5 Ways Serving Coffee Can Make You A Better Cinematographer - Raindance

Hey folks, Cameron here. Before you start reading I’d like you to know that this is actually my first article. Until recently I was unsure of the benefits of slinging the; wholesome, well brewed, nectar otherwise known as coffee. But last week I was in the Raindance Toronto office doing one of my many tasks, serving coffee to the employees who are otherwise glued to their seats. As I finished I made a quick joke about how walking gently as not to spill would improve my steady cam skills. Others added on and Jaimy mentioned that it would make a good article, without a second though I started to write this article. My hope is to prove that even though you may not have a career in the film industry yet you can still take relevant skills from something as mundane as coffee serving. Thats all from me guys, please do enjoy.

As you read this article you will come to understand that being a barista is less of a career and more of a transitional source of income for undergrads who need the extra cash, but I respect them just the same as I would a bus driver or a crossing guard. After all without them corporate desk jockeys would get no work done before noon. And one could only imagine the apocalyptic chaos which would define the morning were they to suddenly stop their vital service.


For a moment consider that operating a camera is not a difficult task, but rather a series of easy tasks being done simultaneously. The same can be said for slinging coffee. Things like; attention to detail, balance, coordination, preparedness and pleasing the recipient all play an important role in both scenarios. I’m sure this all seems a bit farfetched, but I assure you that I speak the truth. Still not convinced? Behold the true power of your local barista.


1. Attention to Detail

I currently don’t know nor do I have plans ever know what exactly a Triple Venti Soy No-Foam Latte is, but I think that it has coffee in it. But your local barista on the other hand would know not only what that is and how to make it, but they could probably recite the recipe from memory. Chances are you can say it once to them and they will make it without any problem in less than a minute. They can do this through training and attention to detail. In this case they have been taught to; listen carefully to an order, commit it to memory and then make it for you. They must pay extra attention as they make it as not to make a mistake and be certain that they can make it the same way twice.


In the same sense a cinematographer must have that same attention to detail for the same reasons, but under different circumstances. A cinematographer must be able to look through a viewfinder for only a couple of seconds before being able to determine what changes to make for something to look right. The set up for a proper shot is composed of multiple factors and the cinematographer must be able to set up when someone tells them a stream of details. Just as importantly a cinematographer has to be able to shoot multiple shots over the course of several days and make them look like they were all taken on the same day. Attention to detail is really just as important to a barista as it is to a cinematographer.


2. Balance (Life)


To have a part time job at a coffee house is just like having any other part time job. It gives you a chance to pick up on the required skills and expectations related to that work environment, but without usurping your all of your time and leaving you just enough to feel like a drained husk of a person. That way you still have time to enjoy the money you do make. A barista would know this fact well, because the combination of competitive wages and flexible hours means that the work you cannot do can and invariably will be done by someone else. For a barista to remain a barista they must be able to balance their time between work and school, sleep or whatever other way the spend their free time. This balancing act is probably marginally easier than balancing an entire world on the backs of five elephants which in turn are standing on a giant flying space turtle, but only marginally.


The life of a cinematographer is spent in a similar way, with them being in a constant state of; work, sleep or life. The result is an active lifestyle where social plans have to be made days if not weeks in advance, but that is a small price to pay in exchange for doing what you love. It can be really tough as the director will consult you on every little change they want to make. In order to keep your image and possibly your job you would have to make your way to the set (assuming you aren’t already there), and answer the questions or make changes. You effectively become the director’s magic 8-ball by answering; yes, no or it really doesn’t matter. But just like a magic 8-ball you know your stuff and they won’t think of second guessing you.


3. Coordination

A tray of coffee in each hand, a can of soda held in the crook of their elbow and any open fingers clutched around a handful of creamers. How could a normal person possibly carry all those things at once without dropping one or all of them? Because the people working over at the cafe either have latent superhuman abilities, or they are goddamn wizards. For those magnificent caffeine pushers that is considered a light load which even the most inexperienced server should be able to handle. For even if the drinks are piled high and the server cannot see past them they still carry them straight to the table where they distribute them without spilling a drop. Somehow they can move across a room while effectively blind, and still have the presence of mind to not drop the creamers onto which they hardly have a grasp. I don’t think having amazing coordination is just part of the job, this is a life skill. Or magic, quite possibly magic.


Now a cinematographer will sometimes have to work under similar conditions. They must hold the camera in one hand, and a mic in the other, being careful not to move too suddenly to prevent the shot from shaking. Did I mention that they might have to do all this while walking backwards? These people are more than amazing, for many their camera may as well be a body augmentation. There are ways of making this job easier like; steadicams or a dolly.  But a mobile camera operator for a news agency needs to be light on their feet and cannot be weighed down by the extra gear. Having excellent coordination prevents the cinematographer from messing up a shot when they have only one chance or even worse from falling over something and breaking their camera and thoroughly embarrassing himself in the process. Nobody wants to have to shell out for a new camera because they tripped on a garden hose.


4. Preparedness


Long before a coffee shop opens in the morning they start brewing the first pot of the day, not when they open. The staff refill the cream and sugar when they get half empty, not when they are completely empty. No matter the situation there are always extra coffee filters on hand. This preparedness not only prevents back ups in orders, but it also produces happy customers who in turn give you four and a half stars on yelp! And what is life if not they eternal struggle to be recognised and liked on the internet? Anyone who works at a coffee shop (Or the Raindance Toronto Office) knows that when you are running out of coffee you should start a fresh pot immediately. Being prepared is the only way to ensure that their day starts off on the right note instead of the ominous orchestral sting that follows the question, “What do you mean there is no coffee made”?


A cinematographer cannot start their job without making sure that they are one hundred percent prepared. They have to be sure they have all the gear they need like: their camera, a tripod, lights, reflectors and the essential components of a grip kit. Of course the cinematographer must also have the things they may not need. Things like; an extra SD card, a spare battery and if need be a wired source of power. To a cinematographer being prepared is part of the job and is a good way to display professionalism and readiness to work for someone who could employ them in the future. How embarrassing would it be if they had to run to get a spare battery from their van or worse their home?


5. Pleasing the Customer


Pay close attention to this last part because it is really important. When serving coffee someone should be able to; stay coordinated, carry their weight and do the job right. All this is part of the job description and is expected of them. But above all else the most important part of a server’s job is to make sure the customer is happy. They have to take the order, make the order and get it to the patron all in a timely fashion, no questions asked. In the end this person will walk away with their coffee and there is another just like them next in line. These people may sometimes come across as rude but only because they are also in a hurry. If you serve them with a smile that person will usually put one on their face in return. Doing the job right might even earn you praise from someone important. After all coffee is no joke.


A cinematographer, specifically a freelance one is paid to do what they’re asked, when they’re asked and with results that meet or surpass the employer’s expectations. If the cinematographer cannot meet the expectations of the person paying them then they will almost certainly be replaced with someone who can. They must know exactly how a shot needs to be lit and how many wall outlets they must have. But doing a really good job and surpassing expectations leaves others with a positive image of you. After a job well done the employer will not only commend them on their work but there is a chance they will spread their name around to other people who might be looking for someone to work the camera on their project. Success is determined by the person who pays you after all.


The lesson buried in my ramblings?

Everything is a chance to learn and even things which seem unrelated can be linked in ways that are as useful as they are surprising. Up until now the only relation between coffee and cinematography was that both will keep you up at night and nobody will let you mess it up more than once. So keep your chin up and don’t be discouraged that nobody has work in your field. Find what work you can and really try your best to relate it to your future. And if you are lucky and you never give up you will find your dream job and from there the sky’s the limit.