Central region Camera Operator Jessica Lopez, SOC (Greenleaf, The Baxters, The Rookie, Transparent) was on a Netflix feature in Mexico City when the shut-down came, and she had to quickly get herself and her gear back home. Unfortunately, a pandemic hasn’t been the scariest thing in her life. Raised in the military, Lopez has faced more crises than most. Now, safe at home, she’s keeping busy and inventive – waiting for work to come back.
Has being able to connect with friends/family in distant locations via Zoom revealed new aspects to those relationships?
Seeing how scary and fragile life can be during these times, I took the liberty of trying to mend bridges. None of us are perfect and I know I recognize that in myself. I don’t want to have anything but respect and gratitude for my fellow camera persons. So I have been using this time to reach out to people via zoom if I didn’t have the time in the past. I have emailed and also talked on the phone to anyone that would dialogue with me. The responses I got have been humbling. It has me excited for the future to do better and to be a better representative of my department. I’m also talking with people about two movements that matter to me, for Women and Black Lives.
We heard you’ve been rather inventive to keep those isolating with you (or yourself) engaged and active.
Finding things to do and be productive has always been a habit of mine. I re-organized my gear, set up a retirement plan, applied for Mexican Work Visa, donated old equipment and supplies to friends that started a studio, tried to work out, meditate, went vegetarian, and have spent 35 hours writing a business proposal for a new idea I have, held live Q&A’s, and snuck in a few motorcycle rides in the mountains by myself.
Have you attended or participated in any live Q&A’s with industry peers?
I have attended a few sessions for Women in Media, Tiffen Steadicam, and the Director’s Corner. Camera Assistant Matthew Borek and I created a small training school called “SteadiSchool” where people can get hands-on training and practice as an operator and camera assistant. Since lockdown, we started putting on Q & A Zoom sessions with seasoned operators and focus pullers each Saturday. We made sure to include unique voices that represent what inclusivity we are striving for today. All episodes can be viewed on our SteadiSchool YouTube Page.
Any chance to improve your cooking skills?
Well, a long time ago I almost went to culinary school, instead of film school. It was so nice and peaceful having the time to cook my favorite dishes and plate them all fancy again. In honor of my grandmother, who passed away in October of 2019, I cooked her special taco recipe. She had this way of only using vegetables and chilis to season the rice, beans, and taco meat.
What charities have you become involved in, and why did you choose?
Every year I donate a couple of boxes to the Women’s Shelter. I also do what I can on my own time, I get a lot of messages via social media of people asking for my help. For example, during the pandemic, a young camerawoman reached out to me who was living in her car after having read my story of living in my car trying to be a Steadicam operator. We cried together. She was denied unemployment with one stimulus check. I helped her with groceries, and paid one of her bills, and got her links to Medi-Cal and Food Stamps assistance. Sometimes survival has no patience and if you have been in the shoes of someone struggling, you will act fast to help.
How many books have you read? What are your favorites and why?
As you Wish, which is about the making of The Princess Bride, because I’m a proud movie nerd. The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video, given to me by Lisa Wiegand, ASC. I remember working for Lisa before I was ready. She tried to help me understand the 180-degree rule and gave me this book, which has become my teaching bible. It’s what I use to confidently speak to a younger eager filmmaker that’s asking for my help.
Once the restrictions are lifted what is the first thing you want to do?
I am in the process of developing guidelines for our SteadiSchool program, that I want to move forward. And, I really need to and look forward to getting my gear serviced.
What is the one thing you miss most about being on a film or television set?
I’d like to give that answer starting with “what I don’t miss.” The most positive thing that came from this pandemic was that all of us in our union were actually equal, for the first time. No one was higher than anyone else. Feelings of being an imposter, having doubt, undercut, or being rushed unsafely have not existed these past months. No one’s privilege or jealousy was kept alive and protected in the workplace. I finally felt mentally free in my career journey even though I wasn’t working. It’s my goal to maintain this mental peace when we return.
How has the Union been able to help you through these tough times?
Boy, I think we got lucky having John Lindley as our president. He took time out of his busy week in Atlanta to meet me after I had boldly emailed him about possibly hiring a woman Steadicam one day on his sets. Those moments of his kindness, wisdom, and dialogue, will always stay with me. Hopefully, one day, I will get to witness his leadership on set. But his leadership in our union honestly makes me feel the most comfortable I’ve felt being a dues-paying member since 2013. This man is real, honest, and wants change for all our members.
How do you think your outlook on life will change post-COVID?
I know I am determined to lead by example, with compassion and understanding for everyone. I think this is a chance for everyone to turn a new leaf. Come out of this understanding that life is fragile, we all need to be kind to each other. We all need to see the differences and help not just finger point and gossip. It is my belief there is no more time to breed those conversations and emotions in the workplace. I do hope to have a job again some-day with this new mindset of peace and teamwork.