Amanda started interning at Milk Studios in 2014. From there, she was promoted to Studio Coordinator and now works in Bookings where she handles some of the biggest names in fashion, art, and photo.
This interview took place between Ella Jayes and Amanda Mescudi at Milk Studios in Los Angeles
EJ: Can you give an overview of how you got to where you are today?
AM: Absolutely, so it kind of happened by accident. I was in my senior year at the University of Southern California, and I had a mini-freakout because I realized that so many people around me were interning and had been doing so for years now, and it wasn’t something that I had been focusing on. I was more into my classes, and to be honest, I was just making sure I passed and was doing everything I needed to do.
There was this girl I knew that was working at a photo studio and at the time I didn't realize that that was an actual job that you could have. Nor did I know too much about the business of commercial photography. So I looked online for photo studios that were in Los Angeles, and Milk Studios popped up. It looked really interesting, so I called to see if they were hiring interns and they were so we scheduled an interview for the following week.
Do you remember what your interview was like?
Yeah, I do actually. I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I felt slightly out of place in such a luxurious space. The reception team had me wait in the lobby for a bit, and I watched a couple of guys from the art department bring a huge wall flat into a studio. I remember being confused because I didn’t understand what they were doing at the time.
I also had on this all black outfit. It looked like I was going to a funeral. I was wearing tights-
So kind of like right now.
So kind of like right now. All black outfit, same thing. At the time Monae was working at the front desk, and she pulled me into the cafe to sit down for an interview. She asked me what I knew about the photo industry, and at the time it wasn't that much, but I had still done enough research about MILK to hold a conversation with her. It was short and sweet, and she definitely let me know that while it's a glamorous place, what makes this machine run is a lot of hard work. I understood that coming in, and I think that's what really helped me.
Are there any stories that come to mind when you think about your time as an intern?
I was always running around as an intern. Giving models robes, hauling clothing racks in and out of studios, cleaning everything. I just remember everyone was so beautiful and I’d be running up to clients sweating in my chucks, like “Hey did you ask for this?”
Can you give an overview of what Milk is and the different departments that make it up?
MILK has many different divisions that include an agency, production services, an editorial platform, a makeup line… but I work specifically with their studio space in LA. MILK LA is a full-service photography and film studio with equipment rental for shoots that are both in studio and on location and digital services that include camera rental, digital capture, digital technicians and video production.
What is the company culture like?
Work hard, play hard. Everyone holds themselves to a very high standard, has a great work ethic, and on top of that knows how to be social. In LA we’re really like one big family.
What’s something about this industry that you wish more people were aware of?
There’s no such thing as “free!”
When you first started college where did you think you'd be?
I was a really romantic person when I first started college. I don’t think I was thinking about a career necessarily. I really loved shooting film, developing black & white photos in the darkroom, and writing. Once I started taking more media classes, I had an idea I might work in the entertainment world.
Do you think your experience at University of Southern California prepared you for where you are today? If so, what would you say were your most valuable takeaways?
That's a good question. I majored in Communications at USC, so I really learned how to confidently express my opinion whether I had to write a paper or prepare a speech. Being able to express yourself with confidence is a big deal. If you’re confident, people receive that well. I think a lot of how you get by is just your attitude. Also, being in such a big school, you’re thrown into a completely new world with a bunch of people you’ve never met. You learn a lot about yourself and how to work with others. You’re constantly being challenged both academically and socially. It’s tough. I think it helped me be more open to critique.
So you work as a booking agent. What does your role consist of?
I work in bookings and typically when a client is looking to book a studio they touch base with my department first. The booking can come from a production company, a magazine, or even the photographer themselves. After the client chooses their studio preference, I connect them with our in-house equipment team and make sure all of their lighting and grip needs are taken care of. It is then my job to send out paperwork to the client confirming the space, so I need to secure payment, understand the legalities of our contracts, and how to approve certificates of insurance. I also help keep our internal calendar organized, take phone calls and emails from clients, and try to get a good understanding of each project to make sure that the client’s needs are met. So I’m always in conversation with our equipment, digital and retouching departments as we are often all working on the same shoots and want to be on the same page. It’s also my job to be aware of what is happening in the entertainment world from fashion to music to film. It’s a lot to keep up with!
Are you mainly speaking with producers? Who is your main point of contact?
Yes, I’d say producers are booking the studio most. These are typically large-scale photo shoots with a lot of moving parts so a client will hire a production team to take the job over. But you also have people reach out that have never booked a studio before, so it’s important to know how to help everyone whether it's a huge budget shoot or someone that's just trying to get in for their first in-studio shoot.
It sounds like a big part of your job is anticipating what’s going to happen next.
Exactly. This job is fast paced, you have to be proactive, and the answer is always yes, whenever a client is asking you for something, you need to deliver that service. So before a client comes in, I'm always thinking about all of the different things that could be happening. Who's the talent? When are they coming? How late are they going to stay here until? It’s all about making sure that they have the smoothest and the best experience here.
Since your department works directly with clients, do you have any advice for creating lasting relationships?
I think it takes time. I don't think after you speak to someone once it necessarily means that you're going to have this crazy lifelong thing. I think you just need to try to make everyone’s experience special. That can be something as small as remembering what their favorite drink is, what studio they prefer shooting in, or just remembering their name when you see them a second time. Inside jokes help too. It’s important to be personable when you can.
What excites you about your position now?
In the beginning, you understand everything in a more superficial sense. The studio itself is beautiful every day you’re seeing these well-known photographers, stylists, and talent; it can almost be overwhelming. Then once you start seeing how everything works, it becomes more interesting because you can start putting all of the pieces together. You start recognizing things like how certain creative teams work together and the different personalities and styles of each photographer. You also see people move on up in the industry. Someone might have started as someone's assistant, and now you're seeing them shoot their own stuff. I think that's really exciting.
What would you say is the most difficult aspect of your job?
Being on all of the time. I think that in production, there are long days and there's not too much room to slip; you know what I mean? Everything is on a specific schedule, and people need answers at a certain time so it can be pretty demanding.
Totally, when you think about it from a client's perspective, there’s so much on the line where 5 minutes can be an eternity.
What traits did you already have that were vital coming into this line of work?
I think that I'm a really hard worker. I also think I have a pretty good sense of humor, which can be nice when everyone can take themselves a little too seriously sometimes. It's important to have that kind of balance. Also, I'm never too good to do anything, whether it's cleaning something up or having to help reset a studio and move around furniture. I'll do it all if I know it's for the greater good of the company.
Do you think those traits developed and improved during your time working here?
Definitely. They’re more refined, and I’m more confident when speaking to people. It’s easier for me to approach people and I think I make it easier for people to approach me. When you're first learning the industry, and I'm still learning it, it's easy to be intimidated by certain situations. Like the first time, I had to deal with a commercial shoot that had three times the size of a still photo crew or when I finally had to meet the director of a magazine face to face that I had been emailing for months. Each time I’m put into an uncomfortable situation I get a little bit better at my job.
What do you think makes a great intern or assistant?
Someone who has a positive attitude and is willing to work hard and ask questions, but at the right time. It’s important to be proactive and troubleshoot instead of just waiting for someone to tell you what to do next. Someone that's just willing to learn at the end of the day. I think if you have that attitude, then you're going to absorb as much information as you can whether you stay with the company or not. You become a more attractive employee in general.
And what qualities do you look for in potential hires?
Someone who is not easily discouraged and can operate in a high intensity environment. You want to feel like someone is growing within their position and can continue to take on more responsibility, so being trustworthy and reliable is also key. It has to be someone who's a hard worker, and they have to have a genuine interest, whether it's photo or in fashion or something else in the entertainment realm. Sometimes they're already doing something; they're already taking pictures on their own or styling their own little shoots. Other times, you can just tell someone wants to know a lot more about the industry and wants to completely immerse themselves into an experience. For me, passion is just as important as experience.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received from one of your bosses?
Our bookings director always tells me that it’s better to confront an issue immediately even if you are nervous about the outcome. You are only causing a disservice to yourself if you try to take shortcuts to avoid handling a problem that can potentially blow up in your face later, or try to tip-toe around an uncomfortable but necessary conversation. This might mean picking up the phone instead or hiding behind an email or being completely transparent with a client even if the truth is not so flattering. You’re only as good as your word so either keep it or at least be honest about a mistake and then present a solution. “Don’t “matrix” a situation!!” This is what my boss says when someone tries to dodge responsibility. Think Neo from The Matrix dodging bullets in a backbend. This is kind of a dramatic metaphor, but our office lives for the drama.
What do you think is one of the biggest challenges for you right now?
Learning how to disconnect! It’s so easy to be overloaded with information whether it's coming from your phone or on the computer.
I think our culture is in a weird place at the moment. Instead of just enjoying something for what it is, we want to know what someone else thinks about it first. It can be difficult to remove yourself and form your own opinions before hearing someone else’s. It’s important to keep an identity throughout all of this information that's being thrown at me all of the time. Work also takes a lot of you. A 10-hour day is standard in the production world and working a 50+ hour week is exhausting. It can be challenging sometimes to just remove yourself from the job. It’s easy for your personal life and your work life to start blurring, which is awesome, but every now and then, when you're not working, you just don't know what to do with yourself.
What do you do when you need a break, and want to remove yourself from everything that’s going on?
I love running. I think working out, in general, can be therapeutic. It definitely helps to not be on Instagram all the time. That's just a trap, before you know it you’re scrolling down someone’s best friend’s cousin’s college roommate’s Instagram post from their last trip to Tulum. It feels gross.
Do you remember any learning experiences or specific jobs that you had before this that unexpectedly prepared you for working here?
I was a receptionist at a hair salon, and it taught me how important it is to always show face. Your one-on-one interactions with clients are really important. When I was a receptionist, even if I was stressed and I was scheduling all of these different hair appointments, and someone walked in, I had to completely drop everything and just make sure I was happy to see them and greet them. It can definitely be exhausting, but in a lot of ways, my job now can be like that too.
Who do you look up to and why?
It’s hard to name one person, but I’ve always admired all of the artists in my life. Anyone who is willing to be vulnerable and put themselves out there has a lot of respect in my book. People who create for themselves before anyone else.
What do you like about the industry today?
The fact that it has helped me meet so many great people. I’ve made some of my closest friends working at MILK. Even my friends who no longer work at the studio still work in the industry in some capacity whether they are producers, stylists, or photographers. It’s a great feeling to work with your friends.
How would you like to see the industry evolve?
More diversity and more substance. This industry has the power to influence the masses and gives people a platform to communicate their own stories and truths. So it is important that we are including the narratives of people that have been historically marginalized or silenced so that we can continue to make content that accurately represents and speaks to our generation.
I think it already is evolving a lot, but I’d always like to see more diversity. Especially for the people who are creating content and coming up with concepts. Instead of just including marginalized groups to make a campaign more diverse, I think it’s important to give marginalized groups the platform to represent themselves as well. It's always great when you see something in a magazine, and you feel like you can relate to it. It's kind of tricky because the industry, in general, is sort of classist, but the internet is changing that, which is cool.
Perfect segway, what is your take on this generation and where do you think we're headed?
I think we're just trying to figure it out. There's a lot of things happening really fast; it's slightly overwhelming. I'm sure we'll reach a point where we're so fully immersed in technology that we’ll have to revert back to a more primal behavior. Doesn't everything come in waves? Something becomes too much, and then we revert back to old. But our generation is still amazing and progressive. We talk about things that are important, and I think we're less filtered, which is cool. I think it is just difficult for us to keep up with our own advances!
Where do you want to go?
From here? I'm not quite sure yet. But I know that everything that I'm learning so far is going to help me with whatever I want to do next. And every time I learn something new, my final goal shifts a little bit, so I'm not putting too much pressure on myself for having a set ultimate goal.
I feel pretty happy with where I'm at right now, and I think that it's only going to get better and as long as I'm challenging myself.
And I’m sure you’ve surprised yourself with what you’re capable of.
Totally. I think you have to be thrown into somewhat of an unfamiliar environment to see how you survive in it. So I realized, "Oh I actually can do this.” When the pressure is on, you can surprise yourself.
What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
Kind of what we were saying earlier. Nothing really happens overnight. I think it's cool to go through a process and work hard and learn about yourself. And no one's perfect, you're always going to be learning on the job.
Also, try to be yourself as much as possible, because people are going to like that, and if they don't, then maybe wherever you're at isn't the right thing for you.