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Working without assisting someone


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#1 pushparaj santhosh

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Posted 26 October 2016 - 08:57 AM

Hi all

This is something which is plaguing me for quite some time...I'm an independent Cinematographer doing small time works...do you need to assist someone before becoming an independent cinematographer...bcoz I had seen some big commercials and features which use tons of lights for a single shot...if someone gets those kind of works how can one shoot them without encountering those kind of situations before without assisting someonr...are is it possible to shoot big projects without assisting someone...and if so what has to be you're knowledge base ? Cheers
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#2 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 26 October 2016 - 09:45 AM

The job duties and skills of a 1st A.C. are very different from those of a DP and not a stepping stone for everyone.  It's a different skill-set and I would argue that it requires a different personality type.  Not to say people can't do both. Just from personal experience, I know I'd make a horrible 1st A.C. as I'd be way too distracted by what's happening on camera, lighting etc.   

 

Moving up a tier in the DP jobs you take is unrelated to whether you have worked as a 1st A.C.  If anything working years as a great 1st A.C. may cause some people to have a more difficult time seeing you as a DP.  However, plenty of people do move up by simply being around production staff all day long and working way more than most DP's who don't crew.  The more people you meet, the more opportunity you will likely have.  


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#3 pushparaj santhosh

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Posted 26 October 2016 - 12:30 PM

Thanks Michael...I really appreciate this :)
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#4 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 26 October 2016 - 02:14 PM

The traditional path to being a DP was to work your way up through the camera dept, or less often, the Lighting dept. Progress this way was sometimes rigidly structured, particularly in the studio days, so it could take many years to finally be hired as a DP. The benefits of this approach were that while working your way up, you would be working with people who had far more experience than you, so you could learn from them. Not every successful DP took this route. Our own David Mullen, ASC never assisted, but instead learned his craft by shooting movies.

 

These days, where 'cinema' cameras are easily affordable, and there are hundreds of Indie film websites catering to thousands of wannabe filmmakers, many more people choose not work their way up. This is in part because the traditional industry cannot support the huge numbers of people trying to get into it, and partially because people these days are less inclined to be patient. They are used to a culture which provides instant gratification, and they expect their career to be the same.

 

Ultimately, there is no right way or wrong way. The best you can do is to keep working, and when you identify a gap in your knowledge, try to figure out the best way of learning what you need.


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#5 pushparaj santhosh

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 07:36 AM

Thank you so much Stuart...great post :)
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#6 aapo lettinen

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 10:48 AM

you can get away without assisting anyone but you cannot advance in your career without the right connections which may be easier to build if you climb up the ladder. 

The key is to determine which kind of help you will need and then plan your future projects based on that. 

 

...every 15year old kid can make single nice looking images and short films but it is the other things that matter which'll get you hired. prepare to spend many years of your life and work like a mad. it is also eventually, at least a bit, just happy accidents and luck which will get you in contact with the right people who can help.

 

Assisting is a great way to get in contact with new people and to learn new ways to work so I'd highly recommend it... it may be even faster to climb up the ladder than to try to convince directors and producers right away that you are better choice than their usual pick for DP job.  DP/Director relationships are quite often built in film schools so it is very unlikely that they would pick you instead unless they already know you and all your work (in which case you could just call them right away...)


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#7 aapo lettinen

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 10:59 AM

I personally think that lighting skills are more critical for a DP than AC skills.  Actually, Lighting and Editing would be a very good combo so that you understand what the directors need to get the scene working, how the images are cut together, and you can make the right mood for the film. Using cameras is relatively easy anyway and there is normally a AC and Key Grip who can handle the technical things for you, so the 'painting with light', 'setting and maintaining the mood' and 'making the film coherent' (image choices like blocking, operating style, framing, etc) are the things most critical for a DP I think. technical knowledge is always handy but it is not absolutely critical


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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 11:44 AM

One particularly key point about this is that a director of photography is also required to be a manager of people and a filter between production and camera crew. Many people who have only ever been camera assistants will have only ever been on the receiving end of management, or at least only dealt with it in an extremely limited sense. Yes, there are exceptions among people who run multiple units on big productions and are experienced organisers of people, but that's a special case.

 

It may or may not be coincidence that the single biggest problem on film sets is, in my view, exceptionally poor management. People just such as directors of photography are often dropped into the position with lots of preparation in camera technique but with little or no idea of the right way to ensure their subordinates work efficiently and with minimum stress. First assistant directors, whose entire job more or less revolves around this issue, are of course notoriously abrupt and shouty, which is universally accepted as being poor technique. The best of them aren't, but it is rare.

 

I would agree that edit experience is important for camerapeople; possibly somewhat less so on higher-end productions where a DP is less likely to operate, and the combined DP/operator is not 50% of the entire camera and lighting team, but still. The ability to create material that cuts together smoothly is greatly informed by having experience cutting it together smoothly.

 

P


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#9 pushparaj santhosh

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 12:34 PM

Thanks for your replies guys but I'm just curious about one thing...people management and editing skills apart I just want to know talk about lighting...is it possible to light a big set or any situation for that matter with just theoretical knowledge or a course from a film school...is it a skill which can be mastered without being in a film set before...is it something which can be learned by constant practice? I have seen people use fifty lights for a single shot...can this skill be learned without being in that particular situation before?
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#10 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 12:35 PM

I personally think that lighting skills are more critical for a DP than AC skills. 

 

It's quite telling that there is an assumption that DP is the next step from being an AC. Normally, the next step would be to Operator, where the job become less technical and more creative. I think that working as an operator is an excellent way to learn how to deal with actors and directors, to learn about coverage and how a sequence of shots works as a scene. Of course, these days operators are a luxury, and in any case most people are in too much of a hurry to want to spend the time.

 

One particularly key point about this is that a director of photography is also required to be a manager of people and a filter between production and camera crew.

 

 

 

This is the thing that no-one tells you when you're working to become a DP, that a major part of the job is man management. It's not uncommon for me to have 12 or 15 people working for me in Camera and G&E, and they all have their different personalities and quirks, and they need to be managed and motivated successfully, and occasionally disciplined or let go. These are skills that are often unmentioned when talking about the DP's role..

 

I think that this is one area where working your way up can actually help, as you're a member of a crew, and you see how the crew is run. You see how different DPs behave towards their crews. You see what works and what doesn't.

 

Nine times out of ten, the screaming prima donna DPs are ones who came straight from film school, and never learned how to run a crew.


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#11 pushparaj santhosh

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 12:36 PM

Thanks for your replies guys but I'm just curious about one thing...people management and editing skills apart I just want to know talk about lighting...is it possible to light a big set or any situation for that matter with just theoretical knowledge or a course from a film school...is it a skill which can be mastered without being in a film set before...is it something which can be learned by constant practice? I have seen people use fifty lights for a single shot...can this skill be learned without being in that particular situation before?
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#12 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 12:41 PM

is it possible to light a big set or any situation for that matter with just theoretical knowledge or a course from a film school...is it a skill which can be mastered without being in a film set before...is it something which can be learned by constant practice? I have seen people use fifty lights for a single shot...can this skill be learned without being in that particular situation before?

Experience has a way of coming along as you need it. Most people don't make sudden, huge advances in their career like that. It's very unlikely that anyone goes from lighting small shorts (for instance) to huge Hollywood blockbusters overnight. The process is gradual, and so your knowledge increases incrementally as the jobs get bigger and bigger.

 

And if you do suddenly find yourself out of your depth? Hire an experienced gaffer.


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#13 aapo lettinen

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Posted 28 October 2016 - 01:58 PM

Thanks for your replies guys but I'm just curious about one thing...people management and editing skills apart I just want to know talk about lighting...is it possible to light a big set or any situation for that matter with just theoretical knowledge or a course from a film school...is it a skill which can be mastered without being in a film set before...is it something which can be learned by constant practice? I have seen people use fifty lights for a single shot...can this skill be learned without being in that particular situation before?

 

yes it is theoretically possible to light a set without first hand experience but it will take forever (easily at least 5 times longer than average) because without experience you have to try and test different approaches multiple times before finding a good enough solution. in contrast, a experienced person will usually know how to approximately do the lighting even by just seeing some scout photos and rough references for the intended look, even without visiting the location beforehand (a recce of course helps a lot).  

The challenging thing is, lighting a set is like inventing the wheel over and over again, just like editing... finding the best custom solution to a set and scene by knowing the readily available theories and standard approaches (from film school and books) but inventing your own every time based on your experience, available resources, time...  this adapting and customising and readily finding the best logical solution without testing and wasting time is the thing that takes time to learn.

dozens of projects and couple of years I'd say


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#14 Jeremy Parsons

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Posted 02 November 2016 - 01:03 PM

I second what Phil said about the DP being a manager position. 

 

I work as a union AC on big jobs that come to town, and then as DP on smaller, local shoots. When I AC, I can tell what kind of DP I'm working with by their communication - or lack therof - with me as his AC when I'm trying to know more about the job and to make sure. Many "creative" DPs are only focusing on the image and don't communicate about the shoot to their crew. As such, we ACs often have to fly by the seat of our pants trying to foresee problems and fix them before they happen for a complete stranger. 

 

DP's that have at least some experience AC-ing understand that their crews work better if they know what's going on. They work more efficiently, get set up faster, have less downtime, get more done in a day, and cost less overtime. 

 

Sadly, managerial prowess is rarely considered hiring DPs instead of reel or camera ownership status.


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