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The path to becoming a working DP


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#1 mal

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 01:39 AM

Hello,
I am sure this question gets asked a lot but please bear with me. I am going to be graduating from an undergraduate film school soon and am interested in becoming a professional DP. I am seeking advice from some of the professionals here as to paths that will get me where I want to be. I have a limited reel, but it is mainly super 16. I have thought about trying to find some DP that I can have some sort of apprentiship under. I don't know if that is even a realistic option or how to even apply for such a thing. Also, I want to go to NY if I can. Please help, I don't want to be just a camera assistant (don't mind doing it, in fact enjoy doing it) however, being a Director of Photography on music videos and feature films is what I really really want. Any and all advice or thoughts are welcome. Thanks
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 02:40 AM

I just shot whatever I could, whenever I could, no matter what the pay, starting with fellow graduate's work. It snowballed over the decade.
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#3 Richard Boddington

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 09:56 AM

"I have thought about trying to find some DP that I can have some sort of apprentiship under. I don't know if that is even a realistic option or how to even apply for such a thing. Also, I want to go to NY if I can. Please help, I don't want to be just a camera assistant (don't mind doing it, in fact enjoy doing it) "

There is some thing very sad and revealing in your post, and it's not just a problem at the FSU film school I'm sure.

Why would you come here and ask such a question? After all you are in a university FILM SCHOOL. Can't they answer a basic question like this for you? If they can not they have largely just taken your money and given you little practical knowledge for the real world in return.

You shouldn't be saying: "I don't know if that is even a realistic option"

That is some thing a kid out of high school says, what the heck are these film teachers at FSU getting paid for? Do they not offer any kind of career guidance and advice?

Any university level film school should be preping their students for the industry a full year before graduation. Sitting each student down in a one on one interview and asking them about their plans after graduation, what area of the film indstry do they plan to get into?

Universities do this with other majors, why not film students?

R,
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#4 mal

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 06:00 PM

I agree with you and have been speaking with them (my faculty). The truth is I am asking as many people this question as I can. I do value my teachers opinion but I want other people's opinon as well. I want confirmation that what they are telling me is true. None of my teachers are involved overly in NY and I was hoping there might be some people here that are. Sorry if you feel like I am wasting your time. I have been reading stuff on this site for awhile and respect the opinions of the people on here. Especially Mr. Mullen. I guess I was tired last night and looking for ways to alleviate my fears of post graduation life.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 08:00 PM

I guess I was tired last night and looking for ways to alleviate my fears of post graduation life.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I still suffer from those...
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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 09:08 PM

"Sorry if you feel like I am wasting your time"

No you are not wasting any one's time.

I just feel your school, any film school, should prep it's students better on basic issues like the one you raise. You have a right to demand that from your school, they have taken your money, they now have a fiduciary responsibilty to help you.

R,
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#7 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 09:28 PM

Michael, I just graduated from AFI and I can assure you that sleepless nights filled with student loan fears and career uncertainties is something we all share.

But as David mentioned elsewhere on this site, a career is a life-long endeavour, so there's plenty of time to build it.

And I agree with Richard - you should DEMAND that your school provide you with certain things - they are getting a lot of money from you and should earn it. You have an obligation to be tough (but fair) with your expectations from your faculty and institution, and they have an obligation to meet your tough (but fair) expectations. Not just exposures, equipment, art, etc, but also set etiquette, career management, networking, etc.
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#8 mal

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 09:50 PM

Thank you for your response. I think I am being a little misunderstood. I don't want to give the impression that my school isn't doing enough for me. I am quite happy with how much they are helping me out. I just want to get other opinions. The sad truth is I am stuck in FL at the moment and don't really have anyone to talk to outside of this little bubble in north florida. There are good things that come from being here but being able to talk to numerous other DP's outside of FL is not one of them.
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#9 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 21 July 2005 - 11:13 PM

michael, i'm not really much of a pro dp, but i'd like to offer some general advice based on my (and others i've known) experiences...

no matter what the project, no matter what you're getting paid, no matter what the budget, do your best to make your final work look as good as possible. that's the only consistent way for a green creative professional (regardless of your specific profession) to get to where they wanna be, faster. i know that may sound totally obvious, but i've been out of school for seven years now and there is a huge difference in the careers of people who really live by this credo, versus those who reserve "giving it their all" for projects that they feel "deserve it". this'll also obviously help you build an impressive reel quicker, too.

even if you're dp on a short that is stupid and you know is gonna go nowhere... make it look as good as you can. someone's gonna see it and notice that the cinematography is particularly good and they're gonna make note of your name. if this happens in multitudes, then eventually it'll catch up with you. i guess there's a rough mathematical formula of x(quality of your work) + y(how many eyeballs end up seeing your work) = likelihood of becoming a working dp.

other stuff based on my limited experience:

1) if you wanna shoot music videos, then find the biggest band on the best label that you actually can get access to. get the best, most innovative director you know to approach them with you with a great pitch. shoot the video (undoubtedly for no/little pay) and make it look as awesome as possible, and make sure the video as a whole turns out awesome. if the band's big enough, then you have an instant audience for your work. if the video turned out good enough, and if the label's healthy enough, they'll ask you guys to do another video for the artist, or for another artist on their label. or get in contact with other labels that are on the same scale and namedrop your first video and ask if they're looking for pitches for any of their artists. blah blah blah, you get the point. the theory is that you gradually bag bigger and bigger labels & artists, and in turn your invoices have more zeros in them. though this model is more clear-cut for directors, and i'm not sure how strongly it applies to dps (though there are a lot of dual director/dps in the music video world).

2) find out which director major in your school has the richest family. court him/her and start shooting his projects.

3) build a time machine and find out which director major is going to get a three picture deal. court him/her and start shooting his/her projects and hang on to him/her like a leech dipped in superglue.

seriously though, because of digital, things seemed to have gotten really messy in terms of how to go about being a working dp. but i really can't reinterate the "give it your all" thing. this is especially important when you consider that when you get in your late twenties/early thirties, your energy level will be a fraction of what it is now.

hope this helps,
jaan
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#10 mal

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Posted 22 July 2005 - 09:55 PM

Thank you for your insight
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#11 Algis Kemezys

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 11:37 AM

I really wonder what is the big rush is to be DP. It took me many many years developing my visual eye. How does this occur so rapidly ? Without visual practice which means you could be filming just about anything to gain this discerning eye. Maybe people are learning this ability more quickly these days. I think alot of films are sstinkers because there is no finess to the image. A good image is always on the critical edge of exciting regardsless. I am just wondering how much visual preparation is given in film schools today ? Sure you watch films and see lovely styles and techniques but what does one do to make each and everyframe count. I think it is a deeply learned innate sence of the golden formula.1.618
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#12 brian hendry

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 12:17 PM

2) find out which director major in your school has the richest family. court him/her and start shooting his projects.


<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



so yea, that actually works. worked for me! ha
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#13 John Hall

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 01:20 PM

...And don't forget to check out a few Seminoles games this year. Tickets get more expensive after you graduate. :)
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#14 Eric Steelberg ASC

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 10:06 PM

I'll second what David said. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Make people like you so they tell their friends who tell their friends. Be a social as possible because you meet future producers and directors in the most unexpected places.

And for the love of god be patient! Being a DP is a skill that comes with time. It's more than just taking a picture. There is more management and political issues you need to learn in addition to making nice images. This you can only really get form experience. You wouldn't want to rush into something you aren't prepared for to fail and not get hired anymore.

Spend some time being an AC, or even better, a Gaffer or Electrician and learn from others. Your time will come...
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#15 David E. McMurray

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Posted 06 September 2005 - 04:50 AM

1. I met one guy on a TV show in 89'. He graduated from film school in the midwest. Came to Hollywood, knocked on 74 doors before he got his first job a crane grip. With in 18 month was grip/electric making $900 a week.

2. Director/DP. That's all he did. Video or Film. Long days some times making only $10 an hour for all the hours he worked per day. He still has made the most beautiful images of anyone I have worked with to this day.

3. Producer/Cameraman. Kind of a brags a lot. But its also advertising for his work. It gets him more work. I don't care for the quality so much. But he is a busy son of a gun.

4. Being a hyphenated person in this business isn't a bad thing as this business can be fickle. "Garry Marshal"

5. My personal opinion. Shoot as a DP only, for free if necessary, but only DP. If you do anything else, you do it because the DP you work for is GREAT! I worked for free on several AFI shoots in LA. Work for the foreign students, they were the good ones, "sorry - personal bias" it was the late 80's. Things might have changed. You need to DP because you want people to see you as a DP. Not as anything else. Also remember, where ever you start working, that is where you will stay. It is difficult to move, not impossible, but difficult. East coast or West coast.

Just my opinion. Good Luck!

Dave McMurray
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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 06 September 2005 - 06:40 AM

Hi,

...and beyond it all, be aware that failure is almost inevitable. The vast majority of people who want to work in feature filmmaking never will (I know, I'm one of them).

Phil
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