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What do I need in an in-house DP?


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#1 Tim Pipher

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 03:44 PM

Very soon I'll be hiring an in-house DP to lead up the production charge in a new movie studio almost completed in a beautiful little coastal city in Florida (Vero Beach). I'll be paying good money -- $8,000 to $10,000 per month (with no state income tax) -- and will expect him to have proven talent, skills and results shooting with Sony F900r's (or regular F900's) and Thomson Grass Valley Vipers, and recording to Sony SRW 5500 HDCAM SR decks.

Green screen and Ultimatte experience will also be necessary because a great deal of production will take place in our High Def. 3D Orad virtual studio system/cyclorama.

My main priority will be finding a DP who's dynamite with the cameras -- somebody who makes beautiful pictures. I assume I can expect the person to be an expert, or close to it, in lighting too. And surely a person who's very experienced and talented with the cameras will have had good experience in greenscreen/ultimatte work, correct?

But will I be expecting too much to hope that this person will also have experience/skills in a virtual studio system such as Orad, Brainstorm, or VisRT? What about this person being a good audio person too -- can I expect that? Or how about experience with 3D Studio Max or Maya -- is it likely that a person with the previous qualifications will have a knowledge of either of those?

Finally, although this person likely wouldn't be directly editing on our final cut pro system, it would be nice if he had some knowledge of it so he could help our editors with suggestions/ideas.

It would be hoping/asking for too much to find a person with skills in all of those areas, correct? If so, which of those skills should I reasonably expect an in-house DP to have?

Also, will my location be an advantage (beautiful little seaside city out of the rat race) or a hinderance (out of the production loop and 90 minutes from Orlando, 2 hrs. from Miami) in my recruiting efforts?

Finally, what are your suggestions as to where I should post or advertise this position?

Thanks!
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 07:22 PM

With any luck you'll find the perfect candidate. But it's going to be tough to find someone who has the quality you need in all those areas.

Finding a good HD DP shouldn't be too dificult (good with HD cameras, knows lighting and overall DP skills). Green screen no problem. The virtual studio bit is a little more specific. And the Maya/3D studio part shouldn't even be in there -- don't expect a good DP to also be a good animator!

Many DP's have a good sense for editing, but I would only expect a reasonable familiarity with the edit systems and what they're capable of. Don't expect them to jump in and do hands-on editing, although there may be candidates who can.

Most video-savvy DP's understand the basics of audio as well, but if you're trying to turn out quality products you'll need dedicated audio people for your shoots.

It doesn't matter how exceptional the DP might be at any/all of these disciplines, he can't be expected to do them ALL at the same time and turn out a quality product.

For your job listing it might help to describe the kind of projects and looks you're going for, and not just the technical needs. Any DP who takes a full-time gig (and possibly relocating) is going to want to know what kind of stuff he's going to be shooting for the next several years...
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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 09:50 PM

You accepting international applications? :)
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#4 Nate Downes

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 06:46 AM

You might be asking a bit much, but there are canidates able to do it. Heck, I might submit my own resume when the time comes.
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#5 Tim Pipher

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 10:18 AM

Thanks guys.

"For your job listing it might help to describe the kind of projects and looks you're going for, and not just the technical needs. Any DP who takes a full-time gig (and possibly relocating) is going to want to know what kind of stuff he's going to be shooting for the next several years..."


I'm setting up a studio -- almost a factory -- to continuously pump out features. After we've got our assembly line optimally tuned, we hope to produce one feature per month with good stories (not necessarily fancy) and recognizible actors.

Much of our production will be in our green screen cyclorama, using multiple cameras (3), and using an Orad system to insert the 3D sets live, rather than the traditional way of inserting them in post. We'll have, of course, the virtual locations made up in advance and will assemble, over time, a large "virtual back lot".

With this technique and the time economies of having the same crew refine the process over and over, and locations that can change with the flip of a switch, I believe we'll be able to complete principal photography in a much shorter time than traditional methods, allowing us to more easily acquire recognizible actors at an affordable price than we otherwise could. We also offer the actors a little vacation at the beach for a few days after their work -- we hope to build a steady troupe of actors who will make themselves available to us.

For the comfort of our cast and crew, we've also purchased two beautiful motorhomes for our on-location shoots.

Needless to say, especially until our "movie factory" is working successfully and smoothly, we'll take any commercial work that comes our way.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 11:46 AM

As anyone who writes for television could tell you, churning out twelve decent feature-length scripts per year won't be easy, but beyond that, unless you have an alternating key people for each feature (two sets of DP, AD, director, etc.) then how are you going to prep for each feature if you're going to shoot one a month?

Are these two-week prep / three-week shoot features? You can't make decent features without pre-production.

Not to mention if you are going to composite live, then the prep work has to happen for the efx people after the script has been delivered and the storyboards done, etc. Efx projects need even more prep work than non-efx projects.

And what's the advantage of churning out so many features per year?

You should read the new Cinefex article on "300" - they had a good rule: anything an actor touches or walks on has to be built for real. This means that despite virtual sets, you will still need a certain level of art direction, not only for 3D design, but to build floors, doors, dress furniture. Nothing worse than having to deal with green floors and set pieces when it comes time to composite due to all the green reflections, etc. Plus everyone looks like they are floating in a weird space and not physically interacting with it.

I think you're mistaken to think that composite-heavy virtual movies will actually be faster to shoot than using locations and sets -- it just depends on which is the most efficient method for that particular scene. And to figure that out, you need sufficient prep to plan every scene in the movie. To do that, you generally need a month of prep to go through a script, minimum, if you want to break it down shot by shot. And that doesn't include creating CGI in advance, or shooting plates.

So I suspect you'll be lucky if you pull off six features a year, and even that would be impressive.

Just note that I just came off a seven-month job shooting 12 one-hour episodes for HBO's "Big Love" so I have a sense of how fast you are thinking of working.
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#7 Tim Pipher

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 01:33 PM

Thanks David.

"As anyone who writes for television could tell you, churning out twelve decent feature-length scripts per year won't be easy, but beyond that, unless you have an alternating key people for each feature (two sets of DP, AD, director, etc.) then how are you going to prep for each feature if you're going to shoot one a month?"

We won't come out of the gate at the 12 feature per year pace. I do think the scripts are out there -- good ones too -- that talented writers looking for a break will be grateful to have turned into movies. We'll have lots of time to prepare for feature one, and months again until feature number two. I'm hoping, though, that we'll require less and less time beatween productions as we figure out what works and what doesn't, and develop and refine a formula for getting faster. As things go along, if we do get up to the 12 feature hyper-speed, if we need alternating key people we'll get them.

"Are these two-week prep / three-week shoot features? You can't make decent features without pre-production".

We'll have lots of prep time initially, and hope we'll need less of it as time goes on. We aim to shoot the interior scenes in only four days. In your opinion, with lots of practice and blocking with amateur actors before the pros hit town, would that be an insurmountable challenge?

"Not to mention if you are going to composite live, then the prep work has to happen for the efx people after the script has been delivered and the storyboards done, etc. Efx projects need even more prep work than non-efx projects".

I agree, usually, except we're going to try to construct our first virtual sets using RealViz, where if a scene takes place in an office, we'll go to a real office and take photos, then have the program stitch them together for our virtual set. We'll then mix in, for example, a real desk and chairs onto the stage. Or, 3D rooms are available for purchase at Turbosquid.com. The good news is that these sets and props will be reusable on future productions, saving us time on subsequent features.

"And what's the advantage of churning out so many features per year?"

I'm not usually lucky enough to hit a home run -- I'm hoping to gain cost savings through volume, and just make a few bucks on each one. Maybe I'll get lucky and be able to gear things down a little -- I'd love that. But the way I see it, I'm making, by my standards, an enormous investment in gear and real estate, and I've got to use it all the time. I can't afford to sit back and hope that others will want to rent my facility, gear, or services -- but I'd love to be wrong.

"You should read the new Cinefex article on "300" - they had a good rule: anything an actor touches or walks on has to be built for real. This means that despite virtual sets, you will still need a certain level of art direction, not only for 3D design, but to build floors, doors, dress furniture. Nothing worse than having to deal with green floors and set pieces when it comes time to composite due to all the green reflections, etc. Plus everyone looks like they are floating in a weird space and not physically interacting with it".

That's true, but when we build a door, for example, we'll be able to use it again and again, saving us time and money on the next shoot and the shoots after that. I have to believe there are economies to be gained by using the same techniques and crew in consistant projects.


"I think you're mistaken to think that composite-heavy virtual movies will actually be faster to shoot than using locations and sets -- it just depends on which is the most efficient method for that particular scene. And to figure that out, you need sufficient prep to plan every scene in the movie. To do that, you generally need a month of prep to go through a script, minimum, if you want to break it down shot by shot. And that doesn't include creating CGI in advance, or shooting plates".

I'm definitely attempting to bend the rules. But my theory is that the beautiful shot we discover in our prep for production "A" can be duplicated and used in productions B, C & D. Same with the CGI and plates -- we'll eventually have a nice inventory built up that will start to save us time.

"So I suspect you'll be lucky if you pull off six features a year, and even that would be impressive".

You got that right. But six won't be bad (you were generous to say six -- you could've said one and I couldn't really argue).


"Just note that I just came off a seven-month job shooting 12 one-hour episodes for HBO's "Big Love" so I have a sense of how fast you are thinking of working"

Great show, by the way -- looking forward to the new season. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me your thoughts and I value them very much. I realize nobody has done what I'm going to attempt, and probably with good reason, but something's pulling me to do it. Any further insights will be carefully considered, and greatly appreciated!

Thanks for everyone's posts so far!


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