigs are still coming in at very low rates.

There are those who move to LA/NYC with work lined up or momentum, but it's never apples to apples. Eventually, you'll have to work on expanding your network and eventually there will be many many slow times and you'll have to be honest with yourself on the living expenses you can manage vs the living expenses you want.

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41 minutes ago, AJ Young said:

A lot of film students move to LA/NYC and get on set crewing. It's a good idea because you meet a lot of people quickly expanding your network.

If I were to move to LA or NYC how would I find these jobs? Mandy Crew, Production Hub, etc.? Thanks for responding. 

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If you want to be a DP - especially on indie film or more artful projects NY or LA is necessary. I would rec moving early and building up there. Spend a lot of time just meeting up with people and networking. hustle. 

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4 hours ago, Mitchell Priebe said:

If I were to move to LA or NYC how would I find these jobs? Mandy Crew, Production Hub, etc.? Thanks for responding.

Yes, and:

  • Craigslist
  • Facebook Groups (that are focused on hiring people)
  • Staff Me Up
  • Your alumni association
  • Leg work with IMDb Pro
  • Film Independent
  • ASC Events
  • Literally walking up to a set and asking for a job (still works, though rarely)

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Great hearing everyone's thoughts on the topic - thanks for taking the time to respond.  AJ, thank you for sharing your experience, notably about the jobs you found in other states.   Much appreciated.

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On 7/21/2020 at 12:59 AM, Michael Helenek said:

Hi all,

I'm a Los Angeles based indie DP, union gaffer & lighting technician (IATSE Local 728).  I'm on the cusp of putting some of my lighting technician work behind me and going full time freelance as an indi cinematographer and commercial gaffer. 

I've been in LA for nearly 10 years, and while I love what I do, I don't know that I see myself living in Los Angeles long term.  Atlanta has become a strong contender as a place to relocate to and continue to work in the industry.

I'm curious if any folks on this forum can speak to the independent film scene in Atlanta.  Obviously major studios film in ATL, but I'm talking about independent features with budgets of a couple hundred thousands to a couple million, not Marvel movies.  Can you speak to the numbers of indi films that originate in Atlanta, as opposed to LA producers and directors that simply seek out Georgia as a location because of advantageous tax credits and take their DPs with them?  I'm trying to see if an independent and commercial DP career could advance and continue with residency in Georgia.

Thank you in advance for any insight.

Mike

 

 

PRE COVID-19:

 Many of the tentpole productions shot here in Atlanta, hired all above the line in Los Angeles and below the line personnel, locally. It was possible to integrate into some of these productions and build strong relationships.

POST COVID-19:

Utilize your West Coast connections to get an agent and speak to friends that may be crewing up for an ATL shoot. Productions are resuming here, albeit at a slower pace than before. Reach out to the shop steward here in Georgia. Utilize social media to gain info on preproduction on upcoming shows. If you can get a foot in at PINEWOOD, SCREEN GEMS or EAGLE ROCK studios, you are off to a good start. It never hurts to stop by PANAVISION Atlanta or the larger rental houses to see who's in town, possibly needs one more. Fortune favors the bold.

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