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How many of you guys have had mentors?


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I'm shooting a lot of stuff lately and I'm ready to take the next step and learn how to shoot more advanced stuff then just low budget shorts. Reading bios of DP's I noticed that most if not all have usually served under someone for a period of time until they throughly learned the craft of shooting, and then began forging their own path. I'm just wondering if anyone here has had a mentor or is under a mentor right now. I'm definitely looking to find an experienced feature DP to elevate me to the next level. I actually know someone, slightly above my level, who has long telephone conversations with Savides! I'm green with envy! :ph34r:

Edited by DavidSloan
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While it's true that a lot of DP's served under other Cameramen, they were almost certainly working as AC's or Operators, rather than observing as some sort of Apprentice.


Assisting is a really good way to learn your craft. If you're lucky, you will get to work with a wide range of talented DP's, and you will learn a lot. You just have to remember that you are there to do a job as well as learn.


That path doesn't suit everyone. A good friend of mine who shoots commercials, was never an assistant, and quite freely admits he would have been terrible at it.



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I'd love to hear what some of our more experienced feature DPs have to say about this. And as far as I know, Daviau's been shooting since he was 16 yo, and has worked at Technicolor before he was a big time DP.


Mr.Mullin: I would love to hear how you rose in the ranks of cinematography...did you AC, Gaff, work at a lab, etc..before you got a chance to shoot features?

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Nope, I got out of film school and started shooting low-low budget features after shooting shorts for a decade or so, mostly my own stuff. I'm more or less self-taught. On every shoot I do, I grill the crew members about every DP they've worked for that I have heard of because I have no idea how the other guys do it!


I don't shoot commercials or music videos, either, just features. I'd probably be making more money if I did something other than indie features though...

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Did you start working in a big city or somewhere else, David? It's a good thing you starting shooting right away...I'm attempting to do the same. I know some great people who got into something else for a while to pay bills and got pigeonholed as that, and could never really get over it. New York has a very closed knit film crowd...once people know you as an AC or Grip no one is gonna call you to shoot.

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I'm in a bit of a confused state at the moment - I love everything to do with how a shot looks, how it's done, etc. BUT I HATE lights! And lights seem to hate me too! Is a DP really the job for me? I suppose camera operator would come close, but I'd rather have creative control.

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Hello DavidSloan,

Yes, I have what I call a mentor. He's teaching me the art of cinematography

along with two other gentlemen(a class of three) and we are all experienced

professional photographers. At times we have a Panavision camera in the class

(not always) at other times a 16mm Arri and also professional video cameras.

At the present time we're learning the components of the cameras(right now

working with Arri 16mm),how to basically operate the camera,loading film etc..

Let me say right up front that this is an expensive proposition. We are all paying

a school which is providing his expertise to teach us. He is an accomplished cine-

matographer of nature films,documentaries,independent films,commercials,tv

productions. So far there has been no complaints about his skills from our class.

I don't know if you fellows are in film school or graduated from from film school.

I wish I could have gone to film school. We are learning in an accelerated course

what may have taken you two years to learn,plus secrets you only learn through

experience. My long range goal is to market myself as being available to shoot

commercials and also independent films. I have no interest what so ever in the

type of films hollywood is producing now. I also have an interest for writing and

producing my own films. At my age of 56 it the fastest way for me to learn the

technology. I feel that my instructor is my mentor as there is a real closeness

to all of us in the class. These schools are controversial and I don't want to start

a controversy here. Thanks for correcting me about Peter Andrews. For me this

will be the fastest way to become a working cinematographer. Greg

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Hey Greg:


I'm 26 years old...I took 1 "advanced cinematography" class in school, and took a few basic production classes. All school can give you is the absolutely bare minimum. There is no substitution for real world experience. I remember being like a 3rd electric on my first music video and seeing a Panavision camera on a technocrane and saying to myself "They didn't teach me this!!!" lol

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Sorry, but using light -- artificial and natural -- is THE job of cinematography. There is no image without light. Composition and movement are important too but I think understanding light, controlling light, framing for light, taking advantage of light, removing light -- it's all about LIGHT.


Oh, and story.

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I'm in a bit of a confused state at the moment - I love everything to do with how a shot looks, how it's done, etc. BUT I HATE lights! And lights seem to hate me too! Is a DP really the job for me? I suppose camera operator would come close, but I'd rather have creative control.


Gee...I have a somewhat similiar problem. I've always wanted to be a tennis player, BUT I HATE racquets! What should I do?!?!?!?

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Remember I told you these schools were controversial,thats why I did not

go into great detail with it. For me I have no choice,I'll be 60 before I know

it. If I had it to do over, I would do it the way David Mullen ASC did it. Just

look at his technical knowledge of the cinematography processes. In a way he's

an instructor for me here on the forum, as I read his posts and learn. The value

of this forum has no ending,so many fine professionals. I'm doing so much read-

and studying of the technical aspects, that I didn't know who Peter Andrews is.

I bet you guys got a good laugh out of that one!! It bothers me some that I'm

learning so easy, what others put sweat and years in to. Believe me, it is a con-

troversial subject and I do not want to start a controversy on the forum. My god

26yrs old, you have a whole lifetime of film ahead of you! You will see the digital

camera come to the cinema! I want to walk in to a cinema some day and see

your name in the credits!!! For me Ocean's Twelve was the first film that bro-

ught the whole process of cinematography together for me on the screen,I was

simply overcome by Peter's work. I have never seen anybody light a woman

with a practical before. I haven't seen more beautiful phptography since say

Gosford Park, North Fork and I love beautiful photography. I have never seen

anybody use as many practicals in one scene as he did,and they were beautiful.

All the credits said was Director of Photography Peter Andrews. Greg

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If you live in a place where a lot of shooting is going on it's often best to find out where the locations are and just go watch. It's easy on a lot of exterior locations. I've even been to several closed sets and I'll happen to see somebody I know on the crew and they let me in. The key is to be like a shadow and sometimes you can watch all day. Don't even bother talking to the DP unless he invited you, just watch, learn.

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Mr. King,

Thank you for your comment about watching while filming is taking place.

I was actually on the set of "Lucky Numbers" when it was filmed here

in Harrisburg,PA. It was a real learning experience for me, did not get to

talk to the dp. I was impressed by the simplicity of some things and also

the complexity of other things. I had two Nikon cameras,one around my

neck and one on my shoulder. I had just come from photographing Roy

Hargrove in a jazz gig at the the Hilton. I was looking straight ahead(I was

not shooting on the set,obviously) but watching camera and scene being

shot. I was aware of someone moving up along side of me on my right,

and then this voice says, I like you're F4S man. There was no mistaking

the voice of John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow was on his other side. I had

photographed John before in New Jersey but he didn't remember. I did

not take any photos as I had not asked for permission and will not photo-

graph a star without permission. The image sticks with me though,still in

my mind today. The best shot I never took! I did learn an awful lot though

by watching things on the set. Somebody said, why controversy? Because

you're learning what it has taken a lot of men, a lot of years to learn. You

do it in an accelerated time. Then you go out and compete against them

for jobs. For more money and maybe sometimes less money then they

get. This is the end of my discussion on paid mentors provided by certain


Merry Xmas, Mr. King


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I remember just hanging around a show that Dean Semler was shooting. I was just standing watching him work. After a while someone asked what I was up to. I told them I was observing Semler working. They replied with "Oh, let me introduce you . . .? I spoke with him while he was lighting. He invited me back for several days (at Universal) to observe more. A great man.


The point is, you can use someone as a "mentor" without him officially mentoring you. You get what you put in. I have learned so much from just walking onto big shows. I haven?t done it lately, but I spent years and years doing this (since I was 7 years old).


It was great because when I finally did get on my first set "officially" I knew exactly what was going on. I knew where to and not to stand and more importantly how to carry myself, the unspoken etiquette that one can not be taught. This came from years of just observing quietly.


I live in the valley, and I was/ am lucky that there are large films shot all the time around me. Less and less I have been walking on to these sets because luckily I have been working, and in my off time bull shi*ing my way onto a show seems daunting, but sometimes I still do, and lately I run into people I know. In fact, I just worked on a show that Dariusz Wolski was shooting. When I was about 9 years old, I met him, and he helped point me towards cinematography as a profession.



Kevin Zanit

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I worked as an assistant for a few years, working under some really talented guys and learned a lot.

I gave up assisting in the end because I wanting to be shooting stuff. It was the right decision, but sometimes I wonder how much more I would know if I had worked my way up through the ranks.


That's why forums like this are so useful - ideas and advice being freely offered...



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