Can you give an overview of how you got to where you are today?
Absolutely, so it kind of happened by accident. I was in my senior year at the University of Southern California, and I had a mini-freakout because I realized that so many people around me were interning and had been doing so for years now, and it wasn’t something that I had been focusing on. I was more into my classes, and to be honest, I was just making sure I passed and was doing everything I needed to do.
There was this girl I knew that was working at a photo studio and at the time I didn't realize that that was an actual job that you could have. Nor did I know too much about the business of commercial photography. So I looked online for photo studios that were in Los Angeles, and Milk Studios popped up. It looked really interesting, so I called to see if they were hiring interns and they were so we scheduled an interview for the following week.
Do you remember what your interview was like?
Yeah, I do actually. I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I felt slightly out of place in such a luxurious space. The reception team had me wait in the lobby for a bit, and I watched a couple of guys from the art department bring a huge wall flat into a studio. I remember being confused because I didn’t understand what they were doing at the time.
I also had on this all black outfit. It looked like I was going to a funeral. I was wearing tights-
So kind of like right now.
So kind of like right now. All black outfit, same thing. At the time Monae was working at the front desk, and she pulled me into the cafe to sit down for an interview. She asked me what I knew about the photo industry, and at the time it wasn't that much, but I had still done enough research about MILK to hold a conversation with her. It was short and sweet, and she definitely let me know that while it's a glamorous place, what makes this machine run is a lot of hard work. I understood that coming in, and I think that's what really helped me.
Are there any stories that come to mind when you think about your time as an intern?
I was always running around as an intern. Giving models robes, hauling clothing racks in and out of studios, cleaning everything. I just remember everyone was so beautiful and I’d be running up to clients sweating in my chucks, like “Hey did you ask for this?”
Do you remember any learning experiences or specific jobs that you had before this that unexpectedly prepared you for working here?
I was a receptionist at a hair salon, and it taught me how important it is to always show face. Your one-on-one interactions with clients are really important. When I was a receptionist, even if I was stressed and I was scheduling all of these different hair appointments, and someone walked in, I had to completely drop everything and just make sure I was happy to see them and greet them. It can definitely be exhausting, but in a lot of ways, my job now can be like that too.
So you work as a booking agent. What does your role consist of?
I work in bookings and typically when a client is looking to book a studio they touch base with my department first. The booking can come from a production company, a magazine, or even the photographer themselves. After the client chooses their studio preference, I connect them with our in-house equipment team and make sure all of their lighting and grip needs are taken care of. It is then my job to send out paperwork to the client confirming the space, so I need to secure payment, understand the legalities of our contracts, and how to approve certificates of insurance. I also help keep our internal calendar organized, take phone calls and emails from clients, and try to get a good understanding of each project to make sure that the client’s needs are met. So I’m always in conversation with our equipment, digital and retouching departments as we are often all working on the same shoots and want to be on the same page. It’s also my job to be aware of what is happening in the entertainment world from fashion to music to film. It’s a lot to keep up with!
Are you mainly speaking with producers? Who is your main point of contact?
Yes, I’d say producers are booking the studio most. These are typically large-scale photo shoots with a lot of moving parts so a client will hire a production team to take the job over. But you also have people reach out that have never booked a studio before, so it’s important to know how to help everyone whether it's a huge budget shoot or someone that's just trying to get in for their first in-studio shoot.
It sounds like a big part of your job is anticipating what’s going to happen next.
Exactly. This job is fast paced, you have to be proactive, and the answer is always yes, whenever a client is asking you for something, you need to deliver that service. So before a client comes in, I'm always thinking about all of the different things that could be happening. Who's the talent? When are they coming? How late are they going to stay here until? It’s all about making sure that they have the smoothest and the best experience here.
Since your department works directly with clients, do you have any advice for creating lasting relationships?
I think it takes time. I don't think after you speak to someone once it necessarily means that you're going to have this crazy lifelong thing. I think you just need to try to make everyone’s experience special. That can be something as small as remembering what their favorite drink is, what studio they prefer shooting in, or just remembering their name when you see them a second time. Inside jokes help too. It’s important to be personable when you can.
What excites you about your position now?
In the beginning, you understand everything in a more superficial sense. The studio itself is beautiful every day you’re seeing these well-known photographers, stylists, and talent; it can almost be overwhelming. Then once you start seeing how everything works, it becomes more interesting because you can start putting all of the pieces together. You start recognizing things like how certain creative teams work together and the different personalities and styles of each photographer. You also see people move on up in the industry. Someone might have started as someone's assistant, and now you're seeing them shoot their own stuff. I think that's really exciting.
What would you say is the most difficult aspect of your job?
Being on all of the time. I think that in production, there are long days and there's not too much room to slip; you know what I mean? Everything is on a specific schedule, and people need answers at a certain time so it can be pretty demanding.
Can you give an overview of what Milk is and the different departments that make it up?
MILK has many different divisions that include an agency, production services, an editorial platform, a makeup line… but I work specifically with their studio space in LA. MILK LA is a full-service photography and film studio with equipment rental for shoots that are both in studio and on location and digital services that include camera rental, digital capture, digital technicians and video production.
What is the company culture like?
Work hard, play hard. Everyone holds themselves to a very high standard, has a great work ethic, and on top of that knows how to be social. In LA we’re really like one big family.
What qualities do you look for in potential hires?
Someone who is not easily discouraged and can operate in a high intensity environment. You want to feel like someone is growing within their position and can continue to take on more responsibility, so being trustworthy and reliable is also key. It has to be someone who's a hard worker, and they have to have a genuine interest, whether it's photo or in fashion or something else in the entertainment realm. Sometimes they're already doing something; they're already taking pictures on their own or styling their own little shoots. Other times, you can just tell someone wants to know a lot more about the industry and wants to completely immerse themselves into an experience. For me, passion is just as important as experience.
What traits did you already have that were vital coming into this line of work?
I think that I'm a really hard worker. I also think I have a pretty good sense of humor, which can be nice when everyone can take themselves a little too seriously sometimes. It's important to have that kind of balance. Also, I'm never too good to do anything, whether it's cleaning something up or having to help reset a studio and move around furniture. I'll do it all if I know it's for the greater good of the company.
Do you think those traits developed and improved during your time working here?
Definitely. They’re more refined, and I’m more confident when speaking to people. It’s easier for me to approach people and I think I make it easier for people to approach me. When you're first learning the industry, and I'm still learning it, it's easy to be intimidated by certain situations. Like the first time, I had to deal with a commercial shoot that had three times the size of a still photo crew or when I finally had to meet the director of a magazine face to face that I had been emailing for months. Each time I’m put into an uncomfortable situation I get a little bit better at my job.