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What to do when you want a DP but...


Matthew W. Phillips
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For my next project (a short horror film), I want to be able to Direct as a Director. I don't want to be burdened down by worrying about the camera and lighting, etc. The problem is...where I live (Northern California), it is as different as can be from the industry in Southern California. I am not too far from the Bay Area where there is somewhat of a film scene but still not sure of the talent that is willing to travel up where I am to shoot (especially on a budget).

I purchased a film camera because there are no film rental houses up here. I also did it because I don't want to hire a DP who is going to push a look that I do not want (a modern DSLR/Red/mIrrorless camera with modern desaturated look). That sort of thing is about 99% of what I have seen up here. Most are really young and never shot on film.

So my dilemma is that I want a DP but I cannot afford to pay for traveling expenses + a decent rate to import one from the Southlands. Also, I like to work with people in my community and encourage a film scene here. However, almost none of them know film. Therefore, what is the proper approach to handle this?

As much as I want to trust people on a collaborative project, I simply cannot risk ruining film stock by novices, etc. My wife is my loader (as she has loaded film for me for over 10 years now) and I feel like I still need to worry about things like checking the gate, threading the camera (CP is a stickler for doing it right), checking the claw against the shutter to ensure a loop, timing, etc. This stuff takes me out of directing mode though but I don't mind.

I guess where I am concerned is in whether the DPs up here can meter for exposure (or even own a light meter), work without a monitor, and have a camera op. who can keep focus with an old viewfinder. All of this sounds like basic no brainer stuff but I really worry that the people up here have never had to do that before and are used to the modern conveniences.

Anyways, I have rambled on enough. Would love for you all to give some feedback and help a brother out! (Yes, even you, Tyler. Share some wisdom if you feel you want to. I can't stay mad at you; you are a brother in celluloid 😄).

Thanks,

Matthew

Edited by Matthew W. Phillips
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the most usable solution I can think of is to arrange some workshops with the potential crew you would like to use to see how interested they are to learn film related things and then continue to the projects with those ones who seemed to be really interested in the film workflow and wanted to work the same way than you. Doing this kind of experiments on real set is too time consuming and risky but a separate one or two day workshop would work perfectly for finding out who would like to continue further down the film path and who are more willing to stay exclusively in the dslr world. 

as for micro managing technical things on set... you need to give your crew enough time and training possibilities so that you can trust them being competent enough for not needing to micromanage the technical details. if you don't trust them at the moment then they just need more training and confidence to handle the details right (micromanaging does not help the confidence at all). let them borrow the camera and mags and some scratch film for couple of weeks after teaching them first how to load the camera correctly. then they could practice loading every day until they get it right every time

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11 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

the most usable solution I can think of is to arrange some workshops with the potential crew you would like to use to see how interested they are to learn film related things and then continue to the projects with those ones who seemed to be really interested in the film workflow and wanted to work the same way than you. Doing this kind of experiments on real set is too time consuming and risky but a separate one or two day workshop would work perfectly for finding out who would like to continue further down the film path and who are more willing to stay exclusively in the dslr world. 

as for micro managing technical things on set... you need to give your crew enough time and training possibilities so that you can trust them being competent enough for not needing to micromanage the technical details. if you don't trust them at the moment then they just need more training and confidence to handle the details right (micromanaging does not help the confidence at all). let them borrow the camera and mags and some scratch film for couple of weeks after teaching them first how to load the camera correctly. then they could practice loading every day until they get it right every time

That sounds like a good idea, actually. Thanks.

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I applaud you for choosing film for your horror short. Would love to check it out once it's complete.

You're in a tough spot. DP's experienced in film are not as easy to come by. Especially when you are on a low budget and unable to pay travel expenses. The only advise I can give, which may be too obvious so I apologies in advance, is to try and make some connections in the film scene in your area and see if anyone knows anyone what would be interest in being involved. Essentially, all of my shorts have come together in this type of way; a guy that knows a guy that knows a guy.

Another option would be to teach a digital DP how to shoot film. But I do not know if you have the time or ability to do that. It is also the riskier option. You might want to find someone with some experience with film, even if it's just film photography.

Let it be known in your area that you're on the hunt for a DP. See who turns up. Best of luck to you!

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If you can get a gaffer who understands film, even if you import them from San Fransisco (where there are plenty), you can give them the task of properly lighting and metering. So your DP can focus on the composition, rather than the "film" aspects. This way you can pretty much use anyone you want. Do a little test shoot with them to help massage their skills and you should be good to go. 

The CP (can) be a tricky camera, but because you've had one before, I don't think you'll have any issues. You probably know all the issues and having a loader who can thread the camera well and insure the loops are perfect etc, is a very important first step. Since you won't have a video tap I assume, maybe you will want to physically run the camera, so you can insure what you're getting is what you want. 

Antidotally, on my last short, I used 3 students from my film school on the camera side. I brushed up their skills, with a very difficult camera to use (Aaton 35III) and they were OK on set, lots of questions but they killed it as seen in the results. I did load all the mags myself, but they cleaned the camera and changed mags. I was for sure more hands on with the camera then I would have liked to have been. I suggest letting go of the camera if possible and trusting your crew. I would try not to do what I did again, it was too distracting, too worrying. With 16mm I have no problem letting go, but with 35mm for me, especially with my tricky French camera, it's not easy. 

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