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#1 William Watson

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Posted 06 November 2016 - 07:35 AM

Hello Everyone,

 

Im coming to the end on my Media Production Degree and wanted to ask some questions from industry practitioners.

 

How did you become a cinematographer/ director of photography?

What do you think is the most important and essential quality of a good cinematographer/ director of photography on set?

What is your favourite camera or camera brand and why?

What is your favourite lens to use and why?

To yourself, what is the difference between the term ‘cinematographer’ and ‘director of photography’ ?

Who was and still are your inspirations to being a cinematographer/ director of photography? 

Is being multi skilled and being able to direct, shoot, edit and colour grade essential in today's industry?

Any last tips to a young cinematographer making his way into the industry?

 

If anyone could answer any of these questions I would appreciate it very much and it would help me loads in finishing my degree.

 

Many thanks in advance!


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 November 2016 - 11:01 AM

That's a lot of questions for an internet forum post -- each of us would have to write at least a couple of pages to answer these briefly!  

 

One question alone would take a couple of paragraphs minimum to answer and you asked eight questions! 


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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 06 November 2016 - 11:03 AM

One thing that would be useful to know - is this information you're asking for because you want to apply it to your own career, or because it's for some assignment?

 

Not a problem either way, but as Mr Mullen says, it's a lot of writing.


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#4 William Watson

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Posted 06 November 2016 - 11:07 AM

Apologies, it is indeed for an assignment.

 

It is for primary research I must conduct myself. Later this month I must perform a pitch in becoming a cinematographer, backing myself up with a large array of knowledge and insight from professional practitioners.

 

Apologies again, I'm new to using forums.


Edited by William Watson, 06 November 2016 - 11:10 AM.

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#5 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 06 November 2016 - 01:42 PM

One thing that would be useful to know - is this information you're asking for because you want to apply it to your own career, or because it's for some assignment?

I was about to call that too.

 

To finish your homework it might be a better idea to find a DP you know personally and get verbal recordings of their answers you can transcribe later on.


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#6 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 06 November 2016 - 03:44 PM

Let me try to answer with quick sentences... I got 20 minutes. GO!

How did you become a cinematographer/ director of photography?


I was always interested in photography as a child and based my entire post high school education on cinematography.

What do you think is the most important and essential quality of a good cinematographer/ director of photography on set?


Here are my top 3.

- Understands how important prep is with the director, to insure on-set things go smoothly.
- Good listener, capable of accepting critique and working with the crew to solve problems without an ego.
- Always looking for that "great shot" and not scared to bring it up to the director.

What is your favourite camera or camera brand and why?


For personal use, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, no doubt the best sub $1000 camera made.
For commercial use, the Arri Alexa. Every time I work with the camera, I'm overly happy with the results. It's the only professional cinema camera I've worked with that doesn't piss me off on set and/or gives me headaches in post.
For S16mm, Aaton LTR/XTR for sure. Lightest, quietest super 16 camera made, absolutely my favorite.
For S35mm, I'm at a cross roads between the Arri 235 and Aaton Penelope. Both are simply outstanding light-weight cameras, both have their advantages and disadvantages. The 235 is less expensive to own and easier to find used/rental, but it's loud. The Penelope is harder to find, much more expensive to own, but deathly silent. Frankly, if I had the money, I'd own both.

What is your favourite lens to use and why?


Spherical primes it's all about the classic Arri/Zeiss MKII superspeed primes. They have a very nice soft look AND I love the warmth of the coatings. Plus, they're radially available for purchase without breaking the bank.
I don't really have a favorite zoom, they all have issues and it's about figuring out what works for your particular production. I love my 12 - 120 MKI Zeiss zoom, but it's really a limited market product today.

To yourself, what is the difference between the term ‘cinematographer’ and ‘director of photography’ ?


There is no difference from my understanding. David can probably explain why the industry has two names for the same job.

Who was and still are your inspirations to being a cinematographer/ director of photography? 


I hate to sound modernist, but Roger Deakins and Darius Khondji were the two guys I idolized as a teenager. Maybe because arguably some of their best work came out whilst I was in school, so it had the most impact on me.

Is being multi skilled and being able to direct, shoot, edit and colour grade essential in today's industry?


If you want to be a "filmmaker" then you need to learn all the jobs. If you want to be a "cinematographer" you need to focus on shooting. They are two completely different professions.

Any last tips to a young cinematographer making his way into the industry?


If you really want to be a professional cinematographer, you first need to understand that it's a business. So taking some classes on running your own business, is a wise idea. Remembering always that cinematographers don't have full-time jobs and unless your in the union, you won't have any benefits. So understanding the financial/business aspects is critical.

I think having a backup skill is also critical. When I've been out of work in the creative field, I've fallen back on my technical/engineering skills to keep money flowing. I suggest NOT doing other creative positions IF your goal is to be a professional cinematographer.

Focus is everything, make a game plan for the next 5 years and stick to it. This includes potentially, finding a mentor to help groom you. Maybe buying a small/inexpensive camera package so you can go out and experiment with different things. Also pushing yourself to achieve goals in a certain amount of time, will help you grow because in reality, a good successful cinematographer needs to hustle on and off set.

Finally and I can't stress this enough, you need to go where the work is. People may disagree with me on this point, but I can attest from experience how valuable it is to be in the heart of the action. Some may say it's better to be a big fish in a small pond and that's correct. But you can't become a big fish unless you have a lot of experience. To gain that experience, you need to work your way up through the typical channels. You need to work for peanuts, make mistakes and already have 3 more gigs booked. This requires you to be in one of the big cities for media; Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, etc. There are other places that have work as well, but those four are the "big" four in the US currently. You land in one of those places, you can get onto a show as a P.A. almost right away. Start making connections as a P.A., pay your bills with that money and in between P.A. gigs, shoot projects for all the "director" friends you'll make in the P.A. pit. If you have a good camera, you will have plenty of opportunity to work, all be it, probably for free. Those connections will lead you to pay jobs and eventually more consistent work. There are other routes like working in a rental house, but no matter what, who you know, gets you the work.

I could go on all day, but my 20 minutes are over!
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#7 William Watson

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Posted 07 November 2016 - 04:24 AM

Thank you Tyler, that response was pure gold!

 

I am currently running a camera system with a Panasonic GH4 as my primary and a Panasonic G7 as my secondary. Doing a lot of work in the near future using the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k.

 

Thanks again!


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 November 2016 - 11:14 AM

OK, I'll take a whack at this list, but my answers will probably have to be too short to be informative:

 

How did you become a cinematographer/ director of photography?

 

I made personal projects in Super-8 from the time I was 16 to 26.  I helped friends who had gotten into the USC film school, shooting some of their Super-8 projects. Did a few 16mm karaoke music videos. Then I went to graduate film school at CalArts and started shooting for other people.  When I graduated, I started shooting low-budget features.

 

What do you think is the most important and essential quality of a good cinematographer/ director of photography on set?
 
If you want to keep working, you have to be fast. To be fast, you have to be prepared and to be flexible.  You have to be a collaborator and be communicative.  And you have to know to light, particularly how to light people.  That's more that one essential quality...
 
What is your favourite camera or camera brand and why?
 
Depends on the project and the budget.
 
What is your favourite lens to use and why?
 
Depends on the project and the budget.
 
To yourself, what is the difference between the term ‘cinematographer’ and ‘director of photography’ ?
 
None, they are just labels. 
 
Who was and still are your inspirations to being a cinematographer/ director of photography?
 
Over a 100 years of great cinema.  Dozens of cinematographers over the decades.  My earliest inspirations were Geoffrey Unsworth, Vilmos Zsigmond, and Vittorio Storaro.
 
Is being multi skilled and being able to direct, shoot, edit and colour grade essential in today's industry?
 
No, unless you want to direct, shoot, edit, and color grade for a living. A cinematographer has to understand all those principles but that's not the same thing as being able to execute them all professionally.  I don't know how to use an AVID nor a Lustre suite.
 
Any last tips to a young cinematographer making his way into the industry?
 
Keep a low overhead so you have the financial freedom to work on a variety of projects even if they don't all pay well.

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#9 William Watson

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Posted 08 November 2016 - 06:37 AM

Thank you very much David, much appreciated.


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#10 Mark Dunn

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Posted 08 November 2016 - 07:46 AM

OP, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I deduce that you're in Hampshire and not the USA.

That being the case,Tyler please note. FYI medical insurance and pension entitlement is not dependent on employment in the UK. The OP is unlikely to be allowed to work in the US.


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