●Date of birth: June 20th
● Residence: Studio City/North Hollywood, California
● Pulling focus since: 2010
● Favorite LCS: WCU4
● Left/Right-handed: ambidextrous for focus pulling, dominant right otherwise
● Favorite cameras: ones that work with minimum fuss…
● Favorite Lenses: Zenit, Nikkor, Blackhawk
Hey Ambar, Thanks for taking your time for this interview.
How did you first learn your skills and what did you do to keep getting better?
I was very fortunate to have excellent mentors in Bill Bennett, ASC and Craig Devereaux when I made my final transition into camera department. I would watch them all the time and during prep, or at lunch I would practise what I had seen them do and imagine myself in their shoes. I would go to the prep houses and offer to help AC's prep and I would volunteer on projects that allowed me to work as a 1st when I was still a loader.
What was the biggest project you have worked on, or you are most proud of?
That's a hard one. I'm proud of every project I've worked on because there is always something special in every day and every project. In terms of size, the biggest project I keyed was an AC/DC live performance at Wrigley Field in Chicago where we had close to 40 cameras. That's not counting the additional GoPro's, A7SII's, and other small-format cameras. I'm happy to have worked on a project, a part of which was shot from the ISS space station and is in the Guinness Book. It's really hard to pick one! There was the time I worked with Hill……
Who inspired you the most during your career?
Bill Bennett, ASC without a doubt. He is extremely giving, patient, and knowledgeable. The most incredible thing about Bill is his ability to explain extremely complex concepts that involve math, physics, and big brain concepts in very simple, plain English. He can explain anything to you in the ELI5 format. Very early in my career as a 1st, I was told to go and prep an extensive 20 lens package for the "nodal point". I called Bill the night before the prep and he sent me a brief, clear and concise document on how to do the "entrance pupil" test because he had surmised that my DP didn't understand the difference. I got to Otto Nemenz's at 0800h and was greeted by Mr. Otto himself who had heard that I would be doing this test and wanted to make sure I knew what to do. He spent a good 45 minutes, very generously explaining the way the test had been done for the last 30 years, and made sure I understood all the various steps. As he walked away he said, I guess this will take 2 days. That's what the DP told him and that's what I believed as well. Imagine everyone's surprise, including mine, when I was done by 1300h and heading home for the day, all by following Bill's simple instructions! I wish I could find that iconic piece of paper.
You are currently in India, are you also planning on some projects there or have you ever worked there?
I'm working on a few personal projects that I want to shoot in the future. I started my career in Bollywood but as an actor. Later I transitioned to still photography. It's only after I immigrated to America and became a 1st AC did I return to work in Bollywood as a DP for a few projects.
Where are the differences between working in L.A. to India? Hollywood and Bollywood are the biggest industries in the world, but I can imagine, that workwise, they have quite a different approach?
Bollywood by volume of projects finished is not just the largest in the world, but outnumbers all projects completed globally!!!
There are a lot of differences between the two beyond the obvious.
There is a tremendous sense of pride in one's work, work ethic, and camaraderie amongst those below the line. They are often subjected to brutal work schedules, with no real union protection or overtime, no safety standards, or protection from abusive employers.
Above the line, it's pretty much the same. You could work with great people who care about the crew or people that are bad human beings and only care about their profits and egos.
I'd say the biggest difference to me in the USA is the benefit of having a union that stands behind me.
You have been a very active member and I believe even founder of the PCA-ECS group on Facebook, but have recently resigned from that group. What was the reason, or what were you missing within that group?
I founded PCA-ECS on Facebook because at the time there were very few resources for owners of the then brand new WCU4 platform to find technical help and support immediately, especially when you were in the thick of battle and something wasn't working. The group expanded rapidly beyond my expectations and was very instrumental in providing quick solutions to people all over the world. One of the greatest benefits is that since there are members worldwide if I posted a query at 0300h from Los Angeles, someone who was in Europe, Asia, or Australasia would respond right away. There was always someone in some time zone that would be able to help. It also grew large enough that Hendrik Voss from Arri reached out to us to directly interface with the members and provide us with information and resources.
The only reason I stayed on Facebook for so long was to run the group, but eventually, I could no longer ignore my personal ideology regarding Facebook and turned the group over to the capable hands of Andrew Jerram and Nikolai Hermann. By leaving the group is the only thing I regret about disengaging from Facebook. Perhaps I'll make a secret account and join again… 😉
What do you think is the advantage of having such user groups within the community?
The immediate sense of belonging and camaraderie is huge. The ability to provide near real-time solutions to a user who is experiencing an issue and is under pressure from the DP, director, and producer is another great factor. The ability to share hacks, tips, and tricks, to show off our custom builds and solutions, to share LDA files, and more. Did you know there is a way to force the SXU1 to ingest a lens file? I found that out completely by accident but it was very useful when the DP would take my WCU4 because they wanted to manipulate the iris and zoom. I also managed to have a couple of get-togethers that were fun and had been approached by a few vendors who wanted to sponsor a holiday party but unfortunately I had left Facebook by then. Another huge benefit is that Arri saw a captive audience and would use the group for feedback and improvements while we enjoyed being able to talk directly to those who could make the operational decisions that affected our equipment. It is a great symbiotic relationship and I'm very proud to have been able to initiate it. There are many more benefits tangible and intangible but I think building a community is what we are all meant to do in life.
There is a thread on the forum called 10 things… (which can be 10 things you have learned on set or 10 important things in your tool bag etc.)
1.Treat EVERYONE with respect. ALL human beings are worthy of it. Except for that guy…. LOL
2. Keep your head about you when those around you are losing theirs.
3. Keep your shirt on. There's almost, almost never a good reason to lose your cool. Very little gets solved when you're screaming at someone or can't think clearly because you're mad about some perceived annoyance.
4. Clear communication. Use the least amount of words in which you can clearly communicate what you need specifically and in what order if necessary.
5. Protect your department and those around you, especially if they do not have anyone looking out for them, like PA's.
6. You're never too macho to say NO! Safety is no accident. Learn how to diplomatically say "No" when you feel the situation is unsafe. Do so even if it doesn't affect you directly but could save someone else.
7. Check your ego at the door. We work in an extremely creative field where some people might feel that their idea /way of doing things is the best or only way. Rather than waste energy proving a point, nod, smile, and move on to your task. I taught myself a long time ago that when someone is being belligerent towards me, or just plain ornery, generally it's all happening on their side and it's not a reflection on who I am. It costs me nothing to listen to them rant and then move on to whatever I am doing, it allows them to vent and hopefully calm down and everyone can get on with the job. I take very little as a personal attack anymore and my life is much easier. Please don't confuse this for weakness because you're in for a nasty shock if you do. It's a state of mind.
8. Take care of your health. I really wish I'd listened when I was a young-ish PA to my seniors who told me not to jump off the tailgate of a truck with two fully loaded 1000' cases or to wear ear protection or any one of a hundred things they said. But, young and dumb as they say. I'm definitely paying the price now.
9. Mentor. Be generous with what you know. Share it with those who wish to learn. Pass on the excitement you have for what you do, how you do it, and teach the next generation what you can while learning from them what they know. Always learn one new thing a day.
10. If you don't have a sense of humor, fuck off, because you won't last very long in this business. At the end of the day, this isn't heart surgery, we're not saving lives, we're providing entertainment and information. You need to be able to see the lighter side of a situation, find humor in the darkness, and bring happiness to yourself and those around you.
Which 10 Things are important to you to become a good 1st AC?
2. Willingness to learn every day
3. Respect for your seniors and their incredible knowledge and experience
4. Ability to adapt on the fly. Be a cuttlefish.
5. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. Basically, observe more and talk less.
7. Stay current with technology that changes every 3 months or less!
8. Stay physically active and in good health.
9. Have a hobby or life outside the business.
10. Mentor, volunteer and be a good human being.