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Technical Help: Where to draw the line


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#1 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 14 October 2006 - 04:38 PM

As we all work for a living, it is inspiring how so many of us are able and willing to help one another out with general and technical advice from time to time. With all the technical advancements and new techniques being developed, it is difficult to keep up with everything.

But a couple of recent incidents occurred which had me thinking twice about how far I'm personally willing to go with help. The situation in a nutshell is that a couple of years ago, I paid my $1,800.00 to take the Gancie HD Workshop down at the Zemeckis Center at USC. Toss in the days of work lost, and I probably was "out" around five grand. The upside is that because I took the training course, I've been able to A) take CineAlta jobs confident that I know what I'm doing, and B ) ask for more money because it is a specialty to know what all those things in the menu do and how to avoid creating problems on set and in post.

I got a call last night from another cameraman who I've worked with once or twice before asking me how to switch the frame rate on the F900. When I asked him if he'd ever worked with the camera, the answer was "no," but he had shot with the Varicam. He then asked about the other settings and I just told him that I used my setup card whenever I have a rental camera to work with. I had neither the time nor the inclination to go through each menu page with him over the phone. I'm sure his shoot will be fine with however the rental house sent the camera over, but then again, who knows? That's why I took the course so that I would know. But here is he taking a job (with a Producer who I have worked with before) and he doesn't know one of the most basic things about setting up an F900.

A few weeks ago I got a call from another Videographer who wanted to do sound on an HD shoot while I shot so that he could "look over my shoulder" in an attempt to "learn HD." As if A) he could learn it in that situation, and B ) I'd show him so that he could undercut me with that Producer in the future.

Sometime last year, a new guy was more or less "in training" with a company (political situation that I won't go into) and he called me because he didn't know how to switch the Digibeta to 16x9 in the menu.


In each case, my immediate gut reaction was "hey, I spent money or took the time to learn this stuff on my own, why should I teach you for free?" That was unspoken of course. I help out when I can for those who don't necessarily have access to educational opportunities (thus the book I've written). But it seems to me that a line is crossed when someone puts themselves out there as a professional DP/Operator/AC/Videographer but doesn't really know what he is doing...then calls around for basic technical "what button do I push?" instruction. Admittedly, in my own mind, this is a fine line and it may even be a gray area and not clearly defined, but when does it stop being helpful advice for a fellow professional and instead become a situation of cutting one's own throat?

I mean, for instance, I haven't taken any of the Varicam jobs that I've been called for (only about 3) because I really am not that comfortable with that camera yet. I have the expensive technical book but I haven't taken the time to play with the camera on my own yet to get up to speed. And I'm not about to try to just figure it out when I get there and put myself in a situation where I'm calling around asking someone else who IS qualified how to turn something on or off. It's not fair to the client or to the cameramen out there who have invested time and money to qualify themselves for that work.

Yes? No?

Edited by Brian Dzyak, 14 October 2006 - 04:40 PM.

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#2 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 14 October 2006 - 04:51 PM

What stands out to me is how basic the questions were that you were asked about. If you spend five minutes looking through the menus you should easily be able to switch into 16x9 or change a framerate. To me, that shows a disturbing lack of competence.

I suppose each individual has to determine how much advice they are willing to give, and to whom. If it is a friend and not a person that you are in regular competition with for jobs, then I would say help them out as long as it doesn't become annoying. If you think you are teaching someone who is ultimately after the same jobs as you, then proceed with caution. Hopefully it is your talent in areas of composition, lighting, efficiency, etc. that will earn you the job as after a point, we all know how to work the camera, it is what you do with it that makes you stand out.

Interesting question, Brian.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 14 October 2006 - 05:45 PM

What stands out to me is how basic the questions were that you were asked about. If you spend five minutes looking through the menus you should easily be able to switch into 16x9 or change a framerate. To me, that shows a disturbing lack of competence.


The 16x9 thing, yeah. But for anyone who has changed the framerate in the F900, they'll know that it isn't just about clicking on the small black dial to make the change "stick."

And yes, if someone doesn't know how to make that happen, it is an indicator that they then probably don't have a clue what the rest of the settings mean or how to set them. Of course the Producer ultimately won't know this as the call is being made out of his earshot, so that cameraman will probably "luck out" with a camera that is basically set up with "middle of the road" settings and all will work out. But for the record, I only got my higher rate from the company I was working with because I waited until they had hired someone else first who didn't know what he was doing who subsequently made an expensive error in the setup. That allowed me to walk in and calmly ask for a higher rate, which they graciously accepted because they learned the hard way that hiring someone who was qualified was worth the "extra" cost up front.



Interesting question, Brian.

Thank you. :)
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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 October 2006 - 06:35 PM

Hi,

The only thing that repeatedly gets me on the F900 is the "holding down the button" issue to get to the "real" menus. I barfed my first F900 job badly because of it, although no permanent harm was done.

While we're on the subject, at the other end of the scale, I came across a hideous gotcha while teaching a class using, among other things, PD170s, which I'll air here for want of a better place. If you don't run them enough, the internal battery runs down, and it won't let you set the timecode until you hit the hardware-reset button.

That sort of thing is scary.

Phil

PS - And yes, me, teaching a class. Poor suckers, eh?
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#5 Richard Boddington

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Posted 14 October 2006 - 09:32 PM

Hi,

The only thing that repeatedly gets me on the F900 is the "holding down the button" issue to get to the "real" menus. I barfed my first F900 job badly because of it, although no permanent harm was done.

While we're on the subject, at the other end of the scale, I came across a hideous gotcha while teaching a class using, among other things, PD170s, which I'll air here for want of a better place. If you don't run them enough, the internal battery runs down, and it won't let you set the timecode until you hit the hardware-reset button.

That sort of thing is scary.

Phil

PS - And yes, me, teaching a class. Poor suckers, eh?


Why bother teaching them any thing, none of them will ever work, so what's the point? Right?

R,
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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 07:46 AM

Hi,

Quite right.

> so what's the point?

I can only quote Stephen Fry:

"I am delighted, priviledged, and - let's not be coy about it - financially rewarded to be here."

Seriously, it's better paid than most actual production jobs!

Phil
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#7 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 12:42 PM

Haha, Fry is sharp.

The hold-down-the-wheel trick to get to the real menus where you can do some damage, is a thing that has made me into a full blown Sony hater. It's just moronic and completely illogical. And I'm one of those that keep forgetting if i should hold down the wheel as i turn menu on, or the camera off and then on, or both or what. It's a mess. If you design stuff that needs a 300-page manual, I think you're doing something wrong to begin with...
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#8 Hal Smith

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 01:16 PM

The hold-down-the-wheel trick to get to the real menus where you can do some damage, is a thing that has made me into a full blown Sony hater. It's just moronic and completely illogical.

Hear Hear!

There's something real sick about Sony Corporate culture. They've always had a problem with final product design and packaging. Somewhere between prototype development and production, some Pinhead manager says something like "Okay, we've spent enough money on this thing already, put it in a box and sell it". Whence products that consistently don't have that extra polish, their gear works, but there's always a "gotcha".
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#9 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 01:56 PM

Which is a shame because I think the F900 is a superior camera to the Varicam, but I prefer the Panasonic products overall, from the DVX on up.
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#10 Tomas Koolhaas

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 01:59 PM

Hi,
Getting back to the original point....I think your assertion is valid, that you paid for this knowledge so why should you share it for free (especially with people who cant even be bothered to find out the basics for themselves)....However I do think it is a bit of a Miserly and ungenerous outlook, for example, if you really feel that way why do you use this forum?...isnt that what the point of this forum is?...people like David Mullen etc... who have vast technical experience sharing it with people for free? If Mr Mullen fealt the way you did he probably wouldn't answer half the questions he does. The second element of your point was that these DP's might be challenging you for jobs with the knowledge you gave them, this too is somewhat valid but seems a bit insecure to me (no offense), doesn't anyone in your field technichally present competition for you (if they live in your city at least) so cinematography teachers at school (like Mr Rhodes) who are also working DP's are, by that same logic, undermining there own job prospects by teaching the students well.
I dont have many friends who are also DP's (I cant stand the arrogant bastards jk) but one of my best friends is a DP. I have shot a lot more projects than him, and he grips a lot to make a living between shooting projects, so I have given him a lot of advice about lighting, processing, exposure and funny enough about how to use the F900 menu's as well. We go for many of the same jobs (we know a lot of the same people) but this doesn't deter me from giving him totally honest and helpful advice anytime he asks for it. The reason for this is twofold, firstly I feel confident that the advice I'm giving him doesn't constitute what MAKES me a good DP, it just some technichal knowledge that ALLOWS me to be a good DP. No matter what I tell him he will still be him and I will still be me, and Producers will select us on the basis of who they want. Secondly since he grips a lot on big budget projects he gives me advice on high-end Gripping/distribution equipment which is something I dont get to use much (shooting mainly lower-budget projects) and so don't have as much knowledge about. I think my point is that any exchange of info. is usually a two way street and even if it isn't it shouldn't mean that you are scuppering your job prospects by helping someone out with a bit of advice (its not like you came in on set and lit a scene for them....that would be crossing the line).
Also, you were saying your mate used the varicam a lot and you the F900, he asked you for advice and used the F900, but you didn't use the varicam, if you had dared ask him a few questions, like he did you, maybe you would have fealt secure enough to take the Varicam job next time.
Bryan, I dont mean any offense by any of this it's just my opinion, Im not calling you a miser or insecure, I just disagree.
Cheers.

Edited by Tomas Koolhaas, 15 October 2006 - 02:03 PM.

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#11 Dan Goulder

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 04:45 PM

Anyone can become well versed on the technical aspects of filmmaking or HD. However, what really gets you hired, and what distinguishes you from others in the field, is your "eye". That is where the individuality comes in. Sharing technical expertise shouldn't really undermine that.
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#12 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 17 October 2006 - 02:49 AM

Anyone can become well versed on the technical aspects of filmmaking or HD. However, what really gets you hired, and what distinguishes you from others in the field, is your "eye". That is where the individuality comes in. Sharing technical expertise shouldn't really undermine that.



But too much sharing can undermine one's hireability because the best way to get work, is to have work.

I'd suggest to be hired as an HD tech/camera assistant. While there is a chance A DP could get pidgeonholed as a tech guy, the chance to get work in the future should increase because one is actually on set. Lets say one of the people you can help agrees to get you on the gig as a technical consultant, and two weeks later that same person has another job with that same client but they are already booked. Your associate could refer you easier because they've already met you on set and they've had a chance to see how you conduct yourself.

The danger comes in if you, feeling like you should have gotten the job to begin with, begin subliminally feeling out future gigs with people on set who may already be using your associate. If you want to be classy, whenever you get on a potential competitor's gig, have them print up a few business cards with their production company name on it, then if someone asks for your card you are both publicizing yourself without taking work directly away from the person who got you on the prior gig.
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