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ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production • Muse • Teaching

How to Succeed in the Film Business While Really, Really Trying

An old friend from the East Coast contacted me recently to see if I had any career advice for her friends’ son, a recent film school graduate who was trying make it as a filmmaker in New York City. I told my friend that, though my experience as a freelance crew person in the Bay Area wasn’t directly applicable to his efforts at finding production clients in New York, I would be happy to offer some general advice. Here it is.


Nice to hear from you. As I explained to our mutual friend, I’m not sure how to advise you, other than telling you a bit about my career.

A little background:

Though I grew up on Long Island, I’m not too familiar with the world of production in New York City, having worked my entire career in the SF Bay Area market. I did do some shooting in New York at times, but primarily for California-based clients, usually Silicon Valley companies. And I worked as a freelance director of photography, not producing films as a production company, so my advice will be pretty general.

After graduating from Dartmouth with a major in government, I taught high school . . . CONTINUE READING: How to Succeed in the Film Business While Really, Really Trying


Incense Cedar

As we pass the 30-year mark in our home next week, the tall tree in the right rear corner of the yard, an Incense Cedar, stands tall and true, more than twice the height of the house.

When we moved in, there were two tall trees. The left rear corner held a Monterey Pine, so enormous and overgrown that many low branches reached 25 feet across the yard to touch our deck. Others extended over our neighbor’s fence, then across her yard, to rest on the opposite fence on the far side.

The pine was a happy, magnificent, giant forest tree, but clearly it lived in the wrong part of the world. The neighbor remembered that the pine had been a smallish living Christmas tree that the previous owners of our house had plunked into the ground just a dozen years before. The neighbor and I removed 20 huge, low limbs with a pruning saw one day shortly after we moved in, then we had a tree guy come in and take off another 15 higher limbs. A few years later, another tree tried to remove the pine, which by then was over 60 feet tall and continuing to . . . CONTINUE READING: Incense Cedar

ROVING CAMERA BLOG • VIdeos • Travel • Production • Muse

Showcasing ‘Showdown at Shinagawa’—The Video

Video of a presentation by Bill Zarchy at Northbrae Community Church, Berkeley, California on 2/3/16.

The author reads excerpts from four of the stories in his book, Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil.” He also discusses the ins and outs of self-publishing, as well as his background as a globe-trotting cinematographer.

The stories read:

  • “Starstruck at Cannes: Morgan Freeman on the Red Carpet”
  • “21st Century Village: Telemedicine in Rural India”
  • “Dog Years: Sophie, Pop, and Bill Clinton”
  • “Shanghai Lunch”
  • Please note: Video is from an iPad. Sound level is low, but audible. Crank it up!

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production • Muse

    Bangkok, the Saudis, and the Jism Balls

    Sunset over the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

    “I’m hungry,” said Randy, as we set up a sunset shot from the overpass near the end of our first day on the ground. “We need something to eat.”

    “Okay,” Larry agreed. “I’ll get street food. There’s lots of it around.”

    “Is that safe?”

    “This is at least my fifth trip to Thailand. I’ve never gotten sick on street food here.”

    “Unlike Mexico,” I put in, “or India, or Uganda.”

    “Or other places. I think everything’s very fresh here. When you buy something, it’s usually been made just minutes before.”

    Larry crossed to the other side of the pedestrian bridge, past a mutilated street beggar, to one of several food carts there. We resumed setting the camera for a shot of traffic below on Sukhumvit Avenue near our Bangkok hotel.

    Two men walked up and caught Randy’s eye. “Are you people Americans?” asked the larger, more prosperous-looking guy.

    I looked up from the camera as Rod adjusted the focus for our shot and Conrad set up his mic. The strangers didn’t look Thai. “Why?” Randy asked.

    He regarded us with a big smile and open arms. “We are from Saudi . . . CONTINUE READING: Bangkok, the Saudis, and the Jism Balls


    Dog 3.0—Good Golly, Miss Molly

    Meet Molly.

    The third in the Pantheon of Zarchy Family Dogs, she follows, in succession, Sophie the Wonder Dog and Montana Banana Zarchy, all of them delicious sources of unqualified love.

    Molly is eight months old, about 45 lbs., a super-cute Boxer mix with light fawn-and-white coloring and a longer snout than the typical purebred Boxer. She was a stray found in another part of the state, without tags or microchip, then rescued from a “high-kill” shelter by the fine folks at Milo Foundation in Point Richmond. We adopted her two weeks ago, and she is making an easy transition from pound pup to pampered pooch.

    (Kudos to the Milo people, BTW, who rescue over 1500 animals per year.)

    Molly makes herself right at home.

    I didn’t always love dogs. When I was six, my dad realized that I was afraid of dogs, because my mom was scared of dogs and her mom was scared of dogs.

    So we got a dog, a little Fox Terrier mutt named Honey, who was sweet and soft and cuddly and shed like a husky. Despite her size, she was famous as a fierce watchdog who came tearing through our house . . . CONTINUE READING: Dog 3.0—Good Golly, Miss Molly


    The Moon, the Snow, and Dr. Zhivago

    One autumn about a million years ago, I was living with friends in Vermont, teaching high school, avoiding conscription, and just starting my California Dreaming.

    We lived on a farm on a dirt road off another dirt road. The farm didn’t grow anything. The owners lived on Guam, used it only as a summer house, and were dumb enough to have rented it to four just-out-of-Dartmouth, draft-dodging, occupational deferment, Vietnam-avoiding high school teachers.

    They decided to rent it because they had been burglarized the year before when the house was empty and thought having someone live in it year-round would enhance security. They also installed a bright street light over the yard to ward off burglars.

    The farm consisted of 80 acres of beautiful, rolling Vermont hills, four streams, fields separated by stone fences, and a gentle hill to climb at sunset when the deer came out to feed. The total rent was $150 a month.

    The farm was easy to find. From Windsor, where I was teaching, you drove a few paved miles to Hartland Three Corners, a tiny hamlet among verdant fields, then another few miles to Hartland Four Corners, even tinier. From there the rest of . . . CONTINUE READING: The Moon, the Snow, and Dr. Zhivago


    A Chance Encounter

    Running the clapstick. First year at Stanford Film School.

    Sometimes the course of your life can turn on one small thing, one chance encounter. It happened to me, many years ago, the day Beverly invited me to visit her.

    Of course I had the hots for her—pretty, round face, sparkling blue eyes, long blond hair. But ever since our one blind date during college, I had known we would never be more than friends.

    I ran into her at Butcher and Stephanie’s wedding about a year after graduation. She was the maid of honor and I was an usher. During the reception, at a fancy club on the harbor in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Beverly and I wandered down the hill to the beach, got high, and played on the rocks at the water’s edge.

    “I’m living with three other girls in Cambridge this summer,” she said. “Why don’t you come visit? Come hang out with us.”

    Wow, four girls in one apartment! An attractive offer after four years of monosexual education at Dartmouth, and another year of monastic existence while teaching high school in northern Vermont. So a week later I drove to Cambridge to see her.

    John, a . . . CONTINUE READING: A Chance Encounter


    We Loved Our First House

    We loved our first house in San Francisco, in the Excelsior district of the Outer Mission. We loved the fact that we owned it, loved that we had managed to move quickly enough to evade eviction by our last landlady (who had suddenly decided to move into our apartment), loved that our living space had increased to include three bedrooms and two baths, loved that we now had a huge, two-car garage with washer and dryer and a concrete back yard we transformed into a garden with roses and sunflowers and paths of brick and camomile.

    We loved our location across from Crocker Park, loved taking our toddler to the swings there, loved jogging around the park, loved watching the Samoans play cricket there on Sundays, loved seeing others play softball, loved strolling through the Eucalyptus-lined lanes.

    We didn’t love the gunshots that emanated from the park in our first month living there, didn’t love the fact that our jogging route behind the grandstands took us through a smelly concrete canyon which had been used as a urinal since the beginning of time, didn’t love the handful of unsavory characters who hung out there, didn’t love that the long-promised . . . CONTINUE READING: We Loved Our First House

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Muse

    Pop’s Podunks

    Whenever my dad wanted to speak metaphorically about Podunks—places that were remote and sparsely populated—he often cited Broken Elbow, Indiana, and Frozen Dog, Iowa.

    I always assumed they were real places, and recently I dug around to find out how they got their colorful names. Internet research truly is the best!

    Googling “Broken Elbow, Indiana” yielded a few promising results: a juicy lead about an Indiana Pacers player (Chris Copeland) who broke his elbow; an informational site for medical elbow and shoulder providers in Indianapolis; another site for orthopedic surgeons in northwest Indiana; and a news alert about an Oakland A’s player (from Indiana) who broke his elbow throwing a pitch this weekend.

    My search for the origins of “Frozen Dog, Iowa” also seemed rife with possibilities: a TV news story about a man discovering a frozen (human) body while out walking his dog in Des Moines; another self-explanatory headline “Frozen Dog Found in Trash in Iowa;” and a pet food site (for dogs, cats, and ferrets) called “My Pet Carnivore” which, among other things, sells frozen pet food in Iowa.

    But where should I go from there? Some hard thinking was necessary. I mean, really, would anyone name . . . CONTINUE READING: Pop’s Podunks

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Travel

    Good Night, Irene—Confessions of a Mileage Whore

    Bronze Certificate, Funny Travel Category, 9th Annual Solas Awards for Travel Writing from Travelers’ Tales, March 2015

    It’s not easy being a mileage whore. Sometimes you have to do things that don’t seem to make sense.

    United Airlines operates a major hub in San Francisco, and I’ve whored for their miles for years now. On my trip to Brazil recently, because I wanted the mileage, I had chosen a longer United itinerary through Newark going and Washington coming.

    But when things got complicated on the return, I had to decide if the miles were worth it.

    We wrapped our week-long video shoot in São Paulo on a Friday night—amid much hugging and thanking with the cast and crew—and had time to relax over dinner that evening.

    Saturday was the first day all week I didn’t have to set my alarm for 5:30, and I luxuriated in sleeping in. I had plans to meet my co-worker for breakfast before his 3 pm flight back home to Salvador, Bahia, further north up the Brazilian coast. My own departure for the States was scheduled for Saturday night.

    But when I awoke with a start Saturday morning, I had an . . . CONTINUE READING: Good Night, Irene—Confessions of a Mileage Whore

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing

    New Book Review? Is This English?

    I just found an online page which appears, at first, to be a review of my book SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA. Then I read the page all the way through. I know these are English words, but … is this English? My favorites are learning that “SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA … lets you cook flavorful and tasty food without the hassles” and “will go a long way to discourage mischievous activities at the home or business. The one is simply the ultimate for the budget-conscious hunter that refuses to sacrifice performance.”


    Here is the whole piece, from, which purports to be an “Internet online shopping directory:”

    Showdown At Shinagawa: Tales Of Filming From Bombay To Brazil is a outstanding trait and fairly appropriate creation for the low-cost price. We grant shoppers with the highest mannerism and most innovative productions in the website. You can surely procure the produce and more replacement at the cheap price with reliable transaction.

    You will get Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil cut-price price after check the price. You can read more productions subject and features. This unit is high quality and . . . CONTINUE READING: New Book Review? Is This English?

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Teaching • Tech

    Why They Call It Far-go

    At 9 am Monday, I left my home near San Francisco for what proved to be one of my longest trips ever. Twenty-nine hours later, I reached my destination, after a grueling air journey.

    But I hadn’t been hurled halfway around the world. I had finally touched down in Fargo, North Dakota, just halfway across the U.S., a mere 1450 miles from home.

    At that rate—about 50 miles per hour—I could have driven there.

    By comparison, some years before, in 24 hours, I flew from Singapore to Johannesburg to Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda—over 7500 miles. Another time I traveled 8800 miles from San Francisco to Singapore in 23 hours, including a very short overnight in Bangkok. Twice I had flown nearly 10,000 miles to India through Frankfurt in a mere 21 hours.

    But the day before my departure for Fargo, a “Check in Now” email from United hinted that I might have a problem. Though my calendar insisted it was March 30, and that spring had sprung ten days before, Fargo hadn’t gotten the memo. The weather forecast for my destination was “Blizzard” (a word I had hoped never to see on a boarding pass), accompanied by an ominous . . . CONTINUE READING: Why They Call It Far-go

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Travel • Production

    New Award & Reviews for SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil

    My book SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA tells true stories from my long career as a director of photography, working on film and digital cinema shoots across the U.S. and all around the world—Japan, India, China, Uganda, the Philippines, New Zealand, France, Singapore, England, Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil.

    The book has recently been honored as a Commended Winner in Non-Fiction in the 2014 Self-Publishing Review Awards. One of the three highest non-fiction awards!


  • “Funny, sweet, and wise…deeply moving human interest stories…the doctor in India who doesn’t charge for treating people via telemedicine, the young man in England with cystic fibrosis who has a new lease on life thanks to a portable nebulizer, and the medical student in Uganda who is tirelessly working to help his people.”—Foreword Clarion Reviews
  • “The author recalls his near ‘big break’…as a novice director doing preproduction in the Philippines for a low-budget Japanese sci-fi film…Thumbs up for this filmmaker’s collection of postcards from the edge.”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “’Shanghai Lunch’ is a funny little vignette about Westerners trying Chinese delicacies. ‘The Big . . . CONTINUE READING: New Award & Reviews for SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil

    For Mom, A Century Later—We Miss Your Bright Eyes and Sweet Smile

    Today is the 100th birthday of my mom, Jeanette Tulman Zarchy, who passed away about two years ago. In her honor, I am republishing this eulogy I wrote for her memorial.

    I want to tell you a little about our mom, whose life mirrored our nation’s history for the last century.

    She was born Jeanette Dorothy Tulman on May 4, 1914. Think about that for a minute. She was born before the start of World War One, when Woodrow Wilson was president, the first of 17 presidents during her lifetime.

    Jeanette was born at home at 107 Bristol Street, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood of immigrants. Her family rented, then owned and lived in the three apartments at 107 for generations, the occupants changing a bit from time to time, as these relatives moved out and those cousins moved in. At one point my great-uncle Julius Littinsky had his medical office on the ground floor. Other members of the extended family lived nearby. My great-uncle Israel Brower had a pharmacy a block away, on the corner of Bristol Street and Pitkin Avenue.

    Jeanette’s family was the Fiddler on the Roof generation. They had fled oppression in . . . CONTINUE READING: For Mom, A Century Later—We Miss Your Bright Eyes and Sweet Smile

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Travel • Production

    SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA Now Available in Paperback and Kindle e-Book Versions

    SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil

    New Book by BILL ZARCHY on sale now!

    Introduction by Larry Habegger

    Bill Zarchy’s new book—SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA—is now on sale at in paperback and Kindle e-book versions. SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil tells true stories from Zarchy’s long career as a director of photography, working on film and digital cinema shoots across the U.S. and all around the world—Japan, India, China, Uganda, the Philippines, New Zealand, France, Singapore, England, Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil. . . . CONTINUE READING: SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA Now Available in Paperback and Kindle e-Book Versions

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing

    Daniel Pinkham: The Unpredictable-ness of What’s Coming Next

    A new profile on Dan Pinkham I wrote for Varney’s Place, the blog of The Kenwood Group:

    “In college, I supported myself with a commissioned sales job at a prominent Westwood Village camera store. One day I sold a super-8 camera to Johnny Carson and had the pleasure of teaching him how to use it! That was a mind-blowing moment for a film school student, to be sure.”

    Common knowledge about personality types: humans are either left-brained—analytical, detail-minded, mathematical, and logical—or right-brained—creative, thoughtful, artistic, and open-minded. It depends on which side of the brain is dominant, right? . . . CONTINUE READING: Daniel Pinkham: The Unpredictable-ness of What’s Coming Next

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Muse


    Ten of us arrive, unannounced, at the restaurant on the terrace, hoping for an outside table.

    The staff seats us quickly, then waters, breads, menus, wines, serves, desserts, and espressos us in style. The service is seamless, though during the meal I notice one of our waitresses hurrying by, looking harried. But we gab and laugh and catch up in the sun on the terrace, enjoying the company, the food, and the splendid New England day.

    Eventually the waitress brings the check, with amends. “I’m so sorry about the delay. Thanks for your understanding.” . . . CONTINUE READING: Unpunished


    Sony F5 & F55 Workshop at AbelCine in Burbank

    Earlier this month, I attended a workshop at AbelCine in Burbank called Sony F5 & F55: Practical Shooting with Alister Chapman for the DIT and DP.

    The new Sony PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 both offer Super 35mm, CMOS image sensors, wide dynamic range, high sensitivity, and an extensive variety of internal recording options. Except for the black lens mount on the F5 and the silver lens mount on the F55, the form factors of the two cameras appear identical. . . . CONTINUE READING: Sony F5 & F55 Workshop at AbelCine in Burbank

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Tech

    On Predicting the Future: Roku’s Reward and Augmented Reality

    Predicting the future is a tricky business. It’s difficult to know what’s going to happen, and you never know whom you might inspire.

    Jim Samalis, who joined Kenwood as Executive Creative Director on April 1, was reminded recently of a visionary film he made years ago, and was rewarded by seeing the fruit of some seeds he helped to sow.

    The story starts seven years ago. . . . CONTINUE READING: On Predicting the Future: Roku’s Reward and Augmented Reality

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production

    Two Worthy Film Projects Need Your Donations

    I have just pledged money to two worthy film projects by Eliciana Nascimento and Eli Adler, and I urge my readers to do the same.

    Eliciana, an MFA student at San Francisco State, took (and aced!) my Advanced Cinematography class this spring. She and husband Ben Watkins plan to film her thesis project, The Summer of Gods, in her native Brazil, and are trying to raise $30,000 to shoot and complete the film this year. The Summer of Gods is a short film about a young girl named Lilli who visits her grandmother in rural Brazil. Near her village, she encounters Orishas (African gods) who challenge her with a mission. . . . CONTINUE READING: Two Worthy Film Projects Need Your Donations

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Baseball

    Writing Projects for Varney’s Place

    Recently completed pieces for The Kenwood Group, for their Varney’s Place blog:

    Giants Stadium: In the Shadow of Kenwood

    Starting Friday afternoon and 81 times in the next six months, the neighborhood around Kenwood will be transformed. Thousands of people of all ages wearing Halloween colors and panda and giraffe hats will flood the streets around our office, their shirts bearing an odd collection of names which are common nouns like Posey, Pagan, Panda, Pence, Belt, Huff, Bonds, Snow, Mays, the Beard, and the Freak, as well as unique three-syllable names like Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Marichal, Scutaro, McCovey, and Lincecum. . . . CONTINUE READING: Writing Projects for Varney’s Place

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Muse

    Roving Camera’s 2500th Facebook Like

    The Facebook Page for Roving Camera: Bill Zarchy’s Blog passed 2500 Likes earlier today. It’s been my pleasure to write for you on a crazy array of subjects for more than two-and-a-half years, and I humbly appreciate your support, enthusiasm, and suggestions.

    I’ll be publishing two books of my stories this summer and have more surprises in the works, so stay tuned! . . . CONTINUE READING: Roving Camera’s 2500th Facebook Like

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

    NAB Roundup 2013: LED Fresnels, Camera Accessories

    I first wrote about the development of LED Fresnel lights two years ago, tracking earlier reactions by the industry to high energy consumption and high heat output: “Greening the Film Business: LED Fresnels.” This year I followed up with some of the same manufacturers.

    Fresnel lenses, originally invented for lighthouses, have long been used on movie lights for careful light control and sharp shadows. Their typical concentric ring style enables them to have great diameter without clumsy thickness. . . . CONTINUE READING: NAB Roundup 2013: LED Fresnels, Camera Accessories

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

    NAB Roundup 2013: Cameras

    Las Vegas is known for its buffets, and the NAB Show at the Vegas Convention Center is a grand smorgasbord of technology.

    The floor exhibits fill over 800,000 square feet. 92,000 attendees crowd around 1500 exhibitors showing the latest products and services in TV and radio broadcasting, film and video production and postproduction, cloud computing, entertainment technology, file-based workflows, 3D visuals, and pro audio. . . . CONTINUE READING: NAB Roundup 2013: Cameras


    Bay Bridge Dinosaurs

    I came upon these dinosaurs on the Bay Bridge recently.

    They seemed to be heading west toward San Francisco, but I really can’t be sure where they were going, or why. They appeared to be driving a chariot and rapidly overtaking the white pickup in front of them. . . . CONTINUE READING: Bay Bridge Dinosaurs