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#1 Natalie Saito

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 03:09 AM

I?m a film student (junior) and I aspire to becoming a cinematographer. I realize film school helps a person understand about the theory/skills of film and experience helps a person understand the day-to-day schedules/work environment on a production set. But what really bothers me is how can I get my own work out there? I realize the competition is big and I?ve been told nothing is more important than your reel, your own work. Producers and directors won?t hire you as a Director of Photography unless you can prove that you are capable ?that is when the reel comes in. I want to make a quality short film project (dv) but my budget is micro. I want to know if there was any way I can get funding and financial support. All advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you all! -Natalie
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#2 Michael Most

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 08:19 PM

I?m a film student (junior) and I aspire to becoming a cinematographer. I realize film school helps a person understand about the theory/skills of film and experience helps a person understand the day-to-day schedules/work environment on a production set. But what really bothers me is how can I get my own work out there? I realize the competition is big and I?ve been told nothing is more important than your reel, your own work. Producers and directors won?t hire you as a Director of Photography unless you can prove that you are capable ?that is when the reel comes in. I want to make a quality short film project (dv) but my budget is micro. I want to know if there was any way I can get funding and financial support. All advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you all! -Natalie


What about the old fashioned notion of working your way up through the ranks of the camera department? What about considering that perhaps you should work in the film industry a bit before assuming you're knowledgeable enough, talented enough, and expereienced enough to be considered as a Director of Photography? What makes you think that just having gone to a film school should let you skip all of the "normal" steps towards achieving that ultimate goal?
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#3 ocean

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 10:04 PM

What about the old fashioned notion of working your way up through the ranks of the camera department? What about considering that perhaps you should work in the film industry a bit before assuming you're knowledgeable enough, talented enough, and expereienced enough to be considered as a Director of Photography? What makes you think that just having gone to a film school should let you skip all of the "normal" steps towards achieving that ultimate goal?

-Natalie asked an honest question and should not be criticized for it. Your comments only add frustration to a person who is trying to get a feel for a very competitive and sometimes cutthroat industry. We all know about working up the later?and there is much validation in this process.

The best advice ever given to me about being recognized as a cameraman was two fold: 1) Make art with whatever recourses are at your disposal and let this be evident in your reel. If this is means you are shooting with a cheep dv camera and a light or two -blow people away with what is available to you. Remember inability breed?s creativity. 2) When interviewing for a job connect with your director on more levels than just lighting and techie jargon. As your reel will reflect your style of camera work also connect with how your photography will add life to the directors vision. This shows you are focusing on character development and story for the audience sake.

As a side note, producers are usually hip to the fact that not all cinematographers always get the lighting & camera packages they desire. I have seen stunning images come from the most humble camera and lighting set ups that were not fancy at all.

In sum, your reel is very important but so is how you sell your self.

my 2 cents worth... Best of luck!

Edited by ocean, 31 May 2006 - 10:06 PM.

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#4 Chris Fernando

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 10:43 PM

Remember inability breed?s creativity.


I'm sorry, I'm going to need some help with this one.
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#5 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 11:06 PM

Traslate that to "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" When ya ain't got whacha needs, ya gots ta get Creative, you dig?! B)

Edited by Capt.Video, 31 May 2006 - 11:08 PM.

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#6 Chris Fernando

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 12:10 AM

Traslate that to "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" When ya ain't got whacha needs, ya gots ta get Creative, you dig?! B)



So necessity breeds creativity.
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#7 Hal Smith

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 12:35 AM

I'm sorry, I'm going to need some help with this one.

Art does not require mechanism, it requires inspiration. If you are truly an artist then a technical or financial "inability" can be the spark of very personal and original work. The Dogme gang is an example of what can happen if one deliberately self-inflicts an "inability".
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#8 David Sweetman

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 12:40 AM

Well before I read the rest of these posts...i mentally corrected it to "challenge breeds creativity."
That version would be a nice little saying, if it isn't already condsidered a "saying" in vernacular phraseology.

Edited by David Sweetman, 01 June 2006 - 12:42 AM.

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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 12:45 AM

I suspect that if any of us were good at raising money to finance productions, we'd probably be director-producers, not cinematographers...

Finding money to make movies is the #1 all-time challenge and if there were an easy solution, we'd all be doing it. Read the Polish Brothers' book on trying to raise financing for their films... it's pretty much a matter of luck, stumbling into the right people at the right time. Of course, you make your own luck to some degree, mainly through perserverance.
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#10 Chris Fernando

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 09:04 AM

Art does not require mechanism, it requires inspiration. If you are truly an artist then a technical or financial "inability" can be the spark of very personal and original work. The Dogme gang is an example of what can happen if one deliberately self-inflicts an "inability".


It all depends on usage of the word inability, I suppose. I think at some point that inability must become ability, in every sense of the word, if you are going to ask people to give up two hours of their time to hear what you have to say. It shouldn't look like you were "unable" to do something.
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#11 Hal Smith

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 09:16 AM

It all depends on usage of the word inability, I suppose. I think at some point that inability must become ability, in every sense of the word, if you are going to ask people to give up two hours of their time to hear what you have to say. It shouldn't look like you were "unable" to do something.

That was my meaning - if you had caught Pablo Picasso in an agreeable mood and given him piece of paper and a lead pencil and asked him to "draw" something, he would have produced a sketch that was instantly recognizable as a Picasso. Art can be created with very restricted means but you do indeed have to start with an Artist.
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#12 Natalie Saito

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 12:55 PM

Actually I had many on-set experiences, student and indie films, and recently I have been actively working/seeking work as a Camera Assistant whenever possible.

OCEAN, thanks for the advice. Now that I think about it, if you're a a new DP no one should expect you to have access to the best equipment or have the best work. Perhaps directors and producers will like you better if you can make good videos with the limited resources you got --creativity is key. I don't expect this video to look the best, especially at my level, but I don't want it to look at all ameteurish.

DAVID MULLEN, thanks for your advice. I realize that budget is always the biggest concern and most filmmaker don't have a lot. I don't really know how to go about getting funding, grants and donations. People won't simply hand you money. I guess the luck is stumbling into the right people.


Thanks all!

-Natalie
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#13 Tim Vogel

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Posted 03 June 2006 - 08:14 PM

Traslate that to "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" When ya ain't got whacha needs, ya gots ta get Creative, you dig?! B)

My motto has always been "adapt and overcome."
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#14 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 05 June 2006 - 12:25 AM

I actually like that old unofficial Marine motto": We're Marines, we don't plan, we improvise" ;)
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#15 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 07 June 2006 - 01:07 PM

The Dogme gang is an example of what can happen if one deliberately self-inflicts an "inability".


In this case, you get horrible looking films....
;)
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#16 Brian Wells

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Posted 07 June 2006 - 02:29 PM

I aspire to becoming a cinematographer.

There are all types of photography and cinematography so you sort of have to pick a style and run with it. For the most part a director will want to see a body of work that is relevant to the types of projects he does. So, a person with a reel full of documentaries would not an impress a music video director, for example. A reel full of music videos would not impress a dramatic film director. They're just too different. There is no connection, no relevance. I think the most important attribute to being successful in any industry is being able to connect with your clients on a personal level, such as having the same tastes in music, clothing, books, movies, etc. or having similar backgrounds or anything that creates a connection with them. Your working style must cooperate with theirs, obviously, so the more you have in common, the better your chances are for success. There are all sorts of DP's with a range of personalities who become highly successful in every genre of filmmaking. Photographic talent is only a small part of their success. The rest is just good business sense.
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#17 shootist

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 09:08 PM

The question is quite broad, it depends on what type of cinematography you are looking to aspire to.
If you want to move into big budget projects, that takes some getting used to. By that I mean there is a lot to learn about the mechanics of working with a big crew and a lot of gear. So working your way up isn't just 'paying your dues', it's learning on the job. You will get paid to learn from many other people. Knowing theories about lighting and compsition only go so far when you are dealing with all the logistics of millions of dollars of gear and an army of technicians.
You will need to keep your own style and POV during this process but learning the ropes is vital to working on big projects.
If you have no desire to work big projects then just about anything goes...
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#18 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 13 July 2006 - 12:11 PM

I?m a film student (junior) and I aspire to becoming a cinematographer. I realize film school helps a person understand about the theory/skills of film and experience helps a person understand the day-to-day schedules/work environment on a production set. But what really bothers me is how can I get my own work out there? I realize the competition is big and I?ve been told nothing is more important than your reel, your own work. Producers and directors won?t hire you as a Director of Photography unless you can prove that you are capable ?that is when the reel comes in. I want to make a quality short film project (dv) but my budget is micro. I want to know if there was any way I can get funding and financial support. All advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you all! -Natalie


There are two ways to approach building a real career in production. The first is to just go for it. The second is to work your way up through the ranks. There are benefits and pitfalls to both approaches.

Several top DP's I've had the opportunity to talk with have suggested that if someone truly wants to be a Director of Photography, he/she should just go out and start doing it. Working your way up through the ranks gives you experience with the equipment, experience on a variety of sets, experience with different people, and the benefit of watching other DPs work. The downfall in that approach is that you just might never make it to the top. Multitudes of qualified people in the Camera Department (or Grip or Electric) stall out as Operators, Gaffers, or Key Grips or before that. Moving up often has less to do with actual skill than the politics that are happening in your particular circle. This isn't to say that one can't move up to DP after being an Assistant and Operator, but it isn't a guarantee by any stretch.

The downside to just going out and doing it is that you won't have the breadth of experience that someone moving through the ranks will. Not only that, the long time Assistant, Operator, or Gaffer will know far more people than the newcomer ever will. Often, a B-Camera Operator or Gaffer will be asked to shoot Second Unit or Stunt footage. Those opportunities help to showcase your talent, but you won't get those opportunities if you don't work your way up. As a person just going out and doing it, you'll have to rely on your reel, your sparkling personality, and a lot of luck.

But remember, either path you choose isn't a guarantee of success (or failure as the case may be). There are a lot of talented and qualified people NOT working in the positions they hoped for and a lot of people who do hold those top spots who shouldn't necessarily be there.

Just one more unfortunate thing to mention is that women do have a rougher time gaining those top positions than men. There are a few women out there actively working as Camera Assistants, Operators, Grips, and Electrics, but they often don't get the chance to prove themselves as DPs. Many wind up in the low-budget world or on documentaries just to work, but there seems to be a bias against them on larger narrative projects. I'm not sure how you combat that beyond just going out and working hard and proving yourself over and over again.

Good luck!
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#19 Michael Collier

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Posted 13 July 2006 - 02:04 PM

I have always been a fan of doing it yourself. Working your way up has a place, sure. I think those that get into the industry with no relavent work experience would need a little help learning the workings of the set. But I think certain people are just better at learning on their own. I personally can't learn in a classroom, I only learn hands on. I took a job as a news photographer so I could expand my knowledge of lighting. On a daily basis I get 2-3 talking head interviews that I have a chance to light. Since I started my knowledge of various techniques has sky-rocketted. I still do features and shorts on the side, where I am feeling increasingly more confident taking a step out on a ledge and doing something I have't done before. In my job I do it all the time, and if I mess up, well thats a 10 second SOT that airs on a market 155 station. No big deal. But one thing I have found is that more often than not when I take a step out on the ledge, I end up getting exactly what I was going for. Years of that has me taking risks in just about every aspect of my career.

Working your way up is the comfortable way to approach things. I like to think the other form of that is to work your way up in budgets as DP. After all, a grip/gaffer/camera op has absolutley no experience in breaking down a script and finding a visual voice to apply to the story. They only know how to cut the light, diffuse it and follow the action on a gear head.

As for raising money, there are a few outlets you can explore to raise the funds, if its a low enough budget. My favorite method to finance my smaller features and shorts is trade agreements. I need a location, so I approach a place and offer them not only exposure through my film, but also I trade 2 or 3 TV commercials to get some funds to make the movie. The business walks away thinking they got a deal, you get your movie made, and if you do it right, you can even convince them to have one of those adds be a cross-marketing agreement, where your film is included in their commercial (think BMW advertising along with James Bond) they make all media purchases and your small film gets big exposure for free. If your budget gets too big however, or you have too many people putting money in exchange for a percent of grosses, it becomes an SEC issue, and you need a lawyer to help set things up and keep it legal.
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#20 Natalie Saito

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 08:41 PM

Thank you all for the great advice and info! Skill/talent is one part but good business/people skills are just as important. I realize that working your way up the rank is the safe way. But once you learn all the tools well enough you gotta start making your own stuff. I have heard several times that women have a disadvantage. I don't think it's our gender but rather that many women cannot meet the physical demands of being a Cinematographer (likewise for gaffer/grip). I've met 2 excellent female cinematographers who've proven themselves for the job. Women like men equally are disadvantaged if they are not well-suited, well-prepared for the job whatever job that may be.
--Natalie

Edited by NSFilms, 22 October 2006 - 08:43 PM.

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