112: How to grow your network and become a traveling filmmaker with Eve Cohen
On this week’s episode, I speak with Eve Cohen who is an award-winning cinematographer.
Eve travels all over the world filming stories for the United Nations, New Balance, Qualcomm and more.
She has been able to establish a crowdfunding resource called Seed&Spark that helps other filmmakers raise money for their projects and stream their finished films directly to their audience.
Eve is currently a G-Team Ambassador which compromises of the worlds most acclaimed and truly inspiring professionals in film, photography and music industry.
Listen on to find out how to be an impactful cinematographer and traveling filmmaker with Eve Cohen.
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Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I am so excited to do this interview today. I’m here with Eve Cohen. Hey Eve, how are you?
Hi, I’m doing well. Thanks for having me.
Thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit why you live in offbeat life?
I work as a cinematographer and I love the flexibility that that brings me, with all of the travel that the different kinds of projects that it takes me on and to the different locations. I’ve worked in a lot of documentaries all over the world. Right now I am on a narrative project, and I’m location scouting in Oklahoma City and I’ve never been here before. So this is as new as anything is and very exciting.
Does it feel like you’re always doing something new in your job?
Every job that I’m on presents new challenges and new exciting elements as well. I think the challenges will lead to the excitement kind of when you overcome them or you solve them in some kind of creative fashion and it’s always in a new location.
It’s funny, you end up in a new location with the same problem or you end up in the same location with a new problem, but either way something’s new and there’s something you have to solve.
I’m sure you have done a lot of different things that you really love and a lot of people who are listening to this are looking at your life and really looking up to you and saying, wow, if Eve can do this. I’m sure a lot of us can too because she has been able to pave that way for us. How did you get to the point that you are now that you are able to live out your dream? Did you always have that confidence that you can make this into a lifelong career for yourself?
That’s a really hard question because I think when you start out in this industry working in film and television, it’s really difficult and it’s really, really hard and there’s a lot of points where you don’t think that this is going to be sustainable. And there’s this saying or this joke that everybody has to put in their thousand hours and you basically don’t get paid for the first thousand hours that you work.
And I think I just stuck with it. I just really kept going and there were definitely very low paying jobs at the beginning which grew into being able to be more selective about what it was I was doing. And then finding myself really working well with other directors that were hiring me. And then getting to work with them again. And then getting to realize that the collaboration that you can find with people is a thing that’s gonna keep your success going mentally as well as financially.
But having the people that you can work with and you’re going to end up in some crazy situations, especially where you might be on the other side of the world. And if you don’t have a team of trusted people with you, there’s no way you’re going to really survive that and you might actually come out of that never wanting to do this again. And that’s sort of the worst situation.
So I feel very, very fortunate that I have gotten to a place where through being selective of who it is I work with and what kinds of jobs, the right projects have come my way. I’ve sort of learned something new on each of them that makes me a little bit more confident in the next one. And I’m grateful for every production that I would get to be on where I still get to find exciting and new things that challenge me in a way that I know I can bring to the next project.
You mentioned that obviously in this industry, in the film and television industry, it is really hard to get into. How do you have the strength to choose jobs? Because sometimes, especially in the beginning you’re very desperate to get something. How do you stop yourself from not just taking anything that comes your way and really fine-tuning who you are as an artist and just choosing something that’s right for you instead of just giving up? Because that’s really hard to do.
It’s really hard. And I think the only advice that I could give on that, that’s really gotten me through a lot of it is deciding what it is you’re getting out of this project for yourself. So sometimes you take a job because it’s the paycheck. Sometimes you take a job because it’s a creative relief from something that you’ve maybe been really consistently doing, one kind of style. This is a break from that. So maybe it’s a creative reason.
Maybe it’s going to give you an opportunity to work with a new piece of equipment that you’ve never used before, but you have to know what you’re going to get out of it. That isn’t just for the job. So if it’s is a big enough job and I really don’t like the project, but it’s going to pay me enough money that’s going to allow me to then take the next job that isn’t going to pay me a lot of money, but something I really want to do, and they kind of balance those things out. But I think at the beginning when you’re saying, oh, how do I decide to take this? If you go through your head and you’re like, I’m going to get nothing out of this.
I’m not going to work with somebody new. I’m not going to learn something new. I’m not going to be put in a new environment. I’m not even going to be paid what I want to be paid. Then you just say no and you have to say no because something else is going to come along. And if you’re trying to fill time between jobs, it’s staying really active in your community and connecting to other filmmakers and building your network so that people know who you are because someone else who’s going to be like, oh, I don’t want to do that job. Maybe you want it and then they’re going to give it to you and it’s going to be exciting for you because you’ll find the new job that you’re going to take.
Do you feel that the community and the people that you’re with are really easy to come by? Especially the ones who are really supportive because I mean you talk a lot about network and the community that you surround yourself with. How easy is it to actually get that and form those relationships?
I think there’s a film community just about everywhere. And even if you live in a big city or a small town, there is a network of people that are interested in the same things you’re interested in. They’re working in the same world that you’re working in. And I live in Los Angeles and the network there is huge, so I have no shortage of film organizations and communities and networking events and new gear testing environment to immerse myself in. But right now I’m in Oklahoma City there is a really wonderful film community here also, and I’ve just come into this town, but getting to know people that are here, that work here, everyone’s excited when you’re working on a project.
So even if you live in a small area, reach out to the local film commission and find out who the rental houses are, maybe go there and see if they’ll let you try out some gear that might be new for you. I think that there are opportunities for the community on this almost anywhere. Some are just bigger than others.
Talking about the gear that you use. I know as a photographer it’s really hard for me to choose the things that are reliable on the road because you and I are always on the road and a lot of my listeners are always on the road. Which types of gears do you usually use for your films and also for photography that you always bring with you everywhere you go?
Every project that I work on requires different camera pieces of equipment. No project is the same. So I don’t actually own any specific cinematography, gear. I don’t own cameras or lenses. I work with a lot of rental houses. I see those things as my paintbrushes. However, the tools that I need to secure those paintbrushes and protect everything and keep it working. I own a lot of accessories and I always have a very specific monitor with me.
I always have a rig that keeps my handheld gear working on my body the way that I need to be able to operate a camera. If it’s a documentary, I always have my laptop and I always have my hard drives and those hard drives are going to be the things that store all of my very precious data. So I need those to be very consistent and sort of like surviving all of the elements.
There’s definitely more trusted ones than others of you know, what you can use and what you can bring in, what can survive the elements. So I like all of my gear to kind of survive the elements. It’s all wrapped in that kind of package.
Do you have a specific one that you use for yourself, especially when you’re storing certain images or videos?
Yeah, I’ll actually have a couple of different hard drives with me and I only use G technology drive. I feel like they’ll just survive everything with me and I put my stuff through the wringer. So for very large files, I have the solid-state drive. And then for my location scout photos and for clips that I want to maybe share with the director or client, I’ll have the Armor ATD and that’s recently proven to be also like holding up just as well as the solid-state ones.
It can take all of the elements and they’re both pretty small so I don’t want to travel with large drives all the time. So I like to keep them in their own little patch together.
Yeah, the Armor ATD is really great because for myself too, I tend to be very clumsy and I break everything. I don’t try, but I tend to do that. So it’s really great because under pressure it does all of the things you need and you still feel safe. Especially for me who’s super clumsy when it comes to her equipment. I broke so many cameras already, so it’s really good.
Yeah, it’s great. And you know, I don’t want to have to worry about tossing things around a little bit.
I mean, I hate to say that cause you never want to talk about tossing gear around, but all the things that I have and that I work with are rugged to the point that like they’re going to get thrown in the back of the car and that bag that they’re in might knock into something else. And it might not be in the case because at the last minute there’s something to film them on the side of the road and we have to chase it down. You never know where things are literally going to get thrown. And I don’t mean metaphorically throw it in the back. I mean literally I have thrown hard drives into the car and they have to be okay. And yeah, that drive is great.
It’s part of the job. And the thing is, it’s different when you’re traveling for pleasure and it allows you to take time to pack things.
Oh yeah, you have the luxury, we don’t have that. I have to be able to take a hard drive, maybe it’s in the middle of downloading something, hopefully, it’s done. But the laptop’s going to get folded. I’ll be in the back seat of a car, maybe perched on top of another case or something and I just have to close it and then shove it under the seat and hope that the laptop has a protective case on it.
The laptop in its case and the Armor ATD drive are just gonna be knocked around down there but it’ll be okay. And it’s amazing because it really takes a lot of pressure when you’re doing all of these different things and when you’re constantly on the go because what you’re putting in the hard drive is so crucial to your job.
So you can’t lose that. You can’t come back again, once that moment is gone it is gone. So it’s great that you have the Armor ATD and you trust it for your work.
And it’s also why I kind of never have just one drive because if I only have one of the drives with me when I’m doing some kind of mobile upload and mobile media management situation, I’ll try to keep it on the cards as well. So that they’re always in at least two locations. Ideally, it’s on three drives, but when you’re on the go, getting from one place to the next thing, you have to clear a card. I want to put it on for two drives.
I don’t want to just onto one of them because in case something does happen, which most likely it doesn’t, but you never want it to only be in one place in case there’s something that goes down. So yeah, the precious stuff is very precious when you can not go back and recreate a moment, especially in a documentary, it’s just impossible.
It’s not like you are shooting a movie. It’s actually a documentary. So that’s so crucial to your work. Now, Eve, you have traveled to so many different places and you’ve done this for quite some time now. What has been the biggest setback that you’ve encountered and how did you handle it?
Sometimes there’s just a location that you really want to get to, to film for a documentary and you can’t get there. Like you physically can’t get there. It requires some kind of travel that production can’t afford or there’s some kind of block or something that is really going to make the story happen.
And I think the hardest things in a documentary is when there’s a crucial part of the story to tell and you’re not going to be able to get there to tell it. And there’s just no way for access to be possible. Maybe there’s some political situation that’s going on that’s limiting your accessibility. Those things are out of my control, right? So the biggest setbacks are out of my control setbacks. And then, of course, there are setbacks where a battery dies in the middle of a shot that you just needed 30 more seconds on and you happen to be on some camera that didn’t show you the record light or something.
I have a little bit of a nightmare story regarding not having something backed up on a drive, but it’s not footage that I shot. It’s audio. So it’s sort of interesting. I think people forget sometimes how important sound is as well as visuals and there’s always going to be on camera sound. But we were doing an interview and the audio files for some reason didn’t get transferred over to the proper drive and later, like a month later when they were going through for the edit, it was just like, where are these files? We can’t find these files.
And somebody finally figured it out. And what happened was it got copied to a desktop computer and then from the computer, it went to a drive and then somebody erased them from the desktop. That drive somehow got wiped. Nobody knows why that drive got wiped, but it got wiped and everything went away. So that’s a set back that allows you to learn why you don’t only have things in one or two places because that was in two places and it both went away.
Yeah, that’s crazy. And I’m sure everyone was going nuts.
What’s amazing about it is that there was on-camera sound, so at least we have something, but at a certain point I remember during that interview while I’m filming the documentary that I was just confirming that I sort of looked around a lot of the time while I’m working as a DP on documentaries, and I’m very aware of everything that’s happening around me and on that particular shoot, the sound mixer indicated to me at one point that his feed went out and wanting to make sure that my on-camera audio was working and we checked.
It pretty early on in the shoot and we like stopped for a second and I just checked in like make sure the settings are going and they were low but they were there. So I turned them up and we had much better audio and then ultimately that’s the audio that we ended up having to use.
So it’s just being ready on the fly for things that are gonna happen cause you never know how important it is for you to make sure that your camera levels are set for the audio mixer. Definitely not even my position, but it’s part of being on the team as a filmmaker.
You kind of has to be, the Jack or the Jill of all trades when it comes to that. And it’s funny because when we as a viewer take a look at footage that you have created, we don’t notice any of that stuff. I mean, obviously we enjoy it, but we don’t see the back end, you know, sweat, tears, and stress that you guys are going through to give us a few seconds of footage, which is really crazy.
It’s so much work. It’s so hard and it’s super exciting when there are things that you are proud of and that you feel good about, but you work just as hard on projects that aren’t maybe going to get seen by a lot of people. You work just as hard on everything and there are only some things that you get extra rewarded with.
So that’s why when you go to find projects, you have to be able to get something more out of it than the project. And I’ve been in an unfortunate situation as well for working on projects for a long time that might not actually go anywhere by the end of them. And it just sorts of drips away and you think about all the hard work you put into something, and no one’s going to see it.
But that’s okay because I learned so much on it and I got to do them. But it is much better when somebody else gets to see yet.
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I guess you just have to keep thinking about what lessons you’ve learned from it. Instead of always the bad stuff. When nothing goes the right way in your line of work how do you go beyond that? Especially when you have all of these setbacks, especially in this industry in a creative industry where nothing is really solid, especially at the beginning of your career.
There has to be something else that you find creative fulfillment in than just the work that you’re doing as well.
My background is in painting and photography, so I feel like there are elements of being in a location that I’m just inspired by as a photographer, which is just for myself. Let’s just be clear that no one’s ever paid me to really take photographs. That’s not my job, but I like to do it for myself. And even if you’re not going to get something, even if there are a big setback and major setbacks from a project that you’re on, whether it be a really unfortunate situation with a crew that you’re not getting along with or an unfortunate situation with the location where it’s just not an environment that you’re comfortable in.
What is it that you’re getting creative fulfillment out of? Because that’s just a job in the end. In the end, it’s also just your job. So there’s other things to get out of it and a lot of people also that work sort of as these digital nomads all over the place. We can edit as well.
So maybe you shoot something that you edit yourself. Maybe you do an extra shot of the sunrise every day and you edit a clip of sunrise stuff together for yourself. Something that you can get in there while you are on location and not in a way that’s trying to sell something else on this one project, in no means am I saying that, but we all have reels to put together. We all have footage that we want to show as part of our creative resume and if you’re in a beautiful location where there’s a sunrise that you know you might never get an opportunity to see and production doesn’t need you to get up that early. Maybe you get up and shoot the sunrise for yourself. That’s the thing you do.
A lot of times tt’s really just your passion for what you’re doing, for your work that keeps you going through the day when it’s a really tough one, and that’s why it’s so important to really enjoy what you’re doing because sometimes that’s the only thing that’s going to get you out of bed in the morning and nothing else.
That’s the thing. We don’t probably need anymore, there are a lot of other jobs. If you are not happy doing this there are other things you can definitely do. And the people that work in this, it’s sort of like we’re maybe a little bit crazy because we do put up with so much stuff that if I explain it to somebody, I’m like, Oh yeah, I guess that wasn’t a good situation. You know, how many times am I going to go back to a country that I keep getting sick in every time I go.
I’m like, but it can’t happen again.
You keep convincing yourself that it’s not going to happen.
I keep going. Back. I can’t stop it. It’s all good. And you know, you’re creating something that feels really good and I think that something I’ve been very fortunate within my career is being able to pick projects. I really love working on social justice documentary and it gives me an awareness of the world that I wouldn’t have. And it gives me an opportunity to be part of something that feels like you’re making a difference in some way. And that’s something that is important to me. Whatever the case is. Visual media communication is the strongest thing we have out there. And I think it’s our responsibility as filmmakers to make sure that what we’re putting out there is a good thing.
Let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
It’s so cliche, but I think I would just like to think that I left things a little bit better than how I found them. And that the work that I have done and the projects that I have filmed either helped somebody get through a situation that was emotionally hard or something that they were trying to overcome that may be inspired them in some way, whether that be a documentary or a narrative project. I think that you just want to be able to look back and say, I did all of this really hard work and it affected people and somebody, someone else’s life was changed for the better in some way because of something that I did.
And that’s the great thing about the medium that you’re working with is you can create that, right? You could put a documentary about something that you really love to go out there and just tell everybody about and you can make that into something that people will actually want to watch and it’ll be noticed. So it’s pretty amazing that you’re doing that as your career and it’s just going to keep going as you get older and then you’re creating more things and really allowing all of us to see that, to see your passions and what you want to put out there in the world.
I hope that that’s something that I get to continue doing. I don’t think you ever get to a point in this industry where you feel like you have job security. You know, it’s like you’re freelance.
You were right when you also talked about how people think that sometimes we may be crazy with what we’re doing with our lives and even with our job because there is no such thing as security. And then sometimes you’re just living moment to moment until you hopefully figure things out for yourself and you create a network, you know? But really in the beginning and even throughout the whole thing, it’s a lot of struggle to really do what you love and what you’re really passionate about. And I think that a lot of people just think, oh, I’m going to go into this and it’s just going to be great and then you find the hard way.
And also it’s 2019 and with all of the technology that we have at our fingertips, anybody can be a filmmaker, which is a wonderful thing. And it’s a terrifying thing. So there’s nothing that really sets you apart from someone who is professionally trained on very high-end equipment to somebody who’s only ever filmed things on their phone. And there are people who tell amazing stories with any kind of device that’ll film something. And that doesn’t necessarily make them less of a filmmaker, but it makes them different kinds of filmmakers. So it’s like, how are you going to come out into the world as a filmmaker and make your mark in some way that feels different than what somebody else has already done or feels different than what are you trying to say? What are you trying to say that’s different and how are you going to do that?
And I would say, I mean it’s not all negative, right? So for a while, you should find a film of some kind that’s the adjacent thing that you can do something else that fulfills you creatively. Whether that be working with the gear or working at a rental house or working for a magazine or getting some kind of your foot in the door in some way with a company that is going to give you a little bit of security even though it maybe you’re not going to make a lot of money. You can start to formulate your creative style so that you have something that feels like you versus everything else that’s out there.
As long as you find your voice, then it doesn’t matter if your ideas are similar, you yourself as an individual is so different and your ideas are going to be different even though there may be some similarities.
And it’s about being flexible as well without losing the integrity that you have as your own creation if that makes sense.
What are you currently working on, whether it’s your work with film or partnerships that you’re doing that is really exciting to you?
Right now I am currently on a couple of documentaries that are very ongoing, long documentary features. One of them is about the equal rights amendment passing in the United States. Hopefully, that will be soon. The one takes place sort of on the east coast involving sainthood and Catholicism. And then another one is about sort of the idea of repression in the 50s with the LGBT community and some very famous celebrities that were lesbians that are telling their story for the first time.
So those are the documentary side of things I’m working on and I’m currently in production or prep right now. Production very soon on a narrative feature called Southland with director Josh Caldwell. And that is a hundred-page script that we are filming in over three or four weeks out here in the Midwest where I am right now.
Eve, if somebody’s listening to this and they want to do something similar to you, whether it’s to become a cinematographer or whatever it is in the creative space and they don’t have that community to back them up.
What would be your best advice to them in order to give them a little guidance on how to become successful in this lifestyle?
Well, it’s gonna take a lot of dedication if you don’t have the community support around you. But fortunately there is this thing called the Internet and it has made communities come together all over the world and feel a lot smaller and a lot closer to you than they might physically be. So there are amazing film communities online and I wouldn’t know exactly which ones to name cause it would be dependent on what your position is. But there are searchable ways of finding out which ones might be close to you if there is one or which ones might just be interesting to you to read about or you know, start up a movie club in some way.
I founded a company called Seed & Spark, which is a crowdfunding and streaming platform for independent film. Seed & Spark is actually a wonderful online community for filmmakers and you can go to the website and there are tools for filmmakers and there are movies to follow and there are community events and there are lots of things and it focuses only in independent filmmaking because I think it’s also important to realize the separation between what’s studio or Hollywood filmmaking and independent filmmaking, which is more of what you do when you’re on your own and kind of running around and you don’t have the full support necessarily of a studio system to be inside of. So independent filmmaking requires almost its own set of tools to learn.
And if you’re sort of starting up on your own and trying to make something creative in an audiovisual format, Seed & Spark is probably a great resource to push to start.
That is such a great organization. And thank you so much for telling us about that. I’ll definitely put up a link for that org on our website.
Eve, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
I have a website and I’m very active on social media, on Instagram and it @Eve CohenDP and I usually respond to the messages and I like connecting to people that way and I’m on Facebook, all of these things.
Thank you so much for talking to us today. I really appreciate all the knowledge and the tips that you gave us and also I’m gonna be putting out a link for all of the resources you gave us, such as the Armor ATD portable hard drive that you had mentioned. Thank you, Eve so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it!
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Audio Engineer: Ben Smith