Industry Pro: Post Production Executive and Post Supervisor Dean Cochran
Today’s industry pro is an example of someone who has had both a creative career path, as an actor, and a “ladder” career path, as a production company executive. As you’ll read below, the ladder path resulted from a “day job run amok,” as I like to call entry level positions which provide unexpected long-term growth. But Dean certainly knew how to demonstrate commitment, take advantage of opportunities, and identify areas where one career path might benefit the other, such as taking a position at the production company where he’d be able to view the dailies of actors like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in order to get a master class in film acting. You can learn a lot from a smart guy like Dean.
Current position: I’m the Director of Post Production for New Regency, a studio-based film production company. I am also the Post Production Supervisor on many of our films. We have a small department which means I do a lot of different things, from taking all of the films from dailies through post production to such assignments as traveling the country overseeing special screenings of our movie, 12 YEARS A SLAVE.
Hometown: I’m from the “Big Easy”, although I don’t think I ever heard that expression until the movie by that name came out. So I’m from the Crescent City, NOLA, aka New Orleans.
College & degree: I graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans with a degree in theater. I’d have gotten my BFA and minored in English, but I decided to graduate college a semester early because I had completed all my credits. I wanted to get to L.A. as fast as possible.
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First job in the entertainment industry: My first job in entertainment was as an actor back in New Orleans. I did a Greyhound bus commercial playing a Marine, wearing my old Marine ROTC uniform from high school where I was the company commander.
Career path: I have had two concurrent career paths since arriving in Los Angeles: One as an actor and the other as a production company employee. The former, I’ll get into later. The latter happened pretty quickly after I got here. My first job was as a waiter. A week after landing the job by telling the manager that my main qualification to work at Hamburger Hamlet was that I had played Hamlet, I got a call from a buddy who said some new production company at Warner Bros. had an executive who needed his office cleaned out. He and I spent a couple of days working at New Regency for $75/day.
A few weeks later, that same executive needed someone to drive a couple of actors from out of town to a boxing gym to learn to fight for a movie called THE POWER OF ONE. I took the gig and, since I had boxing experience, I ended up hanging out at the gym helping the actors, including Steve Dorff. I’d finish my workday by mid-afternoon but instead of going home, I went back to the production office. I’d sit on an old milk crate with a leftover board from some shelf across my lap as a desk. If the phone rang, I’d jump up and answer it first. If someone needed a copy, I rushed to do it. If something needed to be filed, I filed it (after reading it). I just wouldn’t leave. Eventually the actors left for location, but I kept showing up and they kept paying me, for some reason. I ended up becoming a Production Coordinator. Eventually, I figured out that if I wanted to learn what real film acting was about, it would be good for me to watch the dailies from each day of filming on our projects, especially since we were making movies with guys like DeNiro and Pacino. So I moved from Production into Post Production.
What do you consider your big break? Mine has been slow and steady progress in the film industry. On the acting side, I starred in a bunch of action flicks for Millennium / Nu Image, starting with one called AIR MARSHAL. That was a break of sorts. But my first big break in what I consider my “career” was getting to Post Supervise a film called SHUTTER. I had “ghost supervised” a few films, but SHUTTER was just me handling everything. We had a Japanese director who didn’t speak a lick of English and the first editor was fired, so it was just me. The director became less and less involved and, while the new editor was trying to reconstruct the movie, I was directing the actors in the ADR sessions. (Editor’s note: ADR stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement, also known as looping.) It was an extremely challenging experience, but after that I figured I could handle anything any other movie might throw at me.
Best career advice you ever got: I like to tell stories and I have two that apply to the entertainment industry, careers in general, and life. The first involves acting. I was starring in this movie called AIR MARSHAL for Nu Image. We were shooting in Bulgaria. The script was horrible so I was up rewriting my lines the night before to at least make some sense, in addition to doing my New Regency job overnight when it was daytime in the United States. It was a cold, rainy morning and we were shooting in an actual plane in a hangar a few miles out of town. I was on the set waiting to work (because waiting is mostly what you do on a set, even when you’re the lead) and I got comfortable in a chair and started to doze. The director came up to me and said, “Dean, would you mind going back to your trailer if you want to take a nap? It’s totally fine, but on the set I need you to be fully present, even if you aren’t shooting. You’re the leader of this entire set other than me so all eyes are on you – actors, crew, everyone. If you look tired, they will feel tired. If you’re motivated, it helps motivate everyone else.” After that I never showed up on set looking tired, even if I was. I learned every crew member’s name and what they did. I asked questions. I even learned some Bulgarian.
When the show ended, I met the producer for the first time. He said, “I heard about you. You’re a bit of a legend around here. We’ve never had an actor come in and try to learn the language, know everyone’s name, and be so present in a film.” Three weeks later, he offered me the lead in a film he was directing and after that, directed me in a few other movies as well. It was a lesson learned: ALWAYS be present. I don’t care what job you do; know what people do, learn their names (even if you have to fake it like I did by referring to a crew list in emergencies), and take an interest.
Second story: I have to negotiate in my business. I negotiate sound deals, telecine deals, editor deals, equipment deals, cutting room deals. You name it, I negotiate it. A few years back, my wife and I took a course from The Learning Annex called, “Flipping Real Estate.” It was a big thing at the time and we had a free Saturday. It turns out the guy teaching the class doesn’t have much to offer, but at one point he starts talking about negotiating. He says that when he negotiates for properties, he usually does it over the phone and he makes sure he is always doing something else to distract him. My ears perked up. “What the hell is he talking about?” His technique is to not let anything the other party says affect him. If the other guy says, “I’ll give it to you for $10,000,” he reads the next sentence from the Sports page and doesn’t say a word. Nine times out of 10, the other guy will take the silence as declining the offer and comes back with, “Okay, how about $9,000?” My guy says he also always asks, “Can you do any better?” at least 3 times during the negotiation. He suggested that if the third time is uncomfortable, you can even say. “I’m sorry, I know it’s silly, I took this class one time where a guy told me to always ask three times. But seriously, can you do any better?” I’ve made some pretty sweet deals for New Regency over the years. I negotiated the price of my car below what the dealership paid. Sometimes I negotiate the dinner check down just to see if I can do it.
Eureka moment (when you realized you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently, etc.): I try to follow my little voice as much as possible. I’m probably by nature more of a reactive individual than a proactive one, so I force myself into action. I follow a bit of a ‘Ready, FIRE, Aim’ approach to things. I take a quick assessment just to get the lay of the land and force myself to act, see how close I am to accomplishing the goal (or hitting the target), then I take proper aim or decide how to properly approach the situation. I learned early on in my career and in life that you can spend a whole lot of time planning things out but if you just start by getting your shoes a little dirty, you usually find you are closer to the goal than you originally thought.
Describe a typical work day in your current position: I’m basically a fireman. We have a lot of shows going on at all time, each in various stages. I check in with each one at some point (although I usually hear from them first), I follow the calendar, make sure we are hitting our dates, follow up on my action items, and mostly keep the trains running on time. But regardless, at some point, there will be a fire. Never fails. I usually try to convince everyone that it’s not a fire at all then, when they aren’t looking, I put it out. I’ve learned that there really isn’t anything you can’t accomplish if you set your mind to it. If I don’t know how to do something, I just start calling around until I find someone who does. I make them teach me over the phone, and then I do it myself.
Worst job (or day) in entertainment industry: I won’t name names or even give hints, but I’ve dealt with a few prima donnas in the industry. The best thing you can do in those situations is just to shower them with compliments, convince them that you are their concierge and then, behind the scenes, get the real work done.
Best job (or day) in entertainment industry: The final day of shooting my first starring role in AIR MARSHAL. It was the last shot of the film: a flashback scene. I was a Marine in an op that went bad. I had fake blood coming out of my torn jacket and I’m looking up at what was supposed to be a helicopter, but was actually a fan attached to a crane with a spotlight also attached to it. The whole thing was shot high speed for slow mo as the sun came up just over the crew’s shoulders. It was beautiful. Then the AD yelled out, “That’s a wrap, ladies and gentleman.”
Best thing about your current job: We are starting to make a highly diversified slate of movies which is exciting. We just made 12 YEARS A SLAVE, which to me is the best film we have ever made, surpassing my previous favorite, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Now we are making GONE GIRL, which was a fantastic book, and working with Ken Scott, the director of STARBUCK, a film I really enjoyed.
Brush with greatness (can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone being brilliant at what they do): I recently met Steve McQueen and the cast of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, when I set up the theater for the New Orleans Film Festival. The film is like a piece of art that you would hang in a museum. Every moment is a moment of profound brilliance. I remember when we were reviewing dailies, I kept thinking, “He’s not shooting enough coverage. He’s going to wish he had another angle, another close-up.” Then I watched an early cut and the editor had cut all these little pieces together using jump cuts which you rarely see, staying on takes longer than anyone should, breaking all the rules, and it was brilliant. Steve and the editor, Joe Walker, just know each other so well that they didn’t need to shoot anything they knew they wouldn’t use. They had edited the film in their heads before shooting a single frame. I learned more from that film than any I’ve ever done and being able to get to know those people has been a career highlight.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you started? That most people in the industry are full of shit (in a good way) and they are just trying to figure things out as best they can, too. So we’re all on a more even playing field than we realize. I spent a lot of time being more intimidated than I needed to be and I could have had an easier time by worrying a little less.
Secret of your success/advice to the newbie: Whatever contacts you have, even if it’s second or third degree, check in. Then follow up every eight weeks, just say “hi,” drop an email, make a call, whatever. Opportunities come up rarely, but they do come up. For a newbie, I hire whoever doesn’t bug me too much and happens to make contact right around the time I’m looking. I can’t remember everyone and I don’t have time for a lot of chit-chat, but I do like helping people. Oftentimes, it just comes down to timing and that’s with ALL your contacts.
Also don’t stay idle. If you call someone in October, by the time you check back in come December, hopefully you have done something – worked on a short, toured a lab, met someone…did something that you can talk about. We all need to be constantly learning and experiencing and this industry is constantly changing.
Next move (or next five moves): Post Production is a funny business. People stay in the same job for a long time. You can be a Post Production Assistant, Supervisor, Manager, Director, VP, even a President of Post Production for a studio. You can take the editorial path of PA, Apprentice, Assistant Editor, eventually maybe even editor. Post Production is like having a General Studies Degree in college, minoring in business while going to a Tech school at night. You kind of have to be pretty good at a whole lot of things but that keeps it interesting and it’s probably why people who get into Post tend to stay there. It’s always changing and a challenge. I don’t think most people CHOOSE to get into Post Production Supervision, maybe editorial, but not in my line. People just kind of happen over here but, like I said, once you get into it you kind of get hooked.
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