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Questions I'm Afraid to Ask my Cinematography Teacher


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#1 Peter Ellner

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 10:17 PM

My cinematography teacher isn't the most friendly, approachable or helpful guy, and he makes any student feel bad for asking questions, unfortunately :(

Fortunately I've discovered this forum and the wonderful insights from professionals and amateurs alike has been very valuable. So thank you!

Anyway, I have a bunch of little questions with simple answers that I'm very curious about. So instead of clogging the forums with a new topic for each little question, I was hoping to just put a list here and any answers will be most appreciated and will hopefully be useful to others as well.

And sorry for the ignorance on display here, as you can tell, I'm trying to do something about that.

Here goes:

1.) In the days before digital video, how was a live video feed tapped from a film camera? What allowed a Steadicam operator in the 1970's to see what was being shot on a screen in front of him for example? And even today, how is what's being shot on film simultaneously recorded and sent to a screen?

2.) What is the beep sound that happens right after the slate claps in outtakes on DVD extras?

3.) Getting exposure right can be very difficult, even today with a modern digital camera. So how did cinematographers know they got proper exposure before digital and the ability to check exposure immediately? What about with the 8mm cameras budding directors in the 1970's used? Did Spielberg or any of the countless others making 8mm movies use a light meter? If not, how else did they know how to get the right exposure?

4.) How is exposure changed perfectly during a single take following someone going from a bright exterior to a much darker interior? It can't just be the aperture because that would cause a noticeable shift in depth of field, right?

5.) How were films like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (shot on DV) converted from interlaced DV quality to progressive 35mm theater prints?

6.) How do you approach doing close-ups or extreme close-ups with a wide-angle lens? Minority Report, for example, was shot with no lens longer than 27mm and yet there were extreme close-ups that didn't have noticeable distortion.

7.) How were text and titles added to film before computers? I know that sometimes text was written on boards and those were just filmed, but in other films text was clearly fading in and out on the screen, and it wasn't filmed, and it wasn't hand drawn on the film either, so how was it done?

8.) If certain films or shows are designed to only be shown on TV's, were they always just filmed at 24 fps, or did they often shoot them at TV's rate of 30 fps? If not, why... wouldn't it be much simpler and easier?

Thanks so much! I have some more, but I think this is enough for now.

Edited by Peter Ellner, 27 August 2011 - 10:20 PM.

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#2 Tom Jensen

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 10:39 PM

My cinematography teacher isn't the most friendly, approachable or helpful guy, and he makes any student feel bad for asking questions, unfortunately :(

1.) In the days before digital video, how was a live video feed tapped from a film camera? What allowed a Steadicam operator in the 1970's to see what was being shot on a screen in front of him for example? And even today, how is what's being shot on film simultaneously recorded and sent to a screen?

2.) What is the beep sound that happens right after the slate claps in outtakes on DVD extras?

3.) Getting exposure right can be very difficult, even today with a modern digital camera. So how did cinematographers know they got proper exposure before digital and the ability to check exposure immediately? What about with the 8mm cameras budding directors in the 1970's used? Did Spielberg or any of the countless others making 8mm movies use a light meter? If not, how else did they know how to get the right exposure?

4.) How is exposure changed perfectly during a single take following someone going from a bright exterior to a much darker interior? It can't just be the aperture because that would cause a noticeable shift in depth of field, right?


You don't go to LACC do you? It sounds like JP :D

1) It would depend on the camera but there was usually a splitter or a prism that sent the image off in another direction an onto a video tap.

2) It is a single frame beep used by labs and in the edit to synch effects rolls, music rolls, sound rolls and picture rolls. Everything is made of separate elements in the editing stages and this just give you a synch reference point.

3) Absolutely a light meter.

4) Aperture pulls are quite common and the depth of field does change. On modern cameras you can do a shutter angle change so it isn't as noticeable. Ramping which is changing the frame rate during a shot also using both the aperture pull and the shutter angle change.

Someone else can add to this or finish the rest.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 10:50 PM

5) hardware based solutions at a post house, combining the fields to make a frame. And involving mathematics. I forget the name of the box off hand, but it's basically plug in video signal, get out 24P. Not perfect, but gets the job done.

6)Wide lenses are often Rectilinear, meaning they correct for the distortion; look at the new 8R from Zeiss; very little, if any distortion. And then you, of course, move the camera in closer. Granted, a 27mm isn't THAT wide. It's not like it's a Gilliam or anything (14mm lens).

7)Optical printers were generally used for text. You's shoot it on high-con film, and then mix it in... Best way to think of it, you play both films and vary the brightness of them as they are printed onto a 3rd film. This'll give you fade in, fade out, ect. There's a lot more to it, and a lot of tricks, so it'd depend the specific title.


8)If it's or TV (back before HD) yes, you'd do 29.97. Most film cameras have that setting. Though, even if you did shoot 24 you just add in a 2:3 pulldown. It's been 'round since TV first started being broadcast in NTSC. For PAL countries, it was a 25/25 system, so a non-issue.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 09:22 AM

1.) In the days before digital video, how was a live video feed tapped from a film camera? What allowed a Steadicam operator in the 1970's to see what was being shot on a screen in front of him for example? And even today, how is what's being shot on film simultaneously recorded and sent to a screen?

2.) What is the beep sound that happens right after the slate claps in outtakes on DVD extras?

3.) Getting exposure right can be very difficult, even today with a modern digital camera. So how did cinematographers know they got proper exposure before digital and the ability to check exposure immediately? What about with the 8mm cameras budding directors in the 1970's used? Did Spielberg or any of the countless others making 8mm movies use a light meter? If not, how else did they know how to get the right exposure?

4.) How is exposure changed perfectly during a single take following someone going from a bright exterior to a much darker interior? It can't just be the aperture because that would cause a noticeable shift in depth of field, right?

5.) How were films like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (shot on DV) converted from interlaced DV quality to progressive 35mm theater prints?

6.) How do you approach doing close-ups or extreme close-ups with a wide-angle lens? Minority Report, for example, was shot with no lens longer than 27mm and yet there were extreme close-ups that didn't have noticeable distortion.

7.) How were text and titles added to film before computers? I know that sometimes text was written on boards and those were just filmed, but in other films text was clearly fading in and out on the screen, and it wasn't filmed, and it wasn't hand drawn on the film either, so how was it done?

8.) If certain films or shows are designed to only be shown on TV's, were they always just filmed at 24 fps, or did they often shoot them at TV's rate of 30 fps? If not, why... wouldn't it be much simpler and easier?

Thanks so much! I have some more, but I think this is enough for now.


Most modern 35mm cameras use a spinning mirror shutter, so part of the time, the shutter is open and the film in the gate receives light, then the shutter closes over the gate (so it can advance the film to the next frame) and an angled mirror on the shutter reflects the image coming from the lens up into the optical viewfinder system. So it's not hard to pick up some of the light heading to the viewfinder and send it to a small video sensor. For some Steadicam rigs and cameras, since the operator isn't going to be looking through the viewfinder anyway (and thus it is unnecessary weight), the viewfinder itself is replaced by the video camera that will pick-up the light and send a picture to a monitor.

Modern wide-angle lenses don't have much optical distortion like barrel distortion, but faces can still be distorted depending on the camera angle and the face itself, does it have a large nose, heavy jaw, etc. If the camera is close to eye-level and straight on, then a lot of these distortions to the face are minimized, which is how the handled the wide-angle close-ups of Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown" or Audrey Tatou's close-ups in "Amelie".

Putting text over picture is just like putting anything over picture, like an efx shot where a spaceship crosses in front of a planet. It requires a matte process. Sometimes you can get away with a simple double-exposure, when the object being added over the separate background will be laid over an area of blackness so that you won't see ghosting as you normally have with double-exposures (two exposures on the same piece of film.) But when you need the top object to cross over a different background and not be a ghost image but look solid, it has to be matted into the background.

All of this requires copying the pieces of film and rephotographing these separate elements onto a new piece of film in an optical printer.

What you basically want is a copy onto a new negative of the background plate but everywhere where the new foreground object will be should be unexposed so that you can expose the new object into that "hole" you've created.

So let's say you shoot your titles as white letters on a black background. On a hi-con b&w negative, you'll have black letters on a clear background. If you make a copy of that negative, you'll end up with a piece of film with clear letters on a black background. These are called "hold-out mattes".

So take your background plate, let's say it was shot on color negative and it is the New York skyline in daytime. You then make a color positive copy on low-contrast intermediate dupe stock, ending up with an interpositive. If you copy that interpositive onto a new piece of intermediate duplicating stock, you will get a duplicate negative, more or less a copy of the original negative (a bit grainier though).

So you make that interpositive (I.P.) of the negative and load that I.P. into the projector side of an optical printer. You sandwich ("bi-pack") the piece of film of the titles which has a clear background and black letters in front of the I.P. so that when you rephotograph these two sandwiched pieces of film into a new negative, the black letters (the black areas of the hold-out matte) will cause that area onto the new negative to be left unexposed. If you then developed the new negative right then, you'd have a background image with black letters in front of it.

But before you develop that new negative, you then load the piece of film with clear letters on a black background into the projector side of the optical printer. The black background will make sure that nothing gets exposed onto the background image on the new negative except where the clear areas are, the letters, so now you get solid white letters exposed into the black lettered "holes" left on the new negative.

You can get fancier because if your first hold-out matte which had black letters on a clear background had slightly oversized or off-set letters compared to the white letters, then you would be creating a black drop-shadow around the white letters once you exposed the white letters over the background, because the white areas would not have filled all the black areas.

And of course, you can get even fancier and matte moving objects, like people, spaceships, etc. over that background by using hold-out mattes.

There are some examples here:
http://en.wikipedia....iki/Compositing
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 09:39 AM

Yes, most extreme changes are done by changing the f-stop in mid-shot ("stop pull") and yes, there's a change in depth of field. Some cameras allow a shutter angle change, but generally you are limited to one-stop or two-stops worth of change (180 to 90 or 45 degrees) and then there's a change in motion blur, which may or may not be worse than a change in depth of field.

Of course, you could also change frame rate, which would change exposure, but that may also be noticeable.

Any process for transferring video to film generally requires getting images converted to whole frames (progressive) and at a frame rate close to 24 fps. So in the case of shooting something in PAL interlaced-scan, which is 50i at 25 fps, you just combine every two fields into one frame to create 25P more or less, and then it gets transferred one frame at a time to film. But since the film will be projected at 24 fps, but was shot defacto 25 fps, it will be very slightly slow-motion when shown. Sound will have to be corrected to match.

In the case of NTSC interlaced-scan photography, you'd have to combine 60 fields into 24 frames, which is more complicated. Some fields may be dropped or combined. But even that's easier than if you had shot 30P because then you only have 30 images to combine into 24 images, which is harder.

Same goes for transferring 24 fps film to NTSC, you basically have to convert 24 frames into 60 fields. See:
http://en.wikipedia....ki/2:3_pulldown

Yes, for TV shows shot on film but intended for showing in NTSC TV broadcast, it would make sense to shoot at 30 fps. And a few were. Trouble is that a lot of these shows were also sold to PAL countries and had to be shown at 50i / 25 fps there, and it was easier to convert them to PAL if they were shot at 24 fps instead of 30 fps. Also, you burn less film at 24 fps than 30 fps, and TV shows have tight budgets (hence the move to 3-perf instead of 4-perf 35mm) and since U.S. TV stations showed Hollywood movies all the time, shot at 24 fps, it just made sense to shoot TV shows at the same frame rate since there was so much 2:3 pulldown telecine work being done anyway, and viewers were used to the 2:3 pulldown artifacts. In fact, some people felt that 30 fps film transferred to NTSC looked more "video-ish" because of the smoother motion and lack of pulldown artifacts.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 09:47 AM

Consumer Super-8 cameras had internal reflective meters just like still cameras -- you saw a needle or something showing you what the camera thought you should be exposing at. Otherwise you used an external meter. Professional film cameras don't have built-in meters so cinematographers use external light meters, reflective/spot and/or incident meters.

Back in the early Silent Era days, there weren't a lot of meters though, you based exposure on experience, testing, your eye, etc. and you had some ability in the orthochromatic days when film was developed by eye under a red light to be able to adjust the processing time to get the density where you wanted. On the other hand, film was so slow back then that you were mostly shooting under some form of daylight so it wasn't hard to figure out the exposures. Plus there weren't a lot of stocks of different speeds back then. And you shot a lot back then as a working cinematographer, hundreds of short films a year, so you learned how to expose through practice and repetition.
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#7 Peter Ellner

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 04:28 PM

Thanks David, super thorough and informative. You're great and I appreciate your deep knowledge and ability/willingness to explain things!
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#8 Mei Lewis

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 12:10 PM

My cinematography teacher isn't the most friendly, approachable or helpful guy, and he makes any student feel bad for asking questions, unfortunately :(


He doesn't sound like a very good teacher.

Maybe you can engage him by asking about what his favourite films are, or his favourite techniques. He must have some interest in what he's teaching so maybe you can connect that way.
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#9 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 10:33 PM

My cinematography teacher isn't the most friendly, approachable or helpful guy, and he makes any student feel bad for asking questions, unfortunately :(


Are you paying for film school? If so how much? 'Cause it seems to me, if you're putting out your hard earned cash or your parents hard earned cash for a service that is not being provided to you, YOU are being cheated. If I pay a guy to paint my car and the paint guy gets pissed off because I want to discuss what color I'd like to paint it, you had better believe the owner is gonna hear about it. This guy's JOB is to answer questions. See a LOT of these "professors" are nothing but failures in their chosen profession and the resent the fact that all they can manage is a teaching job 'cause they DID happen to manage to pull a master's degree outta their ass while they were in school. As a result of their resentment for the world at large not recognizing their GOD GIVEN TALENT which THEY think should be OBVIOUS to anyone with half a brain, they turn into bitter, vindictive tyrants. Tin Napoleons who get their Nazi jollies by berating and intimidating the kids in their little classroom kingdom.

You or your parents probably spent 30, 60, a hundred grand for the experience of learning a trade, film making, and being able to ask questions so you can understand what this ass-clown is trying to "teach" is essential to your education.Which MEANS you as the customer, YOU as the consumer, YOU as client have the GOD GIVEN RIGHT to ask any f**king question you need to and be given a pertinent, informative and dare i say POLITE answer to said question.

I have taught acting, ballet and guitar and I have NEVER been a jerk because a student needed or simply wanted to ask a question, the worst I might have ever said if they asked the question several times, was, Come on, you KNOW this, THINK. and most of the time, they got it on their own which is what I strive for always, self reliance and confidence in their abilities.

If I were you, I'd have a talk with the dean or whoever is this joker's boss and explain the situation, throwing it, how upset your parents are with his apparent complete disregard for your education and MAYBE even they had considered suing the school but finally agreed after a lot of begging on your part to let you try and resolve the situation first. If NOTHING ELSE, it'll at least make ya feel better!! B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 03 September 2011 - 10:36 PM.

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#10 Nathan Blair

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 11:44 PM

Are you paying for film school? If so how much? 'Cause it seems to me, if you're putting out your hard earned cash or your parents hard earned cash for a service that is not being provided to you, YOU are being cheated. If I pay a guy to paint my car and the paint guy gets pissed off because I want to discuss what color I'd like to paint it, you had better believe the owner is gonna hear about it. This guy's JOB is to answer questions.


Well said James! There was a professor like this at my film school... I pretty much just avoided him but I wish I had the balls to change things for everyone else suffering his temper.
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#11 Chris Millar

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 03:31 AM

Sweet, got your homework done and some sympathy too !

Maybe we should pay his fees ?


You'll go far in film (serious) - ever thought about production ?

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#12 Tom Jensen

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 04:18 AM

Sweet, got your homework done and some sympathy too !

Maybe we should pay his fees ?


You'll go far in film (serious) - ever thought about production ?

:lol:


Good one Chris! Adrien and I must be chopped liver or something. Peter said, "Thanks David, super thorough and informative. You're great and I appreciate your deep knowledge and ability/willingness to explain things!"

I guess Adrien and I weren't able/willing or knowledgeable to illicit a "thank you" for our response to his questions. No wonder his teacher hates him. Go read a book, dude! Don't waste our time, you ingrate. :lol:

Edited by Tom Jensen, 04 September 2011 - 04:19 AM.

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#13 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 06:05 AM

Well said James! There was a professor like this at my film school... I pretty much just avoided him but I wish I had the balls to change things for everyone else suffering his temper.

The system ain't never gonna change until we stand up and change it. To them it's a job to make the bills, to us, it's our lives, WHO should have more passion? B)
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 07:21 AM

The system ain't never gonna change until we stand up and change it. To them it's a job to make the bills, to us, it's our lives, WHO should have more passion? B)


I would hope that for the teacher as well, it's more than just a job to make the bills. Teachers can be passionate too about their careers.
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#15 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 04:39 AM

For some Steadicam rigs and cameras, since the operator isn't going to be looking through the viewfinder anyway (and thus it is unnecessary weight), the viewfinder itself is replaced by the video camera that will pick-up the light and send a picture to a monitor.

I've shot with Arri 3's, SR1's, and even a CP16 that used this method. In most cases the actual eyepiece wasn't actually removed though. There was a little camera that was similar to a lipstick camera or small security camera attached to the eyepiece. It sticks out of the eyepiece about 3 or 4 inches. The image from these cameras was terrible and dark. I even used one that was meant for 16mm, but the camera had been converted to S16mm, so I couldn't see some of the image on the right side of the frame. It wasn't ideal, but a lot of fantastic work was done with this type of equipment. Garrett Brown's original steadicam used a fiberoptic cable that ran directly to one of his eyes. He used that system when he shot the original steadicam demo, and probably some commercial work, but I'm not sure exactly what. Here's an article and a couple photos from those days: http://www.icgmagazi...ad-as-she-goes/ It's hard to find photos of the setup I described, but there are some out there somewhere. Hopefully you get the idea.
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#16 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 12:12 AM

I would hope that for the teacher as well, it's more than just a job to make the bills. Teachers can be passionate too about their careers.

I agree, they sure as Hell should be. I always was. UNFORTUNATELY, this guy isn't and his student's education suffers because of it. To me, that is not only unprofessional, it is unforgivable. :huh:
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#17 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 08:54 AM

I agree, they sure as Hell should be. I always was. UNFORTUNATELY, this guy isn't and his student's education suffers because of it. To me, that is not only unprofessional, it is unforgivable. :huh:

Just because a student says his teacher isn't good, doesn't make it true.
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#18 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 01:34 AM

Just because a student says his teacher isn't good, doesn't make it true.

He didn't say his teacher isn't any good. He said his teacher was annoyed when he asked simple, reasonable questions and much less than helpful in general. I say he sucks as a teacher and should look for another profession. I've dealt with ego maniacal idiots like this in the past, namely the head of the UTEP drama department back in the late 70's, Professor C. L. Etheridge, ANOTHER blowhard tin Napoleon, not unlike this fool.

It TRULY irritates me to hear about this kind of abuse of students at the hands of charlatans who pretend they actually know something but deep down don't know a GOTDAMN THING then take it out on a bunch of naive kids who don't know any better, because THEY failed and the kids have the chance to succeed. B)
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#19 Tom Jensen

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 02:35 AM

He didn't say his teacher isn't any good. He said his teacher was annoyed when he asked simple, reasonable questions and much less than helpful in general. I say he sucks as a teacher and should look for another profession. I've dealt with ego maniacal idiots like this in the past, namely the head of the UTEP drama department back in the late 70's, Professor C. L. Etheridge, ANOTHER blowhard tin Napoleon, not unlike this fool.

It TRULY irritates me to hear about this kind of abuse of students at the hands of charlatans who pretend they actually know something but deep down don't know a GOTDAMN THING then take it out on a bunch of naive kids who don't know any better, because THEY failed and the kids have the chance to succeed. B)


Actually, he said, "My cinematography teacher isn't the most friendly, approachable or helpful guy, and he makes any student feel bad for asking questions, unfortunately."

He never said the teacher was annoyed and we certainly don't know that the questions are reasonable. They could be idiotic questions. But from this you assume the guy sucks as a teacher, he is an ego maniacal idiot with a Napolean complex and a fool. Also, you some how know that he is a charlatan that doesn't know a GOTDAMN thing and takes his insecurities out on his students . Wow, keep in mind you've never met the man, where he teaches, talked to him and really know nothing about him. That's a pretty hostile assessment and a little far reaching, don't you think? Maybe a little? I wouldn't be to quick too judge someone you know nothing about.
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#20 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 02:23 AM

Actually, he said, "My cinematography teacher isn't the most friendly, approachable or helpful guy, and he makes any student feel bad for asking questions, unfortunately."

He never said the teacher was annoyed and we certainly don't know that the questions are reasonable. They could be idiotic questions. But from this you assume the guy sucks as a teacher, he is an ego maniacal idiot with a Napolean complex and a fool. Also, you some how know that he is a charlatan that doesn't know a GOTDAMN thing and takes his insecurities out on his students . Wow, keep in mind you've never met the man, where he teaches, talked to him and really know nothing about him. That's a pretty hostile assessment and a little far reaching, don't you think? Maybe a little? I wouldn't be to quick too judge someone you know nothing about.


Well, let me take this opportunity to apologize profusely for paraphrasing, I was going for the gist of what he said; I'll be more anal next time, :rolleyes: but continuing on, judging from the questions the kid asked here, they didn't sound unreasonable and certainly not idiotic and though I've never met the man, I have dealt with the same type of unfriendly, unapproachable and non-helpful ego-maniacs, that make any student feel bad for simply asking questions. If I hear a brae, and smell donkey-poop, I don't need to open the barn door to know a jackass is in the stall.

MY answer to that kind of jackass was to quit academia, which I found to be a cruel, twisted joke anyway and move into the real world of working professionals where the stark contrast of theory was soundly laid waste to by the cold, hard facts of reality, ergo, my comment on guys like this having a the complete lack of a CLUE about the realities that lie in wait out there after one leaves their little dictatorship and how one will have to RE-learn everything these Bozos "taught".

Am I being harsh, not a 10th as harsh as these clowns are on their students. I don't know, maybe outside the classroom, this guy is some kinda saint......but I kinda doubt it.

As for judging him without meeting him, I'm truly GLAD I never met this guy, I've met enough a**holes too last me a lifetime, one more like this is just overkill. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 08 September 2011 - 02:27 AM.

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