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Episode 86 – Lighting TV & Movies with Ryan Thomas

Ryan Thomas started his career as a grip and gaffer in San Francisco, but when the non-union reality show he was working on turned union, Ryan was able to join the local 728 in Los Angeles and eventually make the move to LA to pursue a career as a Director of Photography. We talk about Union vs Non-union, Los Angeles vs San Francisco and TV vs Features.

Listen now or visit iTunes to download it to your device.


Director of Photography Ryan Thomas

Ryan Thomas is a freelance director of photography who simply loves telling stories through images. His dad was a photographer with his own studio who studied under Ansel Adams, so photography was always around while Ryan was growing up. He graduated from the year long San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking program, shooting 5 short films and a feature. After college, he found PA work through Craigslist and built his way into crewing as a grip and gaffer around San Francisco including positions on Timothy’s movie “The Spirit Machine” and Alrik’s film “Strange Thing.”

After doing AC work for two years and landing a Camera PA job on the local production of Trauma, Ryan decided that working his way through the camera department was not going to be as helpful as working as a Gaffer.


Four years ago, while working on a Non-Union reality show that started in San Francisco and traveled to Los Angeles. The budget of each show was large enough to attract the Union and they showed up on set and organized the crew. Long story short, the production turned Union and Ryan was able to get 26 of his 30 Union days on that production. With just four more days to go, Ryan called all his friends in LA to get more Union work.

He is now a member of Local 728 and just joined Local 600. He lives in Los Angeles and works high profile Union jobs as an Electrician and Digital Utility while building his Cinematography reel on the side

Some of the exciting things we uncover in our conversation

  • The details of a Non-Union production turning Union
  • What it takes to join a Union as an electrician and Cinematographer
  • What’s the difference between Union and Non-Union productions
  • The number of shoot days on a Television show vs the number of shoot days on a feature film
  • Shooting styles of TV vs Movies
  • The differences between living/working in San Francisco and Los Angeles
  • The average age of DPs and Directors
  • Building a career as a Cinematographer
  • Francis Ford Coppola’s advice: “find your oil well.”

Getting in Touch with Ryan Thomas

His website:

His IMDB page:

@RDThomasDP on Twitter

Contact Us

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