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Student here, what is finding work as a cinematographer like?


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#1 Ryan Jarvis

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 06:10 PM

Hi
This is actually my first post here and like the title says, I'm a student right now. I know I want to be a cinematographer and am prepared to put the work in to excel, but I know very little about the market for cinematographers and how to navigate the industry. It's worth mentioning that I live in Scotland, Glasgow specifically. From what little I know about the employment situation, I get the impression that you're either working for a studio/production company or you're freelance, however I'm sure it has to be more complicated than this. I've spent some time going through the site and it's evidently populated with some very professional and established cinematographers, hopefully they can accommodate this post.

Ryan
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#2 Keith Walters

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 08:43 PM

Unfortunately, it's not at all like becoming something like an accountant, where you spend a couple of years gaining some sort of written qualification at a suitable college, and then look in the Classifieds for a "Junior Accountant" or similar position.
There is no formal path to getting hired as a cinematographer. You normally have to work your way up through the system, perhaps starting in the camera prep area of a rental company as a means of getting a few contacts together, and hopefully landing a job as a camera assistant on a few low-end productions, and then hoping like hell that the assistant on an important job will break a leg or something during a busy spell, and somebody will just happen to have your number! From there it's still a bit of a leap to being allowed full access to somebody else's time, money, stock and actors, but it's a start.
Joking aside, that pretty much sums it up.
You've also got to be prepared to put some time in doing some of your own projects so you can put together a bit of a showreel. This is a lot easier than it used to be since the cost of good quality video production equipment is currently in free-fall. The downside is that it also makes the same facilities available to vast hordes of clueless wannabes, and you'll be competing for people's precious time with them!
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#3 Christopher Sheneman

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 08:53 PM

That's why I don't shoot video, Keith. Weeds out some of the clueless wannabees. When you start paying .15 cents a foot it sends them scurrying!
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#4 Keith Walters

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 06:35 AM

That's why I don't shoot video, Keith. Weeds out some of the clueless wannabees. When you start paying .15 cents a foot it sends them scurrying!

Yes, but you can still learn an awful lot about the 1000 & 1 other aspects of production with a cheap video camera. When you can make something watchable on video, THEN you can start thinking about doing something on film.
Mind you from my Panavision days I have a small collection of absolutely appalling wannabe projects, some shot on 35mm film.
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#5 Paul Salmons

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 11:16 PM

Speaking as a freelancer myself, about 3 years in after school it is like...Going to a village, where they hunt for food daily, they are all very well versed in combat, they put you into a circle with them and toss in one morsel of meat and tell you to eat or die. It truly is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and I have drastically changed from it. If you are looking to break in (at least out here in LA) be ready to learn how to sell yourself, you have to be aggressive, hard working and loyal. All this while sniffing out the people that are trying to take advantage of you (and they will). Understand that when you start working for yourself you also have to become a producer, director, ac and even a sound guy sometimes all while being a cinematographer. The more you do it the easier it gets though, as you start to build up a crew you can lean on them a little bit to help you out with those gigs that don't pay as well but may lead to other gigs. The other option is film school where you will learn a lot but more importantly make a ton of contacts. Going this route has shown me that people tend to have to work their way up though instead of jumping in as a DP, although they also seam to live a higher quality lifestyle than I do. Use craigslist, use Mandy and for a long time remember that a free gig making contacts may be better than sitting at home on your couch.

The only thing that keeps me going is I haven't worked a single day since I started this career, I love my work. Hope this helps you out.
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#6 Ryan Jarvis

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 04:01 PM

Thanks for the replies, I'm getting a clearer picture of how it works now. In my country education fees can be paid when one earns over a certain amount and not immediately, which encourages me to postpone any full-time work and further study. It's jut unfortunate there are no cinematography courses around. It seems like a subject that requires a textbook knowledge, technically first before artistically, which so little institutions provide.
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#7 Nyssa Gluck

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Posted 21 April 2012 - 03:03 AM

Hi,
I'm been wondering something similar. Is it possible to work your way up to eventually become a cinematographer with no training? I have been told yes, but that it will usually be passed over for better qualified people (or in my case, recent film-school graduates). I thought that persistently applying for Panavision's 2-year, paid internship would be a good shoe-in, but I've been told that it would be the same problem (me getting passed over for better qualified people).
I was told that the best solution would be to return to film school (in this case the Academy of Art University) by a teacher/mentor, who is also a member of the SOC.
I'd greatly appreciate any insight on the different ways different members become cinematographers.
Thank you
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#8 Freya Black

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 03:21 PM

Thanks for the replies, I'm getting a clearer picture of how it works now. In my country education fees can be paid when one earns over a certain amount and not immediately, which encourages me to postpone any full-time work and further study. It's jut unfortunate there are no cinematography courses around. It seems like a subject that requires a textbook knowledge, technically first before artistically, which so little institutions provide.


There certainly are cinematography courses out there, the most significant being at the NFTS in Beaconsfield London. Very hard to get in tho as they only take a few people and theres a lot of demand. There are various other places too that are a lot less significant and meaningful in terms of career but I don't know of courses that are in Scotland. On the upside Scotland's quite a good place to be, especially glasgow as it's far enough away from London to be a bit independent of it and it has its own independent tv station as well as the BBC and some indies. Creative Scotland also seem very enthusiastic about trying to promote Scotland as opposed to entirely just embezelling money and little else *cough*. Check out their website for info about local companies. You could try and work as an intern somewhere maybe if you can afford to do that.

I'd say you are in a good location to make something work but I suspect it will still be VERY difficult.

Hope that helps a little.

love

Freya
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