How Failing Got Me Paid To Do What I Love.

I’m a Filmmaker, and always wanted to be. Rather, I should say that I make a living as a Filmmaker, which was not always the case. This is the unlikely tale of how a kid from Mineola, Long Island, who grew up in a basement apartment with no connection to the industry eventually got to do what he loves.

I was always telling stories in one way or another, first in writing, then photography, then through moving image. I never really had to think of what I wanted to do, despite that brief moment when I was 12 and wanted to be Indiana Jones, I just was always a storyteller.

Getting paid to do what you naturally love is a dream I think that most young people expect on some level. I grew up in a very supportive house that always encouraged me to go after my dreams, for better or worse. So, when in college, deciding what I was going to do with the next 60 years of my life, I decided to study Film Theory, mainly because I figured that film was the only industry that combined all the art forms, from writing, to fashion, to acting, and photography into one. How could I ever get bored, and for the most part, this was a smart choice.

Unfortunately a 21-year-old with a degree in Film Theory is unhirable.

I had zero skills in my chosen profession. I didn’t know the first thing about loading a camera, working on set, or directing a crew. I could tell you where Bazin and Eisenstein disagreed in the potential effect of memory recall through the use of editing in film, but that wasn’t going to help me carry C-stands around a set as a PA. So I did what any passionate novice filmmaker did, I got a day job.

I worked in hotels for nearly 10 years out of college, for the simple reason that the only job experience I had was in hospitality, since I worked as the desk attendant in my dorm to help pay the bills. My first job was at the Mondrian hotel on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, which was more of a nightclub with beds then a hotel. Almost immediately I was promoted to Front Office Manager because I had a college degree (at least good for something) and I didn’t quit after 6 months.

Working in the hotel would eventually prove to be excellent training in order to become a director. Every day I would have to solve a wide range of urgent problems, and stay completely calm the entire time. Dealing with the public taught me how to communicate efficiently, and, to some degree, sell people ideas that they originally were against, which if you work in advertising is a large part of your job to convince people that something is a good idea. Beyond this the Mondrian was a very unique type of hotel that was seemingly made for budding filmmakers. It was the policy of the hotel to not hire staff that were particularly interested in working in hospitality. Instead they wanted people with charisma (and good looks, as most of the staff were hired by a talent agency) which naturally offered an employee base that had ambition to be in the film industry. So I found myself not surrounded by desk attendants and PBX operators, but budding screenwriters, actors and Cinematographers. It was perfect.

During the day, in between checking guests in, we would constantly be working on films together, scripting, discussing, and storyboarding, sometimes even editing them on cracked software we illegally loaded up on the computers. It was perhaps one of the most prolific production studios I’ve ever worked in. After work we would put our ideas into practice, filming shorts on MiniDV camera’s like the ZR10, having to log and capture them in realtime over firewire 400. This was where I was getting most of my film education that I never received in college, and it couldn’t have been a better time. While I was shooting as much as I could, something became quite clear; no one wanted to edit my shitty movies.

Digital film had been around for long enough, as was the internet, that there was basically a tutorial about anything you wanted to learn, which is exactly how I got into editing, which would be the second most important foundation to my directing career. Learning how to edit wasn’t a choice; I hated to edit, as it was so slow, boring, and had nothing cool associated like talking to actors or holding a camera. It was a lonely job, laborious, and frustrating as hell given the quality of computers and software in the early 2000s. I was able to get my hands on a cracked copy of Pinnacle Systems Editing Software which at least gave me the ability to start to put my films together. I remember the first film I shot I was alone in my apartment, and was so excited to be able to do absolutely everything by myself, from shooting, to acting, to editing. I wont say it was good, but it was good enough to get me hooked.

I had a good group of friends that I made at the hotel that became my core filmmaking family, much like Scorsese, Di Palma and Coppola but never to be that famous. Regardless besides the minimal time we needed to dedicate to our day jobs, the rest of our time was filled with becoming filmmakers, with the dream to quit our jobs one day and never look back. I want to mention that while I completely hated working in a hotel at the time, it was that disgust that in part fueled my desire to become a better filmmaker. Watching tutorials, spending money I didn’t have on gear, all came from a fiery hatred to serving the masses of mostly ungrateful public. However I look back at the time know and realize that not only was it such an important tool to learn, from doing something you really hated in order to do something you really loved, but also I miss from time to time that feeling of having to do something to get out of my current situation. The motivation that comes from hating your station in life is a powerful force and you should welcome it if you are unfortunately to have it.

We used that force to push us to do timed contests, which was really where my career started as a filmmaker. Timed contests were these type of film festivals that would give you a few key elements, like a line of dialogue, a prop or a theme, and then you would have a certain amount of time to make a film, sometimes two weeks, some times two days, sometimes just 10 hours. I fell in love with them for a few reasons. One, it forced you to make something. At the end of the contest you had a film, and those films were important because it not only proved to yourself you could make a film, but to others that would eventually give you a job. Second it motivated everyone to finish something. Lots of times we would talk about starting a project and it would fizzle out because life just happens. Timed contests were a fantastic fire under our asses that got results.

Another benefit was I was really good at them.

For whatever reason, I was made to do timed contest. The extreme pressure made ideas come fast and quick, and the ability to run and gun was my specialty since I learned filmmaking on the streets and not in a classroom. In the 5 years that my hotel born film crew and I worked together we entered 13 contest and won 12 of them. Each time getting better, faster, and more daring with what we could produce.

At this point the hotel I called home started to change. Managers left, people went on to do their things, and the conditions went from acceptable to pure pain. I was eventually fired for insubordination, and floated around to a few other properties before deciding to move back to NYC where I welcomed the cold, frank city dwellers and no-nonsense take on life.

I got a job at the Parker Meridien hotel on 56th street as a Front Office Manager. After my introductory tour of the property I found myself in the back office surrounded by my new staff. I was excited to meet everyone and find my new film crew.

“So, Nancy, what do you do?”

“I work at the front desk…” she said confused, and rightly so, as I was her boss.

“No, Im sorry, like what do you do like outside of work? Are you a writer, an actress… singer?”

“Uh … no. I just work here.”

It then hit me. LA is a very special place in the sense that everyone living in LA works, or wants to work, in the industry. You could go to a law office and probably find a lawyer with a headshot. NYC was the real world. If you worked in a hotel, then that is exactly what you did.

I was defeated. No one really tells you how very alone you can feel in NYC. I thought that because there are so many people everywhere, if anything you welcomed personal space. No. Being surrounded by 9 million people you don’t know is a reminder 9 million times over how many people you truly don’t know. It is like being bombarded with a lonely power beam.

My desperate answer was to turn to Craigslist, a website where I have been able to furnish my apartment, find a job, get a hand job, and hopefully now, find a film crew to work with. I put a simple post up to the effect of “filmmaker looking for like-minded filmmakers in NYC, going to make lasagna if you wanna come over and talk film.”

On a Friday night at 8pm, in a 6 story walk up on Columbus and 71st street, three dudes showed up for lasagna and to rap about film. They couldn’t have been more different. Kurt, a tall lanky burner from Jersey, Tom, an older guy from Rochester that worked at Dino BBQ, and Russel a nice gay guy from Astoria. This was nearly 15 years ago, and each one of these people are still my best friends, which is remarkable by any standard.

So, I had my little crew and we started making films. I realized however I could no longer work in a hotel as it was an actual profession here and would take actual mental capacity to do. I started applying for anything in the film world, as a PA, in an office or, as an assistant editor.

One day a guy named Dave Herman called me. He worked at a post-house named V2. He needed an assistant.

I had never been in a post-house, and V2 was the daddy of them all. On the west side off of the river, it was in the Starrett Lehigh building and was the entire city block long. It was a palace of black granite and expensive equipment. Each day a catered spread from Balthazar would grace the communal table for anyone that wanted it. The liquor cabinet was larger than any bar I had been in. This place was money. Herman hired me not because I had any experience, I didn’t. He hired me because he was making a film called Able Danger and saw I had a made a lot of short films, which I had. If I agreed to help him on the film, he would take me on as an assistant editor.

“You know how to run an Avid right?

“of course” I said which was a complete lie. What the hell was an Avid?

That night I hid in the storage closed and when everyone was gone started up the computer, which was, the Avid. I had my first clients in the morning and I had to teach myself how to use this new software, which wasn’t the most intuitive. Somehow, by the grace of Saint Thelma, patron saint of editing, I figured out enough to squeak by. I was finally in the industry.

I remember very distinctly thinking to myself “well, how long will this last before I have to go back to hotels”. It was such a specific feeling I had about not trusting I had made an actual career shift. I no longer had to say “I’m a filmmaker that works in hotels”, but was rather “an editor”. It was years, maybe 6 or 7 before I felt like I had actually made it, that I was secure in this new occupation. From V2 I jumped over to jumP, another post-house run by Michael Saia. There my editor Dave Herman eventually left, and I stayed, being a general assistant to anyone that needed me. I had time to work on my own stuff which was great, and even took on a few client jobs as a lead editor while I was there. Eventually I left and went to The Lab, where I would meet Neil Gust who taught me the art of editing. It was by far the most important moment in my career.

Neil Gust was a musician from Portland of moderate fame, but as an editor, no one was better. He had done the Jaguar XS campaign which won every award known to man. I was working on a large 50 person team under the creative direction of Jonson and Wolverton doing a huge 5 million dollar campaign for Cadillac. This was the big time.

Neil taught me exactly how he wanted things which in the end became exactly how I want things as an editor as well. Every editor has a different method to how they work, which is key to their effectiveness. Neil’s brand of magic was different from anything I had seen before; he was almost analog in the way he ordered his material. He did everything manually, and knew very little about shortcuts or even the potential of the software. Everything he did, the magic he created was forged onto the screen from very simple. almost brute force techniques, and the result was stunning. It is a style of editing that is so specific that if you weren’t his assistant you’d be hard pressed to figure out how he does what he does.

Neil taught me some fundamentals that became editing law to me in my own life. The constant relationship to music and motion being one, the potential of finding a perfect match on action. We would edit the image as if it were music, then massage it to the audio bed afterwards. The result is fluidity and impact. It was a grueling learning curve, but by far the greatest set of tools I was ever given.

Eventually the project concluded and the lab, no longer having their client, was letting people go to find their next project. One by one everyone from the motion department of the lab left, until it was just me. They kept me on because I was a bit of a swiss army tool; I could shoot and edit, was a good photographer and retoucher, and knew my way (or knew how to find my way) around any piece of software. I had a pimp office with a globe bar, and fine art on the wall. I wore suits to work and drank scotch in the afternoon. Mad Men was in full swing on TV and I was literally living it.

This is when I stopped thinking I’d have to go back to hotels.

Since then, about 5 years ago, I’ve been out of the lab and on my own. I partnered with two of my best friends who had a production company called No Frames and they took over my office in the lab, becoming their production arm. I also signed with a rep and started directing commercials and branded content full-time. I wont give you exact numbers, but I make in a week what I use to make in a year. It is kind of amazing to look back at the beginning of all this, to see all the unknowing fear, the strange trajectory, and fortunate accidents that brought me to this point. It’s a good time to reflect, as it’s really just the beginning of my career as a director, and a very exciting time.

Just over the past 3 years I’ve directed spots for Nike, Adidas, Google, Apple, I mean some of the biggest brands with the biggest names, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. Coming from a proletariat background I think gave me an extreme humility and strong work ethic that is hard to find in this advertising age. I love the work I do, mainly because I know what it’s like not to be able to do it, or to do it and not get paid for it.

If you’re looking for a concise take away, I would say it is this. Succeeding in doing what you love requires two elements; perseverance and talent. Perseverance comes from drive, and that drive can be fueled by lots of things like hating your day job, desire to be a better person, or just a pure inner fire of being destined to do something. Talent comes from practice, listening, and experimenting. We are all born with some level of talent, some people need to do very little and are fortunate that way. For me, I watched every film I could, every tutorial online, and then absorbed as much as I could from the people around me. I think if you take care of these two governing forces, then you have the best chance of doing what you love, and, getting paid for it. Oh, one other thing, you got to be nice. No one likes an asshole, so be fun, and remember, it’s the journey not the destination that is the goal. If you can find joy in the process, then you’ve already won the game.



Thank God Someone Said It.

Failure, amarite?

I would say without doubt that the one thing that occupies most of my mind is “am I on track?” Everything I do, every project, every story, hell, this blog post “am I on track? Should I be doing this? Is this good?”

I’m about half way through with my life (I’m on the Hemingway diet) and it’s occurred to me recently that there really is two ways people operate; creating a persona for others, and being the person you are.

I’m not sure what is more “effective”. On one hand by creating your persona you get to craft/curate who you want to be, and more specifically what others take you to be, even if that’s not necessarily who you actually are. This can definitely get you where you want to go, and give you the life you want to have at the cost of being a phony. The other way is just more honest; you are true to yourself, which always feels good, unless others think you’re a piece of garbage, and then you got to deal with that.

Maybe it’s a delicate combination of both that gets you through life, but one thing is for sure; it is wholly human to judge yourself against others. Really that’s all we got.

That’s why this little video by the very genius Royal Ocean Film Society was so soothing. Thank you for taking the need for validation away for even just a minute, it feels good to breathe again. The bottom line is that anyone who is successful wasn’t born that way. It took a lot of garbage to get there. Unless you’re Scarlet Johansson. I mean she’s perfect.


Make a living doing what you love.

Choosing a title for this post was difficult. There is a lot of different elements here, but ultimately it is how to do what you love. What I mean by that, in my case, is how I feed myself, pay rent, and make money as a filmmaker.

I went to college, but it wasn’t that. I’ve been an assistant, and it wasn’t that. The bottom line is you have to make things, with the right people, about the right subjects. At least that’s how it has worked for me.

You have probably heard people like Tarantino or Rodriguez say “just make films” and yes, that is true, but I think you need to be a little more specific. This is an example of how that specificity works for me.

Douglas Little is a super talented guy. He’s a world class artist, who has done set design for spectaculars like Queen of the Night and beautiful work for labels like Dita Von Teese and Lady Gaga. He’s a genius. He also makes artisan couture perfume in his amazingly macabre Upper West Side apartment, and that is what really interested me.

So I wrote him an email.

Here is the email: Re: Doc about you.

Hey Douglass… My friend/beauty writer Katie Becker introduced me to you and I was captivated by the post The Window wrote up on you (

I’m a filmmaker/commercial director ( – who from time to time does short docs about interesting people doing extraordinary things.
Wondering if you wanna be captured on film?
Process would take a couple of hours. My style is loose and easy. Rock and Roll event-garde. Film is done for solely for personal reasons … you’d ok it’s release before it see’s the light of day. Just think you would make a beautiful story, your work, even outside fragrance, is exceptional.
Here’s an example of the last film I did –
Lemme know, I’m NY based, easy to talk to n get a hold of.

I had made docs before, and have been making films for a decade, so I had a body of work he could look at and decide if this was his jam. Luckily it was.

We talked on the phone for about 20 minutes so he could explain to me his process, key points about blending a fragrance and what his apartment was like, so I would understand shooting in it, lighting, sound, etc. We set a date and showed up at his door 2 weeks later. It was just that easy, no need to over plan or produce. Point number 1: Just grab your camera and go make something.

Our crew (because it’s not mine, it’s our) is the best, and this is a point number two: make films with the right people. Surround yourself not just with talent but people you like, that you think are brilliant, and that more then anything you have a great time with. Mikko Timonen and I have a company together, and he is not only one of the greatest DP’s I know, he’s one of my best friends. Ramsey Fendall and Matt Jacob are also best friends who both give so much to a project that working without them seems bland, and Russell Dreher is a life long best friend that I met a decade ago through a post on Craigslist looking for filmmakers wanting to make films together. These are the people that make working a pleasure, and make the work something to look at.

Douglass wasn’t really prepared for what we brought to the table, which is to be expected. We love our toys, and we’re all shooters, so we have lots to play with. First, no one is getting paid anything for these passion projects; which is the best way to create sometimes. Everyone is there because they want to do it, collaborate, and play. So Ramsey brought his RED and a Arri SR2 16mm film camera, Mikko a FS700 with Russian anamorphic lenses, Matt a BMCC and a VR360 camera and Russell an OSMO. We were packing heavy.

The shoot was simple; we set up, mic’d our subject, everyone grabbed a camera and we rolled. I had a conversation instead of an interview with Douglass, let him talk, made sure he understood that if he made a joke I probably wouldn’t laugh because I didn’t want my voice on camera, and more then anything tried to make him feel comfortable. As a director, I’ve learned that is my main job; the vision comes along side that, and I rest assured its going to look amazing because I have 4 guys who are loving what they do.

We shot for a few hours, played with some techniques we’ve been wanting to try, and had a great afternoon. Douglass was amazed at how we worked saying, “first of all, all of you are assholes.” because the stuff we shot looked so tasty.

I don’t make these film to get business, that is just a natural bi-product of the work. I do it because I really want to know what Douglass and perfuming and his life is about, and I want to play with my friends, and make something to show random people, to open up their eyes and minds to something cool, just like my friend Katie did for me and the journalist that wrote that article for her, and ultimately Douglass did for the journalist. It’s an interesting subject, and I know it is because A) I’m interested in it and B) someone already wrote an article about how interesting it is. So this is the third point to just make films: make the right films, meaning films that people want to watch. Make something that is interesting, topical, sharable and most importantly something you want to see.

The edit process is really where the love and hate come out. I never wanted to be an editor. I taught myself on a stolen copy of Pinnacle Systems (Im old) on a PC that I built (very old) just out of college. I had to learn because I wanted to make films, and no one, I mean no one, is going to edit your first film for you, unless you’ve made some pact with the devil or have a famous last name on your drivers license. So I learned how to edit, painful dropped frame firewire 400 DV tape at a time. Ultimately that got me into the business, and took me a while to actually get out of editing and focus on directing, but it has never left me. In the end directors can have a style and leave a mark, but with editors, their fingerprint is undeniable. For me, it’s where it all comes together.

It took me a solid week to do this piece. There was interviews to cut down, B-Roll to assemble, lots of Public Domain archival footage to find and manipulate, titles to create in After Effects, music to find, and color correct to work with. I’ve also never worked in such a wide frame, the anamorphic was a challenge on its own, and since we were mixing media and frame sizes, I had to get creative with the visuals. Creative means time consuming which means lots more cups of coffee.

Final result is that Douglass loved it. So much he started sharing the rough cut which I could have killed him for. Let a girl finish putting on her makeup before taking her out, you know? Already there are plans to do more work together, connections to other people, bigger projects with viable budgets in the future. This is how I get work, not through an agent, or a company, or some roster I’m on. Don’t get me wrong, those are perfectly fine ways to represent yourself, but for me it has always been boots on the ground and doing work I love with people I love. It makes sense to me; clients will see this work and want something similar, which is great because it came from a place of pure imagination and didn’t rely on a big budget to make happen. While taking creative direction is part of my job, it’s always so rewarding to be chosen for a project based on the work you like to produce.

So yeah, just make stuff. But make the right stuff and you’ll be where you want to be all the time.


Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in wordphotography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at where he can be contacted as well.

steve mccurry’s life lessons.

Steve McCurry is to Photography what Michelangelo is to Sculpting. A fucking badass. 

He has produced your favorite photograph of all time. I don’t even need to know which one is your favorite photograph, I know he took it.

Today I stumbled on a Sploid article with some short films of Steve explaining his most valuable life lessons. I love this level of access into a mind of a visionary genius. This is the gold they don’t teach you in college. It’s something you only learn from experience, or in this case, someone else’s experience they are willing to share with you.

Thank you Steve for being legend. Here are the videos, I put what I found to be the most relevant first, but you should watch them all.

If I was into reincarnation, I’d want to come back as Steve McCurry. I would have to be into reincarnation and not understand quantum physics so I could time travel as well, but you can dream.


P.S. one thing I saw was how he holds his camera. Thanks CheesyCam for setting me straight.

Paint. Naked Girl. Shoes. What’s not to love?

It’s fall, and it’s a good time for reflection. So here is a good lesson in humility. Take heed.

Sometimes, I am lucky enough to be brought in a room with a bunch of other creative people and offer an idea to help sell their product. A while back I had a concept for a sexy shoe designer that I thought was particularly cool, if not sexy and cool. A winning combo. So I brought it in to an agency.

Here was the concept: a painter wakes up and seems to start painting a picture of his girl still lying in the bed. His brushstrokes wake the woman, and she begins to stretch and move in the bed, as if the brushstrokes are driving her. Soon the energy is frantic, and the paint on the canvas is now dripping on the woman in bed, as if the painter is magically painting her. The paint flows down her body onto her foot where it begins to form a shoe. The colorful shoe forms, she walks off, the shoe still “wet” from being painted leaves bright puddles of paint behind. The painting is revealed: he was never painting the woman, he was painting the shoe. Yes, the shoe, like the woman, is a work of art.

It’s a little Skinamax meets Twilight Zone, or Terry Richardson meets M.Night if you want to sound more smhat-like. Regardless, it was a simple, clean idea, that was visually beautiful, much like the dope shoes that Atwood designs. Lots of bright South Beach color against porcelain skin, sexy-euro undertones, and a wink at the end. All solid elements for eye-catching spot, or at least I thought. I brought it into the room and pitched the hell out of it (I was watching Mad Men at the time and was inspired to say the least, and yes I was wearing a hat) and the meeting went great. I actually got… applause. I thought, “oh, this went well.”

Then no one called. No one wrote. We called. We asked. Nothing was said. Someone was out-of-town, money was tied up, timing wasn’t right. After a month or so we stopped calling. I guess they didn’t like the idea that much, and didn’t think much of it, as these thing happen in the ad world. So be it.

Then, one day, in the back of the cab, I saw this:

Now… I believe in String Theory, so technically it is “possible” that someone else had the exact same idea as I had, usually though, it would be in a parallel universe and not my own. Nevertheless it stirred something inside of me. It was strange to see something you thought of done by someone else. The core concept was there, visually it looks fantastic, but I felt that the heart, the soul of it, and mainly the story, were gone. So I decided to remake my own commercial on my own dime:

I will be honest with you; it wasn’t out of hurt or some sense of revenge that made me want to remake the spot. It’s not like being dumped and then finding a supermodel to make love to, and posting it all over Facebook to show your ex that I was doing not just “fine”, but better, and the supermodel was rich and totally into me, and bi-sexual, very bi-sexual. It was something else, something that really comes out of the love of an idea, and hear lies the point:

If you work in an industry where it is your job to come up with ideas, you must resign that your ideas are not your own, and in so, people cannot steal them. They can hear them, and they can make their own versions of them, but your idea really doesn’t exist until you execute it. Until then, it’s just cosmic current moving creativity along, shared by everyone.

Some producers and account people at the office I worked at were not as zen as I was about this, and I suppose that is to be expected. I mean, we are a business providing a service, so it’s never nice to see your commodity taken from you. That however was not my concern, and honestly, I loved seeing how two people can take one concept and execute them totally differently. I immediately thought of Gus Van Sant remaking Psycho, or even better, my main man Haneke remaking his own film, Funny Games (seriously, go see Cache RIGHT NOW). Perspective like this is something that artists struggle with all the time since it is very hard to judge if you could have done something different, and if it would be better or worse. This was, in effect, a gift.

So what’s my take? Well, I don’t think one film is better then the other. I think that each film is totally different, with amazing qualities in different areas. For me, it really taught me how two different creative minds can birth a concept so obtusely, and how the same idea can be marketed to two very different segments. It’s not something they teach you in school, nor is it something you can easily learn out in the world, but when it does happen, it is a very sobering moment, at least on a creative tip.

In the end, I’m really happy the film I made because it came from a place where the best ideas should come from; the desire to make something exist. If necessity is the mother of all creation, it would stand reason that all the people who helped bring it to life did so for passion, not paycheck. We shot it at my office, on a 5D, with two friends. The painter, is a super talented editor Richard Mettler who isn’t even an actor. The model is the incomparable Natasha King who I’ve used in dozens of films. The DP is my business partner Mikko Timonen who’s work speaks for itself, and it was produced by Erin Judd who makes magic happen daily. Beyond that we had support from a few other friends who were just interested in helping out. Thats all it takes to make an idea come together. That and about $200.00 for some paint, canvas, and sheets you can throw out.

I would say everyone worked for free, but they didn’t; they worked for the idea they believed in which is always payment enough. Well, that and lunch; I am Italian after all, no one works hungry on my set.

In the end my only real regret is not to have been able to work with the agency that produced the real spot. I would have loved to collaborated with like minded artist and can only imagine what we would have come up with, together. The synthesis of creative combination. I will say it was sort of wonderful to anonymously write the Creative Director of their spot and ask him where they got such an wonderful idea. His response was poetry to the ears of the general consumer, and if nothing else, fortified my belief that you should never believe anything you see on TV.


P.S. If you’re wondering where I stole the concept from (as no ideas are ever original) I had done a similar effect for one of the first music videos I ever shot which, I say blushing, did the entire thing in my tiny East Village apartment on a greenscreen (this is how I taught myself After Effects). The idea came from Michelle Vergara who based the look on Maxi Priest’s “That Girl” by the genius Hype Williams. Again, a concept, some willing friends, and a few bottles of Tito’s and you too can have an award winning music video;)

If you wanna check it … the paint part is around 1m30s:

crumbling clients.

So I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of visionary brands (and yes, this is where I list the best of them so you can see my net worth. Deal with it.) Victoria’s Secret, Reebok, Lincoln, you know, the big boys (and girls). No matter who the client is, and this is absolutely true, I approach the job the same way; that it is not a job. I enjoy what I do so I bring that enjoyment on set with me.

See, I used to have “a job”. I used to work in hotels. As in a “hotel manager”. I choose that job because it afforded me the ability to travel, and to pursue my passions as a filmmaker and writer and all that good stuff. Well, passions were pursued, and eventually I caught up with them, and now their my bitch. People ask me what I do in my free time. I either tell them “I don’t know what free time is” or “the same thing I do in my not free time”. The reason is if I wasn’t doing this for money, I would still be doing it, so I can’t really call what I do a job. Shhhhh. Don’t tell my clients.


The Secret is out... how can you call this work?
The Secret is out… how can you call this work?

So it doesn’t matter if its capturing bodies for Victoria’s Secret or cam shafts for Victor’s auto body, the work, the actual work I’m doing, is always enjoyable.

That’s why, when a client suddenly doesn’t call you back, you cry. (well I cry.)

Unlike in the hotel biz when a guest doesn’t return, you feel a tinge of pain, but you know that you’ve done all humanly possible to make their stay better than they dreamed, or remedied any situation beyond their expectations. I secretly loved being a manager, because I love people, and I love fixing problems, and people problems are the best kind to fix. If the filmmaking thing didn’t work out I was going to become a Jewish mother. There comes a point though where there really is nothing you can do to help a person because they have decided that there is nothing that can be done. It’s a two-way street with people, and I guess, that’s what makes it interesting.

With clients though, because you are doing what you love, because it is not a job but an extension of you, you take it very, very personally.

About a year ago I used to photograph cupcakes for Crumbs Bakery. It was a fantastic time; sometimes in the morning I would have to shoot a Victoria’s Secret model, then in the afternoon, about 3 dozen crazy cupcakes. I used to call it “panty and pastry Thursdays” and all my friends hated that, and me, subsequently. The cupcakes were ultimately much more exciting, mainly because you got to eat them at the end of the session, something that would never happen with the models.

crumbs cupcakes
I loved the plus sized models….

Things were going swimmingly. Each week a new batch. Flag day cupcakes, Halloween cupcakes, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Boxing day, Woman’s Suffrage Day. Crumb’s came up with new flavors and design for nearly every little note on the calendar. We had a great time building dioramas, getting creative with cream and sugar, and it didn’t ever seem it would end.

But then, it did.

They just stopped calling. We called them, asked, “anything this week?” they would reply, “No. Nothing this week. We’ll see next week.” but next week was the same deal. Soon we would ask, “did we do something wrong?” and they would say. “No. It’s just some restructuring.” the client equivalent to “it’s not you, it’s me”.

Well, I can’t tell you, this happened months ago, and I don’t pass a Crumb’s bakery, or even have a slice of birthday cake and not think of those beautiful days I spent with my Crumb’s cupcakes. I wonder where she went to, who she was hanging out with, and who was letting her beadboard light off of her. I would be jealous some days, others, just sad, wondering what was it I did, or perhaps, didn’t do, to make her stay with me.

Today I saw the news. Crumb’s is to close all its stores. They are totally bankrupt.

I can’t say I am happy. It’s not like the girl who dumps you, then you see her 15 years later at a cousin’s wedding and she’s fat with some sort of a mullet and a boyfriend named Ted who’s in “finance” (sells auto insurance over the phone. Nice try Ted). No, it’s not like that. It’s more like you found out your love had a terminal illness, and instead of telling you, she let you go, as to not bring you down. Or it’s like, “damn. So that was it.” and you might be able to eat a slice of Cookie Puss now without that sinking feeling in your stomach (you’ll still get that feeling. I mean, its Carvel after all)

The point (is there one Rob?) is that when you do what you love, it is impossible sometimes to separate your emotions from your “work”. This is the real challenge; to be able to give yourself fully to what you do, but have the restraint to be able to make cold business decisions when need be. I am constantly guilty of doing more than what is budgeted mainly because it doesn’t bother me. When you’ve listened to Hollywood hipsters complain about how they can’t get into the SkyBar for 5 years, and how it’s ruining their lives, then any request from a client asking to do something that you love just seems like heaven.

First world problems I suppose. Good luck Crumb’s. You will always have a sweet spot in my heart.