June Spotlight: Scott Jolley

 In Blog, Crew, Film Office, Production, Spotlight, Uncategorized

Each  month we connect with an influential professional in the industry. This month our Spotlight is on Scott Jolley – DP/videographer, jib commander, Steadicam operator, UVA pilot and ringleader at Scott Jolley Production Services. 

What I am most proud of is seeing the people I have helped get started go forth and kick ass.

scott 4I heard of Scott Jolly well before we met. Scott is someone in Kansas City that I heard of through colleagues and when spoken of people say he’s great at his job, he’s reliable, he’s a team player and he calls it like he sees it. People like Scott inspire us to elevate one another in our work and life. In our industry, our websites showcase reels of work, personal bios and resumes to help land business. Scott has all of that at SJPS.tv but also includes contact information for other people, including potential competitors as well as links to other productions sites and The Onion. He seems to have the opposite of “lack” mentality – he trusts that there is enough for all. This is one of the reasons we’re putting the June spotlight on Scott Jolley.


KCFMO: How long have you been in the film industry?

SCOTT: I got my first TV job when I was a freshman in high school. Abilene Kansas had a little public access station in the basement of the city library. It would have been 1979. It was primitive tv and I loved it. One of my jobs was putting the letters on a black magnetic board. That was our graphics.

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Jolley’s first job.

KCFMO: What is your role(s) in the industry? (your jobs on a crew)

SCOTT: It depends on what the day is. Some days I am a director of photography, or I might be the jib op, or Steadicam guy, or drone pilot. I also do a little editing and writing. I try and learn a new trick as often as possible. I remember 20 or so years ago, an online editor proclaimed to me that he would always have a job and that there was no need to learn non-linear editing. Last time I saw him, he was sinking in a tar pit.

The competition for work can be brutal and mean. It can force you into a fear based level of operation.


KCFMO: Do you have a philosophy/quote that inspires your work or life?

SCOTT: I think it is easy to get defensive in this business. The competition for work can be brutal and mean. It can force you into a fear based level of operation. Years ago, I was struggling with how to deal with a freelance schedule. I would have three calls for the same day, then 2 would shift and it was a mess. I thought if I could duplicate myself, we could navigate the schedule better. By duplicate myself I meant I would train people how do jib work. I had several in the industry tell me I was a fool, that I was creating my own competition and it would come back and bite me in a few years. I ended up with a team of freelancers that was with me for about 7 years. We were like a band. A year and a half ago they flew the nest and now all work in New Orleans. One of my jibs is down there with them.

I am building a new team now. It is an ongoing process. I love teaching. I love discovering new talent. When the original crew took off, I felt like my children were moving away to the big city. I am proud of what they are doing.

Another kind of weird thing I have done was listing all my “competition” on a resources page of my website. I was also questioned on why I would want to do that. For me, it is a handy list when I need resources. It also puts my mind into a positive team state. I know most everybody in the market, they are my friends. I want us all to do well.

Demo 2015 from Scott Jolley on Vimeo.

KCFMO: What kind of skills does it take to operate Steadicam, Jib, UAV?

SCOTT: It is a mix of construction, technical and creative skills. Each one is its own discipline. The steadicam is the most demanding physically. The UAV is a joy and a terror. The jib is my old dance partner. I have literally cried when operating the steadicam and jib. It is an emotion that overwhelms me in the middle of doing something wonderful, something I love. It usually happens at a music event. Sometimes I don’t even hear the director any more. You just fall into a groove. It is one of my happy places.

One last thing about UAV’s. Easy to fly, easy to crash. I never go the happy place when I am flying. That time is after we have landed and watch the playback. Flight time takes way too much concentration.

Jerry [Halway] would talk about how he and Scorsese would design a move with Pacino, and why he would manipulate the camera to help tell the story. The lesson sank in deep. Camera movement must help tell the story.


KCFMO: Do you have a favorite steadi-shot from a film that you’ve seen?

SCOTT: The opening shot on Serenity. The best ones you’ll never notice.

KCFMO: Do you have a favorite that you have performed?

SCOTT: That is like “pick your favorite child”.


KCFMO: Tell us about camera movement – you specialize in jib, Steadicam and drone – how does camera movement effect storytelling

SCOTT: A life changing event for me was when I went to the Steadicam workshop. I studied under Garrett Brown, Jerry Holway and some of the top Steadicam operators in the country. The passion and openness to share the craft was amazing. That was a turning point for me. I had been operating a jib for about 10 years and was looking for something new. Steadicam was it. Each night we would watch steadicam moves, and talk about why they did or did not work. Jerry would talk about how he and Scorsese would design a move with Pacino, and why he would manipulate the camera to help tell the story. The lesson sank in deep. Camera movement must help tell the story. Even with a music video the movement should count, like a dance.

Each discipline requires a sense of timing and composition within a moving frame. I have seen a lot of drone pilots, who have excellent flight skills, but they cannot build a shot that works. It is hard to describe.

The steadicam is like a tango partner. It is one of my favorite things to do. A good operator can manipulate it to tell the story. I recently worked on a film, and the shot was a pov of a little kid walking thru a carnival. I was his eyes, so I darted the camera to different points of interest, held just a bit until something new caught my eye, all while moving thru a crowd.

The steadicam is like a guitar, you can spend years practicing and it still has more to offer.

With all of the crafts a big part is knowing where to go hunt. A  jib without foreground can be a lonely  affair. It all goes back to what is the story or emotion you are attempting to convey.

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KCFMO: What camera(s) are you using?

SCOTT: Everything. We can mount anything up to 50 pounds on our rigs. The UAV is a DJI and has a proprietary Zenmuse X5 camera. Zenmuse, who names this stuff?


KCFMO: A while back you wrote a blog entry called “The freelancers/film makers lament…” in it you discuss how full time freelance works, what to expect and how to cope. Tell us how you cope with a full-time freelance life?

SCOTT: I almost changed our company name to “Prancing Ponies”. I think that sums up just about everybody in the business. We get paid to put on a little show and make pretty pictures. It feeds our ego. We also like to be center ring. If a new pony comes in and we get moved down the card it messes with our little pony mind. That, and often we have a house payment, spouse and children who need us to make a living.

There is a certain point you just kind of step off the cliff and see if you can fly. If it turns out you can’t, you can always be like Wile E.  Coyote and stretch out and start again. I think once you realize no job is secure, the life of independent contractor is pretty freeing.

KCFMO: Are there common questions you are asked as a: drone camera operator, Steadicam operator, Jib operator?

SCOTT: Drone questions: How much does it cost? Mine are about $5,000, not including the insurance. How high and how far? Legally, 400 feet max altitude and it must be in the pilot’s line of sight.

Steadicam questions: How much does it weigh? Anywhere from 30 to 80 pounds.

Is it hard to do? Is playing the guitar hard? I can teach you Kum bah yah pretty quick. Purple Haze will take longer.


KCFMO: What are some of the projects over the years that you are most proud of?

SCOTT: I have done huge NFL halftime shows, World Series stuff, been on the stage with Garth Brooks who took my camera and ran it for a bit. I got to live in a village in northern Iraq for a week. I’ve eaten roasted caterpillars in Africa, and drank some sort of tea in an Honduran slum. It is a wonderful career if you are into the unknown. What really brings me joy though is telling stories. That and light. When you get that perfect light, whether you are filming or not, that is Heaven. I guess if you are not filming and you are supposed to be and you have perfect light, that would be a kind of hell.

What I am most proud of is seeing the people I have helped get started go forth and kick ass.


Check out Scott Jolley’s blog entry we love “The Freelancers/Film Makers Lament” – its affirming and encouraging while not being flowery about the challenges of being full-time freelance in this industry.

Thank you for visiting with us Scott Jolley. We are glad you are a part of our film community!

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