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#1 mi mo

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 08:12 PM

Hi all,

I've been really mulling this over and over for the past couple of weeks and I need some sound advice and help.

I'm currently pursuing my PhD in the sciences, but I've come to realize that being a researcher isn't the career that I want to pursue in the future.

I've always had a passion for film and media studies, and have toyed with the idea of going into film making after taking a class during my undergrad. However, I've been so one-track minded about going into the sciences that I never had the opportunity to further explore other options.

I'm 20 years old, which I know isn't old, but is it too late to switch over to a career so completely different than what I've been doing for so long? I have absolutely no experience, no coursework (except for that 1 class), and I've already got a future in research lined up. Am I crazy to even think about switching?

If it's not crazy, how should I go about pursuing that switch? I'm thinking about finishing my PhD, while taking classes on the side.

What do you guys think? and thanks for any help you can give!
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#2 Benson Marks

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 09:08 PM

What are you thinking of being instead? A director? A cinematographer? A screenwriter? A producer? I'd just like to know before I say something.
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#3 mi mo

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 09:44 PM

i'm thinking about going into cinematography
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#4 Tom Lowe

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 09:47 PM

"Follow your bliss."

-Joe Campbell
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#5 Benson Marks

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 10:35 PM

I don't know. Maybe it is too late and maybe it isn't. It depends on whether it's too big a move. Let me tell you how great cinematographers get in to the business. Forgive me, this will be rather long.

The cinematographer is the first person great filmmakers hire. The cinematographer knows how to make a film. They don't. Hiring a cinematographer is almost as important to them as acquiring a great script. They will most certainly choose wisely.

The cinematographer will get the filmmaker a crew. Plus, the cinematographer understands the mechanics of shooting film, including grades of film stock, the camera, lenses, camera movement, focal points, creative angles, and light and shadows, and will become the person the filmmaker depends on to take him step-by-step through the post-production process.

Of course, you, the cinematographer should be a visual artist, but you are also the captain of your crew. You should be a leader with an amazing work ethic. The filmmaker needs a cinematographer with a substantial body of work, great connections, and understands budget and time restrictions. If you don't, you can easily waste film, or take too long with setups and cost you time. The filmmaker can't afford either.

It is imperative to the great filmmaker that the cinematographer be excellent. And a foolish student filmmaker will make the common first-timer's mistake of hiring a cinematographer who is really only an AC (assistant cameraman). Here's what I mean. The camera crew consists of four people:

1. Cinematographer
2. Camera Operator
3. First Assistant Cameraman (First AC or Focus Puller)
4. Second Assistant Cameraman (Second AC or Clapper/Loader)

First, you graduate from film school with a degree in cinematography and go to Hollywood with a 16mm short. You'll quickly discover that no one will hire you to shoot a 35mm feature. So, to pay rent, the first job you get will be at a camera rental facility as a gofer/driber for a maintenance assistant.

At the camera rental facility, as working DPs pick up camera packages for their shoots, you introduce yourself and ask for a job - as a second AC (second assistant cameraman or clapper/loader). This person's responsibility is to load magazines, work the slate (the clapper), and keep the camera reports.

You eventually hook up with a DP, leave the rental facility, become a second AC, and work on 20-30 shoots over two years, and - if you don't screw up - you eventually become a first AC (first assistant cameraman or focus puller). This person is in charge of focus and keeps the camera, magazines, and film gate clean and clear. You do this for two years, work on another 20-30 projects, and "pull focus" on 1,000 to 10,000 shots. If all these shots are sharp and clear, you move up the ladder to become a camera operator. This is the person who frames the shot, with or without the actor, for maximum dramatic effect.

After five or six years operating the camera, you are qualified to be a feature film cinematographer. During this time you have worked on almost 100 projects and actively participated in 10,000 to 50,000 shots. This is the kind of cinematographer good filmmakers will probably hire.

Who will good filmakers hire?

Optimal: a seasoned feature film cinematographer who understands budget restraints.

Next Best: a cinematographer who has been working for five to seven years on rock videos, commercials, and industrials.

Not Bad: a camera operator who has been working for the feature film cinematographer who refused a filmmaker's project because of budget restraints.

Who they won't hire: A recent college graduate who has only 16mm shorts.
A seasoned cinematographer who is used to big-budget shoots and who thinks the budget is too low.
Anyone who has shot only video, never film.

How they will find a cinematographer: They'll call the film lab and ask for referrals.
They'll call the local camera rental facility and ask for referrals.
They'll call the local film commissioner and ask for referrals.

Once they've hired you as a cinematographer, you will hire a crew of assistants (operator, first AC, and second AC) within 24 hours.

You are now an excellent cinematographer. Sound like a hard road? It is. Around 0-3% of filmmakers, directors, writers, and other people in the business make it into Hollywood. You may have to be really lucky to get in. I don't want to use all this to discourage you from pursuing your dream. If this is what you want, then go as far as you can, no matter how bad the odds are.
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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 11:07 PM

The cinematographer is the first person great filmmakers hire. The cinematographer knows how to make a film. They don't.


Sorry but that is not accurate at all. The vast majority of top directors know exactly how to make a movie, how to block, compose, what lens to use, film stock, light, etc etc etc.

I would argue that directors understand the process better than the DOP, they have to, EVERY department ultimately reports to the director. Not the DOP.

R,
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#7 Benson Marks

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 11:25 PM

Sorry but that is not accurate at all. The vast majority of top directors know exactly how to make a movie, how to block, compose, what lens to use, film stock, light, etc etc etc.

I would argue that directors understand the process better than the DOP, they have to, EVERY department ultimately reports to the director. Not the DOP.

R,


Sorry Richard, but that isn't accurate either. While the director may know about how to block, compose, what lens to use, and so on, these things are a whole lot more important to the cinematographer than the director. The director is in charge of the style, actors, schedule, and budget. Cinematographers on the other hand, are in charge of film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus, camera movement, angles, and on and on and on. Without a good cinematographer, the film will look absolutely horrible even if Steven Spielberg's directing. The cinematographer is a whole lot more important to the film's look than the director ever could.
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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 12:57 AM

I have to say that it depends on the DP/Director and Film... but I would say most directors know a good deal about blocking,lenses,stocks, and the like. The DP is there to add their creative energies to a film (hopefully). . .DP can be hired early, or late, or called in 1/2 way through a film. I've been called in to re-shoot when other DPs weren't available or had been "let go," for whatever reason.

DPS also don't call cut, or action. . . that's the director, and they decide how much film to use.

Many DPs aren't involved in the Post production or grade. (this is a big debate, from what I'm hearing now about the DPs place in today's workflows, especially with the RED and the like, moving the look to post).

Also, many other DPs were originally gaffers and never worked as a Camera Op or an AC. . .
All of this is unimportant, and if anything shows the wide verisimilitude in the industry. I mean, hell, some people work their way up ladders, some pop right out, no schooling, some buy their way in, and some go the academic route. It doesn't matter how you get in; if you're good, lucky, and determined, you can. But hell, it ain't easy!

My point being this;
A good DP is a good DP, and it is not a solitary job, but relies on a crew of highly experienced individuals. To me, being a DP is about synthesizing and realizing a style for a particular film with a director as well as all the other key members of the crew. It is important to be communicative, and have a good work ethic, to be honest with yourself as to what you can and cannot do and be honest with the director. The gear changes all the time; but the ability to light does not. Focusing, really, is not that difficult of a task, most of the time. And when it is, that's why you have hired good ACs to help you out with it.
If you really want to try it, then you have to try it. It is not easy. I often question whether or not I should be doing this, or if I should just call it quits. But, there is a burning hunger inside of me which is only satisfied when I sit down after the long hours, sweat, head-colds, and blood, and watch the finished product. I haven't yet shot a film I'm personally happy with, maybe when I do I'll be able to move on to something else [though I doubt that].
It is never too old to start, but you'll have to play catchup. This industry is partially what you know, though I'd argue it's much more who you know, and luck. You have to be lucky to land the first few gigs, because, well, you won't know poop. You may think you do; but you don't. I don't even know as much as I wish I did right now and I am constantly learning on every shoot. But you get your first gigs, and you read up and practice as much as you can, and you try to flesh out with a director- the first of whom will probably be as green as you- how x or y film should "feel," and the way to arrive at that. And you screw up. You screw up big time. And you move on to the next shoot not screwing up in the same way again. And eventually you get better and better and given the right connections, providence, determination, tears, you go on to good things.
You probably won't get hired onto a feature film for a long time. At first it'll be a lot of shorts, a lot of music video, a lot of stuff where you walk into a location and have nothing you need. And you figure out how to make it work.
So my answer to your question is this; hell you've come so far to a PhD, finish that. While you're there, learn all you can about filmmaking, meet other filmmakers, and start the ball rolling on working on a shoot. No matter where you go, there always seem to be some people with some camera making something. You just have to find 'em, and get on for the ride. And if you can't find anyone, shoot your own stuff. Keep a reel and a journal of what you're doing. Make notes! Learn. You're never to old to learn.
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#9 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 01:09 AM

The director is in charge of the style, actors, schedule, and budget.


Where do you get this notion that a director is in charge of the schedule and budget? That is a good one! Certainly not when it comes to bigger budget films. Perhaps in very low budget films, but in bigger films those responsibilities fall squarely on production . . .

Of course cinematographers are in charge of film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus and other things, but only when the director and director agree to them, to some degree or another. Some camera movements and angles are usually determined by the director alone.

Again, in lower budget films perhaps the cinematographer has more control. But in bigger films the DP is more of a visual aide to the director. The cinematographer enables the director to achieve his vision in terms of images. They work together.
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#10 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 01:34 AM

So my answer to your question is this; hell you've come so far to a PhD, finish that. While you're there, learn all you can about filmmaking, meet other filmmakers, and start the ball rolling on working on a shoot. No matter where you go, there always seem to be some people with some camera making something. You just have to find 'em, and get on for the ride. And if you can't find anyone, shoot your own stuff. Keep a reel and a journal of what you're doing. Make notes! Learn. You're never to old to learn.


That is good advice. There will be times when having a PhD will be handy. A cinematographer's income can be spotty at best until success knocks on the door, if ever. I would say more than 50 to 70% of people working on films today won't be doing it in 15 years. It is hard to break in to the business and infinitely harder to retire -and put kids through college- by being a filmmaker.

It can be hard making it in the world as a cinematographer, especially these days. It seems everyone wants to be part of the business. Fine, but it certainly shrinks the pool. Too many fish in it too. I am lucky to make my living working on films (generally not as a DP, mind you, but mostly involved in image creation one way or the other - anything from industrial videos to $50 + million budget features) but most people aren't that lucky.

Good luck.
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#11 Simon Wyss

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 02:29 AM

I'm 20 years old, which I know isn't old, but is it too late to switch over to a career so completely different than what I've been doing

Oh, I fear it's already much too late, you are 20 years old.
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#12 Bruce Greene

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 03:37 AM

Hi all,

I've been really mulling this over and over for the past couple of weeks and I need some sound advice and help.

I'm currently pursuing my PhD in the sciences, but I've come to realize that being a researcher isn't the career that I want to pursue in the future.

I've always had a passion for film and media studies, and have toyed with the idea of going into film making after taking a class during my undergrad. However, I've been so one-track minded about going into the sciences that I never had the opportunity to further explore other options.

I'm 20 years old, which I know isn't old, but is it too late to switch over to a career so completely different than what I've been doing for so long? I have absolutely no experience, no coursework (except for that 1 class), and I've already got a future in research lined up. Am I crazy to even think about switching?

If it's not crazy, how should I go about pursuing that switch? I'm thinking about finishing my PhD, while taking classes on the side.

What do you guys think? and thanks for any help you can give!


Mi Mo (I hope that's your real name!),

No degree is necessary to become a cinematographer, so a science degree is as good as any.

I majored in economics and in my final year of college decided that since I'd be starting at the bottom of the economics business, I could start at the bottom of any business. I chose the film business and it's worked out ok.

But, to succeed in the picture business, my observation has been that, in almost every case, the filmmaker must be so dedicated to the movie life that they are ready to really commit to years of struggle, and that no one will stop them from succeeding.

I think the entertainment business is kind of like running away to join the circus. So, if you're comfortable with that idea, then go for it!
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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 10:27 AM

Sorry Richard, but that isn't accurate either. While the director may know about how to block, compose, what lens to use, and so on, these things are a whole lot more important to the cinematographer than the director. The director is in charge of the style, actors, schedule, and budget. Cinematographers on the other hand, are in charge of film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus, camera movement, angles, and on and on and on. Without a good cinematographer, the film will look absolutely horrible even if Steven Spielberg's directing. The cinematographer is a whole lot more important to the film's look than the director ever could.


How many features have you worked on as either director or DOP?

I think I know what I'm talking about.

The director is involved in all of the things you state above unless he really doesn't know any thing about "film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus, camera movement, angles, and on and on and on." In that case why is he the director?

Take camera movement for example, I've never been on a film set where the DOP says "ok for this next shot we are going to crane down and come in on the actors face like this..." The director tells the DOP how he would like the camera to move in the next shot. Now he may go and have lunch while the DOP and his crew set it all up, but it's the directors job to decide how the camera should move from shot to shot. The director may at some point say to his DOP, "any ideas for a creative way to shoot this?" That is director DOP collaboration, which is different from what you are describing.

It's the director that shows up on set with the story board. You seem to think that the director hands the script off to the DOP and the DOP breaks it all down and story boards the entire movie.

R,
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#14 Benson Marks

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 10:42 AM

Where do you get this notion that a director is in charge of the schedule and budget? That is a good one! Certainly not when it comes to bigger budget films. Perhaps in very low budget films, but in bigger films those responsibilities fall squarely on production . . .

Of course cinematographers are in charge of film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus and other things, but only when the director and director agree to them, to some degree or another. Some camera movements and angles are usually determined by the director alone.

Again, in lower budget films perhaps the cinematographer has more control. But in bigger films the DP is more of a visual aide to the director. The cinematographer enables the director to achieve his vision in terms of images. They work together.


Let me rephrase what I said, Saul. The director has to keep the movie running on schedule and he needs to stay within the films budget. It doesn't matter whether the movie is a blockbuster or an independent film, the director still has to do this kind of stuff.

OK, sure, the director may determine those camera movements and angles, but the cinematographer still works a lot harder than the director when it comes to these things because he's in charge of getting those movements and angles from the camera. This is much harder for the cinematographer than the director who just simply tells the cinematographer what to do. The cinematographer does the work.

Finally, there's a typo in your post. "Of course cinematographers are in charge of film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus and other things, but only when the director and director agree to them?" You need to fix that.
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#15 Patrick Neary

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 10:54 AM

The director has to keep the movie running on schedule and he needs to stay within the films budget.
...
The cinematographer does the work.


Hi- You should probably look up the definition of "1st Assistant Director" and "Line Producer"

and maybe "" 1st Assistant Camera" "Key Grip" and "Gaffer" and "Electrician" etc. while you're at it. :)
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#16 Benson Marks

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 11:01 AM

How many features have you worked on as either director or DOP?

I think I know what I'm talking about.

The director is involved in all of the things you state above unless he really doesn't know any thing about "film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus, camera movement, angles, and on and on and on." In that case why is he the director?

Take camera movement for example, I've never been on a film set where the DOP says "ok for this next shot we are going to crane down and come in on the actors face like this..." The director tells the DOP how he would like the camera to move in the next shot. Now he may go and have lunch while the DOP and his crew set it all up, but it's the directors job to decide how the camera should move from shot to shot. The director may at some point say to his DOP, "any ideas for a creative way to shoot this?" That is director DOP collaboration, which is different from what you are describing.

It's the director that shows up on set with the story board. You seem to think that the director hands the script off to the DOP and the DOP breaks it all down and story boards the entire movie.

R,


Does it really matter how much experience I have?

I don't think you know what you're talking about.

I did not say the cinematographer was better than the director, I said the cinematographer was the most important person on the set, and therefore, has to be real good.

Also, the cinematographer knows more about camera movements, angles, film stock, framing, etc., etc., than a director ever could. The director could be completely clueless about shots and angles and could just get his advice from the cinematographer. Why else is there director/DOP collaboration? Does the director know everything the cinematographer doesn't already know?

Last but not least, where in the planet did you get this crazy idea that I said the director was giving the script to the cinematographer anyhow? I said that cinematographers are almost as important as getting a great script. Care to comment on that?
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#17 Benson Marks

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 11:05 AM

Hi- You should probably look up the definition of "1st Assistant Director" and "Line Producer"

and maybe "" 1st Assistant Camera" "Key Grip" and "Gaffer" and "Electrician" etc. while you're at it. :)


You didn't read my other posts did you? You should be reading my second post. That's how all of this got started.
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#18 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 11:41 AM

Finally, there's a typo in your post. "Of course cinematographers are in charge of film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus and other things, but only when the director and director agree to them?" You need to fix that.


Oops.
It should say "Of course cinematographers are in charge of film stock, the camera, lenses, lighting, shadows, focus and other things, but only when the director and DP (and the producers too) agree to them."
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#19 Patrick Neary

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 12:00 PM

Does it really matter how much experience I have?


when you're doling out advice on what is supposed to be a forum for "Professional Motion Picture Camera People..." it might help to have some real-world production experience.

Good God what has happened to this forum.
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#20 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 12:02 PM

Does it really matter how much experience I have?



I'd have to say yes to that, when trying to describe the workings of sets in the real world. What many of my texts say is most certainly the way it should be, yet not the way it is.
I have had shoots where the director has given my exact storyboards, and others where the director and I have sat down together and story boarded, and still others where the director turned to me and said, and I'll quote here, "Do you have a way you see shooting this movie?" "Yes." "Ok, so shoot it," while he worked with the actors on lines and the like. Of course, even then I have to ask what he thinks, after all he's not my equal on a set (most certainly not my lesser,) but my boss.
A good director, in my opinion, doesn't really tell the cinematographer what to do; rather, he and the cinematographer, along with the production designer, all go over how it should look. Director has final say, of course, but the point you make that the director has other things to do is a valid one. As such, s/he relies on the DP to handle the camera and lighting. This doesn't mean the director doesn't know a thing about camera and lighting, just means that it's more likely to hear "how about making this scene dark and moody," as opposed to "let's shoot this -2 stops under," at least in my experience with the directors I've worked with.
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