What Our Members Do: James Haley, Still Lab Technician

James Haley. Photo: Courtesy James Haley.

Where are you currently employed?

Filmsolutions, LLC. (Burbank, CA)

Current Project?

It can change multiple times a day. The studios we work with release so much content that I forget about projects I’ve worked on until I’m watching something, and then I’ll remember processing images from that scene. I specifically avoided working on the “Deadpool” movies (thanks Ryan!) because I didn’t want to see any spoilers — which is unfortunately what happened when I worked on “The Irishman” a year ago. I’d say my most memorable project is probably the Netflix series “Nowhere Man.” Mark Wu was the unit photographer, and the images he captured for that project were incredible.

Describe Your Job.

As a Still Lab Tech, my daily routine consists of processing thousands of still image assets that are captured on the set of movies and TV shows. Color correction, retouching, compositing, metadata annotation — it’s very repetitive work that comes with unique challenges all the time. I’m always looking for ways to streamline our workflow and develop new channels of quality assurance because the most important thing I’ve learned here is that mistakes are inevitable, but the same mistakes are preventable.

How did you first become interested in this line of work?

I actually fell into it. I have an extensive background with Adobe applications and design work, but I originally took a part-time job here as an image tagger because of the flexible schedule. After a month, management noticed my work ethic and pulled me aside to ask if I’d be interested in a new position. (That may be anecdotal, but I like to attribute it to my “Midwest work ethic.”) It’s not just about working hard but about being conscientious of your surroundings. Nobody ever asked me to change the trash or help people outside of my required job, but it just seemed like the productive thing to do. And as a former restaurant & bar owner, my work mantra has always been, “If you can lean, you can clean.”

Who gave you your first break?

Kyle Cummins, the COO of Filmsolutions.

What was your first union job?

This one.

What credits or projects are you proudest of, and why?

I don’t think we get actual credit for the individual creative work we do (Dear Local 700, maybe we can change that?) but I have seen some of my retouched images for different movies on billboards and buses around the city.

What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?

Working with so many different photographers is definitely the most consistent challenge. The studios want things done a certain way, and every photographer has a different approach to the material they shoot and deliver, so it’s up to us to mitigate any pain-points. Any issues I have are always handled with a simple approach: find the most efficient solution, adapt when you have to, and always keep the client’s best interests in mind.

What was the most fun youve had at work?

We’re actually notorious for pranking each other at work, but I’m not sure if I can share any of that publicly. I will say we work tirelessly to get things done while still maintaining a fun work environment, and I think that speaks volumes for the level of talent I’m surrounded with. Okay, one story: a co-worker fell asleep at his desk, and he was toilet-papered until he eventually woke up looking like a mummy.

Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?

Working in an executive capacity. I come from a very long tradition of union workers, mostly on the labor side, so the idea of employee rights and representation has been ingrained into me since I can remember. I also believe the company I work for sets a great example for that employer/employee dynamic, so I hope to eventually utilize my knowledge and experience to further foster that from an executive position.

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?

Basically, whatever my four-year-old wants to do. But also music, real estate, and writing. I’ve been a professional recording artist for over 20 years, but that can be an unpredictable path. So while I’m still pursuing my music, I’m fortunate enough to have the stability my union job provides as a single father.

Favorite movie(s)? Why?

“True Romance.” Watching so many amazing talents playing small roles or bit parts adds so much to this film’s writing and direction.

“Dumb and Dumber.” The whole movie is nothing but quotables.

“The Court Jester.” Danny Kaye was just an incomparable talent.

“Die Hard.” Because it’s the best Christmas movie ever.

“Caddyshack.” Because it’s “Caddyshack.”

Favorite TV program(s)?  Why?

“The Office” reruns on Netflix. I just love the characters. I can fall asleep to that show every night.

“Scooby Doo.” My son loves it as much as I did when I was his age, and now I get to watch it with him.

Do you have an industry mentor?

As far as the Still Lab Tech universe goes, definitely John Eakin and Gary Keshishian. John has since retired, but he was a creative wizard when it came to retouching, and he was always ready to help me learn more about the artistic side of our work. Gary is a bastion of knowledge with the patience of a saint and a heart of gold who’s helped me fully develop into this position. Is that too many idioms? Either way, both of them have assisted me tremendously, and I’m grateful for their mentorship.

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?

In a billion years, the sun is going to burn out and every memory humanity holds will disappear into the void. So if this is what you’re really passionate about, attack it with reckless abandon because nothing else matters more than right now.

Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?

Not for anything major, but any questions or concerns I’ve ever had have always been addressed promptly.

Is there anything youd like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?

Know your worth and don’t be afraid to ask for help. As cheesy as it sounds, we’re all in this together.

Compiled by David Bruskin

Editor’s Note: To recommend a member (including yourself) to be featured on CineMontage.org and the home page of the Editors Guild website, please contact davidnbruskin@gmail.com