There is a career progression of being in the camera department and eventually if you work hard and do a good job you work your way up to the top and become a Director of Photography. Now I would say that I’m no where near the top of the food chain, I’m still rolling around on the fringes of the indie film world.
I work and run my own video production company and spend pretty much all of my days behind a camera or in the edit suite but I very rarely get to work on indie films due to my workload. When I do, its fantastic and I have blast (and generally forget to eat) because its pure creation. Especially when you have an instant creative and working relationship with a director from the first meeting.
But how did I become a DOP?
I actually never intended to go into film production, at least not behind the camera. I went to drama school to train to be an actor but I came out of it loving the camera from the otherside and have worked my way to where I am today.
I’m not traditionally trained so I didn’t go to film school, I’ve learnt on the job how to do what I do and that’s the way I have always learnt. By seeing how it is done, replicating it and then adapting it for me.
But I’ve only just started to call myself a DOP because it’s a title to be earned more than anything else in my mind. I also think that its all about relationships with directors and producers and the project itself. If there was a
What is the best aspect about being a DOP?
The best thing about being a DOP and indeed a film maker is that you get to tell stories. It is your job to interpret the writer’s story and the director’s vision in a visual. You get to explore characters and emotions through lighting and giving meaning to their world.
Everything an actors does or says is captured by you and that’s just brilliant.
Is producing corporate videos boring?
I run my own corporate video production business and I approach each company with the same question I ask director’s: what is the story you want to tell?
Producing a video can be as boring or exciting as you want it to be. At the end of the day it’s your job to make a visually interesting piece that is going to benefit your client.
I’ve worked on a lot of corporate films over the last 10 years and there isn’t one I’ve found boring or tedious. Each one is unique in its own way and that is exactly why I love making them.
Who are the DOP’s I aspire to be like?
I often get asked who influences me the most as a DOP and while I’d love to say massive Hollywood cinematographers influence me, which they do, I actually draw a lot of inspiration from DOP’s working in television or those producing online work.
One from the YouTube community is Ciaron O Brian who is DOP on Jack & Dean of all trades is a great DOP who has found a genre he works in so well. Also every light has a purpose and I’m a massive fan of soft lighting.
I also love the cinematography on shows like House of Cards, The Flash and Hannibal.
What is my visual style?
I like the camera to stand back. I’m not a fan of lots of moving or handheld work. I like the camera to simply be the observer in the scene. The actors are doing the heavy lifting and it’s my job to reflect that but also not get in their way.
Oddly though I am very often handheld on a lot of shoots as sometimes its necessary and in some cases I’m not
An over the top camera move during an epic monologue isn’t going to compliment it, it’s going to hinder it.
I like to start simple and then gradually add in shots which benefit the story. You won’t find me wasting a shot on feet walking through or picking up a tea cup to emphasize a point.
I prefer to shoot with zoom lenses over primes because again I won’t often have time to switch lenses out on a project and need to be much more run and gun. I love the look of primes but I take ergonomics any day of the week.
Cinematography is not just about cameras, it is mostly about lighting. LED’s have come so far in the last couple of years and my lighting kit is now all leds. I toyed for a while with bi-colour LED’s but found that they just didn’t have the power I needed so I have daylight balanced LED panels and a range of gels. While a bit more cumbersome to cart around from shoot to shoot, I still prefer the look although it takes a little more time to get everything sorted in terms of white balance especially if I’m out at a clients office.
Do I have a preferred genre?
If you ever feel like you’re being stereotyped into working in one particular genre, I wouldn’t say that is a bad thing. My style of shooting and my visual style all lend themselves to comedy, or black comedies or romantic comedies. I personally like working within those genres because lots of short films, tv, and films deal with very heavy and depressing subjects. For me, if I want to watch something, very rarely will I go for the dark subject, I will go for something that makes me feel better.
That isn’t to say I haven’t worked in other genres, but I definitely prefer a more light hearted project to work on.
Should you buy the most expensive camera you can when starting out?
You should never buy the most expensive camera you can if you’re just starting out. An expensive camera is going to give you the same results as an inexpensive one if you don’t know how to use it or how to control lighting.
Something I learnt far too late is that lighting is the key to your shot. Its what defines and sculpts the image. The camera is simply the medium which records the action. I make the camera out to be almost irrelevant but its not as important to me now as lighting is.
If you’re just starting out, I would spend much more of your budget on lighting than on a camera. At least a 70/30% split in favour of lighting.
More importantly learn how to control light. You can start to do this with the camera you have on your phone. If you’re just practising, it doesn’t need to look like it was shot by Philip Bloom straight away. We all have to start somewhere.
One of my first cameras was a Canon 60D and with it I learnt so much. Its a shame that its the only piece of equipment that I have ever owned that has stopped working on me mid shoot. I do miss the flip out screen.
Have you ever wanted to do a different job in film production?
Well I never intended to be behind the camera, I always thought I wanted to be in front of it as an actor and now on many shoots I wear many different hats from sound recordist to editor to director so I don’t ever feel like I’m missing out on doing one job over another.
I’m still safest behind the camera though that is a certainty working as a camera operator or director of photography depending on the project.
What is my number 1 piece of advice to give to new or aspiring film makers?
My advice to new filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers is to spend your time honing your skills in lighting. Working out what each set up means and breaking down some of your favourite shots from films and working out how they did it. Then try to replicate it and then build on it yourself for your own projects.
I also would never be afraid to say to your director or whoever you are working with, “I don’t know what to do”. Its a massive element that you are always seen to have a solution to everything immediately but you’re falable, its going to take a moment for you to figure something out and you are going to need help.
If you think film making is a one person job then think again because you will fail. Film making is about collaboration, team work and dedication to a story that you can only achieve working with other people who are as enthusiastic about the project as you are.
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