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Criteria for choosing projects early in career (6 replies)

10 months ago
JesseAragon 10 months ago

Mr. Deakins,

Early on in your career what was your decision making when taking on projects?  Quality of the project/script vs making a living?

In my situation, I strictly work as freelance DP and living in LA is not cheap, I am often presented with the tough decision to work on something because I need money as opposed to the quality of the project or script.  Another factor is learning/experience which also factors in....

Would like to hear from others as well in a similar situation...




David M
10 months ago
David M 10 months ago

There’s two types of projects at that point in a career IMO: ones you take because the pay is good or ones you take at a loss or that you break even with that will give you an opportunity to do your best work and help you get more work in the future.

10 months ago
jthomsg 10 months ago

This reminds me of a funny scene in 'Rear Window', Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart are watching a pianist play and she says something like; "I wonder where he gets his inspiration to play such beautiful music". And Jimmy Stewart responds "He gets it from the land lady once a month". 

9 months ago
garrettshannon 9 months ago

I try to always evaluate the value I will get from a potential project and ensure it is greater than the value that I believe I am putting in. Obviously these two things are extremely subjective but I'll provide some examples. As a DP, especially early in my career, I found value in many different ways.

  • Money (obviously has value and unfortunately is the only thing that also pays bills)
  • Working with a new director or producer who might hire me in the future
  • Being able to practice with or use a new tool (lighting, camera, grip, etc)
  • Ability to learn/practice a new skill (handheld, night EXT, difficult coverage, etc)
  • Creating something that looks different from my previous work or fills a gap in my portfolio
  • Working with name talent or a recognizable brand which might help boost the project's visibility 

Each of these things provide value and although their worth might be different to different people at different times I think it is worth thinking about the value of a potential project in more ways than the paycheck. 

Hope that helps. 

IATSE Local 600 | Director of Photography |

David M
9 months ago
David M 9 months ago

I’ll also say, be wary of taking on a project that has no other benefit other than the promise of future work. In my experience, 98% of the time that’s just a way people try to manipulate free or underpaid work out of you.  If you’re not doing it for the pay, there should be some other tangible certain benefit even if no other work arises from that client. 

9 months ago
JesseAragon 9 months ago

Thanks for your input everyone much appreciated.  These are all good guidelines to think about when choosing a project.


9 months ago
Wouter 9 months ago

In the beginning of a career I would suggest to take everything. Also do projects for free if you think they are interesting or just for the sake of experience and networking.

Don't do EVERY job for free though; in the beginning of your endeavour you have to make sure you use all that "free time" to actually study, study and study some more. You can study everything and it's never really a waste.

After you start to feel more confident about your abilities (after at least 5 years or so) you can gradually start to introduce your personality into your work and how you present yourself honestly to other people, which will attract the kind of work you actually like.. the kind of work that fits with who you are. Not all jobs will be like that, but the further you develop yourself, the more in tune your environment tends to become. It's all about creating that network of people around you. The right people, the ones that like your vision and what you -specifically you- bring to their table.

It's good to actually be who you really are and express that clearly when you have the confidence and experience to back it up. This will help you lead to where you really want to be.

Apart from that: always stay open-minded. Never just say NO to something without thoroughly considering it.. how you think and feel about a project matters a lot, but sometimes it can be refreshing to do something impulsive, just for the sake of it. Who knows.. maybe there's something interesting there to explore.

As Roger often says: there is no right or not "one" answer.

Good Luck!

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