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Hello. I am happy to say this my first of hopefully many more posts on this board. If I may introduce myself, my name is Mayer Chalom and I am a 19 yr old student who has currently finished a year of architecture at Pratt Institute.


Since high school I have worked as an event photographer (and continue to do so) [my portfolio can be viewed at www.mayermaxphotography.com]. Currently I am employed as a photographer and draftsmen for a design firm in New York.


To make a long story short, I have quickly realized that I do not enjoy the professional aspects of architecture (there is very much a disconnect between practice and academia for those unaware) and have switched to Pratt's film/video program.


At this point in time I am extremely interested in pursuing a career in cinematography and have some questions about ways of achieving my goals.


First I would like to know if I am at a disadvantage for not attending the A list film schools (i.e USC, NYU, Chapman etc.). I currently have the benefit of a large scholarship at my university and would most likely not be offered a similar package if I transferred. I also believe I am apart of a rising program because of Pratt's completion of a brand new 20,000 sq ft facility that will be in close proximity to Steiner Studios. My past experiences in photography and design have definitely assured me that where you get your diploma is a moot point but there is a 1 percent of doubt that I would like to assess.


Onto a less pedagogic matter, in the professional realm of cinematographer what is the job structure like? Are all jobs freelance? Are there production companies that employ full time directors of photography? Are there advertising agencies that ever have cinematographers on staff? Does the cinematographer have the responsibility of organizing the film crew (i.e gaffer, key grip, etc)? Does the cinematographer take on the role of the editor/animator/set designer now that we live in an ever increasing digital world with blurred professional delineations?


Also lastly, are there still opportunities to enter the professional world as an assistant/runner/grip and slowly move up as a cinematographer or are "those days" part of a past époque?


Thank you so much for sifting through the monologue. I appreciate any feedback and please visit my website at www.mayermaxphotography.com




Mayer Chalom

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  • 2 weeks later...

There's not one single path towards being a cinematographer. In my career as a crewmember and, hopefully soon, a full time cinematographer, I've encountered as many paths as DoPs. Quite a few will have read a masters degree, the luckiest of them have done so in one of the rare and prestigious "national" film schools here in Europe.

However, these cases are not the majority in any way. These are usually people coming up through the ranks. This climb is not necessarily gradual. After a few years learning the job and on set etiquette it's pretty much down to ambition to make the move. Most will start as camera trainee. Others, and usual quite good I must say, come through lighting and have made the transition from gaffer to DoP. Others will do the masters degree after a few years in the industry. Do bear in mind that a US grip is not the same as an UK grip. In the UK it's sparks that light, and not grips. So don't interpret from this that gripping in the US is a way in. I really don't know. Check the local professional organisations. Here we have the GBCT (guild of british camera technicians). They run trainee schemes and get you on paid jobs straight away.

I'm doing it through camera, although through the new position of DIT. It's now come down to making the choice between being a focus puller or a DIT, and no, we don't just copy footage. We're doing it it less and less as we slowly manage to educate people on the voodoo magic we can perform on set.

I came to film quite a bit later than you, so after not being offered a place at the national film school here and not being able to pay for a masters, my only sensible option was finding a job as soon as I could in the camera department and make it as senior as possible as fast as I could. I was very lucky that both the big shift towards digital and London's explosion as a production centre happened when I moved from TV and corporate productions to film, some three years ago. This meant that having built my gaming rigs in my teens gave me a dark knowledge that's in very short supply.

Edited by John Miguel King
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  • 11 months later...

Film school is most valuable for networking and status. If your work is good enough and you can meet the right people on your own it won't matter too much. Being at an A list school is a nice bump though.


Most Jobs are freelance yes, all A list cinematographers are Freelancers with Agents usually. Production companies that do something like employ a DP full time are more low tier probably doing things like corporate videos or event videos. Advertising agencies generally hire production companies to do work, work that gets made in house is also pretty low tier.... they are less likely to hire a Cinematographer and more likely to hire some kinda jack of all trades video person and you will be doing things like "pitch videos" (videos they make to get jobs) and other low end work that doesn't have a big enough budget to hire out a real production company.


As you start working in this field you will meet a lot of people and over time you will find "your crew". I have been doing this freelance for 5 years or so now and I probably have a list of 4-5 gaffers I like and AC's as well. On bigger jobs the production company will handle the crew if you want, but you always want to make your suggestions ....when you get started you will probably be in charge of it.... to be honest you want to be in charge of it if you can, you want your guys, and referrals go both ways sometimes.



I would say yes the days of moving up are dead. That is not to say it isn't a good idea to do those things to learn how sets work and get to see big shows shooting. with a bit of experience and knowing the right people you can work huge movies as an electrician....it'll be terrible work, but you will see how things work. Also be on every shoot with the students in your school you can, try to be working the best stuff even if you can't shoot it, gaff it or key grip, when your starting out just work as a grip if you need to....build set experience, not because it will get you a DP job, but because it will make you a better DP.


However, I think in higher positions (Gaffer, 1st AC a little less so) there is a little room to "move up" a lot of DP's also gaff now when they are getting going, but nothing is going to get you up the ranks except your own work. It's maybe nice to be friends with some DP's as a gaffer and get to know some producers and stuff, but you need a reel. A really good one. I know a 1st AC who did an indie film with a well known DP and now the DP is busy and they liked him so much he got offered a job to shoot a smaller budget movie with the same director..... but that's because he is also a shooter, has work to show, and is a smart informed guy!


There is a whole post on the "general discussion" page about "low pay/free work" ....My experience is that, as some have said over there, you need to finance your career as a DP to get in, some people buy cameras which is great if you can do it (I'm talking high end cinema cameras like a RED or Alexa) but moreover you need to take on low/free work and make great pictures and find the right people to work with. Find people who are Artists first and filmmakers 2nd (meaning they have something they are looking to express and don't just like the idea of being on "Film Director" ) ....people who have good taste and are smart ....and shoot all of their projects! ...and make really good interesting pictures!....take risks! you want your work to set you apart!


I would suggest making a website dedicated just to your cinematography work and not have the other stuff on there, as for your work you just need to keep shooting! I think you are in the Ira Glass "Gap"http://vimeo.com/85040589. Its going to take some time. I saw from your other post you are looking at the right work and have good taste, all of those shooters are great, study there work and try to figure out how they are doing it, ask lots of questions!



its a long grind and a lot of chance involved, but if you want it enough and your work is good enough it will work out.

Edited by Albion Hockney
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Great advice Albion! As an aspiring DoP myself that is similar to the path I'm trying to go myself.

I've got low end gear (DSLR/mirrorless/BMPCC kit) to cover all the basics needed (even lighting and audio too, not just camera dept).

Am just about to buy a Sony F3 this week, however getting a RED Epic or Arri Alexa is simply waaaay outside my budget! Plus pointless overkill for me I reckon at my current level of development.


But try to always keep busy shooting as much as I can or being a 1st AC. Even working in other areas, such as sound recordist or even an extra on set (at least being an extra always means getting paid). All just to build up my general on set experience as well, plus getting to meet as many people as possible! Never a bad thing.

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