What production are you currently working on?
Tyra BA’19: I am currently working on the Apple TV+ show called Swagger.
Olivia BA’20: I currently work on Swagger as a locations PA and this is my first full time film job!
Katie BA’20: I am working on Swagger, which is a basketball show from CBS and Apple TV+.
What is your job on set and what are some of your roles?
Tyra: My job on set is the Digital Loader within the camera department. I take all of the footage from what we shoot during the day and deliver it to post-production for dailies and editing. I also am in charge of making sure that picture is up on the various monitors for whoever on set may need to view what is happening on camera.
Olivia: I’m a Locations PA. Some of my roles include helping prep shooting locations, maintaining good relationships between the crew, location contacts, and surrounding members of the community when shooting in public places. I also help the crew navigate new shooting locations and answer any questions anyone has about the location. When we’re done shooting I help wrap out the location and restore it back to the way it was before we got there!
Katie: I am the Walkie Production Assistant. As a PA, I hold lockups, echo calls, and run errands around the set for my AD team. I’m not sure if this is with all sets, but on this specific job, I was also tasked with being the PA who kept track of the DPs and how close they were to shooting. It was a lot of fun as someone who also really likes the camera department where I got to be that close to the magic every day. With the addition of Walkie in my job title, I also oversee all of the walkie-talkies that are on set. This means that I prep and inventory all of them before the show starts and hand them out to each department. During the show I then keep constant track of them and if anybody needs one on set or if they need to swap theirs. I also have to make sure that all of the walkie batteries are constantly charging, so I actually work closely with the electric and locations teams to see where it is safe for me to plug in! At the end of the show’s season, I will then have to wrap out all of the walkies and make sure that none are missing, if they are then I have to track them down to try and save production costs. This job also tends to distribute packages on set and keep track of the hotspots on set, but we did not pass out many packages due to COVID precautions!
Did any of you ever work together in your time at Cinema?
Tyra: Yes! I have worked with Katie and Olivia several times throughout my time at VCU. In fact, for the last film I did for Cinema, we were all on the same camera team!
Olivia: Yes! Katie, Tyra, and I are all good friends and we worked with each other very frequently during our time in Cinema. We were all on a camera team on This Is For Horses and I was Tyra’s dolly grip on MacBreezy.
Katie: Yes! Olivia was one of the first people I worked closely with in production and constantly found ourselves on the same teams. I also worked closely with Tyra on the more technical side such as camera and electric. On our last summer together we got to be on a camera team together on This is for Horses.
What is it like working with other Cinema alums on professional sets?
Tyra: It feels very similar to finding that one person you know in a big lecture class. It’s very comforting. Even if we are in different departments, you still look out for each other and help when you can.
Olivia: It’s awesome working with other cinema alums on professional sets. It’s definitely less intimidating when you start a new job because there are already friendly faces in the crowd of 100+ crew members. It also helps make your job easier when you have a contact in another department. There’s been a lot of times where I can just ask Katie and Tyra a question and get an answer quickly where if I didn’t have them there, my department might have to figure out the answer ourselves. Having friends in other departments helps us move on our feet faster. I’ve had a coworker literally say to me “Thank God for Tyra!” and that’s because we can get answers from her when it wouldn’t be right to bother someone else in her department. Also because she’s great.
Katie: Honestly, it’s the best! Since we all come from similar backgrounds, there is already trust there that we know what we are doing and can trust the other person to have our back. There are also many alums who I had never met, but when we would realize that we both went to Cinema it would create an unspeakable bond within seconds. Cinema people are always the first ones I go to within each department and makes the set feel very welcoming. Swagger was full of cinema alums!
Is it important to have people you know with you on set? If yes, why?
Tyra: I personally think that it’s important. I believe that if you already have people who you know on set, you will be more comfortable and become acclimated to the show and its environment quicker than you would if there were to be no one. Like I said earlier, it’s comforting to know that someone will have your back even if you’re in a different department. It makes being on set for long hours more bearable.
Olivia: Yes, it’s extremely important to have people you know working with you. It helps build better connections going forward for other job opportunities, but also in the moment, it helps make your job easier. Both, in a professional sense when you need help from other departments, and socially it makes the long days even more fun!
Katie: As I said previously, there is a bond and trust that comes from already knowing people that you are working with. It gives you almost a safety blanket of who can help you from each department and also who will have your back when things get tough. I’d argue that good relationships are half of what makes a set run well and knowing people sets you up to have a safe and happy working environment. I cannot stress how many times knowing Tyra and Olivia benefited me, I feel like I called them for help every day and they weren’t even in my department!
What part of Cinema helped prepare you the most for the real world?
Tyra: I think being on Cinema sets helped prepare me the most for working on a professional set. The theory that you learn in class is great, but there are some things you just cannot understand without being on set and figuring out how things work. I feel like I was more prepared to deal with day-to-day tasks of what was happening on Swagger, no matter the position I was in because I participated in the Summer Intensives and the films from the spring semesters.
Olivia: Summer intensive definitely prepared me the most. Our big crews helped replicate what I now see every day, and I had an immediate understanding of all the roles on set. Also, intensives help prepare you for the pacing of working 12 hour days, where sometimes you’re constantly moving and working quickly and sometimes have those long lulls. It takes a lot of endurance working in film and summer intensives definitely helps you build that needed endurance.
Katie: Definitely the summer intensive. While I only got to do the normal one once before COVID hit, it is where I really learned a lot of my skills and how to work with others. Due to the long pre-production process and large crews, I felt like I learned everything I needed to succeed on real sets after my first summer intensive. Obviously, we all have skills that can always improve, but it gave me a real understanding of what I should expect and how I should treat others when working in the industry.
What was the transition from school to working in the industry like?
Tyra: I feel that for me it was pretty easy. I worked on a couple of smaller projects for about a month and a half after I graduated from VCU in 2019. While I was looking for my next gig, I was contacted by one of my friends, also a graduate of the Cinema program, to be an office PA on the show Swagger and have been on the show ever since. As for the work that I was doing on these professional sets, there was a learning curve switching from doing mainly camera in school to production on the show. However, due to the well-roundedness of the program, the transition was not too bad and I found myself getting the hang of things in no time.
Olivia: The transition for me and Katie specifically was kind of strange given our graduation was delayed because of COVID and our last semester was different than it normally would’ve because of COVID, but we both interviewed for our respective departments and got our PA jobs while we were still in school. The timing worked out that we could jump on Swagger working full time immediately after finishing our fall intensive and working before our technical graduation date, which was honestly a (really good) shock to me that I was able to get a job in film immediately, and during a pandemic.
Katie: I was very lucky in that I was offered this staff position before I even finished school. An alum, Mary Conklin, had put my name in a year ago and I was able to dayplay on Swagger while still in school. So when they came back around after the shutdown, I was in a position where they felt like I could work full time on the job. Since I had finished most of my requirements for my last semester, I was able to seamlessly transition over while still finishing my semester. However, I will add that having school and working full time on set is incredibly hard! I had one final project I wanted to finish and working on set really took a lot of my time and energy. So, while the transition luckily worked out for me, I would recommend being close to the end of your schooling before you look to work full time on set. I promise opportunities are always around the corner, especially with so many alums around!
What is your favorite memory of each other from your time in Cinema?
Tyra: It’s tough to choose because there are so many good ones. I would have to say my favorite memory with Katie and Olivia is on This is for Horses when we were at lunch on the last day sitting under the stars listening to music and talking. It was a really lovely way of ending my last summer with VCU.
Olivia: We were all on a camera team for This Is For Horses and I was Tyra’s dolly grip on MacBreezy. Tyra and I had a crazy 360 dolly zoom shot on MacBreezy and it was already an extremely chaotic day but during the rehearsals and the actual takes I was sprinting with the dolly and she was operating and holding on for dear life, it was insane but a really fun time. On This Is For Horses, we were all on a camera team and got matching majestic horse shirts that we actually all wore on Swagger one day and a ton of crew members asked us about it and the short. It was fun being in camera with them and we had some late nights on that project that was really fun driving home in the camera van together. It was also when Old Town Road had a remix every other day so whenever we wrapped and were packing back up, we blasted Old Town Road from the camera van radio for everyone and exhaustedly sang along after the long days, it was great.
Katie: Wow this is a tough question! I know they both mentioned this set, but I really had the best time being on the camera team with them for This is for Horses. There were so many great memories on that set since I really loved the team and it was very much a full-circle moment for me from when I had transferred in and so badly wanted to one day be on their level in the program. Specifically, on this set, we were incredibly late on the last day because we decided to get breakfast at Mcdonalds and wouldn’t leave until we got our food. It was the last shoot for Tyra and Jordan on the team, but Olivia and I still had another year in the program! When we got to set Olivia and I practically rolled out of the camera van in order to build the camera quickly. Our team set up the camera so fast that we were ready before any other department was and we still got to enjoy our Mcdonalds! It was a really chaotic beginning to our last shooting day, but I also think it demonstrated how much we had all learned during our time and how prepared we were even with the loss of time.