Jump to content

Cinematographer? Fake it till you make it.


Recommended Posts

How the director perceives body language should be, how the director perceives words should be spoken, or how the director perceives someone should react, are all behaviours that are acted out by actors that would not have acted in such a way that a different director was directing the picture. So the picture is a reflection of everything including the directors work, yet a director is not an artist?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
11 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

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.

Hi Adam, 

I might have told this story before, but I 2nd AC’d once a fairly large non-union commercial. The DP was an old guy who joking referred to himself as the ‘used-to-be the $10K-a-day guy.’ I don’t think he had shot much video, he was used to 35mm film and union crews.

The producer was clearly trying to save money, as we were shooting on two 5DMk2s. Here’s the A Camera: 

DD7F8DB7-CA50-45F5-B38F-C4B4998B8900.thumb.jpeg.ae7339341087628846845f7f38623406.jpeg

1st AC Paul Marbury with the 5D Frankenrig.

The DP operated the A Camera, while the producer’s teenage son operated B Camera. I think he was probably 13-14, and his buddy was his ‘AC.’ It became pretty clear that they hadn’t been trained yet when I went to common-slate both cameras and they didn’t know that they were supposed to roll their camera. After they were told to roll and I clapped, I noticed the young man cut and roll again. I mentioned this to Paul, but the DP was already so pissed at the situation that he wasn’t inclined to help the producer out by letting him know so it could be fixed. 

Afterwards as I was wrapping up my data station (there were about four times more B Camera clips than A Camera clips, mostly short clips containing only slates and takes with no slates), I overheard the Director and Producer saying ‘you gotta just get their foot in the door and fake it ‘til they make it. The editor will never know  the difference.’

As I hand them the drives, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I think the editor is gonna know...’ 

That was the most egregious example I’ve seen, but I’ve heard worse. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
4 hours ago, Mark Kenfield said:

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 🤷‍♂️

Pretty much this. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
1 hour ago, Michael Hammond said:

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?

While that’s true, I think a lot of this is driven by who young directors, producers, and creative directors want to work with. In many cases, they simply feel more comfortable working with their peer group, not older people who may have more experience or skill.

I also think many creatives prefer the look of available light style photography. There’s a generation break in photographic style currently, maybe as large as the one in the Hollywood New Wave era. A lot of young Hollywood directors in the 1970s wanted to work with their contemporaries, rather than the older studio-era DPs then too. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
20 hours ago, Karim D. Ghantous said:

A few films have moved me. Some of David Lynch's films, for example.

I think this topic deserves its own thread! I’ll be starting one on personal cinematographic influences soon.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
19 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

It's a double edged sword. I'm not sure what's best.

My thought is to continue to lean into one’s own style. It may be that industry tastes are changing, but only you can do what you do. There are directors who still want that, you just have to find them.

  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

20 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

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.

I've encountered literally the opposite in NYC. I'll be head-and-shoulders more accomplished with Youtube stuff than anyone else on a MV set is at their own craft (I don't verbalize it like that to them), yet you try reaching out to do a music video (even sometimes for free) and they subtly treat you like you're not artistically qualified to do music videos.

From the trades I've encountered, barriers of sub-medium are still very real.

Edited by Max Field
Link to comment
Share on other sites

19 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

While that’s true, I think a lot of this is driven by who young directors, producers, and creative directors want to work with. In many cases, they simply feel more comfortable working with their peer group, not older people who may have more experience or skill.

Funny.  I almost made this point yesterday but I thought it was too negative. haha.  I agree and I think the last thing that any insecure producer/director/actor wants is to be surrounded by far more competent crew as it could make them look green. So they employ a top down approach of bottom rung candidates so that nobody on set knows more than them. 

This practice is industry agnostic although in film, you can see it everywhere.   Take a wander through Linked in at some of the resumes of junior and even senior VP's.  You'll find a ton of people with zero background and education in entertainment who landed jobs at top development companies.   Truly a head scratcher.

Edited by Michael LaVoie
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A lot of the discussion above has been about what a cinematographer needs to know, or should know.

As a point of reference, here is the course outline for the Cinematography 'Master of Arts' qualification at the National Film and Television School in the UK:

Course Outline MA Cinematography

They cover:

  • Set protocol
  • Exposure, how to light sets and on location.
  • Lighting for green screen.
  • Rear projection.
  • 'Active looking' - light, movement, story, imagination.
  • Animation   (it's not clear to me what this is about. DoPing animation?)
  • Some students get to do some documentary work.
  • Working on (spec?) commercials.
  • Shooting a few experimental 60 second films.
  • Working with a director on scenes.
  • Using a small amount of 16mm and 35mm film and the first year film is shot on 16mm film.
  • Entering a short film competition.
  • Pitching projects, meeting agents, tax etc.


The course page is here:
https://nfts.co.uk/cinematography
It costs about £30,000 (equivalent to about $41,000) in fees alone to do the two year course.

Edited by Mei Lewis
Extra info added.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the above can be taken as a sort of academic view of what 'cinematography' is.

As I look at what the course covers I compare it to what's been said above on this discussion; what I think are the skills needed now, or the skills I'd need to progress; and I think about the aspects they don't cover.

I think the course aligns with some of the more old school views on this forum, but it's missing a lot of obvious modern stuff.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
On 1/26/2021 at 2:14 PM, Satsuki Murashige said:

Afterwards as I was wrapping up my data station (there were about four times more B Camera clips than A Camera clips, mostly short clips containing only slates and takes with no slates), I overheard the Director and Producer saying ‘you gotta just get their foot in the door and fake it ‘til they make it. The editor will never know  the difference.’

This is nauseating.

On 1/26/2021 at 2:14 PM, Satsuki Murashige said:

As I hand them the drives, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I think the editor is gonna know...’ 

Oh a high note. If life were a movie and the narrator spoke this line after that exchange, It'd be pretty funny.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 hours ago, Mei Lewis said:

The course page is here:
https://nfts.co.uk/cinematography
It costs about £30,000 (equivalent to about $41,000) in fees alone to do the two year course.

Nobody in their right mind would get formal training at this price. Especially not these days. But, that's no excuse for not having experience and gathering knowledge. I have very limited experience and I don't know if I ever will get any more. But, thankfully, it's not my main ambition.

Cinematography is something I'd love to master, as it's so much more challenging than most kinds of photography. I want to get back that feeling of being in over my head, about being slightly intimidated by the job. It's a way to test all my armchair knowledge: can I put it into practice?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 minutes ago, Karim D. Ghantous said:

Nobody in their right mind would get formal training at this price. 

It might not be cheap, but the NFTS is the most prestigious film school in the UK. The education is second to none, and just about everyone who graduates finds quality work very soon afterwards. Whether they deserve to is a different question, but there’s no denying that the school gets results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To judge results fairly you have to compare them to the alternative.

In this situation, what would the results have been for the extremely dedicated individuals if if they had spent £30,000 and two years of their lives in some other way trying to become cinematographers?

(I'm saying this as someone who still might consider going to the NFTS. That's why I was looking at their site It's the only place in the UK anyone has ever said is any good. Did you go there Stuart?)

Edited by Mei Lewis
Extra info added.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
23 minutes ago, Mei Lewis said:

To judge results fairly you have to compare them to the alternative.

In this situation, what would the results have been for the extremely dedicated individuals if if they had spent £30,000 and two years of their lives in some other way trying to become cinematographers?

(I'm saying this as someone who still might consider going to the NFTS. It's the only place in the UK anyone has ever said is any good.)

If I had 30K (plus living expenses for two years, plus loss of income, plus the cost of shooting decent projects while there, which would multiply that several times) I'd have applied for the sheer fun of it. I suspect they wouldn't have me as I'm not really a member of the right set even if my camerawork were good enough, but I certainly wouldn't consider it any sort of worthwhile investment. The cinematography course is second only to the directing course in terms of competition for places and competition for work afterward. The risk-reward ratio is horrible and no matter how good a chance any specific school gives anyone, it's still a hopelessly oversubscribed role with a less-than-even chance of making a living.

You could certainly shoot a brace of very accomplished short films for far less money, although looking at the rest of the UK industry I'm not sure that competence is even a necessary condition for success, let alone a sufficient condition.

I don't think going to NFTS (or any other school) is either.

For what it's worth, I know someone who has a masters' in film from USC, and all it gave him was debt. The key there is that everyone spends six figures on their graduation project - I've seen some of them, they're very accomplished, but amongst them were several clearly much cheaper things done by more normal people without access to family money. If you're not from a wealthy background, you're nowhere.

P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 hours ago, Mei Lewis said:

To judge results fairly you have to compare them to the alternative.

In this situation, what would the results have been for the extremely dedicated individuals if if they had spent £30,000 and two years of their lives in some other way trying to become cinematographers?

(I'm saying this as someone who still might consider going to the NFTS. That's why I was looking at their site It's the only place in the UK anyone has ever said is any good. Did you go there Stuart?)

I didn't go there. I went to the vastly inferior Northern Media School when it was still a film school and not just a department of Sheffield university.

Going to the NFTS will give you a gigantic leap forward in those two years. It's purely anecdotal evidence, but every DP that I've ever heard of coming from there has had an agent before they graduate, and has moved directly into shooting commercials or high end promos. Narrative work seems never to be far behind. Do they deserve it? Is it £30,000 well spent? I can't answer those questions. All I know is, much like the AFI in Los Angeles, the NFTS gives your career a huge boost.

The list of well-known alumni is long, and includes one R. Deakins.

  • Like 1
  • Upvote 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member

I totally agree with Stuart. 

What you can accomplish in terms of connections and work in NFTS or AFI is way superior to what you can achieve in your own terms. 
Remember that you will meet with loads of directors there and other cinematographers whom you will be friends with and they will help you in your career eventually. 

If I had gone to the NFTS or AFI (as I was planning to) I would be shooting high-end tv series or features in the UK or USA for sure.

Have a good day. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
14 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

The list of well-known alumni is long, and includes one R. Deakins.

This does rather fall to "everyone knows a rock star," though.

They graduate many people a year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

48 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

They graduate many people a year.

The school as a whole, yes. The cinematography course intake is pretty small. Whatever your feelings about film schools in general (and I am decidedly skeptical) it's hard to deny that the NFTS gets way above average results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
5 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

The school as a whole, yes. The cinematography course intake is pretty small. Whatever your feelings about film schools in general (and I am decidedly skeptical) it's hard to deny that the NFTS gets way above average results.

Oof, that might be damning with the faintest praise ever!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Stephen:

I also live here in Tampa.  It is nice that you are out there making a living in a tough environment.

To be a DP you need one crucial thing: The trust of your director.  Everything else is negotiable and changes job to job.  If you are being paid to light & help compose then congratulations you are a professional cameraman! 

In my humble opinion the unrelenting sameness of video production has created a very high quality mediocrity that renders even the most skilled DP a technician.  Maybe some of the "fakers" are making happy accidents that a highly trained DP would never make in 100 years and if we keep our egos in check we could learn a thing or two. 

Neal Norton
Tampa, Florida

 

  • Like 1
  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...