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Hello all,

 

So as I talk to my friends and coworkers who are DPs and have talked to more ASC members about their beginnings, one common trait I have come across is that they have a mentor. Some have been taken under the mentor's wings by either the MENTOR asking them or vice versa. I want to hear from any other DPs and their experience with this? I was talking to a Script Supervisor on set recently and she was telling me that she emailed Script Supervisors that she hasn't even met and some have responded (union members) answering her questions and offered her to learn from them (as in to additionally come on set). Are there any experiences like this from any of you that you can share? What are some different ways to obtain and seek a mentor without coming off "forcefully" or "desperate" to get into the business?

 

Thank you!

Edited by Mario Bosanac

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Depending on how fast things are moving in said "mentor's" career, guys are usually more than happy to tell you about the history and progression of things in this industry. If they weren't, this forum would've died out 10 years ago.

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Depends on what you mean by a mentor. Are you looking for someone you can call up and ask questions? If so, this forum is a great place to ask questions, and to get advice, although you naturally need to do your due diligence and make sure it's good advice, and not merely opinion. If you're looking for someone who will take you on set with them, well, you might find that more tricky. DPs are one of the busiest crew members on set, and the chances of them being able to successfully teach you, and work at the same time are small. In addition, having people on set who are not part of the crew is not something that Line Producers tend to be very keen on. They might let you visit for a couple of days, but not for the whole show. There are insurance and liability issues to deal with. Also bear in mind that a lot of DPs would rather help their camera crew progress their careers than someone who has a little knowledge, but wishes to 'jump the line'.

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It's the "going on set" relationship that I'm in search for: To be under someone's wing. Yes, this is a FANTASTIC resource and I use this website a lot. It's been very helpful don't get me wrong. I'm just more curious about the mentoring of one-on-one and in-person scenario. I figured it probably wouldn't' be for a whole show (especially a feature). Oh I see what you mean, good point. I don't wish to "jump the line" but I'm aware that this is one way that people have learned from DPs.

 

So maybe I should take a step back. What advice do you have for reaching out to DPs for advice or questions even if I don't personally know them (like my Script Supervisor example)? Email? Suggest to meet for coffee? Etc

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Yes, email them. Most DPs have websites these days, often with email addresses listed. Roger Deakins has a forum where you can ask anything, and have a good chance of an answer from the man himself. The ASC frequently runs 'Coffee & Conversation' events with DPs where you can ask questions, and chat informally. They've had two in the last month, Adriano Goldberg (The Crown) and Jules O'Loughlin (The Hitman's Bodyguard).

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Recently went to ASC to see Jules. Great guy! I'm on the Deakins forum as well but haven't visited it in a while. I'll keep on the look out for more events and forums like that. Thanks for the advice!

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I haven't worked with any DP's, but while in the Air Force and in college, living in various cities, got in touch with various DP's, just asking to watch them work, mainly through an email or an actual letter. Two DP's responded, and even though I didn't work for them them, they were so gracious as to allow me to watch....Dean Semler (ASC/ACS) being the major one, while the late Ken Lamkin (ASC) was the first DP I ever met.

 

I wish I had the opportunity to work for or with these great and talented men, but haven't yet, but I did go on my own path and this past year, recognized for my Cinematography from several national film fest awards for a doc short I made on a Canon T2i....Hoping to just work more and be inspired by the great talents out there

Edited by Paul Brenno

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Stuart makes some very good points. It's very hard to bring people on set, unfortunately. And like Stuart says, there isn't any time to mentor much or talk about you approach etc. As budgets have decreased, more is asked of DP's and you hit the ground running when you get to set and don't stop until you wrap.

 

Personally, I've always loved the collaborative attitude displayed by the ASC, where knowledge is freely shared. It's great. But that was also easier to do when there was a longer process for people to move up the ranks. You could afford to do so. The business has changed completely (and here's my old man moment) - today every kid out of film school is a DP. There were some of those back then too, but now they actually get hired straight out of the gate, which they didn't before. The barriers between music videos, commercials and long form have been erased.

 

When I started in music videos (like most young DP's did), I could not get arrested in commercials. That's how it was then - there was no crossover. If you shot music videos that's all you were allowed to do until the end of time. It took a lot of effort to cross over and it took a lot of time to build a reel and the commercial trust. Today those barriers are completely gone. A kid straight out of the DSLR shop can shoot something, even a little art film, and if its cool and captures the imagination of someone, he can be booked on a huge Nike commercial a week later. Recently, I've seen talented DP's going from nothing to being the biggest in the biz in record time. That just didn't happen 15 or even 10 years ago, no matter how good you were - it was a much longer process then. It's a convergence of a lot of things: technology, the breaking down of barriers between genres, a willingness of the market to value novelty over experience, combined with an era of naturalism, where you can get away with perhaps less technical skills. All of these things combined have made this the best time in history to be a young DP starting out - never have the chances been greater to get into the business.

 

So, in summary, I feel I'm a little more torn about sharing my knowledge these days. I want to do it, I enjoy talking about it, but I also realize that my market is much more volatile and I'm competing against ever younger DP's. All I have that is truly unique is my knowledge and my taste. That's my only currency.

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I think as ever this is a matter of perspective.

 

Most of the people who make a living doing lighting and camerawork should not really be referred to as a "director of photography" and in times past would not have been. The term is widely misused, and claimed by people who have no business claiming it.

 

That said, given there is no fixed, reliable career path, people are more or less required to start claiming the title at some point if they want to do the work.

 

I would suggest that anyone who's concerned about misuse of titles should consider what the alternatives are. Anyone who says "I'd like to be an X" in the modern market is ensuring that they will never be an X.

 

This is also modulated by local considerations. In Los Angeles, a director of photography is someone in charge of a crew of dozens producing work to be seen by millions. In London, you're a director of photography if you have someone helping set up the lights and that person is happy to be referred to as a gaffer.

 

Unfortunately I can only refer to my own example as it'd be impolite to use anyone else's, but the latter situation is the one I'm most familiar with and I would be embarrassed to refer to myself as a "director of photography." At that stage, there is very little to be lost by sharing information but of course there's also very little information to share because what you are doing is so very limited.

P

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A kid straight out of the DSLR shop can shoot something, even a little art film, and if its cool and captures the imagination of someone, he can be booked on a huge Nike commercial a week later.

My goodness, I've been trying to find a way to bring this up here to get some of your perspectives. I had a drink with a gaffer the other night and a commercial he recently gaffed turned up on the bar TV. It was a massive spot with huge lighting set ups. It came on several times while we were there, so he was able to break down the lighting for me while we watched it. It was very complicated involving balancing cityscapes with dusk with practical lighting and lighting huge amounts of trees. Now this guy has been gaffing for about 30 years, so when he told me what made the whole thing so difficult was that the DP was... hold for dramatic pause...

 

TWENTY FOUR!

 

I was a little shocked. I guess the DP didn't understand simple ratio changes between the lighting and the stop... simple technical things anyone could learn with a few years of experience. I don't know what the budget was, but if I had to guess I would say it was seven figures. The gaffer told me he's dealing with this all the time and he's so relieved when he gets to work with an older, more experienced DP. I've heard the old adage, "the only entry level job on a film set is P.A. and director", but that never applied to DP's because there was a certain level of technical knowledge you had to have to get these big jobs, but couldn't know without plenty of experience.

 

Do you think it also has to do with the switch from film to digital?

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Justin - for sure. Digital has been a great democratizer. It means a lot more can have access to technology and professional looking footage than ever before. The downside is that the skill levels have eroded and a much more volatile DP market, where careers are not made and sustained, they're flashes in the pan with less shelf life. It's all about instant gratification. Just to give a little perspective - Gordon Willis ASC was 39 when he did his first feature. Conrad Hall, ASC, was 32 (and he was considered the young whizz kid). They would be well into their 40's before any of them had any films that got widely noticed. Today, they would be aged out of the business before they even got started. Now, that's a good thing if you're a young DP looking for a break, but it's a bad thing if you want to make a long career out of it.

 

Same thing is happening in the directing world. Today, you do a smaller hit movie and you can be on the set of a Star Wars movie as your next directing gig. On the other hand, if your film doesn't hit, you're also mercilessly out with very little chance of getting back in. Long, sustained and built directing careers like Sidney Lumet's will just not happen in the future.

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I totally believe it with directing because we rely on everyone to pick up our slack (only half joking), but I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around a 24 year old DP getting these huge jobs. As a director, I would be horrified if someone tried to force a 24 year old on me that has a cool looking short film to his name. Another 50 something-year-old gaffer I know recently shot a huge TV pilot for Fox and the DP was in his late 20's. What??? I DP'd a low budget feature shot on 16mm when I was 25 and it looked like s--t. Who is hiring a DP that young and inexperienced on these huge shows? Other young directors? Agencies?

 

I've just been hearing about this a lot lately and it seems really strange.

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Maybe they just pay them alot less..?

Maybe. But I've heard of colorists complaining that footage from big commercials with young DP's are coming in extremely inconsistent, so they spend a lot of their time just matching shots. You would think, after watching shots cut together, whoever hired the DP would think they might need to hire someone with more experience on the next job.

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Ok, maybe, but this isn't a guy getting a P.A. job in the art department, because his uncle is the production designer. And it's not some rich guy giving his son the company while everyone else runs it. "DP" is a key role in the artistic and technical craft of film production. It's a really hard job. It's a position where experience is critical or you could wind up with a huge mess. It's a big risk to use someone unproven (other than some small art film or whatever) on a 6 or 7 digit commercial. It used to be inexperienced directors are forced to use experienced DP's almost like insurance. Even with the switch to digital, I don't fully understand how that's changed, but it seems to have changed.

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Throughout more mediums than just film have I seen people getting hired for "critical roles" without the proper skill. It's usually because of someone being friends or family, not because they did something that was legitimately impressive at a young age.

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No, it's not because they cost less. On a million dollar commercial, saving $1000/day is not worth it. It's just a change of the times and the zeitgeist. We live in a social media time when entitlement comes easy and accomplishments are broadcast early. It works. If you project the image of success and accomplishment constantly, people will believe it. 20 years ago very few would call themselves DP straight out of film school. They'd work for maybe 10 years in the business before they dared that. Now, every business card I get from a cinematography student says Director of Photography on it.

 

I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it has changed.

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Now, every business card I get from a cinematography student says Director of Photography on it.

Yeah but like, if that's what they want to do, what the hell else do they call themselves? lol

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Honestly I think the biggest change these days is that you can see what's being shot in a rough approximation of what it will look like, and suddenly, you have many "choices" by a committee of people at video village. Couldn't really "wing it" as much on film, and as such, those with the purse strings KNEW they HAD to have someone who had encountered myriad circumstances to even get footage at all. Now a days, you can see on 40" monitors in front of the slew of clients if it's in focus, roughly bright enough, roughly "right" enough, and even play back to make sure the operating was up to snuff.
Plus, while the DoP might not be cheaper, many other bits are (and footage, in the mind of many is basically free!) so there's much more of a net to catch the inexperienced in every stage of production. As someone young, I really worry about the devaluation of every role on set as we delve deeper into the technology of forgetfulness.

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Maybe thats the push for 8K.. its meaningless purely visually.. but then they can get man bun DP to shoot everything on an 18mm lens.. in Raw.. for $300 a day.. and make the film/commercial in post.. genius !.. joking but like Phil I just dont like this thing now that taking a 5D out of a box makes you a DP or that shooting a film with your friend with a iPhone means you have shot a "feature" film..

 

Buying a pen doesn't make you a writer.. ok sounds like an old fart.. but really its a joke.. all these people say they are shooting a feature film.. then turns out to be 2 guys and their girlfriend shooting on a borrowed DSLR .. no thats not a feature film.. and you are not a DoP.. I dont claim to be one either.. because Im not..

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This video village stuff you guys keep going on about makes me wonder how much money these productions have to blow. I've never shot film in my life but via digital cameras have taken up this "film workflow" you keep speaking of.

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No, it just sucks. :) Gaffers need to up their rates.

If I was a gaffer and a DP that didn't know how to light was leaning on me to do their job so they could be a camera operator with a DP title. I'd be super pissed. A DP should know how to light the set. They may not know exactly how to calculate the electrical distribution to every unit of the stage but they should understand quantity and quality of light levels, contrast and color temp theory and be able to articulate how they want something to look with a rough idea of whether it can be done on time and within the budget given the crew size and schedule.

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