I usually interview a writer every month, but for my last interview for Ms. In The Biz, I decided to interview Erika Doss, a long-time friend and a very talented photographer who has photographed me throughout the 20 plus years we’ve known each other. Erika has photographed many of the photos I’ve used in my articles, a lot of my unit stills and behind the scenes material for my short films UNSOLVED and HOUSE CLEANING. Erika also photographed unit stills and behind the scenes for the feature film OPEN ROAD which I wrote. These days, Erika can be found photographing unit stills for a number of television shows and movies like BROCKMIRE, FINDING STEVE MCQUEEN, THE PASSAGE and THE HATE U GIVE.
Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Erika Doss moved to Los Angeles in 1999 and graduated from Columbia College-Hollywood with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema in 2003.
In Sao Paulo, Erika studied acting and booked a number of roles on national commercials and musical theater. While in film school, Erika was introduced to photography as a possible way to tell stories. Erika is currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. She lives with her husband, James Doss, a video game producer, and their two sons.
What made you fall in love with photography?
When I attended film school in the late 90’s early 2000’s, I would help my classmates with their short film projects by taking pictures on set not even knowing that I could make a career out of it. There, I learned how prints and film were made and developed from the early days of Hollywood to the digital age now. That’s when I fell in love with photography. I absolutely loved being in the darkroom and developing photographs.
What is the biggest misconception about the work that you do?
The biggest misconception about Unit Still Photographers is that we only shoot behind the scenes photos. Our photography is used in a variety of ways: the bulk of our work goes into advertising and publications, but we also shoot photos used as props in scenes, studio hair and make-up tests, and lastly but always the most fun, the behind the scenes. Most recently a lot of our work is now being used for social media.
What are the biggest challenges you face day to day?
As a Unit Still Photographer, you work on your own without a department on set. I have to navigate around cast and other crew members to take photographs without interrupting the flow of production. Finding my place on set is challenging as I constantly need to be sensitive to the talent during rehearsal as well as when the cameras are rolling.
What’s your day to day like? How much time do you spent working outside of set hours?
Days on set can be anywhere from 8 to 14+ hours long. For each day on set, I spend an hour sorting, labeling and uploading my photos from the day’s work.
Any good set stories?
Once I was working on a film with a high-profile rapper/actor when a few of us were sent
to a downtown Atlanta busy intersection where we had to shoot some prop photos. No Director or Producers went with us. I had to direct the shoot myself. Occasionally people on the street would recognize the actor and approach him for a selfie. He was very graceful to his fans and even though we had to accomplish a lot with very little time, we were still able to finish the job and get the shots we needed. I had a cameo on the series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. They hired me to photograph the wedding photos so that they could create a wedding photo album. That day on set I ended up playing the wedding photographer on camera for some of the scenes.
What advice do you have for people wanting to get into Unit Still Photography?
This may sound obvious but learning the ins and outs of photography first and foremost is the first step. Familiarizing yourself with all the lingo when it comes to the camera and having a passion for photography. Once it feels like second nature to you then go shoot some student films and small independent films to help build a portfolio.
Is there a lesson you feel you’ve learned the hard way? Anything you’d do differently if you could go back in time?
Working on a motion picture or tv set is NOT a very glamorous job! It’s hard work! Lots of standing, kneeling, squatting, very long hours, working with different personalities and all weather elements. You really have to take care of yourself and make your day as comfortable as you can.