As our platform is growing, so is our team of community managers. With the following series of interviews, we would like to introduce the latest 4 community managers in the FPAW team, starting with Tiffany Aug.
· Date of birth: 05/14/1983
· Residence: Los Angeles CA, USA
· Pulling focus since: Professionally since 2005
· Favorite LCS: Maybe wcu4 (or the wc4u depending on who you ask) (I really don’t mind/prefer any of them (blasphemy, I know)
· Left/Right handed: Right Handed FTW
· Favorite cameras: Film: Aaton xtr. Digital: Maybe the Mini LF
· Favorite Lenses: I’ve done some really beautiful stuff with k35s, uncoated super speeds, and p-vintage primes. I probably had the most fun shooting with the red pro primes back in the day because they were cheap and had incredible close focus so as long as you could shade later to fix how boring they were contrasted curve wise they were mechanically kind of fun to design shots with and you could do riskier on camera manipulation with them because they basically cost nothing.
Hey Tiffany, Thanks for taking your time for this interview. Before we start asking any questions, please tell us a little something about yourself. (what is your journey, becoming an AC)
When I was in high school we had photography classes for some reason. I really liked them and before I had my 1st one my dad (who was lending me his Pentax k1000 for the classes) sat down with me and we did a full disassemble/ service on it which is probably when I realized how much I liked learning how cameras worked by physically doing hands-on work with them.
When it came time to decide what I wanted to do to support myself I realized I wasn’t’ really good at photography and mostly just liked it because I liked the cameras and the process of the technical stuff. So, I thought of what other careers had cameras that I could maybe make some money at and realized all the tv shows and movies out there had to have been made with cameras and maybe there was some way to get into that. So, I went to film school (Emerson college in Boston [they gave me the most money]).
It wasn’t until I was in film school that I even learned about how a film set was structured and that not only was there a department for just dealing with the camera but there was actually a job within that department that really closely related to what I liked about cameras and why I was looking into a career in filmmaking. I was behind the curve for most film students who were walking film dictionaries before they got there. They were totally in love with the art of storytelling and could talk to you for hours about their filmmaking heroes.
Not to say I’m not a creative person, I’m just more of a reader when it comes to getting my story fix. I was glad to have the opportunity to not just be technical, but to also support and collaborate with the artsy kids to help them make their “artful masterpieces”. I liked the challenge of translating their ideas into tangible frames of action.
While in school, I started freelancing mostly as a loader for sports and some commercials as well as camera pa on some features that came to town to get my “sea legs” so to speak before I moved to Los Angeles. My school was structured so that film majors could take their last semester in L.A. doing an internship to set up a way to make contacts for a successful freelance career. Well, that worked out as I had only worked with film prior to moving to la. So, I did my internship at a digital rental house (and had just become a thing for the theatrical film production world and the f900 was the hot camera).
Turns out not a lot of ACs had a film set etiquette/background but also had knowledge of the menu systems and general image gathering workflow technology of HD cameras. So, I made the rounds pretty quickly in the early days of HD. I got hired a lot to “2nd” but really do all the menu set up and change settings when we needed to go highspeed tec. Later, for tv, I was hired as an “AC” to design and run their video systems and match cameras (before dots were a position). I think producers liked that I could also pull focus on the “hard shots” if needed, between repairing cables and tracking down genlock faults in the routers.
The rest is pretty standard freelancing just meeting people and deciding who you’d like to work with again, fostering and nourishing those relationships in the attempt to make a successful career together. Also finding the people who not only didn’t make you want to beat your head against a wall but actively helped prevent you from slamming anyone else’s head into any hard objects.
How did you first learn your skills and what did you do to keep getting better?
I first learned how to pull focus by doing it in film school. Apparently, a lot of students were afraid of the camera and the lenses and the unknown of if the focus was “for sure” or if you were gauging the distance correctly. Maybe it was because I knew how the camera and lens were working to make the image that I was so confident but I didn’t have that fear. That basically gave me ample opportunity to continue pulling focus throughout school.
Eventually, it became 2nd nature. I could, and I think a few times did, pull focus in my sleep. (Insert the photo that exists somewhere of me sitting on the spreaders of my tripod, in a bathroom next to the can, asleep with the sr3 in my lap. We’d been filming for 14 hours, and I had gone there straight from my 8-hour shift at my day job and was leaving set to go to my 2nd job in a few hours.) I think I was doing something like maybe 30ish student films a semester so about 60 a year. So, starting out, practice made perfect.
I think where there was room for improvement, where I really had to work on getting better, was the social aspect of filmmaking. The biggest professional hurdle I faced was less the technical skills involved in doing my job but more the social hurdle that was trying to get in with working crews. To this day I still hit a hiring wall because I’m not the traditional personality for an ac. I work on it by observing the people I know that are successful or who have careers that I admire. I talk to them about their experiences on set and what I can do to be more generically palatable to people who might be hiring me.
Outside of personal growth, I’d say one of the ways I lean on to get better is if I have questions I ask them. I’m a huge HUGE proponent of brain trust. (Crowdsourcing feedback and information shares for problem-solving from a tight group of knowledgeable colleagues). Over the years I worked to identify and introduce people I thought were good thinkers to one another so that I could lure them all into a friendship/brain trust we could all use to work out issues we came across at work. It’s really worked out for all of us through the years. I think every person at some point benefitted from having access to the rest of the group.
Furthermore, I encourage my 2nds to speak up if they have questions (even if it’s to question why I’m doing something a certain way). I want them to feel free to make suggestions for how we might work better as a team. I believe we are a team, the operator 2nd and I to make the best image we can while not impeding the work of others or the schedule at large, and I think the best way to do that is through clear and constant communication with each other.
What was the biggest project you have worked on, or you are most proud of?
I suppose the most recognized project I’ve worked on is my current tv series Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’ve known the current DP and showrunner for going on 14 years. We’ve done multiple shows before this one so for me it’s not very intimidating as it’s shot with a style I helped them fine-tune on other shows over the years. It’s a blended crew, comprised of the former DPs department heads with some of the current DPs hires mixed in, so it’s been really nice to meet some of the original crew and work beside them.
The project I’m most proud of- I don’t know that I can really answer. Instead, I’ll answer the project I enjoyed the most. That would probably be a stupid music video for some band no one had ever heard of that doesn’t exist anymore. It was really great because my best friend was shooting it on a wholly “donated” camera package with no pre-thought-out concept other than a few scouts with the director who was having a hard time with the artists. They had a very detailed idea of what they wanted but couldn’t possibly put it into words but they’d know when they saw it…. Usually the worst scenario ever. Yet somehow, it was actually really fun to kind of MacGyver the camera together for the different builds we needed (often out of mismatched spare parts) and used these really cheap lenses that were kind of optically boring. We really had to get creative with foreground and background and shot design to make it look interesting.
Also, everyone on set (I think there were 7 of us) pulled together to work completely as a creative team to take the information the director (who would also be editing) got from the artists and help him translate it to moving pictures. It was the perfect storm of collaboration and technical creativity. The kind of shoot that really bonds the people making it together.
Who inspired you the most during your career?
I don’t know about inspiration, I definitely have some people who were key in supporting me throughout my career. I have a close group of friends who helped me through some rough patches both personally and professionally. They also happen to be amazing camera people themselves so they were in a great position to help me balance and navigate the freelance lifestyle.
Without getting too personal, it was just really nice during some of the harder times in my life to have these people who didn’t just know me as a colleague, but also as a person- a friend. They really stepped up when sometimes things were too hard.
I got roped into keying some tv-series within my first year of working full time in this industry. If it wasn’t for some of the ACs I was working with on those shows, a bad situation, that was definitely taking its toll mentally and emotionally probably would have resulted in me leaving the industry entirely. It was really with their support, their points of view, and sharing their past experiences, that I was able to muddle through those shows and come out the other side with a plan to reorganize my career in a way that was positive, that maybe didn’t make me feel like a constant failure, and got me back to loving what I do and looking forward to being on set again.
I didn`t want to talk about Covid, however, I think everyone is eyeing L.A. and Hollywood, to see how the heart of the industry is handling the Pandemic and finding ways of continuing their work. How does a normal workweek during the Pandemic look like in Hollywood?
Working during the pandemic in Hollywood looks a lot like an assembly line to start the day. Often you wake up and start the day by filling out a survey about your general health and any contact with people who have tested positive for covid-19 before you even arrive to work. Then, once you’re at work, you show the proof that you filled out and “passed” the survey (had acceptable answers to allow you to go to work that day). Then you get your temp taken and, provided it’s in the accepted range, get a wrist band and head off to your covid test.
Depending on the show it is usually a daily test of some kind. Larger shows will do daily pcr testing and smaller ones will do daily rapid tests with pcrs 3x a week (ish). You’ll either get your results from a pcr in 24 hours via email individually or the batch results will go to your employer and they’ll group notify the crew via email that the results were negative. If there’s a positive you’ll be called or sequestered in person and contact traced. If it was a rapid test you’ll lurk in a parking lot watching the bathrooms park while you wait 15 min for your results. You’ll then be issued your wristband if you passed. Now you finally get to start your workday and have access to crafty/catering.
The cool thing is there are usually portable handwash stations around on set now. For me, this is a huge win. Before covid, often the bathrooms parked 4 blocks away, were the only place available to wash your hands-on set. Now, there’s usually a station at crafty and one at catering (basically anywhere there’s food). This is great b/c you don’t have to spend half your lunch break looking for a place to wash your hands.
Each day you repeat this process with a few hearts dropping moments throughout the show when they tell you they’ve received a positive. You can finally exhale when they go on to say they’ve already contact traced and if this is the first you’re hearing of it then you didn’t have to contact so congratulations on staying safe to work another day.
I think I have an entire patch of grey hair that cropped up waiting for pcr test results. After months of wondering if you’d ever work again the industry finally started back up, freelancing was competitive and hard enough before the pandemic, would you know the right person or answer your phone in time or be available all the days of the job. Would your potential employer meet the rate and other conditions of hiring, would you check all the right boxes for who they were looking for? and now, there’s this added step to secure the job of being available for pre-show testing. Then if you are, and you do you think I finally got the job, but now every day you need to requalify for it by passing this relay race of covid related tests and protocols. So even once you have the job you might not really have it if your test comes back inconclusive or you drove to work with the heater on and you fail the temp check. The worst part is there’s really no one to get mad at and no way around it because the whole thing is set up for everyone’s safety, and is ultimately what’s letting us continue to operate during a pandemic. It’s just a hard stress pill you have to swallow.
You are also close to different local manufacturers, especially these, who are open to getting input from owners/operators. How do you think, manufacturers can benefit, having direct contact with their users?
I think a lot of the manufacturers who make things for our industry didn’t start out with the idea of doing just that. I think a lot of them were general machinists or fabricators that due to being located in Los Angeles got kind of pulled into making things for the studios/entertainment industry. Many of them have never actually worked on set before or if they have, it was a long time ago. So, I think they benefit greatly from hearing feedback about their products from people who use them on real sets every day. In a lot of instances, there’s actually no other way for them to know if a product is flawed or needs improvement.
I mean how many times have you built your camera one way- for years only to have someone say “how come you don’t just use this to put that there?” and they have some piece of gear you’ve never seen and didn’t even know existed and it revolutionizes the way you do your build. It’s that but on a manufacturing level. You need the input of the people out in the field to help you know which direction you should be moving with your products or even to know why some failed while others are inexplicably flying off the shelf.
Also, I think it’s worth mentioning, it doesn’t help anyone for you, the consumer to be frustrated with the options available to you because if this only did that or that was only a little longer and not ever take the time to reach out to the people who made the parts in questions and let them know. You never know if the part you wish was an inch longer actually starts off longer and they have been cutting it to this size arbitrarily and it is really no extra work for them to make a few a little longer. In the end, you end up with the part you wanted and they end up with a new product to market to users and a possible renewed interest in their entire line from the public.
Any product idea or solution you found, which made it into a product?
I’ve had a few things made over the years for me. They’re available on file at the places that made them if anyone ever wanted to make the same thing again. I think a few units of a focus station stand I had made at modern sold. They also have a design to make a backstage style hi/lo hat bracket for Yeager carts there on file under my name as well if anyone wanted to have them make another. I work pretty closely with Ken at Ultralight and he’s been really receptive to feedback and made an Arri locking pin version of the ULCS quick-release mounting system (ba-db) for me to try out and I believe it’s currently available on the website. He’s also working on a monitor mounting bar for making a multi 7” monitor tree.
In my opinion, your sense of humor is unique and unmatched. Is it also on set? And how important is it for you, to have a good portion of humor as a 1st AC?
The biggest hurdle for me in starting my career was the social aspect of trying to “fit in” with existing camera crews. It was very much still the age of the “silent sentry of the camera” when I started out. ACs were supposed to be the quiet guy that stood next to the lens and spoke rarely to anyone and used mostly secret hand signals to their 2nd to convey what was needed. That is very much not who I am as a person.
I was very fortunate to get sucked into comedy tv productions early on. I definitely got more than a few sideways looks from some of the more “traditional” crews I worked with on dramatic features prior to that. I was definitely told that I wouldn’t’ speak unless I had something related to the shot to say which I think was their nice way of telling me my jokes were not appreciated in that environment.
It was very much a great relief to find myself on my first comedy tv show where everyone was joking around all day, from the ads to the director, the cast-off camera, and the camera guys. It went a long way in making me feel less nervous and more accepted. I remember on my second day on a show, I was asking the ad about a company move that was listed on the call sheet and if I should be thinking about getting the cameras ready to load into a van and he asked me “where did you get that” in reference to the call sheet/schedule. He took it out of my hands, tore it up, tossed the pieces over his shoulder, and told me to relax. I later watched the same guy eat a piece of ham out of his wallet as an observational joke, to see who was paying attention. He went on to introduce me to some people with whom I still work today, all because we laughed at the same things and reached for the same punchlines.
Moving forward in my career I take pride in the fact I’ve had people from other departments and even other camera teams on my set tell me that my crew and I seem really “tight” and like we’re always having a good time. I would say I definitely use my sense of humor as well as encouraging others to use theirs to help keep things light and keep people from taking anything too personally. At the end of the day, I think most people work better when they feel like they’re having a good time and laughing does that.
What do you think, people around the world can learn from other ACs through such platforms?
I think ACs around the world definitely can learn from other ACs in other places through platforms like FPAW. Even what the job entails is different from country to country and it’s always nice to hear what other people are doing. It’s also cool to see “unicorns” or pieces of gear you didn’t think existed because it never gained popularity in your country being used onset in the country of its creation. Also, I think sometimes it’s nice to find kindred spirits in anything you’re passionate about, and for a lot of us, our jobs are also a passion so it’s nice, especially if you feel like a bit of a black sheep in your local community, to meet people from other places where values and priorities are maybe a little different and you feel less like a weirdo for liking one thing over another.
There is a thread on the forum called 10 things… (which can be 10 things you have learned onset or 10 important things in your tool bag etc.)
Which 10 Things are important to you to become a good 1st AC?
Oh boy 10 is a lot.
1. A thick skin
2. Laser tape measure for when you’re gaslighting yourself on a wide shot that looks less and less in focus with each successive take b/c you’re sure it’s 32’ but is it really? Is it going to look this sharp on the big screen? Better double-check…. Again.
3. A whole bucket of forgiveness for when something gets through your thick skin
5. A fondness for puzzles and tools
6. Physical, mental and intellectual flexibility, the ability to adapt.
7. An ability to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations physically and socially.
8. A desire to learn from everyone around you all the time even if it seems unlikely.
9. A tolerance for poor quality coffee, snacks, and working conditions.
10. An ironclad bladder that can last 12 hours if need be.