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Tyler Leisher

The life of a DP

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My biggest complaint right now is the way people mistake camera owners for DPs. I am often asked if I have access to this or that camera and if I don't it's almost as if my reel and my interview etc means nothing and I am dismissed. It's all about the budget and whether they can save money by getting a camera owner who will bring their camera and work for a rate that is about or less than the cost of renting just a camera. This is absurd. No one would go to a rental house and ask if the camera comes with a free DP.

 

Sounds like the typical Craigslist ad. The "Must have own equipment..." routine.

 

Sure, I have access to a camera, every DP does...so how much do you want to pay in rentals? ha ha!

 

I'm lucky enough to have free access to a lot of goodies.

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it all sounds so easy huh?

 

I was explaining how I would LIKE my career to go. Not how I THINK my career will go. <_<

 

I don't honestly think I've got any career prospects as a DP. :(

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Guest sonickel

All of these answers are really interesting, but come completely from a male perspective. Ie have a WIFE who believes in you.

 

What if you want to be a DP and you are a woman? A 30 year old woman just starting out? Who doesn't live in America?

 

Do I have any hope at all, if I want kids one day?

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All of these answers are really interesting, but come completely from a male perspective. Ie have a WIFE who believes in you.

 

I find it hard to not have a male's perspective, sorry! Nor do I have the perspective of someone not living in Los Angeles/USA. Hopefully a non-U.S. female cinematographer will answer your question, otherwise you may have to seek one out.

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All of these answers are really interesting, but come completely from a male perspective. Ie have a WIFE who believes in you.

 

What if you want to be a DP and you are a woman? A 30 year old woman just starting out? Who doesn't live in America?

 

Do I have any hope at all, if I want kids one day?

 

Actually, as a woman I'd think that you'd have more advantages, working around any child rearing needs. Especially if you go with one of the national care facilities, like La Petite which have programs for travelling parents. In addition, as most DP jobs are scheduled months in advance, you could work around any birth/early care needs.

 

I'll admit, I've had some women AC's that would make great DP's if they just believed in themselves.

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All of these answers are really interesting, but come completely from a male perspective. Ie have a WIFE who believes in you.

 

What if you want to be a DP and you are a woman? A 30 year old woman just starting out? Who doesn't live in America?

 

Do I have any hope at all, if I want kids one day?

 

I know a woman in her 30s who works as a D.P.. Makes probably $50,000. a year.

She started out as a p.a., volunteered at the local camera rental house for two years,

learned how to become an a.c. based on that, worked her way up from 2nd to 1st,

got a chance to operate on a feature directed by a woman director who liked their

rapport, and now shoots corporate pieces, documentaries and low budget features.

She's not getting rich but she's shooting.

 

Rent the DVDs of "November" and listen to Nancy Schreiber, ASC on the commentary track

and DP Sandy Sisson on the "Salaam, Bombay" commentary track. Maybe you could write

to them for advice.

 

Of course you have a chance. Build a reel and hustle like everybody else. In some (rare) cases

you'll have an edge as a woman; in many you'll have to work twice as hard to prove yourself.

Unfair? Yeah. However, I met an extremely competent 120 lb. woman gaffer on a Hollywood

film where there were a lot of big 12Ks to push around. Some of the guys laughed...until she

told them where she wanted them to put the lights.

 

When you have kids, see where you are. If you have a supportive partner, maybe it'll work.

Maybe you'll break through and be shooting a sitcom and can go home every night at a decent

hour. Worry about it then.

 

Read about Annie Leibovitz. Not a cinematographer, but in a similar field she's at the top.

 

Maybe it's hard, but I suggest drop the "male perspective" opinion. Couldn't the reverse be

true, that you have a significant other who believes in you? Not every guy on here has a

supportive wife or even a wife. I wish that I'd have a girlfriend who

believes in me. Hah, I wish that I'd even have a girlfriend.

 

Believe in yourself and work hard.

 

Good luck.

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That's sound advice, Jim, and it applies to just about every grand goal in life.

 

I have been a climber for twenty-eight years. I started in the late seventies, and I made a decision in 1990 to get sponsored and go pro. The first thing I did was to move to Boulder, Colorado, which was the breeding ground for world-class climbers. I was thirty at the time - not a kid - but I was very fit. More importantly, I was determined. Determination is the operative word, and no great goal will ever be achieved without it.

 

The first eight months enlightened me in a way that I will never forget. The lesson is indelibly etched in my memory bank. I spent every day meeting the top climbers and asking them how to train to be a top climber. I could not have been more sincere in my pursuit, yet I was continually met with distant stares and little or no valuable advice. At first, I thought that these athletes were behaving sort of elitist, or maybe that it was my personality. They always seemed to stay in small cliques, and they almost never made small talk with anyone.

 

Realizing that getting advice from these athletes was not going to happen made me angry. I had re-arranged my entire life in order to pursue this goal, and moving to Boulder was meant specifically for that purpose. I was determined to succeed, so I quit my professional job, canceled my climbing gym membership, and went into hiding for the winter. I got a job as a doorman at the local strip club - which paid rather handsomely for fifteen hours per week - and I built a small training wall on the patio of my apartment. I procured every book that I could find on diet, nutrition, training, etc., and I dug in. That was in September.

 

By mid May, I have lost twenty-plus pounds of excess baggage. I weighed in at 155lbs., and less than 4 percent fat. I had gotten considerably stronger. I had made a goal, during that previous September, to climb a classic Boulder test-piece by the end of that first summer after my winter training efforts - a route on which I hadn't been able to do individual moves during my initial attempts. Not only was I now able to do the moves, I successfully *redpointed the route on my second try. This raised my confidence level to the point that I completely upgraded my hit list for that season. Within two months, I had completed four of the hardest routes on the Front Range, and my efforts were about to expose me to the greatest lesson that I have learned about what it takes to achieve top goals.

 

While walking through Eldorado Canyon one morning, I spotted one of the top climbers, who had, hitherto, neglected to give me the time of day. I was so accustomed to his dismissal of me that I didn't bother to say hello. As I passed him, a shocking event occurred. He greeted me. It wasn't a simple hello, but rather an open acknowledgment and congratulations for my success on some of the most difficult routes. Shock immediately turned to pride, as I realized what was happening, and I said, humbly: Thank you. This started happening with all of the athletes with whom I had initially encountered brick walls, and that was when it finally hit me. I had spent the entire winter eating, sleeping, and breathing for my goal at the expense of everything else. No one told me how to do it, and in the end, success came down to wanting it more than anything else in my life.

 

I subsequently watched an interview with the world champion at the time (Jim Karn), in which he addressed the question of what it takes to be a champion. He said, and I am paraphrasing: I am often asked, by climbers, what to eat and how to train, etc, and the answer is simple. When succeeding at your goal becomes more important than everything else in your life, then what to eat and how to train will come to you. It was a simple yet profoundly insightful statement, and I only truly understood its relevance after having gone through the process myself.

 

I received sponsorship from several climbing companies, that season, and I continued to successfully pursue my professional climbing goals for the next seven seasons. Not only was the experience life altering, but it also opened the doors for shooting top assignments when I eventually returned to still film work. I have since made the transition to motion picture work, and I now have the key tool in my toolbox - a real-life understanding of what it takes to get there. Everything else will come down to desire and determination, and I'm excited about the journey.

 

Kathleen, It is easy to say that doors open more easily for men in such pursuits. Whether or not that is actually ever the case is a moot point. The rules are the same for females and males. If you want something badly enough to make it your life's focus, your chances of success immediately become exponentially better than 99.9% of the population's. I was thirty when I decided to become a professional athlete. I have also become well acquainted with several female world champion climbers, who used the same passion and drive as their vehicle to success. The successful perspective is neither male nor female; it is inexorable drive and passion. Nothing less will get you there.

 

Cheers,

 

Ken

 

 

*Redpoint means to successfully ascend a techincal route from bottom to top - without falling and in one continuous effort - after having previously worked on the route and rehearsed the moves. An on-sight ascent is when one successfully ascends a route from bottom to top, sans falls, on the first try, without having any visual or verbal information (beta) about technical movement, rock features, etc.

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Kathleen,

 

There is another very important thing to consider when contemplating a major pursuit: If you aren't willing to do whatever it takes to get there, then you have almost no chance of holding onto it if you ever do. Being at the top of any game in life never gets easier. For those who are successful, it is their ever-increasing experience that only makes it feel easier. Without a sincere passion and inexorable determination, you will be missing the fundamental tools that every person of great achievement possesses. You must come to the starting line with at least as much determination as your competitors, or you will have lost the race before it ever begins.

 

Good luck in your pursuit.

 

Ken

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Guest Kathleen Lawler

Thanks for all your words of encouragement, guys.

I suppose I've been a bit discouraged, because there are only 2 female DP's in this city. However, I know it would be hard for anyone - even guys I know who are starting out are finding it tough. It's a long way from Hollywood here....

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What if you want to be a DP and you are a woman? A 30 year old woman just starting out? Who doesn't live in America?

 

There really shouldn't be any genderial barriers these days, although I imagine there was sexism in the past.

 

I would like to apoligise on behalf of every sexist male for the sexism that hs occured in the past, and I'm glad that these sorts of discrimination are coming to end. :)

 

Though Left Hander discrimination is still rife. :(

 

I'll admit, I've had some women AC's that would make great DP's if they just believed in themselves.

 

I would imagine that is the reason there are so few female DPs, a lack of self confidence.

 

Whatever happens, they're better that me. :D

Edited by Matthew Buick

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Everything else will come down to desire and determination, and I'm excited about the journey.

 

Kathleen, It is easy to say that doors open more easily for men in such pursuits. Whether or not that is actually ever the case is a moot point. The rules are the same for females and males. If you want something badly enough to make it your life's focus, your chances of success immediately become exponentially better than 99.9% of the population's. I was thirty when I decided to become a professional athlete. I have also become well acquainted with several female world champion climbers, who used the same passion and drive as their vehicle to success. The successful perspective is neither male nor female; it is inexorable drive and passion. Nothing less will get you there.

 

Cheers,

 

Ken

 

 

 

That's a great story, Ken and well told. In his biography of George Lucas, "Skywalking", Dale

Pollock writes about Lucas's great determination and how the phrase (long before it was a

a sneaker slogan) came to him: "Just do it."

 

Kathleen, write to those two women D.P.s

 

A. They'll be nice and help you because people do like to help people.

 

B. They'll blow you off like the climbers that ignored Ken, in which if you really want to be

a D.P. you'll shoot evrything you can, learn everything you can, do everything you can

to develop your abilities and you'll be ready when the universe presents you with a film

that only you can shoot.

 

A man wrote to Dear Abbey that he wanted to be a doctor and could get into medical school

but he was starting late and he would be 38 by the time he was a doctor.

 

Dear Abbey asked him: How old will you be that year anyway?

 

Good luck!

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Thanks for all your words of encouragement, guys.

I suppose I've been a bit discouraged, because there are only 2 female DP's in this city. However, I know it would be hard for anyone - even guys I know who are starting out are finding it tough. It's a long way from Hollywood here....

 

The real cinematography business is composed of a few hundred cinematographers. Not many women. Not for any reason but because I just don't think many women got into it. Those that did and were good were treated no different in my opinion. Although I will say the female cinematographers I know have something male about them in their attitude and perhaps that is a reason why they 'fit in'.

 

As for being far from Hollywood, that niche (Hollywood) is a minor part of the field of all cinematography so realistically most folks are far from it, but being in it doesn't make you any more a cinematographer than any other cinematography position. Strive to be a good cinematographer, not an ideal of what you think a cinematographer should be, you'll go farther.

 

I know some folks who are in the Hollywood system who aren't such great cinematographers so it ain't about talent that makes you a Hollywood cinematographer necessarily.

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All of these answers are really interesting, but come completely from a male perspective. Ie have a WIFE who believes in you.

 

What if you want to be a DP and you are a woman? A 30 year old woman just starting out? Who doesn't live in America?

 

Do I have any hope at all, if I want kids one day?

 

I have had the privilege of working with Ellen Kuras for two weeks in the freezing cold. She has a fantastic vision and is always pushing the envelope.

As a side note....... She also lives in France.

 

Cheers

Chris

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every day i think how to market myself and to bring work as DP until 8 month ago i was hardly work then i met a music video director we had one very good experience and since then i shoot for him every music video he shoot over 20 right now so from work less i became fully booked!!!

that's luck and hard work

 

because i have 2 kids i still from time to time work as lighting director for TV shows(that my old profession)

 

but i love what i do and fill i am on the right track

 

so that's what important

 

same time i here my ego say tome look at this DP at that DP they successful shooting commercial features they are younger then you but then i look at what i do and i know that for me its better for example to shoot music video than commercials cause i think in commercial you cant bring art you sell your talent the image has no meaning its empty as the product it sell

yes you get more money

yes you have bigger toys

yes you have bigger ego

but i discovered that i am in this, because i want to do art

and i the music video world there is more chance for me to do it

and i don't care what other do or achieved i look at my way and i know were i want to be in the future

hope you understand what i am try to say:)

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The real cinematography business is composed of a few hundred cinematographers. Not many women. Not for any reason but because I just don't think many women got into it. Those that did and were good were treated no different in my opinion. Although I will say the female cinematographers I know have something male about them in their attitude and perhaps that is a reason why they 'fit in'.

 

As for being far from Hollywood, that niche (Hollywood) is a minor part of the field of all cinematography so realistically most folks are far from it, but being in it doesn't make you any more a cinematographer than any other cinematography position. Strive to be a good cinematographer, not an ideal of what you think a cinematographer should be, you'll go farther.

 

I know some folks who are in the Hollywood system who aren't such great cinematographers so it ain't about talent that makes you a Hollywood cinematographer necessarily.

 

So true.

 

I've gaffed films for some D.P.s, male and female, who I could light circles around. Instead

of being bitter(that they had the job) I listened to their insane directions e.g. "MY vision is

make it look like that scene in "J.F.K." where..." and just enjoyed that I had a free hand to

light, which I enjoy.

 

Some of them were decent camera operators; they had light meters but they got the job

because they were cool and hip (seriously) with a bit of a reel or they talked an inexperienced

director into hiring them by describing ! their reel because it was currently being "recut" and

all sorts of other schmoozing.

 

Nonetheless, these were real, paying jobs and I'm sure that there were people working

on the crew who had better scripts at home and knew that they could direct better or

act better than the leads.

 

It can really be frustrating to see other people get a job that you know you could do better,

AND faster and cheaper.

 

I figured that I would use those as learning experiences. Since I had D.P.s who were really

camera operators who let me light for them, I had fun lighting and cashed my check.

 

There's been a good point made in this thread that some people seem to confuse camera

owners as being instant D.P.s! While I've certainly seen camera owners get hired because

they have the camera and a kit and save the producers moeny and insurance issues and yet

they're nowhere near as skilled as many D.P.s who don't own a camera (often because

they use so many different cameras for different jobs) it's something to consider.

 

I have consistently seen people who want to be Steadicam operators or D.P.s or audio

mixers get hired when they have their own gear more than others who want to do the same

thing but don't have gear. Often, they're not that great at first and they cost the

production a lot more time than a skilled Steadicam operator would BUT some low-budget

productions have more time than money and these people are getting paid to learn how

to do their jobs (admittedly at the expense of the production and the unpaid production

assistants, actors, etc. who get home four hours later.)

 

Kathleen and others, if there is a camera that you see a lot of people using and taking

out a loan would set you up as an owner/operator, you might want to consider it.

 

If you get 1-2 days a month paid you'll cover the note on something decent and you'll

likely get jobs that you wouldn't have otherwise. Yeah, you'll basically be renting out a camera

with a bodyguard and undercutting some other perhaps more experienced D.P.s but

hey, it's tough out there. Do what it takes.

 

I have a friend who is a very successful D.P. (constantly turning down features because he

makes so much more in commercials) and owner/operators won't be taking jobs away from

him necessarily. For everybody in the middle, they're just going to have to move up

higher enough that the less experienced owner/operators won't beat them out of jobs.

 

Good luck to everybody.

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Tim,

 

Do you have a demo reel, and, if so, have you considered posting a link to it in your profile and/or signature? I've received four inquires for still work just from having my website link in my signature. Just a thought.

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All of these answers are really interesting, but come completely from a male perspective. Ie have a WIFE who believes in you.

 

What if you want to be a DP and you are a woman? A 30 year old woman just starting out? Who doesn't live in America?

 

Do I have any hope at all, if I want kids one day?

 

Unfortunately there are some harsh realities for women in film behind the camera. Look at the ASC list, how many women are on there? It's not over 10%.

 

They've been handing out the Oscar since 1929. Total number of women who have won the award for best cinematography: 0. Total number of women who have won for best director: 0.

 

Maybe this will change one day and women will break through?

 

R,

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Unfortunately there are some harsh realities for women in film behind the camera. Look at the ASC list, how many women are on there? It's not over 10%.

 

They've been handing out the Oscar since 1929. Total number of women who have won the award for best cinematography: 0. Total number of women who have won for best director: 0.

 

Maybe this will change one day and women will break through?

 

R,

 

 

In science we say correlation is not causation. I don't believe women have been shut out of anything as this poster seems to be saying to me. I think it is simply an industry that started out as male and for the most part stayed that way. I don't think it was because women are women, rather because women never stepped up to do it until recently and today I know many more female DoPs there were when I started. Will it become 50/50 women/ I don't think that is an issue. If you have the head to be a DoP and are good, or know someone that can market you as good, you can move into the ranks, male or female. Now ask me about the Hollywood system and I would say women DoPs don't exist part because of sexism at that level but much more because the industry is so small that it's easier for women simply not be in the role. Actually women in the Hollywood system exist in a large percentage and role, just more above line than below. And it seems to me that many women who do work at the level of cinematographer do so more in non fiction than the fiction that is Hollywood so that might be a reason too.

 

To me the whole discussion is like saying women in the oil industry exist more in the front office than at the rig more by choice at first. Most just don't get their hands dirty, but once they find out they can and can do it well, and don't mind the dirty part that most associate with men's roles, they'll be at the rig too.

 

As Mandy Walker, a successful female Australian Cinematographer said once in response to a question about very few women working in the camera department when she first started and her early experiences as a female cinematographer working in a traditionally male-dominated area she said:

 

"I never knew until I started working in the industry that there weren't many women in the camera department, and I couldn't see why. Basically, I have never taken it on as an issue, and I think that people will hire me because I am good at my job, not whether I am male or female."

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Having personally lost the IFP Spirit Award to Lisa Rinzler (who recently shot "The Night Listener"), and seeing DP's like Ellen Kuras and Nancy Schreiber win other cinematography awards at festivals and whatnot, I don't see an Oscar nomination for a female DP as being that unlikely someday as more and more become cinematographers -- and judging by the increase of young women cinematographers who show up every year at the ASC Open House, that's definitely happening. No, I don't see 50/50 representation either, simply because I don't see just as many women even persuing a career as a cinematographer.

 

Recently I had to find someone to shoot pick-ups for "Solstice" for me and was honored that I could get Nancy Schreiber to come in. And I see Amy Vincent (most recently "Black Snake Moan") as being slightly ahead of me, career-wise, and far ahead of me talent-wise.

 

There's no real reason for women to not succeed as cinematographers other than stupid male prejudice against hiring them, but as more and more women become producers, and the male population as a whole crawls out of the Stone Age mentally and emotionally, I see less barriers there. But the percentage of women cinematographers will be lower for a long time for various reasons -- lack of role models, fear of dealing with male prejudice, etc. that make other careers in film look more appealing, like editorial, efx, producing, etc.

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Well if you both didn't guess I was pointing out statistical reality, that's all.

 

I find it hard to have sympathy for women trying to break into any male dominated field. There is absolutely zero interest in our society for helping men into female dominated fields. So until that changes I don't see myself personally going out of my way to help any women.

 

A fire department in British Columbia recently announced a hiring freeze on all men, just so they can hire more women. The Canadian actors union, ACTRA, requires white males to get more credits than any one else before they can have membership. Says so right on their website. As long as this sort of unconstitutional BS continues I won't be going out of my way to hire women just to help them into the industry.

 

I do work with a lot of women in the industry however, they are all in it based on merit, so that's fine. I had a lady colourist on my feature, first time ever, and she did an amazing job.

 

R,

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My life experience that there are two very different types of women who get interested in traditionally male fields. The first group's attitude seems to be "You can't tell me what to do, if I want to be a steelworker you can't tell me no." The second says "What a neat thing to do, I want in!" The first group is ideology driven, the second genuinely and personally is attracted to the field. I've worked with both over the years. The first group is a pain in the ass, they start with a chip on their shoulder and are always quick to take offence, the second can be some of the most fun people on the face of the earth to work with. The second group brings a fresh attitude to the field and the feminine strengths often make them very creative and insightful.

 

It is also my observation that the second group often grew up in a family where dad was a practical sort of man and encouraged his daughter(s) to get involved in his hobbies, etc.

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The first group is a pain in the ass, they start with a chip on their shoulder and are always quick to take offence,

 

 

You forgot to add that they don't seem to make it very far. :)

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I find it hard to have sympathy for women trying to break into any male dominated field. There is absolutely zero interest in our society for helping men into female dominated fields.

 

I agree totally with what you said there, Richard. :)

 

Here in the UK there are a few women only Car Insurance companies (Diamond and Sheila's Wheels). But, wouldn't an all male Car Insurance company be considered Sexist?

 

Sure, there has been considerable sexist in past years, there probably still is to some degree in many fields. But this "Tit-for-Tat" attitude that political correctness brings really is over the top.

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Guest Kathleen Lawler

I'm not actually coming to this with a politically correct attitude. When I fell in love with Super 8 cameras 3-4 years ago, and considered working behind the camera, rather than just writing, I had no idea that it was a male dominated profession.

 

But a film teacher I came across said it was odd that I would go into this at such a late age, given that "most women have children around this time". Also, that "film sets are brutal towards women", that "men don't like women being around them when they've had a long hard day", etc. I've also noticed that most female camera assistants are young, and that older women still in the business tend to be single and childless. And that there can be a certain machismo on a film set that tends to discourage some women from continuing.

 

Not saying this to whinge, BTW. I was just hoping there were some female DOP's out there on this board that have managed to "have it all", that could give me a bit of encouragement and advice.

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Keep in mind Kathleen that the film biz is brutal on men with families as well as women. It is commonly said that the only two people on film sets are either single or divorced, goes for men and women.

 

The long days, being away from home, sporadic work, will test any family situation. It's certainly no cake walk for men. Most film guys tend to stay single until they are established and this can easily take a decade or more. Then they have to be married to a woman who will put up with the film industry are there are not that many around.

 

The vast majority of guys on this board are either single, or married with no children. I'm married and I have kids, I'm in the minority.

 

The film industry is the most un-family friendly business you can be in. If your husband and children are really important to you, then you should look at other career options. That is the cold hard reality. It goes for any man contemplating this business as well.

 

It's tough for a woman to have it all with a 9-5 M-F job, the film biz would make it 10 times harder.

 

R,

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