TheProducer: Let’s talk about you! What does your business offer?
T.J. Crume: Sync has evolved from my three years of retail experience at Sammy’s, being on set, taking pictures on the weekends, to assisting the Who’s Who of the entertainment shooters in town, to wanting to start a family, needing more revenue and getting into the rental business. In 2004, we acquired our first Sprinter van in the industry - that’s our nuts and bolts. That’s what people call us for. So we have 3 Mercedes Benz Sprinter vehicles, preloaded with grip, one just left this morning for San Diego, filled with a safety net of everything you might need on set.
TP: So T.J., you’re the owner and you started the business in 2004. Adam how long have you been with T.j.?
Adam Weisman: I’ve been with Sync just a little under a year.
TP: Thanks for both joining us here. Tell me T.J. about how you came to the industry?
TJC: Basically I was pulled out of Sammy’s camera by a couple of my favorite clients to be on set. At that point, I was trying to explore my options as a 20-something, trying to figure out where I fit into the photo biz.
TP: So did you go to photo school?
TJC: Well no, I went to college where I minored in photography, which was always a hobby. I had taken pictures in high school, continued with photography throughout college and just kept shooting once I got into town, primarily doing event photography. It complimented my work week schedule in retail and then I jumped into the assisting role for ten years. In 2007, I took the reigns with Sync with two vehicles to try to make more of a business out of it.
TP: Where is your business located?
TJC: 5911 Santa Monica Boulevard - in Hollywood.
TP: So you started the business out of necessity because you saw a void in the market?
TJC: Yes, as a photo assistant, I would pick up a vehicle preloaded from other vendors who were doing this. However I saw a need for a smaller vehicle than a cube truck, like the Sprinter van - a little bit larger than a cargo van - to actually hold what’s needed to do the shoot.
Then with my clients, knowing what I owned or had and brought to the table and what they needed, which was a short list of their must haves, we’d do the shoot. However the need to have that tripod that you assumed was in that truck but wasn’t because it was on another job -- we came up with the grip package and that was satisfying the need of a couple of clients who said, “Look lets start with something, we don’t know if we need it until we get there and if we could get it at a discount that would be great.” We just mirrored what they were already doing in the motion picture industry with 5-ton and 10-ton trucks.
TP: That’s definitely the way the New York and LA and other production cities vary. In LA, its’ common for your photo shoots to have a grip trucks on location and that’s something that is slowly catching on in other markets. A wonderful way to be prepared and have everything you need - and as a producer I appreciate that!
TC: It is and we coordinate gear throughout the country. Recently, we did job in Colorado. We started out with cube truck package, lined up the local resources to pull in the right photo gear for set, not knowing what we were going to find and then we had all the tools that we essentially needed.
TP: It sounds like you are creating a community amongst your other photo rental houses nationally by reaching out like this.
TC: Yes. We are, in cities like Dallas, New York, Nashville. We just did a job in Indiana, but we got people from Kentucky. We actually have gear in New York that’s owned by us, but managed by another resource. The way we do it is turn-key - you call us with what you need done and we make the magic appear! You’re at this hotel and you need a preloaded in Long Island? Whatever you need!
TP: If I have a production coming up in LA, I would most likely call and speak to you, right Adam?
AW: Yes, you would. T.J. is so busy most of the time, so I’ve taken on the role of not just being first contact, but really trying to get a good understanding of where people are in their production. Some people will call us and they will have mostly everything and they just need on or two more items. We’ll also get people who have an idea, not an exact budget yet, but they have a need and we fill that need. Because T.J. has a wealth of experience he’s always going to ask the right equipment questions. He’s very detail-oriented, meticulous and always good at noticing, “Hey, I see you have a frame but you don’t have any rags or silks. You have this, but if this is the look you’re going for you, should really try to acquire these tools.” A lot of people are very receptive to that. You can get an amazing shot just by suggesting the right things. Sometimes a photographer is so busy or stuck in one particular look, they can’t see the big picture for the shoot, but because T.J. has assisted very, very talented people he’s already got that kind of knowledge - he’s sort of a free-floating lighting assistant. It’s a big help. We’ve had some people come to us randomly and become long-term clients because of the way their shoot turned out. From just maybe one or two small adjustments.
TP: Customizing every production, every equipment order and paying attention to small details is really what makes a huge difference.
AW: It’s almost like you “sync-up” the problem with the solution.
TP: Oh! I see what you’re doing there!
TC: The company’s name came about around 2008. In the event business, I had a desire to have a management company where I was working during the work week and shooting events on the weekend and most high-end photographers had a rep. In the wedding world and the event world they don’t have that. So I had worked with LA Photo Group back then, and it evolved into an LLC and then when it became an Inc. it just didn’t hit the mark. I actually hired a creative team to come up with a new name. They came up with a lot of great names that I forwarded friends for their opinions. They said, “These are great, how about this, that or the other. Or for that matter, how about this new list.” And on this new list “Sync” was there and just like you said, we’re constantly checking our watches, making sure we’re on the same page as our clients, and synchronizing their needs with what we can satisfy.
AW: It’s so funny - we have a job that just went out where we got an equipment list from the photographer’s rep. Then, we got an email from the producer who actually had a completely different list. Glen, our gear guy, and T.J. were looking at the list and saying, “Wait a second, some of this looks a little off, it’s not exactly what I think the client is really looking for.” T.J. got a hold of the photographer to confirm what was going on.
TP: It’s great that you can go straight to the source. As a producer, knowing technical details about equipment is not where my skill set lies. The minutiae of what equipment will fit the creative solution for the photographer is not really part of my duty. So I do often make sure the first assistant or the photographer are talking directly with the rental houses, to make sure the bases are covered. Often, the first assistant will have a grasp of the equipment and will work together with the photographer, who will know what creative vision they want to achieve.
TJC: The gentleman Adam is talking about, I had actually assisted for him many years ago. So I kind of knew his strengths and weaknesses when I saw the list-
TP: And you were able to intuitively understand what he was working towards. That’s excellent! How many individuals do you currently have on your team?
TJC: Sync is made up of three full-time employees: myself, Adam and Glen. We have a new gentleman coming in who is primarily doing website stuff and helping us with some other goals we have. But then we have resources and on our website we have “Key Assistants” who are basically family members of Sync. They have keys to the shop. They’re assistants we trust will make us look good, who have experience and a background to satisfy everyone’s needs. Whether you need an eager beaver third assistant who is good to hustle, is organized and has great customer service to the top end photo and lighting director or even a digital tech.
TP: What a great idea! So you’re becoming a resource not only for equipment, but your website is also becoming a resource to the industry for crew referrals.
TJC: As well as studios, too.
TP: It’s great to have a resource where those individuals are vetted, tried and true, and how your website is being used also plays into supporting our community.
AW: We also start at the beginning too - we have an intern program. Some come from photo school, work in our shop, get the experience. We just had an individual who was with us for four months, a full semester, and she would intern 2-3 days a week, 8-hour shifts and it was all for her to learn, and we got her on shoots.
TP: What else do you want to tell me about your business?
AW: What is essentially next for Sync is just getting bigger and better. One of our lofty goals is acquiring a space. That’s the last piece, in essence, to really formalize the one stop shop. Ideally a 3,000 sq. ft room with lovely multiple walls and surfaces and structures. In the meantime, we are growing the network. Like what you’re talking about [with TheProducer], building that community, we have a very strong network of resources in Nashville, New York and Denver. We essentially have a Sync New York where we are a post house too. Clients can shoot with us but also bring their pictures to us afterward so they can get that finished product.
TP: You offer post-production as well?
AW: We do. We have resources so we include that.
TP: I can see how a one-stop-shop is developing with Sync. Eventually you’ll have a studio space and also expand your post-production resources - that’s fantastic! And you also offer some production help as well?
TJC: We complement producers. We don’t want to be in competition with them. We do have some full-service clients, but they are a just handful.
TP: I love that Sync is so community-driven and supportive as well.
AW: And [T.J.] will take time out of his day to speak with the photographer, so they know what they’re going for. They might discuss the difference between Broncolor and Pro Foto, or the difference between this head and that head, or why you would use this specific piece of equipment. T.J. is a wealth of information & that’s how we market him!