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Point To Advanced Education When It's All Networking?


Max Field
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This might be an odd one but I feel it could lead to some insight... or another fight thread.

As I've worked on more and more sets and spoken with others passionate about the product itself, I'm noticing that the overwhelming majority of discussions always end up "they don't care they just want clout" or "he got that job cause they were friends" and so on and so forth. This is not just film production. It's audio production, acting, performing, etc etc.

There are many days where I see people who are not remarkable by any means get work from client to client and pretty much just ride their resume to the bank.

Obviously there is a baseline of education needed to work in any capacity, but that's not really the story for the long-term Cinematography.com poster. We're all mad men who will research and argue concepts that most small to mid-level sets I've been on aren't even sentient of. I even hear on some of the biggest shows there are plenty of people in non-entry positions who are bumbling about.

I guess what I'm wondering is; once we get to a point where we know how to set up the camera, make sure the image is decently exposed, and have a basic understanding of scene composition, is there a quantifiable point to learning beyond that when the entire business seems to be based on networking alone? Especially post-covid I'm seeing tons of mistakes in various shows by big market studios.

I personally won't stop learning, but the more I see unqualified people (judging off what they produce and nothing else) getting hired it seems like going to social events holds a hundred times more weight than actually learning the craft.

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In my humble opinion through observation is that nowadays all you need is to own a camera and a network of people to work as a cinematographer.  I keep hearing productions hiring on the basis of what equipment is brought to table rather than just skill set. Nepotism was always the name of the game but with digital being so accessible and in a way easier to shoot than film, any person with a camera is a dp all of a sudden. This is not an ANTI-DIGITAL opinion by any means.

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I worked with a number of young dps in their early to mid 20s as a focus puller on some commercials. They will remain nameless of course, but they don't even know what a working stop is. Everytime I asked what stop we were shooting, I would always get the ost look with an I dont know yet answers followed by looking at on board monitor to find the stop. No lighting, shaping etc is involved. These were real commercials with clients.. i never heard of a 22 year old "dp" during the film days... it took some expertise to get the image you wanted to get without looking at monitors etc. Go back to film sets, it was always lit. I find that more artful. Of course established cinematographers are excluded.

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On my first film shoot since college (a LONG time ago) a few weeks ago, the oldest person on set except for me (62) was the focus puller. I assumed he was over 50.. Everyone else was under 40, some under 20, and this is in actual film. Point being that there appeared to be no-one under 50 with the skills of a first AC.

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Max, the fact that a lot of the people who're working on the good stuff are not actually all that amazing is one of those things that I think most of us realise after a few years. At the high end of almost anything, there's very often a lot of specialisation, and people working in professional silos. Often they're reasonably competent at exactly one thing and really quite laughably inept at anything else, and yes, sometimes that does actually cause real-world problems when something slightly unusual comes up and people are required to cooperate interdepartmentally. On big sets - when I've seen them - it's hard not to laugh at all the desperate stumbling around that happens if anything vaguely out of the ordinary should occur.

People who work on small stuff often have much broader, if shallower, knowledge, and that can lead to people devising smart solutions to things which the high end would do a much harder way. Something which exacerbates this is that on bigger productions, it's seen as highly inappropriate to involve oneself in, make any comment on, or in any sense interact with the work of other departments, which can literally mean people sitting around watching things go wrong, aware of a straightforward solution, but unwilling to air it. And that's even without considering the involvement of unions, many of which actively seek to encourage and enforce that sort of separation, because, after all, it creates work for people.

If this is leading you to the conclusion that working on short films is a lot more entertaining for you as an individual than working on huge shows, well, you've probably got a point. The only way anyone can ever get any sort of meaningful creative control over a huge international blockbuster is to be one of a group of people we know by a single name and can probably count on the fingers of one hand - Nolan, Cameron, Spielberg, etc., and finding oneself in that sort of position is dependent on many things, but inevitably involves a lot of luck. You can cite situations like Jurassic World, but the idea that people like Trevorrow have any sort of real creative authority on shows like that is mistaken. They're puppets on strings, dancing to the tune of executives in return for a big paycheck.

With regard to Mark's comments on crewing, to some extent that can be laid at the door of a huge shortage of qualified people, and to some extent that is due to the likes of Netflix sucking up any even vaguely-qualified warm body. To another extent it's due to the recruitment process of the film industry, which can fairly be described as "brutally hostile." New entrants are faced with scowling, often openly-hostile incumbents who see newcomers as potential competition. Nobody is incentivised to train anyone and this has been the case for decades. For much of that time, the demand for crew in the UK was so vanishingly small that it barely mattered, but the problem is being thrown into sharp relief now the big streamers have turned up, post-pandemic, with a bulging folder of scripts to be produced.

If this seems to paint a picture of an industry which isn't what most people think it is and which is rotten to its core by anyone's standards... well, yes. Welcome aboard, newbies!

This is really about producers, but I think it says everything that needs to be said.

 

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2 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

If this is leading you to the conclusion that working on short films is a lot more entertaining for you as an individual than working on huge shows, well, you've probably got a point.

Oh well I think a top priority Disney film will have higher standards than Disney plus exclusive content. Outside of that echelon, I think it is a problem all across the board regardless of short film, commercial, anything.

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