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Tim Pfautsch

What steps to take

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Dear Cinematagraphy.com community, 

I need some guidance. Next summer I want to start my freelance career in the film industry. My final goal is to be a cinematographer (duh) in the narrative world. 

I have been studying something very cinematography unrelated for the last 7 years and do not see myself working in that full time, because doesn't make me happy. Gonna get the degree nonetheless, if I fail in the movie business, I can always go back. But creating has always made be happy. 

During the last 3 years I have been shooting small music videos on the side and worked as a spark during my holidays (been on my first feature this autumn - it was exhausting but I fell in love with the process)

I plan on trying to get more work in the lighting department (for cash), but I am unsure if that's the right way moving forward. Even though lighting has become my passion, I feel AC's have a much more close relationship with cinematographers, which could get me in the right circles? Also, I feel like finding a mentor would beneficial, but as I have mainly worked in the GE department I have no valueable skills to offer a DP on a real narrative set.

What steps would you take moving forward? I am willing to put in the work. I know that getting where I want will take years if not decades.

I don't know if it makes sense, I am going to link some stills from projects I shot myself that turned out good in my opinion, maybe that is going to be helpful to assess my skills?!

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Edited by Tim Pfautsch
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My gut feeling is that if you want to become a cinematographer, then you should just start selling yourself as a cinematographer. As someone who first worked as a Steadicam op for many years before moving to DP, when you make the change, it will be like starting all over again. At least that was my experience.

If you want to work as an AC or lighting technician first, that will get you some good "on set" experience, which will be helpful.  But I don't suggest spending many years at it as you will gain family and financial responsibilities and it may become more difficult to to make any changes.

Best wishes for success and... Never give up, never surrender!

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14 minutes ago, Bruce Greene said:

My gut feeling is that if you want to become a cinematographer, then you should just start selling yourself as a cinematographer. As someone who first worked as a Steadicam op for many years before moving to DP, when you make the change, it will be like starting all over again. At least that was my experience.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's just that I am lacking so so many skills, I do not feel comfortable selling myself as a cinematographer... yet. I feel like I need to watch some really skilled people work, be part of that team and learn.

Edited by Tim Pfautsch
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I agree with Bruce. I was an AC for 8 years, and while I was always shooting projects on the side, when I moved on to shooting full time after a two-year transition period it was like starting over again. If I had a do-over, I probably would have started shooting full time after 3 years of working on set. If you can do some B Camera operating for a more experienced DP between shooting jobs, you’ll still get the benefit of seeing them block and light.

On the other hand, it has been helpful to have an established relationship with rental houses, line producers, and lots of crew members. But in order to keep getting work as a DP, you need to have a great reel and to be always networking. Without the hustle, relationships won’t help much.

If you want to keep crewing for now, I think it may be a good idea to keep working in G&E. Lighting is so important to the job, and being able to drive the grip truck, build rigs safely, and operate the dolly could make a big difference in the production value of your early low budget DP jobs.

Also, if you want to work as a gaffer for a young camera-focused DP, you will be a great asset and can work a lot by their side. Speaking from experience, it’s such a relief to have that one ‘Swiss Army knife’ crew member by your side on every project in those early years.

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15 hours ago, Bruce Greene said:

My gut feeling is that if you want to become a cinematographer, then you should just start selling yourself as a cinematographer. As someone who first worked as a Steadicam op for many years before moving to DP, when you make the change, it will be like starting all over again. At least that was my experience.

Its not that easy… especially in Europe (where low-budged is big budged 😉 )

The German market is one of the most oversaturated and special film markets. Even if you have been working as a camera assistant or gaffer for some years, it will take ages. We have 5 big (and some smaller) film schools, HFF Muinch, DFFB Berlin, HMS Hamburg, HFF / Filmuni Babelsberg, Filmakadmie Ludwigsburg… and all of them send at least 6 good selected cinematographers per school to the German & International market every year. Most of them worked as electricians / AC / gaffer a few years before study and the chance of being engaged in a Filmfond-sponsored television or Cinema production project without having to study there is very low.

However, working in the lighting department is the most interesting you can start today. The camera systems change every year and are not that difficult to learn anymore. So there will be more opportunities to be hired as they usually require more electricians than AC´s per Project. So look for an Crew who will pick you up as the "Spark/Licht-Assi" / "Halber Beleuchter", and move on from that…

Edited by Philip Reinhold
i forgot to quote
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10 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

I agree with Bruce. I was an AC for 8 years, and while I was always shooting projects on the side, when I moved on to shooting full time after a two-year transition period it was like starting over again. If I had a do-over, I probably would have started shooting full time after 3 years of working on set. If you can do some B Camera operating for a more experienced DP between shooting jobs, you’ll still get the benefit of seeing them block and light.

On the other hand, it has been helpful to have an established relationship with rental houses, line producers, and lots of crew members. But in order to keep getting work as a DP, you need to have a great reel and to be always networking. Without the hustle, relationships won’t help much.

If you want to keep crewing for now, I think it may be a good idea to keep working in G&E. Lighting is so important to the job, and being able to drive the grip truck, build rigs safely, and operate the dolly could make a big difference in the production value of your early low budget DP jobs.

Also, if you want to work as a gaffer for a young camera-focused DP, you will be a great asset and can work a lot by their side. Speaking from experience, it’s such a relief to have that one ‘Swiss Army knife’ crew member by your side on every project in those early years.

That's great advice. Can't be bad to have a wide skillset. Also yes, I have already met some camera-focused DPs that asked me to light for them. I will stay on that!

5 hours ago, Philip Reinhold said:

Its not that easy… especially in Europe (where low-budged is big budged 😉 )

The German market is one of the most oversaturated and special film markets. Even if you have been working as a camera assistant or gaffer for some years, it will take ages. We have 5 big (and some smaller) film schools, HFF Muinch, DFFB Berlin, HMS Hamburg, HFF / Filmuni Babelsberg, Filmakadmie Ludwigsburg… and all of them send at least 6 good selected cinematographers per school to the German & International market every year. Most of them worked as electricians / AC / gaffer a few years before study and the chance of being engaged in a Filmfond-sponsored television or Cinema production project without having to study there is very low.

However, working in the lighting department is the most interesting you can start today. The camera systems change every year and are not that difficult to learn anymore. So there will be more opportunities to be hired as they usually require more electricians than AC´s per Project. So look for an Crew who will pick you up as the "Spark/Licht-Assi" / "Halber Beleuchter", and move on from that…

Haha yes thanks for grounding me. I was at the open door event in Babelsberg last year and was really discouraged after speaking to two camera professors. They basically told be that most of these cinematographers end up doing something else than cinematography... 
And yes, I have already made contact with some local gaffers and will try to meet all of them.  

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