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How to become a DP

DP AC equipment path to becoming

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#1 Hamilton Yu

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 05:57 PM

I'm currently studying film at NYU with a concentration in cinematography. I am very serious and passionate about it but I'm just not sure how I go down the path.

 

My end goal would be to be a feature and commercial DP and I understand that it will take time and I am ready to work my way up but how do I get there?

 

Right now I'm just shooting/gaffing/AC projects for others at Tisch and looking for freelance jobs and fashion films. Should I be working to join the Local 600 union? If so, as what? 1st AC?

 

Does anyone have tips on getting more jobs?

 

Finally, does anyone have any advice as to what equipment I should get. Currently, I have a DSLR with lenses, a shoulder rig, follow focus, and an 8" monitor.

 

Thanks a lot for your answers


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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 06:21 PM

It always baffles me when kids at the "elite" film schools come on here and ask these questions.  I mean you are at the NYU Film School, and none of your professors have ideas with regard to how to answer this question?

 

R,

 

Oh BTW, there is very little crossover between DOPs that shoot commercials and those that shoot feature films.


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#3 Hamilton Yu

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 07:55 PM

It always baffles me when kids at the "elite" film schools come on here and ask these questions.  I mean you are at the NYU Film School, and none of your professors have ideas with regard to how to answer this question?

 

R,

 

Oh BTW, there is very little crossover between DOPs that shoot commercials and those that shoot feature films.

Thanks Richard. Very helpful.


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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 08:07 PM

Simplest way is you keep working. You work and you work. No union unless you like spending money for not much. When the time comes to go union you'll have plenty of days for it, one would hope, and then you can join as a DoP.

For most I would say we shot when we got out of school, as much as we could, whatever we could. And we would take other jobs as needed to cover bills as well.

You're already at one of the best film schools in the country. Might as well try shooting some projects there or with people there.

Gear is just another bill you're going to have to pay. Use the DSLR or what the school can offer you. Hell you may get lucky and lens a film which actually gets people excited while still in school. This depends on a lot more than you of course, but it is one of the many ways people become DoPs.


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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 08:12 PM

I know DP's who do both commercials and features regularly -- Eric Steelberg, for example, who used to post here -- but I'm not one of them.  It's just two separate career tracks, two separate sets of connections, and I've never developed connections with anyone in the commercial world.  I've shot three commercials so far, all national spots.

 

I started shooting features right out of film school through connections I made in film school with various directors, producers, etc. or people that worked for those people, who recommended me.

 

Within three features, I made enough connections to get more ten more features at least, and those ten led me to the another twenty-five.  One job leads to the next (assuming you please those who hired you on the job), the editor of the second feature introduced me to the director of the fourth, the producer of the fourth hired me for four features, one of those directors hired me on another one, etc.  I've even been recommended for features by sound recordists on earlier jobs who knew the director.


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#6 Hamilton Yu

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 08:16 PM

Thanks for those great answers!

As a follow up, if one can't get the DP job on a set, what other job would be the most helpful to an aspiring DP: Gaffing, AC, or operating.

Do many DPs start as professional operators or ACs or gaffers?


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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 08:20 PM

I did and still don't mind, doing G/E work. I found it more helpful to learn the lights and riggings than the cameras but that was me. All of those are pretty valid. I would say it's hard to really be an op anymore as on most indie stuff the DP will op themselves (or is expected to). AC i am leery of as I personally think pulling focus is something you either get or don't and if you don't well then you won't get too much work.


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 08:47 PM

DP's come from all sorts of places -- some are always cinematographers and climb the budget ladder, like me, and some climb the crew ladder.  

 

The thing is that rarely does actually working your way up the crew ladder lead automatically to becoming a DP, except maybe on a long-term TV series where promotion to DP happens from within, promoting someone who knows the show well, but otherwise even if you are working as an AC or gaffer, etc. at some point you also have to build your resume as a DP, even if on the side, because ultimately you get hired based on the strength of your resume and reel as a DP, not for your experience as an AC or gaffer, even if those jobs prepare you for some aspect of the job.  Ultimately, though, the only way to learn to be a DP is to shoot.

 

But there are cinematographers who started as AC's and operators for older DP's from whom they learned a lot, and they made connections with producers and directors who gave them their break as cinematographers.

 

So there is no one path, no right or wrong way.  I will say, however, if you choose to be an AC, operator, or gaffer, etc. you have to take that career seriously for a certain number of years and master that craft.

 

I didn't join Local 600 until I had shot about 23 features, about twelve years after I graduated film school.  For some, it happens early, and it happens earlier for AC's than it does for DP's (and it is cheaper to join as an AC than as a DP.)  Basically you join at the time when you are likely to be hired on union productions, before that time, there isn't much reason to join and pay dues and the initiation fee.  For me, I joined when the budgets of my features started climbing over 2 million dollars -- "Northfork" was the last non-union movie I shot, in 2002.


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#9 Hamilton Yu

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 06:03 PM

DP's come from all sorts of places -- some are always cinematographers and climb the budget ladder, like me, and some climb the crew ladder.  

 

The thing is that rarely does actually working your way up the crew ladder lead automatically to becoming a DP, except maybe on a long-term TV series where promotion to DP happens from within, promoting someone who knows the show well, but otherwise even if you are working as an AC or gaffer, etc. at some point you also have to build your resume as a DP, even if on the side, because ultimately you get hired based on the strength of your resume and reel as a DP, not for your experience as an AC or gaffer, even if those jobs prepare you for some aspect of the job.  Ultimately, though, the only way to learn to be a DP is to shoot.

 

But there are cinematographers who started as AC's and operators for older DP's from whom they learned a lot, and they made connections with producers and directors who gave them their break as cinematographers.

 

So there is no one path, no right or wrong way.  I will say, however, if you choose to be an AC, operator, or gaffer, etc. you have to take that career seriously for a certain number of years and master that craft.

 

I didn't join Local 600 until I had shot about 23 features, about twelve years after I graduated film school.  For some, it happens early, and it happens earlier for AC's than it does for DP's (and it is cheaper to join as an AC than as a DP.)  Basically you join at the time when you are likely to be hired on union productions, before that time, there isn't much reason to join and pay dues and the initiation fee.  For me, I joined when the budgets of my features started climbing over 2 million dollars -- "Northfork" was the last non-union movie I shot, in 2002.

 

Thanks for your response David. I would like to climb the budget ladder as you did. But I'm having trouble breaking into paid jobs. I'm currently just working on student films for free but I still need money in NYC. Would you suggest against doing paid AC/gaffing gigs. Also, as a DP for hire, would you suggest I buy any equipment such as lighting or support or even a camera on top of what I already own?


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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 06:14 PM

Decent productions will not need to hire you based on the equipment you own, but it's very common that lower-end stuff will expect you to come with a camera. Happily these are unlikely to be too fussy and you could probably go out and pick up a DSLR and make your way with that.

 

There will always be shows that demand you come along with some highly expensive piece of gear but that isn't very realistic of them, and no matter what you buy, you'll find someone who wants something else.

 

P


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#11 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 10 September 2013 - 09:40 PM

It always baffles me when kids at the "elite" film schools come on here and ask these questions.  I mean you are at the NYU Film School, and none of your professors have ideas with regard to how to answer this question?

 

R,

 

Oh BTW, there is very little crossover between DOPs that shoot commercials and those that shoot feature films.

LOL, I thing you're underestimating yourself there, buddy. He's asking you because YOU do this kind of thing for a living. I LEFT a university education because I wanted to be an actor and they were teaching me to be a teacher. (GOD I hate Texas.) anyway I got better experience in the real world than I ever could have had in the so called higher education I was being given. All I've learned as a film maker comes from practical experience and self education so I consider myself a student of the James Cameron film school, to paraphrase, 'I learned all I ever needed as a film maker for a dollar ninety eight in late fees."  


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Glidecam

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Aerial Filmworks

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Pro 8mm

Robert Starling

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Rig Wheels Passport