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What it takes...


jordan kersten
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Hey, everyone, been awhile since I've been on buuuut I'm back with a new discussion. Awhile back I started a topic on making a living as a cinematographer that caused quite a stir. Well now I bring to the table, what it actually takes to become a cinematographer. Good busniess sense? Passion? Kissing ass? I'm sure there's a little of all this involved climbing the latter of cinematographic sucess, but what does one do to be smart about it? What should he/she look for when when getting their foot in the door? What are the "right" doors to open? Ok enough questions, let's discuss. What do you guys have to say?

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I realize this. I and I know that passion is the one and only reason I would want to climb the crappy latter to the top....my question is not what the journey is like, but how to begin the journey and how to handle it once I get goin. How do I do it smart? How 'bout some stories about chances you guys had to take, choices you had to make, roads you had to travel down, etc....

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We sort of discussed this before, our career paths, etc.

 

I gave myself a solid self-education by hanging out at the UCLA Arts Library, reading everything I could find, watching a lot of movies, and making Super-8 short films. So film school and then the professional world was more about learning to deal with people (directors, crews, etc.) At an earlier stage, there isn't much you turn down unless you think the company is not legit. I'd shoot about anything not too embarassing, no matter what the pay, but I tried to avoid "disaster" shoots. I didn't want to go down with a sinking ship where nothing goes right because I might get blamed. So if I felt that the producers really were not prepared or realistic, etc., bad enough that the film might not get finished, I tended to back off.

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There is no money in cinematography, no glory, and no fame. It's also very likely that you'll never shoot a great film.

 

 

I wouldn't be so negative. True, there is not as much money in cinematography as a lot of people think, nor glory or fame. But in my little experience I've been lucky enough to have shot good films (short films in this case). This is incredibly rewarding!!!

 

What is working for me is the passion for the art. I read as many cinematography books as possible, watch movies and photos, talk to other cinematographers to share our experiences, etc. Good luck is also an important factor...

 

Álvaro.

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Downscale your living situation.

Put on a happy face and look people in the eye.

Don't go crazy buying equipment you can't really afford.

Get and fill a huge address book with contacts and use it!

Develop and refine technical, artistic, leadership and psychological warfare skills.

Shoot films.

Get a very tolerant partner (hopefully a millionaire with a sense of humour).

Realize that you are crazy to be in this business.

Shoot more films.

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Downscale your living situation.

Put on a happy face and look people in the eye.

Don't go crazy buying equipment you can't really afford.

Get and fill a huge address book with contacts and use it!

Develop and refine technical, artistic, leadership and psychological warfare skills.

Shoot films.

Get a very tolerant partner (hopefully a millionaire with a sense of humour).

Realize that you are crazy to be in this business.

Shoot more films.

 

AAhh, now these are the kinds of tips I am looking for, thanks...

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Downscale your living situation.

Put on a happy face and look people in the eye.

Don't go crazy buying equipment you can't really afford.

Get and fill a huge address book with contacts and use it!

Develop and refine technical, artistic, leadership and psychological warfare skills.

Shoot films.

Get a very tolerant partner (hopefully a millionaire with a sense of humour).

Realize that you are crazy to be in this business.

Shoot more films.

 

 

That should be the first chapter of every filmmaking book >8)

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Realize that you are crazy to be in this business.

 

This should be the introduction every aspiring filmmaker should get.

 

Adding to what people say...

Pick your projects carefully...

At first that's going to be hard you'll probably have to shoot anything you can...

For the first two or three years and probably get no pay doing it...

MAKE SURE! Always make sure you get a copy even if it's of the dalies...

This is going to be your biggest reward for most of your first shoots.

 

After you've got some experience down and have something to show folks...

Start picking projects more carefully!

 

First I'd start by shooting projects that you know will get finished (very important)

And then look for projects that will get noticed or exhibited somewhere...

 

& then I'd start shooting only really good projects...

& projects that'll allow you to do amazing things with visuals and cinematography.

 

Finally after a few years of breaking your hump for basically free

You can begin to take paying jobs only...and after awhile set a minimum rate

And so and etc...

 

And finally don't make enemies too quickly

And try to be as friendly as possible with everyone...

Alot of your work will come because of your personality not just your talent.

 

Like most people are telling you...

It's a long long road to becoming recognized and somewhat respected...

Filmmaking has always been a career for the very patient and disciplined

Expect the first five years to be spent working hard and getting little rewards...

It's not for everyone---only those who persevere.

 

 

 

GOOD LUCK!

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There is no money in cinematography, no glory, and no fame. It's also very likely that you'll never shoot a great film.

I wouldn't be so negative. True, there is not as much money in cinematography as a lot of people think, nor glory or fame. But in my little experience I've been lucky enough to have shot good films (short films in this case). This is incredibly rewarding!!!

 

What is working for me is the passion for the art. I read as many cinematography books as possible, watch movies and photos, talk to other cinematographers to share our experiences, etc. Good luck is also an important factor...

 

Álvaro.

 

I can deal with little to no money, no glory and no fame...but making a career shooting trash is unacceptable.

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I don't really agree with that. My ONLY selling point is that I know what I'm doing. I can't sell myself worth beans so I have to let my work speak for itself. And I'm competing with hundreds of competent DP's so if I wasn't at least as good as them, if not better than some, I'd be sunk. I couldn't "coast".

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Hi,

 

You must have at least some schmooze-ability, or you'd never have got representation.

 

The issue here is that there ARE hundreds and probably thousands of other people who can do it as well as any one of us, up to and including Darius Khondji. It's not about who's best, it's about who happens to be the director's cousin's drinking buddy.

 

Phil

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Well, you're confusing two different issues. Just because there is so much competition that connections play just a vital a role as ability, it doesn't therefore follow that ability doesn't matter. With so many competent DP's out there, ability matters more than ever because you have to at least be in their league. Once you are in their league, then yes, other factors may come into play.

 

The truly incompetent don't last long, not with so much money riding on everything. If you can't deliver usable footage, you won't last long because word gets around -- "oh, I heard so and so was replaced because they had to reshoot this major sequence..."

 

And I'm not just talking about competence in lighting; some DP's may be just average there but have superior skills in managing complex shoots, working fast, using a budget effectively, plus have interpersonal skills (not just schmoozing skills...)

 

I'm not much of a schmoozer. If I do well in a job interview, it's just because I can give the impression that I know what I'm talking about, so it helps if I actually know what I'm talking about because I'm not a good liar.

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"There is no money in cinematography, no glory, and no fame. It's also very likely that you'll never shoot a great film."

 

There may not be much glory and fame, that's for sure.

 

But there certainly is plenty of money to be made :D

 

Lots!!

 

R,

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I'm sure cinematography is like any other creative occupation/art: sometimes you get rich, sometimes you you don't make enough to eat, and sometimes you make just enough to get by. Sound about right, guys? I dunno, because I'm not actually doing it, so you tell me...

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I'm sure cinematography is like any other creative occupation/art: sometimes you get rich, sometimes you you don't make enough to eat, and sometimes you make just enough to get by.  Sound about right, guys?  I dunno, because I'm not actually doing it, so you tell me...

 

Sure -- you can get rich playing in a rock-n-roll band too. Or you could be mooching off of your girlfriend / living on your best friend's couch...

 

A certain percentage of technicians and artists in the film industry make a LOT of money, albeit irregularly often. Wages can be pretty decent.

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I think you have to compare it to working as a studio musician rather than a rockstar. You can make a decent living crewing in the film biz as you can as a no-name studio musician. However I would say the odds in the music business are even worse than the film business.

 

I think you have to stay humble and just work your way up the ladder. That's what a carreer is after all. I'm not sure you can even become a famous DP. Are DP's really famous? No one in my family has any idea who Connie Hall was. You can however get to the top of the ladder.

 

Point is that when you start, it is feast or famine but if you excel at what you do there is an in-between where you can make a decent living. I guess for some folks that may be a plateau as well but it's not a bad plateau to be on.

 

If you want to do it bad enough, you will. Lack of commitment kills off lots of folks talented and untalented. Commitment means truly living within your means. Which won't be much, living in a not so great place on the not so great side of town. Driving an old car, wearing old clothes, eating noodles, not making a dime for 3 months straight yet you made it through because you resisted going to Whataburger.

 

Of course Phil should chime in about the dangers of being blindly commited to something. He has a good point. I guess most people will naturally quit banging their head against a wall when it really starts to hurt though...

Edited by J. Lamar King
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"Which won't be much, living in a not so great place on the not so great side of town. Driving an old car, wearing old clothes, eating noodles, not making a dime for 3 months straight yet you made it through because you resisted going to Whataburger."

 

Wow! The film industry sounds great!

 

I think you should give this speech at a schools "career day." :D

 

R,

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Wow!  The film industry sounds great!

 

I think you should give this speech at a schools "career day." :D

 

R,

 

LOL Richard, it's funny though because not everyones experience will be that way though a lot will. I knew a kid about 5 years ago all of 18 still living at home who got shot up easy street. His parents rented a house out to a producer with major contacts and she got this kid good paying jobs on the best sets. Sets I couldn't touch at the time. He thought the job was "Cool because it's like Dawson's Creek." He never thought about the film biz until he talked to her. So for him it was like just walking into a pile of money, "Film biz, heck yeah!" :rolleyes:

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I've never subscribed to this idea that you have to sell your soul to get a break in the film industry. You have to learn your trade well, you have to work hard, you have to sell yourself, sure - but so does anyone who is just starting out in business. It doesn't matter whether you are a self-employed carpenter, plumber, gardener or cameraperson. You start at the bottom and work your way up. You accept that it isn't going to be easy, keep you head down and keep plugging away. Sooner or later, you will get a break, and you'll take a step up.

 

Of course it's hard when you see your contemporaries doing better than you are. I have friends from film schools whose careers I would love to have! My philosophy is that when my abilities match my ambition, the next break will come along, and I'll be that much closer to where I want to be. Then the whole learning process continues. But, if I don't try, don't keep improving myself, then it will never happen. I guess I believe in making your own luck.

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