Career Qs from an aspiring filmmaker (8 replies and 17 comments)
Hey Chelsea, I'm not Roger, but I work in the field, and I love filmmaking/cinema so I'll answer your questions with what I have. Take it for what it's worth. (I'm not yet an established cinematographer)
- I didn't really find an interest until I "fell" into the industry and began working on film sets. I loved movies growing up, but never knew something like this was even in the same universe as me. I was an athlete through college, then began working in film directly after graduating. (I hated my degree)
- I am an "escapist" person, so anything that puts me into another world - and the ability for light/frame/camera movement to visually take me to another place/reality really is what draws me into cinematography. How you can say so much without any words.
- As far as university for cinematography - I went to school for accounting. But I will say there are differing trains of thought for whether school is NECESSARY... I lean towards get in the field and learn, but I didn't go to film school, and I believe I will make it without the use of film school. Personal anecdote. But I think if you were able to get on set experience in the film industry from now until the next four years when you would graduate - I think you would come out far ahead than sitting in class for 4 years. (assuming you take every day on set as a chance to learn and ask and be a sponge for information)
- Location - Still on the lines of "work" vs. "school" to me, any city where films are being made is the best chance to get onto a film set. Vancouver/Toronto are big cities. I've worked in Calgary once, so I guess I would advice to search for cities where films are commonly made and boost your chance of networking/meeting people who you could find a job with.
- I've touched on education. But I'm sure if you already have a passion for cinematography and film, then any schooling in that department will be beneficial. Again, I didn't find my "aspirations" for film until I was in the industry. So you're already ahead in that regard! For me, college is beneficial in ways different than the subjects you study, so I don't encourage not to go to school, just know what the experience is going to suit you for.
Hope this helps!? Sorry, I'm not Roger or one of our extremely accomplished or expert members. Maybe they will chime in as well! And best of luck in your beginning and adventures in film.
Worth noting, I've worked in the field in the art department (Greens) building sets for some really fun and awesome feature films in Atlanta - had the fortune to work with some really great directors and cinematographers and see them work and watch/learn from them. I'm now diving into becoming my own 'storyteller' while still working in the industry, trying to learn everyday!
This was incredibly useful! I'm curious - how did you get into the industry and was it difficult with your accounting degree? Even the art department has interested me since I was young but I just assumed that you needed to be an already well-made and known "artist" to manage to get a job working on cool things like that. Hearing about your experiences has been honestly quite inspiring and beneficial which is exactly why I've been trying to reach people in the field and ask for advice. Thank you so much for the advice you have offered, it is most definitely just as useful. 🙂
Absolutely! Glad I can help! I was the product of God or chance/fate/planets aligning whatever you wish to call it. I was in school in Alabama and a man in the art department was working on a show in Atlanta (Rampage) and he randomly came to Alabama and discovered my father's business, needing to buy something for his movie. From there I got his number and called him, then a week after graduating I moved to Atlanta with one phone number and high hopes. He got me in touch with someone who needed people to work on a show called Godzilla and the rest is history. (I've never once used my degree.) With regards to the industry - any and every department will have novice beginner level positions. Most every art department will have PA's - beginner workers. You just begin somewhere and learn and work your way up. Meeting the person to give you the chance is the tricky part. Which, being in a city where a film is being made increases those chances. I have heard the stories of people standing outside of a studio with a resume, I've heard of people meeting filmmakers at a bar and getting jobs. It's all kind of random. But it's all about who you know. That much is true.
Amazing! I'm gonna need whatever good luck you were having that day because the odds were definitely in your favor. I live fairly close to Vancouver so living in a city where filmmaking is booming won't be a huge issue for me; however, networking when I'm typically the opposite of an assertive person, definitely will be. It's quite incredible to me that you've managed to so easily find and maintain a career that has nothing to do with your degree, you make it seem easy and I hope I manage to get the same well fortune as you have.
Well, it's easily put as text on a screen. The road has been anything but easy. And full of doubt and worry, but never let go of the love you have for cinema. There would be times I would go to a late night movie with all kind of doubt of what I was doing, if it were the right thing, right job, and watch a great movie and leave yet again inspired for the future. BUT, you also have youth and time on your side. (I do as well honestly) So, don't feel pressured to find a job tomorrow. James Cameron didn't get into film making until after he was a Truck Driver as an adult. Nothing can compare to hard work, an attitude to learn, and delivering with results. Film thrives on that. They don't care how old you are, what you look like, how you talk, where you are from, what you have done - if you show up early everyday ready to get the job done, get the shot, do whatever it takes to make the day, know your role, deliver when it's your time. You'll go very far. But begin to investigate Vancouver. Find out what films are there, find out where the major studios are. If you see signs for film production, try and go see some of the action. Find out about the IATSE Union (if there is one in Vancouver) union is a good starting point for investigating what productions are going on, where they are. Information is hard to get from the outside, so you will have to dig deep. Also yes, I did a lot of quick growing up being more extroverted on film sets. I am naturally very introverted. So realize that is how you naturally are, and find ways to begin to move towards having the ability to be extroverted - you don't need to change who you are, just develop a skill to use (assertion and conversation with adults)
I can understand your initial doubts entirely; especially whilst researching universities when I've had no experience before, putting so much money into a degree is a scary leap of faith. Obviously, I have the interest and passion in filmmaking but it's scary considering I have no idea if I have the talent to support me as well as the passion. It's easy to fall victim to comparison when other students I know already have material they practice with. Hearing your journey, from a more humble and slower beginning and approach is encouraging. I'm making sure to note the advice that you've offered me because your perspective and insight has been really illuminating. I'll definitely be doing more research on IATSE Union and the things you've mentioned, thanks!
Everyone has a different story as James and I have found out when doing our podcast series. That is what I love about the conversations.
For myself, and this information is also available on the podcast series, I always loved film, ever since I watched cartoons on an old projector in the attic with my dad when I was around five or six years old. But it never seemed like a possible career and it was not until I was at Art School that I discovered photography. Then the National Film School opened up and I saw a way to be involved in film. Up till that point, at the age of 23, I had never held a film camera.
Where you live obviously makes a difference. Had the National Film School opened at that point I might never have entered the film industry and had the film and television industry not been expanding in the UK, as it was in the late 70s, I might never have found work. Luck always plays a part but you have also to make your own luck and take any chance that becomes available. Now there are very many good film schools all over the world.
Education? I wish I had been to university and studied many many other subjects but an experience of life is an education as well.
Roger, I am fascinated by the level of passion and motivation you have even at this age. How have you kept yourself inspired and focused all this while? It is such a beautiful thing to see. Was there ever a time where you ran out of motivation or that just didn't occur to you?
I think accountancy is an excellent foundation for a career in almost anything - you know how many beans make five! Most people in the arts do not. I did Electrical Engineering and a minor course called an ADB in Stage Management. After the military, I went on to study Economics as an external to the LSE. So when I went to the local employment office with my new degree, they obviously gave me work in a recording studio. It all makes sense (not!)
Now I have my own studio and I am adding a film studio along with it - one of those 'Time to move on.' things. The one thing that stands out is that one often falls back on things one learned (or was supposed to have learned) all those years ago!
When adding a new service to your studio, how do you go about getting new clients to hire you for your work for the first time and then making a name for yourself. Do you charge less and deliver more initially or do you charge your standard rates and then deliver good quality? (might be a little off topic but wanted to ask)
You don't. You create your own projects or you get together with others and work jointly.
It's hard to stay motivated right now! Up until this year I felt I was really just getting started so 'motivation' had little to do with it. I felt/feel there is so much I want to try and experience but, as for most everyone, it has all come to a grinding halt. As I have said elsewhere, I have been blessed and it is those starting out that I feel for.
That's lovely, thank you.
If you had an advice to give to your younger self who was just starting out, would you say anything?
It's such a long way you've come and I'm sure you wouldn't want it any other way. You really are a life well lived Roger. Thank you.
I hope there is plenty more! Advice is hard to give as each of us begin from a different place. I look back at myself as a teenager and wonder how on earth .....
Would I want it any other way? I have been so lucky I would not want to contemplate the alternative.
Beautiful. Thank you
What was your plan “B” if you couldn’t find work as a DP. Did you have any other skills that you could fall back on. You mention once that you could have turned to painting perhaps within the Theatre World, TV and film art dept etc. Just curious.
Plan 'B'? I was never going to make it as a painter so I have no idea. I once tried to get a job as a beach photographer and was turned down.
Well, it’s never too late! Find yourself an easel, canvas and brushes and paint James, ideal Christmas present. Everybody is doing it while Covid is here.
The world is getting smaller.
Santa Monica 1880
Never get your feet wet, smart photographer.
Second photo Santa Monica, third Brighton, fourth Bournemouth.
There was this great advert for Smirnov Vodka with the punch line 'I was struggling beach photographer until I discovered Smirnov'. I wasn't even that 'beach photographer' at the time. I couldn't get a job taking happy snaps for the tourists on Torquay sea front, which was a big thing before digital cameras and i phones. Maybe they just didn't hire hippies.
Not career advice by any means!
There were some good photographers around Leicester Square in the 1960’s, You filled in a form But never expected to receive a photo, a week later it arrived in the post, now that is honesty. It was £1.00 per photo, a fortune then.
Were you a hippie of some sort? I once read that you lived in a tent at NFTS.
I read that he slept under an office table at NFTS. would love to hear Rogers version.