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Ok, so, on an unusual path. Is it for me?


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#1 Adam Johnson

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 11:05 PM

Ok, so, first and foremost, I need some advice, maybe someone can help. 

 

I've considered myself a screenwriter for a long time.  I've been writing then around 12 or 13 years, had a few nothing-options.  Not successful but there's some hope there, maybe, someday.  I got to the interview stage at AFI for screenwriting.  Flew to LA for the first time.  Time of my life.  

 

But, and here's where it gets weird, my Bachelor's Degree is in Photography.  I wanted to "broaden my horizons" I guess. 

 

So anyway, now I have this weird career indecision happening where I'm trying to maintain being both a writer and a photographer, and now I'm kind of thinking, Hey, there's gotta be a way to marry these two. Which of course there is, which is also why I'm here. 

 

Anyway, I need some advice here.  I wanna go back to school, get my Master's, move to LA, and make enough money between writing and shooting and slinging coffee. But I've been riddled with this terrible indecision about which one, because I love both.  

 

In my photography work, I always wanted a "cinematic" style.  Most of my favorite memories about films are specific images, not sound, not acting, etc.  But the way it LOOKS.  

 

So I figure, why not go get my Master's in Cinematography?

 

I'm scared as hell by this though, as it means almost entirely giving up on being a writer, at least at this pace.  And I'm scared about the huge technology curb - I was a self-professed analog film lover in college, when digital was just getting going.  I know next to nothing about the technical side of being a cinematographer. 

 

But I do think that, given enough time, I could "plan" how I WOULD shoot a film, even draw storyboards of every shot, I'm at least confident in that, reasonably.  

 

Anyway that's a lot of information.  I dont know where i want my life to go and I need help deciding, ha.  Really, I'll take any advice. 


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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 11:46 PM

To be a cinematographer; you certainly do not need a degree. You'd probably be better off spending the money on camera "X" whatever is "new, hip, hot," learning how to work it, and getting onto a project or two (or smarter still would be renting cameras). At first, try to partner up with some students looking for a DoP, get a small rate for your time, gas, ect, and shoot. It really is the best way to learn.

 

Good lighting and composition is good lighting and composition; you just now have to do it with very few (one really) shutter speed-- 1/48th of a second. Hell you coudl get a DSLR and shoot on those these days and if it doesn't work out, keep it for your own photography, and get your masters writing if you'd like.

 

The technical stuff is important to get a handle on, but it's nothing that can't be gleaned from a few books and bruises on set. And, when you're a DoP you're really reliant upon the crew who is there to back you up. I can't tell you what a great joy it is to have a crew who "gets," how you work and what you want, need, and how horrible it can be when you have a crew who doesn't. With a strong enough gaffer, grip, and AC behind you, you'd really not have to worry about a lot of the technical minutia.


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#3 Chris Millar

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:03 AM

Skip straight to it...

 

Direct   ;)


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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:05 AM

^^ Also valid.

 

Now if only funding was easier!

 

(though i don't know why anyone would want to direct. Way too problematic for my taste)


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#5 Adam Johnson

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 09:06 AM

To be a cinematographer; you certainly do not need a degree. You'd probably be better off spending the money on camera "X" whatever is "new, hip, hot," learning how to work it, and getting onto a project or two (or smarter still would be renting cameras). At first, try to partner up with some students looking for a DoP, get a small rate for your time, gas, ect, and shoot. It really is the best way to learn.

 

Good lighting and composition is good lighting and composition; you just now have to do it with very few (one really) shutter speed-- 1/48th of a second. Hell you coudl get a DSLR and shoot on those these days and if it doesn't work out, keep it for your own photography, and get your masters writing if you'd like.

 

The technical stuff is important to get a handle on, but it's nothing that can't be gleaned from a few books and bruises on set. And, when you're a DoP you're really reliant upon the crew who is there to back you up. I can't tell you what a great joy it is to have a crew who "gets," how you work and what you want, need, and how horrible it can be when you have a crew who doesn't. With a strong enough gaffer, grip, and AC behind you, you'd really not have to worry about a lot of the technical minutia.

 

I feel that being in a uni environment would be good for me, in more ways that one. So that's really my stance there. 


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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 09:15 AM

It really depends on the level you want to work at, although there's nothing to stop you writing during downtime as a DP. Writing combines easier with directing, although it's best not to rely on directing only your own scripts if you want regular work. 


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#7 Adam Johnson

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 10:07 AM

It really depends on the level you want to work at, although there's nothing to stop you writing during downtime as a DP. Writing combines easier with directing, although it's best not to rely on directing only your own scripts if you want regular work. 

Yeah, it's a bit weird.  I doubt there's been many writer/cinematographers.  I would probably keep my writing separate from any movies I was actively working on, UNLESS it was that passion-project script, but that I would just direct, yeah. But I could certainly see a benefit to being writer, director, DP on a low-budget student film. 


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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 03:42 PM

There are a few cinematographers who write scripts, but the roles are usually separate. Both Jack Cardiff and Nicolas Roeg wrote scripts.


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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 04:03 PM

Also Freddie Francis and Conrad Hall.


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#10 Adam Johnson

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 11:55 AM

Skip straight to it...

 

Direct   ;)

Ok now this is a revelation.  I had never *really* wanted to direct before.  But my background on both the story-side AND the visual-side seems to make sense as a director.  


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#11 Chris Millar

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 03:57 PM

go figure  ^_^

 

I've noted that people in many positions of both film and theatre direct on the side - at least in their heads - when at work...  

 

"Oh, I would have handled that differently"

 

(The trick is to keep ones mouth shut and keep an eye on your own bag)

 

 

Do you find yourself doing that? (no shame in saying so, I do it myself)


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#12 Adam Johnson

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 07:12 PM

go figure  ^_^

 

I've noted that people in many positions of both film and theatre direct on the side - at least in their heads - when at work...  

 

"Oh, I would have handled that differently"

 

(The trick is to keep ones mouth shut and keep an eye on your own bag)

 

 

Do you find yourself doing that? (no shame in saying so, I do it myself)

 

Well I think so.  I think most movie fans have the capacity to re-make movies to their own liking. 


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#13 Chris Millar

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 08:53 PM

There are some with a simple passion for exactly what they are doing (DoP, gaffer, 1st AD, driver, whatever...) and nothing else really gets them going ... Often its the very same passion that got them involved in the good jobs.


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#14 Jaron Berman

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 11:38 PM

I have a good buddy who struggled for about 10yr as an editorial photographer.  He'd work good magazine gigs every month, but the majority of his income came from assisting commercial photogs.  Oftentimes, as I'm sure you know - in the commercial world the photographer is more of a shmoozer, grand ideas sort of person.  The assistant builds the rig, sets and tests the camera and presents it ready to shoot based on reference images the photog gave earlier.  Essentially, the photo assistant acts as DP and AC, the photographer as Director.

 

When the 5D II came out, my buddy wanted to shoot a couple bizarre shorts - 1 min max, just to play around.  He understood nothing of continuity at the time - just a vision of what sort of final product he wanted.  I DP'd for him 3 projects, and another guy DP'd 2.  His agent took those 5 minutes of footage and booked him a huge ad campaign - as Director.  At first he felt like he should be called the "DP" but realized rather quickly that the translation from commercial photographer in our world really is Director.  He's been doing it since, quite successfully, working all the time.  So yes, perhaps the most natural translation is director - but it can't hurt to learn anything and everything you can about the various elements of filmmaking to enhance your abilities as a director.  There's a world of difference between lighting a still image and lighting a space that actors can move through in 3d, and maybe that is or is not your passion?  But knowing what you want in an image - visually and emotionally - is the directing half of the battle - the Cinematographer is the bridge between that idea and the screen.  Not to say that cinematography isn't creative, just that you have options in terms of how much or what responsibility to take.


Edited by Jaron Berman, 22 April 2013 - 11:41 PM.

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#15 Adam Johnson

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 02:36 PM

You know, when I Watch movies , I understand all the elements, not just in shooting and acting, but the music and editing, all that. I pay attention to the whole thing and when one of them sucks, I think we all say "Oh, well, the score was the only weak part."  Etc.  You know I'm a huge movie buff - but I NEVER liked reading scripts, often times they read like stereo instructions.  So I guess that's a clue I shouldn't be a screenwriter full-out.  

 

The biggest fear with cinematography has always been the technology curve, which is a big reason i'd want to go to school, and a very hands-on one at that. Somewhere with RED and a commercially-steered curriculum.  With some practice and a little guidance, yeah I could probably toss together something that manages to work.  I've taken a few courses and I've watched a ton of BtS special features (ha).  But you'd know, I'd really want to not leave school before really learning everything and being confident I could step onto a set.  

 

Directing, yeah, I have opinions on a lot of directors and their styles.  I know enough film history to have studied the masters and the really awful ones.  I've soaked up every film documentary and behind the scenes I could.  But i have NO idea how a set works.  I have some knowledge about a couple things just from observation, but I don't know everything I know I would need to.  


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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 02:40 PM

Cinematography has little to do with what camera system you are on, and a whole lot more with how you use a light. Best camera in the world won't mean much if you havn't a clue where to place your heads.

Also I think you'd learn a lot more as a DoP, if you want to go that way, being saddled with a DSLR and trying to make that look good (or a little crappy DV Camera) then something like a RED or an Alexa where you're leaving the choices and need to get it right till post and color correction.

You also probably won't learn how a set works in a Film school. I'd look for jobs as a PA instead.


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#17 Adam Johnson

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 07:39 PM

Cinematography has little to do with what camera system you are on, and a whole lot more with how you use a light. Best camera in the world won't mean much if you havn't a clue where to place your heads.

Also I think you'd learn a lot more as a DoP, if you want to go that way, being saddled with a DSLR and trying to make that look good (or a little crappy DV Camera) then something like a RED or an Alexa where you're leaving the choices and need to get it right till post and color correction.

You also probably won't learn how a set works in a Film school. I'd look for jobs as a PA instead.

But certainly theres value to it.  I didnt learn the most recent technology in my photo degree, and it hurt - a lot - later on.  


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#18 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 08:38 PM

Not really. Yes, it's important to understand how the camera responds to light-- and that's why DoPs do Camera tests, but it's not like RED will be the only camera you're working on as a DoP, assuming it's even still in use when you're out of school. Film has changed, the lifespan for the new "cool" camera is about 2 years, maybe 3 before a new beast comes along which productions want to often jump on. By the time you get out, the RED will be outdated or updated and you'll be back to square one anyway in terms of how it'll work with light, doing camera tests.

This is discounting as well all the other cameras out there, Alexa, Film (and ever stock), DSLRs, Sony Cine Altas.

 

As a cinematographer, you're not learning a camera system, per say, but how to use lighting, framing, and motion to tell a story.


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#19 Adam Johnson

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 08:57 PM

Not really. Yes, it's important to understand how the camera responds to light-- and that's why DoPs do Camera tests, but it's not like RED will be the only camera you're working on as a DoP, assuming it's even still in use when you're out of school. Film has changed, the lifespan for the new "cool" camera is about 2 years, maybe 3 before a new beast comes along which productions want to often jump on. By the time you get out, the RED will be outdated or updated and you'll be back to square one anyway in terms of how it'll work with light, doing camera tests.

This is discounting as well all the other cameras out there, Alexa, Film (and ever stock), DSLRs, Sony Cine Altas.

 

As a cinematographer, you're not learning a camera system, per say, but how to use lighting, framing, and motion to tell a story.

I shouldnt have said red.  I should've said *pretty things*.  Modern digital workflow.

 

Anyway.


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#20 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 09:20 AM

Best learn the principles, everything else changes and you have to keep up to date, (that applies to film and digital media) but knowing how to use light, framing and using the camera to tell the story doesn't. You can still read how Gregg Toland shot "Citizen Kane" and use that to shoot a digital film. 


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