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Gaffing vs Assistant Camera to become a DoP


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#1 Karl Eklund

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 06:32 AM

I'm working on a essay in which I basically have to answer what the difference is in, Sweden, USA (Hollywood preffered) and Australia for a person to become a DoP.

There are two parts to the essay or my question really. Which one is better for becoming a DoP, gaffing or assistant camera. I sort of wanna find out what is the "traditional route" in each location and if for example DoP's look down on a person for taking gaffing over assistant camera or vice versa.

Personally, I prefer doing gaffing over assistant camera, and I feel that gaffing is helping me more to grow as an DoP than assistant camera, but thats me. I worked a little bit as a gaffer in Sweden and Australia, but very limited experience in the US.

Thank you!

Edited by Karl Eklund, 03 October 2011 - 06:33 AM.

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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 07:02 AM

I don't know about Sweden and the US, but any gaffers I've come across in the UK and Ireland are all qualified electricians. I haven't done a break down, but most DPs I know came through as camera assistants, the ones who came through as gaffers (they start of as electricians in the lighting crew, so it takes a few years to actaully become a gaffer) are the exceptions. There are a few former electricians who now shoot news, but I assume you're talking about another sector of the industry, since they don't have camera assistants in news.
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#3 Karl Eklund

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 09:14 AM

I don't know about Sweden and the US, but any gaffers I've come across in the UK and Ireland are all qualified electricians. I haven't done a break down, but most DPs I know came through as camera assistants, the ones who came through as gaffers (they start of as electricians in the lighting crew, so it takes a few years to actaully become a gaffer) are the exceptions. There are a few former electricians who now shoot news, but I assume you're talking about another sector of the industry, since they don't have camera assistants in news.

Yeah, the gaffers I've meet in Sweden have also all been "electricians" (Chief Lighting Electrician/Gaffer and Best Boy), however I worked as a "electrician or assistant electrician" and I have no "electrician" qualifications (and thus wouldn't be able to climb the ranks). Basically I hauled lights, and would strike em, gel em, and whatnot. Then it seems somewhat that moving up the ranks in the "gaffing-department" requires lots of qualifications, where as a camera assistant doesn't need to worry about being certified to perform tasks.

The problem I see in camera assistants that wants to become DoP's is that they get to handle lenses, reload magazines, and pull focus, maybe camera operate, but it ends there. I know some that are really good at their job, they get to work on A level films, but they won't get to do any DoP work, not even second unit. I am not trying to belittle any job or any person, but it doesn't seem that weird to me, because most camera assistant stuff seems to just be technical mundane things that doesn't prove your ability as a "cinematographer". There doesn't seem to be much "creative" stuff going on there. Which is the same early on as an electrician, all you do is haul gear. But at the end as a gaffer, you more or less decide or try different approaches to lighting a scene. For me its been when I've done low level gaffing, I talk with the DoP what lights he wants, and I make suggestions for this and that. But when doing camera assistant stuff, I haven't said anything in "try that lens, or we should shoot this on a more open stop, etc". Granted I haven't been on a big budget project as a camera assistant, but I have as an electrician, and what I saw was just a lack of ability for camera assistants to prove them self "worthy" to become DoP's but potential for gaffers to show creative ideas to solve problems.

As I said before, this doesn't mean I think camera assistants are bad or anything. If I am wrong and off, please let me know :)
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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 10:28 AM

How much deciding on lighting actually the gaffer does depends on the DP. Some DPs allow more freedom than others, some rely heavily on their gaffer and have a very close working relationship, other's less so. Lower level work is very different to higher end work and you'll work for many years building up experience. Any gaffers I know who made the move to DP had been a gaffer for 10 to 15 years.

There is a traditional progression in the camera department and many of the top DPs started at the bottom, even after attending top film schools. The advantage being if you also keep your eyes open you can learn from highly experienced DPs, who have been in business for many years. You can then move up by working up a grade on lower budget jobs, while building up your contacts and experience. You don't have remain a camera assistant for years and years, although getting work tends to be a deciding factor... you can work for more people as an assistant than as a DP. Many have highly successful careers as 1st assist camera.

Also, some people manage to make the move to DP without working as either a gaffer or camera assistant.
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