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Tim Ford

Advice on becoming a DP

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any DPs out there with some useful tips?? Anything you wish you would have known when starting out as a DP?

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Get a real job, take that money and make stuff for fun on your own. :)

 

that's a good advice :lol: I also recommend that the 'real job' is somehow related to film/media industry so you can make good contacts at the same time. though it has the disadvantage that people may learn to know you only as an AC or Editor or Best Boy etc. without knowing that you can actually also DP and it may be difficult to change that later

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I suspect "AC or Editor or Best Boy" doesm't fit in the real job description either. It's not unusual for DPs to start out as an AC, it actually was and continues to be a starting point within the industry before moving up into higher grades in the camera department. It's a good way of seeing how other DPs do things, while getting paid.

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I recommend working in the Electric department to become a DoP; up to gaffer, and then making the switch.

Or just do it. Build up your reel, make connections, .. . . than profit (the ellipses left in because the jump to make profit is a pain and you need to really just persevere. )

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In the UK the electricial department uses suitably qualified electricians, so you do need to check on the Australian regulations.

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Advice on being a DP, go to a film school like NYU or something local to you that's comparable and take every class on producing, business and entertainment law they have. Learn all about film financing, development, acquisitions etc. If you can finance, and executive produce films, you can literally hire yourself to do any job on set you want. You can also help people who don't have their funding but are maybe sitting on a great script. I've been hired many times to DP movies that never happened cause they never got their funding together.

Edited by Michael LaVoie

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I'm not sure what qualifications they're required to have. They're often a bit slapdash.

 

P

 

I believe it's a NVQ that says that they know something about power etc, keeps the insuance covered at least, although you may not want to use some of them to rewire your house.

Edited by Brian Drysdale

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Advice on being a DP, go to a film school like NYU or something local to you that's comparable and take every class on producing, business and entertainment law they have. Learn all about film financing, development, acquisitions etc. If you can finance, and executive produce films, you can literally hire yourself to do any job on set you want. You can also help people who don't have their funding but are maybe sitting on a great script. I've been hired many times to DP movies that never happened cause they never got their funding together.

 

Don’t you need to pass some entrance exams to enter a film school? And not just walk in there like that?

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This is the first time I hear of that career path, Adrian. :blink: Electrician to DP? Really?

 

Really? It's not uncommon at all. Afterall, who knows lighting better than gaffers?

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Really? It's not uncommon at all. Afterall, who knows lighting better than gaffers?

 

True, but I never thought they were interested in lighting in that way. More like interested in electrons and currents. :) I mean, it makes total sense; I just never thought they were interested in the artistic side of lighting.

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Copying my answer from another thread that you might find interesting:

 

"There are many gaffers who advanced from that to directors of photography, the latest I can think of is Claudio Miranda (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0592073/) or even Robby Baumgartner (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0062373/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr266)

I do think that even though it is important to have a knowledge of lighting and framing, I consider that as a cinematographer you have to really understand how light works in many different setups and a very good way to know that is by working with it.

At the end of the day there are so many good camera operators out there that you can hire for them to help you framing but there are not too many good gaffers who have an understanding of light AND arts, which I consider essential if you have to describe a mood to your gaffer and you are unsure as to how to light it.

For example:

If you become a cinematographer through the camera ranks your path will follow something like:

- camera intern

- 2nd AC

- 1st AC

- Camera operator (if you are lucky) / DIT

- Cinematographer

Through all that way you will only decide on something when you are a camera operator and if you are a camera operator you will need to know how to block a scene, etc.

Nowadays it is a little bit easier to understand scenes in the camera department because there are monitors everywhere so if you are a camera intern, 2nd AC or 1st AC you will have the fantastic opportunity to see how the blocking is done, how it works for the scene, almost the finished product lit and etc.

If you go through the electrician way:

- Electrician

- Best Boy

- Gaffer

(assuming you do rigging and etc when you are an electrician and a best boy)

So, now you want to become a cinematographer and the cinematographer is telling you what light he wants to create an effect, you place the light, you turn it on, you direct it and then you can go to the monitor to see how that light is actually affecting the scene, ain't that amazing?

And you get to discuss with the cinematographer why he / she decided to choose that light for that particular scene.

Again, what Stuart said is true, the path that you have to choose is the one that works for you.

Have a good day. "

And the thread:

http://www.cinematography.com/index.php?showtopic=69953

Have a good day.

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Don’t you need to pass some entrance exams to enter a film school? And not just walk in there like that?

Most film schools have an application process. Some are very tough to get into. Others, all you need is a credit card. So do your homework on the programs, faculty and alumni and choose wisely. My advice specific to this topic discussion is to actively pursue classes and education in the business and legal aspects of film development and be able to independently produce. It's something most aspiring DP's may not consider but is a very useful skillset when you are faced with the task of shooting underfunded microbudget indies. Being able to develop a great script and provide a solid budget along with distribution will give one an advantage early in their DP career.

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I think if you have the ability to do that, you won't need to work as a director of photography!

 

In any case, stuff at that level is invariably self-funded by the director. If there was any real money, it wouldn't be a microbudget production. But given sorry films have no commercial potential whatsoever, I don't understand why anyone would expect funding of any kind.

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Good gaffers are interested in a lot of things.

 

But not necessarily. They could be, but they don’t have to be. “You’re a good gaffer. Thus you must be interested in a lot of things” is kind of a non sequitur.

 

In any case, OK, I got it. Gaffer to DP is not an infrequent occurrence. :) I just thought that in the vast majority of cases it’s cameraman or assistant cameraman, either second or first, to DP.

Edited by Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos

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Perhaps it is also true that I might be thinking of the gaffer as someone who is wiring things and making sure everything is safe and taking care of power generators, sockets, and stuff electricians do, and not as someone who designs lighting. Then there’s that UK vs. U.S. difference between what a gaffer does? Or is it the whole of Europe vs. the U.S.? Anyway, I often wondered how much lighting in a film is the work of the gaffer, after hearing they do those things some time ago, and how much the DPs. The answer is probably: It depends.

 

I think it was Robyn R. Probin who was aghast when he saw a gaffer “calling the stops” somewhere.

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I think if you have the ability to do that, you won't need to work as a director of photography!

 

In any case, stuff at that level is invariably self-funded by the director. If there was any real money, it wouldn't be a microbudget production. But given sorry films have no commercial potential whatsoever, I don't understand why anyone would expect funding of any kind.

I think the assumption is that he "wants to DP". Not that he needs to. Reed Morano could have easily booked a DP for Meadowland but she chose to shoot it herself. Most DP's who enjoy their craft probably want to work as much as they can even if they have the option to book another DP.

 

I've had some really good scripts come my way but I've had to pass cause the funding wasn't there to do the films properly and I had no ability to raise it. That's my point. If one can develop a microbudget indie into more than just a self-financed DIY project it would help them as well as the director. Of course this is not easy and that's where having an education and solid understanding of development would give one an advantage.

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Perhaps it is also true that I might be thinking of the gaffer as someone who is wiring things and making sure everything is safe and taking care of power generators, sockets, and stuff electricians do, and not as someone who designs lighting.

 

A gaffer doesn't typically have time to wire things on set or deal personally with the generator, he/she has electricians and genny operators for that. The gaffer stands near the DP and directs the lighting plan via radio to the electric department. They need to be aware of what shots are upcoming so they are usually discussing the next few camera setups with the DP so they can work ahead of the current scene while it is being shot.

 

A gaffer should have a strong aesthetic sensibility about composition, color, and exposure in addition to technical knowledge about lighting theory and equipment. They may not have much knowledge about lenses or cameras, but some do. You will find that every gaffer has their own working style and favorite lighting strategies, so you will frequently end up casting the gaffer to the project.

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And you can't just market yourself as an AC or Electrician without a resume and you can't BUILD that resume without having worked for quite a while.

 

It's one thing to be a PA for the Grip/Electric department. Its another to get on a gig as position you never trained for.

 

The OP asked: "Anything you wish you would have known when starting out as a DP?"

 

I wish I had known it takes years to work up the food chain (get onto bigger shows) with ANY position on a film set, let alone a DP. I always thought DP's made a good rate and if you were good, had something on your resume to show it, then you'd be able to secure jobs. The problem is, securing jobs means you have to know people, you don't apply on a job board and get a job. Almost all jobs are through nepotism, someone knows you and they need a DP, so they ask if you're available, simple as that.

 

I came to Los Angeles in 2002, did two feature films back to back as a DP, got screwed on both of them, ran out of money and had to sell all my gear in order to live and get a full-time job. So I lost my ability to shoot stuff and make money as a DP, all because some stupid producers couldn't figure out their budgets. It took me 10 years of meeting the right people to finally secure enough freelance work to make ends meet. During those 10 years, I had normal jobs and slowly fine tuned my craft, though at that point, it was in the department of editing and story telling.

 

All of that to say; had I started my career by making money and putting that money towards buying decent equipment and making a resume FIRST, that would have helped greatly. Being able to DONATE your time and work on small projects to build that resume, can be critical. If you keep shooting and work with like-minded individuals, you will eventually get fed some work. It maybe pitons, but it doesn't matter because your bills are covered by your full-time job. When you've got enough cash saved up, a decent equipment haul and some lined up gigs, you can quit your job and start being a real cinematographer or any other position. That's one of two ways to go, the other way is to get a gig as a set PA and prey you can work up the ladder. That way DOES work for some people, but others get frustrated and quit because they don't have enough time to do anything else but be on set. The great thing about a 9-5 is that, you've got plenty of time to work on other projects when you get home from work. When you're a freelancer, you can't step away from your work, I never have the time to do personal projects because I'm so busy with paid projects. So that's why I suggest for cinematographers, to take the path of least resistance (get a job, make money and fine tune your craft on your spare time), rather then wasting your time as a PA.

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any DPs out there with some useful tips?? Anything you wish you would have known when starting out as a DP?

 

I think it's easy for certain beginners to get into moviemaking with unreasonable expectations, I found out there's very little room for impatience, to form your own unique visual understanding in cinematic storytelling is quite difficult, and it takes a lifetime to develop and master certain techniques. It's very easy to beat yourself up for not being as good as the filmmakers you look up to, but in doing so you begin to understand that you can't just copy Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock, you can't be them, you have to find a way to reinvent everything that you love about cinema and transform into your own visual experience. What makes certain cinematographers unique, isn't so much their style, I think style is empty without giving the images resonance, without making a film come to life, there is nothing but pretty pictures. Robby Muller's work in 'Alice in the Cities' is a profound film, because it has a certain natural feel to it, he captures moments which I can only describe as poetic, not because they are perfectly lit or because the image is clean with no grain- all of that doesn't really matter in this film. There is a quote by Carl Theodore Dreyer that popped into my head after I saw 'Alice in the Cities', and this is the only way I can explain the genius of the photography in 'Alice in the Cities'...

 

 

"Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry." - Carl Theodore Dreyer

 

I think more than anything, this is what every cinematographer should aspire to do in their lifetime, it seems so many are concerned with technical perfection, and many do achieve this perfection, but their images are usually bereft of life, and they just become meaningless works. I wish someone would have told to me that I should simply create without expecting anything in return, just be diligent and don't be discouraged by your failures. I think now, little by little as you find your own voice, develop your eye, and increase your intuitive senses, your ideas will become all the more effective. I'm working on making my third short film- and I'll feel better about making it, because I know now that it's unimportant if anyone else likes it, all that matters is what I think of it.

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