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!