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When to "make the leap"


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#1 David Desio

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 12:45 PM

Hey everyone. I have a bit of a decision to make and would like some input. I'm not asking for anyone to make the decision for me, mind you. I would just like to hear from others in the field on the matter.

So last night I got a call from a producer about a feature film that I had submitted my resume and reel for. I put in for the DP position thinking that the project sounded like fun and feeling like I have enough experience (am the DP for a small production company which shoots commercials and the like). The producer was very nice and we chatted for a bit before talking business. Basically he offered $1200/week for a 4 week film with a 6 day work week. The production would put me up for the duration as well. It all sounded good until the producer told me that the budget was $1mil. and they were going to shoot on 35mm. This wasn't mentioned in their post on Craigslist. Now in my letter to the production I slated myself as an HD cinematographer. My experience with 35 has been in shooting stills, never a movie. Now I understand lighting and all but having never DP'd a 35 shoot, I'm a little worried that I may be out of my element.

At the end of the conversation the producer told me that he liked my attitude and was going to put my name at the top of the list and that he would give me his vote for the position. I guess the director has yet to see my reel so it's contingient on that.

So here's the decision I need to make: Do I leave my salaried job with benefits where I am DPing, but will never have the chance to advance, or do I jump off and take this movie with the very good possibility of ending up without work and benefits at the end of the shoot? I'm hoping that if I take it, it will lead to other films which are what I want to work on anyway...

I have some reservations however. The production is from LA but is shooting somewhere else. I am not from LA and not from the location area either. Why would they look at me and not bring on someone that they know or that the director likes?

I am not in the 600 and wonder what happens when the union starts checking them out. I don't have the money to join and really don't feel the need to right now.

Any advice or anecdotes would be appreciated.

Dave
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 12:56 PM

I'd take it. I'd try to speak with your job, however, and mention that if you do do well on the shoot, it'll bring them some prestige, and perhaps you can come back on good terms (you must get some vacation time?)

As for shooting 35, if you get the gig, time to go out and test some stocks!

As for Union, you don't need to be in the Union to work on a Union show, as I understand it. There are some work arounds and chances are for a $1mil budget, the union might not even take notice. If you are hired for the show, you might even be allowed to join the union, but I would speak directly with them if you have any questions (local 600).


p.s. I did the opposite and left shooting films on low/no budget for a "normal job" for a bit to scrounge up some extra cash.. and I hate myself for it everyday and more and more each moment that passes. If you want to be somewhere you gotta do what you gotta do to get there-- which is what I tell myself this job is for-- but when that moment to go right into what you want comes along, you just have to ask whether you'll be happy with yourself for passing it up. It ain't easy doing the freelance thing; it ain't designed to be. It's a tough and rough place, but can be the most fulfilling thing in your life because, for once, you get to make your own choices, fully, and do what jobs you want to do (though we have to take some sometimes.) Whatever you feel right about, is the right choice.
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#3 David Desio

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 01:04 PM

I'd take it. I'd try to speak with your job, however, and mention that if you do do well on the shoot, it'll bring them some prestige, and perhaps you can come back on good terms (you must get some vacation time?)

As for shooting 35, if you get the gig, time to go out and test some stocks!

As for Union, you don't need to be in the Union to work on a Union show, as I understand it. There are some work arounds and chances are for a $1mil budget, the union might not even take notice. If you are hired for the show, you might even be allowed to join the union, but I would speak directly with them if you have any questions (local 600).


p.s. I did the opposite and left shooting films on low/no budget for a "normal job" for a bit to scrounge up some extra cash.. and I hate myself for it everyday and more and more each moment that passes. If you want to be somewhere you gotta do what you gotta do to get there-- which is what I tell myself this job is for-- but when that moment to go right into what you want comes along, you just have to ask whether you'll be happy with yourself for passing it up. It ain't easy doing the freelance thing; it ain't designed to be. It's a tough and rough place, but can be the most fulfilling thing in your life because, for once, you get to make your own choices, fully, and do what jobs you want to do (though we have to take some sometimes.) Whatever you feel right about, is the right choice.



Thanks for the advice Adrian. As for talking to my current employer, I've thought about that route but would be asking for a leave of absence, unpaid of course. I figure that way if I decide to stay with my choice of pursuing the elusive "film career" they stand to lose nothing but me (but I gotta say that I am a great guy).

I'm gonna sleep on it.
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 01:07 PM

Anytime David; hell if you don't take it give 'em my card :P

And if you do take it, make sure to ask as many questions on here as you can; i'm sure the whole forum woudl be delighted to offer insights into the mysteries of Big K or Fantastic F!
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#5 Richard Boddington

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 01:06 AM

Now in my letter to the production I slated myself as an HD cinematographer. My experience with 35 has been in shooting stills, never a movie. Now I understand lighting and all but having never DP'd a 35 shoot, I'm a little worried that I may be out of my element.


Wow, big big jump to take all at once. I would venture to agree with your assumption that, yes, you would be out of your element.

Best if you where to DOP some short films on 35mm first.

Just my .02

R,
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#6 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 02:51 AM

My dad always tells me, you don't have to be brilliant, just surround yourself with brilliance, hire yourself a very experienced cameraman, 1st and 2nd AC and when in doubt seek their advice. A smaller picture like this where you can't afford a lot of extras, the shoot should be fairly straight forward and therefore a good picture to learn on particularly if you have experienced people around you. Who knows when the opportunity will come again. I would ALSO do as much research on shooting 35 and film stocks as possible prior to the shoot. B)
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#7 David Desio

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:40 AM

Thanks for the replies guys. I am going to call the producer today and remind him that I'm an experienced HD cinematographer but have little experience shooting 35. I do agree that if the camera team is made up of an experienced 1st and 2nd, it would be a little easier. Aside from not being able to light to the monitor and having to rely on meters, knowing which stock to use for which situations (d for exteriors, T for interiors), what would be the main things to focus on for making the switch?
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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:49 AM

film is much more forgiving on exposure than digital it and holds detail better. That being said you'd need to speak with the producers about your post path and work out what is best for the piece and the best way to get there (in camera/ in di etc). Also speak about what format of 35 you're shooting; 4 perf, 3 perf, 2 perf, and from there you need to consider which lenses to go with. But in truth, aside from not being able to look @ a monitor, not much differs between film and video, you light and you shoot. with film you get more information on the neg than you generally do on HD, which can be a godsend, or boring as sin, so if you were going to do it, i would advise being a bit more bold with contrast ratios than you are typically on digital.
and also, be aware of how to mitigate or enhance grain on a given stock (e.g. over exposure slightly or under exposure slightly).
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#9 David Desio

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:59 AM

From my still experience, I seem to tend toward contrasty images. With my taste being for that and this being a genre that would seem to want contrast, low-key lighting, shadows, etc. let me see if I have this right. For more grain, I'd go under in exposure and for for less grain I'd go over, right? Then bring it back in post either way? Also the post will be done back in LA and they didn't mention having me be there for it for the coloring, I prefer to be present when any of my footage is colored but is that the norm?
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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 12:14 PM

You're right on the over/under. And I know it's a pain not to be there for color correction. Hopefully you'll have dailies, and you'll be able to speak with the colorist. What I normally do, even without dailies, I'll take DSLR images at the same stop I'm @ and then do some quick reference grades in lightroom or photoshop and e mail them out as .jps to the colorist (shoot raw though). That way your colorist has an idea the look you're after. And, if possible, see if production will pay for your flight out to LA and a crap room while you do any color correction bono-- shouldn't be that way but it often happens. I don't think I've ever been paid for color sessions, but then again, I just count that as part of my job (and in reality they'll pamper you @ the post house with coffee and good lunches etc.)

For reference, too, 500T stock gets some very nice results when you rate it @ 320, I like my 200T @ 160, my 100T and 50D i rate as normal. I'm fine rating 500T @ 800 and pushing 1 stop (you get some more grain of course.)

I'd also recommend not doing too much special processing (e.g bleach bypass etc.) as that can get complicated a bit and you really need to set everything up for it (wardrobe, makeup, costume). And that's about it. More specific suggestions, and that's really all these are, can't really come till after you start synthesizing the look. Also, don't forget, cine lenses perform best around their mid stops (2.8 1/2~5.6 1/2 for me), though don't let this frighten you away from a T2 or even a T1.3 if need be; just make sure you have a great 1AC.
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#11 David Desio

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 12:53 PM

great reply Adrian. thanks a bunch. I normally rent cine lenses with a 35 adapter for the HD shoots that I do and have found that if I can, I try to stay between a 2.8 and 5.6 which I think would be about 1 stop or so off in the under direction due to the loss from the adapter. So by rating the stocks slower, you mean on the meter right?
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#12 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 12:58 PM

Right you set your meter to say, 320 instead of 500 and if it reads F4 that's what you put your lens @ (though in reality for a 500T the meter would read 4 2/3). This helps "fill in" more of the slower (e.g. smaller) crystals on the film hence slightly minimizing the appearance of grain. Hope that makes sense.
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#13 David Desio

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 01:44 PM

yeah it does make sense. So to get it straight you're telling the meter that the stock is slower than it actually is and the meter figures the stop out to compensate, thus when the I set the stop on the lens I'm giving the film more light. I think I got it.

I'm calling the producer later on today. I'll post what his response is (paraphrased of course).
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#14 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 03:36 PM

H Basically he offered $1200/week for a 4 week film with a 6 day work week.



No one else here has mentioned that that rate works out to $200/10hrs ($20 per hour) .... but we all know that a movie shoots at least 12 hours a day AND I presume you're on a location which means that you're not getting any per diem not to mention any prep you have ... and what about post?

I only bring this up because doing what I do (video for studio marketing, mostly), I'm generally making $600 to $700 per ten hour DAY! In just two days of shooting one or two interviews (which may only take a few hours), I can make just as much or MORE than what they're asking you to work for in six days.

Maybe it's worth it for you. Maybe it's not. I just want to ask if it's worth it AND want you to ask yourself and them if you're being taken advantage of?
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#15 Richard Boddington

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 04:05 PM

No one else here has mentioned that that rate works out to $200/10hrs ($20 per hour)


When I divide my pay cheque on The Dogfather by the number of hours I have put in, I have made about $1.67/hr.

Some times ya take it in the chops in this biz in order to move forward. No cushy guild jobs for me.

R,
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#16 David Desio

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 04:41 PM

I've crunched the numbers as well and it works out to me working for a small amount of money on what will probably be a 12-14hr day plus the time spent planning for the next day. I'm not looking at this film for the money/comfort. I mean I already have that with my job shooting commercials as a staff DP. I would be taking the hit and the gamble in the hopes that this could lead to other million dollar films.
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#17 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 04:54 PM

On more than one I've worked a 16 hr day as a grip for for a mere 50 bucks just to get the experience. I figure it this way, I could pay a film school a quarter of a mil for them to teach me a bunch of theories that I get to try out on a video camera OR I could learn the reality of being in the trenches with working professionals and get a little cash to pay for my gas. I believe there is no better training for a craft than practical experience under the guidance a variety of seasoned professionals. The walls of Hollywood are thick and very high and in order to get scale them, one must be bold, willing to make sacrifices and able take advantage of every opportunity that presents it's self. I am a great admirer of Mr. Boddington here because he did exactly that and is now on his third film as a director in less than 2 years. No guts, no glory as they say. B)
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#18 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 09:22 PM

I am a great admirer of Mr. Boddington here because he did exactly that and is now on his third film as a director in less than 2 years. No guts, no glory as they say. B)


Where's my ferrari? :D

R,
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#19 Mathew Rudenberg

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 10:22 PM

The hardest question is whether the job is real, as craigslist can be a little dodgy.

If so, I think the question is whether you ultimately want to shoot narrative/ features.

There's definitely good money doing small commercial and videographer stuff, but if you never take a risk there is a possibility that is all you will do.

It's hard to give up that security, and I would bet it's only going to get harder as the years go on. I'd say the best time to make that leap is as soon as possible.

As for shooting 35, it's easy, just use your meter and the latitude will take you the rest of the way. If you're really nervous take the easy route and shoot stills with your DSLR, if they look good I guarantee the 35mm film will...

Also, I wouldn't worry about the union - if they try to turn the show and you're non-union they can't really penalize you, chances are they'll offer you a reduced rate entry if you walk (that's happened to several friends of mine) Even if the show does turn you probably won't have to join because you don't have to until you've accrued 30 union days...
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#20 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 10:23 PM

Where's my ferrari? :D

R,

It'll come, buddy. Give it another year or 2. If you happen to get a little lightening in that bottle of yours, maybe even sooner. B)
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