Establishing Your Identity as a Director of Photography
Posted on: Feb 08, 2023
Let me be the first to tell you that it is no small feat climbing the below-the-line ladder. It’s a challenging and difficult process, but there is a method to the madness. With confidence, discipline, and a little bit of faith, I established myself as a Director of Photography (DP) for feature-length films, short films, documentaries, commercials and music videos.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you conquer the climb as you embark on your journey as a Director of Photography:
1. Make the Decision
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step—you have to start somewhere to make it anywhere. Film production is a big wide world with hundreds of projects going on every day, so deciding to step into this world is a huge undertaking in itself.
I got my start in filmmaking by utilizing social media groups and websites such as Staff Me Up to find work as a Production Assistant (PA) on commercial projects in 2020, at a time when production hardly began opening up for business at the height of COVID. Between the cotton swabs up the nose, wrapping cables, learning the lingo and the social distancing, I learned so much from watching different DP’s processes and communication strategies in a low-risk position.
Here are some ways you can maximize your time as a PA:
Read the call sheet. Every job you work on will have a call sheet with the names, departments, and positions of each technician on-set. Understanding each of the key departmental positions on-set and how they function as the arms of the Director of Photography, will serve as the foundation for your cinematography.
Observe the process. Every person on-set has a function and understanding, and each of those functions will elevate your understanding of the craft. Some key positions that I recommend you watch are:
- Key Grip
- Sound Mixer/Boom Operator
Network, network, network. The only difference between networking and not working is one letter, and that’s “E” for Energy. Put your best foot forward toward being intentional with getting to know as many people as you can on-set because a lot of Production Assistants and Utility Technicians are doing the same.
It would also greatly benefit you to take notes on the different pieces of equipment that you see being used on-set. Writing down correct spellings of some of the names of these pieces of equipment will be essential to learn about the use, techniques and applications of these tools.
2. Research and Development
Being a serious DP means putting in serious time toward perfecting your craft. Those notes you took on-set (be it mental or physical) become your action plan toward forming research questions and developing a study regimen to discipline yourself.
I didn’t attend film school, so there was a world of information that I was not privy to that I felt was behind a 5-6 figure paywall. However, YouTube and Google became my free-access encyclopedia and instruction manual for all things film production. I took the information I gathered from being on-set and started down the rabbit hole. I still remember when I first heard the word “stinger” used and was completely clueless. Once I had a break, I immediately Googled, “What is a stinger on a film set?” and learnt that it’s a specific type of extension cord and wrote that down.
Don’t be intimidated by not knowing something—focus on soaking up as much knowledge as possible.
3. Use What You’ve Got
Scarcity is the birthplace of innovation. No matter what equipment you have access to, all you need to begin your cinematography journey is a camera and your imagination.
Start small. Focus on technique as opposed to equipment. Use every tool at your disposal to practice framing and composing shots, exposing your images properly and creating with what you have. Even cellphone cameras are coming with cinema modes, aperture controls and the rule of thirds!
The sun is the world’s most accessible light source and if you have a friend or two willing to hang out with you for a few hours, there is a world of possibilities to create short-scripted or unscripted projects.
The grind may seem challenging, but the light at the end of the tunnel is closer than you think. Start micro and learn as much as you can. Pretty soon, you’ll be shooting your first blockbuster.
Happy shooting, filmmaker!
Photo courtesy of B.P. Edwards.
|B.P. Edwards is a Director, Cinematographer and Camera Operator from Pasadena, CA. Since picking up the camera in 2015, he has worked on a wide variety of projects ranging from feature-length and short films to commercials, music videos and documentaries. In 2022, he was inducted into the Society of Camera Operators as an Associate Member and has since continued to hone his talents in working above and below the line. He is a proud graduate of Langston University, and the owner of the production company, BEARVISION.
Establishing your path in production? Sign up or login to Staff Me Up and get on set today!
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