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Cinematographer? Fake it till you make it.


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2 minutes ago, Justin Hayward said:

This is the only reason I miss anything considered professional having to be shot on 35mm film.  There was a technique to it that had to be learned and the person that could put film into a camera and spit out a beautiful image the next day was thought to be a magician in the eyes of the layman.  Those days are GONE... Gone... gone...

Y'know, actually, I'm not sure they are. I think it might be at least as difficult to make digital formats look good, if only because we're even now conditioned to like what film does, technically they vary widely, and we're trying to simulate one medium with another.

I think we should also be a little cautious as regards lionising 35mm people. It's only possible to shoot 35mm effectively with absolutely massive support, from camera assistants to the entire lab and transfer apparatus, so it's more likely than ever to be an issue of relying on other people (which, again, isn't wrong, but let's not hero-worship inappropriately). I've noticed that most of the people who talk up 35mm are people who never had to worry what it cost or any of the other inconveniences, because they weren't organising or paying for the stock, processing, transfer, couriers, loaders or any of the other paraphernalia of even a small 35mm shoot. For most people who ever shot it, that stuff just arrived, without a second thought. That does make things easier.

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21 minutes ago, Justin Hayward said:

This is the only reason I miss anything considered professional having to be shot on 35mm film.  There was a technique to it that had to be learned and the person that could put film into a camera and spit out a beautiful image the next day was thought to be a magician in the eyes of the layman.  Those days are GONE... Gone... gone...

The democratization is the problem. I talked about this over a decade ago and sadly, I was right about the future, pretty much spot on. The problem is that when you democratize anything, if "everyone" can do it suddenly, then what separates the professionals from the beginners is a much narrower window. I've seen some beginner productions that rival professional productions from the 70's and earlier. There are no boundaries to producing content anymore and henceforth, everyone with a modicum of YouTube experience, can get to work making their own shows that not only look good, but can also sound good and have excellent stories. Not saying they all do, but the days of needing to learn things in order to perform the task properly, just doesn't really exist anymore. You can learn as you go along. The only thing that separates the union crews and the low-budget crews is money, rather than experience. 

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10 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I've noticed that most of the people who talk up 35mm are people who never had to worry what it cost or any of the other inconveniences, because they weren't organising or paying for the stock, processing, transfer, couriers, loaders or any of the other paraphernalia of even a small 35mm shoot. For most people who ever shot it, that stuff just arrived, without a second thought. That does make things easier.

In the past of course, but these days, we all have to come up with money to shoot on film. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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1 hour ago, Phil Rhodes said:

 

I think we should also be a little cautious as regards lionising 35mm people. It's only possible to shoot 35mm effectively with absolutely massive support, from camera assistants to the entire lab and transfer apparatus, so it's more likely than ever to be an issue of relying on other people

I said in the eyes of the layman, not other filmmakers or support crew.  I'm always thinking in terms of commercials these days, because that's pretty much all I do and the "layman" in the commercial world are agency people.  Trust me when I tell you, they don't know what a focus puller is.  I spoke to a gaffer not to long ago that was on a multi-million dollar commercial with a 24 year old DP that didn't understand ratios between dimming lights and adjusting the stop. That would never have happened in the days of film.

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1 hour ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I think it might be at least as difficult to make digital formats look good, i

 

Totally agree.  It's very difficult to make anything look good in my opinion, but I don't believe a lot of people in this business have an honest subjective opinion if something looks good or doesn't. Now that digital has democratized the process (as Tyler put it) now you only have to eyeball a decent exposure and tell everybody it looks good and they'll believe you.  With film, you had to have some experience in the technique just to get a decent exposure.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not a crazy film nut.  I don't think I've shot on film for ten years.  I'm just saying in the days of film, 24 year olds weren't getting $3500 a day to DP anything.

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I suppose I had a higher expectation (or perhaps a professional expectation) of our positions than has become commonplace.

When starting out, I deliberately took short film gigs (unpaid) as a gaffer to better understand lighting. Because I knew you don't grow skills when you hit record. The "cinematographers" on those shoots knew less than I. And it was a bizarre experience, thinking I would learn from those shooters.

I wonder if because our jobs are trades and don't require a college degree to get a job (we only need reels), that the newer folks don't seek betterment in the individual categories of our workform.

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17 minutes ago, Stephen Sanchez said:

When starting out, I deliberately took short film gigs (unpaid) as a gaffer to better understand lighting. Because I knew you don't grow skills when you hit record. The "cinematographers" on those shoots knew less than I. And it was a bizarre experience, thinking I would learn from those shooters.

You can only really get anything from that if the director has a proven portfolio or you're working with really old industry guys who don't have the money.

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9 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

In the interviews where Mr. Doyle talks about not knowing anything technical, I believe he was referring to his early days (which is why I said ‘when he was starting out’). Obviously, by the time he was shooting ‘Chungking Express,’ he knew what he was doing.

Sure I wasn't trying to contradict what you were saying , Im sure he knew what he was doing way before CE..  he still seems to play down any "techie" knowledge .. my point is I think this is his image  too..  he doest want to be seen at the guy who knows all the tech .he likes this spontaneous, fly by seat of the pants , type guy image .. but of course under all that he knows a lot ..

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9 hours ago, Justin Hayward said:

I'm just saying in the days of film, 24 year olds weren't getting $3500 a day to DP anything.

Yea and nobody was working unless they were in a union. 

Today I have friends in their twenties with $80k worth of equipment who are making $3k a day and have never once been on a union show. 

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10 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Yea and nobody was working unless they were in a union. 

Today I have friends in their twenties with $80k worth of equipment who are making $3k a day and have never once been on a union show. 

Yes, but that’s including their equipment rental, right? What would their day rate be just for labor? 

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14 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Sure I wasn't trying to contradict what you were saying , Im sure he knew what he was doing way before CE..  he still seems to play down any "techie" knowledge .. my point is I think this is his image  too..  he doest want to be seen at the guy who knows all the tech .he likes this spontaneous, fly by seat of the pants , type guy image .. but of course under all that he knows a lot ..

Sure, self-image has always been a thing. Roger Deakins also similarly claims to ‘not be a technical person.’ Christopher Nolan apparently still doesn’t have a cell phone. I suspect that they would rather be thought of as artists and craftspeople rather than as technicians. Rather ironic that for Mr. Deakins especially, he keeps making films that require the most cutting edge gear and technical wizardry, but I’m sure he’d say that it was all in service of the story. 

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, most directors abhorred the ‘artist’ label and fought against it vehemently, often adopting a tough, working class macho facade. Funny how things change.

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1 hour ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Yes, but that’s including their equipment rental, right? What would their day rate be just for labor? 

Yes Yes! very good point, it would include their hardware. 

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On 1/23/2021 at 1:27 PM, Tyler Purcell said:

The only thing that separates the union crews and the low-budget crews is money, rather than experience. 

I think it's more the opposite - what's being lost is the experience and knowledge of how to do certain kinds of big budget filmmaking setups because 99% of those shooting now don't have the opportunity to learn or see them firsthand. So, if and when you do get a project with a budget big enough to play with these toys, most won't know how to use them effectively.

For example, if you've spent your whole low-budget career never having more than 2x2 G&E crew, then when you do get the budget to light a big night exterior setup with multiple condors and 18Ks, are you really going to know how to place them so that you don't waste the whole night shuffling them around and not making your day? Or if you've never had the budget to do lockdowns that require a lot of timing and coordination, and to dress whole streets and extras for period look, are you just going to fall back into the mentality of stealing shots and running around solo with the camera while the whole art and production departments stand by in confusion?

We've had many conversations in the past about why there are so many out-of-focus shots in big studio projects today. Well, this is part of the reason. Sometimes, it's part of the style of the film and it works - I just re-watched 'Lost in Translation' last night, and the occasional soft shot mostly works with the intimate documentary-style feel of the film. But that film isn't all handheld, it isn't all available light, it isn't all stolen location shots - these low budget techniques are used when appropriate, to help tell the story. The rest of the time, it's carefully controlled and executed - the straight-overhead wide shot of a bed is a classic cinematic convention that you would never see in a fly-on-the-wall documentary, yet it works so well here. It doesn't stand out as being artificial, it works for the story. We've gotten quite a few questions on the forum about how to pull off that shot. Similarly, the hostess tray car mount shot that opens the film, reflecting the neon Tokyo cityscape over Bill Murray's close-up isn't a low budget technique - though nowadays with much smaller and lighter cameras it can be done very cheaply with suction cup mounts.

To me, that's the best-of-both-worlds, and an example of what we stand to lose if we don't pass our knowledge along - but also if fewer and fewer of us have a chance to use these tools because there isn't ever enough time or money try it.

 

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2 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

I think it's more the opposite - what's being lost is the experience and knowledge of how to do certain kinds of big budget filmmaking setups because 99% of those shooting now don't have the opportunity to learn or see them firsthand. So, if and when you do get a project with a budget big enough to play with these toys, most won't know how to use them effectively.

 

Now this is a good subject! 😉

I guess what I was trying to say is that low budget digital productions are getting far more traction today than in the past. So the concept that you need to have a huge crew in order to make a decent movie, that makes money, has kinda gone by the wayside. So as a consequence, you don't really need a union crew like you have needed to in the past, thanks to digital. It's a lot harder to make mistakes with digital, you have to actually have no skills and/or not be paying attention. I can count on one hand how many shots have been out of focus on my digital shows. When I shoot film, sometimes only 60% of a roll comes back clean/crisp. With 20% "soft" and 20% totally out of focus. Now when you're a one man band shooting documentary style on 16mm, I get it, shit happens. Sometimes the lens is off. Sometimes the camera body has a back focus problem. Sometimes you can't afford time to measure so you guess and get it wrong. With digital and tools like focus assist, you really can't muck it up. 

This is why the democratizing point I made earlier is so important. With digital cinema, you really don't need to have very many skills. Anyone can afford decent tools, with cameras like the Blackmagic Pocket 4k and 6k, with LED lights that can change color balance, with cameras that tell you if shots are in focus, that your exposure is perfect, that allow re-playing of your shot to insure you got it? I mean we live in a world where experience is really learned on set, something that you couldn't do in the past. 

You simply can't shoot low budget, crewless films on motion picture film. Hence the "union" aspect becomes a much bigger need. 

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On 1/23/2021 at 2:36 PM, Satsuki Murashige said:

In the interviews where Mr. Doyle talks about not knowing anything technical, I believe he was referring to his early days (which is why I said ‘when he was starting out’). Obviously, by the time he was shooting ‘Chungking Express,’ he knew what he was doing.

True. He has stated in interviews that he doesn't remember how he did most of those films cause he was drinking too heavily.  I don't know if that refers to his time on set or between films but he has admitted to having a problem with that.

I think with any craft, there are techniques that are going to be abandoned with advancing technology but then there are general principles which will apply no matter the technology used.   I'm for preserving and promoting the latter.  If for no other reason than it would help newcomers to know that stuff so they can break the rules as they go forward.

 

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2 hours ago, Michael LaVoie said:

I think with any craft, there are techniques that are going to be abandoned with advancing technology but then there are general principles which will apply no matter the technology used.   I'm for preserving and promoting the latter.  If for no other reason than it would help newcomers to know that stuff so they can break the rules as they go forward.

Yes, I'm for promoting to the newer crowd too. I see a lot of misinformation taught by hotshots just discovering already established mechanics or processes.

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On 1/25/2021 at 6:40 AM, Satsuki Murashige said:

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, most directors abhorred the ‘artist’ label and fought against it vehemently, often adopting a tough, working class macho facade. Funny how things change.

I'm going to have to a agree with this. I do not see directing as art. Just IMHO!

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1 hour ago, Karim D. Ghantous said:

I'm going to have to a agree with this. I do not see directing as art. Just IMHO!

When it’s done well, I think filmmaking is as mysterious and miraculous an art form as music, painting, or sculpture. That’s just my take, but I’m compelled to ask - if you feel this way, then what are your favorite films? Has any film moved you as deeply as a great piece of music? If that’s not art, then what is? 

My feeling is that those reticent directors of the era like John Ford were more than a little insecure about their artistic sensibilities and afraid of appearing sensitive and caring. Ford in particular was a fascinatingly contradictory person - as successful professionally as he was, that insecurity and resulting brutality and alcoholism may have ruined his life. Tag Gallagher’s book about his life and work is a great read.

Ford’s films at their best show the true depth of his character, which is why I consider them to be art. The endings of ‘How Green Was My Valley,’ ‘My Darling Clementine,’ and ‘The Searchers’ make a lot of sense when you consider his rumored lifelong unrequited love for Katherine Hepburn. But the most delightful part of his films to me are all the small parts played by his ‘stock company’ that have so much life and vividness in sometimes just a scene or two - Thomas Mitchell and Donald Meek in ‘Stagecoach,’ John Qualen and Charley Grapewin in ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’  Barry Fitzgerald and Rhys Williams in ‘Valley,’ Alan Mowbray, Francis Ford, and J. Farrell Macdonald in ‘Clementine,’ Arthur Shields in ‘The Quiet Man,’ Ward Bond in ‘The Searchers,’ so on and so forth. It’s just amazing to me how he managed to do that film after film, for five decades.

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24 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

It’s just amazing to me how he managed to do that film after film, for five decades.

Have you seen, "Five Came Back" on Netflix? You probably already know the story, I knew bits and pieces, but to see it all assembled, really shows how some of these guys, Ford included, because alcoholics and insecure about his career. 

Where I was never a fan of his movies in general, boy did he manage to make a bunch of great ones. 

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33 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

When it’s done well, I think filmmaking is as mysterious and miraculous an art form as music, painting, or sculpture. That’s just my take, but I’m compelled to ask - if you feel this way, then what are your favorite films? Has any film moved you as deeply as a great piece of music? If that’s not art, then what is? 

Not all things that are miraculous can be called art. 🙂 Lots of engineering feats are just as moving as some works of art. Same with some scientific discoveries. But, I did say that directing wasn't art. Cinematography also is not art, and neither is photography. Movies can be considered art as a whole, though, because it's my understanding that storytelling is an art form. Even if they're not art, they're still valuable.

A few films have moved me. Some of David Lynch's films, for example. Heck, some of his TV commercials have moved me just as much.

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Let me tell you a true story that happened maybe 3 years ago:

One early morning my agent gets a call from one of his newly signed shit-hot DP's - the guy everyone wants to book at the moment. The DP has pulled off the freeway and is having panic attack and can barely breathe. When he finally calms him down, it turns out he's on his way to hist first big job on a soundstage. "I've never lit anything in a studio, or even seen a built set before - I've just used natural light on location!".

Now, that wouldn't have happened when I started. You simply didn't get these kinds of jobs unless you had a certain amount of experience. The 5D and YouTube generation changed that, because now, the creative director is the same age and his references are also music videos and YouTube stuff! 

I actually think there are great benefits to this potential fast-track-to-the-big-leagues, in some regards. It used to be (like it was for me), that if you started out shooting MV's, you could never in a million years get a commercial from that. It was just never done - seen as two different disciplines and if you did one, you did only that. No crossover was allowed. That's all out the window now. You do something cool, either a MV, an ad, or a short film, or an art film, and if it connects you can be on the biggest commercial of your life the day after. It's good that those barriers are gone. The bad thing, of course, is that you then sometimes get people that are clueless doing jobs way above their skill levels. And perhaps worse, that skills are no longer valued.

It's a double edged sword. I'm not sure what's best. I certainly wouldn't want the restrictive stuff I had to deal with back then back. But then again, I would like to also live in a world where my 25 years of experience counts for something.

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There's no point in getting shitty about the quality of other people's work. If they're doing a job you wanted (even one you think you could do better) the simple fact is - they won, you lost (if you were ever even in the running).

And whatever it is they're doing to get these jobs, is clearly working.

So instead of getting judgemental about their lighting, try to get judgy about your own approach to marketing yourself - because that's the only thing that's lacking in these situations 🤷‍♂️

Edited by Mark Kenfield
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12 hours ago, Karim D. Ghantous said:

I'm going to have to a agree with this. I do not see directing as art. Just IMHO!

Personally I can't watch the films of Wes Anderson or Miranda July and not get the general sense that these are artists making movies. 

Granted not every director would fall into that category but not everyone has the same approach to storytelling.   For some, the craft is just a means to tell the story, for others "how" they tell the story is almost the whole point.  

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There's a lot of talk in this thread about technical expertise (or the lack of it) in this new democratized world.

How about interpersonal expertise? One of the most important things a great DP needs to know how to do is communicate, interpret and strategize with a director or producer, think quickly on their feet. I wonder what thoughts people have around those things?

 

 

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12 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Have you seen, "Five Came Back" on Netflix? You probably already know the story, I knew bits and pieces, but to see it all assembled, really shows how some of these guys, Ford included, because alcoholics and insecure about his career. 

Where I was never a fan of his movies in general, boy did he manage to make a bunch of great ones. 

Yes, I’ve seen it. It’s strange how he saw the war as an opportunity to fulfill his ambitions of being a military commander. He managed to become a Rear Admiral in the Navy before he was discharged. At the same time, he put himself in harm’s way to film wartime action. There’s one anecdote of the filming of his propaganda documentary ‘The Battle of Midway’ where he stopped a young man from taking a camera up to a targeted position, going up instead himself. I believe that’s where he was wounded in the arm by shrapnel from the Japanese bombers.

It’s the struggle between the disparate parts of his psyche that I think is fascinating. What makes a person profess to believe in one thing, yet often behave opposite? If they are truly themselves in their choices, does it show in their work? 

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