While working at Richard Photo Lab I felt very much like I was coming full circle since my film school, Columbia College-Hollywood, used to be a few doors down at 925 N. La Brea Ave. in Hollywood. Working in the film prep department was a great experience, but it was a temporary position. It was very nostalgic handling film again. I didn’t think I would get another chance to work with film directly again. After being out of work the first few months of 2015, I was starting to hit the streets with my resume…literally. It seemed like an outdated way of seeking work. I walked into Fotokem Film and Video Services and filled out an application even though the company wasn’t hiring then.
About ten days later I got a call regarding a film vault position. The pay is low, but there are opportunities to move into other positions there. In my last post, Handling Film Then and Now, I mentioned filming a short film, “The Turnaround” on 16mm at Columbia College-Hollywood. Well, I still have elements from some of my films, “The Turnaround” and feature film, “Rubbernecking“ vaulted in one of Fotokem’s vaults in Glendale. So I’m not only an employee, I’m also a client. “The Turnaround” was filmed in 1995 and some elements have been vaulted all this time.
The film industry has changed so much in the last 20 years. Like Richard Photo Lab is for still film, Fotokem is one of the biggest remaining motion picture film labs remaining in the film industry. All the motion picture studios dropped their involvement with film and Fotokem picked up a lot of the film work and preservation projects.
There’s about 700 people that work at Fotokem. Beyond the main campus at Burbank are vaults and post production facilities in Glendale, Santa Monica and around the United States; New York, New Orleans and Atlanta. Some filmmakers are still shooting on film. At Fotokem, dailies get synced up. Older films still have work done as newer formats are being created. My job in the film vault is to pick up and/or drop off film elements or hard drives from one of the 3 buildings in Burbank to another building. The Burbank location has three buildings. The position involves a lot of walking. My feet were aching in my first month working there. My left foot was so bad I had to see my doctor. My doctor recommended getting insoles as he himself uses them. I found a store in Studio City called Road Runner that custom fits insoles to your feet. Road Runner has a machine right there in the store that molds insoles. I highly recommend this service. Costs about $70, but my left foot is worth it.
The job also requires some heavy lifting. Often we use dollies to move stacks of 16, 35 and 65 millimeter reels. The 65MM film cans are very heavy. Between the walking and heavy lifting film vault people get a great workout. The position involves preparing elements to be delivered, shipped or taken to will call. We box up items and print up receipts that give a written record of what’s in the boxes. Sometimes we get requests to destroy film elements. (My favorite task!)
There are full circles within the bigger full circle. I’ve come across films I’ve worked on such as “Wicked” and “Return of the Living Dead III.” Every day I handle big commercial films that are currently or recently in theaters. It’s exciting at times when you’ve got some of your favorite films in your hands; “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Schindler’s List.” Filmmakers and actors hold screenings at small theaters at Fotokem. Sometimes huge stars are there to attend a screening or screen dailies. Halle Berry was there one day. I didn’t get a chance to see her, but I walked right by Christopher Nolan one day. (Not as sexy, but total movie geekness!)
Julian, my 30 year-old trainer, was moving on to his new position at Fotokem, in the uploading files department. A group of us took him out for a goodbye lunch. The Glendale vault made him a graduation cap out of film trim boxes.
Most days are very busy, but they go quickly. It is a tough position. I hope to move into a different and better-paying position at the company. Because of landing this job I was able to move out of the house I was sharing with four people and have my own apartment again in North Hollywood. Fotokem is only a 10 minute drive. Recently, I started a new shift starting at 7am. My work day is over at 3:30pm. It gives me time to do other things; writing, doing laundry, or taking a nap on my brand new couch.
Being in a new city has its perks. Hardly anyone has seen my films here in Las Vegas. So, when I saw a posting on FaceBook in one of the film-oriented groups seeking short films I decided to check it out. I had been screening a short film I did a few years ago, “The Octo Circus” around town and thought it was time to screen a much older film.
“The Turnaround” was filmed on 16MM in 1995 as my last film while attending Columbia College-Hollywood film school. It’s about a struggling actor that gets mugged in the streets of Hollywood and then confronts the mugger in a bar. The 23-minute film is something I still consider my favorite just like a favorite child even though you’re supposed to love them all the same. “The Turnaround” screened at the IFP Market in NY and was the ‘Best of the Fest’ at the Rochester International Film Festival in Rochester, NY. It screened at other festivals. but never quite got the recognition I thought it deserved. I actually thought this little epic was the key to my film career. Oh, well. I do love the opportunity to screen it and share it with other filmmakers and film fans.
The Beauty Bar in Las Vegas has the old-fashioned seats that women sit in when getting their hair done, manicure, etc. The one in Vegas feels more like a bar then a nightclub if that makes sense. On Wednesday, August 17th, along with a bunch of local filmmakers, we screened our short films from a projector outdoors onto a screen. I hope the Beauty Bar acquires a newer screen as it had some sort of yellow stain all over. The films all had a unique 70’s look to them especially “The Turnaround,” the only film of the night shot entirely on film. The group of filmmakers praised me for that alone. My film screened last and I was very thankful there were still people in the audience. We had to compete a little with the loud music playing inside the bar as there were bands playing, but you could hear the dialogue fine until the door swung open.
I very much enjoyed viewing the other films and getting to know my fellow filmmakers. The title of this post is ‘Beauty Bar and the Beast’ since there was a strange theme that took place with most of the films containing or about drugs, guns and crime. There was a zombie trailer, “Patient Zero” by Rob Sholty and Andrea Walter. Thank G-d! And thank you to Maggie Yeah, Ben Zuk and the Beauty Bar for hosting the event!