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Josh Gallegos

A “who you know” industry

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A few of you know I’ve been lingering on this forum for quite a few years, and I’ve absorbed some vital information. I don’t consider myself a gearhead and I’m not mesmerized by the newest cameras that claim to shoot 12k, 8K resolution, it’s overkill and they’re useful for someone like Peter Jackson or James Cameron who create massive epics with heavy CGI, so I don’t really see how it helps stories outside of those parameters.
 

But to the point, I’ve been struggling to get my foot in the door, and the film industry in Houston is really comprised of a few indie filmmakers who self-produce features for 50k dollars or less, so their productions are very small, and they mainly use friends to get their films made. And most of them don’t even shoot in Houston, as it’s not a very interesting city (photographically-speaking). There were some nice shots of Houston in “Paris, Texas” but aside from that, it’s actually a very quiet and sparse city.
 

Even when I attended a small film school I was unable to connect with people as I’ve been introverted and quiet for most of my life, which has been the biggest hindrance in my life. It’s a frustrating situation, and I get that filmmaking isn’t exactly a “full-time” profession outside of Los Angeles or Atlanta, because productions sprawl up every now and then and the jobs are taken by experienced crew. The only networking places for the Houston film industry is on Facebook, and no ones really making anything. Should I pack up and move to a place like Los Angeles? Or should I expect more of the same? I know there’s pervasive poverty for the working class in California, which I am, but I wouldn’t mind living in a van temporarily if it means getting my foot in the industry as anything. I know it’s all dead right now because of COVID-19.

But would I find better opportunities in Los Angeles? Or would that worsen my situation? 

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Most people will work in television and other sectors. if you wish to work in feature film production you need to move to an area where they're making films, assuming you wish to work on a crew. These days crews also work on TV dramas and commercials.

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Depends on what you are trying to do, be a crew member or make you own movies. Things are pretty slow right now all over so I'm not sure this is the time to make any sort of move. I actually don't know how people generically "start" in the industry since everyone seems to find their own unique way of entry. I went to film school and then spent 10 years shooting non-union features in Los Angeles before I joined as a DP, but I only found work at first because of film school contacts. But then, I never worked up the crew ladder, I was a DP in film school and then afterwards. But I didn't make much of a living at it for a decade.  8 years after film school, I recorded my worst earnings in my adult life, I made $2000 total in the year 2000, partly because I was turning down work waiting for the movie "Northfork" to happen and it kept pushing. But the other problem is that I only shot features, I didn't have small work to fill in the gaps.

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2 hours ago, Josh Gallegos said:

It’s a frustrating situation, and I get that filmmaking isn’t exactly a “full-time” profession outside of Los Angeles or Atlanta, because productions sprawl up every now and then and the jobs are taken by experienced crew.

I lived in Los Angeles for two years. I always tell people, I've gotten more done in New Jersey, yet I learned more two years in L.A. than I've learned nineteen years in a small town. You meet many characters in Los Angeles however the best advice I was ever given during my stay was "You have to have something to offer". How I took that statement was "Sure anyone can live in Los Angeles, but anyone can also make a film anywhere."

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30 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Depends on what you are trying to do, be a crew member or make you own movies. Things are pretty slow right now all over so I'm not sure this is the time to make any sort of move. I actually don't know how people generically "start" in the industry since everyone seems to find their own unique way of entry. I went to film school and then spent 10 years shooting non-union features in Los Angeles before I joined as a DP, but I only found work at first because of film school contacts. But then, I never worked up the crew ladder, I was a DP in film school and then afterwards. But I didn't make much of a living at it for a decade.  8 years after film school, I recorded my worst earnings in my adult life, I made $2000 total in the year 2000, partly because I was turning down work waiting for the movie "Northfork" to happen and it kept pushing. But the other problem is that I only shot features, I didn't have small work to fill in the gaps.

I think at this point in my life I’d rather be in a film set as anything, I’m not really learning anything on my own and I’d try and volunteer to shoot student projects, it seems a lot of filmmakers make their connections through film school, that’s the worst thing about the industry, is that you have to know people who actually like you enough to make movies. I know most of the equipment grips use and I think I’d learn crew work a lot faster. I’m also something of a screenwriter, I’ve placed in the semifinals in several contests, and Houston just doesn’t have an industry. I might just move there next year, I’ve been saving up. I have 7k, which isn’t much considering how expensive LA is, but I might as well just try and work as a crew member and continue writing scripts. 

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1 hour ago, Matthew J. Walker said:

I lived in Los Angeles for two years. I always tell people, I've gotten more done in New Jersey, yet I learned more two years in L.A. than I've learned nineteen years in a small town. You meet many characters in Los Angeles however the best advice I was ever given during my stay was "You have to have something to offer". How I took that statement was "Sure anyone can live in Los Angeles, but anyone can also make a film anywhere."

Maybe he was referring to being able to offer a particular talent/skill that made you useful? Maybe not. And I don’t think anyone can live in Los Angeles, I hear it’s a tough city to get by, and I enjoy certain perks in Texas like the ability to conceal carry a firearm for protection, I know California won’t even allow conceal carry, so my permit would be invalid and I’d be taken to jail. I always carry a small Sig Sauer P365 9mm handgun in a kydex holster, I’m small in stature so I keep it for self-defense. But I’ve always had a fascination for Los Angeles, I know it’s an old ugly city for the most part, and it’s overcrowded but I see myself there. 

I agree that films can be made anywhere, but the filmmaker will usually hire their own friends and you need to know how to raise money to make any kind of film. I know that independently, you either have to crowdfund or know rich people to get anything made. 

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16 minutes ago, Josh Gallegos said:

Maybe he was referring to being able to offer a particular talent/skill that made you useful? Maybe not. And I don’t think anyone can live in Los Angeles, I hear it’s a tough city to get by, and I enjoy certain perks in Texas like the ability to conceal carry a firearm for protection, I know California won’t even allow conceal carry, so my permit would be invalid and I’d be taken to jail. I always carry a small Sig Sauer P365 9mm handgun in a kydex holster, I’m small in stature so I keep it for self-defense. But I’ve always had a fascination for Los Angeles, I know it’s an old ugly city for the most part, and it’s overcrowded but I see myself there. 

I agree that films can be made anywhere, but the filmmaker will usually hire their own friends and you need to know how to raise money to make any kind of film. I know that independently, you either have to crowdfund or know rich people to get anything made. 

I would just go for it. I drove there with $2500 in my bank account, no work lined up, no place to live. I got a hotel for a week, during which I searched extensively for rooms for rent where I eventually found a place for rent for $680 dollars per month, month-to-month rent meaning no contract. I could have stayed as long as I wanted because I found it actually much cheaper to live there than back at home. I find the people who say it's a tough city to merely "get by" in are the same types of people who get right out of film school in L.A. with big dreams and unrealistic expectations, which is fine, but subsequently handle their lack of work as "rejection" as oppose to a sign that they need to work harder. I was willing to live in my car at any moment that's how much I wanted to be there at the time. My grandfather always says "Go with your gut" and "You don't know until you try". And he's always right.

Edited by Matthew J. Walker
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@Joshua

Go for it. Take the leap.

@Matthew

Dude, you've got moxie. Grandpops would be proud. Those month-to-month joints have oodles of characters and stories around them. We now occupy an alterverse from the world we occupied a year ago. Build your 'FIELD OF DREAMS', while slanging beer and peanuts at the Dodgers games. Ya dig? People still need crews, the world is still thirsty for originality. Carry on.

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I’m definitely doing it, just as soon as some normalcy returns, so I would estimate around summer 2021. In the meantime I can save up some more money and think about how I’m going to sneak inside the ASC clubhouse and live off of cocktail shrimp and martinis while I find a job. This way I don’t waste money on a hotel and restaurants. 

Edited by Josh Gallegos

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Be prepared though. LA is very very expensive so your dreams would be short lived otherwise because you'd be too consumed just to exist and pay rent with a random job of some sort and such- let alone shooting movies etc. 

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I know, don’t want to end up in a tent, right? Fighting off old pervs trying to sneak in with no pants on. Scary. 

Edited by Josh Gallegos

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25 minutes ago, Giray Izcan said:

Be prepared though. LA is very very expensive so your dreams would be short lived otherwise because you'd be too consumed just to exist and pay rent with a random job of some sort and such- let alone shooting movies etc. 

I know it’s none of my business, but how are people on this forum keeping afloat, seeing as there’s nothing being made? I mean, even if you have savings, that dries up very quickly. I know LA has a serious homeless problem and I even read a story about a working screenwriter who became homeless for several months and he had to sleep and write in his car. I think the writer was someone named Todd Farmer, a horror writer. I know what I’m up against, I know LA isn’t a fairy tale city. That’s why I said LA was a tough city. 

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I know I’m off-topic, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that a lot of LA homeless people are stranded in that city. So many of them are attacked and robbed, and once someone steals their ID/Driver License etc. They can’t travel or get a job, and because of that they starve in the streets and have to beg for money or find food in a trash can. Then they’re forced to move to Skid Row to get benefits and free food. They walk around in piss, feces, and used up drug needles and they become infected with disease and serious infections. A lot of them are raped and forced into selling drugs by notorious criminals. I know for a fact that county prisoners thrive in that area where sex trafficking and drug dealing is rampant and the police doesn’t do anything about it. I hope a kid who is reading this realizes that LA has a dark-side, I really wouldn’t walk around that city without a handgun. Of course all the rich people are shielded from the awful underbelly of this insidious city. But...I haven’t set foot in that city, but I’m well informed.

Edited by Josh Gallegos

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1 hour ago, Josh Gallegos said:

I know I’m off-topic, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that a lot of LA homeless people are stranded in that city. So many of them are attacked and robbed, and once someone steals their ID/Driver License etc. They can’t travel or get a job, and because of that they starve in the streets and have to beg for money or find food in a trash can. Then they’re forced to move to Skid Row to get benefits and free food. They walk around in piss, feces, and used up drug needles and they become infected with disease and serious infections. A lot of them are raped and forced into selling drugs by notorious criminals. I know for a fact that county prisoners thrive in that area where sex trafficking and drug dealing is rampant and the police doesn’t do anything about it. I hope a kid who is reading this realizes that LA has a dark-side, I really wouldn’t walk around that city without a handgun. Of course all the rich people are shielded from the awful underbelly of this insidious city. But...I haven’t set foot in that city, but I’m well informed.

Funny you mention skid row. I once had the bright idea of making a music video for a rapper for free who I saw perform at a club my friends and I went to. The guy's Instagram was strange and full of weird posts that didn't make any sense. Sort of like a manic person's diary who overly liked dark subjects. Ignoring my instinct, I liked his style and his music so I went out of my way to write up a script, gather friends as actors, and hired a gun-fanatic guy from my local gym as security, brought my steadicam rig, the whole nine. In any event it turned out to be what felt just like a setup in the middle of skid row so I booked it and he was in my rearview mirror. Not a fun place to be at 10PM.

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3 hours ago, James Compton said:

@Joshua

Go for it. Take the leap.

@Matthew

Dude, you've got moxie. Grandpops would be proud. Those month-to-month joints have oodles of characters and stories around them. We now occupy an alterverse from the world we occupied a year ago. Build your 'FIELD OF DREAMS', while slanging beer and peanuts at the Dodgers games. Ya dig? People still need crews, the world is still thirsty for originality. Carry on.

I can't tell if this is satire or sarcasm but I like it.

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Ohhh-kay, a lot to unpack here, Josh.

First, you should definitely read "Like Brothers" by Jay and Mark Duplass before you do anything else. It's an honest book that gives realistic advice about starting in the film industry.

10 hours ago, Josh Gallegos said:

Even when I attended a small film school I was unable to connect with people as I’ve been introverted and quiet for most of my life, which has been the biggest hindrance in my life.

You'd be surprised how many working cinematographers, big and small, are introverts. Networking and meeting people takes time, some are good at it and others are bad. However, the biggest factor with networking is luck: the right person, in the right place, at the right time. I recommend reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie

10 hours ago, Josh Gallegos said:

I get that filmmaking isn’t exactly a “full-time” profession outside of Los Angeles or Atlanta, because productions sprawl up every now and then and the jobs are taken by experienced crew. The only networking places for the Houston film industry is on Facebook, and no ones really making anything.

Before I got my Bachelor's from Columbia College, I was attending Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. A made a lot of friends who still live and work in the film industry in Arizona to this day; they own a house, have happy lives, etc. Any state has an industry. Again, it takes time, but there's no reason why you can't get the work that comes into town. Albeit, it may be harder than other markets that have more work coming in, but no impossible.

10 hours ago, Josh Gallegos said:

Should I pack up and move to a place like Los Angeles? Or should I expect more of the same?

Some people are saying you should take the leap and move to LA immediately. I strongly advise against it. LA/NYC are the ideal places to move when you want to grow your filmmaking network (and I highly recommend it), BUT you should only move to LA/NYC when you can afford to.

The best advice I got was to save up 10 months of living expenses (for the desired new city) before moving. When I moved to LA, I calculated that I could spare to live on roughly $1200 a month. This was rent, student loan payments, car insurance, health insurance, phone bill, food, gas, etc. Before I moved to LA, I saved up roughly $10k at my job at the time and made the move in Feb 2015. I moved in with my future wife and started the hustle.

The first year in LA will be very slow. You'll have a hard time finding work, hence why you need to save. Those 10 months of living expenses will allow you to take the freebie work, to meet people, to network, to grow. By the second year, you'll start to get enough regular crew work that you can pay your bills.

All of this means that you are freelancing. Freelancing is hard. While you're saving up, learn about freelancing: https://www.freelancersunion.org/

10 hours ago, Josh Gallegos said:

But would I find better opportunities in Los Angeles?

Yes, in both LA and NYC. There are more working filmmakers here that you can meet. But, it doesn't happen by chance. You have to put yourself out there and actively try to meet people.

3 hours ago, Josh Gallegos said:

I know it’s none of my business, but how are people on this forum keeping afloat, seeing as there’s nothing being made? I mean, even if you have savings, that dries up very quickly.

I'm not afraid to share. Work is painfully slow for me (I still work non-union). I've had two features cancel on me this year because of COVID and numerous other projects and repeat clients cancel as well. EIDL, UI benefits, and the stimulus checks have kept me afloat while work is slowwwwwwly coming back.

Additionally, I'm married; my wife pulls in a regular income which made us break even every month this year financially. I can only imagine what it's like for those flying solo right now. 😞

Outside of COVID, between features I'm shooting content for YouTuber's, short films, and crew for my colleaques. Pro Tip: the best networking is on set and crewing introduces you to more people.

Edited by AJ Young
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Well, AJ, I’m not a fan of the Duplass brothers, and those kind of filmmakers are generally raised in a privileged environment. They surround themselves with white actors and a white cast, I like filmmakers who are trying to break that way of thinking, and I’m not making this into a race thing, but maybe subconsciously they think white actors are better actors and that’s not true. When I saw “Yellow Rose”I saw a cast of diverse talented actors, I never even heard of them but they were all equally amazing. I think there’s enough room for everyone and I’m really sick of seeing the same trope of “elite” actors take over cinemas with their superhero junk . I also haven’t seen many Hispanic female directors or DPs, and I know it’s all about who’s the most talented, but I just can’t accept there isn’t enough diverse talent out there, most of them are ignored and aren’t even given a chance. I’m just going to say it, it’s a racist industry. 

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Pre-Recession and Covid, I would wholeheartedly agree with moving to LA. 

The problem is, we're about to have one of the largest recessions in US history. It will start no matter who wins the election and will probably last 2 years. With Covid taking off again and probably shutting down a much larger part of the industry then it already has in upcoming months, I really don't see any reason to push hard in moving to Los Angeles. Right now, everyone who isn't busy on shows, should hunker down, get a supplemental income job and wait this out. It will be a while (potentially 2 years) before things start turning around enough where LA goes back to the way it was prior to Covid. But to say moving to LA is a good idea right now is kinda silly. I'd stay put, get a reliable job, make some content, get your skills up and wait it out. 

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I think Tyler is right in that you should wait til the Covid recession wears out before making any risky moves. You said you already have savings meant for the LA move which is great especially in the current economic situation where it is good to have some kind of backup just in case. But in the current situation it might be safest to wait for a while until the situation stabilises and in the meantime get your skills up by making local smaller budget stuff and your own projects. After the recession the entertainment industry will probably boom again and you will want to be present and competent and in the right place at that moment, not now when everything is quiet and uncertain.

One thing I would recommend is to learn to edit very well and to get competent on standard post production workflow and techniques. You will need those skills for your cinematography career and they will help getting more income when you are able to get editing related work as well 

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@David Mullen ASC gives a pretty insightful, and I think, tremendously rational timeline of what anyone aspiring to be in the industry should see regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, or morals in the sense that one should be prepared for it to take much longer than they would probably like yet not let it discourage you from staying full steam ahead. Actually right now there's more diversity in Hollywood than ever before. Back on topic. I can also agree with@Tyler Purcell. Being in the city of topic is undoubtedly giving him a first hand look at the state of the industry right now, most likely influencing what shaped his answer. One could also say while the average young person's relocation would normally play out like a game of chess, anyone's relocation in the current climate would probably play out more like a game of chess against a chess hustler in the middle of Union Square. You sort of lost before you even lost.

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1 hour ago, Matthew J. Walker said:

You sort of lost before you even lost.

Exactly, it's just not worth it at the moment. I've been buying used gear from freelancers who are selling everything to survive. I hear so many of them freaking out online discussing how they're moving home for a while and getting jobs in other states. California is sadly, the last place you wanna be during this crisis. You need to live somewhere cheap and have a good job. 

Where the film industry can sustain a mild breeze most of the time, seeing theater chains out-right close their doors and threaten bankruptcy? Many studios losing billions of dollars year over year. Even Netflix struggling to the point of canceling many shows. The recession hasn't even hit and we're already having a horrible time. I mean, it's like moving in during a winter storm that won't end for another year. 

 

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Of course, I mentioned I was planning to make the move when the COVID-19 lockdown ends, and I'm going to keep saving money. I've wasted too much time, it's really an act of desperation, I thought maybe I could increase my luck in a city full of filmmakers. I'm also waiting to receive my degree and I'm just going to shoot whatever projects I can here in Texas. I just need to finish what I started, I can't just move on to something else. But I understand the circumstances in LA right now are dire, I know it's not just LA, it's the whole state of California where many have fallen into poverty, there are rising crime rates. It's the only state where you have to have a plan in case you become homeless, I mean you don't really see that in Texas, "shanty towns", starvation, high crime rates. It's insane something like this is happening in the US. 

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On 10/17/2020 at 11:38 AM, David Mullen ASC said:

Depends on what you are trying to do, be a crew member or make you own movies. Things are pretty slow right now all over so I'm not sure this is the time to make any sort of move. I actually don't know how people generically "start" in the industry since everyone seems to find their own unique way of entry. I went to film school and then spent 10 years shooting non-union features in Los Angeles before I joined as a DP, but I only found work at first because of film school contacts. But then, I never worked up the crew ladder, I was a DP in film school and then afterwards. But I didn't make much of a living at it for a decade.  8 years after film school, I recorded my worst earnings in my adult life, I made $2000 total in the year 2000, partly because I was turning down work waiting for the movie "Northfork" to happen and it kept pushing. But the other problem is that I only shot features, I didn't have small work to fill in the gaps.

Did you mean $20,000? You shot quite a lot of films in the year 2000 according to IMDB. And I saw your early trailers you can see the talent right away, a lot of younger filmmakers don't have the skillset right away. 

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No, I mean $2,000.

I shot movies in 1999 that were released in 2000... Actually I think it was 2001 that was my low point financially.  I think the $2000 came from a few days shooting infomercials on video.

Keep in mind that back then I earned $1000/week on a feature that shot in 3-weeks with 1 week of prep, and if I were lucky, I'd shoot three features a year -- so that's $12,000/year income if I were lucky.  It wasn't until I joined the union in 2003-2004 that I started to earn more, I think I made $30,000 the first year after I joined the union.

I waited for almost a year for "Northfork" to happen because it had to be shot in fall or spring to have enough daylight hours in Montana and yet have snow on the ground. First Spring 2001 shoot was pushed to Fall 2001 then happened Spring 2002. It actually might have even tried to start Fall 2000 right after the director and I did "Jackpot". I turned down work in the months leading up to the start date each time -- that's the problem with only doing features, I had to commit to a month of time in advance by about a month. Then when it finally happened, again, it was $1000/week for 4-weeks plus 1-week of prep, so I earned $5000 total for a movie I waited a year for.  But that movie got me a second Spirit Award nomination and it got me into the ASC more or less and it gave me the final hours I needed to join the union.  So it was a personal investment that paid off in the long run.

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Those are pretty daunting non-union numbers, but it's better to walk the path you know you were meant to walk as opposed to doing something else just to exist, I guess not everyone is willing to take those risks. I noticed with most DPs that it takes them about 15 years to land that one life-changing film. For Roger it was Barton Fink around 1991, though Sid and Nancy has become quite popular today which was made in 1987, but I remember hearing about Northfork because I always watched Roger Ebert review movies, so I know I was in the 9th grade when it came out, I wasn't a huge film fan then but I was into Tarantino movies and Roger Ebert. 

Edited by Josh Gallegos

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