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Bumpy road for features and new DP's ahead.


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#1 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 04:46 AM

I have a distinct feel the film business is just entering what the music business went through in the last 10 years - and came out of. A giant shakedown.

 

With DVD dead, there is no outlet for the smaller films and no way for them to recoup their money. Which ultimately means they won't be produced. I used to see a lot of films that didn't get theatrical release on DVD, in fact my whole childhood/teenhood was spent watching that stuff. Now I never do that. Can't remember the last time I bought a film that had not had a theatrical release on iTunes etc. That kind of viewing has moved to TV shows. Consumption has changed. And it's obvious that these new digital deliveries (that I'm all for btw and is the future) is mainly benefitting consumer and content provider at this time, not producer and filmmakers. Have you heard what Netflix etc pay for low budget features? It's ridiculous. You might get $3k for licensing your feature worldwide for a year, if you can even get it in there. 

It's going to become exactly like the music business: little micro budget features that get self released on a website and never make a dime and are basically charity films, or Jay Z/Daft Punk steamroll machines - and nothing in between. Which means there will only be room for huge Hollywood stuff at the cinemas, or Oscar fodder dramas. None of which a new generation can cut their teeth on. I suppose the bottom line is there are just too many directors, too many filmmakers, too many DP's, too many producers making content. Maybe this is the armageddon the industry needs. However, from a purely selfish standpoint, it does mean that most avenues are closed off for those of us who would like to move to features in the more mature part of our career. The obstacles are:

 

1. Since TV has become the new film in terms of quality, it means the veteran DP's will rule that domain and that entry into the long form business will now become much harder for us without extensive feature/TV credits.

2. When a young director you came up with gets a shot at a feature, he will never be able to take you along with him. At those heightened entry budget levels, they will demand a veteran DP. They never pair rookie director with rookie DP. They'll gladly take a chance on a new director, but never on a new DP.

3. The only hope for a fresh DP is that a veteran director, who has the clout to push you through the system, takes you on for a film. And why would he do that when fifteen Oscar nominated DP's are falling over themselves to work with him?

The entry points are closing like wormholes and I sense it will get a lot harder in the future to make that transition. I hope I'm wrong.


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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 06:40 AM

Adam, I don't know if you remember what it was like working in London, but there was presumably a reason you left.
 
The situation you describe is that which has existed outside LA for decades. If that's now the case in good ol' so-cal as well, everyone there has my sympathy, but frankly, and I hate to be brutal - welcome to the world.
 
It's going to become exactly like the music business: little micro budget features that get self released on a website and never make a dime and are basically charity films, or Jay Z/Daft Punk steamroll machines - and nothing in between.
 
Er, yes, that's what it's been like in London for at least twenty years. Ain't I been saying it?
 
Which means there will only be room for huge Hollywood stuff at the cinemas, or Oscar fodder dramas. None of which a new generation can cut their teeth on. I suppose the bottom line is there are just too many directors, too many filmmakers, too many DP's, too many producers making content. Maybe this is the armageddon the industry needs. However, from a purely selfish standpoint, it does mean that most avenues are closed off for those of us who would like to move to features in the more mature part of our career.
 
Er, yeah, that's basically what I've been saying, I think. I think you're quite right. I had this thought when I was about 19, when it became clear that my "multimedia systems" (that is, web development) degree was worth less than the paper it was printed on, and that I'd probably have to follow Plan B into camerawork. I'd always wanted to be a cameraman. But I knew very well that it was probably impossible to make a decent living at it, and I was right. And that was in 1999. It's not much fun going into a field knowing full well that failure is almost inevitable, but I did work this out when I was a student. There is nothing new here.
 
I'm not sure that it's really the death of DVD, that's causing it, anyway. I get the impression that nobody was really making a living off that in any case. If there's any light in this particular tunnel whatsoever, perhaps it's crowdfunding; it offers the opportunity for stuff to be made that's tailored quite highly to a fairly specific audience, and for it to be made with complete confidence that it's pre-funded. I hope that will take up some of the slack. But I'm still under no illusions whatsoever that I'm ever going to be a cameraman on feature films.
 
The frustration for me is that you would have thought that the increase in distribution channels (now theatrical, DVD and online, plus way more television than ever before) would have created a larger content market. But much as we all warned them that television was a zero-sum game and that little or no more money would be liberated from the viewer by increasing channel counts, it hasn't. This is one reason I went, to some extent, into motion graphics. But even though they're making far less money, they'll still go to the covent garden prick boutiques and pay them £75,000 for an eighteen-frame interstitial. It's the same issue: people are pretending that they're one of the five terrestrial channels in a mid-90s business model, in the same way that the movie industry is still pretending it's the Golden Age, but it's really, really not.
 
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#3 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 09:45 AM


The entry points are closing like wormholes and I sense it will get a lot harder in the future to make that transition. I hope I'm wrong.

 

You are a bit wrong I think because I imagine it will be worse than what you are describing. I don't know what the TV industry is like in the states but here in the UK it has traditionally been something of a closed shop. Things like the AFM are very open and democratic in comparison. I find it ironic because theres been all this talk about the "democratization of the moving image" and in fact it's the exact opposite that is taking place.

 

The good news is that the movie industry has done a FANTASTIC job of meeting the challenges and propping up the industry to stop it from collapsing. They are doing this through huge tent pole releases that stand up as "event cinema" that people will want to see right now and not when it appears on a torrent a few months hence and 3D which is basically about selling more expensive tickets. If it wasn't for that the whole edifice would have collapsed long ago. (I should probably add that film also plays a minor part still in propping things up but that whole side of things is very much sagging)

 

The bottom line is that cinema is coming to an end and television is now the dominant technology, whether that be in the form of actual sets in the home or television projectors in the cinema.

 

As Phil suggests, none of this is actual news tho, it may only just be reaching your surroundings as you are in a higher plane of cinematographic existence.

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 29 January 2014 - 09:46 AM.

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#4 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 10:08 AM

No, I think this is a distinct change in consumption. I used to personally buy a lot of DVD's and it was a mixed bag - theatrical releases but also direct-to-DVD films that interested me. Or art house. Now I don't consume those at all anymore. Now I watch big release films in the theatres (there is nothing else), or TV drama. The rebirth of television, and the quality programming one finds there is great, but it does have one distinct disadvantage for DP's: You're not gonna get a shot at it unless you're already a name. And the better it gets, the less of a chance you'll have.

 

So future DP's face a daunting prospect: shoot charity features that no one will ever see, for decades, unable to support yourself or your family, hoping one of them gets picked up at a festival and gets you validated, or…..well, what? That's it. That's your only option. There is no financial market for these low budget films. There is no venue for them anymore. Where are they gonna get seen? Not on TV, not in cinemas, not online, not on DVD, not on an airplane etc. They'll become like shorts are today, only seen online for free by very dedicated bunch.

 

The feature I shot in 2009 I got paid £500/week on. I've never worked harder in my life. My hourly rate was less than a McDonalds worker. I can't see this segment improving much.


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#5 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 10:10 AM

Consumption has changed. And it's obvious that these new digital deliveries (that I'm all for btw and is the future) is mainly benefitting consumer and content provider at this time, not producer and filmmakers. Have you heard what Netflix etc pay for low budget features? It's ridiculous. You might get $3k for licensing your feature worldwide for a year, if you can even get it in there. 

 

 

If you can get it in there is spot on. Netflix are in the process of dumping their indie content as they have found that the long tail strategy isn't really working for them and they don't need the extra overhead.

 

Freya


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#6 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 10:29 AM

No, I think this is a distinct change in consumption. I used to personally buy a lot of DVD's and it was a mixed bag - theatrical releases but also direct-to-DVD films that interested me. Or art house. Now I don't consume those at all anymore. Now I watch big release films in the theatres (there is nothing else), or TV drama. The rebirth of television, and the quality programming one finds there is great, but it does have one distinct disadvantage for DP's: You're not gonna get a shot at it unless you're already a name. And the better it gets, the less of a chance you'll have.

 

That change in consumption isn't new tho! lol! That's what I mean.

 

DVD sales have been plumetting off a rock for a long time. I don't know anybody who still uses them. I've been one of the last hold outs till recently. The electronics companies bungled the release of blu-ray confusing the consumer with HD-DVD and blu-ray, and the result nobody bought either, aside from the blu-ray drives that snuck in as Playstation consoles. Meanwhile DVD's became so heavily discounted that they were not so viable as a revenue stream anymore, plus people started getting stuff via the internet in all its forms.

 

None of this is in any way new. In fact both television and Hollywood has moved with these changes and had time to adapt and neither are exactly fast moving. I believe that one reason why we are seeing higher quality TV at the moment is because YouTube has cheap tat already covered really well. Why watch reality TV when you can see more actual reality stuff on YouTube for instance. Gadget shows, cookings shows even comedy. Lots to be had on YouTube. That along with competition from multi-channel in general means that TV is having to make more of an effort.

 

It's indies that havn't been able to adapt with the times because by their nature they are fragmented and unorganised.

 

There are possibilities to create new avenues for things but they will take a LOT to pull off.

 

Freya


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#7 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 10:41 AM

The feature I shot in 2009 I got paid £500/week on. I've never worked harder in my life. My hourly rate was less than a McDonalds worker. I can't see this segment improving much.

 

!!! er, not sure what to say about this! Why would that segment improve? £500 a week for something like that is probably going to be a good rate compared to the future. We have already established that movies are going to struggle to recoup. It's logical that the cloth will be cut accordingly, hence budgets falling to try and make things work at the new level. To be honest this has already been happening for a while now.

 

Things will change to fit in with the new environment.

 

Freya


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#8 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 10:47 AM


The frustration for me is that you would have thought that the increase in distribution channels (now theatrical, DVD and online, plus way more television than ever before) would have created a larger content market. But much as we all warned them that television was a zero-sum game and that little or no more money would be liberated from the viewer by increasing channel counts, it hasn't. This is one reason I went, to some extent, into motion graphics. But even though they're making far less money, they'll still go to the covent garden prick boutiques and pay them £75,000 for an eighteen-frame interstitial. It's the same issue: people are pretending that they're one of the five terrestrial channels in a mid-90s business model, in the same way that the movie industry is still pretending it's the Golden Age, but it's really, really not.

 

It HAS created a larger content market! Just look at YouTube.

It's just not the kind of content market you were probably hoping for!

Stuff is changing very quickly and is continuing to change.

 

I fully expect to see a shift at some point in the whole way in which content is created.

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 29 January 2014 - 10:49 AM.

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#9 Richard Boddington

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 11:14 AM

With DVD dead,

 

I'm not sure DVD is dead to be quite honest.  People keep saying that but the sales data does not support this.  Have a look at the top 100 for 2013:

 

http://www.the-numbe.../dvd-sales/2013

 

Yes, most of those were/are theatrical titles, but there are still a number straight to DVD titles that put up great numbers.  Mostly in the kids categories.  Low budget horror has struggled for a long time.  But someone out there has the next Paranormal Activity, you know they do.

 

R,


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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 11:17 AM

The feature I shot in 2009 I got paid £500/week on.

 

Are you kidding, that's brilliant!

 

If it's any consolation, I got offered £3500 to write a 40,000 word plus 200 illustration textbook a few weeks ago. Writing is hardly better.


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#11 Mark Dunn

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 11:32 AM

I got offered £3500 to write a 40,000 word plus 200 illustration textbook

Not too bad for a limited licence if you already had the material, and you can sell essentially the same stuff a few times.

A bit stingy from scratch, though. 8 weeks' work, I'd say, if you don't write regularly. Not much worse than Adam's £500/week.

More to the point, did you take it?


Edited by Mark Dunn, 29 January 2014 - 11:33 AM.

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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 11:37 AM

No I bloody didn't, and yes I do write regularly. Yes I could have blasted it out in a few weeks but honestly, would it have been any good?

 

 

If it had just been the writing I might have considered it on the basis of it looking good to have done it, but the amount of graphic art and picture research involved made it completely absurd to even think about doing it. And yes, on the basis of Adam's concerns about endemic low pay, I thought about doing it anyway!

 

 

You'd need a very good reason to need a book on your CV.

 

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#13 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 11:39 AM

 

I'm not sure DVD is dead to be quite honest.  People keep saying that but the sales data does not support this.  Have a look at the top 100 for 2013:

 

http://www.the-numbe.../dvd-sales/2013

 

Yes, most of those were/are theatrical titles, but there are still a number straight to DVD titles that put up great numbers.  Mostly in the kids categories.  Low budget horror has struggled for a long time.  But someone out there has the next Paranormal Activity, you know they do.

 

R,

 

I think it depends on the way you are looking at it. DVD is still around but it isn't what it once was and doesn't have the same ability to support indie productions. especially of the more expensive variety. Hence those evil producers cutting their cloth accordingly and budgets falling. Independent DVD companies have been largely pushed out of the major stores still selling DVD's too.

 

Having said all that, Lionsgate keep pumping out DVD's so there must be something there they like and technically they are an independent too albeit not of the same kind. I get the impression Lionsgate are somewhat savvy in what they get up to so...

 

Freya


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#14 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 12:35 PM

I think whether or not DVD is dead is a moot point. The film industry has always been an exceedingly difficult industry to break into. The barriers to entry have merely morphed over the years. 40 years ago I imagine it was nearly impossible to even hold a camera without knowing a guy who knows a guy at the Paramount lot. Many more films are being produced worldwide than ever before. This is a blessing and a curse. But I think more of a blessing. I still maintain that the cream always rises to the top. Many more films are being made, but statistically, I don't think you'll find many more great films being made now than any other period in cinema history. Try to put this all in perspective: 50 years ago, the only mode of distribution was your movie being printed on 35mm and sending it to theaters around the world. How is that for a barrier to entry? So, I wouldn't say that times are particularly difficult now. We are just face to face with new problems to manage and overcome. And I think that is probably just apart of the reality of being in the film industry in any capacity.

 

Adam mentioned that he hasn't seen a movie that didn't get a theatrical release on VOD or iTunes, but both of those services make available many many solid films that 20 years ago, you would never know existed. And, by extension, gives a voice to the filmmakers on those films. Now how that translates financially is a different issue, but 3k for a year of online licensing seems more favorable to me than say, no release and no one realizing you existed 20 years ago. So yeah, it always has been, and always will be difficult to turn filmmaking into a profitable endeavor, particularly from the perspective of DP's. But these changes have overall been very positive ones for filmmaking as an art form.

 

From the cinematographer's perspective, the problem isn't that there are too many movies. The problem is that with the low priced, high level technology available today, there are too many cinematographers. And digital cameras have made it easier for posers to pretend they know what they're doing. The barriers to entry to call yourself  a "cinematographer" today are incredibly low. And the market is saturated. Tens of thousands of people competing for only a few jobs. Basic math suggests that making it as a DP today would be nearly impossible unless you're at the top of your craft. But then again, 50 years ago, you weren't competing with anyone else as a DP, because it was so difficult to gain entry initially-- to the extent that if you were somehow a known DP in the 1960's, it might be akin to winning the lottery.

 

My conclusion is that it is just a difficult to be a cinematographer today as it ever was. The only difference is that the unique financial challenges have dramatically changed, but have at no point been truly in the favor of the cinematographer. Or even, arguably, the director.


Edited by Jason Outenreath, 29 January 2014 - 12:37 PM.

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#15 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 03:48 PM

 Try to put this all in perspective: 50 years ago, the only mode of distribution was your movie being printed on 35mm and sending it to theaters around the world. How is that for a barrier to entry?

 

To be fair there was plenty of 16mm around in 1964 but you have a good point other than that!

A lot of the things we take for granted now are more of a historical blip really.

 

Freya


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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 04:20 PM

The only thing I have left to take issue with here is about the cream rising to the top.

 

This may have been how it was at one time. These days it's more about being suitably arrogant and self-promoting.


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#17 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 11:07 PM

2. When a young director you came up with gets a shot at a feature, he will never be able to take you along with him. At those heightened entry budget levels, they will demand a veteran DP. They never pair rookie director with rookie DP. They'll gladly take a chance on a new director, but never on a new DP.

 

Soooo true.   I met Agnieszka Wojtowicz once.  She is the rags to riches success story every young filmmaker dreams of being.  She did one short film Pate in 2001 that won the grand jury at Sundance.  It was her senior thesis film.  

 

Next thing she did was 8 years later,  Afterlife with Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson.  Seriously.  From a senior thesis project to directing Liam Neeson?  That's kind of ridiculous.  And I asked her whether she fought to have Shawn Kim, the DP on Pate work on Afterlife.  I mean, afterall, he helped her get that opportunity.  Who knows if Pate would have won had another DP shot it?

 

Of course the answer was no.  She tried but the bond company wouldn't allow Shawn to shoot it cause he hadn't done anything that big before.  Yeah, but they'd trust a multi-million dollar budget to a first time director just cause her short won Sundance?  This logic in the business is absolutely retarded.  As if it gets more difficult to shoot something when you have more money and a larger crew and a longer schedule. The exact opposite is true.   It's much harder to shoot for the exact same results when you have no money, no crew and half the time.  

 

I wish execs and bond companies would trust DP's the way they seem to trust brand new directors.  Especially since we typically have way more on set experience and paid way more dues.


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 29 January 2014 - 11:12 PM.

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#18 Richard Boddington

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Posted 29 January 2014 - 11:48 PM

Well Michael it's just as tough if not tougher for directors.  Using your example it was an eight year gap between Agnieszka's short film & After.Life.  That's a hell of a long time, what was she doing to survive financially during that time period?  Since 2009 she hasn't racked up another film.  That is not a criticism in any regard, it is an observation on the difficulties of the film business.

 

Forum member Steve Whitehead, who was DOP on my last feature, is a young guy and he NEVER stops working.  He literally goes from one film to the next with no breaks in between.  He's shooting in Romania right now.  The instant he gets home he goes onto another dog comedy film.  He just doesn't stop, he's booked solid and no he does not have an agent.

 

What's his secret? No one knows for sure? But he's very good at the "hustle" and he doesn't sit around waiting for his phone to ring.  I think all young DOPs could take a page out of Steve's playbook.  One thing he does not do is complain about a lack of work!

 

R,


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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 January 2014 - 12:27 AM

If you look beyond just features at the totality of the market including all the cable channels, etc. I think there is plenty of shooting going on that needs cinematographers -- the problem isn't so much a lack of work (though I do think the film schools are probably churning out more potential workers than the industry needs at the moment), it's that the wages can be so low on average that one cannot maintain anything like a middle class lifestyle that one would expect for doing skilled labor like cinematography.

 

As Adam says, with the total number of medium-to-high budgeted features falling, those high-end cinematographers are moving into mainstream television in order to continue to do creative work in narrative fiction, but it means the competition is very high for those jobs.

 

In my own case, I graduated from CalArts in 1991, just when home video was in its "first" collapse from the heyday of the late 1980's.  For me, that was a break because producers were looking for new cinematographers willing to work on straight-to-video features that were being made a quarter or more less than they were just a few years earlier.  I made several of these sorts of genre movies in the 1990's, all for under a million dollars and all non-union, but even if I managed to score three features in one year, they were only paying maybe $6000 total for each shoot, meaning in my best year I couldn't clear $20,000 a year unless I augmented my income with other work like doing EPK's and industrials, infomercials, etc.

 

Then I caught the next wave, which was the rise of independent art house movies in the early 2000's.  At first, the pay was the same but the projects were much more artistic.  Then the studios formed art house divisions and started making the same festival-type movies but with three times the budget and under union contracts, and finally my income also rose.

 

But by 2008-2009, the studios were closing their indie divisions and budgets for features were falling dramatically and much fewer movies total were getting made.  But this was also the rise of the next wave, the high-concept cable TV series like those at HBO and Showtime, and then AMC, USA Network, etc.  So a lot of those cinematographers who shot mid-level studio and indie features were shifting over to television work, such as myself.  Now I'm doing a mix of indie features and television, but more television (for one thing, the schedules are longer so they take up more of the year.)

 

The only poison pill, so to speak, is just that the tax incentives around the country have meant that many of these series are shot away from Los Angeles where I live, and while it is one thing to leave home for two months to shoot an indie feature, it's another thing to leave home for seven or eight months to shoot a TV series.

 

But competition is fierce for pilots and series work, so many big-name cinematographers now are involved, and at the same time, they are also going after what feature work remains as well.

 

But I see plenty of smaller work out there for beginners, the only question is whether it will just be a stepping stone to jobs that pay a decent salary or whether newcomers are looking at years of hard work for very little income.  I don't know.  One scenario is that outlets like Netflix and other cable channels keep investing in more and more shows, but another is that if cable TV collapses and becomes an a la carte system where only a few big cable channels survive, suddenly there won't be hundreds of channels all trying to fill airtime.


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#20 Freya Black

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Posted 30 January 2014 - 04:07 AM


But by 2008-2009, the studios were closing their indie divisions and budgets for features were falling dramatically and much fewer movies total were getting made.  But this was also the rise of the next wave, the high-concept cable TV series like those at HBO and Showtime, and then AMC, USA Network, etc.  So a lot of those cinematographers who shot mid-level studio and indie features were shifting over to television work, such as myself.  Now I'm doing a mix of indie features and television, but more television (for one thing, the schedules are longer so they take up more of the year.)

 

The only poison pill, so to speak, is just that the tax incentives around the country have meant that many of these series are shot away from Los Angeles where I live, and while it is one thing to leave home for two months to shoot an indie feature, it's another thing to leave home for seven or eight months to shoot a TV series.

 

But competition is fierce for pilots and series work, so many big-name cinematographers now are involved, and at the same time, they are also going after what feature work remains as well.

 

But I see plenty of smaller work out there for beginners, the only question is whether it will just be a stepping stone to jobs that pay a decent salary or whether newcomers are looking at years of hard work for very little income.  I don't know.  One scenario is that outlets like Netflix and other cable channels keep investing in more and more shows, but another is that if cable TV collapses and becomes an a la carte system where only a few big cable channels survive, suddenly there won't be hundreds of channels all trying to fill airtime.

 

What kind of smaller work do you see out there for beginners?

I don't see no name cinematographers being hired on TV series.

I can imagine Netflix investing in more and more shows but I don't see them investing in low budget stuff anytime soon as they don't have the motivation to do so. (They actually have money coming in!)

 

Low budget work is now so low budget that most cinematographers won't consider it or a cinematographer isn't even needed.

 

Theres a few exceptions but...

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 30 January 2014 - 04:09 AM.

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