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Does a hit movie (or something considered to be good) get a DP further than working on bad films?


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#1 razerfish

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 10:12 AM

Does working on nothing but flicks like "Vampire's Revenge IV" end up hurting you in the long run versus, say, having filmed a Sundance darling? Does the quality of the flick in other areas benefit the DP?

I ask this because I'm just starting to look through reels of various DP's for an upcoming project, and I notice that pretty much all of them have experience with movies like this. All of them straight-to-video junk, stuff I've never heard of or seen at the local Blockbuster. Now I don't blame the DP because he doesn't write the scripts or coach the actors, but one of the guys I'm interested in has about 40 of these movies under his belt. That makes me wonder if there's a reason he hasn't stepped up to better movies. Maybe he's at the level he belongs? If those type of thoughts are creeping into my mind (maybe completely unfairly), does it also creep into the minds of bigshot directors/producers/executives as well?

Any thoughts, perspective?
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#2 John Pytlak RIP

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 10:27 AM

Does working on nothing but flicks like "Vampire's Revenge IV" end up hurting you in the long run versus, say, having filmed a Sundance darling? Does the quality of the flick in other areas benefit the DP?

I ask this because I'm just starting to look through reels of various DP's for an upcoming project, and I notice that pretty much all of them have experience with movies like this. All of them straight-to-video junk, stuff I've never heard of or seen at the local Blockbuster. Now I don't blame the DP because he doesn't write the scripts or coach the actors, but one of the guys I'm interested in has about 40 of these movies under his belt. That makes me wonder if there's a reason he hasn't stepped up to better movies. Maybe he's at the level he belongs? If those type of thoughts are creeping into my mind (maybe completely unfairly), does it also creep into the minds of bigshot directors/producers/executives as well?

Any thoughts, perspective?


Have you LOOKED at their work? Have they skillfully used a creative style that fits your production? Does their personality and work ethic fit your production team? Fame and fortune aren't everything, but with skill, creativity, and luck, YOUR production could be "a Sundance darling".
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#3 Chance Shirley

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 10:52 AM

Also don't forget that many of today's well-respected directors got their start in the b-movie industry -- Ron Howard and James Cameron both come to mind, who got started on the directing path working for Roger Corman. I believe Janusz Kaminski also did some of his early DP work with Corman.

I'm probably biased, though, 'cause I want to be Roger Corman when I grow up.

Getting back to the specifics of the topic, "Does a hit movie... get a DP further than working on bad films," I assume the answer to that is "yes," and I assume the same goes for directors, editors, actors, etc. Average cast and crew members who have worked on a hit probably have an easier time getting work than some genius who toils away on DTV stuff. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to find that DTV genius and hire him/her for your project, though.
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#4 Paul Bruening

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 01:27 PM

Some DP's like doing horror because of the artistic freedom they can get. They're not as tied to a "Slick" or conventional look.
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#5 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 05:27 PM

It's a valid question, I think. I've often wondered myself if I'd get offered Stinger 3: Return Of The Scorpion Killer what I would do. Would it hurt or benefit me? Since I'm dying to do feature, my first reaction would probably be to jump at the opportunity, but after a little more consideration I'd probably have second thoughts...

I think you can get away with a certain amount crap/no budget/shlock films in the beginning. But I'm also positive you need to progress and move on from there fairly quickly. There's degrees of low budget films, too. There's Troma and Nu Image's creature feature-stuff and then there's pretty decent horror like Hostel, Cry Wolf, Descent, Cabin Fever and stuff like that. I personally don't think a Troma film would benefit either me or the production at this stage, so I'd probably say no to that. But I wouldn't hesitate to do one of the above mentioned horror movies!

Since I make my living doing commercials, there's no real hurry for me. Sooner or later a feature film project will come along. But to answer your original question - yes, I do think you benefit in the long run from doing Sundance-type movies rather than Subspecies VII for Full Moon Entertainment. Sundance to more high budget horror stuff like The Fog and When A Stranger Calls? It's a tie at that level, I'd say.

I'm sure David Mullen have some interesting pointers on this subject. David?
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#6 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 05:58 PM

Does working on nothing but flicks like "Vampire's Revenge IV" end up hurting you in the long run versus, say, having filmed a Sundance darling? Does the quality of the flick in other areas benefit the DP?

I ask this because I'm just starting to look through reels of various DP's for an upcoming project, and I notice that pretty much all of them have experience with movies like this. All of them straight-to-video junk, stuff I've never heard of or seen at the local Blockbuster. Now I don't blame the DP because he doesn't write the scripts or coach the actors, but one of the guys I'm interested in has about 40 of these movies under his belt. That makes me wonder if there's a reason he hasn't stepped up to better movies. Maybe he's at the level he belongs? If those type of thoughts are creeping into my mind (maybe completely unfairly), does it also creep into the minds of bigshot directors/producers/executives as well?

Any thoughts, perspective?


i would say that if a DP has 40+ low-budget genre features under their belt, with repeat jobs for producers, that's a good indicator of their ability to keep things on schedule and work around resource limitations. that in combination with a great looking reel would sound like an ideal combination if your project is low-budget. of course, if his reel looks bad or mediocre, then that probably explains why he hasn't ascended beyond his current career status. also, if they're not located in LA or nyc or other big cities, they're gonna be severely limited in what kinda projects that are available to them. they may just be taking whatever they can get.

i'm kind of a "bad b-movie" enthusiast and have many many times seen stinkbomb scripted movies with crummy direction that have some very commendable cinematography and lighting, especially considering the obvious restrictions they must work under.
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#7 timHealy

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 07:36 PM

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a DP doing films like this to get the experience they need to hone their craft. But like John said, look at their work and look beyond the bad acting and low budget effects. Do the films demonstrate artistic and technical proficiency?

Then ask if you like the guy? Can you work with him? Learn to see if you value his input and experience.

I would seriously consider giving him a chance if you like his work and you get a long with the guy. Maybe others have mistaken him to be only a horror movie guy too and didn't even ask if he would be interested in other work.

Dan Pearl for example shot the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre and went on to be one of the biggest and most popular music video DP's since the late 80's.

Give the guy a shot.

Best,

Tim
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#8 JonathanSheneman

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 08:20 PM

I wouldn't necessarily hire a DP on his cinematographer abilities but on his willingness to be my number #1... When I'm beating an actor(s) he remains silent or helps, when 5-0 starts shooting he/she remains calm and gets..the..shot (and when I say cut- then we run), personality,stuff like that... Chances are I haven't seen much of his/her work unless I was outta beer money on friday night and it was raining.

Turning down any work when you are little people isn't smart. I'd give James Cameron head every day for free if he asked me to.. then when I was going down on him I'd pitch my Aliens vs. Terminator project to him between breaths and he might say yes? Probably not but I'd also have my digicam recorder going so I could blackmail him later.
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#9 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 08:47 PM

I think you guys are missing the point. Don't understimate the shallowness of man.

Most people don't get hired because of what their reel looks like, they get hired because of how many big jobs they've done. Seriously, that's how it works.

The only way to get successful, is to already be successful. Or in the mind of the one hiring you: "oh, he must be good because he's succesful", type thing. Like I said in some post about reel-making some years ago - get the flashiest stuff up there. People are starstruck, so if you've got any celebrities or big shots on your reel, show them. No matter how crappy your Nike ad looks, stick it on there - big brands sell. Production value sells. The right director sells. The right production company sells. If it's been seen on telly or recognised, it sells.

Drop the gorgeous short that was seen by 14 people (unless it's won some kind of flashy award), nobody's gonna watch it anyway. Project the image of success, boast, be larger than life at all times. How good you actually are comes way down the list.

Crass, me? :D
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#10 Mitch Gross

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 11:39 PM

I have lost out on several features over the years even when the director wanted me because a higher profile DP with bigger credits was interested in the job and the Producers or investors insisted the film go that way. This has happened on at least three occassions.
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#11 razerfish

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 11:56 PM

Just an interesting anecdote. I saw someone's reel of commercials, and I thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen. All of them absolutely top notch. Some of them as good as commercials you see during the Super Bowl. However, when I sent them to the person who's going to produce for me, and my AD, neither of them were overly impressed. One complained of camera flares in too many shots and of over lit shots, the other didn't think any of it was that terribly impressive. I didn't see any of what they saw at the time because I thought they were the funniest commercials I'd ever seen. [I have had the camera flares pointed out and was disappointed with them.]

So, I guess, for me anyway, the quality of commercial influenced how I felt about the cinematography. The writing and directing had coattails, if you will.

It's probably somewhat true with producers/executives in Hollywood as well, at least some of them. Not all of us have a very sharp eye to identify good cinematography from, say, average cinematography. I've found out that I don't. I tend to get sucked into the overall quality of the piece, it turns out, and don't have that sharp an eye for cinematography.
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#12 Mike Welle

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Posted 21 January 2006 - 12:07 AM

Fame and fortune aren't everything, but with skill, creativity, and luck, YOUR production could be "a Sundance darling".


Examine this exchange in "Merchant of Venice" and see how it applies to the post:

Act I Scene II

Belmont. Enter Portia, a rich heiress and her servant Nerissa.

Portia: By my troth Nerissa, my little body is a weary of this great world.

Nerissa: You would be sweet madame, if your miseries were in the same abundance as your good fortunes are and yet for aught I see they are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing. It is no mean happiness, therefore to be seated in the mean. Superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer."
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 January 2006 - 12:15 AM

Well, it's two separate issues. One is whether a DP doing a lot of B-movies is going to eventually get hurt by too many of those credits, and the answer is yes if he wants to be doing something else. At some point I had to make a conscious decision to start to minimize the straight-to-video genre films and do more indie features with some art house cinema / film festival potential, even though those often paid worse.

Yes, a DP gets work just as often because they shot a film that someone has heard of, regardless of the quality of the film. Someone looks at the resume and says "oh, I heard about that one". This is one reason why a DP will ask who the cast is, because that may be an indication of how high-profile this project could end up being.

Of course, I also shot "D.E.B.S.", which Roget Ebert and some other critics put on their 10 Worst of 2005 lists, which is notariety that I can't really use to get more work...

But the other issue is whether you should hire a DP with a lot of B-movie credits, and in that case, I'd say that if his work is good, rises about the run-of-the-mill work in those genres, and he seems like a person that you can work with, then why not hire him? Maybe it will be your film that breaks him out of those B-movies, who knows. Just because other producers hire DP's for silly reasons doesn't mean you have to. Hire him because of the right reasons: he's experienced, his work looks good, he can handle the budget & schedule, and he seems like a pleasant person to work with.

Speaking as a DP with thirty feature credits, many of which are low-budget genre films that show up late night on cable TV... I sort of made the transition to art house films when I did "Twin Falls Idaho", which was my 12th feature at the time. But I still do the occiasional cheaper genre fare if a friend of mine is producing or directing.

Nowadays I mostly get scripts sent my way which sort of fall into indie feature cliches, but I will tend to gravitate towards the ones that seem to require a visual style; too many scripts I get are indie sitcom talk-fests unfortunately. I read two comedy scripts in a row recently that had almost identical characters and settings.
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