Aspiring Cameraman: ‘I Just Want to Make Money and Survive’

A 22-year-old Vassar grad Miles Fineburg looks for gigs at bars and Trader Joe's until entry-level jobs behind the camera free up

Part of TheWrap's series on how the economic crisis is affecting the Industry.

In the summer of 2010, Miles Fineburg, an aspiring cameraman, got his first big break. He worked on the set of “The Double,” a film starring Hollywood bigshots like Richard Gere, Topher Grace and Martin Sheen.

Fineburg was still a year removed from graduating college, but the Philadelphia native figured spending his summer working on a set would be the best way to prepare him for his next step, employment in Hollywood.

Though he worked as an intern to get college credit, he performed the duties of a production assistant, meaning he got to make connections with various lower-ranking Hollywood professionals — assistant cameramen, assistant directors and so forth. What more could he ask for with his big move out West a year away?

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Well, “The Double” debuts in select theaters this Friday, but Fineburg is no closer to cashing in on that experience. Since moving out to Los Angeles in August, his body of work consists of a three-day stint working on the set of a Radio Shack commercial.

Where's his next work going to come from? Right now it looks as likely to be bagging groceries as behind a camera.

“One of the reasons I took the job was because half the people working on it were from L.A.,” Fineburg said. “I tried to get in touch with some of them, and haven’t heard back. I’d like to think it’s gotten me more looks than most people, but it hasn’t turned into anything.”

Fineburg decided shortly after his arrival at Vassar, a liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., that he wanted to pursue a career in the film industry working behind the camera.

His mother is a photographer — thus his affinity for the device. Combine that with his love of film and the choice was became one of both logic and passion.

He decided that after graduating he would be moving out to Los Angeles, sight unseen, to pursue his own version of the Hollywood dream.

He had reason to be cautiously optimistic.

“I knew a few kids from school who lived out here so I wasn’t afraid of learning the city,” Fineburg said. “I also heard of a few kids who graduated a couple years before me who came out here, pursued jobs and are still out here, and they are surviving, so it seemed quite possible.”

But that was before Fineburg was confronted with a dual impediment: One, as an outsider he didn’t have a wealth of connections. While Vassar is a widely respected school, it’s not exactly a film factory.

But compounding that problem is the state of the economy, which has constricted the number of available jobs.

Fineburg started by approaching as many camera houses as possible, hoping to get a lower-level job working with the equipment and learning the day to day operations.

“Generally there wasn’t very much response at all,” Fineburg said.

At the same time, he reached out to friends, friends of friends and acquaintances, pursuing every possible way in. While he met some interesting people, it didn’t help him pay the bills.

He did have a third option, and here he got a bit of luck. Fineburg heard about an internship program with Panavision that often resulted in gainful employment.

Interns spend one year familiarizing themselves with the equipment, and the second year they get opportunities working with assistant cameramen, gaining experience and making connections at the same time.

Fineburg missed out on the internship — he can apply again in January — but he did get three days of work on a Radio Shack advertisement out of it.

The problem? That’s all the work he’s gotten so far.

That means he’s headed behind the counter at Trader Joe’s, or, embracing the go-to for the unemployed in Hollywood, looking for work at bars and restaurants. Then again, he has never worked at a restaurant and even those jobs are being filled with more experienced employees.

And there’s the rub for young people in the modern job market.

Every industry is teeming with over-qualified applicants willing to take low wages to get off the unemployment rolls.

If you’re a kid just out of college, good luck. To get a job in any industry, Hollywood included, you need more experience.

“When I look for general production jobs or even just jobs as an assistant to somebody, it’s no longer an entry-level position, it says we want three years experience, or two years,” Fineburg explained.

Well, how’s a kid fresh out of college supposed to have that?

Before the economic crunch and the switch to digital cameras, he could have taken jobs at the bottom of the industry and work his way up.

As someone looking for work behind the camera, that means being a camera production assistant.

But those jobs are now few and far between.

“With the economy, it’s kind of an extraneous position,” Fineburg said. “If you don’t need it, why bring it?”

So what can Fineburg do? He keeps looking for opportunities to justify moving across the country, but, for now, those jobs just aren’t there.

So, three months into his L.A. adventure, where does that leave him?

“My mindset is much more desperate at this point,” he said. “It’s gone from having this idea of what I wanted and where I would pursue it … to having that on the back burner and looking to being able to make money and survive.”