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Max Field

Talent range of Pro DPs

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Lately my brain looks at a reel or a short film and looks for the essential technicalities (proper exposure, dynamic framing, etc). I put projects in the box of either amateur or professional off of seeing those essentials met. Most of the longtime posters here have that professional look in my opinion.

What I wanted to know is what separates the professional DoP from the even better professional DoP? What are things you look for that really tell you someone has 20+ years of experience/education?

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13 minutes ago, Max Field said:

What are things you look for that really tell you someone has 20+ years of experience/education?

They have a killer shot on their reel from 1999? ūüėČ

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On 2/14/2020 at 8:30 AM, Max Field said:

What I wanted to know is what separates the professional DoP from the even better professional DoP? What are things you look for that really tell you someone has 20+ years of experience/education?

If they shot a project¬†that you loved. Why else does everyone want to work with Deakins, Hoytema, Libatique, etc etc etc?¬†ūüėÖ¬†

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So all I've gathered is that essentially nothing separates a DoP with 2 years experience versus 25 years experience.

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23 years?

The thing is that reels are deceptive so if you're asking how you are going to get a sense of the depth and breadth of someone's knowledge, you have to meet with them and talk to them.  At some point, what age and experience gives you is less about pure image-making and more about art creation in general.  Sure, I suppose there are visual cliches that a beginner might have on their reel that an experienced person wouldn't be interested in anymore but I'm not sure that's a clear way to tell experience.

If you see a massive lighting job in a reel, odds are higher that the person is more experienced just because it's hard to get those sorts of opportunities in the beginning.

It's hard to say what separates the midrange from the high-end... the top cinematographers have reached a point in their careers where they can be choosier, they have better access to tools they need, and they are being hired (sometimes) to some degree to repeat their best work, whereas a midrange cinematographer, who may be just as talented, is more often going from job to job with radically different budgets and schedules, and being asked to copy (to some extent) the work of the top cinematographers rather than be allowed to pursue their own artistic passions. So their work seems more varied in quality and less consistent.  And with the shorter schedules of lower-budgeted work, a midrange cinematographer is going to be working more often with a wider range of directors. However, there are cinematographers in every budget category that are more artistically distinctive than others and less chameleon-like.

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Experience is not necessarily something that is going to be obvious from a demo reel, unless the reel has clips from productions which are clearly ambitious in scope and budget. Experience tends to show through in how people work, how quick they are, how they deal with unexpected problems, what they spend time on, and what they let slide.

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Montage type showreels don't tell you that much about a prospective DOP. Just selective pretty shots, tells you nothing about how a DOP copes in more challenging situations.

Whole scenes or short films are more useful - then you get a better sense of how they deal with lighting continuity and storytelling - but even then you can't tell which visual choices were specifically from the DOP or the Director. A great director can make a DOP's work look better. 

Its very easy to tell the difference in experience on set you can tell the difference between a DOP with a few years vs 20 years - even if the photography "looks" similar. Speed and workflow are important components.

Once you get past a certain level of technical ability - the way a DOP conducts themselves on set is everything and needs to suit the production.  You will encounter DOP's that will produce beautiful images - at the detriment of the production as whole. Recruiting a new DOP to a production (I find) is quite a nerve wracking process - because I'm looking for good "fit" across a range of skills. Approach and attitude matter - film production can be stressful and emotionally challenging. A bit of creative friction and the ability for director and dop to challenge each other is needed. 

 

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