My Career as a Cinematographer

For this project I am required to write an essay focused on my chosen specialism in film, which is cinematography. I will explore what I want my future to look like and how I plan on getting there. This essay will include research on the characteristics of contemporary cinematography and how developments in this area will affect finding work, as well as going into detail on exactly what what techniques I’m going to use to carve a pathway for myself. In this, I will be mainly discussing and debating whether it would be more beneficial to go independent and focus on setting up a production company with fellow filmmakers, or to find small runner jobs and work my way slowly up from there. This debate will be considering the way film, specifically cinematography, has changed as new techniques and technologies are introduced.

I aim in the future to be a Director of Photography, specifically working on high budgeted feature length independent fictional films, as well as some short films. I want to access this specific part of the industry because I feel like this is where cinematography is at it’s most experimental and interesting.

The main thing I’ve noticed about cinematography in independent films is that they often have extremely strong colour palettes and have a very set theme in their colour correction. Bertie Gilbert is a filmmaker based on YouTube and he’s a good example of this as his colours are always very distinct, each film has it’s own colour. He seems especially fond of blues, yellows and reds. In his film “Rocks that Bleed” he uses colour to imply a lot.

Nowadays there are so many cheap, or even free, colour grading software that means short films of all budget levels can be edited to increase the quality and aesthetic of it, making it look more professional.

Another common feature of indie films is that they tend to use a large amount of hand held and dynamic shots. This has been made possible thanks to steadying equipment such as the Rodin Gimbal (which is used by Bertie Gilbert’s cinematographer on the majority of his films) and other equipment like hand held steadicams and body rigs.

Whilst they clearly still cost an awful lot of money, they are now within the price range of the general public.

In fact, all camera equipment is now far more accessible, including the cameras themselves. DSLR’s are a great investment for aspiring filmmakers like me, as they can start as cheap as £400. Canon’s website has lots of helpful information on which is best for you and sorts them into three categories: “DSLR for beginners”, “DSLR  for enthusiasts” and “DLSR  for professionals”.

One of the biggest shifts in the film industry has been the development of new viewing platforms and the decline of conventional ones. Over the past few years, the number of ticket sales in cinemas have started to drop; UK and Ireland have seen a box office drop of 2.9% since 2013. This is due to people choosing to stream films at home, through platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix. The amount of people that now prefer home viewing to going out to the cinema has meant that alternative media companies like Netflix have been able to expand, including creating and distributing original online-only projects. Netflix originals have proved extremely popular, with shows like Stranger Things gaining so much attention that they’ve become household names in mainstream media.

The other platforms that have seen a great spike in usage recently are Vimeo and YouTube. Professional-grade film equipment is now readily available to everyone as mentioned earlier and so the videos being put up on these websites are of an increasingly high quality. These sites are a great tool to connect with other filmmakers. As a cinematographer, I could share videos I worked on, provide links to Vimeo and YouTube on social media sites and use this as a way to market myself and promote my talents to potential employees. Ciaran O’Brian was the Director of Photography for all of Bertie Gilbert’s films (mentioned earlier) and many other big-name YouTubers, including Jack & Dean and Sammy Paul. He is a great example of how a cinematographer can use these advances in online viewing platforms to their advantage. The majority of his cinematography work is done on film shoots with friends he met through YouTube. With Netflix releasing almost 200 originals since 2013 and other platforms also putting money into online-only projects, along with YouTube and Vimeo opening doors to aspiring filmmakers, there’s more content being created than ever before and this means there’s now far more job opportunities for upcoming cinematographers.

However freeing the development of online platforms are for contemporary filmmakers, there are still aspects of modern day society that are providing constraints. The main political barrier is Brexit. Leaving the EU has potential to completely change the setup of British film. There will be no more funding provided by European companies such as MEDIA or Creative Europe funding, who currently give large amounts of support to co-productions, festivals and development. British/European co-productions will also be hard due to the fall of the pound. There is currently a lot of uncertainty within the film industry as to how Brexit will affect film in the long term and this uncertainty is leading to people preferring to wait out the change rather than invest in UK film productions.

With an industry as competitive as the film industry, I need to have specific paths and goals so I don’t get lost in the crowd. In terms of education, there are no set educational paths for becoming a cinematographer, however there are programs and opportunities that would give me a vaster knowledge of the area.

My next stage in life after college is university. All the university courses I’ve applied for have a very heavy focus on the practical side of film production and all of them have at least one module on cinematography. This will allow me to gain more advanced and specific skills in this area and it’s important that I develop my cinematography skills as much as possible to set me up for a career in it. On top of this, I’ve made sure that the courses I’ve applied for all allow you to focus on a specialism during your third year. This will allow me to entirely dedicate my time to cinematography and means that I can explore it in new depths. University is also a time for me to network as much as possible with other aspiring filmmakers, who will potentially be people that I work with in the future. University is the biggest and most accessible option I have at the moment as my gateway into the industry, so I want to make the most of it.

Other than university, there isn’t much more in the way of education that would be particularly beneficial to my career. I had been looking into post-graduate courses, as there are a few places that offer ones specifically for cinematography. While I would gain more experience from them, I feel that future employees would only find this qualification worth noticing if it came from a well established film school, such as the Met Film School in London, where a year long MA cinematography course costs £17,500. I’m not willing to spend this much money on a course, when I feel like I would learn so much more simply by being on set and experiencing. I found an IndieWire article on the subject, titled, “What’s the best Film School for cinematographers” and in this article they ask a selection of Cinematographers with films at the Sundance Festival their opinion on the matter. A lot of them agreed that while courses do provide you with structure and discipline, “working on set is the best film school” and “(it) is definitely NOT a necessity by any means”.

During my time at university, I plan on setting up an independent production company with people I meet on my course. I want to ideally start during university so that it has time to develop, meaning that when I leave university it will hopefully have gained some traction.It will also be necessary to take on jobs as a runner or assistant on other productions, as it could be a long process getting the production company up and running at first and any work on sets will be good experience for me.It means I get to see people working who have experience in the industry and learn from them and also gives me a chance to make an impression on them and create contacts with people higher up in the industry.

For a filmmaker living and working in Britain, the best place to find work would be London. This is where the majority of the film industry is based as you can see from this graph.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-11-27-43-am

It is home to major studios such as Pinewood Studios and hosts many film festivals, including Raindance, the largest independent film festival in the UK. It’s a goal of mine to one day see a film I contributed to screened there. The problem with London is that even in the least desirable places, housing is still very expensive. The lowest prices offered for rent is around £300 per week for a one bedroom flat, although in some of the more popular areas like Soho, it can go as high as £1000 per week. I would like to end up working in London eventually due to the opportunities, but it would be better if I picked a city close to London and travelled in. In Bristol, renting a one bedroomed apartment can be as low as £100 a week.

Another option is Manchester. Manchester is a strong option for me: it keeps me up north so I can stay in contact easier with filmmakers I meet up here, housing is considerably cheaper, around £200 a week, and as media city is based up there, people link Manchester to film and so there will be a lot of film work to be found. Two of my top university choices are both based in or near Manchester. As I’m planning to set up a production company during my time at university, I will most likely be setting it up with people I meet there who will probably live in the North as well. Therefore, it makes sense for me to find a place to live up there as both our company and lives will be connected to that place.

Starting out as a freelance filmmaker it will be necessary to take on as much commercial work as possible before I start thinking about making short or feature films. This will ground me as a filmmaker and give me a good base of knowledge and experience to work with that I can translate into my own films. It’ll be the best make to make money doing film, as it’s unlikely that any of my early short films will make any profit at all. I can take the money that I make from commercial jobs and put it towards original films, however it won’t be enough and I’ll need to find funding from other sources.

BFI are great for funding and have many options available. Their websites states that their initiatives “aim to champion diverse, bold and distinctive filmmaking across the UK” and there are funds available for all levels of filmmaking. One I’ve found that seems very relevant to my plan is the “Vision Award”, which is designed to help grow film businesses and would require my production company to produce a steady stream of content. There is also a “First Feature Production Funding” which would be very useful to me considering I want to eventually move into feature film production.

Aside from BFI there’s also websites like ‘Shooting People’, which is a network for independent filmmakers based out of London. Advertised on there are many opportunities. The part of this website that interested me the most was a tab at the top of the screen titled ‘opportunities’.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-3-46-19-pm

It’s incredibly important as a filmmaker to be aware of what’s going on in the industry and you can use these to keep track of any opportunities available that might benefit you.

After putting everything down in writing, I can clearly see the path I want to take. It seems that setting up a production company with fellow filmmakers is the most appealing option for me. Setting up a company will be easier than ever before, due to the developments of platforms like Vimeo and YouTube where we can showcase all our work, and the fact that high quality cameras and other such equipment are now fairly affordable, meaning that even during the early stages of our company, we will be able to produce strong pieces of work. I always knew I wanted to eventually work on feature length films but I wasn’t sure on how I would fund this. I’m now aware of all the funding schemes the BFI offer, as well as the importance of doing commercial work to earn some extra money. I can also now see that university is going to be an incredibly important place for me. It’s the place where I will finesse my cinematography skills so that I’ll have the confidence and ability to go freelance, the place where I will make connections within the industry and the place where I will meet people who I’ll potentially be working with and setting up a production company.

  1. Gilbert, Bertie – YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZp5j0LWQCT5cO_vhkrW6kA
  2. DSLR cameras, Canon                                                       http://www.canon.co.uk/cameras/dslr-cameras/?wt.srch=1&wt.mc_id=uk:google_ppc:PX+%7C+DSLR+%7C+Exact:DSLR:dslrs&gclid=CJaj09uT_tECFa6_7Qodzj4E6Q&gclsrc=aw.ds&dclid=CNCo79uT_tECFW-O7QodncUO8Q
  3. Furness, Hannah – box office drop                  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/shopping-and-consumer-news/11327199/UK-cinemas-suffer-biggest-drop-in-box-office-takings-since-records-began.html
  4. Masters, Kim – Netflix originals   http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/netflix-backlash-why-hollywood-fears-928428
  5. Bernstein, Paula – What’s the best film school for cinematography http://www.indiewire.com/2014/01/whats-the-best-film-school-for-cinematographers-sundance-cinematographers-tell-indiewire-what-they-think-30894/
  6. Follows, Stephen – Hoe much of the UK film industry is based in London https://stephenfollows.com/how-much-of-uk-film-industry-is-london-based/
  7. Rent Barometer – London                                    http://www.rentbarometer.com/london/all-prices/by-name.html
  8. Home.co.uk – Bristol rent prices                       http://www.home.co.uk/for_rent/bristol/current_rents?location=bristol
  9. BFI – production and development funding      http://www.bfi.org.uk/sites/bfi.org.uk/files/downloads/bfi-production-and-development-funding-summary-2015-12.pdf
  10. Shooting People                                                                           https://shootingpeople.org/home

 

 

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One Response to My Career as a Cinematographer

  1. Dom Bush says:

    This is a well-constructed essay Kitty that has clearly influenced your planned path. I would have liked to see some greater detail when discussing the factors that influence cinematography as a discipline (near the beginning), but the logical application of the information you have uncovered in your research is obvious to see. It is a coherent and well written academic assignment. Well done.

    Like

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