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20 Under 30: Jed Shoemaker

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Meet Jed Shoemaker, a 24 year old from Florida. He's a film grip trying to make his way up the Hollywood food chain. He documents his experiences on his blog, Jedediah's Film Rant, featuring tales that are all too familiar to seasoned production types. Jed's intense energy, stamina, and dedication to his profession impressed LAist and reminded us of what so many newcomers go through in the Industry when they are just starting out.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do
you live in?

Nine months, Studio City

Why do you live in Los Angeles?
I have wanted to work in film and video games since childhood. There is no one place better suited to learning about both and to beginning a career.

Why do you work as a film grip?

When I was in college, I volunteered on countless student films as either a grip or an actor, as film school students took all of the above-the-line positions. Most people entering this industry for the first time take the PA route, making coffee for below subsistence wages until they get a hand up the ladder. Coming out here without any connections, I had to make the most of my existing skills. As a grip, I get a chance to learn about production in a very hands on manner. A PA standing around video village watching is just asking to be put to work on some other menial task. Grips, on the other hand, work very hard lighting the shot and then often enough get to pause and observe as the above the line shoot. I look at my work as an opportunity to learn, develop problem-solving skills, and work out, all on the clock. Did I mention the pay is enough to avoid the ramen noodle dependency that goes along with one’s post college days?

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Due to the work’s freelance nature, I am also provided protracted periods of time off in which I can write. The goal is to have enough saved in the bank (financially and idea-wise) to begin developing video games later down the line.

What do you do all day as a grip?
The joke is that a grip picks up heavy objects, walk somewhere, and then puts them down, perhaps cursing in the process. While we are almost always carrying something around, the reality is that we get to do a little of everything. We assist the DP in shaping and manipulating light using a host of specialized tools. We are generally and unofficially held responsible for on set safety. We are the jacks of all trades to whom other departments may come to ask advice about myriad problems. We also do a lot of rigging of one object to another. If that sounds vague for a job description, it's because it is.
A daily task could be attaching lights, camera, and the camera team to the outside of a car without allowing them to fall off in case of a sudden stop. Another day it could involve figuring out how to keep a light on rollers from rolling off a roof. Yet another building a large sun shade eighty feet above the ground in the basket of an aerial lift.

What's the biggest misconception people have about working on a film production?
I imagine if you ask others this, the answer is always glamour. It always looks so glamorous to work on a movie set, but it's actually hard work. I'm not going to rock the boat on this one, as it's really the truth. You might be working with people whose tabloid worship makes them seem as greek gods in the minds of midwestern housewives, but you're generally too busy to really contemplate or care about it. Once you rise above the student film level, a good set is run not altogether unlike a military operation. Everyone should know their respective part of the overall mission and carry it out, as quietly as possible.

What's your favorite set-related T Shirt and why?
Imagine one of those camo shirts that say "now you can't see me" on the back. Now substitute the pigments for the various green screen colors and change "now" to "post."

What's the strangest location you've scouted?
Trona, CA. Anyone who recognizes the name knows why. It's a ghost town in progress and I could spend volumes trying to accurately describe the place (I had some difficulty trying on my blog). Suffice it to say that it is the closest thing we have to a surviving pocket of the wild west, located on the edge of death valley.

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What's the best advice you've received for working in film production?
You need to be committed and persistent, to a fault, but that alone isn't enough. It doesn't matter who you are, or what position you are looking to fill. You need to know how to market yourself effectively. It will not matter how hard or well you work, if people aren't aware of that fact during the instant they are considering who to hire.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far as a member of a film crew?
Don't suggest solutions around both your immediate superior and his boss. Every problem's solution can create new problems that might not be worth dealing with. That, and you own boss might be rather perturbed about you getting the credit going over his or her head.

What's in your production kit?
That could be the subject of an entire article, as I am of the "be prepared for anything" school of thought. I have a little of everything in a big box that gets lugged around with me wherever I work. Some of the items that get the most use and attention, or are perhaps the most amusing are as follows:
An applebox padded cover I got over at modern studio equipment. It transforms any applebox into a comfortable seat or camera rest. On the ground or floor of the grip truck it makes a great pillow, and flipped over on one's lap, a great table. It has been preferred over directors' chairs by Danny DeVito, among countless set workers.
EmergenC or Airborne. I'd call this stuff friendship in a box, because with the long hours without sleep in this line of work, someone is always on the edge of sickness.
Lastly, I get a lot of fun poked at me for keeping a few camping utensils like a metal spork in my kit. However, I am the only one happily enjoying my meals all those times production forgets bowls or silverware.

What in LA inspires you?
The drive north on the 110 around and through the lit up downtown cityscape on clear and cool nights. Then again, what hasn't? The variety in LA is a source of constant curiosity and intrigue to me. Here one has access to just about any culture or activity one might imagine, and then a few.

What stores do you like to shop in when you are in LA?
Coming last from Tallahassee, Florida, with a name like Jed, I imagine the "Beverly Hillbillies" parallels are unavoidable. I cannot really contest these jokes, given the culture shock of walking down Rodeo for the first time. I remember being particularly confused that Porsche had store which sold among other clothing and accessories, kitchen implements. Saving for a home in this market though, I am much too poor for a Porsche spatula, let alone shopping to the point I'd have particularly good recommendations.

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What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
Before moving to LA, I watched through the TV show "Angel." I was greatly saddened upon moving here by my inability to duplicate the timely manner in which its namesake character zips from one LA landmark to another and the number of supernatural villains to combat.

Best LA-themed book(s)?
Until some nasty PA "borrowed" it, my Thomas guide.

What's the best place to walk in LA?
Hill Street in "Chinatown". Particularly some time around the Golden Dragon festival.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Hollywood, most likely because the majority of my work and recreational activities take me there.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
Either a well sound insulated loft over the Third Street Promenade, or one of those houses just south of Ventura Blvd. at Laurel Canyon in Studio City, whose street is lined with some of the only deciduous trees I have seen in LA.

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People stereotype Los Angeles as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?
It is definitely a challenge, but I simply don't wish to think it's not viable to have a sense of community here. So many people here are in transition, or have come from somewhere else, so few have rooted connections to each other. Making it tougher, the nature of work in entertainment is so last minute and time consuming that keeping plans becomes a rigorous task. Having only somewhat recently arrived, I don't yet have that personal network that I and so many others seek. But the toughest part is getting it started.
I find though, that most people here are quite open to interaction, they just might not feel courageous enough to take the first step themselves. Once they realize you are not a homeless person, a scientologist, or simply looking to milk them for professional contacts, they are really quite friendly.

What is the city's greatest secret?
Sometimes I feel like the precise number of mountains within view varies from any given spot. Every once and a while on a particularly clear day I see some range who had previously been able to sneak itself behind the smog blanket.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
Near my car. I'm not quite a survivalist, but in part due to its contents, my friends unanimously rate me as most likely to survive a post apocalyptic event.

If you could make one thing be different in LA for your 30th birthday, what would you change?
Transportation. I hope that in seven years the conversion to alternative fuel source vehicles has at least begun. GM's EV1 stunt was likely just a show of force put on for the benefit of oil producers, but it proved the viability of less polluting forms of personal transportation. I have often been out on Sundays or holidays and
marveled at the beauty the city will hold one day once it's visible. I have also been in the deserts east of the city and seen with disgust the smog roll in as it is flushed out of LA. It's just such a shame that consumers seem willing to take the next step, but the auto manufacturers are not willing to budge. How can a city with a reputation for health and environmental consciousness take itself seriously with such a glaring oversight?