"If you call me, I'll be there tomorrow. Or next week. Or whenever," says Steve Schmidt, who has handled camera, lighting, sound and beyond for a multitude of in-state and out-of-state TV shows, films, videos and commercials.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Steve Schmidt is one of West Virginia's go-to guys when a seasoned hand is needed for a film, video, commercial or public TV project."I'll do camera for anything that comes through town. I'll do sound, lighting. I have my own equipment," says Schmidt.The proof is in the production credits.Consider the recent Greenbrier County location shoot for the film version of Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God," starring James Franco."I got called by one production person because I was recommended for the grip electric department. And I got called by another one to do sound. And they realized this was the same guy. What I explained to them is that we have to do a little bit of everything if we want to keep working here."If you tuned in to the HGTV show "House Hunters" on Monday, you were hearing sound that Schmidt recorded for an episode on an area couple's search for a home.And at this past weekend's Appalachian Film Festival in Huntington? One of the winning films was the Allegheny Image Factory documentary "Romeo Must Hang," about Harry Powers, a serial killer known as "the West Virginia Bluebeard" whose crimes came to light in Harrison County in the early 1930s.Schmidt was director of photography and also shared a writing credit on the film.
"I'm proud of that because we've gotten good responses on the look of the movie, which, you know, was my job."He knows what he has to do to pay the bills -- for instance, he regularly films West Virginia Lottery commercials and weekly drawings. At the same time, he pursues film passions on the side and tries to lend his hand -- on a camera, microphone or lighting rig -- to others with their own passionate projects."I don't have any illusions about the fact that I'm still going to be shooting infomercials around here. I'd like to work in all these other places, but I'm 42 now. I make New York and L.A. money, but I pay West Virginia rent."He does some agency work in the state and name-checks Bill Hogan and Sharon Harms of Image Associates, who helped him get a foot in the business at a time when he was thinking of getting a job as a janitor.
"I was 28 years old, out of college and I'd never had a job that paid me more than $7 an hour in this area. I was college educated and they gave me first shot working on a lottery commercial."Looking ahead, he hungers to do more work combining film and music. One labor of love was "Give Up the Fuzz," an interview with McDowell County native Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins of Parliament Funkadelic. Schmidt turned the interview into a mini documentary, complete with childhood re-enactments, about the rise of the band.Then, Iggy Pop and the Stooges invited fans to enter footage into a contest. Schmidt, a huge fan, landed a half-hour interview with Iggy and crew in New York, which he flipped into a longer piece now out on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the band's contest, "In the Hands of the Fans."
"I feel very effective putting the video with the music," he said. "In 10 years, I'm hoping to be the go-to guy to get this kind of work done."Meanwhile, there are always rattlesnakes to shoot. With a camera.He has become a regular location shooter in this region for the "Animal Planet" cable channel, he said. "There was an episode shot in Jackson County, a fellow who lived in a trailer with a bunch of rattlesnakes. They sent me out to shoot a demo of that."They had to delay the shoot until an EMT could be onsite -- just in case. Schmidt smiles. "I had bills to pay, OK?"But his tryout with the show has borne fruit, as his long résumé and reputation preceded him when national production crews enter the state looking for a reliable hand. "Animal Planet" has since used him on two other episodes with more to come."I don't know if things have changed, but I'm supposed to be one of the -- if not the [lead] -- B-camera for the East Coast of the show."
Whatever comes next in these changing times of film and video production, "I'm in it for the duration," says Schmidt."I complain all the time about things I have to put up with. But I'm still here, I'm still going to take the job. If you call me, I'll be there tomorrow. Or next week. Or whenever. I may get a little more curmudgeonlike about it, but it's what I do. It's where I'm at."Reach Douglas Imbrogno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-3017.