Studio Manager Meditation: Where Have my Shoes Been?

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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Way back in 2010, one of the first things I did as an assistant and studio manger working for Chris was promptly wreck my Achilles Tendon. Blame it on vanity, or maybe just purely on stupidity, and take my advice when I say to never assist in Sperry Top-Siders (they don’t make great shoes for hauling photo gear).  Months of physical therapy later, I was stuck per doctors orders, with sneakers for the rest of my photo assisting days. Since the wound was still tender, I rounded out the year of 2010 in a pair of very sporty and very lame running shoes.

2011 was a new year and I knew that it required a new beginning in the footwear department. The Crisman team had arranged for an awesome expedition down to Florida to shoot a self-funded and self-produced lifestyle project, and I felt this was the prime opportunity to break out a new set of sneakers – not just any trainers, these would be my assisting shoes. These would be the sneakers to take me to Florida and well beyond.

Enter the Saucony Bullet. Certainly an athletic shoe, but with a touch of modesty. Supportive yet stylist – these were my compromise between a sensible shoe that would protect my feet and a style conscious decision. Damaged Achilles or no, as an assistant you spend a lot of time on your feet – you might as well be comfortable.

Starting in 2011 and lasting well beyond their expected or reasonable lifetime, these shoes grew to be a part of my assistant kit. The first item packed into my travel bag, as time went on and they began to wear and tear, my connection with my sneakers grew ever fonder. Beyond any reasonable lifespan, I pressed onward, refusing to let these shoes go.

In my tenure on the Crisman crew, these shoes coincided with a clear shift in our process – for lack of a better explanation, we hit the road. From 2011 onward, my Saucony’s and I have logged hundreds of thousands of miles, spanning cities, states, and countries. We’ve hit the north, south, east, west – deserts, tropics, great plains, and everywhere in between. It’s hard not to grow attached to the well worn companion that you trust to get you from point A to B.

Two years is a long tenure for a shoe and by  the fall of 2013 I knew it was time. The tread was bare, the fabric was soiled, the seams were splitting – sadly it was time to retire my trusty pair of assistant shoes. At that point, there was only one solid option in my mind for a replacement; same shoe, new color.

Six months out on my replacement pair, I can’t help but looks towards the future. Where will these new soles take me? What adventures lie ahead for myself and my trustworthy trainers? Only time will tell.

Studio Manager Mediation: Presence

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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Presence

Maybe I’m crazy, but more and more lately I feel like it is getting easier to lose oneself in the happenings of others. In other words, between all of the outlets on the internet and in social media, surfing, status updates, instragram photos, foursquare check-ins and tweets can infiltrate the day to day and fill in gaps in our daily to the point where the need to keep up-to-date digitally is outweighing what’s really happening around us. Photos and images play a huge part in this online sphere and being in this industry, we have a very deep connection to that content.

As creators of images, we make our living and we thrive creatively in the act of making, taking, and sharing pictures. On the best days at the job, we could be far from the studio, in an inspiring location working with special individuals to capture their spirit onto film. We are incredibly fortunate enough to travel far and wide all in the name of capturing images to be shared, sold, and disseminated to the population at large. A normal day at the office may take us to the wildest extremes of the earth, or in the company of celebrities, titans of business, or other equally awe-inspiring subjects. We are so fortunate to have access to this treasure trove of personal experiences – and to call it work – not to mention to be paid to have these experiences is a wonderful way to spend one’s days.

I can think of multiple times when I have been guilty of not being truly “in the moment” of the situations I’ve just described.  Is it more valuable to get the perfect instagram photo of an awe-inspiring landscape, or to just sit back for a moment and take in the view? This is something that I honestly am not sure of the answer. There’s certainly value in capturing and sharing the incredible experiences that this unique job affords us, but that process shouldn’t outweigh the inherent value of the experience.

The big question here is where does one draw the line? More specifically, where do we, as content creators draw that line? Should it fall in a different place than everyone else? Even though we derive value both in the inspirational and promotional sense from social media and all of these outlets for the dissemination of photography, are we allowed to fall victim to being sucked into it all too much? I’m sure that it varies from person to person, but more than ever for me it feels that the distinction between capturing a moment and being present for that moment is becoming blurred. In that sense, I am striving to remain present.

Studio Manager Mediation: My Last Trip to Calumet

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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My Last Trip to Calumet

Earlier this month, I started off my morning in a fairly normal fashion: coffee, a quick breakfast, hopping in my car and stopping by Calumet on the way to the studio. We needed a few A clamps – nothing more, nothing less. In every respect, it was a perfectly normal trip. I browsed around for a few minutes looking for odds and ends, bullshitted appropriately with the employees, paid for our new A clamps and got on with the rest of my day.

A week later, Calumet filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy overnight and closed every single one of it’s US stores. Chris and I were in San Fransisco on a shoot when I woke up to the news – plastered all over Facebook and social networks that the longstanding photo supplier shut it’s doors without telling a single soul. Maybe it was the haze of jet lag or a slight hangover from the beer I’d consumed the night before, but I didn’t quite believe it. This couldn’t be – I was just there, I just bought A clamps, it was business as usual.

I made a few calls – first to the Philadelphia store; nothing. With no answer on that line, I made a call to one of the only people who I knew could give me a definitive answer. I dialed the cell number of one of our guys at the Philadelphia store. What I’d heard was confirmed – the news was not good, our conversation was short and I immediately realized the worst part of the situation. It wasn’t the equipment, it wasn’t the studio supplies, the rental gear, or any of the actual things Calumet sold. The worst part of this situation was the abrupt and unfair blow the company dealt to its employees.

This blog post goes out to those guys – I wont name names here, but you all know who you are.

Thank you. Thank you for that morning earlier this month when I came in, browsed around, bullshitted, and bought A clamps. Thank you for the years of great service and even better friendship. Thank you for putting up with all of the Crisman team’s craziness and requests. Thank you for everything, it won’t be forgotten.

Studio Manager Meditation: S**t Happens

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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Let me start out by stating the obvious: shit happens. Yes this statement is a bit trite and a bit redundant, but in this industry it is incredibly applicable. On every level and in every strata of the creative world, it is inevitable that shit happens; it may even feel that sometimes on the daily, plans can do nothing but go awry.

That being said, the best measure of resourcefulness is not only accepting the fact that shit happens, it’s the ability to be the first one who asks: “what’s next?”

Lenses get scratched, camera bodies break, hard drives fail. Schedules change, models never show, creative direction diverts. Forgive me for beating a proverbial dead horse, but shit happens. The solace in the fact of that statement is the understanding and the ability to anticipate, react, and overcome.

Having a backup camera or a backup plan is only part of the equation. You may have the tools at your disposal to overcome whatever curveballs are thrown, but what it really comes down to is your ability to adapt and work with your new situation. Changes may rattle even the toughest and most resourceful creatives, but you simply cannot let shit happening derail your entire train.

At the end of the day, you need to take charge of the (new) situation and work as quickly as you can to adapt. If you’ve done your homework, then you are always your own best backup plan.

Studio Manager Meditation: Assistant Gloves

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

crisman_assistant_gloves_ohl(Photo: David Ohl)

Assistant Gloves.

To phrase it bluntly, sometimes you just need to shut up and work. There’s a task at hand, no need for argument, no need for conversation, just the need to get it done. This is when I like to break out my assistant gloves – whether or not they are necessary for that particular task, I’ll put them on, put my head down, and get a job done.

Hauling gear through snow-covered trails, breaking down multiple sets in a rush to avoid overtime charges on a rental studio, hand-holding octabanks on the beach in Maui, these gloves have seen it all. Yes, they might be a little stupid looking with the big flaming “S” for the brand Setwear emblazoned across the back of my hand. Yes, I’ve worn them for so long that the fingers are worn through. No, I will not be replacing them anytime soon. They are certainly expendable, but I plan on wearing them till they fall off my hands.

In a sense, I’m speaking specifically in a tribute to the gloves that I’ve worn over these past three years. Also, I’m speaking to the bigger picture. Whether it’s these gloves or any other pair, the process remains the same, you just need to get the job done. Not every situation in work or life affords the luxury of choice; undoubtedly you’ll encounter tough problems that need to be fixed, quickly and decisively. These are the moments when you need a good pair of assistant gloves.

Studio Manager Meditation: Up in the Air

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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Up in the Air.

Airports are never fun. Security lines twist and turn, trudging onward. TSA double and triple checks your gear – yes it’s a camera, yes it’s called a Hasselblad, yes you can scan it again and swab it and do whatever you need to, just don’t drop it. Past the checkpoint and headed to your gate, you’re one step closer to getting there, fingers crossed there are no delays.

Time to board, back in line. Finally on the plane and you can hear the baggage handlers tossing luggage into the belly of the jet – simultaneously glad we’re carrying on the cameras and hopeful the lights and softboxes make it to the next stop in one piece. If we’re rough on our gear, I can’t imagine how the baggage guys treat it. Cabin door closes, iPhone turned off, finally pushing away from the gate.

Sitting on the runway, there’s a curious excitement that I being to feel. This comes from knowing that something greater lives at the destination; we’re always moving forward. When we are traveling out to a shoot it’s the anticipation of the photos we’re about to make and when we’re headed home it’s the feeling of relief from a job well done. Increasing speed, barreling down the runway and we’re off the ground. No turning back now, we’re on our way – we are up in the air.

In the sky, hurtling along in a aluminum tube affords a somewhat uninterrupted opportunity to catch up on email or work through a backlog of photo editing, but the most value that I can derive from flying is the simple quiet that an airplane can offer. Turn off the in-flight wifi, close the laptop, block out the din of the cabin, and just enjoy the uninterrupted isolation that 30,000 feet can offer. Yes, I have things to do; there are always things to do, but they can wait.

Time off the grid is getting harder and harder to come by, time that is uninterrupted by the sound of a cell ringer, the ding of an iMessage, or the ping of a new twitter reply. I’ll take any chance I can get to unplug and pause for a moment – it’s really when I can get the best thinking done.

Subtract your fellow travelers from the equation, close your eyes for just a moment, stop and think. You’re flying – you’re moving forward.

Studio Manager Meditation: Taking out the Trash

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to write this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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Taking out the Trash.

No matter who you are or how long you’ve been in this business, there are still moments when you need to roll up your sleeves and take out the trash. This is not a bad thing, and as someone who’s found himself arms deep in garbage every now and then, I’m in no way complaining. You might even say that I enjoy it.

It’s certainly true that no one is above it, and you call me a hypocrite if you like, but one of the first things that we’ll ask an intern to do is take out the trash. I don’t want to be a malevolent manager or rule the studio with an iron fist – I just feel that in the same way as coiling cables, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they handle a simple task like that. Are they methodical or sloppy, careful or haphazard? Do they really care about the task at hand? No job, however small or trivial is deserved to be half-assed.

This simple and sometimes thoughtless act that could signal the end of the week, wrapping up a good shoot, or just clearing out the junk. Although it’s a repeated task that never seems to go away, the act of taking out the trash and the contents of what you’re throwing away are always unique. In this industry that could be anything from torn and tattered seamless paper, to the remains of a catered lunch, piles and piles of paperwork, or even packaging from the latest and greatest piece of photo gear.

It’s not pleasant to wrestle with an overstuffed bag of trash; folding bending, stuffing, wrangling shut and tying closed. You might get dirty, you might break a sweat, but the act is necessary. You can’t just stop and let the junk pile up around you.

That being said, we’re always taking out the trash. We simply don’t have the time or the space to let it stack up, especially since we’re always growing, always creating and always striving to make the next photo better than the last. As an artist and a creative, you never want to stop improving and creating – the minute you get on your heels is the minute you’re done. So how do you make room for everything? How do you clear up the mental space to make your next photo be your greatest?

You have to take out the trash.