Featured in my currently shooting documentary is the Pretty Things Peepshow, a burlesque meets sideshow act that’s a total trip back to the days of Americana vaudeville. I love a good variety show, and add fire, boobs, drills, and swords to that, plus a kick ass business lady that’s running the show with the power of the internet and you got me hooked.
If I haven’t babbled about it enough, my doc is called Domain Names and it follows people who are running creative businesses through the internet. Want to get involved with it? Email me! I’m always looking for more people to talk to.
This started out as a true story. Then it got weird. Sometimes it feels good to make something for no reason.
What with “Brave” and “Moonrise Kingdom” out, I should finally post these photos.
I took these photos a couple months ago when my friend Vanessa and I found out about the free archery classes in Pasadena through the Woodley Park Archery Group. The classes are run by the ultimate rag-tag group of people that love what they do, and also rag-tag group of people that don’t let each other go to the bathroom without a bathroom buddy, since, you know, you might get stabbed.
They shoot rain or shine. Which let’s be honest, it usually gorgeous, gorgeous shine. This is Southern California, y’all.
The classes are in a field used, you know, for a lot of drug deals and malevolent things, but the group’s got your back. I could absolutely see everybody turning around in unison and unleashing a swarm of arrows on some poor crackhead, scaring the pants off him. That’s your bathroom buddy right there, huh? Whatever, no big. The environment kind of adds to the nerds-in-badass-guise mood.
Anyway, I really took to archery (except as documented by Vanessa here, ignore that limp left arm). It’s a great sport for me because there’s not a lot of running, jumping, or things that actually require coordination, steady breathing, and a competitive nature.
As part of getting outfitted with a bow and arrows, you need to know your dominant eye. I’m a weirdo that’s left-eye dominant yet righthanded. It amused me though that despite the fact I’ve shot for my entire life with my left eye on my camera viewfinder, it took a random archery class to articulate that. I should really start renting a lefty eyepiece from now on instead of smashing my face against the camera body.
My favorite part is standing over the line, composing yourself. I’ve practiced yoga off and on since I was 13, and I think other yogis will find there is a similar quality between the two sports. It has the meditative, deliberate aspect of primary series: the very specific checklist of what to do with each arm, leg, where to direct your gaze. But at the end of that - you let go, and hear a delicious, purposeful THWACK. And sometimes you hit a bullseye.
James and I had a long-planned “You guys got married!” party to go to in Oklahoma in between shoots, lovingly being thrown for us by friends n’ family. Which was most excellent! Between constant party prep and media management, it was jam-packed.
Pretty much the most accurate fuzzy camera phone photo to capture our relationship ever.
But… the night before we’re due to leave for home in sunny California, Oklahoma decides she hasn’t had enough of us yet. The sky turns that ominous green color any native knows means bad news. I was running late backing up my last memory card, and had just packed my last hard drive, putting it in the trunk where it always lives. Careful as always. And then we saw it: the wall cloud. A.k.a. the tell-tale cluster of precipitation to precede the tornado.
James, having never seen a tornado before, was immediately apprehensive. On the other hand, I’d slept through more tornadoes by the age of ten than most people ever experience, so I was ready to push onward anyway.
Not so. As we ducked inside to double check the weather, I heard it: hail.
Awful, destructive, pox upon vehicles everywhere, hail.
Barefoot, I ran back outside and threw blankets over my car, trying to ignore James’ smug and ill-timed observation that he had spotted a storm before me. Blankets seemed like a great idea at the time. I guess I thought the cushion would save me the heartache of a totally drivable yet embarrassing eyesore of a vehicle. Cue the yakety sax and picture, if you will, a ragged sleep-deprived redhead rolling around on golf ball size hail like a chicken losing her footing on loose feed, trying in vain to spread several blankets across a hatchback in 30 mph wind.
The worst thing about a hailstorm? All you can do is wait to see what the damage is.
So we waited. And we finally crept back outside to find the back windshield completely shattered. The back windshield protecting my back up hard drive and my wedding dress. This is why you always back up your hard drives: you never know when your auxiliary copy will end up slightly damp and lodged with glass. (Note: my footage is all fine. Backups were put on this green earth to save your ass and man oh man, an hour of extra time and an extra $200 hard drive is well worth that peace of mind.)
As for the glass in my wedding dress… eh, it’s just a sparkly accessory.
But I got to thinking, one of the privileges that has come from working with so many different small businesses has been getting to witness those entrepreneurs in action. I’ve seen several business owners confronted with what would normally be a stop-the-presses style emergency. The difference is, a strong entrepreneur doesn’t care. They keep going and find another way. They call every repair shop in town and strong arm someone into fixing their vehicle tomorrow, despite the original availability of Monday. Then they go have a couple beers and watch some bad reality television, because working smarter is way better than working harder. There’s no use in worrying about yesterday’s problems, when you can probably expect another crisis to come tomorrow.
My least favorite wedding present to ourselves.
(By the way, it did. We outran the next storm in my hatchback the following day. Barefoot, I might add. Not going to lie; I felt like a badass, which was only slightly dampened by the fact I was still wearing actually damp yoga pants from the day before.)
Moral of the story: back up your hard drives. Live long and prosper. Eat cake. You can’t outsmart the weather.
Welcome to the thrilling conclusion to this tepid saga! This is just one chapter in the story of my own business, going from part-time Williams-Sonoma chef to colorist and beyond. Thanks for following along.
I have this theory that Oklahoma is actually like a fly trap for creative people. Seriously, when the only thing to do as a teenager is drive around and stare at flat land, it’s pretty good motivation to make something more interesting. I have a distinct memory of being sixteen, spending an entire spring break driving around Southern Oklahoma aimlessly and feeling like every inch of those plains was filled with possibility. The Flaming Lips, The Starlight Mints, Will Rogers: there are a boatload of talented people who have called Oklahoma home. Oklahomies, you know.
In Oklahoma, I had a shoot with Braid Creative to look forward to. I was delighted when earlier in the fall I got an email from Kathleen about my small business video essays. I had connected with her earlier because she’s awesome, the internet makes the world a smaller place, and funny enough - she lives in my old ‘hood. She thought a small business essay was a kick-ass idea and she and Tara were a kick-ass fit for one. Meanwhile their approach to small business coaching was something my tiny, sputtering enterprise could really do well with. I showed up to Braid Creative and was there for maybe five minutes before I knew we were all going to get gold.
My video essay illustrated what made their growing company appealing in an irreverent, researched way. It was pretty magic to hand in a project that rocked not because of the gear, but because I finally found a client that wanted my perspective and liked the product I most wanted to make. At the same time, the creative roadmap I got from Tara and Kathleen kind of changed my life. They gave me words for what I have to offer: a simple loud statement to replace the staggering silence I’d previously stumbled over when describing my business.
Now, the roadmap sits on my desktop. I kind of think of it as a treasure map though, because my spirit animal is an angry pirate.
The best part of the roadmap was seeing my own words echoed back to me, but confirmed and made stronger by a second and third party. The sisters Braid are more like a second, third, fourth and fifth party. Their relationship to creative vision is exponential.
I could see I wasn’t just grasping at straws. I looked at our findings and I did have a product people wanted. I just had to find the right market. Which was maybe not primarily brides: it was other business owners.
This was a huge challenge for me to accept, because so many of the photographers I admire are indeed wedding photographers. And A Practical Wedding practically launched my business, so I felt extremely torn about no longer pursuing wedding photography.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my classic favorite shooters too, but the thing about these wedding industry rogue-agents? They have such genuine content on their blogs and websites, both their photos and words attract customers as kick-ass as they are. I wanted some of that constantly unfolding narrative. I could see it developing in front of me day after day, thanks to the webernets.
As a young creative professional I am constantly consuming other media, trying to find a balance between looking for inspiration and making something that’s distinctly my own. The greatest asset the roadmap from Braid provided me was that: a clear picture of what I’m great at.
Because I saw what my niche was, I could find inspiration from anywhere, from anything, at any time, and keep a grip on my different perspective. Anytime I get a little jealous, it pays in scores to have what I really want written down. I look at the map again and decide if I’m actually envious of something that would help my path. Usually the answer is no.
I came home from Oklahoma feeling calmer and cleaner, ready to put my business back together in a way that made sense. Ready to invest in the right channels.
We whipped through the plains again, rolled down the windows when we could, filled up when it was cheapest, and were sent off with a lot of snacks packed with love and blue cheese dip. It was much better than the dollar-menu-induced intestinal distress endured on the previous trip.
James got three calls for jobs while we were gone, and when we came back, I was working at the Dailies lab more than ever. I chose to go in and train with color correction software, even when there wasn’t money attached. I went from developing my business as Rory Gordon Photo: A Lady That Shoots Businesses and Weddings and Please Hire Me Please…
to Rory Gordon Photo: Portraits of Businesses.
The story gets less dramatic after this point. I continued to go work at Williams-Sonoma, the lab, and run my business for a while. But most of all, I made a choice. I’m a professional videographer and colorist, and that’s where I should choose to concentrate my efforts. I chose to be more concerned with being an imaging professional than paying bills, and it happened. Slowly, and with hesitation, but it happened. I worked really hard at the lab, and one day I was so tired I just knew I couldn’t do everything anymore. I put in my notice at Williams-Sonoma and that was that.
We didn’t miraculously have more money. I didn’t have any more connections. I just rerouted my energy. I brought back some of that magic from the plains. Feeling like I had choice and options again made me the brokest rich woman in the world.
Outside my office, 2012
If I could tell anyone who was in my shoes from 2011 anything, it’s this: if you find the right path to focus your energy, things will get easier. And when it happens, please give yourself a treat because finding a path is a huge accomplishment, in and of itself. Go out for lunch, develop a light soda addiction, start a soft pretzel slush fund. Even if you discover you’ve got three months left at a day-job, just the knowledge that each step is finite will give you something to go on.
So I leapt. I began to realize my future might actually include professional imaging science. And that brings me up pretty much to where I am today.
I remember when I got hired in my first production office I said to my good friend MJ, “This job is going to change everything.” She laughed and said, “This is your first job. Any job would change everything.”
View from inside my first production office, 2010.
That’s still true. Any job I take is important, because now I choose to take it with conviction and clarity of mind. Any job I take gives me another choice, which makes me a little richer.
And anything could change with the next choice.
Thanks for listening.
I thought about this story the other day of an indie film set I worked on as an unpaid camera assistant in film school, so I went back and harvested it from the ol’ film school blog. I was extremely bitter despite nothing much happening, but it still makes me laugh, so I’m reposting it. This, by the way, is LIGHT YEARS away from almost all the shows I’ve worked on here in LA.
5:59 AM : Reverse down one way street to get to location.
6:00AM: Call director when I notice the building is desolate and there are no cars in the parking lot that have not clearly been abandoned.
6:05AM: Director informs me he is late when he returns my call.
6:08AM: Receive text message from director saying he will be a few more minutes.
6:15AM: Commence search on mobile device for “boyfriend gifts”
6:24AM: The rest of the crew arrives. Meet Luke, the DP, a dreadlocked dude with a worried face.
6:25AM: Homeless couple walks by me and they go into the building. Not only is it a soundstage, it’s a shelter!
6:26AM: Make my way up the stairs, led by George, the first producer I’m introduced to.
6:30AM: I walk into the “studio,” which is a condemned warehouse formerly used for building furniture. The room is a large cavern, probably 60 feet by 60 feet, with sawdust coating the entire space, nails protruding upwards from the floor like malevolent blades of grass, and boxes and boxes of broken mirrors and trash. Also, there is a huge saw in the middle of the “set,” which looks like a torture instrument of dubious legality. The set is a fake wall with a hole in it, but they only built one side and are going to “flip” the shots in order to get full coverage. I ask about a clean place to put the camera gear, and George the Henchman replies, “Well, you can use these tables, but don’t go in the hall because there are some people here… well, it would be safer in here.” Great, thank you, Fake Producer. The tables are COVERED IN SAWDUST and the camera cases are on wheels so if I work on top of them it’s going to be nothing but a vaudeville show.
Fake producer George suggests I go upstairs and use the “office” in there. I am relieved. However, he leads me up a rickety staircase to a second story of the warehouse MADE OUT OF BALSA WOOD, exactly like a tree house. He grabs some old newspapers and puts it on the floor for me to protect the gear, smiling winningly. George runs off to assist the rest of the crew, and I set myself up. First, I have to locate a chair. I find one, covered in dust, which of course I do not realize until I sit my happy ass down and get up to see my black pants have changed color. Looking down, I notice a series of holes in the floor. Great!
6:40AM: I go downstairs, get the gear and continue setting up the camera, shuffling down the tree house ladder any time I need something from a kit. The DP arrives again, and asks me if I could find a piece of card-board to tape his homemade graycard to. Ooo-kay.
7:00AM: The director, Leonard* is missing and Fake Producer George finally calls across the room, “He’s getting coffee!” He asks me if I’d like anything and to my horror I realize there is no craft service. (Does everyone know what crafty is? Leave a comment if not…) For a girl of my metabolism, going twelve hours, hell, going three hours without snacking is NOT an option. I eat a lot and I use a lot of calories when I’m working. However, any time I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or window, the scrawny little white girl lifting cases the weight of my fourteen year old cousin, I have an odd little proud reflective moment.
7:30AM: I finish setting up the camera, and just as I’m popping it on the tripod, a HOARD OF OLD IMMIGRANTS come storming in the door. Most of them do not speak coherently, however one affectionately calls me sweetie when he’s telling me to get out of the way (sarcasm). They proceed towards the large saw in the middle of the room, tip it on to its side, and bring it out the door, knocking a piece of wall on the way. As I look up, I am reminded the same material they just busted a hole in is stronger that the floor of my workstation.
7:40AM: Ralph comes up and introduces himself to me. He “not a film dude,” but was rather once the carpenter that owned the warehouse. He is our gaffer for the day.
7:43AM: It suddenly occurs to me with horror that the crew is only 4 deep for the entire shoot.
7:45AM: It also occurs to me with horror that I agreed to work for these knuckleheads, for free, for 36 hours in the next three days.
8:00AM: The director finally returns with coffee, and presents it like a preschooler might present a finger painting. Gee, thanks, Indie McGee. You’re almost barely meeting incredibly basic industry standards.
8:10AM: My stomach starts to feel a little queezy. Actually, stabbing pain that feels like my stomach is rotting out of my knees and being replaced with leaden casserole is a little more accurate.
8:30AM: The director approaches me and asks if I would mind lifting some stuff for him. I hesitate and say yes, I would mind. The director laughs at me and says, “We all are acting like PA’s today.” I am not amused.
8:35AM: I sprint to the bathroom and spend twenty minutes in the can, literally worried sick.
8:55AM: I wander back in to the soundstage and I meet Fake Producer 2, Leonard’s wife, Katrina. She smiles condescendingly and walks off with the craft service, which has finally arrived.
9:00AM: Leonard asks me if I want to see the storyboards, corrects himself, and asks if I know what they are. I decline.
9:01AM: I run back in to the bathroom, colliding with the geriatric janitor. He is actually the nicest person I have met all day, and quickly steps outside in to the hall. I spend five minutes dry heaving into the calcified toilet.
9:10AM: I walk back in the “studio,” notice that Leonard’s actor is using the makeshift second floor to jump off for a “sweet shot.” I run back upstairs to check in on the “staging area.” There is a 1200 watt HMI (large, daylight balanced light) IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING DOORWAY. Clearly, the knuckleheads do not know what they are doing, as the cable is twisted and knotted, also blocking the doorway. I fear for my safety.
9:30AM: I run back downstairs on my way to heave in the bathroom, and bump in to Leonard again, who proudly tells me he is always happy to give students like myself a “chance at the real world.” He also tells me that Luke will let me operate a few shots too. Let me explain why this is utter bullshit. The camera in use on this partifular shoot is one I’ve been using myself since my first year in film school. Not only is this halfwit convinced he’s going to use my camera assistant labor for free, he also thinks he can swindle me into operating for free! Once again, I attempt to smile and say thank you and run out the door back to the bathroom.
9:45AM: I bump into the janitor again, who politely leaves again. I collapse on the floor of the bathroom, quickly realize I’m sitting on more bacteria than a 72 pack of Dannon yogurt, and scamper out in to the hallway. I sit down and cry, trying to convince myself I won’t be a total loser if I leave.
10:00AM: I walk back in to the studio. Ralph tells me I look like “death warmed over.” I feel like it. I find Luke and tell him I won’t be of much use to him, that I’m having a personal problem and I have to go.
10:03AM: I run out of the building so fast I’m still putting on my coat when I get to my car. I’m so freaked to get out of there I don’t even de-ice my window all the way.
10:30AM: Collapse, trembling, in to bed.
*Names changed to protect the stupid.