2014 Photographer’s Market Preview: Interview with Motion Picture Grip Rowland Egerton

2014 Photographer's MarketHave you thought about alternative photography careers? What other career paths would use the skills you’ve developed as a photographer? There are some exciting possibilities, including careers in the movie industry. Read the excerpt below from a humorous interview with Rowland Egerton, and find out how he used the lighting expertise he learned as a still photographer to start a new career as a movie grip.

The complete interview by Luke McLaughlin and Neely McLaughlin, appeared in the 2014 Photographer’s Market. You can buy a copy of the 2014 Photographer’s Market or subscribe to ArtistsMarketOnline.com to get the complete interview.

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Rowland Egerton: From Still Photography to Movie Grip

Kentucky Derby Photo by Rowland Egerton

In the evenings, after his classes, Egerton learned photography tricks not in the textbooks by working for a photographer and graphic designer.

During the late 1980s, Rowland Egerton was working for a road construction company that built interstate highways. During the winter, the company would lay off its workers, and Egerton used this time to learn photography, taking an adult continuing education class. A guest speaker at one of the classes told him that the commercial photography program at Jefferson Community College in Louisville, Kentucky, would teach him about the commercial market in photography. Egerton explains, “So, the next winter, I decided to take a couple of classes at Jefferson Community College while I was laid off, and I got even more excited about photography. And so, at the end, when I got called back to work, I told my wife I wasn’t going back. I was going to go to school and study photography. Shortly after that we were divorced.”

Egerton is now one of the owners of Hellfire Rigging, a specialist camera and electrical rigging company in the motion picture industry. He spent much of his career as a photographer, and used the expertise that he gained from his photography experience to transfer from still photography work into film.

A Nightmare

Egerton’s first job was not the kind of work he had hoped for, but he saw it as a stepping stone to the career that he wanted. He explains, “It was a catalog factory. It was so depressing. It was just shooting cheesy product on plain background and just, over and over, day in day out, the same thing. It was really terrible. So I kept looking around for jobs.” After taking one more disappointing job, Egerton finally got the break that he had been working towards. One day, in a local photography shop, he met Michael Brohm, a photographer on the board of directors of the commercial photography course that he was enrolled in. Egerton asked Brohm if he needed an assistant, and eventually managed to get an interview.


The Digital Age

A new generation of digital photographers come along and started offering to shoot a job for half of what the traditional photographers like Egerton would have charged. They might not have years of dark room experience, but they didn’t need it. They could edit their photographs on a computer. Faced with having to replace all of his equipment in order to remain competitive, Egerton decided to try something new. He moved to the Caribbean and took up underwater photography. “I thought underwater photography is cool; I need to learn how to scuba dive first. So I went and met those guys and learned how to scuba dive. Through that, I became a scuba instructor, and that was a way to subsidize my diving habit and my diving photography habit.” Egerton soon realized that this was not the career he wanted. He decided to move back to Kentucky and find a new job that used some of the various skills that he had picked up along the way.

Back to the Bluegrass

Egerton returned to Kentucky and began working for Kay Milam, an independent film producer and production coordinator that he had met while shooting the Kentucky Derby. While working as a production assistant on the set of a commercial, he realized that he could be a grip and electrician, someone responsible for setting up the lighting and electrical equipment that he was familiar with from his work as a still photographer.
For the next job, Milam hired Egerton as a grip/electrician, and Egerton began to make contacts in the industry. He worked for a few days on the set of Elizabethtown (2005), a feature film set mostly in Kentucky, which required him to be a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Motion Picture Technicians (IATSE) union.


A New Partner

lighting for The Guardian movie set

It takes a lot of light to film a movie, and Egerton’s company offers a complete lighting package to the motion picture industry.

On his second job in New Orleans, Egerton met his eventual business partner, Frankie Jones, a rigging grip with years of experience setting up lighting and rigging for the rock ’n roll circuit. They worked together on films for a year until Hurricane Katrina hit and forced the New Orleans film crews to scatter and find jobs elsewhere. Later that year, Egerton got a job based on his experience with underwater photography. He heard that a state-of-the-art wave pool was being built in Shreveport, Louisiana, and was hired to work on The Guardian (2006). The movie featured extensive underwater scenes and required expert divers to light sets. “Because I was also a certified rescue diver and a scuba diver, it meant that I might be able to make some extra money as a rigging diver and a rigging grip,” Egerton explains.

Egerton continued to work in Shreveport, sometimes on a contract for an entire film, and sometimes on a day-to-day basis. While working on a small rig on the set of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), Egerton was offered a job as the key rigging grip on a show, and he saw an opportunity to start a partnership with Frankie Jones that led to the creation of their company, Hellfire Rigging. He recommended Jones for the job, and offered to be the best boy grip, the key grip’s right-hand man.

When they were starting out, they owned almost no equipment, but they weren’t in a position to turn down work. Egerton explains, “We told them we had all of this stuff, and they said okay, and we were really glad that they didn’t ask to see it, because we didn’t have it, and they wrote us a check for $1,950 every week. Every week we would take that check and buy as much stuff as we could. By the end of the show, we had quite a little bit of stuff.”

2,400-square-foot blue screen with a 180-foot-tall crane

Egerton can’t be afraid of heights setting up a 2,400-square-foot blue screen with a 180-foot-tall crane.

Egerton says the company has now outgrown its warehouse. “Now we could move into an 8,000-square-foot place. We have more stuff than we can fit into a warehouse, and we keep getting bigger and bigger, and it’s all paid for.” But this business is not something he could have started without gaining the experience that he got from his previous work. He explains, “All of the jobs that I have had in my whole life, all of the skills that I learned in my various jobs have brought me to where I am now. The photography end, it gave me a leg up in the motion picture industry because I understood the ways that light interacted with film and different kinds of film stocks, tungsten and daylight film, etc. It helped me learn how to light motion pictures easier than some of the guys I was working with because I already had that experience as a still photographer. So it was a little easier to rise up from the basement, so to speak, and make my way onto a permanent crew before we started our business.”


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