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Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

What are the scariest things you face as a cinematographer?

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That was the question from an artist's blog. So how does that apply to the cinematographer?

My fears...

1) Place burning down...I lose everything. Beside social documentary photography I have a huge archive that covers 140+ areas of collection. Vintage photography, small gauge movie film, audio tapes and VHS archive. I'd hate for all that work and history to burn up. Place is not prone to fire. Still, poop happens.

2) Losing digital files. About 15% of my archive is digital. And the majority of my modern work after the film era is digital.  'M' discs are very permanent, actually more archival than film. So that is some comfort. Still, poop happens.

3) Having a escalation from a street photography challenge that leads to a death. 

Even though it is my right to photograph in public places people have a warped sense of entitlement that they should disallow my right. Some of them get physical, some of them get nasty. I am always armed to one extent or another and am ready to defend myself. I've been at it for 50 years. Developed a highly skilled technique for candid photography. Still, poop happens.

4) Financial worries. I get by OK. I don't need much. As long as I have enough $$ to do my work half-ass I am happy. But living costs keep skyrocketing. What is fine today may not be fine tomorrow.

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you can manage most archiving/file corruption related fears with off-site backups and verified transfers. Memory cards may sometimes have problems but it is relatively small risk. Just don't store all your files in one place and you'll be fine :) 

My biggest fears are usually workplace safety related when working on indie productions. I am trying to analyse the situation and find workarounds the best I can if there is even a small risk of accident to happen. Most indie guys don't work like that as far as I have seen... there has been lots of small incidents in the past which could have ended badly (shooting just past the camera operator with real gun and bullets, the actor's head almost smashed by a 50lb block of wood, the stairway almost falling on an actor when being moved... badly rigged lights, not using sandbags to secure stands in heavy wind and so on) so careful approach is definitely needed. As a cinematographer you may be the only person on set who can say NO to the director... it will be appreciated if you are clever enough to find safer workarounds without wasting too much time

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Personally is probably rentals breaking. Since I'm just starting out and working in indie space, most of my projects doesn't have a budget for the deductible part of insurance (anywhere from 500 to 1000 euros). It hasn't yet happened to me, but if something were to break, thing will probably get sticky. I try to minimize the chance of this by renting from reputable rental houses, and stick to reliable brands....Arri, Cooke, Sachtler etc (no REDs). It cost a bit more up front but much better than anything breaking, and I suppose bigger rental houses also are better at dealing with small damages.

Weather is anothering that stresses me out all the time, since I've no control over that whatsoever. If a scene is planned to be sunny, and it's overcast, the only solution is to 1)wait for god knows how long or 2)change the script, which is much easier if the director als wrote it. Either way I'll need to forget everything I planned about the shoot. 

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To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (of all people), the fear of the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.

The readiness is all, to quote another tragic figure...

 

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I’m not a cinematographer, but one of the most things I’m afraid of in any creative endeavor is being told that I didn’t do a good job. People telling me that my work is not good either directly or indirectly, is not only hurtful, but embarrassing. When someone tells me something I did is bad or doesn’t work, I feel embarrassed I didn’t know that before they told me. Like I should’ve been smarter about it, or I should’ve known it didn’t work because this was my field and I should know when something doesn’t work.

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The actual biggest fear no one mentioned is for automation and phone filters to wipe out low-mid level cinematography as a whole.

Videography is already a practically dead business thanks to the iPhone and the cushion most of us have had is being in the business of making the videos look cinematic as opposed to just making videos. Much harder for computers to filtrate the general look DPs are going for... but they'll eventually find a way.

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On 1/3/2020 at 6:33 AM, aapo lettinen said:

you can manage most archiving/file corruption related fears with off-site backups and verified transfers. Memory cards may sometimes have problems but it is relatively small risk. Just don't store all your files in one place and you'll be fine 🙂

My biggest fears are usually workplace safety related when working on indie productions. I am trying to analyse the situation and find workarounds the best I can if there is even a small risk of accident to happen. Most indie guys don't work like that as far as I have seen... there has been lots of small incidents in the past which could have ended badly (shooting just past the camera operator with real gun and bullets, the actor's head almost smashed by a 50lb block of wood, the stairway almost falling on an actor when being moved... badly rigged lights, not using sandbags to secure stands in heavy wind and so on) so careful approach is definitely needed. As a cinematographer you may be the only person on set who can say NO to the director... it will be appreciated if you are clever enough to find safer workarounds without wasting too much time

Is it common they shoot real bullets? Sounds like they are begging for an accident.

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18 hours ago, Justin Hayward said:

I’m not a cinematographer, but one of the most things I’m afraid of in any creative endeavor is being told that I didn’t do a good job. People telling me that my work is not good either directly or indirectly, is not only hurtful, but embarrassing. When someone tells me something I did is bad or doesn’t work, I feel embarrassed I didn’t know that before they told me. Like I should’ve been smarter about it, or I should’ve known it didn’t work because this was my field and I should know when something doesn’t work.

Do you have a lot of issues come up like that or is it more of a worry?

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8 hours ago, Max Field said:

The actual biggest fear no one mentioned is for automation and phone filters to wipe out low-mid level cinematography as a whole.

Videography is already a practically dead business thanks to the iPhone and the cushion most of us have had is being in the business of making the videos look cinematic as opposed to just making videos. Much harder for computers to filtrate the general look DPs are going for... but they'll eventually find a way.

I would have thought that there is no time better to be in that biz. With all the media, series, Netflix, channels, films and all. What you say sounds very similar to still photography.

At Xmas they had some TV ads shot with a iPhone in the snow. They looked great on my small TV. Was really amazed. They may even look good on a big TV. Not having a smart phone I never used one, but I couldn't believe what the phone can do. 

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21 minutes ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Do you have a lot of issues come up like that or is it more of a worry?

I'm talking more about personal projects (although I've had some rough commercial shoots) But yes, I have some pretty critical filmmaker friends.  It's tough love, though.  Need to hear it.  Makes me try harder next time.  

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51 minutes ago, Justin Hayward said:

I'm talking more about personal projects (although I've had some rough commercial shoots) But yes, I have some pretty critical filmmaker friends.  It's tough love, though.  Need to hear it.  Makes me try harder next time.  

I'll second you on that - I'm only really interested in hearing about the problems. If I got it right, great, moving on.

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1 hour ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

I would have thought that there is no time better to be in that biz. With all the media, series, Netflix, channels, films and all. What you say sounds very similar to still photography.

I'm not saying this to come off as brash towards you (just to contribute to discussion), but I am sick of people saying that Netflix and Amazon Prime are just handing out distribution deals left and right. It's still an extremely connection based industry, like it's always been.

If the floodgates were really that open I would've been producing my own show on Netflix years ago.

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Posted (edited)
30 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I'll second you on that - I'm only really interested in hearing about the problems. If I got it right, great, moving on.

I don't like it, but it's the process.  I do get particularly upset when I think something is really working, then someone points out a glaring mistake that can't be fixed. And I don't mean some technical issue, I mean a creative choice I made that somehow contradicts the needs of the overall piece and hurts it.  I get mad at myself for having made that choice or not catching the issue when shooting, which is worse for me than an objective little slip up or something... if that makes any sense.

Edited by Justin Hayward

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7 minutes ago, Max Field said:

I am sick of people saying that Netflix and Amazon Prime are just handing out distribution deals left and right.

I know very little about this, but from what I understand, you can pay for Amazon Prime to host your movie if you want to.  I thought that's why so many movies that go totally unnoticed at festivals and by other distributors tend to wind up on Amazon Prime eventually.

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Just now, Justin Hayward said:

I know very little about this, but from what I understand, you can pay for Amazon Prime to host your movie if you want to.  I thought that's why so many movies that go totally unnoticed at festivals and by other distributors tend to wind up on Amazon Prime eventually.

I think you're right on that one. My statement on Netflix still stands.. which is treated like being in the movie theater nowadays by the average civilian.

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I feel being paralysed by the fear of not buying the right camera.

In other words, I end up not doing anything because I can't make a decision on which camera to buy. I've been in this position for three years now and it's not fun. The Canon C200 still hasn't gone down in price.

If I could shoot my project on my Canon EOS R I would do it. 

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Most artists are their own worst critics. I think a lot of us got into this work because we want validation, attention, praise, etc. We're insecure. So criticism can confirm our worst fears and doubts. However, we have to try and step back and look at criticism for what value it brings in terms of self-improvement and reject whatever is ultimately irrelevant.  Personally, I know my own weaknesses, I know what I need to do to get better -- the hard part is moving forward, being active, breaking bad habits. But also at some point, you start to see that some criticism is off-base, it's just someone's personal taste being expressed that has no connection to who you are.  It's like when you shoot something stylized and someone complains that it isn't realistic enough. You can't please everyone.

We all make mistakes but the solution isn't to play things safer to avoid making them.

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I think this is very true.. the one DoP that I knew early days, that became "famous".. was without fear .. he purposely did things that would be difficult ..to achieve what he wanted .. not just for the hell of it .. he made some mistakes in the early days.. and got some flak from more conservative directors .. took the constructive criticism non personally .. and could filter out what he knew was just other peoples taste ..or lack there of.. I learnt alot from him but unfortunately not the fearlessness ..  some people just have that.. 

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