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in serch of a little mentor-like advice.


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#1 Luke Miller

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 01:58 AM

I finished film school about two years ago. I spent the majority of the first year in an unrelated corporate job to stay afloat financially, taking some time off to work on, or shoot, films. When capable I quit that job in favor of freelance TV work. The freelance work was split between Shooting (mostly B camera) or lighting and sound mixing.

Two months ago I moved from Chicago to LA with a plan which until recently I believed to be rather sound. I intended to attempt to get into the Electric Union with enough hard work eventually move up to being a gaffer, then once established as a good gaffer, make my way to working as a DoP all the while shooting as many independent films as possible in between jobs.

Then I heard something that made me question my plan. To simplify things lets just say that I was indirectly told that to become a DoP the route is through the camera department, people no longer go from gaffer to DoP. Normally I wouldn't give such a broad comment such weight, but it was coming from a working TV producer.

It is in my planning where I am seeking advice from anyone willing to give it.

Does this man speak the truth?

I already knew that as far as "moving up the ladder" union-wise, that camera department sort of has a chain leading towards DoP, but it had never occurred to me that there was some sort of wall that one would reach at the gaffer stage, preventing the move towards shooting. (Don't get me wrong I love to gaffe, just not as much as I love shooting)

Would it make more sense to forgo the attempts to join a union, and focus all my efforts on shooting independent films?

I don't have any problem with "putting my time in" before I am able to work at the level I desire. In fact I fully believe in learning under someone with much more experience. I just want to make sure that I am "putting my time in" in a way that is the most beneficial to my goal.

I appreciate any advice / suggestions / opinions from anyone. I am looking for answers from people with experience, as well as thoughts from people who might be in a similar situation.

Thank you.
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#2 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 02:46 AM

Well, DoP does stand for Director of PHOTOGRAPHY. If you already know there's a direct ladder to DoP through the camera department's union...I mean it's common sense if you think about it. I have a friend who know a LOT about lighting and gripwork but doesn't know poop about filmstock, film processing or lens selection. He wants to be a DoP but without these skills, he never will be able to make the transition from Keygrip to DoP. It is something to think about.

I would try to learn as much about the camera as I could as WELL as continuing to gain cofidence in lighting. Your gonna need both to become a DoP. I wouldn't quit doing independents either, they're the only ones that are gonna take a chance on letting someone with little or no expirence act as a cinematographer, and ONLY because they can't afford an established cinematographer. Like I said, common sense. B)
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#3 Luke Miller

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 03:08 AM

James,

Thanks for your response. Fortunately for me, I've spent a good deal of time, and money for that matter, studying filmstock, processing, lenses, cameras, etc. So I do not share the fate you proposed for your friend.

My hesitance towards taking the camera dept. route is that I haven't spent many days on set as an AC, while I have spent many days either as a gaffer, or doing G/E work. I have been taught the ways of the AC, but do not have much practice at it. If its necessary to start over so to speak, then so be it. But from my point of view it seems more logical to continue with something I'm already becoming experienced in.

Your comment has got me thinking though, might not be a bad idea to AC on some freebies to sweep out the cobwebs.

-thanks

-Luke
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#4 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 03:12 AM

No matter what department you come up in, you will be deficient in one aspect or another, that?s the nature of it.

If you come up in camera, you could be lacking in lighting knowledge, an extremely critical part of cinematography.

If you come up in electric side, you can be very deficient in camera knowledge.

To become knowledgeable about both aspects requires a pursuit of the information you are not getting from your current position.

You would be surprised how little many camera department people know about back end lab work, or anything that does not relate directly to their job - this is also true for any other department.

I would say it is fairly rare for a key grip to move into shooting, can't say why exactly, but in my experience it is a rare thing.

You may find that more camera department people make the transition to shooting because of this situation:

If a show needs to break off into a smaller splinter 2nd unit or something like that, it is a lot easier to send off the camera operator or even 1st to shoot that material than the 1st unit gaffer. Changing a gaffer is a huge deal as far as the flow of production. Whereas having the DP operate for a bit has much less impact on the overall schedule, and thus you see the above happen a bit more.

Kevin Zanit
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#5 Luke Miller

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 03:27 AM

Thanks Kevin.
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#6 Morgan Peline

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 07:56 AM

Obviously, I'm still a student but it's always been my impression that it doesn't matter that much what route you take as a long as you keep plugging away - a lot of it has to do with circumstances and luck anyway. All sorts of different people have become DPs. I used to be in camera department but now I actually wish I had gone through lighting as I would know a lot more lighting 'tricks'. I suppose you should continue with the work that makes you comfortable and still shoot on the side as a DP to gain the other bits of experience taht you lack. I don't know about the US but if you want to go through camera department here in the UK it can take anywhere from 5 to 20 years to work your way to DP.

Also though your TV producer friend may be experienced - his is only one opinion out of many differnt ones.

Wasn't Mauro Fiore a Gaffer before he became a DP? What about all the others like him who went through lighting?
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#7 Ram Shani

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 11:11 AM

hi

i made the transition 2 years ago when i moved from gaffing to doping

its still hard sametime but it can be done

the problem is how people look at you and your work and a lot of them think about gaffing as more technical work then being an artist that's the DP job

there is no right or wrong here look at David Mullen asc he never worked as gaffer or ac or grip just shot shot shot

then look at tom Stearn asc how used to gaffing for Conrad hall asc for years and then start to be a DP

so i think you should shoot as much as you can and think about gaffing as "day job"


i think in order to be good DP you need to have good understanding of script editing acting and cinema

you need to have more broad knowledge of culture, art , philosophy, psychology

and the technical knowledge to bring it to the screen
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#8 Luke Miller

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 12:38 PM

Morgan - thank you for the input.


Ram - thanks for the advice. Your comment on shooting as much as possible, and gaffeing as a day job is pretty much what I had in mind, gaffeing not only to keep the bills paid, but also to improve my control of light, and work closely with other DoPs

I really appreciate all the comments.

-Luke
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 01:44 PM

Luke,
There's no "set" way of becoming a DP, as you can see by the many examples posted above. Every career path is different. I think if you're enjoying yourself as a gaffer then you should continue on that path. Maybe you can pick up a few days here and there in the camera department to keep yourself familiar with cameras and lenses. In sure wouldn't hurt. In my experience, working in any position on a set is helpful to your career. I learned a ton about G&E as well as the camera department while I was a P.A. (and in other positions) because I made a point to help those departments when I could and ask questions when the time was right. And I was always listening when people had conversations about lighting or camera on set. Just being around those conversations can be a great learning experience.
So I would say that you should stick with what you're doing. One producer telling you something (even if he/she is credible (which isn't always the case with producers)) doesn't mean it's true. No matter what path you take there will always be someone telling you you're doing it the wrong way. That's the nature of this business. Having a plan and knowing what you want to do is half the battle. Stick with it and you'll be fine.
By the way, before moving full time into camera, I was a prop assistant.
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#10 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 04:30 PM

Wasn't Mauro Fiore a Gaffer before he became a DP? What about all the others like him who went through lighting?



Mauro Fiore was Kaminski's gaffer on Schindler's List. He worked on several other projects for Kaminski as gaffer and a few more as a key grip. Janusz Kaminski served as gaffer on several indie films for Phedon Papamichael, ASC. Claudio Miranda was a gaffer on films DP'd by Harris Savides, Darius Wolski, and Jeff Cronenweth, ASC. In addition to Fiore and Tom Stern, a few other names come to mind:

Ray Peschke -[gaffer for Robert Richardson, ASC and many other notable DPs]
Malik Hassan Sayeed [electrician, best boy elect., gaffer]
Shane Hurlburt, ASC [former gaffer for Daniel Pearl, ASC and also worked as key grip]
Chris Soos, CSC [gaffer]
Kramer Morgenthau [key grip, gaffer]

As was mentioned earlier many of these guys kept their day job and would shoot music videos, shorts, spots and other projects on the side in order to learn their craft.
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#11 Luke Miller

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 08:34 PM

Wendell and Brad - Thanks for the advice and encouragement
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#12 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 11:39 PM

James,

Thanks for your response. Fortunately for me, I've spent a good deal of time, and money for that matter, studying filmstock, processing, lenses, cameras, etc. So I do not share the fate you proposed for your friend.

My hesitance towards taking the camera dept. route is that I haven't spent many days on set as an AC, while I have spent many days either as a gaffer, or doing G/E work. I have been taught the ways of the AC, but do not have much practice at it. If its necessary to start over so to speak, then so be it. But from my point of view it seems more logical to continue with something I'm already becoming experienced in.

Your comment has got me thinking though, might not be a bad idea to AC on some freebies to sweep out the cobwebs.

-thanks

-Luke


I understand your hesitence to go into a field that your not as well versed in, but I'm of the mind that like a millitary commander, a battle won more easily is a blessing. If you stand a better chance in the very compeditive field of becoming a DoP by starting out as a asistant cameraman then that is the logical place to be. There's a great line in Sin City that goes something like, "You can sometimes beat the odds with a careful choice of were to fight" and like Meatloaf said, " There ain't no Coupe DeVille hiding in the bottom of a Cracker Jack Box" so go where you've got the best chance of winning amd finding what you want. It is not more logical to continue walking down a road simply because you are famillier with the that particular trail if the path doesn't lead to the destination you need to go to. Trust me on this one, my favorite character on Star Trek was Spock, besides, nothing you've learned will go to waste and no one said you had to give up doing grip work, just that you should do a lot more camera work and if you have to join a union, the cameraman's union would be the path you want to go down, but then again, is there any rule that says you can't belong to more than one union? B)
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#13 Brian Baker

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Posted 10 December 2006 - 07:18 PM

Luke,

First, thank you for starting this thread; coming from someone who fell into the electrical department in film school and has taken a strong intrest in cinematography/DPing since then, I've been wrestling with the same decision -- to contrinue lighting sets and getting a good sense of that or pick up a camera and go the more direct route.

From my expierences thus far, most of the student DPs I work with focus on the camera, their movement, framing +composition, etc... and have a moe abstract, open approach to lighting. They're the ones to rely on a talented gaffer to actually apply units and technicalities to their projects... a good chance for guys like us to have some fun.

But I digress -- most (not all) DPs I've worked with, despite skill level or experience, tend to have a specialty in either department, and a slight handi-cap for the other. Personally, I think if you shoot every chance you get (like operating for ANYTHING) and know how to light, then you're on the right track to DPing; pick-up the finer points of the camera after you have good sense of painting... I also think that having a resource of aspiring DPs who focus more on the camera aspects of cinematography are indespensable; through my friend's advice, I've learned a few camera tricks that I wouldn't have in my electric path.

Basically what I'm trying to say is thatt I feel you can take either path toward DPing, as long as you have enough of a knowledge in both to get by.


Best of luck,
BtB
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#14 Chris Dingley

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 10:34 PM

Luke,

First, thank you for starting this thread; coming from someone who fell into the electrical department in film school and has taken a strong intrest in cinematography/DPing since then, I've been wrestling with the same decision -- to contrinue lighting sets and getting a good sense of that or pick up a camera and go the more direct route.

From my expierences thus far, most of the student DPs I work with focus on the camera, their movement, framing +composition, etc... and have a moe abstract, open approach to lighting. They're the ones to rely on a talented gaffer to actually apply units and technicalities to their projects... a good chance for guys like us to have some fun.

But I digress -- most (not all) DPs I've worked with, despite skill level or experience, tend to have a specialty in either department, and a slight handi-cap for the other. Personally, I think if you shoot every chance you get (like operating for ANYTHING) and know how to light, then you're on the right track to DPing; pick-up the finer points of the camera after you have good sense of painting... I also think that having a resource of aspiring DPs who focus more on the camera aspects of cinematography are indespensable; through my friend's advice, I've learned a few camera tricks that I wouldn't have in my electric path.

Basically what I'm trying to say is thatt I feel you can take either path toward DPing, as long as you have enough of a knowledge in both to get by.
Best of luck,
BtB


Yea, Brain I agree. I think that I myself am heading through electric cause, from what I was told, the camera you can easily pick up, its more important to learn how to light correctly. And if you are gaphing you are with the DP more than the camera DEPT, so you can pick his brain.
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#15 Luke Miller

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 11:28 PM

good points guy's thanks for the replys
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#16 Daniel Madsen

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Posted 12 December 2006 - 04:07 AM

I think as a DP you bounce far more information off the gaffer than you do the AC. Gaffers often carry light meters, so they quickly become aware of a ton of information- ASA of film, post process (pushing/pulling), filtration and how the DP exposes his images (i.e. contrast ratios, under/over exposure). After all, few still work in foot-candles. The only thing you?re not doing as a gaffer to complete your educational experience is looking through the lens, and even that skill set can be mastered through observation (glance at the monitor unobtrusively and contemplate the frame !!!^&*$) If you interact a lot with the person whose job you would like some day, it makes sense that you become well versed in what exactly he/she does.

Don?t get me wrong, I love ACing too. It?s like being in the military except instead of a gun you have a camera (break down/ build up, calibrate, clean, load, aim, shoot, mag out, reload). Then there is focus pulling (which I suck at) and ....I can't continue the analogy



dan
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