May 13, 2016

‘Great Cinematography Comes From Integrity’: Advice From Fierce Female DPs

Cinematography by Rose Fadem-Johnson
Members of two new female DP collectives offer pro shooting tips straight from the field

CinematographersXX and The International Collective of Female Cinematographers (ICFC) formed in part as a response to that oft-repeated mantra: “I’d love to hire a female DP, but I just can’t find any.” As ICFC founder Kristin Fieldhouse recounted, “There was a huge gap that needed filling. I got tired of hearing how few women were out there shooting because that just isn’t the case.”

In honor of these groups, we gathered valuable advice from eight shooters among their hundreds of members. Meet some of the talent pool below, and pick up a few pointers for your next shoot along the way….

Svetlana Cvetko

Recent projects: 
Silicon Cowboys - Documentary - Dir Jason Cohen (SXSW 2016, sold to FilmRise)
Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray - Documentary - Dir Jenny Carchman for CNN Films (Tribeca 2016)
The Architect - Feature - Dir Jonathan Parker (Starring Parker Posey, Eric McCormack, James Frain)

BRAND: A Second Coming,' shot by Svetlana Cvetko
Russell Brand in 'BRAND: A Second Coming,' shot by Svetlana Cvetko
Current favorite camera and why:
I like the Canon C300 Mark II for documentaries: It’s lightweight, has good ergonomics and fantastic low light performance, and shoots in 4K. I prefer the ARRI Alexa for dramatic work because of its superb picture, great skin tones, and easy workflow.

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
Even if you have the best education on exactly how technically things should be done, follow your gut instincts.

An important lesson you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
Make friends with the production designer.

Autumn Eakin

Recent/upcoming projects:
Wig Shop - Short - Dir Kat Coiro (Starring Emily Mortimer, shooting May 2016)
Hard Hatted Woman - Documentary - Dir Lorien Barlow
Fever - Yes Alexander music video -Dir Beatriz Callej

https://vimeo.com/207496954​

Current favorite camera and why:
I know this is a common enough answer for DPs, but my favorite camera to shoot with truly is whatever camera fits the projects needs. For example, I did a whole 6-week shoot for Hyatt that was POV, so the Blackmagic Pocket camera met that challenge. That being said, the ARRI Alexa Mini and Amira, and my workhorse the Sony F5 have been my go-tos of late.

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
The best advice I was given along the way was that this idea that one day you're gonna have it all figured out is a farce, especially as a creative and a freelance cinematographer. Like, boom, one day everything will make sense and you'll have 'made it' just isn't true. A cinematographer I assisted under for years and someone I look up to, Joe Arcidiacono, told me that years ago and it has really stuck with me. It meant something that someone so established gave allowance to feel unsure or to continue evolving.

An important lesson you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
I think the biggest difference between what you learn in film school and in the field is firstly, how to be on a set and then secondly, how to be in charge of a department, eventually. I was lucky enough to learn under some really fantastic people and you just can't learn that in the same way in school.

Rose Fadem-Johnston

Recent/upcoming projects: 
Lovely Day - Short - Dir Adam Rejwan (Slated to shoot as feature in 2017)
Babes Ride Out - RVCA sportswear promo (“This was so fun to shoot and a much looser style than most promotional material I get the opportunity to do.”)
The Workout Room -  Feature - Dir Erika Rogers (shooting July 2016)

https://vimeo.com/119697983

Current favorite camera and why:
There is no perfect camera, only the right camera for the right project. Personally I prioritize how a camera chip samples and handles color over the size of the file it creates downstream. I do love the ARRI Alexa for its handling and its chip. I also just got to test with the Varicam 35 and LT. They are advertising their chip as the widest color gamut on the market and I’m excited to see the results. Of course I’d love to see Panavision do a follow-up to the Genesis—I’m sure they’d have me in a heartbeat.

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
It sounds terrible; “If you can be happy doing anything else in this world besides shooting—it will be easier, it will pay you more, your family will thank you—do it.”  Of course, my takeaway from that was to corner myself so that I couldn’t do anything else, getting degrees in cinematography with no other work experience.  It’s basically Sun Tzu’s “Death Ground” strategy of career building…and likely terrible advice. So there you go.

An important lesson you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
In film school you're often judged only on your particular work within a project. In reality the only thing that matters is the quality of the cohesive whole.

Kristin Fieldhouse

Recent projects:
Sadie’s Last Days On Earth - Feature - Dir Michael Seater
The Space Between - Feature - Dir Amy Jo Johnson
Palm Springs - Feature - Dir Sean Hoessli

https://vimeo.com/49742695

Current favorite camera and why:
I came up through film and love shooting celluloid. For digital, it really depends on the job in question. The parameters and script will shape which camera and other tools you will be using. There are many considerations, including image quality, size, and workability in relation to the project.

That being said, the ARRI Alexa has been my favorite so far. But I can also say lenses are as important a consideration as camera—maybe even more so. They become the visual eye of the image. I treat lenses like film stocks. Whether it is one camera or another, for me it is about the visual choices you make in camera placement, movement and lensing. That is what truly excites me.

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
Be passionate, be humble and always remember that you are the final gatekeeper of the image. Collaboration, love of learning and dedication go a long way. Most importantly, listen to and respect the story, the director and the team.  A cinematographer is the glue that keeps it all together. Great cinematography comes from integrity.

Important lessons you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
The team you build around you—gaffer, key grip, AC etc.—are as important as what you bring to the table. Respect them, treat them well, learn from them and be open to their input. Also, your job is to work FOR the story and the needs of your director. Everything else is secondary.

Mia Cioffi Henry

Recent/upcoming projects:
Superior - Short - Dir Erin Vassilopoulos (Sundance, Berlinale 2015)
Aster & Sidney - Short - Dir Sean Temple (Lodz FF, Boston Independent FF 2016)
Valeria - Short - Dir Erin Vassilopoulos (Sarasota FF, Maryland FF 2016)

https://vimeo.com/126993759

Current favorite camera and why:
I am still a film shooter! I am very fortunate to get to shoot many projects on 35mm and 16mm thanks to the good people at Kodak and Panavision. I love the patience that is required of working with film. I know that as a DP the visuals will be strongly connected to the story, and that is my number one concern. Digitally, I have gotten into shooting on the ARRI Amira, for quick and dirty assignments or longer narrative works. I know I will get good images the first time and without a ton of hassle either on set or in the post workflow.

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
I am a second generation DP, so I have heard it all all my life. The advice I am heeding at the moment is to choose my projects carefully. I am six months pregnant right now, so that is especially important to me. I want to work on projects I am proud of and stories that I care about.

An important lesson you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
Nothing is going to just drop in your lap; Being a freelance DP is being your own personal brand.  Knowing how to cultivate that and represent yourself is hard, but half the job is being visible, getting your name out there and making connections all over the place.

Meg Kettell

Recent/upcoming projects:
The Cup Reader - Short - Dir Suha Araj (Tribeca 2013)
Michael Mizrahi music video - Dir Elan Bogarin (“This video for a classical pianist was very unique and fun, not your typical ‘music video’”.)
The Syrian - Feature - Dir Suha Araj (Shooting summer 2016)

https://vimeo.com/153419883

Current favorite camera and why:
My favorite camera is the ARRI  Alexa, hands down.  It's a beautiful image and a great, reliable camera that is a total workhorse. Aany country, any climate, anything you need—it will perform.  It was the first HD camera that I felt wasn't a compromise in some way.   Obviously, it's not friendly for all budgets, but definitely my preference.    

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
Don't shoot crap!  Seriously.  There's so much crap out there these days!  Try to make every project you take on new and interesting to you. Otherwise, you can get burnt out just shooting junk.  Even beautiful cinematography will never make up for a terrible movie.  Harris Savides once told me, "You're only as good as your last film."  He said when he was transitioning from stills to movies, he was so careful, so selective on which projects he took.  He would spend months, years, waiting for the right one.  Because a bad film on your resume doesn't help your career or get you the next great gig.  

It took me years to understand him, because at the time I was a camera assistant, shooting on the side, thinking, "Look, ya gotta do what ya gotta do to pay the rent!  Be realistic."   But I totally get it now! Filmmaking takes so much of your time and energy, you're going to put in 200%, so don't waste it on projects that don't speak to you.

An important lesson you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
Generally, you're working 12-15 hours a day on any given project. It's probably more time than you spend with your family, so you must make it fun.  For your sanity and that of your crew, hire good people, treat them with respect, and make sure you're all laughing every day.  No one wants to spend 15 hours with a crankbag, that's just the truth.  No one.  

Lauretta Prevost

Reflections on recent work:
All of my recent narrative work has been work where the director is also an actress or actor (such as Freebie by Angela Atwood, which screened at the Manhattan Film Festival).  This has enabled me to develop very close trusting relationships with these directors, since they are relying more heavily on my eye than if they were behind a monitor the whole time. It is lovely!  

http://vimeo.com/104752642

Current favorite camera and why:
Currently my favorite camera to shoot with is a Canon C100 because I just bought one!  It is a good and affordable grab-and-go camera for documentary work, and by tweaking the picture profile I can make it look really nice—I have shot a lot on Canons and know how to work them.  Otherwise I would say we shoot Red when that makes sense budget-wise.  If it does not make sense but it was for me spend our dollars on lighting and art department.

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
Take more risks.  It (eventually) becomes easy to make the work look nice.  Make it look different, in a story-serving type of way!  Be willing to fail more.  

I would also say be nice. Be charming.  Make set fun.  You will enjoy yourself and the people around you will enjoy your presence.  Be positive.  Support each other.  Pull people up.  Let your first AC be your 2nd Unit DP.  Help each other, because you will continue to work with your peers.

An important lesson you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
I have learned to trust myself.  It is wonderful to be able to take the advice of my peers and colleagues. That said, sometimes someone who presents themselves as more experienced (and may be!) makes a suggestion and it is good to remember that that is only a suggestion and one option among many.   You know what you like and what you think looks good, and can use your experience to determine whether or not something will work.

Sandra Valde

Recent/upcoming projects:
White Bird in a Blizzard - Feature - Dir Gregg Araki (Starring Shailene Woodley)
Love is All You Need - Feature - Dir Rocco Shields (Cinequest New Vision Award)
Daisy & Max - Documentary - produced by Al-Jazeera America

Shailene Woodley White Bird in a Blizzard
Shailene Woodley in 'White Bird in a Blizzard,' shot by Sandra Valde

Current favorite camera and why:
It’s a tie right now:  The ARRI Alexa Mini and Canon C300.  I love them both because of their versatility, compactness and they both have a great look.  Both cameras can go from your shoulder to tripod in seconds, which nowadays is necessary.  

Best advice you’ve been given or can offer to aspiring shooters:
The best advice I’ve been given is two-fold:  1) When you are starting out, shoot anything you can get your hands on.  Practice makes perfect.  2) Follow and firmly believe in your passion. If you want to be a cinematographer, be a cinematographer and nothing else.  Don’t let anyone or anything stop you.

An important lesson you’ve learned in the field, rather than in film school:
When you’re on a project, everyone communicates via email and expects answers quickly.  So answer all emails, even if it’s a quick acknowledgement that you received it and will get back to them with an answer.  Never leave anyone hanging.  
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What about you? Who's your favorite female DP? What's the best advice you've received in the field? Let us know in the comments below.
     

Your Comment

9 Comments

Good post!

May 13, 2016 at 9:31PM

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Terrell Lamont
Director, Director of Photography
424

>Fierce
Independent Female DP who don't need no man, uh-huh.

May 14, 2016 at 6:32AM, Edited May 14, 6:32AM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1071

My thoughts exactly on the title.

May 15, 2016 at 3:54AM

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Would love to see the reaction to a post restricted to male opinion. Oh well, the sexist fluff continues on nofilmschool

May 14, 2016 at 12:51PM, Edited May 14, 12:51PM

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Right. Because we men are so underrepresented. If only we were afforded the same opportunities. Perhaps then, they'd start writing articles about male DPs. Alas, I'll just continue to hope.

May 15, 2016 at 2:23PM

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TR Lawrence
Screenwriter
140

WTF are you on about? Every DP-article that's not strictly about female DPs is restricted to male opinion.

May 16, 2016 at 8:02AM, Edited May 16, 8:02AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
862

Wow my man no respect huh? Or even the slightest clue we see...great article...Almost all of them said they love Arri Alexa or mini, Woman really do like the finer things in life Hahahaaaa

May 19, 2016 at 4:29PM

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Adam Arad
Cinematogrpher
81

great advice.

May 14, 2016 at 4:26PM

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Another all female DOP collective, not mentioned here, can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/illuminatrixdops/

May 29, 2017 at 5:40PM, Edited May 29, 5:40PM

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