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Hollywood is Full of Specialized Niches, Some Don’t Translate Well

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Movie poster maker Jamie B
Jamie B,

“I came to L.A. because I wanted to be involved in moviemaking. And I fell into this sort of weird little niche of a career. In some ways, Los Angeles is this amazing place of opportunities, but it's also in some ways, incredibly stifling.”

spiderman movie poster

Jamie’s been in the entertainment industry the entire 20 years he’s been in L.A. He started working as a celebrity photographer, and that led him to working in-house as the staff photographer for one of the biggest entertainment advertising companies in the state. His role was to provide media that advanced campaigns for nearly every major studio. It was a unique job. His company was a major producer of movie posters. They worked on posters for at least half of all movies released. Even if they didn’t do the final art, the posters came through their offices. They touched them, did work on them, and then their movie posters were denied or won.

“Every one of the shoots is sort of a crazy snowflake. Sometimes it is literally just like torn scraps of paper that is somehow pivotal to someone’s design concept for marketing a movie. Other times, I might have access to all of the wardrobe before a particular film, but not the talent. In one of the most recent shots we did, I literally cast all of the roles with secondary actors, put them in all of the stars’ wardrobe, and we recreated some scenes from the movie, some things we made up, but in effect, [we] created this whole campaign with sort of fake people that then have their had replaced with the actual talent.”

Jamie had always been considered a key part of the services the company offered. He had survived the layoffs of the 2008 crisis, but when Covid-19 hit, and the company moved to a work-from-home model, they didn’t anticipate any way that he would be able to work from home, so they immediately furloughed him.

Initially, he had thought it would be a short-term thing, just a month or so. He wasn’t worried about it financially. However, at the end of the month, he could see that they weren’t making any headway, so he switched to unemployment and sort of reorganized parts of his life. Three months after being furloughed, they laid him off. 

Movie poster: Eric Bana and Chris Pine in Star Trek

He’s not sure how this is going to play out. Fortunately, he can last on unemployment for the moment. He’s now looking for job opportunities, but because he does such a weird thing, there aren’t any opportunities in entertainment. There are school photography companies looking for people and super entry-level, minimum-wage jobs, but they don’t pay anything comparable to his previous job. And in the areas that he would interact with, no one has any money.

Jamie is experimenting with working for himself. He has been interested in doing portraits for years. It also feels close to doing the headshots that he’s been doing, and he feels it can keep him relevant. He’s built an outdoor photo studio in his backyard, which has air movement with much more than the tiny room in his house. He’s been slowly interacting with people and getting a sense of what makes people comfortable to do that. People seem interested, but actually getting people to have their portrait taken has been harder.

“I think they’re all a little scared and unsure about how to deal with the stuff, and there’s six other bigger fears on the table right now than getting new headshots.”

Jamie’s sure there’s a bunch of people out there making a decent living doing portraits, but they’re probably struggling right now. He doesn’t even know if this business model will work in this new world.

The competition has to be crazy as well. People who’ve been doing portraits for years, and are good at it, probably have some overhead they need to meet. They’re probably struggling to figure out what the price point should be and how to attract people into the business, but at the same time, there’s a whole world of people offering super cheap products on sites like Craigslist.

Cedric the Entertainer

Jamie is trying to position himself as someone with a huge amount of experience, but taking portraits isn’t necessarily his thing and he doesn’t really have any experience doing it. He doesn’t want to appear as just another person with a camera. He wants people to see him as someone who can provide the experience he would expect.

Leaving his job has brought a lot of time to reflect. New paths are not necessarily bad, but they require a lot of thought.

“I came to L.A. because I wanted to be involved in movie moviemaking. And I fell into this sort of weird little niche of a career. In some ways, Los Angeles is this amazing place of opportunities, but it’s also in some ways, incredibly stifling.”

As a staff photographer for a company making movie posters, the creative element of his job was with problem solving. He did really well. All of the sort of image-related creativity, though, was from someone else. It was always someone else’s hopes and dreams that he was charged with fulfilling. In some ways leaving his job has opened him up to much more creativity, but with no budget.

Charting a career path right now seems impossible, particularly since he doesn’t see a semblance of the economy returning. He just doesn’t have enough information. It is difficult enough just thinking about what the next month will bring much less if he will be able to make movie posters again. 

“With everything kind of closed off, what real possibilities are out there? Without having an established career, how would I leverage my unique position into something else?”

Read more another photographer story with how an uncertan future has made a Philly photographer think outside the box.