In the motion picture and TV industry, professional connections are everything. So when an artist is looking to branch out, try on new professional hats or direct a passion project, he might choose his crew from the ranks of his union brothers and sisters. That’s how it worked for Camera Operator Eric Dyson as he was ramping up to direct two short films.
For the films Appy Days and Baby Steps, Dyson tapped multiple fellow Local 600 members including Clifford Jones and Megan Morris who would serve as his director of photography and producer, respectively. Good decision. Baby Steps ended up winning multiple awards at festivals around the country. It also earned Jones his second Emerging Cinematographer Award (ECA) in 2018.
“We have all worked together on numerous shows,” Dyson said of Morris and Jones. “If you can still get along working with someone on a show for 12 or 14 hours a day, five days a week and still stand to be in the same room with each other, then you can take it to the next level. So, having Megan as my producer and Cliff as my cinematographer, those were two of my strongest go-to people.”
Jones echoes the sentiment. In his 2018 ECA statement, he said that working with Dyson was “an exceptional experience.”
“Eric’s an intelligent, motivated, super-nice guy,” Jones wrote. “We put together an outstanding crew, including a host of talented Local 600 members.”
Dyson joined Local 600 as a loader. He has worked as a focus puller and as a 2nd assistant before ultimately becoming a camera operator. Over the course of a more than 25 year career, he has traveled the country to work on shows like 24, Judging Amy, Community and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the movie A Wrinkle in Time. He recently returned from Savannah where he was part of the upcoming NBC series Council of Dads.
For Dyson, time spent bonding with fellow crew members on various projects over the years has led to friendships and to crew members discussing their future goals.
“When I was on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the word started getting around,” Dyson recalled. “One of our 2nd assistants wanted to operate, so I said, ‘OK, when I do this short, I may have some money or no money.’ He came out and operated and we had a utility who came out and pulled focus.”
“Having those key positions in the camera department with people who I had good relationships with was pretty pivotal as far as getting the work done.”
The son of a jazz musician father and a payroll executive mother, Dyson saw the seeds of his interest in photography planted early. His father shot black and white photos, and their home had a darkroom. At age 16, Dyson worked with producer Fritz Goode at Masai Films and eventually started introducing Dyson with: “This is Eric. He’s going to be a cinematographer someday.”
Freshly graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography, Dyson began his career as a production assistant at Amblin Entertainment where he started meeting directors of photography including Kenneth Zunder who worked on the series Seaquest 2032. Dyson was not in the union at the time, but he was happy to have assignments that placed him in close proximity to the camera department. Eventually he accumulated enough days to be invited to join Local 600.
As his career developed and he gained experience in several different positions, Dyson discovered the value of being near the camera – the center of the action.
“I kind of look at the time we spend either on a movie or TV set like a tornado: all around the periphery, there’s a lot of crazy things going on, but the closer you get toward the middle which is where the camera and the director and the actors are, the more intense it tends to be,” said Dyson. “It’s a neat feeling. As an operator, sometime you’re part of the scenes that’s going down, whereas if you’re a focus puller you can be pivotal as far as what the audience is seeing and what they’re thinking about. When you know the script and you know the vibe of the show, you have a lot more opportunities than you might think to be part of the storytelling process.”
Moving into the union proved to be a wise choice. A father of three, Dyson has benefited from the security of being on union shows and knowing that things like health benefits would be taken care of. There have been other less tangible advantages to union membership as well.
“It’s kind of a cool feeling when every year at the Oscars, by and large, the person who wins the Best Cinematography award is a member of the same guild I’m a member of,” Dyson said. “It gives you a different perspective. Maybe the goal to be a focus puller or an operator or a director of photography, those goals are within reach if you’re willing to buckle down and make the right connections and be really good at doing your job.”