Jump to content




Photo

Could I Shoot A Blockbuster?

career blockbuster huh?

  • Please log in to reply
24 replies to this topic

#1 Jon William Brumbaugh

Jon William Brumbaugh

    New

  • Basic Members
  • Pip
  • 3 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Boulder

Posted 14 March 2015 - 07:15 PM

This may be the silliest post ever but here goes...

 

I was recently approached by a very successful Director and asked if I would be interested in shooting his next film.  I've only been shooting for three years.  I have shot broadcast commercials and brand videos mostly, never a feature.  Part of me couldn't image why this question was asked of me in the first place.  The project is absolutely NOT a small budget independent film.  I guess he sees something he really likes, but how the heck could I know if I'm ready for something like that?

 

Obviously a wide open topic and there's limited information I can give out but... Insights welcome.


  • 0




#2 Bill DiPietra

Bill DiPietra
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2268 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • New York City

Posted 14 March 2015 - 07:35 PM

This may be the silliest post ever but here goes...

 

I was recently approached by a very successful Director and asked if I would be interested in shooting his next film.  I've only been shooting for three years.  I have shot broadcast commercials and brand videos mostly, never a feature.  Part of me couldn't image why this question was asked of me in the first place.  The project is absolutely NOT a small budget independent film.  I guess he sees something he really likes, but how the heck could I know if I'm ready for something like that?

 

Obviously a wide open topic and there's limited information I can give out but... Insights welcome.

 

When opportunity knocks, don't be too quick to chase it away.  Go for it.


  • 0

#3 Mark Kenfield

Mark Kenfield
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 715 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Melbourne, Australia

Posted 14 March 2015 - 08:11 PM

It seems clear from your post that you're not up to the task just yet, and should obviously refer the job to me...

 

But telling stories with images isn't a process that's affected by scale, the emotional and narrative impact of an image doesn't change with a film's budget, it simply works or it doesn't. If this Director feels like you can craft the visuals their story needs, then that's the important thing. Don't sweat the technicalities of the bigger setups too much (if that's what you're afraid of) - getting a big time gaffer and a big time key grip on board will allow you to approach those aspects in safe hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seriously though, refer the job to me.


  • 0

#4 Tyler Purcell

Tyler Purcell
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2371 posts
  • Other
  • Los Angeles

Posted 14 March 2015 - 08:32 PM

Ya know, I think anyone with some skills can shoot a feature. Today, much of the look is created in post anyway. So constant lighting and proper lens selection are more important then anything else. 

 

I agree with Mark, finding a great gaffer and key grip are high on the priority list. I'd also find a great AC and Operator. Work with them pre-show, go over lens selection, maybe do some tests pre-show to make sure you're good on day one. I'd simply lean heavily on your gaffer and operator, be more of a director rather then physically doing things. It will help you relax a bit and focus on what you see with your eyes, rather then being stuck behind the camera. 

 

Also… be very forward with the lighting, gaffing and camera department you build, let them know this is your first feature. On my first feature, I had a horrible/worthless gaffer, horrible camera operator and assistant. It was a horrible experience all the way around, mostly because I had no say. Just having some good guys you can lean on when you need help, is HUGE. 


  • 0

#5 Adrian Sierkowski

Adrian Sierkowski
  • Sustaining Members
  • 6771 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, Ca

Posted 15 March 2015 - 02:58 AM

The only way you'll ever know is by trying. Though I do have to disagree with Tyler, don't let the look creation go to post-- go in with a game plan. Work with your director and then relay what you and they need to your keys. Obviously something you did resonated with the director; take hold, be bold, be you. Learn, teach, and think on your feet.

And you'll find much of the same tricks you did before you can still do-- the only difference now is more walkies around, and people to make sure you have a place to sit / remind you not to be [yell at you for] touching things.


  • 0

#6 Neal Norton

Neal Norton
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 35 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Tampa, Florida

Posted 15 March 2015 - 07:23 AM

Well, first off, having a director chat with you about doing a studio film is very different from signing a deal with a large production.

 

There are very few directors able to hire the DP without having the studio/producer consult and or give approval.  I have done more than a few films where the DP was not the Directors choice at all - the Producer hired the cinematographer to help prevent the young or inexperienced Director from making costly mistakes (like hiring a cinematographer with no credits) or upsetting the actors with poor results at the camera.

 

I know of only one studio feature where a famous Director hired a DP with no feature credits because he wanted the film to look like a documentary film - so he hired a very experienced documentary shooter for that one film.  The cinematographer to my knowledge has never done another studio feature film.

 

As to hiring a good Gaffer and Key Grip all I can say is good luck with that.  Talented and experienced department heads are very unlkely to go into a high profile production with a Cinematographer that has no experience.  You would have to convince any A-list department head that the job would not end up being an embarrasing disaster.  People who do big films are not desperate for work.

 

How a cinematographer is treated by the actors is often directly related to the list of credits found on IMDB.  There is more than a little anxiety on the part of the actors who want very much to feel like the production is providing the absolute best quality cinematography possible.  A DP with no credits would be a big problem for many actors and I'll bet there are more than a few movie stars that have a big say in who shoots the film.

 

It sounds like you are doing the most important thing an aspiring DP can do. . . be in contact with working Directors.  If this job does not work out you still have a big advantage over other young cinematographers in that you actually are in contact with a real working Director.  Even if you don't land the job as DP maybe you can be involved in some way that keeps you in contact with your Director.

He/She may have a pet project that doesn't have a big studio budget and would be a really good way to get a foot in the door.

 

Kind regards,

 

Neal Norton

Cinematographer


  • 0

#7 Michael LaVoie

Michael LaVoie
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 605 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 16 March 2015 - 06:47 PM

I would advise against it if you've never worked on a narrative film before.  If it's a huge tentpole film, it's highly unlikely that the completion bond company will approve you so the question is likely moot.  It would be awful to blow an opportunity to make some great industry connections if you lack the experience.  You can always try to get in as the 2nd Unit DP and see if that can smooth the transition for the next opportunity both with the bond company and the production department as well as IATSE.  But then, I have no idea how big the film you're referencing is planned to be.

 

You can have all the confidence in the world and even with the experience, sometimes the lack of IMDB credits in the genre and in the budget area can scare the financiers, broker, bond company etc.  Best to play the politics of the situation to your advantage if you can rather than rail against it.


  • 0

#8 James Steven Beverly

James Steven Beverly
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 4199 posts
  • Director
  • El Paso, Texas

Posted 16 March 2015 - 10:11 PM

You know what they say, the  two entry level positions on a film set is production assistant and director. :rolleyes:


  • 0

#9 Miguel Angel

Miguel Angel
  • Sustaining Members
  • 563 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Spain / Ireland / South Africa

Posted 17 March 2015 - 05:47 PM

Jon, I would say go ahead. 

 

The director has seen something in your work that he likes and although it is difficult for the completion bond to agree on a cinematographer with no "feature" experience to shoot a blockbuster, it has been done loads of times. 

 

Bradford Young is a very good recent example among others like Edu Grau. 

 

So, be honest with your director and your producers but if you get the chance, take it. 

 

And get the best gaffer, grip and camera department you can, they will help you with everything and if you are honest with them and plan things in advance they will love you and they will understand where you want to go. 

 

Don't be afraid and go for it! 

Best!


  • 0

#10 Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes
  • Sustaining Members
  • 11234 posts
  • Other

Posted 17 March 2015 - 07:45 PM

Well, you know, Son, the funny thing about regret is that it's better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven't done

 

I hate trite quotes like that.


  • 0

#11 Richard Boddington

Richard Boddington
  • Sustaining Members
  • 5195 posts
  • Director

Posted 17 March 2015 - 10:24 PM

I've only been shooting for three years.  I have shot broadcast commercials and brand videos mostly, never a feature.  

 

I really don't think we are talking about a 100 million dollar studio film here. Obviously the studio would never approve a DOP with the above mentioned background.  Likely a modest indie film.  And the only objection there, as has been mentioned, may be the bonding company.  The studios don't use bonding companies, so this would be a moot for them.

 

R,


  • 0

#12 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 18789 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 17 March 2015 - 11:15 PM

Hopefully every job one gets is a little step beyond your skills so that it pushes you forward; imagine how little one would grow if you just did what you already knew how to do.  It's important to get beyond your comfort zone.

 

I had a situation on my second feature, which was really my first with a budget (almost 1 mil) -- my first feature was almost a student film -- I met the director before he had financing and he hired me based on my reel.  We thought we'd be shooting the movie on a tinier budget when suddenly some real money came in.  The new line producer told him to dump me because of my lack of experience, but the director stuck with me, so then the line producer told me I'd have to take a salary cut so she could back me up with an experienced gaffer and key grip, which I agreed to.  Months later when we had a screening of the final movie, that line producer apologized to me because she saw how professional the final result was, and that I did the work on time and on budget, plus managed to bring a little art into the mix.  But I could understand her initial concern about paring a first-time director with a second-time cinematographer.  However I was extremely well-prepared and even drew most of the movie out as a storyboard, I knew in advance how most of the scenes were going to be lit.


  • 2

#13 Michael LaVoie

Michael LaVoie
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 605 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 19 March 2015 - 08:12 AM

Hopefully every job one gets is a little step beyond your skills so that it pushes you forward; imagine how little one would grow if you just did what you already knew how to do.  It's important to get beyond your comfort zone.

 

I had a situation on my second feature, which was really my first with a budget (almost 1 mil) -- my first feature was almost a student film -- I met the director before he had financing and he hired me based on my reel.  We thought we'd be shooting the movie on a tinier budget when suddenly some real money came in.  The new line producer told him to dump me because of my lack of experience, but the director stuck with me, so then the line producer told me I'd have to take a salary cut so she could back me up with an experienced gaffer and key grip, which I agreed to.  Months later when we had a screening of the final movie, that line producer apologized to me because she saw how professional the final result was, and that I did the work on time and on budget, plus managed to bring a little art into the mix.  But I could understand her initial concern about paring a first-time director with a second-time cinematographer.  However I was extremely well-prepared and even drew most of the movie out as a storyboard, I knew in advance how most of the scenes were going to be lit.

 

We definitely need a thread of stories like this.  Of DP's proving wrong this theory that the more money you get and the larger a film is, the less likelier you are to bring it in successfully.   Though I doubt many producers would care to look at it.  Everyone is so scared of being the person that gets blamed for a movie's problems cause they hired or approved this or that person, that they hate taking any perceivable risks.  Except when it comes to hiring a 1st time director.  


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 19 March 2015 - 08:13 AM.

  • 0

#14 Rakesh Malik

Rakesh Malik
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 84 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Seattle, WA

Posted 19 March 2015 - 10:58 AM

The director who picked me to shoot his third indie feature picked me because of my stills portfolio more than for my reel, because I didn't have that much in my reel at the time. I'd worked on some student films and some promos, but mostly it was my photography that convinced him that I'd be a good DP. I'm now in pre-production for my 2nd feature film while the first is in post, nearing picture lock.

 

If the director likes your work, you're probably up to the task, unless you talk yourself out of it. A good gaffer and AC would be a big help though. We were lucky to have a good gaffer work with us whenever he was available, and his help enabled us to speed up our setups quite a bit, so we didn't have to compromise and go with the fix it in post approach, which none of the people that I work with favor. We prefer to get as close to the look we're after in camera as we can.


  • 0

#15 Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes
  • Sustaining Members
  • 11234 posts
  • Other

Posted 19 March 2015 - 12:03 PM

I'm never quite sure what the best approach would be, gaffer-wise. Does one throw oneself on the mercy of the court, having a quiet chat about being a first-timer and emphasising the breadth and depth of one's respect for a probably more experienced individual, or is a more bullish approach best?

 

My inclination would be to the former, but I fear the latter would actually work better in many cases.

 

P


  • 0

#16 Rakesh Malik

Rakesh Malik
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 84 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Seattle, WA

Posted 19 March 2015 - 12:59 PM

I don't know either. I've found that some experienced gaffers have their own way of doing things, and refuse to budge on important things like how to light a set, because they think that they always know best, and don't listen to anyone who disagrees with them.

 

That said, one of the more experienced gaffers I've worked with not only knew what he was doing, but worked with the director and me to find ways to accomplish the lighting options we were discussing. Having him on set allowed us to get rolling sooner and with a look that was pretty close to what we wanted for the shot, rather than relying on post to create the look as was necessary with the first type.

 

I know which type I'd pick. The catch is that often you can only find out what sort of gaffer they are by working with them. 


  • 0

#17 Satsuki Murashige

Satsuki Murashige
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3081 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 20 March 2015 - 03:10 AM

I'm never quite sure what the best approach would be, gaffer-wise. Does one throw oneself on the mercy of the court, having a quiet chat about being a first-timer and emphasising the breadth and depth of one's respect for a probably more experienced individual, or is a more bullish approach best?
 
My inclination would be to the former, but I fear the latter would actually work better in many cases.
 
P

I don't think 'bullish' is the way to go. Being pushy and demanding for no reason is stupid and is a sure way to turn the crew against you (within the first few hours if it becomes clear that you have no idea what you are doing).

Don't tell your crew how to do their jobs - just explain what you want, while being reasonable about what is possible given the budget, time, and manpower available. You will get better at judging what is reasonable as you gain more experience, so that judgement call is where you will probably have to rely heavily on your more experienced crew members. I would be honest about your experience level and quietly ask for help and advice when you need it.

Ultimately, you want a gaffer who is knowledgable, crafty, and shares or at least understands your taste. But I would not re-hire a gaffer who does not respect the fact that the responsibility of the final image falls on your shoulders, not theirs. If you feel that the lighting should be done a certain way and they disagree, then it's up to them to convince you to do it their way. When in doubt, go with your gut instinct. You are the one who has to answer to the director and producer for these choices, so you might as well make sure they are your choices. Don't be afraid to fight for what you want aesthetically (within reason).
  • 0

#18 Adrian Sierkowski

Adrian Sierkowski
  • Sustaining Members
  • 6771 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, Ca

Posted 20 March 2015 - 03:19 AM

I would err towards humble and honest. And when I trust a crew member I always ask their opinion quietly.

A good gaffer, a gaffer in tune with you; will allow you to really get what you want. Most of the gaffers I've worked with have been accommodating to what I need and very insightful with ideas. It's not much unlike the military with a Sgt in that sense. You may "outrank" them, sure, as a LT or a Cpt; but they've certainly been around the block a few more times. That knowledge is valuable; and I think if you make sure your whole crew feels valued by you; you'll be fine.

As far as gaffers who want things there own way; sometimes, you have to have a talk with them, and that's enough. Other times, you have to make the judgement call on whether it's wiser to let them go, or it's wiser to stick it out and take the flak. That's, I think, part and parcel of your job as a DoP, making those judgement calls. To date I've never even come close to letting go any of my keys, ever. Though there have been a conversation here and again-- normally over a beer on one of the down days.


  • 1

#19 Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi Patra
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 61 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • New Delhi, India

Posted 20 March 2015 - 02:06 PM

When Satyajit Ray did his first film Pather Panchali which is the first of the Apu Trilogy, he asked Subrata Mitra. At that time Subrata Mitra had never touched a film camera. Satyajit Ray asked him based on his still photo skills. So don't fear. Think your approach carefully. Having a good gaffer and assistant would be very helpful.

 

To Neal Norton's opinion that documentary guy can't shoot feature, Roger Deakins has come from documentary background. Dean Semler, of the Dance with the Wolves fame is also from documentary background. If I remember correctly, Dean Semler had even got Oscar for Dance with the Wolves.


  • 0

#20 Rakesh Malik

Rakesh Malik
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 84 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Seattle, WA

Posted 20 March 2015 - 02:12 PM

Don't tell your crew how to do their jobs - just explain what you want, while being reasonable about what is possible given the budget, time, and manpower available. You will get better at judging what is reasonable as you gain more experience, so that judgement call is where you will probably have to rely heavily on your more experienced crew members. I would be honest about your experience level and quietly ask for help and advice when you need it.

 

 

That's a big one for me. I've had gaffers try to tell me how to do my job, and then when I put my foot down, they botched the setup anyway. The film was a disaster, and needless to say I would never inflict that gaffer on anyone again.

 

I've also had experiences working with crew that had a lot more on-set experience than I had who ended simply being great collaborators, and those shoots have been great, but on set and the end result.


  • 0



Ritter Battery

Abel Cine

CineLab

CineTape

Willys Widgets

Visual Products

Zylight

Aerial Filmworks

Paralinx LLC

Rig Wheels Passport

Pro 8mm

rebotnix Technologies

Metropolis Post

Glidecam

The Slider

Tai Audio

Technodolly

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Aerial Filmworks

Visual Products

Ritter Battery

CineLab

Willys Widgets

Zylight

Tai Audio

rebotnix Technologies

The Slider

Technodolly

Paralinx LLC

Metropolis Post

Abel Cine

Pro 8mm

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Rig Wheels Passport

Glidecam

CineTape