Lock it Up: Jeffrey Hart

From Optimus Prime to Batman, the crew of the Enterprise to the Wolf Pack, Jeffrey Hart has worked with some of the heaviest box office hitters in recent years. What has he learned? Sometimes it is OK to peek over Michael Bay's shoulder. 

If you ask Jeffrey Hart about his background as a camera operator and editor, he’ll tell you that he’s been doing it for as long as he can remember. “I’ve enjoyed bringing ideas to life and telling stories since I was about five years old. I’ve always had a passion for playing with cameras and lights,” he says.

Determined to turn his hobby into a career, Hart attended Florida State College Jacksonville where he pursued an Associates of Arts degree in Creative Writing. He then transferred to Full Sail University to learn the ropes of the entertainment industry and earned a Film bachelor of science degree. Following graduation, the Florida native moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and landed an internship at a production company.

Today, Hart is a freelance camera operator and editor who works on a variety of film and television sets. He’s been a part of notable projects such as The Hangover 3, The Dark Knight Rises, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. In addition, he worked on the next installment of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek saga, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Get In Media: How did you land those initial production assistant jobs?

Jeffrey Hart: I had my internship and then that turned into a paid position. There was a guy working there and he was quitting. Two weeks before, he said, “I am going to quit and if you want my job, I can teach you everything I know and then rather than having them find someone else, you can step up.” I took his position for about six weeks and then decided it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on set; I didn’t want to be stuck in an office.

I met some people on my internship and they hooked me up with some opportunities. I got to PA on a couple of commercials and Transformers 3. The first couple of commercials opened up the door to more commercials and working on Transformers opened up the door to features. Once I got off the commercials and off the movie, I was able to just network. I also knew a couple of other people that had already moved out to L.A., so I used them as resources as well. One of them was a Full Sail alumnus and he ended up getting me my first PA job with Nickelodeon.Jeffrey Hart and Bumble Bee, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"Jeffrey Hart and Bumble Bee, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”

GIM: From working as a production assistant, you moved into camera and editing?

JH: Yes. My main gig is being a camera operator. I still do some set PA work because I try to stay as busy as I can. I’d rather not be a PA, but every now and then, if I can’t get a camera job or an AD [assistant director] job, this is what I’ll do. I’m just now breaking into the big stuff and am continuing to make more and more contacts and take on higher-level jobs. I’m definitely on the right track. In three years, I went from having nothing to now having a successful network of people and companies that trust and rely on me to create and deliver want they need.

GIM: What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on recently?

JH: I’ve had the privilege to work on some big features and commercials such as The Dark Knight Rises, The Muppets, and Star Trek Into Darkness. I recently worked on The Hangover 3. That was a lot of fun, lots of laughing on set. I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Bay. I got to work on Transformers 3. For me that was the chance of a lifetime. I stayed as close to him as I could to learn as much as possible while on set. Any set I’m on, I do that. The key is knowing when you can stand next to the director and his monitors and when that’s a really bad idea. Most of the time it’s a terrible idea, but you only live once…

Transformers 3 was the first movie I ever worked on. Being able to be there while they were launching the space shuttle and stand underneath it as it passed was unbelievable! We were escorted by a security officer and had clearance to go anywhere and everywhere at the Kennedy Space Center. To be able to have that be my first feature out of school and to be in that scenario was absolutely awesome.Jeffrey Hart, Kennedy Space CenterJeffrey Hart, Kennedy Space Center

GIM: Did you notice a big difference in the way that Michael Bay ran his set from someone like Christopher Nolan?

JH: All directors are different. They all run their set differently. What I think makes a great director is the more hands on they are. The more they are not so much micromanaging, but the more they are aware of what is happening. One thing that was nice about Christopher Nolan and Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams and all those guys—they would always be on walkie-talkies. All day long, you’d want to keep the walkies clear because they would be talking to their DPs, camera operators, etc. and were being very specific in what they wanted. They were communicating with the actor while they are rolling, which I think is great. I’ve been on a lot of projects where the director sits there and the DP [director of photography] is dealing with the camera lights and the AD [assistant director] is dealing with the talent while the director is trying to figure out what he wants to have for lunch.

GIM: As a freelancer, do you like working a variety of jobs?

JH: Yes. I enjoy the whole process of filmmaking. Some people know me as a PA and others know me as a camera operator. Nickelodeon, for example, hired me to PA on a spot and I kept telling them that I wanted to shoot. They kept hiring me to PA and I told them to call me when they had a shooting position. They kept calling me to PA and I kept turning them down and then finally they called me and said, “We have something very small and want to see if you can do it.” I did such a great job that they then brought me back two weeks later for the 6-month position, which is what I am doing now.

GIM: Will you give us an example of what a production assistant does on set?

JH: A PA is ultimately assisting the director with everything that they need. You are helping to direct background talent and extras. You do lock ups, which means making sure people are quiet when we are rolling and that people aren’t walking into the shot. On The Dark Knight Rises, I was one of 150 PAs. What we did was lock-ups of downtown Los Angeles. We had streets that we were walking up, making sure that no pedestrians were out. We had 100 police cars and the Batmobile and a motorcycle racing up the street. We were all spread out and we had to keep it safe. It was a crew of about 600 people. We’d get there at 4:00 in the afternoon and then go home at like 6 a.m. It was a blast.

GIM: How do you land most of your jobs?

JH: Through referrals and networking. Sometimes I’ll get a random phone call, “Hey. Can you work tomorrow? I got your number from so-and-so” or “I heard good things about you from whoever…” And then there are also times where I have a network of people that I’ve worked with. If I’m ever really hurting for work, which thankfully in the last few years hasn’t happened, I can go through old call sheets and contact people and see if they need people. It’s all about networking.

GIM: How do commercial and movie sets differ?

JH: Movies are huge. They can be anywhere from 200 to 500 people with tons of extras. They are a mini-circus coming in and taking over a town or a location. Commercials are very similar but much smaller. They have about 75 people, if that. Movie sets are much more involved. Movies are the Ferrari of this industry. They have to be perfect and there is no room for error because there is too much money being spent.

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GIM: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to deal with in your career?

JH: The only challenging part is the long hours. There is always a deadline. If you want to make it, leave the excuses at the door. Sometimes you’re the leader and that’s great, other times you’re a smaller piece of the puzzle. Knowing when to lead and when to follow are key to being successful. Even the most successful people in this world have to answer to someone else.

GIM: What can people interested in a position like yours do to enter your line of work?

JH: Full Sail was great. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Taking an internship with a very successful company was another great decision. Both allowed me to network and show others that I am an asset, but more importantly a good person to know. There are many different paths to take. A PA is the bottom; the director is the top. You can go production, camera, sound, VTR, art, grip, electric, locations, special effects, craft services, wardrobe, hair, makeup, and transportation. Each one has a different hierarchy. Film school will really help you to find where you want to fit in within the industry–that and being on the job doing things like interning and PAing really teaches you about all the different positions.

GIM: What was the most helpful thing you did that prepared you for your career?

JH: School was very important, but even more important is not giving up. I always fight for what I believe in, even if I’m wrong. I’ll apologize later. My way of thinking prepared me. A lot of people gave me advice. I take it with a grain of salt. The best thing to hear is someone saying you can’t or that’s not how it’s done.

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