CM: Did you study cinematography in college, or do you have any other kind of training in this field before doing it professionally?
JH: I was always a big film lover, you know, like a cinephile of sorts. And I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder and studied in the film program there. I had never really considered working in film production, because it had never even occurred to me that that was an option. It just seemed like a business that I had no connections in that was very difficult to get in; it was like there were magical people that made movies and I wasn’t one of them. So I originally planned on becoming a film critic—not as much of a journalist as kind of an essayist.
I could have done that but there probably wasn’t much of a career in that. I was reading Andre Cezanne and Andrew Ceras and highfalutin film, and I had this idea in my head that I could be one of them. But I always shot short films when I was a kid, on video cameras, messing around with my friends, and in high school particularly I was interested and involved in photography.
I was actually just doing one of my podcasts today with Lisa Wiegand, who’s another film photographer, and she reminded me of a moment when I realized that there were cinematographers out there that existed. It was when my high school photography teacher, Mr. D. (It was at Barrington High School in Illinios and he was a great photography teacher, very inspiring) took us all to see this movie called Visions of Light, which was this documentary about cinematographers. I think he was trying to show us, “Hey, you guys like movies, and this is a photography class, and film is photography, 24 times a second.” So I saw that movie and I guess I knew that there were cinematographers, I just never really thought about it. I just never really thought that motion picture imagery was still photography, but 24 still frames per second. It’s essentially a very similar medium that gives the illusion of movement. But it all kind of clicked for me when I saw that documentary. I’ve always been obsessed with movies, and I’d just never understood or conceived of the cinematographer’s role and how important and significant it was.
When I went to college, the college of Boulder had a very small film school. I went there because a lot of my family had gone there, and it was just a beautiful school. So I thought I’d get a general education there, and I enrolled in the film program. It was kind of characterized by this guy, Stan Brakhage, who’s the father of avant garde film-making, certainly American experimental avant garde film-making. He was one of the professors there and he kind of set the tone for the department. Until then I had thought that Godard was super cutting edge and that I was on the forefront of art cinema just having watched Godard movies, and then you watch Stan Brakhage’s films you realize, “I don’t know the first thing about avant garde film.” It was really, really cool exposure. And very unique. Getting that exposure was really valuable because it’s informed me in everything I do. It gives me kind of a unique edge over people who’ve had a really traditional film education—not that there’s anything wrong with that, because they’ve learned things that I didn’t learn like how to use a camera, and many other things that I had to pick up on the job.
So I started there [at the college]. That was my first film production class—it was all film-based stuff back then, and we shot in Super 8. I remember I took a backpacking trip into the mountains and took a camera with me shot these time lapses in the mountains, kind of thinking, “Eh, we’ll see if this works,” and I remember projecting my first little film that I developed and it was this breathtaking time lapse of the mountains, the clouds going by. Even to my eyes today, I bet I’d be impressed by it because it was really gorgeous. I was like, “I can’t believe I shot this.” And so that got a grip on me and I started shooting more and more film, and the more I shot the more I screwed up and learned from my mistakes and the better I got. And I realized, “It’s film school, none of us are going to get jobs, we’re learning about guys who paint on film.” In my mind, I was trying desperately to learn how to do it how the real guys do it, how they do it in real feature films, so I read a million cinematography books and American Cinematographer magazine and just gave myself my own education and got involved in the local industry in Denver, which is a commercial industry, and tried my best to get into jobs here and there.
The other funky synchronicity was that at the time, that was the first Dot-Com Boom, so in Colorado there were a ton of people who had started a dot.com and had gotten a lot of venture capital and sold their company. There were all these young dudes out there who had a couple million bucks in their bank accounts miraculously. And I met a couple of them and they all had the same story every time, which was they wanted to make a movie and none of them had any idea what they were doing. I knew just a little bit more than they did, which wasn’t much, so I shot a couple of feature films while I was still in film school, still learning, still a complete idiot. And not knowing what I’m doing, shooting feature films, and getting tons of time to light scenes, to compose shots, to develop film and see the results, and then I was shooting everyone in short films, and by then I just became known as one of the cinematographer guys at the school.
But still, you know, looking back I was terrible. I wasn’t some prodigy where everyone was like, “Oh my God, he’s so good.” It was me convincing everybody to give me a chance. So you learn, you make mistakes, you practice your instrument, you get better. Eventually I graduated school, and I had a reel from all the stuff I had shot and was getting real jobs as a cinematographer and camera operator, but then also working as a camera assistant and an electrician and lighting guy on film productions. I was simultaneously working some jobs as the boss and the head guy, but then others as the low man on the totem pole so I was learning from watching some men who were better than me, stealing their tricks unabashedly and then applying them when I had the wheel in my hand.
CM: Yeah, you had done so many different jobs. You’ve worked as a cinematographer but also a director and a producer and all kinds of different things.
JH: Everybody winds up doing a lot of different things as they’re coming up, and I recommend it. Unless you know exactly what you want to do and you’re not interested in anything else—which is a good thing, by all means go do that, you’re lucky to have that focus—but even though I knew cinematography was my thing I was like, “I think I’ll try a few other things; maybe I’m a really good editor,” which I’m not. I was the boom operator on three different moves. But always in the back of my head I’m like, “I want to be a director of photography, a cinematographer,” and I always tell aspiring cinematographers, a big element of the job is lighting. Some would say it’s the entirety of the job. And I learned how to light basically from being a boom operator, even though the jobs are totally disconnected from each other.
But when I was a boom operator, I’d put the microphone up and it throws shadows because of the light, and I remember it all sort of clicked for me, that’s how you light. I just kind of studied it while I was doing my job as a boom operator, recording the audio. That was a big game changer for me, having that click.
I’ve gone on different tangents in my career—you know, you don’t really pick your career; your career kind of picks it for you. When I first came to L.A. I did a lot of commercials and music videos and a really low budget feature film, and could barely, working constantly, pay the tiny rent that I owed every month and feed myself and pay for gas. Really horrible pay, but a wealth of knowledge gained from it. What I mean is that you don’t pick your jobs; your jobs pick you. So you’re making crap money and then suddenly, what happened to me was that a reality TV show somehow got my number through a friend of mine and was like, “Hey, we need a camera operator for tomorrow, can you make it? It pays 600 dollars for the day.” And I was like, “Absolutely, I’m there.”
So I started doing that and then every year that went by I was doing a lot of documentary and reality camera operating and director of photography in that genre, and then half would be film and half would be this reality TV or documentary work, and I rose through the ranks in that world and started directing TV shows in the reality genre. My forte was sort of, I was a film guy. In that genre, especially in the beginning when it was first being shaped in the “early days” when Survivor was in the second season and The Apprentice was first being filmed, there were so many shows and so few people who knew what they were doing, people were just given opportunities that shouldn’t have been. I was constantly working for directors and cinematographers who were just, you know, some were good and some were terrible, and they were telling me what to do and I was thinking, “I know how to do some of this way better than you.”
So naturally, eventually, you’re just like, “I’ll step it up and start directing and start being the boss on these shows and making good money.” And every year that went by [I did] less and less film work, and film-making is really what I love and had got in the business for. Money-wise it was hard to make that sacrifice, because you’re making great money in television. Whether it’s scripted or unscripted, there’s great money and the jobs don’t fall through as much [in television]. Independent films are constantly falling apart the day before you start shooting. And so you’re constantly heartbroken and your checking account is hurting a lot in that world. But at a certain point, if you want to get back on track, you have to turn down things. So I started to turn down the reality jobs and wait for the film jobs to come along. And I’m at a point right now where it’s been a few years since I’ve done any reality directing, and I miss it sometimes, but you know, I think it was when I did Much Ado About Nothing, when Joss called me to do that—I knew Joss because he did a show called Dollhouse—
CM: Yeah, I’ve seen that show.
JH: Oh, that’s cool. It was really fun making that. My friend Lisa Wiegand, she and I had worked together a lot and we were kind of friends socially. We would kind of trade each other jobs and we were buddies. And then she got this awesome job as the cinematographer on the second season of Dollhouse. And she brought me in to DP—to clarify, that just means to be the cinematographer, it stands for Director of Photography but people use it as a verb sometimes—the second unit, which is kind of the action unit.
Then I eventually was the A Camera operator on the main unit and then whenever the second unit came up I would DP that and then someone would take over my camera position on the main unit so it became more of a full-time job. So that’s how I met Joss. The first day shooting, we were in the woods shooting dolls that were kind of like killer zombie dolls, they were running through the forest, shooting people, getting attacked. I want to say Felicia Day was with us. So I ended up shooting a ton of stuff with Joss throughout the year because he would direct the second unit sometimes, and he was always around, and we kind of got to know each other and palled around. Joss is the absolute best; he’s the coolest guy ever, and his productions are always great. Most productions in Hollywood are, believe it or not, full of super intelligent, pleasant, great people. There’s this idea floating out there that there are a bunch of jerks in Hollywood, and there probably are, but on the actual film production side, it’s very rare to see people who are jerks and scream and treat people poorly. I think maybe that’s seen more in the world of agents and lawyers and managers and stuff—if you’re wearing a suit to work, that might happen a bit. But out in the field with the circus folk, we just all tend to be really cool people.
In particular Joss is the coolest ever. He’s a happy, exuberant, charismatic guy. He’s everything you want him to be—he’s smart and witty and nice. It’s like, if someone falls down and hurts themself, he’s going to be like, “Hey, let’s stop, let’s help, are you okay?” Joss is a good guy. He cares about his people. And he’s just a great director, too. There are a lot of directors out there and some are better than others, but he’s really, really good.
The crew can always tell whether the director knows what they’re doing or not just by how the set flows, and I remember when we were on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot, my camera assistant Marcus, it was his first time working with Joss. And I was telling him, “Oh man, he’s cool, you’re going to love him.” And Marcus was like, “We’ll see, I’ll be the judge of that.” One thing with directors is they can be very indecisive where they should, ideally, be very decisive. Like Kubrick was very decisive and he shot a thousand takes until he got it right. So it doesn’t mean you’re shooting one take a moving on; with Joss, if you shoot ten takes with Joss, something is wrong and he needs something very specific and there’s a reason we’re shooting ten takes. But a lot of times we’ll shoot one take and he’ll be like, “Got it, we don’t need to do it again.” He’s just got this confidence that comes with so much experience and intelligence. He’s a true, natural born filmmaker. Marcus made a comment, “Once you hear the word ‘cut’ from video village where Joss is at, if there’s a breath of time where you don’t hear anything, you know you’re going again and he’s thinking of what he should change. But if you hear ‘cut’ and ‘got it’ right away, it’s like you know you’re not doing it again.” You could be blind on set and know what’s going on.
And then the other story I’ll tell is we’re shooting the show, and we’re all having fun, we’re doing cool stuff. And we’re in this factory with [J. August Richards] and there’s this scene where he beats up his boss and throws his boss into all these metal containers. So we’re on the set, you know with film production you shoot one angle and you’re done with that angle, and then you have to shoot the other side of the scene. So the AD usually yells “Turn around, we’re turning around.” So all the equipment and chairs and video village and coolers and drinks, everything has to move to the other side because now the camera is going to see the side where everyone was hanging out and stashing all their gear. So we’re turning around and then we see Joss pulling a cooler full of sodas, rolling a cooler across the cement, and Marcus, his eyes are bugged out and his mouth is wide open, and he’s like, “That’s the coolest director I’ve ever seen. What the hell is he doing? He’s moving coolers.” Because this is Joss, he just did The Avengers, he’s an A-list director, like I don’t see C-list directors pushing coolers around. So he’s just a like a cool guy. I can’t say enough good things about him.
I got off track with him… that’s how I know Joss, but I was still directing a lot of reality shows and this and that. And he called me up to do Much Ado and he was like, “Hey, we’re doing this movie; it’s out of my pocket and we’re shooting it in my house,” he kind of made it sound like we were just shooting a little home movie essentially. He was like, “It’s going to be really small, there’s no money, we’re just doing this thing for fun. Are you down with it?” And I was like, “Of course.” I’d shoot for Joss for free all day all week—he gave us a little stipend but we were essentially all doing it for the love of the game. So I jumped on board with that, and we did that movie and it was just such a fun experience, such a great, heartwarming experience, that I had this moment on the set where I was like, “Man, I need to be doing this all the time. I can’t be splitting my time up and moving further away from my dream. I just need to really be making movies.” And even though I wasn’t making money, I gained a newfound passion and drive and it just really filled my batteries back up and made me excited about what I do for a living again.
And I think it did the same thing for Joss; he wasn’t bummed out or depressed, but he was burnt out and exhausted from The Avengers process. A movie of that scale is just insane, it takes so much out of you, and that was the first big feature he had really done—you know, he did the Serenity movie but that was tiny compared to Avengers. It was more like a television budget he was working with on Serenity, and Avengers is just a mammoth, a behemoth. And he was burnt with that and that’s why he did that movie, because he was like, “I want to do something I’m passionate about, something for the love, I want to do something that’s mine that I make all the decisions on.” If I were him, I would have taken a vacation. But he’s like a real-deal filmmaker, and his way to recharge his batteries is to make a no-budget movie at his house. For anyone who’s ever made a movie before, that does not sound relaxing at all. Having a movie made at your house sounds way more exhausting than anything you could possibly do. But he and I really emerged from that like new men, and it was just a turning point in my life where I’m like, “I’ve gotta get back on track, whether I make shit money or not.”
It’s funny that Joss has had such an influence on my life because I always liked his work, but I wasn’t like a huge Joss Whedon fanatic. My sister is a massive fan, but I was never. But since he came into my life, he’s really changed it for the better; he’s had a really positive influence on everything that I am. I’d follow him into a hail of bullets anytime; he’s a great guy. I get into these ramblings about Joss Whedon and it sounds a little brown-nosey, but I really think he’s just a great guy and I would do anything for him.
CM: Can I ask you a couple of technical, artistic questions just about cinematography?
JH: Yeah, you can ask anything you want.
CM: Well, these will probably sound pretty basic, but I just wanted to let you talk a little about what thought goes into framing a shot and what artistic elements you’re thinking about when you’re doing cinematography.
JH: Yeah, it’s a complex question to ask because there’s an infinite amount of things influencing how you make every shot. And you can plan for weeks and weeks about how you’re going to do a certain shot, and then you get there and the garbage can you thought you could move is bolted to the ground and you can’t move it and you’re like, “Oh man, I can’t do that shot, I can’t do what I planned on doing.” Or some logistic reason or it starts raining or all these different things come down on you and basically conspire against you. We call it the film gods, like “the film gods are messing with us” when things start going wrong. But the film gods do it because they want to see you be creative and figure out how to solve problems—that’s our little apology around it so we’re not losing our minds in frustration. So what you do is read the script and turn it into a vision about how you want everything to look. But that isn’t the only part of it. If that were the end of it, it wouldn’t be as cool of an art form.
I read the script, I envision it all, and then I talk to the director and the producer as well and maybe production designer, and I start hearing how they would see it. And everyone sees things differently, and even if you’re like, “Oh, I had that exact same shot in mind,” you inevitably have some differences between them. So you start taking your ideas and combining them with the director’s ideas and the production designer’s ideas and the editor’s ideas, and everybody’s contacting you. And then you start being like, “So now I have a new picture in my head of how I want to do this.” Maybe it’s a static shot, or because it’s a scene about stasis or the characters, and they’re trying to get something going but nothing’s going to happen in the story because they’re screw-ups, so you’re not going to have all this dynamic movement because you want to counterpoint that. Or maybe you do want to have a lot of dynamic movement because you want to show how naïve the characters are, so the camera gets wrapped up in their enthusiasm, and so it starts moving frenetically around, like in Magnolia or something when the characters are almost on this manic fugue-state bender and the camera is like swooping into them and complimenting what’s in their minds.
There’s just a million ways to do it, and you need a director when you’re a DP. A lot of DPs get frustrated with directors because they want to direct themselves and you can’t do that. It’s ultimately the director’s movie, and the real magic stuff comes out when you bend your will to the director’s will and you say, “Okay, I would never have done it that way but that’s how you want to do it.” So how am I going to do your vision? Your job is to do what the director wants to do, so you’re trying to make the boss happy. So you make your adjustments based on his needs and desires. And you’re always making suggestions, like what if we did it this way, and you see on his face that he’s not buying it, so you’re like, “Okay, I won’t suggest that again.” Everyone’s different. Some people don’t like handheld, and if they don’t like handheld, I’m not going to sit there and suggest that we shoot it handheld because I know it’s just going to annoy that person. The director is just going to get pissed off, like, “Why does he keep on asking me this stupid question?”
So that’s in preproduction. You’re mapping everything out, you’re like, “I’m going to use this orange gel because I remember I saw this Antonio movie and it was awesome and I’m going to try to rip that off.” You’re always trying to steal things, which is what all the greats do. If you’re Miles Davis you’re stealing from whoever was before you, and John Coltrain steals from Miles Davis, and you’re all ripping each other off and making new art in the process. And then you go onto the set and you’ve got the film gods toying with you and ruining your day and causing you to change everything. It’s crazy; everything that can happen will happen, like Murphy’s Law. You can have all this planning and thought and time put into it and then the assistant location manager didn’t notify all the neighbors that you were filming there and now one neighbor is pissed off. They’re playing loud music in their house, or they decided they’re going to mow their lawn or put up a big sign that says, “Screw you film people. I hate you,” and now you can’t shoot that shot toward their house like you planned because you’ve got this problem. You can sit there and just get mad and say “Why why why?” Or you can sit there and just breathe and just say, “Okay, well, we spent months planning this out, and now we can’t do it that way.” So you have a little funeral for that idea in your mind and then you get over it immediately and you think what else can we do, because you’re always under the gun. The clock is ticking.
There’s a guy on the set called the Assistant Director, the AD, and one of his fundamental jobs is to come up to me and ask me why we aren’t ready to shoot. As the DP, generally I say we’re ready and then we shoot. So everyone’s kind of trying to get things ready and I’m the last guy who says we are in fact ready. So the line producer comes up and is like, “Man, if we go into a meal penalty today, that’s ten grand that I lose out of my budget and now I can’t pay for this snow mobile scene because I can’t rent the snow mobiles.” So it’s the weight of all these logistics and money and time on your shoulders, so you just have to be an incredible stress allocator. A lot of cinematographers are either like really intense people who are a little agro, and the other half are very laid back and Zen because if you weren’t like that you’d have a heart attack immediately. And you just have to deal with the stress and vent out and breathe and be like, “We’re not going to do that, we’re going to do this.” And you just problem solve all day, and then you’ve got your final shot, which is like, “Okay, we’ve thought about this shot for months, we planned, and now we had to change our plan at the last minute as the sun was going down, and now here’s how it looks.”
Even on the big films where you have more time and less pressure to just go go go, you still have a clock ticking and you still have to go. Every factor in the world weighs down on you and then you get a shot. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s the shot I got.” And sometimes they’re amazing, sometimes they’re so-so, sometimes they’re terrible. You just have to let it roll off your back and move on to the next shot. Inevitably the prettiest shot you shoot won’t get cut into the film, it’s almost like a rule; the best, prettiest shots never make it into the film. The editor will never use them because it’s probably a better film without them. And some of the worst shots will make it into the film and the editor is like, “I need that shot to be there, it makes it a better movie. It makes you look like a horrible cinematographer but it makes it a better movie.” So you have to be egoless and say, “Yep, if I wanted every shot to be perfect than I should have shot it perfectly; I should have been a better cinematographer.” There’s one shot in particular in Much Ado About Nothing where Alexis’ character is jogging up and down these stairs—
CM: I know what scene you’re talking about.
JH: Yeah, it was a complete nightmare. Joss originally wanted to shoot that differently. And then he and Alexis got another idea, which is how we ended up shooting it. It was my mistake—I didn’t realize how twisty the staircase was and how uneven the steps were. Like, every step was shaped differently, it was like a curved staircase, and then each step was a different height. I’m walking backwards as Alexis is jogging at me, and every time I go down one step he might go up one step in height, it was just the craziest thing. It really should have been like a steady cam shot or a crane. The way I planned on doing it was not the best way to do it. We barely got a useable take out of it—and we all had to do one take, that was the other thing. Usually when something’s messed up, you’re shooting it from four angles and you can cut the bad stuff out. But that was a oner, so to speak, so there’s a two and half second segment of the shot I can’t watch. I have to shut my eyes every time I see it.
But when we were in Toronto at the premier having a celebration dinner, someone in the cast comes up to me and was genuinely like, “Dude, that shot on the staircase, that was the best shot ever, I loved it.” And he loved it for some reason and I didn’t skip a beat, I was like, “That was the worst shot of my career.” And he started laughing and it was just like, I remember Fran Kranz was next to me and he started laughing because he was like, “This guy says that was the best shot of the movie,” and I was like, “That was the worst shot of my life,” and it was a funny moment. So it’s like, if I didn’t want that shot in the movie I should have been a better DP and fixed it, but you learn your lesson and you move on. The movie looks pretty decent over all, so it’s like a little flub here and there, well, it was a no-budget movie you shot in twelve days so it was bound to happen somewhere.
CM: Was it different to film it in black and white? Did that change anything?
JH: It changed a lot of things in that it reduces the amount of things you have to think about. It adds another element where because it’s shades of grey and not color, and the wall is beige, let’s say, and your skin and the wall are two different colors but on black and white they might appear the same tone of grey, so there’s always this worry that your face is going to somehow bleed into the background or something. I think it was a bigger problem fifty years ago with the film stocks. It was a big problem then, not a big problem now. We turned the color off on the monitors. We had to shoot with a digital camera and that camera was color, we just shot in color but turned the color off on the monitor and sat there and made decisions based on the black and white images we were seeing. And then when we went into “color correction,” which is where you’re shading the movie, making it lighter or darker, fixing the problems in the image, changing the colors. Even though it was a black and white movie we still did color correction, even though we didn’t adjust any of the color. We just messed with the luminance and the contrast and a few other things.
But that the main difference, and other than it just being gorgeous and black and white photography is just fun to look at, and it just brings the movie into a different world, I think Joss really—it’s like, who doesn’t want to shoot in black and white? Plus if he shoots in black and white, he doesn’t have to worry about all the factors that he can’t control on a no-budget film at his house? Like, we don’t have an art department that can paint the wall a different color; we just have to go with that color. And our costumes, the wardrobe/costume designer Shawna, she’s like a crazy amazing costume wardrobe person, and she’s done huge movies, but here she is with no money doing this thing at Joss’ house and she’s limited in what she can afford to do with her budget and everything so it just made everyone’s lives easier and simpler. And then we could focus on what that movie was all about, the acting. The mandate was everybody make sure Joss could have as much time with the actors as possible to roll the camera and do as many takes as he needs. You never want to get in the position of we took so much time to set up that Joss only got two takes with that scene and he wasn’t happy, he didn’t get what he wanted. That would be the worst thing ever. The whole reason we’re there is to capture his vision and his actors performing so we had to turn off a little bit of our ego and let things slide a little bit because our stuff was less important than his, than the actors’.
CM: Well, I love black and white photography, so I really enjoyed it as a black and white film. I just want to talk about two more things, and I’m not sure how much you can talk about your new project, but if you want to talk about Con Man and then also your podcast too.
JH: Yeah, so Con Man, I probably can’t talk too much about it, but it’s Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, and to me it’s like a movie. It’s going to be a webseries on Vimeo, and the amount of script pages we have is roughly equivalent to a feature film and we have a five-week shoot, and that’s a pretty typical indie movie schedule, you know. So it feels like we’re making a movie. And the episodes aren’t stand alone; there’s a running, linear plot. And Alan is directing all of them and he’s written all of it, so he’s the writer, the director, and one of the stars. So it’s really great to work with him; Alan is awesome.
He’s a super talented actor and his writing is great; I can verify, having read the scripts. I was kind of impressed. Honestly, I was kind of like, “Okay, this will be fun to shoot regardless, but I wonder how good of a writer he is.” And the scripts are solid, they’re really funny, solid stories. I think it’s going to be fun. I can’t say too much about what we’re doing because I don’t know what they’ve put out there and what I’m not supposed to say, but I can say that we’re shooting all over the greater Los Angeles area and I’m compiling the crew right now, getting a lot of people from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers and there’s a lot of crew people coming from the Whedonverse. And obviously a lot of people who are acting on the show are from the Whedonverse, so it almost feels like a subsidiary Whedonverse production or something. So it’s great vibes. Alan’s super cool and talented, a guy who’s got a vision but also like a guy who’s fun to be around and is pleasant to hang out with, because we’re going to be hanging out with each other quite a bit over the next few months or so. So it’s good to know that he’s a great guy. I just worked with him on Dollhouse for one episode that he was in, and he was a pleasure then and I can’t wait to be his cinematographer on this next project.
CM: That sounds like a great project. I can’t wait to see it when it’s far, far in the future when it’s all the way done. So your podcast is called the Best Job Ever, right?
JH: Yeah, it’s called Best Job Ever and it’s on every pod directory out there and it’s on iTunes and the website’s bestjobeverpodcast.com. I got the idea because I listen to tons of podcasts; I probably have fifty of them that I subscribe to. My girlfriend, it drives her nuts, because I constantly have my headset in my ear. But we were vacationing through New Year’s, this last New Year’s Eve, and I got the idea, I was thinking, “What if I did a podcast? Oh, that’s silly, everybody does one.” And I was challenging myself, “What could you bring to the table that would be unique that’s not done a thousand times already?” And I was like, I know all these cool people in front of the camera and behind the camera who have awesome jobs, and people are constantly asking people like us, “How did you get your job? That’s like the coolest. How’d you become a stuntman? That sounds like such a cool job. Or how did you become a dolly grip?” People are perplexed because it’s this weird industry where people fall into these jobs, and it’s usually a very interesting story, how you got there. So I’ve been trying, I’m going to be putting some up with actors coming up soon, but I’ve been trying to stick with a lot of behind the scenes people because their story isn’t told quite as much as the average actor.
So I went through, I thought, “This will be a test, I’ll go through my address book on my computer and see who, I’ll just start writing down names of people who I think would do it, that would be cool to interview and that I think would actually agree to interview.” So I had a list by the end of my address book of like 130, 140 people. Maybe not everyone on that list will say yes to doing it, but most of them will. And so it’s just this motivation to give back and share with people the experiences we have, and know that there’s a guy like me out there that’s in the same position, listening to a million podcasts and maybe has a dream to get into the film business but is just overwhelmed, like, “How do I do that? How does anyone do that?” And it’s not easy; it’s probably one of the hardest things to do in terms of career, and for anyone reading, if you think you’re going to get in the film business and get rich, think again. If you want to get rich and famous I’ll give you a list of fifty things to do before you should ever think about being in film. It’s a hard business and it seems like there’s a lot of money involved but that money gets spent real quick. Like on Con Man, it’s pretty low-budget. It seems like a lot of money—they have like 2.8 million dollars, rounded up, for their project—but that money gets spent so fast.
But then there are a million other things that the people on the crew are doing that make their lives dramatic and interesting and their stories, every set is filled with like a 100 thousand amazing stories. So I thought, you know, I’ve got a 100 something people, so I can at least stay on for a couple years if I put one out every week. Feedback has been really strong; people really seem to dig it. So let’s give it a try, see if I like it. Ended up I love it. The response has been great. Every week the number of subscribers build and I just want more people to listen to it because I think you learn a lot from it and also be entertained. We crack jokes and talk smack and have interesting conversations; it’s not just…it could be a conversation about life and philosophy, or could be a conversation about war stories from film production days, or sometimes it just gets locked up in someone’s teen years where they had this dream, and an hour and twenty minutes later we still haven’t left college.
But that’s their story, that’s what they need to tell. It’s like, man, it would have been so cool to have that resource when I was in film school because it’s almost like a mini film school. American Cinematographer magazine, I always considered my film school. I spent probably a few thousand dollars on subscriptions to it over the years, but it was money well spent. That’s what you spend on one class in college, and the stuff I learned from that magazine was well worth the money. So anyway it’s a free podcast that’s up there on iTunes; there’s six episodes up so far. The newest is with Devendra Cleary, who’s an audio mixer who got his big break on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—
CM: Oh, another Joss Whedon show.
JH: Yeah, another Joss connection. He did Firefly as well. He’s a real interesting guest. And next week, I haven’t decided who I’m going to put up next week. I might put up Michael Zakin, who’s the head of film production at American Zoetrope, which is Francis Ford Copola’s film company. But just come down and listen to it because it’s fun and free and that sounds pretty good to me.
CM: Yeah, I’ll have to check that out. That sounds really interesting. And I just wanted to thank you, you have your busy job, the podcast, everything, so thank you for taking the time to do the interview, I really appreciate it.
JH: No problem, I’m happy to help out.
Jay is a Los Angeles based Cinematographer who specializes primarily in shooting feature film and episodic television. His work includes the feature films Life After Beth, Much Ado About Nothing and 2nd Unit photography on Avengers II: Age of Ultron as well as the episodic series Garfunkel and Oates, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and the upcoming Con Man with Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion. Jay also produces and hosts the film/tv based long form interview podcast Best Job Ever.