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#1 Steve Kemp

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Posted 10 September 2008 - 01:22 PM

Hi Folks;

I'm currently on a course at the National Film & TV School in Beaconsfield, Bucks. I got talking to a very experienced 1st AC on the course and he brought up the topic of the number of kids coming out of film schools who all want to be "cinematographers" & lighting cameraman, without first learning thoroughly the vital skills of the actual camera crew: Focus-pullers, Clapper/Loaders, Camera Operators and Grips.

Do any other cameramen share these very pertinent views? I'd like to hear what your opinions are!

STEVE KEMP GBCT
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#2 Walter Graff

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Posted 10 September 2008 - 04:14 PM

Don't know if this helps but every 6 months some 60,000 people graduate in the field of film and television in the US. Most of these people will never have careers in the business. I find far more people who are trying to find work and move up the ladder who have far less knowledge than I did in 1982 when I started. So I think that while we have far too many people who all want to be DPs, lack of work and lack of knowledge will filter out the 90% of people who will end up finding different careers. I know many DPs who came from many different backgrounds. Some were ACs, others gaffers, some still photographers, and still others generator operators, so to me, one doesn't necessarily have to know everything before they can call themselves a DP. Anyone can call themselves a DP. Few will have a career as one.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 10 September 2008 - 06:07 PM

Hi Folks;

I'm currently on a course at the National Film & TV School in Beaconsfield, Bucks. I got talking to a very experienced 1st AC on the course and he brought up the topic of the number of kids coming out of film schools who all want to be "cinematographers" & lighting cameraman, without first learning thoroughly the vital skills of the actual camera crew: Focus-pullers, Clapper/Loaders, Camera Operators and Grips.

Do any other cameramen share these very pertinent views? I'd like to hear what your opinions are!

STEVE KEMP GBCT



Well, that's one of the choices an aspiring Cameraman has to make. Attempt to work his/her way up the ladder or attempt to just go for it and learn along the way?

Of course opinions will always be split on this and there are pluses and minuses to each approach. Clearly, by starting at the bottom and moving up through the ranks, one can learn quite a bit, not only about the technical aspects, but also about dealing with business situations and other things that can't be book-taught. Moving through the ranks also gives one more time to network and build a long-lasting career, potentially with more money near the beginning of the career (once he/she gets going).

However, the downside for that aspiring Cameraman is that he/she may never move up all the way to DP. He may never make it to Operator or even Focus Puller. So there will be a lifetime of frustration as he is "stuck" being an Assistant until retirement.

In an effort to avoid that kind of frustration and potential "failure," a young aspiring Cameraman may decide to just go out and start work on low-budget indies as a DP. Sure, there is a lot that he doesn't know that only time and experience will teach him, but with a decent crew to help and the humility that he doesn't know everything yet, it is not out of bounds for someone to want to spend their life DOING the job they want instead of spending their life working toward something that may never happen.

This very question/dispute is one of the reasons I wrote the book that I did. Part of the process of becoming published is to write a proposal that includes a comprehensive list of all competitive works. What this means is that I had to look at every book on the shelves that is even a little bit like the one I was writing and explain how mine would be different and useful. What I found was something I suspected, but the actuality of it was alarming. Out of the hundreds of books aimed at aspiring filmmakers, only six were anywhere close to what I was doing. And those six really only "defined" the jobs without explaining the realities of the business and life in the industry. The rest? They all try to sell dreams by telling kids HOW to make a movie. Necessary information? Maybe. But certainly knowing what a Close-up is won't create an actual career.

A wonderful experience occurred to me in the past couple of days when a young aspiring filmmaker called me up (she tracked down my cel number) and called, saying that she had read my book and just moved to LA from Pennsylvania. It's a good feeling to know that useful information is reaching those who need it most. If more schools would concentrate on the "how does the industry really work?" aspect of filmmaking, the industry might have more qualified and satisfied people working in it. So ultimately, as long as the young aspiring Cinematographers understand the upsides and downsides of their choices, then we should wish them the best of luck with their decisions. :)
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#4 Andrew Brinkhaus

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Posted 11 September 2008 - 09:05 PM

Great post Brian. I think the most important factor to consider is that of what you said, those who just want to call themseves DP's, and those who can really shoot, and realize the pros and cons of their career decisions.
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#5 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 11 September 2008 - 10:03 PM

#1 reason why I didn't pursue a film degree is because I honestly didn't really know what I wanted to do when I was at that age. And once I found out that I wanted to be a DP/AC/Cam Op, it was too late and I was already working.

Others go to college to find out what they want to do, and that's fine, but there are so many who go through those 4 years and come out knowing NOTHING technically. So I don't think there's an issue of too many chefs, but perhaps too many bussboys calling themselves chefs.

Everybody loves to shoot, and I encourage everyone to get out there and shoot...just don't take all those "Free Gigs" on craigslist! Otherwise more and more people will stop paying money for professional cameramen!
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#6 Steve Kemp

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 11:56 AM

Hi Bryan;

That was a very interesting response. Now the inevitable questions: What is the title of your book and where or how can I obtain a copy (bearing in mind I'm in London).

Steve Kemp
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 12:03 PM

What is the title of your book and where or how can I obtain a copy (bearing in mind I'm in London).


That's funny, I saw an ad for the book on Facebook not long ago...I had a hunch: http://www.whatireallywanttodo.com/
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#8 Gus Sacks

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 07:41 PM

I dropped out of film school once I realized working, not only as a DP, but as an AC or Operator, low budget or not, would be much more educational and rewarding than school ever could be. I call myself a DP because I make money doing it, and, haha, yes, do believe I can actually "really shoot," as Andrew said above.

But I also AC and Operate, and Digital Tech...

Point being, all of the other kids who were in my Cinematography track at school aren't doing that. Are they any better off or in a worse position than I? Who knows? Different strokes for different folks.
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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 10:29 PM

That's funny, I saw an ad for the book on Facebook not long ago...I had a hunch: http://www.whatireallywanttodo.com/



Cool! I'm paying for the ads (and at Google) but I have yet to see one myself. Good to know that the word is getting out there!


And Steve, funny thing... a friend of mine from Prague just wrote to me a couple of days ago. She was visiting in London and she was excited to see my book at a shop (or shoppe :) ) there. She's says that I'm "famous." ;) I don't know about that... just as long as I can help, that's all that matters to me. :)
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 10:40 PM

I shot a bunch of Super-8 movies as DP-director-editor, then some 16mm ones, then went to film school when I was 26... and got asked to DP dozens of projects there because I knew the fundamentals of lighting and visual storytelling, editing, etc.

So I shot lots of short movies for other people and then graduated and shot lots of feature films as a DP, over 30 to date.

Never AC'd, never gaffed, etc.

Everyone has to learn their own craft, just that there are many ways of doing it. One way to learn to be a DP is to be a DP, just on very small projects that get bigger over time. Other ways include working in other jobs on a film set.

I've found over the years that every DP has certain strengths and weaknesses in knowledge, skill, and talent, some addressable and some not. Some of those weaknesses are based on the path they took to become DP, some just based on their own limitations and/or personal interests.

One of my weak points is that I haven't worked on big-budget productions or high-end commercials in some lower capacity to see the kind of equipment that gets used -- special lights, special camera-moving devices, etc. So I rely on my crew that has for advice (or other DP's) when some kind of unique shot comes up that needs special equipment. I also read a lot to keep up.

On the other hand, one of my weaknesses is NOT being unable to work fast with limited equipment, time, or crew, which is one kind of skill that some DP's lack who didn't come up from no-to-low-budget. I'm flexible (sometimes too flexible...) One thing I was recently discussing with some crew members who have worked with the big DP's is at what point do you throw your weight around, make demands, put your foot down, to get what you feel you need, despite the budget and the schedule, or the tastes of the director? I feel I'm there to serve those causes (budget, schedule, director's vision) but sometimes that is at odds with actually creating a great work of cinematography on top of that, something that is artistically consistent, or groundbreaking.
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#11 John Brawley

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 02:15 AM

On the other hand, one of my weaknesses is NOT being unable to work fast with limited equipment, time, or crew, which is one kind of skill that some DP's lack who didn't come up from no-to-low-budget. I'm flexible (sometimes too flexible...) One thing I was recently discussing with some crew members who have worked with the big DP's is at what point do you throw your weight around, make demands, put your foot down, to get what you feel you need, despite the budget and the schedule, or the tastes of the director? I feel I'm there to serve those causes (budget, schedule, director's vision) but sometimes that is at odds with actually creating a great work of cinematography on top of that, something that is artistically consistent, or groundbreaking.



A great point David.

I had a similar path (little ac'ing) and haven't spent much time on bigger sets. I get funny looks from gaffer's all the time when I light a set with my own homemade special purpose lights and leave all their gear on the trollys. I know I've also been hired because Im the guy who's fast and easy to work with. But who says that's what great cinematography is. I guess the trick is knowing when to fight your fights. More and more it seems that I'm *enabled* by the story and the director I'm working with. I feel the work Im most proud of is when directors have really pushed me to do something that I may have even been reluctant or unsure of doing. Maybe it's fighting your way out of trouble that makes it interesting.

jb
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#12 Tim Partridge

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 07:39 AM

Hi Bryan;

That was a very interesting response. Now the inevitable questions: What is the title of your book and where or how can I obtain a copy (bearing in mind I'm in London).

Steve Kemp
GBCT


All the big bookshops in London have it. I saw loads of copies in both FOYLES and THE CINEMA SHOP near Leicester Square tube.

As for this argument, I seem to recall that Oliver Stapleton has a really good article about it on his website. It's definitely not a new trend, by any means, even if miniDV and too many media courses have upped the numbers. Look at how many high end music videos in the 1980s were shot (briliantly I might add) by young film/art school graduates, many of whom are the big names in the industry.
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#13 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 09:13 AM

Everyone has to learn their own craft, just that there are many ways of doing it. One way to learn to be a DP is to be a DP, just on very small projects that get bigger over time. Other ways include working in other jobs on a film set.



I started my career as an Editor before I began shooting with video. Then a few years after I began, I moved to LA and fell into features as a Loader and AC while still keeping one foot in the video world. Having the opportunity to observe how the "big boys" not only lit, but manage a set and crew and how they interact with the Director and Producers helped me immensely with my own shooting and the career itself.

I don't think that anyone can book-learn how to be a decent DP or even just work their way up and step into the job fully prepared. It still takes getting in there and making a few mistakes and trying things out for yourself before the pieces click together. Books, schools, and Assisting all offer some valuable aspects to learning, but nothing can replace just getting in there and getting your hands dirty.
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#14 Jesse Lee Cairnie

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Posted 22 September 2008 - 11:06 PM

I shot a bunch of Super-8 movies as DP-director-editor, then some 16mm ones, then went to film school when I was 26... and got asked to DP dozens of projects there because I knew the fundamentals of lighting and visual storytelling, editing, etc... Never AC'd, never gaffed, etc.


This is my exact situation.. I am 26 and in my first semester at film school in a cinematography concentration.. I have been shooting for 5ish years but am going back to school get access to knowledge and equipment I couldn't otherwise get a hold of..

The one thing people have to remember is cinematography is much like the career of photography and residential painting.. yes house painting.. for everyone that decides he is a cinema/photographer/house painter... there is always someone who needs someone with that skill.. if you are good, people will call you back.. if you are not.. you will find your place.. some might call that natural selection..

So as cinematographers.. we shouldn't complain that there might be too many "want to be's".. we should embrace and welcome anyone who says they are a cinematographer.. It will only expand and enhance our profession our knowledge and our skills.. any body can say they can do anything.. its the people who actually can do it, will... but that's just my opinion..
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#15 Juan Pablo Ramirez

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Posted 30 September 2008 - 11:42 AM

I learned in both sides, my dad is a Director in my country (Guatemala), and i learned the craft working with his crew, first just unloading the truck, and going my way up in the ranks, till i got to AC in like 6-8 years more or less, and in the end i decided i wanted to be a cinematograhper, and when i graduated from school, i went to film school, cause i wanted to know more about film, (directing, art department, editing, etc...), so i traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina and attended filmschool, so now i graduated from film school, and i see both sides, both choices are good choices to learn how to shoot, but in my opinion, there is nothing like learning on the set and with the crew, cause you learn in one day in the set more than in one month in school, cause for me it's 75% theory and 25% practice, but theory is good, it helps you to get the whole picture of a job as a cinemetographer, cause at the end a good dp, needs to be more than a very good technician.
And nowadays i see that if you have a filmschool degree it doesn't help you to get a job, cause cinematograhpers prefer guys who learned in the field than college graduates, in a more personal note, i can't get a job as an AC right now, and i learned how to assist 16 and 35mm cameras before i went to film school, because the market (at least in argentina), is flooded with college graduates that doesn't have the expierience needed to be in a crew, so i guess that my point is that is not that easy for a film school graduate to get a job, by just showing your degree.

hope i explained myself cause my grammar is a little rusty

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#16 Serge Teulon

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Posted 30 September 2008 - 01:40 PM

I was once told "There is an "official" length of time that you have to comply with to work as a dp. But really and truthfully it is up to you how long it takes."
From general consensus, the "official" length in the UK seems to be 10-15years to become a dp. Going through all the steps.

As someone that has a natural tendency to break the rules, I never settled for that, I spent little time as an AC. Its not what I enjoyed doing.
I worked very very hard to get broadcast work as my bread-and-butter. This then allowed me to work for free on low budget films.

I'm not sure whether what I've done so far would've been possible 25 years ago, as the literature and information that we have at such easy disposal these days, wasn't around then.
Coupled with each individuals desire to achieve, its authors like Brian and David(and forums like this one), who have shared what they have learnt, that has made it and will make it possible for ppl to make their own choices, instead of being pushed into the process set by the establishment.
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#17 Steven Parker

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Posted 16 October 2008 - 09:47 PM

I do find it frustrating sometimes that inexperienced people are getting some jobs they're not qualified for, and sometimes I feel digital video, reality TV and DVD extras have taken away some of the respect and awe that should (used to?) surround our craft.

I spent almost ten years lighting sets, working up to Key Grip, then Gaffer, before I shot my first feature in 2001. I used to say I wanted to learn to mix the paints and prep the canvas before I started actually painting... sometimes I think I spent too long 'prepping' before taking the plunge.

As frustrated as I get (with myself especially) I know I can do really good work, at a very high level of creativity and responsibility... so I don't worry too much about people jumping straight into shooting. We'll all sink or swim on our own merits.
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#18 Rory Hanrahan

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 12:20 PM

The thing is, as long as you know what you're job is worth, and know what it is to be a great AC, Op, Key Grip, Gaffer, whatever, then these inexperienced shooters shouldn't really get you down. Some are pains in the butt, and then some are very sincere and (1 out of 100?) talented. I can't begrudge anybody for taking that risk and trying to do work as a DP, but at the same time I've been burned by that experience enough that my BS detector works at max capacity and I rarely do jobs with young DPs unless they're friends, have some talent and appreciation for the crew or I just get a good feeling about the project, and know that I'll be creatively invested in it as well.

At the end of the day, I'm an AC because I like being an AC; not just because I'm biding my time and crawling up the ladder. Just because there's a ton of HDV-capable jerks out there hamming it up and taking the glory while the crew -- who sometimes have more on-set time and appreciation for what goes into making a film -- do the legwork, doesn't mean we have to drink the Kool-Aid. Nor do we have to campaign against it.

I have this old chestnut I like to breakout on turbulent film sets: If you want to wrangle cable on a feature you need 5 years experience, an IMDb page, 25 contacts and the ability to work for free. If you want to direct, just print up some business cards! So long as you know what people are really about and what they bring to the table, you'll be able to navigate the BS a lot better.
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#19 Michele Peterson

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 02:01 PM

I was once told "There is an "official" length of time that you have to comply with to work as a dp.


In the US, there used to be seniority system in the at least some of the union locals. I came in after it, but from what I've heard and been told, a person started out as an apprentice and moved up as they gained experience. Now with only 30 days experience, or less on a non-union show, someone can walk in as a Key Grip and be in charge of rigging equipment over the heads of the rest of the crew, that if done wrong could kill people.
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#20 Marque DeWinter

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 12:07 PM

Just from my observation most DPs I know have a lighting background first, before ever going over to camera. Because if you think about it the DP's job really has more to do with lighting than actually operating the camera. Framing yes, but knowledge of which buttons to push, how to load a mag, etc. aren't neccessary. This isn't to say I'm saying a DP doesn't know these things but they aren't required. Personally my path has been to work my way into Local 600 as an AC and work as a Camera OP/DP on non-union projects. I feel it allows me to work my way up the ladder (I really want to be a camera op, not really a DP its too political for me) on bigger projects where I can make a living and it helps me get the indie projects where I can hone my skills in lighting and being a camera op. Did I got to film school yes. And it helped me realize what I wanted to do, BUT I was already a working sound mixer when I started film school (which I never really wanted to be but I found success at it). Films school helped give me a better theoretical understanding and a more artistic eye then I've gotten on set. On set though taught me about etiquette and technical operations more than anything else.

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