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Can I become a DOP without assisting?


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#1 Stevie Sneddon

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 10:37 PM

In a previous post I expressed my negative experiance with assisting and I am 27 and personally reluctent to assist again even though I know it is a great way to learn. I have considered film school to study cinematography but even then ultimately I would still be faced with the decision to start at the bottom as a 1st AC & work my way up or to just attempt to get work as a DOP as I am. I do get some work shooting on 16mm and I shoot my own stuff on DV and Super 8.
I am not really that bothered about making a lot of money and am happy to work for free of the project allows me to be creative although I do feel I miss out on experiance with lights in particular as I always use the same low budget equipment.

Anyway what do you guys think is it possible to eventually become a cinematographer without going through the standard system?
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#2 Chris Keth

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 10:54 PM

In a previous post I expressed my negative experiance with assisting and I am 27 and personally reluctent to assist again even though I know it is a great way to learn. I have considered film school to study cinematography but even then ultimately I would still be faced with the decision to start at the bottom as a 1st AC & work my way up or to just attempt to get work as a DOP as I am. I do get some work shooting on 16mm and I shoot my own stuff on DV and Super 8.
I am not really that bothered about making a lot of money and am happy to work for free of the project allows me to be creative although I do feel I miss out on experiance with lights in particular as I always use the same low budget equipment.

Anyway what do you guys think is it possible to eventually become a cinematographer without going through the standard system?


Sure it's possible. Do you think it's plausible for you? Are you good enough (and wise enough) to make a living doing it immediately?
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#3 Stevie Sneddon

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 11:03 PM

Sure it's possible. Do you think it's plausible for you? Are you good enough (and wise enough) to make a living doing it immediately?



No I don't think I'm able to make a living at it just yet. I get some work as a cinematographer on shorts which pays something but not much. I am considering film school but either way I think I'd just rather do my own thing and see where it takes me. I'm not after any prizes or great success just the chance to make creative work I get personal satisfaction from. Still I need to live so it would be nice to earn enough to get by on.

I see you are based in LA, that must be great. I would imagine you have a lot of oppertunites to do varied work out there?
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#4 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 11:40 PM

Not everybody goes the AC route. A lot of people go the gaffer route as well, so that's something else to consider.

But there are a lot of DP's here, I'm sure, who have just always been shooters and haven't had to climb the crew ladder. But rather, they've climbed the ladder in terms of productions and production quality. Just start calling yourself a DP, Cinematographer, Videographer, what have you, and if you're work is quality I'm sure you can make some headway.

Can't argue against the benefits of learning from other DP's. But I recall reading some past posts by David Mullen about his route, and I don't believe he's gone through the AC or Gaffer ladder and just started shooting other students' projects. Do a search, and you could probably find some of those posts.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 02:07 AM

There are all sorts of paths to becoming a DP. I was never an assistant -- I came to film school when I was 26 after shooting my own short films for a decade, already knew how to light a scene, cover it, edit it... so I got asked to shoot everyone else's projects at CalArts after they saw one of my short films.

Some DP's come from the documentary & industrials world (Roger Deakins, Haskell Wexler, Isadore Mankovsky), some just come up the budget ladder like I did, some come from gaffing (Tom Stern, Shane Hurlbut, George Spiro Dibie, maybe Tom Del Ruth, not sure)... lots of paths.

In the end, what matters is what you can teach yourself and you find lots of different ways of gaining that knowledge, whether from working on sets in smaller jobs, or shooting your own stuff, etc.
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#6 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 02:16 AM

But I recall reading some past posts by David Mullen about his route, and I don't believe he's gone through the AC or Gaffer ladder and just started shooting other students' projects.


That is what I remember too. This subject has been covered before quite well.

I also remember people writing that is good to be in the electric department, as one learns to light and shape light with the grips, which is a great portion of a DP's job. But definitely, if one wants to shoot and light, then one has to do all that oneself at some point or another. One can learn all that is to be learned by being part of a crew, but if all that knowledge cannot be put into practice with good results, then that is that.

I have worked on crews as grip, electric and AC and while I don't particularly enjoy any of them as much shooting, I learn skills to apply to the modest projects I DP.

And being in LA is not necessarily the best, or worst, place to get to be a DP. Sure, there are lot of gigs in that town, but there are also a lot of people competing for them. And this industry is all about who you know who will give you a job, or at least the opportunity of getting one.

I have never seen (or heard of) anyone cold calling / walking into a prod co's office and successfully applying and getting a DP gig right away. While it may be technically possible, it is all about the contacts. But then how to get contacts but by working and how to get work without contacts? Catch 22.

D'OH!!

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 20 February 2009 - 02:18 AM.

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#7 Mike Washlesky

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 12:02 PM

some come from gaffing (Tom Stern, Shane Hurlbut, George Spiro Dibie, maybe Tom Del Ruth, not sure)... lots of paths.



AHA! So Shane WAS twidlling with a light then wasnt he! This all makes sense now!
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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 12:08 PM

Not too get too off-topic, but: http://www.hulu.com/...-christian-bale

As for how you become a DP.. well one day you just start shooting. You continue to do this and shoot for other people and you're a DP.
That being said, it is important to work with qualified people from whom you can learn. Whether you do this as a "green DP," or not, is immaterial if you are good at what you do. The ladders help you to build connections which you'd have to do anyway. Though no amount of networking, skill, talent, money etc is a guarantee of success.
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#9 K Borowski

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 01:00 PM

Not too get too off-topic, but: http://www.hulu.com/...-christian-bale


Not to get too off-topic either :rolleyes: but I almost cried listening to that. Is that going to be on the show? Or is it just for the commercial?

Back on-topic, yeah, maybe the grip department isn't the right way to go, unless you want to be Christian Bale's bit ch, like Shane Hurlbut.
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#10 Chris Keth

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 11:33 PM

Not to get too off-topic either :rolleyes: but I almost cried listening to that. Is that going to be on the show? Or is it just for the commercial?


The hulupage calls it an excerpt and cites a season and episode.
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#11 Dan Collins

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Posted 20 February 2009 - 11:45 PM

This will likely anger some here, but I feel the need to express my viewpoint as someone who is working their way up the traditional ladder.
Don't expect to just call yourself a DP one day and have everyone respect you as such until you earn it. Too many student come out of school after 2 years and then have the attitude that they are a DP and others are just AC'S, Grips, Elec etc and under them. That's not to say you have to do such roles if you don't want to, but be aware that those of us who have been working our way up for the last 10 years have proven ourselves to others with our years of experience, and you are going to have to have to prove yourself too, one way or the other, if you want to be respected as a DP. Just calling yourself a DP, doesn't make you one. I suggest starting off by working on student projects and no-budget projects to earn that experience and respect before you step onto a larger budget project with crew that is more experienced in their craft than you are in yours.
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#12 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 12:16 AM

Quite true Dan. I feel, also that this comes with every gig you go on at any crew level when you're with people you've never worked with before. What's most important, in my own humble opinion, is not to show off. Don't be flashy for the sake of it.
Show that you know your stuff, as well as you know it, and admit when you don't-- or at least that's my "philosophy," if we can have one. Most importantly, always trust your key crew members, your gaffer, key grip, AC etc. Chances are, they've worked with a myriad of other DPs, Directors, etc, and can often offer fresh ideas to the problems you will encounter as a DP.
Just my 2c.
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#13 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:03 AM

This will likely anger some here, but I feel the need to express my viewpoint as someone who is working their way up the traditional ladder.
Don't expect to just call yourself a DP one day and have everyone respect you as such until you earn it. Too many student come out of school after 2 years and then have the attitude that they are a DP and others are just AC'S, Grips, Elec etc and under them. That's not to say you have to do such roles if you don't want to, but be aware that those of us who have been working our way up for the last 10 years have proven ourselves to others with our years of experience, and you are going to have to have to prove yourself too, one way or the other, if you want to be respected as a DP. Just calling yourself a DP, doesn't make you one. I suggest starting off by working on student projects and no-budget projects to earn that experience and respect before you step onto a larger budget project with crew that is more experienced in their craft than you are in yours.


That makes no sense. If anybody could not call themselves something, any title, you name it -because there is someone else out there with more experience, then what would the world come to?

I agree that some people brag and presume they know it all or more than they do, (I have done that, among countless people here) but being a cinematographer is not like being a nurse or M.D. where one needs to actually be certified by a board. So how will a DP-in-waiting earn the title? By his crew voting to bestow on him the DP status? Or by however many movies one has been credited as a DP in?

If you don't like people calling themselves DP's because you think they don't deserve it or are somehow less experienced than you and the DP's you usually work for, you are going to have a really hard time in this industry.

I can understand the feeling to a point as I mostly shy away from calling myself a DP _I prefer cameraman or cinematographer_ but understand, there is nothing one can do to prevent anyone else to call themselves something or other. Your personal opinion is just that.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 21 February 2009 - 03:08 AM.

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#14 Sing Howe Yam

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:47 AM

Filmmaking in general is such an independent world (a lot of freelancers) and in the beginning the only person you have to market you is yourself. There are so many different ways to get into your career path but it is solely upon you to find that right path for you. I graduated last year from filmschool and was trying to figure out what I was going to do exactly, I actually asked David Mullen some advice on the reduser.net forum about moving to LA at the time or staying where I was because I was getting a few DoP gigs. He told me to stay and I did and I wouldn't have traded it in for anything. Just because I have been DPing for the last for the last 8 months steadily (nothing absolutely huge, but not tiny either) doesn't mean I think I am the greatest DP to walk the earth after getting out of school. I do know there is plenty more to learn and even great established DoP's still learn things on every shoot you do, I personally think there is no limit to what you can learn in this industry.

I still take on any gigs I can find as a gaffer or an AC or even an electric on bigger shoots. I do call myself a DP because I have been hired multiple times by the same directors for music videos and they have been very happy with my performance. I also think as a DP in such a competitive market you need to have confidence in your abilities, you just need to have a balance in confidence and modesty. If I was a director interviewing possible DoP's for a job I want one that has confidence in his own skills rather than someone that is questioning if he has what it takes.

I did have a run in on one production I was being hired on as a DoP for a $20k music video and the producer who has never worked with me was having major issues with me being as young as I was and even after viewing my reel and being impressed still didn't trust me and said I was a risk the production was taking and would not let me bring any of my camera team or my G&E team. They were going to hire people they knew for me (basically I was potentially going to be babysat). Unfortunately (fortunately for me) the production got canceled because of issues with the band. I understand where this producer was coming from but I was very unhappy about how I was being treated and that I didn't get any slight respect when I was being very mindful of the situation. Either way, this producer later worked on a music video about two months later that I was shooting as an AD and was completely taken back by his former thoughts on me and my crew. Just last week I just finished shooting a music video for this producer and I did have my crew on this show. The producer realized why I was pushing for my guys, my crew is part of me and from the bat work smoothly together rather than having a ice breaking period with a new crew. But I am all up for working with new people, but on a small schedule and tight budget I will go with my guys that I can rely on.

Again, I'm not boasting myself. I'm just saying that because I just came out of filmschool doesn't mean I can't shoot. I will agree I don't know everything and still have a lot to learn, for example at this point in my career I would not take on shooting a million+ plus budget shoot. But do I feel I have the potential and passion to make it one day up to that level, the answer is yes because I have been steadily working on reaching that point. I personally feel the way my mind works is best at the DP position, I could never be a great AC - my brain just doesn't work that way. I think at the end of the day what really matters is the difference between that guy that really cares about what he is working on and than that guy who only cares about how much he is making that day. Not to say you shouldn't protect yourself and make sure you're not getting screwed but that shouldn't be your drive behind being a cinematographer, director, editor, producer, etc. Every job I do I remind myself why I originally wanted to become a filmmaker, that was because I wanted to tell a great story.

Damn, sorry this was really long.
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#15 David Rakoczy

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 08:17 AM

"Can I become a DP without assisting?"

I did.
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#16 Dan Collins

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:17 PM

That makes no sense. If anybody could not call themselves something, any title, you name it -because there is someone else out there with more experience, then what would the world come to?

I agree that some people brag and presume they know it all or more than they do, (I have done that, among countless people here) but being a cinematographer is not like being a nurse or M.D. where one needs to actually be certified by a board. So how will a DP-in-waiting earn the title? By his crew voting to bestow on him the DP status? Or by however many movies one has been credited as a DP in?

If you don't like people calling themselves DP's because you think they don't deserve it or are somehow less experienced than you and the DP's you usually work for, you are going to have a really hard time in this industry.

I can understand the feeling to a point as I mostly shy away from calling myself a DP _I prefer cameraman or cinematographer_ but understand, there is nothing one can do to prevent anyone else to call themselves something or other. Your personal opinion is just that.


You don't get my point. You are taking it too personally. It may be hard for many to hear, but this is the honest opinion of me and many others. My point is that if you don't pay your dues working up the traditional ladder as a crew member, then you have to pay you dues another way. As I said in my original post, one way to do that is get some years of experience working on student and low budget projects. You don't have to be the most experience person to get respect, but no one wants to be bossed around by an egotistical newbie. Don't expect to walk out of film school onto a high profile production if you don't have experience one way or the other. No one is trying to stop anyone from calling themselves whatever they feel like, but a title does not entitle you to respect, respect is earned and may people seem to miss that. Just watch your attitude for anyone that decides to start calling themelves a DP from day one, and don't be another jerk out there. Treat crew members with the respect that they have earned.

Edited by Dan Collins, 21 February 2009 - 03:20 PM.

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#17 Gus Sacks

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:47 PM

... be aware that those of us who have been working our way up for the last 10 years have proven ourselves to others with our years of experience, and you are going to have to have to prove yourself too, one way or the other, if you want to be respected as a DP. Just calling yourself a DP, doesn't make you one. I suggest starting off by working on student projects and no-budget projects to earn that experience and respect before you step onto a larger budget project with crew that is more experienced in their craft than you are in yours.


A few things...

Earning the respect of Electricians, ACs, even DPs one works for doesn't necessarily get you jobs, a good demo reel, or the respect of Directors or Producers that might hire you. I've never ACd for a project, and met someone who went on to give me a job in a narrative setting (commercial, network productions - yes - but that's a different arena). In fact, Loading, then ACing, or Electrician, then Gaffing, seems like just more of a 10 year trap than a way of working up the ladder, and that's not something I'd like to personally chance - especially in the Union.

Also, even on student productions, or no-budget projects, there is a DP. Regardless of what you say, there's a call sheet with DP next to it, material that's derived from it, and a demo reel that's built. Before I started paying the bills as a DP, I did, in fact call myself a DP. Because you can't just jump from 0-100 without starting at 20 or 25. Know what I mean?

I did have a run in on one production I was being hired on as a DoP for a $20k music video and the producer who has never worked with me was having major issues with me being as young as I was and even after viewing my reel and being impressed still didn't trust me and said I was a risk the production was taking and would not let me bring any of my camera team or my G&E team.


Sing, I had this happen on a much, much larger production, but the directors vouched for me, and it even seems now that it's been almost a marketing tool for the producer in question for the film because it looks so good and was shot by someone so young... Whatever helps them sleep at night...
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#18 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:53 PM

Too many student come out of school after 2 years and then have the attitude that they are a DP and others are just AC'S, Grips, Elec etc and under them.

That attitude is not limited to graduates of film schools. I have seen it in several different disciplines.

I think what it boils down to is that when students graduate, think they have learned everything they need to know to step into a senior position. What they don't realize... actually, to put blame/responsibility where it really belongs: what the schools fail to teach them, is that everything they have learned at school is just the foundation of their career work. There are a LOT of fine, subtle nuances that simply cannot be taught effectively at school - you have to learn them with on-the-job experience. Unless you want to go to school for eight or ten years - like a doctor does.

There will, of course, be the rare individual who grasps the subtle nuances instinctively, and will be ready to be DP right after graduating (or even before graduating). But for the rest of us, that learning comes through on-the-job experience, which can be gained through several paths - grip, electrics, camera.
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#19 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 03:57 PM

You don't get my point. You are taking it too personally. It may be hard for many to hear, but this is the honest opinion of me and many others. My point is that if you don't pay your dues working up the traditional ladder as a crew member, then you have to pay you dues another way. As I said in my original post, one way to do that is get some years of experience working on student and low budget projects. You don't have to be the most experience person to get respect, but no one wants to be bossed around by an egotistical newbie. Don't expect to walk out of film school onto a high profile production if you don't have experience one way or the other. No one is trying to stop anyone from calling themselves whatever they feel like, but a title does not entitle you to respect, respect is earned and may people seem to miss that. Just watch your attitude for anyone that decides to start calling themelves a DP from day one, and don't be another jerk out there. Treat crew members with the respect that they have earned.


Perhaps I would have gotten your point if it had been clearer. Your original post comes off as saying: don't call yourself a DP until you have earned my (and my peers') respect. Which I naturally object to.
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#20 Dan Collins

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 05:07 PM

Also, even on student productions, or no-budget projects, there is a DP. Regardless of what you say, there's a call sheet with DP next to it,


Who said that there wasn't a DP on student and low budget projects??? DPing a student project gets one the experience they need. That's what I was referring to. Sorry if you didn't get it.
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