What COVID-19 Looks Like for Me

A glance at how the production world has changed through the eyes of Jeff Gatesman of Rocket 88 Studios

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By Jeff Gatesman, Rocket 88 Studios 

It’s been about 4 weeks since we’ve all been thrown into an unprecedented new way of life and for those of us in the production/entertainment industry, our re-entry back into a working world is still being debated and planned, and likely a few weeks, if not months away yet. And since the shutdown we’ve had to get used to new and different things; a lot of you have had to immediately learn how to home school your kids, and we’ve all had to navigate the quagmire of what is considered essential and what is not, of shopping in near empty markets, and of socializing via Skype, Zoom and FaceTime.

Have you resorted to cutting your own hair yet? How about baking your first loaf of bread? After my first sour dough loaf I realized that I very rarely eat bread anymore, I was just caught up in a swell of what-to-do-with-myself uncertainties. And I’m sure that some of you, like me, have labored over finding the best chiaroscuro lighting for those virtual Zoom drink-a-thons with your pals. I mean, it’s what we do, we might as well represent!

So what now?

I’ve seen the blog posts were people have been exploring their yards and parts of their own homes to discover a new love of macro photography, or to gain skills in lighting for food photography, I myself have been playing around with effects photography which is a lot of fun but I’m a motion picture guy so it is not what I had been making a living at, and is probably not likely to become a primary source of income once the stages and studios begin rumbling back into production, but it keeps me exercising muscles I do use in my regular work. What you do is up to you but if you get inspired to share the work you create to the world, Adobe Behance is a great online portfolio that comes with your Adobe subscription, and if you are taking still photos On1 is having weekly photo contests on their blog where you could win Amazon gift cards, software bundles, and creative assets.

Production tends to be a very time consuming vocation, and as many of us know, when we are not actually working on a production, our time is spent looking for our next gig (thanks Production Hub for being a great partner in that!), which means that other things tend to get neglected. I am reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode about a man who loved nothing more than to read, however the realities of life in a busy world leave him no time for his passion until, through a twist of fate he finds himself the soul survivor of a nuclear holocaust. At first he despairs at being all alone in the world, but then he finds the ruins of a library with volumes of the greatest books ever written, still intact. He rejoices at his great fortune of finding the tomes and having all the time to read now, but as he reaches down to pickup a book, his glasses slide off his face and smash on the concrete leaving him with such terrible hyperopia that he cannot focus the words on the page. He finally had the time to read but cruel fate wouldn’t let him. 

 We currently have no excuse now so it may be the perfect time to tend to some of those neglected tasks. One thing I’ve been putting off for years has been to cultivate a stream of passive income through stock footage, so during this time I have also been digging through my archive hard drives for both throwback photos and unedited video that has been languishing, waiting for me to have time to tend to them. Part of this procedure is to spend some time investing in my keywording skills as this is almost as important as having relevant, professional looking footage. Linked In Learning (formerly Lynda dot com) has an excellent tutorial on keywording and if you are not signed up for Linked In Learning, I would suggest you look into it. If you are a member of a Guild or IATSE local the subscription is free.

Another thing I am doing that not only helps develop my skill set, but also gets me up off my office chair and away from the computer screen, is that I set up tracking shots I can use to practice with my gimbal. It’s always a good idea to practice camera operating when you can whether you are using a fluid, geared or remote head, or some kind of stabilizing rig like a gimbal or steadicam. What I’ve done is set up complex camera moves to perform throughout my house and yard that help develop my killer camera moves as well as my ability to visualize and create dynamic shots. You can find Youtube tutorials on everything concerning camera movement, best practices on walking with a gimbal, as well as balancing and setting it up for best performance, whether you are a Ronin, Steadicam or Movi owner.

I want to also pass on a spreadsheet that has been compiled by the IATSE’s Education Department which lists hundreds of free training resources for people in almost any skill from lighting, sound and video to networking, show control, safety and even knots.

So you’ve done your craft project, tended to some unfinished business and polished up some of those rusty skills, I guess it’s time to kick the feet up and watch something on Netflix. As Production people naturally we watch shows: we watch movies and documentaries and we binge on our favorite series. That’s cool. Studies show that watching something you enjoy releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and that’s great. It can soothe our day-to-day worries and bring us out of our own thoughts when we are down, and who among us doesn’t need that from time to time? If you are like me and appreciate truly well crafted films, there are a couple of great alternatives to the main streamers that you should know about, so if you enjoy classics and films that may not have made it out of the arthouse circuit, check out both Mubi and The Criterion Channel.

And what about the future?

As I mentioned earlier, under normal circumstance when we have free time we are generally working on getting our next gig, but now time has been forced upon us and we can, and still should keep in touch with our network. Shaking that tree right now won’t bear us any fruit in the near future, but sometimes it’s just nice to hear from a colleague. Who knows, maybe they have a great sourdough recipe for you.

One final thought I’d like to share: now might be a great time for the creative community to be it’s most creative in ways we haven’t been before: maybe now is the time to envision what our industry looks like in 6 months, a year, or 2 years down the road. Maybe we can be the influence our industry needs right now… What are you doing with your time? What is your vision for the future of Production? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Be well. 

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About the Author

Jeff Gatesman
Jeff Gatesman
Hard working Cinematographer with a keen eye, and great sense of lighting and composition. I bring everything to each project, including a positive attitude. My main focus is to visually tell the story you want the audience to see, whether it is a feature narrative, documentary or commercial production.

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