What if your work day really was like a movie or TV show? Car chases? Just another Monday! Hanging out with Joshua Jackson? Hey, he needs a high-five! Katie Matheson has an intriguing career in film and television and currently works on the Fox TV series Fringe. She works in the Camera Department and on set is called 2nd AC (assistant cameraperson) or Film Loader...sometimes referred to as a Clapper/Loader. Her job is so interesting that we just had to make her our Hip + Urban Girl of the Week.
What does your job entail?
On Fringe, I am the film loader so my primary responsibility is all the film that is run through the camera, before and after shooting. I order the stock (on Fringe we carry 5 different film stocks!) and load the film camera magazines. After shooting, I download the film back into their cans in the dark room and prepare it to be sent to the Lab. I also organize ordering and receiving any extra or specialty camera equipment we may need and control the camera department paperwork. On Fringe, we have a large budget and a lot of crew members but sometimes I am also required to slate the camera (clapperboard), mark the actors positions during rehearsals and assist the 1st AC or focus puller during set ups.
How did you get into film and television?
When I was about six years old I fell in love with Drew Barrymore in the movie Firestarter. From that moment I wanted to be an actress and I pursued acting until I had finished high school. During high school I had a chance to try different things - directing, writing and discovered all sorts of other job opportunities that existed in the industry. After trying out a few different avenues working as an office production assistant which lead to producing specials at the CBC, I realized where I really wanted to be was on set, working with the shooting crew. I continued my education in cinematography and pursued a career in the camera department.
What is your typical day like?
A typical day begins with me arriving anywhere from 30-45 minutes before crew call. We unload our truck and prepare all of the equipment for the shoot that day. I will talk to our Director of Photography about what film stocks he wants to use for the day, broken down scene by scene. Then I get to work loading the magazines, organizing the paperwork and double-checking what equipment we will need for the day. I talk to the equipment rental house (Panavision is on my speed dial) and production office almost hourly with updates or changes as well as calling in film totals for the producers. Six hours after our crew call, we break for lunch for a half hour. We are fed by catering everyday so I never buy groceries - a definite job perk! On Fringe, we usually shoot 13-14 hours before they call "THAT'S A WRAP!" This is where I have to scramble to get my math done (film totals!!), package the exposed film for the lab, and load the truck. I usually have about 30-45 minutes of work after the main shooting crew has wrapped making my workday on average 14-15 hours.
How cool is it to go to work with Pacey - uh, I mean...Joshua Jackson everyday?
This question made me laugh because working with famous celebrities is quite common. Actors are just like another member of the crew in a lot of ways; they are there with us working the long hours and doing their best to make a quality show. Josh is a great guy and has worked as an actor since he was only a child so he is very professional. He's got some great stories and a hilarious sense of humor. Our whole cast on Fringe is amazing and we are lucky to have such down-to-earth performers working with us.
What are some of the disadvantages of your job, that maybe we don't think about?
One major disadvantage is the long hours. It’s no lie that you will a life outside of your job when you are on a show. It can be very draining physically and emotionally and will put astrain on your relationships and possibly your health. Another disadvantage is the weather. No one has any control over it and the shooting schedule must go on no matter what. I've been outside shooting for 14 or more hours during rain, hail, snow and heat waves. It’s uncomfortable and miserable at times, but it's all part of the job.
Where has your job taken you?
I was very lucky to be invited to work on Resident Evil: Extinction in Mexico. We shot in the desert in Mexicali as well as the film studios in Mexico City. That was a truly amazing experience. Working with locals from Mexico and adopting their system, their cultural influences, as well as learning to do my job in Spanish cannot be matched. I am still in touch with some of the friends I made on that crew from Mexico and the United States.
Tell us about the most interesting project you have been on?
Wow, there are so many cool things I get to do and see on almost a daily basis. Being a film geek I still get pretty excited about the special effects or stunt rigs or "movie magic" we produce... I did a few days on the feature TRON Legacy and that was like nothing I’d ever seen. The entire massive 1000 square foot warehouse was transformed into a huge green-screen stage you felt like you were in a green hole. And since it was shot in 3D the camera rigs were very complex and enormous. It took five people just to change a lens.
What did you study in University/College? Would you have done anything differently?
After high school, I went to Carleton University and graduated with a BA Major in Film Studies, minor in Anthropology. After completing that program I realized I needed something a little more practical to help me to find my way into the film business. I moved back to Toronto and did a diploma program in Writing and Producing for Film and Television at that’s how I got connected to the CBC. After deciding to move to Vancouver I enrolled in a certificate program in Cinematography at Capilano College (now university). The funny thing is that after all that education my first job in the industry in Vancouver came from a regular at the bar I was working at. "It's all about who you know" may be the most accurate cliché of them all. I wouldn't change the way I went about my education because it really was an exercise at exploring my interests and developing a very broad understanding of the industry.
How would someone get their start if they want to do what you do?
If you are interested in becoming a member of the camera department or working on a film set you can always find crews looking for help. Craigslist is a pretty good resource for independent productions. Volunteering may help you get a chance to experience what it's like before committing to it and also networking is so valuable. You just never know who will be the next JJ Abrams. If you want to work in the camera department on network or American feature films The IATSE Photographers Union (Local 667 in Toronto or local 669 in Vancouver) has a Trainee program that you must complete before you can apply to be a member. You must be a member of the union to work on those large-scale productions.
Who inspires you?
My parents Sandra and Barry. My mom is an entrepreneur and leads a very successful company but has never ever put that above her family. She is my positive role model as a leader, a mother and a woman. She has made every effort to always support my ideas and encourage independence. My dad has a brilliant mind and sense of humor. His curiosity for knowledge and his kind spirit always inspire me to become a better person. They are two of the most generous people I've ever known and I'm so proud they are my parents!
Where are your favourite places to hang out in Vancouver?
My absolute favorite place to spend time in Vancouver is Spanish Banks Beach. It's a long stretch of beach, grass and ocean with a gorgeous view of the north shore mountains and neighborhoods, as well as the downtown skyline.
Best place to shop in the city?
My favorite place to shop is Robson St. downtown, which is basically like an outdoor mall with stores ranging from Payless shoes, Zara’s to HMV. Just around the corner on Thurlow St. is Betsey Johnson (my fave!), Agent Provocateur or even Tiffany’s. Main St. is my 2nd choice because I love vintage and unique items. There are lots of fun boutiques there to score a great vintage find or discover a great local or up-and-coming designer.
Tell us about your neighbourhood and what you like best about it.
My neighborhood is in "The Heights" and what I love about it is that I'm on top of a hill right at the north east end of the city. Looking to the north I have the gorgeous mountains that I love to see driving home from work. To the south I have a view of the "lay of the land"... all the way from Mount Baker to downtown Vancouver - I can see everything. It always reminds me why I love living out west, the beauty of the mountains combined with a breathtaking sunrise or sunset and the night lights of the city are simply irresistible.
Where would you go on your dream vacation?
My dream vacation would include as many of my close friends and family as possible -- where we go really doesn't matter. Right now I'm quite interested in visiting Turks and Caicos, Thailand and Greece. Those places are next on my list!
What would you tell your 20 year-old self?
I think I would tell my 20 year old self to stick with it and not to doubt myself. There were a lot of times, especially in school, that I felt like I had no direction, I didn't think I was learning anything that would help me with my goals. I spent a lot of time (nine years!) working part time as a server/bartender and felt like those 'Hollywood' movies were out of my reach. Not knowing anybody in the business was very frustrating. In the end, I got to where I was headed and the route I took was a phenomenal experience.
What life advice do you have for hip + urban girls out there trying to figure out what they want to do?
Trust yourself, your first instinct is your best instinct. Try not to worry so much about the long term, but focus more on the long run. By that I mean don't get caught up in the idea that you will "be stuck" doing what you are doing now forever. Never believe something is impossible or totally out of reach. Leap over the dead ends. Take risks and experience the gamut of your interests. Especially if you are looking for a change. I don't believe the concept of a "lifetime career" exists the way it used to so trust your own intuition, explore and think positive, the path will get paved.
Need some more inspiration? Meet a few more of our Hip + Urban Girl's of the Week.