January 28, 2014

The Cinematographers of Sundance Share the Best and Worst Advice They've Ever Received

Sundance CinematographersIt's safe to say that there's absolutely no shortage of advice floating around when it comes to the various aspects of the filmmaking. From writing and directing to shooting and editing, the internet is rife with advice from everyone and their mother. However, not all advice is good advice. The folks at Indiewire know this, and in their extensive interviewing of the cinematographers of this year's Sundance Film Festival, they managed to dig up both the best and worst advice that these excellent DP's had ever received. The results are borderline enlightening. Read on to see what these cinematographers had to say.

Best Advice

"A camera operator once told me that you're not hired because you know the gear or the technical process better than someone else, you're hired because you communicate with the actors and director better than someone else. I find this to be very true. Communication is probably 90% of what I do." -- Cinematographer James Laxton (Camp X-Ray)

 

"The best advice I've heard comes from a quote by the director Michelangelo Antonioni who said that it took him 10 years before he had any idea of what he was doing, and any success to match. You can't rush your career. You can only keep trying harder and harder and hope it all clicks at some point." -- Cinematographer and Director Andrew Rossi (Ivory Tower)

Worst Advice

"I think it's bad in cinematography when anyone tells you that there is a right or a wrong way, or a formula to do a particular thing. There are definitely little tricks and shortcuts to getting to a certain place, but for most instances, there are a million different ways to get to where you want to be with an image." -- Cinematographer Zachary Galler (The Sleepwalker)

 

"'Always be shooting.' I don't understand this mentality of working all of the time. As a creative, I feel having downtime in your life to reflect on the work that your doing is just as important as staying busy. It allows you to think about the choices you're making and gives you the breathing room you need to grow. My agent told me this in our first meeting and I immediately knew we were a match. Whenever I'm not working I'm either spending time on my bicycle or making black and white prints in the darkroom I use downtown." -- Cinematographer Topher Osborn (Dear White People)

Michelangelo Antonioni

All of this advice -- or anti-advice, if you will -- resonates very strongly with me based on my very short time working on films. Narrative filmmaking, at least when it is practiced traditionally, is a balancing act of technicality, art, collaboration, and communication, with that last one being the most important. Without solid communication skills, which is something that requires a whole lot of practice, your career in the film industry is doomed before it even begins, no matter how skilled you might be.

As for the worst advice portion of this, it's interesting to see someone call out the mantra of "always be shooting." While there's no doubt that experience is one of the things that allows us to improve as cinematographers, and it's great to be constantly adding to your reel, the idea of "always be shooting' can be an unhealthy one depending on how you approach it. If you allow your work/life ratio to lean too far towards work, it can hinder your personal life, which will absolutely be reflected in your work. Finding a balance isn't easy, but when done correctly, it should enrich both your personal life and your work.

Make sure to head on over to Indiewire to read the rest of these cinematographers' pieces of best and worst advice. It certainly is an enlightening read.

What do you guys think? What are the best and worst pieces of advice that you've ever been given about the film industry? Let us know down in the comments!

Link: Sundance Cinematographers Tell Indiewire the Best and Worst Advice They Received -- Indiewire

Your Comment

36 Comments

Cool article, but just a comment on the structure of it, the way you have the headers separating the different types of advice makes it look like the whole second two quotes are bad advice, and thus becomes rather confusing.

January 28, 2014 at 6:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Paul

I'm agree with Paul.

January 28, 2014 at 7:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Keila Johnson

Got the feeling that might be a GH2 hacked or GH3 otherwise you wouldn't ask :)

January 28, 2014 at 7:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Anthony Bert

As someone who absolutely values downtime, I totally agree with the criticism of "always be shooting." It's so important to find ways to creatively recharge.

Quick story, when I was at USC film school I worked in the orientation dept and I would have students and parents ask me for help choosing classes. The really hardcore film stuff doesn't start til the 2nd half of your soph. year there, so you have 3 semesters' worth of Gen Ed and the occasional cinema elective to hang out with until you get to the nitty gritty. The families were always like "what other classes should Timmy take to tide him over until then" and I'd always recommend they go study abroad or work on a minor/double major or just do something completely unrelated to film. New filmmakers and students always want full immersion, they go to film school so they can completely live, breathe, eat filmmaking, but that's not the best way. you gotta find things you like to do that have nothing to do with filmmaking, otherwise you will burn out big time.

January 28, 2014 at 7:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Marcelo

Maybe not ALWAYS shooting, but I really think shooting very often is importantt. Cinematography is one of those hands on things that is learned through hours upon hours of experience, one can read, reflect and watch all they want, but being on set is where you cut your teeth. I'm sure you know all this just saying, I know "DPs" who barely shoot, and their work reflects that.

Totally agree on your statement to broaden horizons and not study strictly film.

January 28, 2014 at 7:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Carlos

IMO, "always shooting" is akin to "always writing". Often one needs a certain time off to rethink things. A problem with a lot of the modern screen writing - including TV and sitcoms - is that it's often done by folks only a few years out of college. And, while these folks can be very sharp, they can often lack a general perspective on life. (this is one of the reasons that Sundance parody was so clever ... it was about common cliches that are shared within a generation)

January 29, 2014 at 3:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

Dude let's not misinform peeps. If u don't follow screenwriting aggressively, at least imdb shows, if u think showrunners just scoop up graduates, then all tv shows should b written by 25yr olds

January 29, 2014 at 7:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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thadon calico

Showrunners scoop up a lot based on a referral AND (a spec) script. And they do favor certain schools, some are Ivy League, others are LA based. You know who you are.

January 29, 2014 at 3:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

"not" always be shooting is a sentiment that holds true for those that have already put in the thousands of hours to master their craft.

January 29, 2014 at 7:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Sid

Shooting often is definitely important when starting out so you can quickly assess how to tackle things or give yourself challenges. But I do find studying imagery, photography and looking at life also helps, but together they are deadly. Word.

January 28, 2014 at 8:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Great article. I've been lucky early in my career working with amazing people. It was their influence on me that kept me going. Production's where I started, I did some TV but my passion is imagery. As creative as the process is theres still a science behind it. It's been my biggest challenge to date. If I may I'd like to share what I'm learned from some success, failures and past experiences. I feel to create the perfect storm, you cant skimp. Pay major attention to detail, see what nobody else can notice. Organization is a prerequisite even before learning a camera system. Of course you need imagination and passion among a 1000 other things. But some of the advice given to me was, always pay attention, never say no, do more than you have to and always always always be on time. It's a huge pool, so much talent today, if youre not pro you wont work. In this business it's so easy to say no, don't give them any excuses. Nothing's original and everything is brand new, you'll always be learning something, trying different things. You just gotta get the fear out of the way and never give up. That's the challenge that keeps me going. It ain't easy but I love it. Thanks

January 28, 2014 at 10:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Anthony Marino

One of the greatest and most consistent pieces of advice I have repeatedly received from some of the greatest filmmakers I've ever had the honor of meeting like Milos Forman, Walter Murch and Shamus McGarvey took me a long time to understand, because I was one of those film school kids who would watch a dozen movies a week and immerse myself in studying technical manuals, software and on-set tools, because I was desperate to learn everything I could about the process of making movies as fast as I possibly could.

Here's what they have all said: "Read. Read a lot!" I'm not talking about tutorials, technical guides, etc. Learn the language of great storytellers. Read stories that speak to you. This is at the heart of everything we do in media. Everything you learn technically, should be in the service of this goal: To tell great stories of every kind.

The more familiar you become with the language of storytelling, the better your work will become. At the end of the day, the people who understand that are the ones I want to be in the trenches of making movies with.

January 28, 2014 at 10:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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"Here’s what they have all said: “Read. Read a lot!” I’m not talking about tutorials, technical guides, etc. Learn the language of great storytellers. Read stories that speak to you. This is at the heart of everything we do in media. Everything you learn technically, should be in the service of this goal: To tell great stories of every kind."

this is true for everything in life. we are immersed in formal thinking (language). Why not become very good in understand how stories are made, since even our sense of "self" is a temporary story we assemble in and for ourselves? Fictional books and comics are a great way to learn how our minds filter and create our personal 'reality tunnels". :) Also by reading novels and POETRY -poetry is more close to cinema than novels, since it´s about editing imagens and meanings in yout head. :) but reading poetry or novels a lot will make the reader begins flexing the imagination and visualization skills, because, as William Burroughs used to say, all words are just bridges for mental images. It´s all about mental images and the associations, correlations between the images. And filmmakers work with mental images from the start. :)

So reading novels and poetry is a great school for learning story telling plus visualization of abstract stuff! :)

January 28, 2014 at 10:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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guto novo

This.

September 10, 2014 at 11:08AM

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Tommy Plesky
Director / D.P / Editor
1934

Interesting article.Thanks for sharing it!

January 29, 2014 at 3:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Arjun

Best bit of advice given to Antonioni would of been "Please come out of your own arse Michelangelo. He must be the only director to make Jack Nicholson absolutely terrible in the "Passenger"

January 29, 2014 at 11:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ed

Damn Indewire did this article 6 days ago , why does NFS recycle other sites stories now?

http://www.indiewire.com/article/how-i-shot-that-sundance-cinematographe...

January 29, 2014 at 7:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Azulejo you waste of life I'm hope someone sends you back to Mexico you waste of space loser ! You wanna be fake filmmaker trash bucket slimeball sag of monkey turd.

January 29, 2014 at 8:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Paul

Just my oppion relax hombre ;)

January 29, 2014 at 8:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Azul

In my opinion one of the worst anti-advices out there is to color grade in post when you have footage of 8 bit.Doing that will get the colors to look awful and ungly because as they are color graded they loose too much information which is unable to get recoverer from the data.So when you shoot 8 bit especially in dslrs make sure you grade in camera set up a good picture profile and do small adjustments if any in post production,Not change the whole color of your movie.

January 30, 2014 at 6:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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George

I'd have to argue with this...shoot a nice flat colour profile and get the temperature and exposure right in camera and a decent grading program will let you do a lot. Just make sure you don't clip highlights or have too much murk in the shadows!

I always kick out a DNxHD 175 10 bit intermediate of the locked edit and scene split it in Resolve then grade away. You have to be reasonably subtle, but there's lots of room to work. I'm not great at grading, but I'm learning and improving with every project.

www.blackstumpfilms.co.uk

January 31, 2014 at 5:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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James

I have a discipline philosophy: film something every day. Works for me. Down time is for single people with too much time on there hands.

February 2, 2014 at 5:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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shaun wilson

They are both bad advice. According to these cinematographers:

"Do this a particular way" is bad advice.

"Always be shooting" is bad advice.

August 18, 2014 at 5:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tim

...7 months later. That's not what I'm saying. The 'worst advice' part comes in the form of them giving good advice about the bad advice they received. They're not reciting bad advice.

August 18, 2014 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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pfduda

I disagree. Learn to do it the "correct" way. Then later and only later can you start breaking the rules, once you understand how they are constructed. To eaches own though. And shooting as much as possible is a good thing. There should be some time to reflect and that comes during editing! ;P

August 18, 2014 at 2:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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screamer cage

An advice is an advice .. pick what suits you best! In my views, the worst advice should be renamed as "Wise advice"

August 18, 2014 at 6:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jk

For reels

August 21, 2014 at 11:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mark C

I agree.

August 18, 2014 at 2:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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screamer cage

Nicely put. It all falls down to: without a great story/script, there is not great movie. Waste of valuable time.

August 18, 2014 at 2:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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screamer cage

Stop complaining.

August 18, 2014 at 2:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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screamer cage

Unfortunately for you, most would disagree with your assessment of Nicholson's performance and Antonioni's film.

August 18, 2014 at 6:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rhett

I prefer the worst advice... It works best for me, but I'm not a cinematographer... I hate the "always be shooting" mentality and it's not helpful to me at all. I can get better at something simply by giving it some space. And then when I get back to it I'll be more energized and have a lot of new ideas... It's kind of like how year-round-sports made me quit sports. There's no excitement that way, and it just becomes mundane...

August 21, 2014 at 11:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mark C

But I have spent over a year writing, directing, editing and scoring my first feature. It's nice to be able to switch from one aspect to another, though hopefully I'll never have to edit again and I can stick more to writing... But I certainly wouldn't be a "write all the time" kind of person. I'll develop a few things, then focus on one and write it in a few weeks, then spend a month or two rewriting, then on to developing others... And I've learned to take weekends off..... I'm just saying that, in my personal experience anyway, if you continually do one thing, you'll get burnt out rather quickly.

August 21, 2014 at 11:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mark C

You've got to so some color grading to match shots, but yes, if you go too far you can easily ruin it. But in camera coloring just doesn't quite cut it. I had to add some blue to the midtones and shadows to cut out some of the extreme warmth. Thankfully I'll never have to worry about 8bit again, thank you blackmagic!

August 21, 2014 at 11:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mark C

And I had to kill a lot of the saturation.

August 21, 2014 at 11:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mark C

Next time try to put a little bit more of them! =)

September 10, 2014 at 11:07AM

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avatar
Tommy Plesky
Director / D.P / Editor
1934