November 9, 2014 at 2:30PM

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Aspiring Cinematographer. So what do I do first?

I'm a student filmmaker and want to work my way into becoming a cinematographer/DP. I'm going to be graduating in May. I have AC'd for a bunch of great DP's in school, and shot some stuff here and there but now feel comfortable enough to start shooting as much as I can (short films, music videos, commercials, etc.) My main question is do I invest in a camera, some lenses and some bells and whistles with any money I have post graduation? Or should I take a different route and wait on some income to get something. I'm basically wondering what route want to be cinematographers took after they graduated from film school or decided to take this path into the film realm.

7 Comments

What sort of film work do you want to shoot ?

i.e. Weddings, Live-Event, Corporate, Feature-Film, Indie ?

...With properly funded feature-work everything is rented, but it's a long haul to join a union and slowly work your way up to become a D.P.

With everything else it's fairly common to own some gear, and sometimes you need enough gear to handle the entire shoot to get the job. ( i.e. renting everything may eat up your entire budget, leaving nothing left for you when it's over )

November 11, 2014 at 5:45PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
33059

There are 3 routes I've seen so far.

1. Buy Camera, shoot things and then shoot bigger things...
2. AC. Start as PA, learn basics. 2nd AC, learn process. 1st AC, learn camera and lenses in and out, move up to DP.
3. Gaffer. This route is different because you need to learn the camera parts on your own but I personally enjoy working with these DP's best because they have the best knowledge of lighting.

November 12, 2014 at 12:14PM

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Brandon Kelley
DIT/Director
492

Thanks for the feedback guys. Anything is greatly appreciated.

@Guy I'm interested in shooting indie stuff, short films and then move my way up to feature. I live within a train ride from NYC so I don't think it's too far fetched I get on some good short sets. The goal is to meet a group of likeminded filmmakers and hopefully meet a DP who would be willing to take me under his/her wing.

November 13, 2014 at 1:21PM, Edited November 13, 1:21PM

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Bryan Dalik
Student Filmmaker
105

Indie films are always desperate for free crew, so you could easily get a ton of on-set experience by contacting NYC Indie filmmakers. I know someone who became a full time corporate film producer by leveraging her Indie film experience to land the job.

Guy McLoughlin

November 28, 2014 at 9:46AM

>>> I live within a train ride from NYC so I don't think it's too far fetched I get on some good short sets.

Yes, I would definitely try and hook up with as many Indie people as you can in NYC, so that 6 months down the road you might have 100+ hours of on-set experience, and you never know where this might lead. ( I know someone who got a full-time producer job by leveraging 2 years of producing experience from Indie films she worked on )

Guy McLoughlin

November 29, 2014 at 7:36PM

I'm going to speak from first-hand experience here. Take what you will.

I have always owned my own gear. I started investing right away in cameras, lenses and tripods, and have kept growing my collection. I rent stuff that's just too specialized or way out of my price range. Or if I'm curious or need to know it for a job.

It's worked out well for me, and for a lot of the people I know that also own their own gear. I often get hired for small jobs before other people in my community because I have my gear handily available, I know it inside and out (because I shoot with it all the time), and I'm confident with it. It makes it easier to say yes to a job.

There are so many options for having your own gear inexpensively now, that I would recommend getting something that you like and learn it really well. That way you can pick up a variety work on your own, shooting small things and adding them to your demo reel. I'm sure you've gotten an earful about demo reels at school and let me reiterate the importance of this. We just went through a hiring process for a new producer at work, and the new producer's demo reel is what sold him to the senior producer. It demonstrated that he goes above and beyond and it was a mix of personal work and small jobs he'd done on the side. With his own gear. It's much harder to do that if you don't have something you like to work with, that makes it easy for you to do your work.

We live in a time now where all kinds of people need production work. I work for a local TV station, but none of that really goes on my reel. I also pull in a lot of freelance work from small businesses and individuals who just need a short video for their website that looks nice. It's not glamorous, but those jobs are often places that I can flex a little bit creatively, which is something I don't get to do at the TV station.

I also end up doing a lot of consulting. Because the aforementioned ability to pick up and shoot video on any number of consumer cameras is readily available, there are a lot of people out there assuming they can produce fine-quality products for people on a whim. This usually fails because they don't have the body of technical knowledge it takes to get successfully from concept to uploaded video, and it's at that point that I get panicked phone calls on how to sort out what someone else assumed was easy-peasy to produce on their phone with iMovie. Not that that can't be done, but you get what I'm saying. Consistently working in this field, even just shooting your own stuff and developing your own workflows, will make you a better candidate for jobs down the road.

I would highly recommend shooting weddings or something similar, even if you have bigger goals. Wedding videographers are in high demand and it was insanely useful to my work to be able to crank through 30 weddings in a year. You learn so much, so fast that way. And not just about how to get beautiful shots, but how to work with people in a variety of situations in the real world.

Best of luck. There are a lot of paths, you'll find the one that's right for you.

December 10, 2014 at 10:51AM

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Maggie Snyder
Cinematographer/Producer/Editor
93

Well, I appreciate that u explained a lot of ur experiences. me too. I have a similar past as u.

Aung Ko Ko

February 24, 2015 at 4:33AM

my friend, makes small films even films a couple of minutes long, there is no substitute for experience.

June 2, 2015 at 12:37PM

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