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The Beginnings of Cinematography


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#1 Arnold Friend

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 04:23 PM

So I went to film school, graduated top-of-my class, have worked in the development side of the industry, but really want to break into cinematography. Can anyone suggest to me where to start? I have read it's best to start as a loader--but where do I sign up? If I need to join a union, where can I find the necessary info? I appreciate any advice.
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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 04:31 PM

Well I suspect that you are going to get a lot of people here that will ask you the following. How is it that you went to film school, graduated top of your class, and now you're here asking some VERY basic questions about becoming a DOP. I mean really what kind of film school was this, they never touched on any of these issues?

Sorry, but I'm sure others will chime in with the same sentiment. But I could be wrong.

R,
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#3 Max Jacoby

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 04:57 PM

Giving your location would surely help too.
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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 05:03 PM

Well I suspect that you are going to get a lot of people here that will ask you the following. How is it that you went to film school, graduated top of your class, and now you're here asking some VERY basic questions about becoming a DOP. I mean really what kind of film school was this, they never touched on any of these issues?

Sorry, but I'm sure others will chime in with the same sentiment. But I could be wrong.

R,



I'm curious about this film school, too, actually.

Your location is required info, as working in the UK (for one example) is quite different than working in New York is different than LA.

In short, you just look for a loader or PA job and go from there. It's not like you can just "sign up" anywhere.
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#5 Arnold Friend

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Posted 11 July 2006 - 04:19 AM

Well, my response is that film school was really a waste of time; everything I learned about cinematography, production design, narrative, etc. was done prior to film-school or post film school. I worked as a PA on several Fox films, have been a story-board artist for Nickelodeon and Fox Animation, and have worked as an assistant to two directors, not to mention an assistant to a hotshot lit agent whom I'd sooner forget--I have many aptitudes, but my passion is cinematography. Everyone whom I encounter within the industry kind of shrugs their shoulders and tells me, "work as a PA, work your way up." I can tell you that when I worked as a PA, I didn't have that sense of optimism people seem to bestow on the position. I don't mind working my way up, but I need a definite place to begin. As for film-school, you'd be surprised how woefully inept most schools are in prepping their students for the real world. That 48K per annum I squandered on my education would have been better invested in an indepedent film. Luckily that money was scholarship, and barely put a scratch on my own piggy bank; otherwise I'd be drinking heavily right now.

My location is LA.
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#6 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 11 July 2006 - 04:34 AM

There are basically four routes to become a DP:

1. Become a camera trainee or loader, then progress to focus pulling and then the jump to DP when you feel confident. Note: when that jump happens, it's important to stick to it and not continue to focus pull on the 'side'. This means you'll be going from a comfy living to very strained finances until your DP career takes off.

2. Go directly to being a DP and fight it out for years in the no-budget short trenches. Don't expect to make any money at all for a couple of years.

3. Become a successful stills photographer and then make the jump to film. Has worked for many of those that started out in music videos (where fashion and cool imagery is more easily accepted), like Harris Savides etc.

4. As a spark and work your way up to gaffer and then make the jump to DPing.

I know people from all categories that have succeeded - one route is not better than the other. All I know if that impatience is a sure-fire way to fail. It takes time.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 July 2006 - 12:13 PM

Well, my response is that film school was really a waste of time; everything I learned about cinematography, production design, narrative, etc. was done prior to film-school or post film school. I worked as a PA on several Fox films, have been a story-board artist for Nickelodeon and Fox Animation, and have worked as an assistant to two directors, not to mention an assistant to a hotshot lit agent whom I'd sooner forget--I have many aptitudes, but my passion is cinematography.


I assume that passion began AFTER film school?

I shot nearly twenty 16mm short films for other students while I was in film school, which allowed me to build a reel, plus I was known by the time I graduated as "the DP" of my class. My early work was all with or through fellow students helping me out. But it took years of shooting no-paying and low-paying work to move up the ladder. So the question is why in these years since film school have you been working as a director's assistent or an agent's assistant rather than shooting whatever cheap stuff came along, or working for camera crews as a loader, etc. It sounds to me like you were sidetracked away from cinematography-related work once you graduated, I assume of course to pay the bills, but work like that doesn't lead to cinematography work.

Since I was always shooting for students while I was in film school, my life after film school was in some ways just a continuation of that. In fact, I was still shooting graduate thesis short films for another year or two after I left film school.
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#8 Arnold Friend

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Posted 11 July 2006 - 02:32 PM

I assume that passion began AFTER film school?
It sounds to me like you were sidetracked away from cinematography-related work once you graduated, I assume of course to pay the bills, but work like that doesn't lead to cinematography work.


I think you have a valid point, except that, like yourself, I was always known as the DP guy, and I have usually shot other people's films, and I still do. But I did get sidetracked into the development side of things; whenever I asked directors or former aspiring cinematographers where to begin, they told me that it's better to be in development, which, once again, is not my passion.

So, if I wanted to become a loader then, how do I obtain that type of work and experience? Do I go to kodak and wait for the DP to come looking for a loader? Or is there a union I can join which will help me get the entry level position?
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 July 2006 - 08:07 PM

You send letters and resumes to production companies about to begin a project, and you hang around camera rental houses and get to know the AC's, tell them that you're interested in loading. DP's don't really hire the loader; I usually leave that up to the 1st AC to approve and the production manager to hire.

You don't start out in the union right away, you work non-union for awhile, get the necessary days to qualify. The camera union is IATSE Local 600.

What happened to everyone you went to film school with? None of them working on productions that can't put in a word for you to get hired as a loader?

In this business, it's all about contacts, particularly for camera crew people.
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#10 Arnold Friend

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Posted 12 July 2006 - 10:46 PM

You send letters and resumes to production companies about to begin a project, and you hang around camera rental houses and get to know the AC's, tell them that you're interested in loading. DP's don't really hire the loader; I usually leave that up to the 1st AC to approve and the production manager to hire.

You don't start out in the union right away, you work non-union for awhile, get the necessary days to qualify. The camera union is IATSE Local 600.

What happened to everyone you went to film school with? None of them working on productions that can't put in a word for you to get hired as a loader?

In this business, it's all about contacts, particularly for camera crew people.


Awesome, that's just what I needed to hear.
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