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#1 Phoebe Couzens

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 06:26 PM

Hello there,

I apologise whole heartedly if this question is asked elsewhere but I figured it was better to ask directly.

In essence, I have just finished a degree in Film Studies, and for the last four years I have had my heart set on a career in cinematography. I know like most jobs in the film industry it is not easy to achieve, but what I would like to know is what is the best way forward.

For instance, I know in London only two universities run Cinematography as an MA, but would this qualification mean anything after I have graduated? i.e. is it better to have experience in the field over having a academic qualification and does this qualification actually mean anything to you guys? Also, what other options do I have in terms of training?

Anyway, many thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope to get some feedback soon.
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#2 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 07:13 PM

Hello there,

I apologise whole heartedly if this question is asked elsewhere but I figured it was better to ask directly.

In essence, I have just finished a degree in Film Studies, and for the last four years I have had my heart set on a career in cinematography. I know like most jobs in the film industry it is not easy to achieve, but what I would like to know is what is the best way forward.

For instance, I know in London only two universities run Cinematography as an MA, but would this qualification mean anything after I have graduated? i.e. is it better to have experience in the field over having a academic qualification and does this qualification actually mean anything to you guys? Also, what other options do I have in terms of training?

Anyway, many thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope to get some feedback soon.



Hi Phoebe.

If you already have a four-year degree in film (I assume you did some production work in school,) it's time to go get your feet wet in the field. At this point, I wouldn't be too picky about the positions. You will probably wind up getting hired as a PA for a small project for little-to-no-money...but that's how most people start. And any on-set experience is better than none at all. It's a great way to learn and network into the department you want to work in.

Good luck!
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 11:04 PM

On set, as you'll learn things they never even think to teach in school. And aside, one makes you money and one costs you money...
Remember, a lot of filmmaking is like WWI... the side who holds out the longest wins.
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#4 Phoebe Couzens

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Posted 07 August 2010 - 07:39 AM

Thanks for replying so quickly!

I would just like to add on to my previous question - I have had a very small amount of practical experience, and there is an opening on a course that I am wondering about taking which would help me gain the 'knowledge' - would it still be more advisable to start by working practically?

Thanks again.
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 07 August 2010 - 08:39 AM

Phoebe,

Be aware that much of the advice you'll receive on this forum will be from an American point of view and will not apply in London. The principal difference is simply that the volume of available work is several orders of magnitude larger there, the pay and conditions are far better, and it employs many, many more people.

So an unfortunate few home truths based on what you've said:

the film industry


First things first: we don't have a film industry. It's very unpopular to say this, because lots of people make a lot of money out of the illusion that one exists (see: Shooting People). When Rowling was approached about making Harry Potter into a movie by an American organisation, she looked around the UK for an indigenous production company capable of doing it, and there wasn't one. I should point out - it wasn't that she couldn't find somewhere that would pay a certain rate, or offer certain concessions. There simply wasn't one capable of doing it and there still isn't (in fact the situation is far worse now).

not easy to achieve


Not quite. In Los Angeles it is not easy to achieve. In London it is so very near to impossible that you may as well not waste your time. I certainly wouldn't do an MA. I think you've been conned even into doing the degree you've already got, since it is practically certain that you will never use the qualification.

what other options do I have


Very few, unless you happen to have an American grandparent via whom you can get a US work permit of some kind.

If you really do have your heart set on this, what you do now is determined largely by what field you want to work in. You sound like you want to be on feature film crews. Again I can only reiterate that this is so near to impossible that it makes no difference; just go to your local multiplex and ask for a list of films they've shown in the last year. Look at which of them are British or even made in the UK by an American company with an American cast and American crew in all the top slots, which you will therefore never achieve. Really it's like asking to be an astronaut on the basis that the UK doesn't have a space program.

Anyway, if you're still desperate to do it, you sign up to the Mandy and Shooting People mailing lists - Shooting People want money just to join the list, which is an example of someone in the UK making a living out of the illusion that we have a film industry. What you will find on these lists is dozens of unpaid jobs which are technically illegal but nobody seems interested in enforcing that rule. If you are willing to live with your parents until you are thirty, what you do is you do these jobs for eight or ten years until you realise that you will never work your way up, there is nowhere to work your way up to. You might, and this is a very, very slight chance, find yourself working on the next Blair Witch project, in which case great, but if you really want to spend the best ten or fifteen years of your life working for nothing on the off-chance that this is going to happen, you're a fool.

I should also point out that even if you do this, you will learn practically nothing because the sort of jobs you get from Shooting People are not the sort of "getting experience on set" jobs that our American colleagues are talking about. In LA there are dozens of films shot every year in the $500,000 sort of budget range which are a breeding ground for new crews; these films simply do not exist in London. There's stuff being shot in someone's bedroom with a DV camera, which is nothing like working a real set, and there is the next James Bond, which you won't get anywhere near for reasons I've already made clear. There is nothing inbetween and therefore there is no "working up".

I hate to be the voice of doom in this but unfortunately someone has to do it before you waste an awful lot of time and money. The tattered remnants of the "British film industry" will soak you for time and money and the best years of your life and I would bet you a large amount of money you will be forced, financially, to give it up in less than ten years. Our American colleagues will disagree, but it's different for them: in the US, filmmaking is a legitimate business opportunity, whereas over here it's a fringe artform practised by a moneyed elite.

Don't waste your time.

Phil
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#6 Michael Goodman

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 07:17 PM

I have a friend who graduated from the University of Manchester with a film degree. She headed over to India and is now getting experience as an AD despite the language barrier.

Might be worth checking out...
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#7 Ben J

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 09:40 PM

I've been struggling with this kind of situation myself, minus the degree. Phoebe, I think if you look around here long enough (or watch something like Cinematographer Style), you will find that the degree itself won't help you get a job. It's what you've done that counts. Many of my favourite filmmakers haven't gone to film school and have instead come from different backgrounds. The ones that did go to film school usually have come from places like NYU, USC or UCLA and unless you've got the cash to go, forget about it. These places are extremely expensive, especially for an international student. The National Film and TV school (http://www.nftsfilm-tv.ac.uk/) is pretty well known but eventually you will need to move to where the work is.

I guess at least the UK and Canada produce around 100 films a year (according to 2008 statistics). Here in Australia it's lucky to be 30 (http://www.screenaus...acompfilms.html).
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#8 Brian Rose

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 11:24 PM

One word: Craigslist.

9 out of 10, if they respond at all to you, wind up being deadbeats who pay nothing, or SAY they can pay you nothing so they can pocket more of the money for themselves.

Yet they are vital, because to survive, you must develop a finely tuned bullshit meter.

This way, you can be ready to make a call on a legit filmmaker who has everything EXCEPT financing.

Through craigslist, I did some free work for two filmmakers, each of whom were doing a short, and needed extra hands.

One of them later got a gig directing a commercial, with a legit budget, and tapped me to DP. One day of work, and I got paid very well. He tells me there are at least two more commercials coming from the same client.

The other fellow is now developing a feature he hopes to get some funding for, and as with the previous, I'm set to DP.

I never would've met these two filmmakers were it not for Craigslist, and for all those deadbeats I dealt with. It's proven invaluable, and I check it almost as frequently as my email.

BR
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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 11 August 2010 - 11:39 AM

Sigh. Brian, I did say it didn't work like that over here.

One word: Craigslist.



Four words: not in the UK. The London equivalent is Shooting People. Craigslist does exist but it is not the major source, if you really feel you want and need a source of futureless, unpaid timewasting.

9 out of 10, if they respond at all to you, wind up being deadbeats who pay nothing, or SAY they can pay you nothing so they can pocket more of the money for themselves.



Not so much here. In London, usually, nobody's making any money out of it. They'll be parent-financed wunderkinder or idiots with credit cards. This is the critical difference: if anyone were getting paid, it would be worth doing. Because, in London, nobody's getting paid, nobody will ever see your work, it will not be distributed, there is no career, it is not a business and there is no advancement. You are describing how it works in LA. It does not work like that here.

This way, you can be ready to make a call on a legit filmmaker who has everything EXCEPT financing.



Does not exist in London. Even on the extremely rare occasions you find someone who is actually awake and facing in the right direction, even if you find someone who is actually capable of writing and directing a film that isn't just embarrassing...

...which we very certainly don't do 100 times a year, I suspect countrywide we're lucky if we do it ten times a year...

...they won't ever get distribution for it.

In the US, you can make a small movie for a few hundred thousand and distribute it on video; if it does't make any money, it is at least real live filmmaking with an actual audience. I know this because I've worked on a couple.

This sort of thing never, ever happens here, mainly because the films that are being made are just appalling dross and also because the American industry has the entire distribution market eating out of the palm of its hand.

Through craigslist, I did some free work for two filmmakers, each of whom were doing a short, and needed extra hands.
One of them later got a gig directing a commercial, with a legit budget, and tapped me to DP. One day of work, and I got paid very well. He tells me there are at least two more commercials coming from the same client.



This simply will not occur in the UK because there are (very literally) tens of thousands of people after the job, and we make less than a couple of dozen commercials a year in London. Again, you are talking about a market literally a couple of hundred times bigger than London. You are describing how it goes in LA. I know this, I've worked there, I've seen it happen, but please do not peddle this kind of thinking to people like Phoebe who hasn't a cat's chance in hell of it happening like this.


Phil
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#10 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 August 2010 - 12:04 PM

You could check out getting work as a camera assistant, however, you do need to make sure that you have the practical skills required in place for a professional production. It's still pretty tough to get started, but you can work for more people as a camera assistant than as a DP and you're making contacts. It used to be a pretty standard jumping off point for people leaving film schools. In the end you have to build up your contacts, which will count for more than the degree.
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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 August 2010 - 12:08 PM

This simply will not occur in the UK because there are (very literally) tens of thousands of people after the job, and we make less than a couple of dozen commercials a year in London. Again, you are talking about a market literally a couple of hundred times bigger than London.


I assume you're talking about big major commercials, because there are a lot more smaller ones being made.
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#12 Brian Rose

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Posted 11 August 2010 - 01:22 PM

Phil,

It's hardling "peddling" if it's worked. I'm not speaking in terms of "well, a friend knows a guy who..." I'm speaking from personal experience. Nor am I working in LA. I work in Kansas city, which is as far from New York and LA as you can get, which is a SMALLER market, a tougher market than London. It's competitive as hell here, especially since a number of prod. houses went bust and their workers are now all freelancing. I've sent God knows how many inquiries, and only a handful have panned out. But the few that have panned out make it worth it. I'm building connections and getting work. Yes, the work I've done is small potatoes compared to what you're probably used to, or expect. The commercial was shot on DV for a website. I haven't come near a Red camera or a Panny. I'll be the first to say I'm a working hack DP. But it's work, and I'm getting paid, and it's more things to add to my resume, and best of all, I get to practice my art, rather than let it go to waste having to work an office 9 to 5 to pay the bills. So all in all, I feel like I'm doing pretty damn good. And I owe a lot of that to Craigslist.

There are lots of different paths. I've taken a different one from yours, and it's way to early to see which, if either, will work. I don't recall it being a race, or a competition, and I hope we can both succeed by our own methods. It's fine for you to disagree and express your concern over my choices. It's good, because it will give Phoebe a better, more nuanced view of her options, so she can make the decision that is right for her. I for one was unaware that Craigslist had not caught on as much in the UK as it has in the States, so I'm glad you made that clear.

But please don't belittle my advice. I don't care how long you've been on this board, how many posts you've made, how experienced you are. If you had an Oscar or built a new camera for Panavision or had been dubbed by Vittorio Storaro to be the greatest asset to cinematography since celluloid came it, it still wouldn't give you the right to treat me or anyone else who here who takes the time to give honest, personal advice, such condescension.

Brian Rose
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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 09:21 AM

Kansas City may well be a smaller market than London, but I sincerely doubt it's tougher.

You say you sent enquiries and only a handful panned out, well, in London you'd do that and get not a single reply, not even rejections.

Seriously, I'm not joking; when you say a small number of attempts worked out, then you're doing incredibly well compared to here. Many in the US completely overlook how hopeless it is in the UK and find it hard to take the reality of the situation at face value: really, I am not kidding, I am completely serious, and it a complete waste of time.

P
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#14 Michael Goodman

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 10:26 AM

Then what are you doing in London if you seem to hate it so much?

What's a waste of time is long-winded discouragements like you seem to specialize in.

Please don't bother.
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#15 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 11:07 AM

Then what are you doing in London if you seem to hate it so much?




Lack of choice?
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#16 Freya Black

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 12:58 PM

Then what are you doing in London if you seem to hate it so much?

What's a waste of time is long-winded discouragements like you seem to specialize in.

Please don't bother.


Phil is trying to help people. The stuff he is saying is basically true. He spins it a certain way of course but thats just Phil! ;)

If you are going to study film in the UK then the NFTS is the place to go. It's very hard to get in because there is so much demand and everyone knows it's the UK centre for film education. It's where you want to be if you are doing the film education thing in the UK tho. HOWEVER don't expect any kind of job at the end of it. Breaking into whatever small amount of work there is in the UK is fantastically difficult.

There are other options however. You can get educated in something else and have a career and use the money from that to fund your own films.

You might also want to consider if you could get into one of the flagship universities such as Oxford or Cambridge. That way you have a chance that you could meet the right people and get to work in the TV industry here. Doesn't really matter what you study there, where you study is much more important than what you study at the moment.

There isn't really a film industry here as such tho, so it's unlikely you would be able to find yourself working in it. Even the TV industry here is a closed shop.

It's important to have a backup plan if the film thing doesn't work out, as it usually doesn't and you don't want to find yourself in a difficult situation in terms of making ends meet.

If you have the option of moving to the States or India or somewhere then thats definitely worth looking into too! :) Where the work is!

love

Freya
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#17 Brandon Del Nero

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 12:33 PM

Although Freya may have mentioned this, television is one way to go. I've ready of many British DP's getting their start in TV and documentary work. Then what happens is most people end up coming out here
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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 01:31 PM

Then what happens is most people end up coming out here




Well, to be fair, most people don't; just those people who are lucky enough through an accident of birth or rich enough to employ a big enough legal team to get their paperwork through. I would suspect they're less than one percent of the people who'd like to.


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#19 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 12:30 PM

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Well, to be fair, most people don't; just those people who are lucky enough through an accident of birth or rich enough to employ a big enough legal team to get their paperwork through. I would suspect they're less than one percent of the people who'd like to.


P


Phil, I know you're generalising, but I would point out that although gaining a US visa is an expensive business, just having the money will not get you one. There is a lot more to it than simply paying an attorney. It is not easy, but it is certainly not impossible, as the number of British ex-pats out in Hollywood will testify.
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#20 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 12:50 PM

Many people say this. It's true in certain professions.

It is difficult for people who don't get a lot of press, as is the case with engineering and technical types. Conversely, I know at least three actors who've done it; what actually happens is that they write outrageously glowing reviews of themselves and get a friendly director or producer to put their name to it, and then they pay a lawyer a lot of money. One person I know who did it has done a few stage tours and barely had her face on broadcast television on exactly one occasion, and who managed to land an O-1 visa on the basis that she's an actress of extraordinary ability. Ahem. There is a huge amount of bullshit and in those sorts of circumstances, frankly yes it is more about your ability to keep paying a lawyer.


Having a bit of press and three or four friends with impressive titles who're willing to put their name to embarrassingly effusive testemonials, plus the money, is what it takes.

P
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