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Learn Your Craft & Stop Worshipping Film Gear

You may be wondering why this article is called Learn Your Craft & Stop Worshipping Film Gear and the reason behind it is that I feel today’s filmmakers rely more on technology than the technique of filmmaking itself. I recently wrote an article on why shot composition is so important. My film school instructors drilled this into us as it is a key element to filmmaking and telling the story.

If you follow me on twitter then you would have seen a post I did earlier this week at how many different types of books I have in my closet on filmmaking. They ranged from technical books to directing the shot. Sure they many seem like paper weight to some but I still go back and look through them because I do learn a new technique every time I do.

For 13 years I have been mastering the art of framing shots on over 200 Films, Commercials, and Live Events. Do I know how to light, yes I do but the framing and composition on top of the lighting tell’s the story. I love technology just as much as any other filmmaker, but we must not forget the technique of filmmaking.

I remember doing my internship at Panavision many moons ago and for 3 months straight all I did was load film camera magazines. I have loaded every 35mm and 16mm camera brand you can think of from Panavision to Arri to Moviecam. Once I mastered that I moved onto the inner workings of each camera and how is acts.

These steps is what makes you stand out from other camera assistants and filmmakers. If you are not interning then find a local rental house near by and ask if you can play with some of their gear. This will show the other filmmakers in the prep bay that you have a willingness and drive to learn the equipment and do things the right way.

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While still trying to get my foot through the door in the film community I decided to work in the audiovisual field where I would cut my teeth at properly loading and unloading 18 wheelers full of audio video and lighting gear stacked 7 feet high above me. Learning this taught me how to load a bunch of camera gear into much smaller trucks in a smart safe way.

There is not a big difference between the film industry and audiovisual industry as one has more people working on the same project than the other. I have learned many different techniques from both film and audiovisual that I applied to both industries on many different projects.

Learning and practicing how to do things the right way is key because if you mess up then it shows you how to learn from that mistake. I am not saying that I am perfect as I am far from it as I am human too, but if you are on set or show site and you do mess up then let your leader or department head know immediately. It’s better to admit your mistake right then instead of after the fact. The one thing that practicing in your off time will give you are chances to mess up, on a real project if you mess up then you don’t get a second chance.

If you are able to go to film school then do it, if not then try to watch as many films as you can and take your camera out every day and practice different shots. It does not have to be a RED Camera or a BlackMagic Cinema Camera, it can be a Handycam or iPhone. If you are serious about becoming a filmmaker as a cinematographer, camera operator, camera assistant, etc..then learn the technique and practice over and over.

I remember when I was coming up through the business you had to do it the “Old Hollywood Way” which meant working your way up the ladder from a PA to a Camera PA to a Film Loader etc..That is is still true to this day on bigger projects. Shooting on 35mm and 16mm was still king back in 2003 as digital really did not start to take off until 2006. Through the years we all wanted 24 frames per second, now we have that and a lot more in what I refer to as the “All in One Coke Machines“.

The industry is all hyped up on 4k and cropping it in post production that we don’t realize that as much time as it takes us to crop that shot in post production we could have easily switched lenses. Sure there are times and situations where we need to crop in but come on don’t take the lazy way out. Taking that extra 5 seconds to switch lenses because it does make a difference in how your shot looks. If anything use a zoom lens and in-between questions zoom into your subject a little more. Go from a medium shot to a close-up.

All of these digital cinema cameras are very nice but if you don’t know the techniques then what good does that do you. It will make your project look like crap as I have seen it before.

Someone once said to me that there are people in this business that want to do it and there are some that really want to do it. That is what I tell everyone when I am a guest speaker or when I do workshops. If you have a hard work ethic and are driven then people will notice right away. Whether you are a hobbyist, semi-professional or a seasoned veteran like me you never stop learning.

Always be a sponge, do I know a lot of techniques sure but you can always teach a new dog old tricks. Someone might have a different technique that they have learned that might work for you and make your job easier. Always remember that filmmaking is a collaborative effort by everyone, leave your egos at home and don’t throw anyone under the bus because that no only embarrasses the person but it embarrass you as well.

Corey Steib an Award Winning Cinematographer working in Film and Video Production for 13 years on over 200 Films, Commercials, and Live Events. http://www.coreysteib.com

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