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#1 shari Reed

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Posted 18 April 2009 - 11:44 PM

My son wants to get into cinematography. He spends all his spare time talking, watching ,and making movies. He has been working at a general labor job for a year and now its time to get serious about what he is going to do. We have looked into 4 year colleges with film programs (just got back from USC) but he likes the more hands on "real world" schools like Full Sail and IAFT. Either way its a chunk of change $$ but we have offered to help pay for his school. He attended a large high school with a pretty extensive television program but other than that and what he has figured out himself he has no experience. Really, what is the best way to get into the field of cinematography?
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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 12:35 AM

My son wants to get into cinematography. He spends all his spare time talking, watching ,and making movies. He has been working at a general labor job for a year and now its time to get serious about what he is going to do. We have looked into 4 year colleges with film programs (just got back from USC) but he likes the more hands on "real world" schools like Full Sail and IAFT. Either way its a chunk of change $$ but we have offered to help pay for his school. He attended a large high school with a pretty extensive television program but other than that and what he has figured out himself he has no experience. Really, what is the best way to get into the field of cinematography?


As you have probably seen from the prices at USC it is not a school for the "average" American to attend. Famous film program, but extremely cost prohibitive. If your family can afford it and he can get accepted, by all means he should go. People make pretty amazing contacts in the industry there even if they have zero talent.

There are lot's of posts on here from people that attend Full Sail. Some here swear by it, others refer to it as Full "Scam." Not sure why there is such a difference of opinion with this school?

I would tell your son to look at film programs offered by the state universities. Many of these programs are quite good, offer a four year degree, and the price isn't out of reach.

Regardless of where one attends film school the school is very rarely a factor in determining ones future success in this industry.

R,
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 09:22 AM

My son wants to get into cinematography. He spends all his spare time talking, watching ,and making movies. He has been working at a general labor job for a year and now its time to get serious about what he is going to do. We have looked into 4 year colleges with film programs (just got back from USC) but he likes the more hands on "real world" schools like Full Sail and IAFT. Either way its a chunk of change $$ but we have offered to help pay for his school. He attended a large high school with a pretty extensive television program but other than that and what he has figured out himself he has no experience. Really, what is the best way to get into the field of cinematography?



The truth about filmschools is that more people graduate and don't wind up with the job they hoped for than do. Learning the technical aspects is one half of the business.... the other half is "the business" and that is something that most schools don't adequately teach.

With that in mind, your son needs to understand that while a formal technical education can definitely help, he can probably learn most of the fundamentals on his own for far less money. After that, practical on-set experience either observing or assisting an established Cameraman will give your son invaluable insight into how those concepts are applied in the real world in the midst of limited budgets, resources, politics, limited time, and varying personalities. A film school with a strong production curriculum may be able to offer some of that experience, but investing years and a lot of money into that part of the education may not be necessary for him AND it will delay his entry into the professional world, which is really where most of his learning will take place and where his career will really get going. I'm not suggesting that he not go to a University. There are a lot of benefits to a higher education above and beyond learning a trade that can (and usually will) help him in his profession and in so many other aspects of life. So what I'm suggesting, and this is just my opinion, is that if the money is there to invest in a higher education, that he use that time and money at a University where his education won't be film-centric instead of concentrating those resources into a simple technical/trade school.

Your last question isn't easy to answer quickly or succinctly in an internet forum. I urge your son to take a look at the book "What I Really Want to Do: On Set in Hollywood," specifically chapters 1 through 5 which contain information that anyone interested in a professional film career needs to know... and 21 through 26 which deal exclusively with the entire Camera Department. Once he's read those sections of the book, I can almost guarantee that he'll have a better sense of how this business really works so he'll (and you) will be able to make the education choices that are right for him.

There are also some great technical books about Cinematography listed on this site and I've included many of those and other resources (such as The Cinematography Mailing List) at http://realfilmcareer.com/forum.

Also, he'll want/need to keep abreast of the BUSINESS side of the industry... learning what buttons to push doesn't do any good if there isn't a viable career established that allows him to actually do it. For that, again, I highly recommend the book above and up-to-date worldwide film industry news is posted at http://realfilmcareer.com.

Back to the question about filmschools, by all means take suggestions and recommendations from everyone possible, but nothing beats finding out for himself. I've also compiled the most comprehensive list of worldwide filmschools available anywhere. That can be found at http://realfilmcareer.com/forum also.

Good luck!
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#4 shari Reed

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 01:54 PM

Thanks so much for your unbiased advice. My son is only 20 and has always loved filming, pictures, and lighting. We were pretty set on Full Sail last year but I have heard just as much bad as good. Some say you get out what you put in- just like anything else. I went to the typical 4 year university and I have taught for some time now, so I tend to want him to go that route but I respect his individuality and want him to follow his dream. I just don't want the both of us regretting spending a tremendous amount of money only to realize later it wasn't worth it. In my profession its a no brainer- a bachelors or master is necessary. I will give him your book recommendations and continue our research. Anybody out there that has actually gone to film school- let me hear your thoughts!!
Thanks again for the advice.
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#5 shari Reed

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 02:04 PM

Yes we have encountered pros and cons concerning Full Sail. We went there last year. The place looks amazing- made me want to go back to school! A mini universal studio but I can't ignore the derogatory things I read either. I feel like it is a 70,000 dollar gamble and I'm not much of a gambler. His friends have said you will learn there but you can learn the same thing if you just go get a job in the business...easier said than done with no experience. We will keep looking for the right opportunity.
I'd like to hear how some of you got your start??
Thanks.
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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 03:07 PM

I urge your son to take a look at the book "What I Really Want to Do: On Set in Hollywood," specifically chapters 1 through 5 which contain information that anyone interested in a professional film career needs to know... and 21 through 26 which deal exclusively with the entire Camera Department.


Thank-you Brian for that totally un-biased suggestion! :lol:

Shari, tons of us here have gone to film school, the benefits of the enterprise are debatable.

If Full Sail is 70K that's a fraction of the cost of USC, so there's one plus right there.

I'm sure also there are plenty of successful people in this industry that went to their local community college for a small fraction of the cost of USC or Full Sail.

There are a lot of commercials on TV here in Southern Ontario that advertise for various schools of film and video. The people in the commercials are always 20-24 and they look like they are having a great time in an exciting career. I feel sorry for all of these younger people, the vast majority of them will never generate a full time sustainable income in the film industry.

We get tons of fourth year film students who come on here and start a thread with a topic like this.....I will graduate in two months from film school, what should I do next?

It breaks your heart because these film schools are obviously not prepping these kids for life after film school.

R,
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#7 shari Reed

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 04:57 PM

By unbiased I mean someone who is actually in the business vs a school rep that is giving me the latest, made for marketing stats and promoting their own agenda. I just want my kid to do something he will enjoy and has passion for- it does worry me that film work seems so sporadic. While making a lot of money is not the most important issue I would hope that he can support himself (he has for the last 2 years at a dead end job). Again, I think some of the suggested reading will help- definitely can't hurt. So those of you that went to film school would you do it again? Was it worth the money?
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#8 Richard Boddington

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 05:13 PM

it does worry me that film work seems so sporadic.


Not seems so, is so. There are no 9-5 jobs, no bi-weekly pay checks, the work comes and goes. 99% of the people are freelance so you work when you can.

The vast majority are single men who rent their living accommodations. With the lack of steady income supporting a family and qualifying for a mortgage is very very difficult.

Fact is that 90% of the people who go to film school will not be working in the film industry five years after graduation.

The industry is heavily over subscribed for every job there are hundreds of applicants, many willing to work for free just to get a foot in the door.

I know it all sounds grim but these are the realities. I know so many people right now with decades of experience and well established film credits that have not worked in a year or more. That makes it pretty tough for new film grads to even get an entry level job on set.

It's best to know these things before starting out, and seriously consider a new career path before getting too far into this.

R,
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#9 Tom Jensen

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 05:30 PM

By unbiased I mean someone who is actually in the business vs a school rep that is giving me the latest, made for marketing stats and promoting their own agenda. I just want my kid to do something he will enjoy and has passion for- it does worry me that film work seems so sporadic. While making a lot of money is not the most important issue I would hope that he can support himself (he has for the last 2 years at a dead end job). Again, I think some of the suggested reading will help- definitely can't hurt. So those of you that went to film school would you do it again? Was it worth the money?


I moved to Hollywood when I was 25. I started working at a rental house called Armistead Camera. Then a job opened up at Otto Nemenz so I worked there for two years. During that time I went to LA City College at night. I began work as a loader/second on music videos, mostly with Propoganda, Limelight, The Company, Cream Cheese, Mark Freedman, One Heart, etc. I worked my way up to first and probably worked on over a couple hundred music videos, commercials, documentaries, movies and PSA's. I shot some second unit a couple of movies and I operated for several years. The rental house gave me knowledge of the equipment, film school taught me about old movies and introduced me to people who were either in the business or wanted to be in the business. Working on videos gave me money and taught me about art and aesthetic, TV taught me to work fast, movies taught me how to make movies. If I had to do it all over, I probably would have bought an SR2 and just prostituted my self on every low budget shoot I could. Assisting kept me assisting. It's hard to break out of because it becomes you bread and butter. Plus, when you are on a set as an AC, you don't have a lot of time to do much except your job. You can see what the lights are doing but even working as an election will help in actually setting the lights and seeing how positioning a lamp works. What light works on a face. I will say you are right there in the action being next to the camera, with the director over one shoulder and the DP over the other and an actor right in front of you. Operating is great work if you can get it. DP'ing is tough because you have to have a great reel. I was going up for jobs against well know DPs who had great reels when I was working at Otto's. I remember meeting John Schwartzman when he was about 20 at the ASC awards. He was a guy that said, "I'm a DP. That's what I am, that's what I do." He never looked back and look where he is today. It won't work for everyone but it worked for him. There is no one road but you sure can get off the beaten track. Decide what you want to do and do it. I would say that for the money you spend on film school, you could shoot a film yourself. It might be different now. I got burnt out and as soon as I learned about exposure, video came in. Pay was going down more new comers were arriving. The hours were getting longer and the expectations of production were getting higher. So I got into real estate. Don't even asked how that worked out. :blink:
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#10 Tom Jensen

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 05:33 PM

Not seems so, is so. There are no 9-5 jobs, no bi-weekly pay checks, the work comes and goes.

R,


Production jobs you mean. There are rental houses, labs, and sales jobs that are 9-5. They just don't pay $200-$10,000 a day. ;)
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#11 Richard Boddington

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 06:02 PM

So I got into real estate. Don't even asked how that worked out. :blink:


Tom your story is very common, I have heard it many times before. I had a neighbour who surprised me one day by telling me that he had gone to film school. He lasted six months after he graduated and then joined a construction company. He decided he wanted things like....a car, a house, children....

Production jobs you mean. There are rental houses, labs, and sales jobs that are 9-5. They just don't pay $200-$10,000 a day. ;)


Yes I mean production jobs, i.e. grip, AC, set painter, gaffer, animal wrangler, etc. The closest thing would be work on a TV series where you get lucky and it runs for a very long time. Other wise when the show gets canceled, your job gets canceled as well :o

R,
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#12 Tom Jensen

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 06:20 PM

Tom your story is very common, I have heard it many times before. I had a neighbour who surprised me one day by telling me that he had gone to film school. He lasted six months after he graduated and then joined a construction company. He decided he wanted things like....a car, a house, children....

Yes I mean production jobs, i.e. grip, AC, set painter, gaffer, animal wrangler, etc. The closest thing would be work on a TV series where you get lucky and it runs for a very long time. Other wise when the show gets canceled, your job gets canceled as well :o

R,


I also had a two year stretch where I was the lens tech at The Camera House. I rebuild Arri Primes, Speeds, Super Speeds, Ultra Primes, Cook primes and Zooms, Angenieux, Nikons, Cannons, Hawk etc. It was good experience but no upward mobility. TV was what killed me. I did a series in San Diego called NightMan. 65-70 hour work weeks for 7 months straight aged me about 10 years. I was all set for season two when they pulled the plug and went to Vancouver. Commercials were the best if you can stand the people. Hey, I'm a people person but where these advertising execs come from is beyond me. The last two jobs were in Fiji and the Caribbean. What an exit. I"m going to teach a class at The Learning Annex called "Breaking Out of the Film Business" for all those that just can't quit no matter how they try.

Edited by Tom Jensen, 19 April 2009 - 06:22 PM.

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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 06:53 PM

I"m going to teach a class at The Learning Annex called "Breaking Out of the Film Business" for all those that just can't quit no matter how they try.


Is that for real Tom? If it's for real it may be a useful class for many, after all we teach laid off steel mill workers to re-train in a different field.

Now here's a great irony....the state of Michigan is paying to re-train laid off auto workers to work in the guess what......film industry!!

Now there's a switch.

R,
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#14 Tom Jensen

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 07:04 PM

Is that for real Tom? If it's for real it may be a useful class for many, after all we teach laid off steel mill workers to re-train in a different field.

Now here's a great irony....the state of Michigan is paying to re-train laid off auto workers to work in the guess what......film industry!!

Now there's a switch.

R,


I'm only joking but I may be onto something. I would also suggest to anybody wanting to get into film, get a skill so you can work during the lean times. I remember being on a set once and talking with a DP friend of mine. We were saying that this is what we had to do because it's all we know how to do. A lot of DPs have stores, shops, side jobs. The business is very cyclical.
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#15 shari Reed

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 09:22 PM

OMG...I think I'll just let him buy a new camera with his saved up college $ so he can film in his spare time and then highly encourage him to go to our local university and come up with a new plan- I'll save thousands....I hate that because this is my "think outside the box" kid but my gut tells me that he will be better off down the road. If he wants it bad enough he'll make something work but he will hopefully have some kind of useful degree that can get him an income. The guy at our local high school that teaches television production makes over 50K yearly for 192 days of 8-4. He's not gettin rich but for the lower midwest he does alright.
Again, I'm glad to have found this site and I appreciate all the input!
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#16 Tom Jensen

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 09:34 PM

OMG...I think I'll just let him buy a new camera with his saved up college $ so he can film in his spare time and then highly encourage him to go to our local university and come up with a new plan- I'll save thousands....I hate that because this is my "think outside the box" kid but my gut tells me that he will be better off down the road. If he wants it bad enough he'll make something work but he will hopefully have some kind of useful degree that can get him an income. The guy at our local high school that teaches television production makes over 50K yearly for 192 days of 8-4. He's not gettin rich but for the lower midwest he does alright.
Again, I'm glad to have found this site and I appreciate all the input!

Don't let me influence you. Where do you live? That may be a good indicator of the path he should take. While my career didn't turn out exactly as I had hoped, it did have it's rewards. My point is that it is hard work and if you must be willing to put in the time and effort that I did. Maybe more. Definitely more. But if he wants to be a cinematographer, he needs to be here in LA. Film school is only four years and he will learn a great deal. My career path is just one of many. Wait until you hear from some others before you make up your mind.
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#17 shari Reed

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 11:29 PM

Don't let me influence you. Where do you live? That may be a good indicator of the path he should take. While my career didn't turn out exactly as I had hoped, it did have it's rewards. My point is that it is hard work and if you must be willing to put in the time and effort that I did. Maybe more. Definitely more. But if he wants to be a cinematographer, he needs to be here in LA. Film school is only four years and he will learn a great deal. My career path is just one of many. Wait until you hear from some others before you make up your mind.


I'm sure my son isn't going to just give up because I have"talked"to a few people on the internet. He will push the issue but ultimately he will need some of my financial assistance. We live very close to the University of Arkansas but have family in the LA and New York area. In fact he has made plans to go to NY to visit some guys that are doing something for HBO. I grew up traveling all around and I have taken my son on numerous trips so he wants to get out there and see what he can do. He isn't afraid of hard work but I'm not sure if he has a more idealistic picture of what his lifestyle would really be like. I think he would love film school but I really want him to be able to use what he learns and not waste my money. At least with a 4 year degree he could possibly get a job in some field. The problem is he doesn't want to go through all the first 2 year classes at a university....he just wants to film....more reasearch to do.
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#18 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 11:34 PM

Thank-you Brian for that totally un-biased suggestion! :lol:

Shari, tons of us here have gone to film school, the benefits of the enterprise are debatable.



:) Technically biased, but I wrote the book BECAUSE there is STILL no other like it that describes what aspiring "filmmakers" should know BEFORE entering filmschool or embarking on a career. I wouldn't have written it if I didn't believe that it was needed, so yes, I will recommend it whenever the situation is necessary. All of the advice here is quite good and relevant, but it's still piece-meal. The book puts it all together in a way that "emulates" an internship. Of course nothing beats actual on-set experience, but even I learned a lot more by researching and writing it than I did working twelve years on features and episodics. Without actual mentorships or "union" style workshops to teach the business of freelancing, most people who are in the industry have only gotten there by stumbling their way through it. It was (and is) my goal to help alleviate some of that.

Biased? Yes, but for a good and necessary reason.


It breaks your heart because these film schools are obviously not prepping these kids for life after film school.

R,


Yes, which is one of the reasons I wrote what I did. Attending High School in Ohio, I had no exposure to film industry professionals. I barely knew where Hollywood was. "Hollywood" was just some far off place...an idea really... a fantasyland where movies came from.

Unable to afford the out-of-state fees for USC, which I only knew from reading the George Lucas biography, I settled for a school in Ohio which had a pretty pathetic film program at the time (apparently, it has improved greatly). I was able to learn production at the nearby PBS affiliate which allowed students to train and work. That was my part-time job. I learned how to edit, shoot, and produce as well as many of the technical jobs like switching live TV, chyron, telecine, etc. It was a fantastic experience, BUT it in no way prepared me for a career in the professional film industry.

Upon graduation, I asked everyone I knew if they knew anyone in the movie business. Not too many people knew much about it, but it seemed that LA was the place to be. So one snowy morning, I drove my packed car away from home and four days later, I was in Southern California, a place I had never seen before. I called all the names I had gathered and found my way onto a student film where I learned how to thread an Aaton mag over at Panavision. A few free/student/indie films later with some PAing in between to earn money to survive, I eventually met enough people that I was hired onto a non-union Warner Bros movie that went union halfway in. That took two years to get that far for me. Becoming union opened up a whole world of work that enabled me to earn real money that is necessary to make a decent living in LA.

My filmschool didn't help me and at the time, there wasn't an internet, and there definitely wasn't a book like mine available to help guide my way. Today's environment is so much more helpful to aspiring filmmakers in terms of availability of information and quality of education. But there are a lot of schools, workshops, and books out there that really do just prey on the gullibility and enthusiasm of young wannabees. The trick for those who are serious about a real career is to sift through the fluff and find those of us who are genuinely trying to help.

Everyone's filmschool experience is different and most career paths are unique. Your son could come out of the gates and be an ASC member within a few years. Or... he could wallow around in low-budget world for a few years and wind up shooting news back where he came from. There's no way to tell, there's no "one way" to do this, there's no guarantees of success no matter how brilliant and skilled and talented he is. Those things are definitely helpful, but he also needs to be in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, in an economic climate that is favorable to new talent. It could be easy for him or he could struggle. The key for anyone who is serious is that they must be passionate enough about wanting this that they are able to remain enthusiastic enough to persevere through the tough times. There isn't enough work for everyone who wants to do this, so only those who can remain economically safe when work is slow are those who are likely to make it.

Like I said before, there is A LOT to know about Cinematography in general, but he also needs to know about the entire Camera Department, the Grip Department, the Electrical Department, the Director, Editing, and to some extent, just about every other department on and off set. The information is out there in various formats and I urge you to research as much of it as possible before spending any money on school. I'm not saying to not go to school, but just understand what he needs to know and find out if the school of choice will provide that for him.
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#19 Daniel Hueque

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 11:56 PM

OMG...I think I'll just let him buy a new camera with his saved up college $ so he can film in his spare time and then highly encourage him to go to our local university and come up with a new plan- I'll save thousands....I hate that because this is my "think outside the box" kid but my gut tells me that he will be better off down the road. If he wants it bad enough he'll make something work but he will hopefully have some kind of useful degree that can get him an income. The guy at our local high school that teaches television production makes over 50K yearly for 192 days of 8-4. He's not gettin rich but for the lower midwest he does alright.
Again, I'm glad to have found this site and I appreciate all the input!


I'm new at filming also, but I would highly recommending doing this. He can get a college degree, and while in college, he can teach himself the fundamentals with books, and also get experience by working on a set or with a crew or what not. This way he isn't as set in the film industry, but can still enter it if he wants. There's more than enough time in college to do this, and many universities will have a video department. Sounds like a win win to me. If you guys end up buying a camera I'd love to hear which one you choose.
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#20 Tom Jensen

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 12:15 AM

The film industry has changed completely because of video. With the exception of a few, I don't think anyone saw video coming on as fast and furious as it did. I certainly didn't. The quality is beyond anything I expected. And it arrived and flourished much sooner than I expected. Before, you had to previsualize everything you shot. Now you can light by a monitor. If it doesn't look good you can change it. With film you had to wait to see dailies. I've been on films where I didn't see dailies for days or sometimes weeks. You really had to know what you were doing. The luxury of lighting by video is something I don't think a lot of people fully appreciate. This is a great learning tool. You can learn to light and see your results without all the expense of film, processing, print or telecine. I mentioned earlier I would have gotten an SR2 and shot everything. There really wasn't any good inexpensive video in the 80's. Today, I might consider a video camera. I don't know, I don't know enough about what is out there. Today, if the film business were totally hopping and I had some extra money, I would probably get a crane and a remote head. Crane operating was something that came natural to me. I was always good on wheels and I preferred operating from a monitor. Who knows, the industry might have enough cranes and remote heads as it is. The point is this is a niche business and if you can find a niche you will be better off. It's always good to know something someone else doesn't.
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