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 It seemed like an outdated way of seeking work.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.
Video editors, filmmakers and consumers of the post-production industry gather at the 12th Annual Supermeet during the week of NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters, to discover the latest in digital post technology. Supermeet took place at its usual location, the Amazon Ballroom, inside the Rio on Tuesday, April 9th, 2012 to roughly a thousand post-fanatic geeks. Hosting Supermeet as usual were Daniel Berube of the Boston branch BOSCPUG and Michael Horton of the Los Angeles branch, LACPUG. All of the post-production groups make up what’s called Creative Pro User Group with CPUGs all over the world.
Before Supermeet, one needs to take advantage of ‘supper meat,’ the appetizers served before the event. Veteran Supermeeters know to get there early. It may not be fast food, but it does go fast.
A last minute surprise addition opened the event with DSLR guru, Vincent Laforet, showing off his new toy, the Movi, a small and light enough device that holds DSLR cameras so they can move effortlessly no matter what obstacles get in its way.
What used to be a main Final Cut Pro soapbox, has become a smorgasbord of NLE systems. Avid showcased its newest features in Media Composer 7 that dropped this week for ONLY $999. Adobe showcased new features in many of its platforms including Premiere Pro, SpeedGrade for color correction and After Effects and its new exciting partnership with Cinema 4-D. And apparently the Coen Brothers plan on editing their next film on Premiere Pro according to Al Mooney, the product manager for Premiere Pro.
Autodesk’s Smoke wowed the tech-heavy crowd. Filmmaker Anthony Brownmoore did a demo on how he used Smoke on his short film, “REP 5091.” Blackmagic Design and Red Giant had demos as well. Strangely enough, there was nothing new to demo for FCP X two years after its announcement and first look at Supermeet in 2010. Maybe they’ll make the cut next year.
In the middle of the event a break from festivities lets the digital gurus roam the sponsors’ booths and network with other digital post geeks.
The second half of the show was dedicated to the status of the VFX industry. Perhaps you’ve seen profiles on FaceBook and Twitter turned green. Since the Academy Awards, an issue has risen to the surface that’s been simmering for many years. The VFX industry has been suffering more drastically in recent years. We have seen the end of famous VFX studios such as Rhythm & Hues and Digital Domain among many other VFX companies that have gone bankrupt. To put this all in focus, Scott Ross, the Co-Founder and CEO of Digital Domain and Academy nominated VFX supervisor, Scott Squires, addressed the audience with the facts.
Imagine big visual effects oriented movies without the actual VFX. Scott Squires asked the crowd what “Life of Pi” would look like? A boy in a boat talking to a tiger hand puppet is not going to cut it. Ross added, “Claudio Miranda won an Oscar for best cinematography.” Basically, the Oscar winner shot a boy in a boat in a pool surrounded by bluescreen. All the truly amazing work that brought life to the FX heavy film was added later.
More movies are relying on visual effects to return the movie studios’ investments at the box office. That’s fine for the movie studios, but what about the artists working their butts off 60, 70, 80 hours a week and not seeing an amount of pay to reflect it?
“Most countries have a cap of 60 hours a week. We typically start at 60 and go up from there,” said Scott Ross. He added, “It’s not unusual to work seven days a week.”
VFX companies have at times built VFX studios in Vancouver, Canada so movie studios got tax rebates. And then you have the VFX artists moving their families only to be out of work when the project’s over. What do they do then? Visual effects cost millions of dollars. And there’s no union whatsoever. VFX companies have been ‘under-bidding’ to compete with other VFX companies. And movie studios will start outsourcing VFX more to places like India for even cheaper labor.
Scott Ross informed the crowd of a meeting to take place in May in Los Angeles with as many of the top VFX companies as he can to discuss the possibilities of a trade association. The industry needs to set regulations and assist the individual VFX artists with better working situations including perhaps points in the films they work on. It was a very serious note and very appropriate to take place at Supermeet. Scott Ross and Scott Squires received a standing ovation from the very empathetic audience.
Supermeet always satisfies editors’ exciting curiosity of what’s next in digital post-production and the knowledge of where the industry stands. Things happen and change so often now in this business that one needs to stay informed to survive. If that’s not enough there’s always the giant raffle of amazing prizes at the end of the evening. Grown men with busting guts shout at the top of their lungs, run the entire length of the ballroom when their ticket is called after winning something cool. Supermeet brings out the child in all of us.
Additional Article on Visual Effects at Supermeet.