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Graduating in 3 months and wanting to pursue a career in narrative cinematography.

Cinematography Career Lighting Camera Careers Advice

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#1 Justin Montgomery

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Posted 12 March 2014 - 04:49 PM

Hello!

 

I am new to this forum and this is my first post. I'm graduating in 3 months and I am looking for a direction to build my career in. I know I want to pursue a career in feature film cinematography. I've shot quite a few things while in film school and have built up a reel with photography portfolio as well. But I know I still have much to learn.

 

Website: Montgomeryimages.com

 

My questions is this: If you want to build a career in cinematography and do this for a living which is better to do?

 

1. Go to the nearest budding film city and work from the bottom in the Grip/Electrical department.

 

(I am hesitant to do this because I am afraid that all the camera skills I learned will disappear.)

 

2. Go to the nearest budding film city and work from the bottom in the camera department.

 

(I am hesitant to do this because I am afraid that all the Lighting/gripping skills I learned will disappear.)

 

3. Go to a smaller city (I.e. a city with not as big a film incentive) invest in your own lighting/camera gear and start taking low budget gigs with the intent on making a name for yourself in that city. "Bigger fish/Smaller pond"

 

(I am hesitant to do this because I am still learning and I feel like I should be learning from others. Don't I need to "pay my dues" as they say?)

 

I am really passionate about cinematography and this industry. When I am on set as , I get in this "flow" where time will just pass and I can be there for hours without breaks.

 

 

Thank you for any advice that you can offer.

 

 

Justin Montgomery

Montgomeryimages.com

 

 

 


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#2 Rakesh Malik

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 04:59 PM

I'm still at the getting started phase as well, so I'm not significantly ahead of you... in fact, I'm still taking classes -- I have film history yet to complete (and that is a great class). 

 

My suggestion would be twofold. First, start looking for internships. Most schools have contacts with some production companies and will generally try to help you land an internship with one. Also start working on films as much as you can with friends, and take advantage of relationships you've made in film school to pull together like-minded crews.

 

And network. That's the big part, something I've been historically not very good at, but I'm improving. Clearly it's working; I'm not getting paid for my cinematography on a regular basis yet, but I do get paid for it, and I'm also working on several films as DP and in some cases camera operator, and doubling up as a gaffer and sometimes also as sound recordist. One of those films is a feature comedy. No budget, but it's a feature. IIRC we have 3-4, possibly 5 weekends of production left to complete, but I'll have to double check with the director/producer. 


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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 05:19 PM

Option 4 is also just to throw yourself 100% into being a DoP in a big city and pray on luck and good fortune and a great gaffer and AC to cover your rear! (though those two are necessary anywhere).

 

There is no right or wrong choice, it all comes down to what things come your way, the type of person you are, and the people you meet. What worked (or theoretically is working?) for me will probably not work for you since it's a different time, you're a different person in a different place. When you graduate, evaluate what you have in front of you and in your bank account and pick your path. They are all frightening and fraught with danger and pitfalls. The network, both in film and outside of it (perhaps especially outside of it) will be your salvation, and sometimes your knocked-down-a-peg. But the key is to keep one's momentum up so the overall motion is forward although the momentary motion is not. As was once said in a film, It doesn't matter how hard you can hit, it matters how hard you can get hit. 

Paying dues is all well and good, and I am happy to say I did my time with that, personally, though none of it really helped me to become a DoP-- for myself I only got here by one day saying, you know what, I'm a DoP. When you want to pick that day, and where you want to say it is up to you, but you gotta say it loudly and be prepared for the inevitable self doubt, failure, heartache, what the hell was I thinking, which we all encounter but very rarely own up to.

 

In the meantime, don't get too crazy on setting up some path, plans will fall apart, they always do. Focus on capitalizing as much as you can from every little thing which comes along. Many will not pay off at all, and some just might-- but you gotta have your eyes open to see them and your mind on the here and now to get 'em.

 

 

My 2 cents.

 

(P.s. be careful with buying cameras, they go out of style quickly, lights, grip, and good lenses last a lot longer and rent out a lot more, unless you have the funds to hop on the new hot camera before it floods the market-- though then you're really just a buy-a-dp and a warmbody for the camera. Nothing wrong with that if you have the professionalism and talent and honesty with yourself to make good images, either by knowing how to do it yourself, or knowing who to trust to help you do it)

 

 

P.P.S. Saw this posting days ago and meant to reply then, but lapsed my mind. Apologies for tardiness normally myself and the community are much quicker on helping out-- but it's starting to pick up work wise for me at least and I'm sure others, so we're a bit all stretched thin


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#4 Rakesh Malik

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 05:38 PM

This is something I've been running into a *lot* lately, because in my neck of the woods it's pretty much standard practice to assume that the DP isn't much more than the person who provides the camera... and as such, there are a lot of productions that make their DP choice based on the type of camera that they own. 

 

Of course, these folks aren't paying, and most of their footage isn't particularly well lit or shot, but it's shot in 4K!

 

It doesn't help that the film schools around here encourage this mentality. They don't teach squat about cinematography here; just "here's camera, let me tell you about the rule of thirds, and now go shoot a film." (This is the extent of the cinematography coverage we had at my school.)

 

Don't fall into that trap; instead, keep pushing yourself to develop your lighting and composition skills, and do your best to keep producing quality work. And show it. It's not useful if you don't show it to anyone ;)

 

 

(P.s. be careful with buying cameras, they go out of style quickly, lights, grip, and good lenses last a lot longer and rent out a lot more, unless you have the funds to hop on the new hot camera before it floods the market-- though then you're really just a buy-a-dp and a warmbody for the camera. Nothing wrong with that if you have the professionalism and talent and honesty with yourself to make good images, either by knowing how to do it yourself, or knowing who to trust to help you do it)

 


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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 07:22 PM

I don't normally have a problem with people using whatever means at their disposal to get a head-- unless of course it's costing me work then i may curse them to myself though I can't honestly admit I'd not do the same if I had the funds-- which of course I don't. I did have a chance to get a Red One when it first came out-- but I chose to buy an SR3 instead. The SR3 in no way made me back anywhere near the money I spent on her, but it did make me a better DoP since I had to learn really quickly how not to screw up film. Sadly I'll have to retire her soon, at a loss of money, of course, though not a loss of experience, so I can't harbor any regrets really.

It's even worse in LA I think where often you'll get guys coming out with full Epic packages and UltraPrimes for $200/day. Race to the bottom these days and producers smarly figure if they even remotely get it ok in camera, they can edit it, and spend either the money or the time fixing it in post, as best one can. The shooters, on the other hand, get the credits and at those budgets there's a producer born ever minute.


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#6 Chris Millar

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 09:11 PM

But I bet you made your money on your EX1 ?

 

With mine I pulled the 'warm body attached' gig ($0) but got myself exposure to lots of interesting places and events that would have otherwise been completely exclusive (if I'd even heard of them).

 

Sold it just after the 'already uncool' time had hit (to perhaps someone a little behind themselves) - so once the sale had been reconciled with the rentals (about 10~15 of them) I discovered I had actually made a profit  :o

 

It's all in the timing - and perhaps the market characteristics of where I was located weren't as flooded as it might be in the States.

 

Anyway, just saying, it can work out   ;)


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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 09:14 PM

EX1 Made a good deal of money on lots of corporate shoots but that was a bit of awhile after the SR3 not to mention tens of thousands less!-- but then again that really isn't as much DoP as it is hey use this kino flo! Then I sold it and now..oh I miss it sometimes. If I had only know the power of SxS cards in LA!


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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 09:18 PM

Though actually I should add, had I been smart, I'd've bought no cameras and used that money to rent whatever they wanted for the shoot then pass along that rental cost to them-- then I probably would've gotten passed over for fewer shoots because "oh well billy jo bob bill mcgee" has a _______.


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#9 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 08:04 AM

I'd start with option one and I'll explain why.  One of the more tough aspects when you're just starting out as a DP is dealing with hugely underfunded films that can't afford experienced G&E crew members.  This creates a safety hazard on sets but it also leaves a gap in your workflow.  A DP needs a good solid team and without that, you're forced to do a lot on your own.  I did four years of film school but I graduated not knowing how to properly use nets on C-stands.  Just one example of how things slip past when you're learning everything at once.  I've only ever gaffed on one feature like 10 years ago but what I learned in those 5 weeks was more than all my cinematography classes put together.  Cause I was in the field working for a DP who had been a gaffer for 15 years.  It was embarrassing to find out how much I didn't know cause I never crewed before.  But I'm glad I had that experience early on.  It filled in a whole lot of gaps in my education.

 

So this is where having even a few film experiences under your belt as a technician will come in handy.  But I mean as crew on something larger where you can observe qualified grips handle actual film gear.  Watch what they do, learn a lot because in the beginning, you'll have to do much of it on your own or train people who are also very green.

 

I wouldn't recommend crewing for too long though.  As it's hard to establish yourself as a DP when everyone in town knows you as a grip or a P.A.  Also, keep a clean IMDB page that's mostly the job you want to do for a living.   So learn what you need and apply it to your own shoots.  Then shoot as much as possible. 


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 27 March 2014 - 08:06 AM.

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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 09:24 AM

One of the more tough aspects when you're just starting out as a DP is dealing with hugely underfunded films that can't afford experienced G&E crew members.  This creates a safety hazard on sets but it also leaves a gap in your workflow.  A DP needs a good solid team and without that, you're forced to do a lot on your own.  I did four years of film school but I graduated not knowing how to properly use nets on C-stands.

 

And I thought this happened to me because I didn't go to film school.

 

I have occasionally shot stuff, and even more occasionally I've received supportive comments about it, and on one hand that's an indication that what it's really about is getting photons to hit things in the right way, and how one achieves this is largely irrelevant to the results. But this issue is part of why I am very uncomfortable when other people refer to me as a director of photography.

 

P


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#11 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 10:10 AM

 

And I thought this happened to me because I didn't go to film school.

 

Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot in film school and I always advise people to go.  I just meant that some of the specific techniques of how to properly set grip gear are things that film schools don't necessarily stress.  That's where hands on instruction from experienced grips will fill in the much needed gaps and show you the proper, safe and most efficient way to set grip gear.  Stuff like that along with basic electrical info on gennies and what not.  It's best to get hands on training from experienced G&E before winging it.

Because when you shoot your first microbudget features, you likely won't have grips like that on set.  At least not right away.  So it's best to know as much of that as possible to at least have a safe working environment.  Also when you are able to afford the good knowledgeable grips.  It helps to speak some of the jargon and know how to tell them what you want set.


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 27 March 2014 - 10:13 AM.

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