Written by Emilee Ford

My first professional industry gig was working as 2nd Assistant Camera on an independent feature film as a part of an internship I was doing the summer after my junior year of college.

I was 21 years old, and had just come off of shooting my thesis and my first film ever as a cinematographer. I didn’t know much, but one thing I knew for certain was that since I wasn’t at a traditional film school getting a more technical education, I had to learn by doing.

During this project, I had the incredible pleasure of working under a female cinematographer, Elle Schneider. I studied every camera angle, lighting setup, and lens choice she made. I was enamored by her fluidity and how much care she took in capturing every beat of the story.

It was so inspiring watching her and being her helping hand. However, throughout this shoot I was very insecure in my lack of knowledge. Though it was not expected of me to know everything, I was very intimidated by the environment. Despite the pressure, I knew the opportunity I had on my hands, and, ultimately it was up to me to make the most of it.

'Dirty Towel'

One night at dinner I asked Elle what her best advice is for me as someone who wants to pursue cinematography but isn’t going to film school. She responded by saying, “Honestly sometimes I think it’s better when you haven’t gone to film school because it teaches you to be scrappier.”

This was probably the most validating thing I could’ve heard in that moment and I took this advice to heart.

A year later I found myself gearing up to shoot my first independent post-grad project in Los Angeles called Dirty Towel.

With an extremely low budget and a dream, I knew the way to be successful in this project was to be scrappy to make something amazing without a lot of financial help. The scrappiest feat was navigating working with rental houses to secure gear for the project. It goes without saying that I had zero experience or guidance when it came to this step in the filmmaking process. I was used to checking out equipment in the basement of our journalism building and calling it a day.

'Dirty Towel'

I did hours of research and asked many experienced friends for help throughout the process. But given our budget, our dream camera package was just too far out of reach.

So, with the advice from a friend I redirected this search into becoming a pitch to rental houses as to why they should partner with us for this project. I leaned into the strengths and appeal of our project, one of them being that we were an entirely female key crew telling a story about female-empowerment.

I started researching rental houses whose mission statements similarly aligned with these values and landed on the perfect fit, Rare Breeds West.

I wrote what was essentially a love letter to their team about how inspired I was by their mission and how it would be an honor if they could work with us in any capacity. Never underestimate the power of an email because the Rare Breeds team was more than happy to support us on this endeavor by giving us a substantial discount on our entire gear package.

'Dirty Towel'

We were able to shoot digitally on the Arri Alexa Mini with a selection of Zeiss B Speed Primes, both of which I’ve never had the opportunity to work with before, but am beyond happy with how it turned out.

Without this innate mindset to be scrappy, it’s hard to tell if this project would’ve been able to become what it has. It’s thanks to this hard work and generosity from Rare Breeds that I was able to put together my dream camera package for this passion project near and dear to my heart.

I’m happy to say that Dirty Towel will be premiering at Tribeca Festival on June 7th in New York City.

I am so grateful for everything I learned from Elle almost two years ago now, and I’m not exactly sure where I would be today if I didn’t have this scrappy mindset. It’s important to always make the most out of every situation you're given and to never let the quality of your work falter because of the nature of your resources.

There is always room to make something out of nothing.

Stay scrappy.