PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 37, Landings: Jake Gibson
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Griffin Maduzia: Welcome to the Landings podcast. I'm Griffin Maduzia here with a filmmaker, videographer, entertainer, comedian, what have you, Jake Gibson. I don't know if you're any of those, but thanks for being here today.
Jake Gibson: Thank you for having me, Griff.
Griffin Maduzia: It's been quite some time, but I guess let's just get started from the last time I saw you: graduating senior, going off into the unknown. Where'd you go from there?
Jake Gibson: Yeah, of course. So directly after school I went to Portland, Oregon, where I did a lot of freelance film work. I thought I could break into the film industry there in a smaller city that wasn't as saturated as Los Angeles. But you know, as it turns out for a young filmmaker who had had a good bit of experience in college, it's just, it was too small of a pond for me to really break in. Like all of the shows that would come to town would get staffed up by people that were already established in the city. So it was hard for me to kind of get my foot in there. I ended up being an assistant director on like an indie feature film, which was a really great experience in a, let me use like all of the skills and, and, you know, and knowledge that I had accumulated in college for my own work and I put it to good use. So I mean, I, I'd have to explain that a little bit more. So basically when I was in college, you might know this, Griffin, but I don't know if your peers do. I had like a production company with my friend Pablo Tamryn and we made a lot of videos like Kickstarter videos, promotional videos that we made for people on campus and you know, the entrepreneurship community at Cornell. And we got a bunch of money from doing that and we built up like a small equipment package where we had a camera, red lights, we had sounds and we were able to then work on our own creative endeavors. Like I made a short film, Pablo made a short film. Then we actually wrote, produced, we co-directed a feature together. So we ended up doing a lot of work in college that then I tried to take with me into the real world.
Griffin Maduzia: Super interesting. I mean I'm, I'm kind of in the same boat. I was looking at cities like Mexico City or Vancouver, kind of smaller markets. So how did you go about, like getting in contact with the indie filmmakers, making the film? What did you, what'd you do right when you got there? Like did you have connections over in Portland? How'd you choose Portland, just out of curiosity?
Jake Gibson: Sure. So I knew that I wanted to get away from home. You know, I—
Griffin Maduzia: Totally.
Jake Gibson: Cornell's in New York, but I also grew up in New York, so I wanted to go as far away as possible. So I landed on, you know, three major cities on the West Coast, which was, you know, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. I don't know why I avoided San Francisco. I'm not a tech guy, so I don't know. I don't know. I don't know why.
Griffin Maduzia: Gotcha, fair enough.
Jake Gibson: Basically, I decided to, Portland had enough flavor for me and I knew that they had like a good creative community there. So I wanted to start there. Yeah, so, so I went to Portland and I started looking for jobs by, one, checking out Craigslist and just kind of trolling Craigslist every day sending out like 20 plus responses to ads on there. And I continued doing that in Los Angeles. That's a great thing to do when you're first starting, if you don't have many connections. The other thing I did was I just started looking for community resources. So, in Portland specifically, there's a thing called Open Signal. It's a public access television station that became like a great community center and they have a lot of classes, and once you take classes, you get, or you're able to like rent gear for free and use their studio facilities. You know, they had two major studio stages plus like a tech room. It was great for live production, so it was great. So my, my, my answer to the question, check out Craigslist and any sort of job boards you can find, but also get involved in local communities that are dedicated to film and the arts and just start talking to people and take classes. Network as best you can, I mean, cause people will you know, people are very open to talking about what they do for, you know, what they do in the film industry because it's a, it's, it's both a profession and it's an art and it's because people's lifestyles, because, you know, they're working on set, you know, 12 hours a day and they're, you know, they're completely consumed by it. So they don't really want to, they can't really talk about anything else.
Griffin Maduzia: Absolutely. And I've really never been one for a, you know, social media or whatnot. But would you say kind of Instagram and connecting on that front has been important in your early years as a filmmaker?
Jake Gibson: I would say that Instagram definitely has its place. I can't say I've found like a ton of jobs through Instagram, but you know, if you, if you're following people that you think are interesting, they, you know, they seem like they're very active in the whatever in the fields that you want to be, you know, reach out to them and like, I don't know, one, one in fifteen people will, or it actually depends who you respond to. You know, if it's like a small account, but they're like very passionate, they'll, you know, they'll, they'll be open to connecting. So it definitely is helpful sometimes and I have found some gigs through there. And those are usually very cool gigs. It's just more rare because, you know, sometimes you have to find the right person to reach out to on Instagram.
Griffin Maduzia: Totally, totally. All right, let's go back to Cornell a little bit. So I mean, you've, you've clearly done a lot of work on the side, you know, freelancing, found, found your own way a little bit. What kind of advice would you give to filmmakers trying to go to Cornell, which isn't always considered, you know, the most creative type school, doesn't have a huge creative community. What would you recommend to, you know, young freshmen filmmakers just arriving on campus,
Jake Gibson: Right. I would say do it. I did, which is definitely, you know, you know, PMA, if it's still called PMA, is a great, it's a great major especially for theory, and sort of like critical analysis of filmmaking, which is a great backbone for like being able to understand films and, or perform, you know, media and, and, and your place and what you like and what you want to replicate. So, you know, that's great, but also, you know, as it so happens, there are only a few classes, maybe it's growing now, that are dedicated to practical applications of filmmaking. So in your free time, you know, get out there, like, grab a cheap camera, buy a cheap camera. You could, you know, you've been, use like a Handycam and just start experimenting with the things that you learn in class that you, you know, you could teach yourself, you can learn online, but just go out and create and just kinda like fill in the gaps in your own knowledge by figuring it out by yourself.
Griffin Maduzia: Absolutely.
Jake Gibson: And so I would say in addition to that, you know, get involved with the creative community at Cornell because there is, you know, it's like in AAP, there's a lot of fine arts students. The architecture school has a lot of people that like different like cross, you know, multimedia sorts of applications of art. So get involved, meet those people and just experiment. College is a great time to learn what you like, to learn what you do well. And there's a lot of people that are in the same boat trying to figure it out for themselves. So just meet as many creative people as possible and say, Hey, you guys want to make something? Totally.
Griffin Maduzia: Yeah. I mean, have you found any of those connections, whether it be through students and fine arts students, something like that, or faculty within PMA that you can kind of draw back on, and I dunno now maybe is to this day, is anyone still kinda sticking with you from your experience at Cornell?
Jake Gibson: Yeah. Well, I would say, I mean there was a lot of great, there were a lot of great professors, but the professor that I connected with most was a, was a guy named Steven Winters and he is, I mean, he was just a visiting professor for like two semesters when he taught. I mean, while he was there, I took like advanced filmmaking with him and he was really great. I mean he and Randy together, Ross and Randy, I believe it's Hendrickson. I don't know. I'm just saying he had Randy,
Griffin Maduzia: He and Randy, the man who runs the equipment, indeed.
Jake Gibson: Yeah, he and Randy are great. Randy is just so knowledgeable of so much gear, especially like, you know, for somebody that didn't know anything, he's great at explaining things and making recommendations. And there's like a good equipment library that Cornell has to kind of for you to be educated from. But Steven Winters is great because he was very, very encouraging about filmmaking. I think he was just, he was basically up the school, thought it was just like, just stop hesitating and if you have ideas, go out, and even if they don't come out well, at least try them out. So there was something that I wrote, I believe in Aoise Stratford's class, the screenwriting class, and I wasn't going to make them a short film or at least like I had no intention of it. But then when I started taking advanced filmmaking Steven was just like, yeah, you should, if you like the script, go for it. And so I tried it out and then I ended up like pouring my heart into that endeavor.
Griffin Maduzia: Right on.
Jake Gibson: And so Steven was great for encouraging you to do that.
Griffin Maduzia: That's awesome. And then just in terms of as an artist, as a filmmaker, do you see yourself more as a director or cinematographer? Where is kind of your career path taking you to this point? A writer?
Jake Gibson: Okay. So that's a funny question because I guess, so basically straight out of school. I was just like, I want it to just be a filmmaker. You know, I had, I had experience producing, editing, directing you know, filming, whatever, DP and, and like I wanted to do all of those things. So I guess like the most important thing I've learned being at a school is that like, especially in LA where I am now and in Los Angeles now, people want you to specialize. They want you to like proclaim, Oh, this is what I want to do. And so that was like a hard adjustment for me, cause people would be like, what do you want to do? I was like, I dunno, I want to edit, I like directing and I want to do camera and I want to just write. And so now I suppose that I've been forced to like establish myself as saying I'm a director of photography or a cinematographer because for me, you know, I, I been thinking about this for at least two years now and I had a, I've kind of landed on the idea that although I like all of the different disciplines and filmmaking, I like working with the camera the most and so that, so that gave me my answer essentially.
Griffin Maduzia: And in terms of those fields, between like director and writer, just personally, out of curiosity, how, how common is it for someone to come out and say they're a writer and director? Cause I feel like that's easy to say when you're, when you're a big hot shot in the business. But to kind of come in and be like, I want to write my own stories and then eventually direct, is that something that's commonly done with young people or...?
Jake Gibson: Okay, so as I've come to understand that, I have a good friend who just got like major representation as a director and a writer, what I've come to understand is basically you can't like work in the industry as a director and writer... As a writer/director until you're a writer/director.
Griffin Maduzia: Right.
Jake Gibson: So you have to, kind of make that, well you have to establish yourself as a writer/director outside of your day-to-day work. Because you can be like a writer's assistant and try to get to a writer's room and be a writer that way, you know, and you can work on sets and you know, either be a, a producer, or you could be an assistant director and then try to transition to a director. But to transition to a writer/director requires you to actually take, like, your free time and make as much work of your own as a writer/director, as possible. So to get representation as a writer/director, you have to have something to show for it. You have to have written and directed your own work. And then, you know, submitted that to film festivals or just shop that around. And pitching that to agents because, to make a career out of that you have to get some form of representation or, or, or, or do something with work you've already made.
Griffin Maduzia: And at any point early in your time, you know, after graduating from school were you like, I want to, you know, try and do all this stuff on my own, submit to film festivals and work that for a year or two, or try to see where I could get, you know, on that front before kind of getting higher jobs, freelance videography jobs? Like...
Jake Gibson: Yeah. To answer your question, yeah. I had every intention of submitting to film festivals. I thought the short film that I made was great, although there were some errors and I had to go and re-cut it. But then the feature film that me and Pablo made at the end of my senior year, we wanted to submit to film festivals, but we never finished it because it was such a trying, difficult experience on our relationship as collaborators. We had been working at that point for like, you know, good part of two maybe two and a half years working together and there was such a difficult endeavor, like sharing that position as a writer and as a director and sorta as DP that like, it like made us not, one, it made us not want to talk to each other for a couple months and two, definitely not even think about the film.
Griffin Maduzia: Right.
Jake Gibson: So by the time we were done and I just like graduated like two weeks after, we were like, you know, we'll talk, we'll talk about this after the summer. So the things that I wanted to submit to film festivals, I didn't. However, what I would say for somebody that is in a position and has a short film that they finished or a feature film or whatever that, yeah, absolutely. Like save up some money and start submitting to film festivals. Definitely do your research because you know, the likelihood is your film is not, like straight out of college, your film is not going to like be winning, you know, awards at Sundance? It may not even be winning student awards at Sundance or whatever. What you should do is like, try to find where your, your market is, you know, like understand what film festivals are most likely to choose your film, and do your research. Try to get into, you know, in contact with people that run the festivals and work the circuit. Now if you have like an amazing film and you know, people that are, you know, part of these major film festivals, get in contact with them and like use your connections to get it seen, because if it's a good film, it could very much jumpstart your career as a filmmaker with representation with producers and like, and just like set you up to be making like major films going forward, with funding.
Griffin Maduzia: Yeah, totally. And then continuing on the Pablo front, I know, I obviously know both of you two super creative, creative dudes and whatever and you guys are good friends. From a creative standpoint in, in, in having him around, how, how important do you think it is to have someone with sort of similar intellectual and creative interests or like a close friend that you can work with like that? In terms of developing early on as a filmmaker?
Jake Gibson: So I thought for me it was very important because I find that one of the things I'm dealing with now is getting over that hump of like being able to validate my own ideas.
Griffin Maduzia: Right.
Jake Gibson: And I think as like a young creative, it's hard unless you're like super passionate and you have like incredible confidence behind your ideas and you're willing to go for it. It's hard to just like say yes to your own idea. So having like a collaborator that you work with on your projects kind of like speeds up the process, it makes it so that you have somebody to bounce ideas off of. You have somebody to get yeses out of, you know, just like, and it's also like, it's a motivation in the sense that you want to be doing good work for them and they want to be doing good work for you and it pushes you to make work. Now, that is also a crutch, and it's something that if you are aware of it, you should try to learn away from that as much as possible. Not that you shouldn't be collaborators, collaboration is an essential part of filmmaking. I mean it is filmmaking but you have to have strength in your own ideas if you want to push yourself to be working and to be prolific.
Griffin Maduzia: Absolutely. Nice, and then just generally for my personal curiosity, who are some of your kind of filmmaking influences? How did you get into it? I'd love to know some of your favorite directors, some of your favorite films, just for personal reasons, but yeah, if you could riff, riff off a little.
Jake Gibson: Yeah. So you know, a lot of my favorite filmmakers I start, I started paying attention to while I was in college. With the help, also of Pablo, you know, it's like, yeah. So it was twofold. I got a lot of great film recommendations from Pablo who was a cinephile, you know, and, and, and also the, the, the, the syllabus of like a world, what is, what is it called? Global Cinema. Yeah. And so, so Global Cinema and Pablo were great for recommending films. And so through a lot of like great classic foreign films that I fell in love with because of global cinema, like, you know, “Tokyo Story”...
Griffin Maduzia: The best.
Jake Gibson: Or...
Griffin Maduzia: We're watching that tomorrow.
Jake Gibson: I mean these are just like essential films and you know, I just wouldn't have been aware of like all the different areas of filming, but then also Pablo kind of just like got me wise to more contemporary filmmakers like David Lynch, David Cronenberg, you know, Lynn Ramsey...
Griffin Maduzia: For sure.
Jake Gibson: This, oh, you have the Safdie brothers. I mean, those are all very contemporary. And I like, you know, I mean, one of my earliest filmmaking influences also was just like the writer Charlie Kaufman, which is like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Adaptation.” And Paul Thomas Anderson, but you know, as you like, it just, I feel like I'm being exposed to more films in college, kind of matured my tastes and filmmaking. Not saying that my, my taste is mature by any measure, but I mean it just was more mature than I was used to. So, you know, favorite films would be like “Videodrome,” “Blue Velvet,” good time. Yeah, so there's more, there's more, but I guess those were...
Griffin Maduzia: Beautiful. That's lovely. Alright. I'll let you get out of here pretty soon. But last question, I guess what, where do you go from here, man? I mean what's the plan? Where, where, what are you going to do in LA? What's, what's going on?
Jake Gibson: Yeah. Well, I feel like there's so much I haven't said in this interview, cause I was driving and I wasn't able to touch on things. So basically I'll start by continuing from the first question.
Griffin Maduzia: Perfect.
Jake Gibson: So after I went to Portland, I came to LA, Los Angeles, because I couldn't find enough opportunities in the small city, especially somebody that, you know, had no connections to that particular industry. So I came out to Los Angeles, I trolled Craigslist every day. I started meeting people through Craigslist, you know, I'd find opportunities here and there or Instagram. For example, I met somebody through Craigslist to work on a small pet project of theirs and he's an assistant camera and a videographer. And he ended up getting me like PA gigs on reality television shows and like Travel Channel and HGTV. And through those opportunities, I've met a director named Kaylee McGee. Check her out. She's great. And she like got me on the set of, you know, some of the work she was working on, you know, the commercials, music videos that her friends were directing or producing. And I got a lot of experience working on set, you know, obviously like on much smaller projects. I had roles as, as like, you know, as a DP or a producer, but on these more big, on these bigger projects obviously on reality shows I was like a PA on the music videos. I was like production coordinator or assistant director. But I got a taste, like it kind of filled the gaps of my knowledge and from those experiences, cause I didn't know a lot of like, you know, the, you know, the values of, of like having a good producer or, or making or just like, you know, taking into consideration like tents, chairs, bathrooms, electrical output, like all these like small details I didn't think about when I was like making projects at Cornell.
Jake Gibson: So I got a lot of experience and I realized that I'd like to be a DP. I'd also like to be a director/writer. So I went back into doing more videography work like I did back in college because it's like an easier way for me to get experience and money. Being behind a camera understanding lighting more in composition, which I kind of knew about. But like having that application, like every day, like my job is now as a videographer for Newegg Studios. I, I'm working with lights every day and they have like an incredible equipment package and two stages that I can work with and I'm in charge of it. So having that access is very good for me. And so my plan is to stay at Newegg Studios, I don't know, X amount of time, you know, for, you know, at least a year plus whatever, and just like focus on my craft, like under... Like I'm getting used to the job now cause I just started like last month. But I am trying to figure out what, I don't know, you know, what I need to learn in terms of lighting compositions and... So I'm paying attention to that, going to get better at lighting. And it's a pretty stable job. Like, being a full-time employee is way different than being a freelancer. I don't have to look for work. I get to go to the same place every day from nine to five. And when I come home now I can work on my own creative stuff. Whereas when I was a freelancer, I was worried about where's my next job instead of being able to focus on my creativity. So, you know, I'm taking classes in terms of improv and stand up and sketch, and I'm a videographer. So we'll see what happens. I wish, I, I wish I could have given you like clear answers.
Griffin Maduzia: No, it's beautiful.
Jake Gibson: I feel like you've just given you a lot of information, but that's, that's what I know.
Griffin Maduzia: That's perfect. That's perfect.
Jake Gibson: Yeah.
Griffin Maduzia: All right, man. I'll let you go. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Jake Gibson: Yeah of course. Nice talking to you. See ya.