Don’t Only Hire a DP because they own a RED Camera!
Now before I get a bunch of hate mail please let me explain. I love cinematographers. You can’t make a movie without one and I don’t take their craft lightly. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast. Being a DP is by far one of the toughest positions on set. The pressure is immense.
With that said the explosion of low-cost cameras (RED Camera, Black Magic, Canon 5D, Nikon, iPhones, etc) and lighting gear has thrown a huge amount of “cinematographers” into the marketplace.
This podcast is a warning to young and inexperienced filmmakers not to hire, not only a director of photography but any top-level crew member solely because they own some of the latest cool gear.
This advice also goes for sound department, editorial, lighting, visual effects and definitely color grading. When hiring any top-level positions on a film production it should be based on resume, demo reel, credits and/or reputation.
Related: Why filmmaker SHOULDN’T Shoot 4k
It takes a lot of time to learn a craft as complex as cinematography so don’t be fool by someone who happens to have the new 12K Camera that hit the market. Owning a RED Camera or equivalent doesn’t make you a cinematographer, years of working and learning your craft does. BTW, that 12K camera doesn’t exist yet just in case you were going to google it.
Now if you have two cinematographers in the running to shoot your first indie feature film, short film or film project and one has a full RED Camera (DRAGON) or Arri ALEXA package and the other one doesn’t then, by all means, hire the great DP that owns gear (only if you can handle the post workflow).
Listen to my podcast: Understand Post Production Workflow of DIE! for more on that.
Owning your own “kit” or gear is almost a must to work in the film business today. Hell, I own my own gear and I package deals all the time that would cost a ton if you would have to hire a colorist and a separate color grading rig.
All I’m saying is don’t hire a crew member just because of the gear he or she owns. You’ll thank me. Take a listen to this episode to hear my horror story that cost me over $50,000. OUCH!
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Netflix for Filmmakers and Screenwriters)
- Martin Scorsese Film Directing Masterclass
- Ron Howard Film Directing Masterclass
- Spike Lee Film Directing Masterclass
- Werner Herzog Filmmaking MasterClass
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting MasterClass
- Mira Nair Independent Filmmaking Masterclass
- David Mamet Dramatic Writing MasterClass
- Shonda Rhimes Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the Creator of Scandal
- Steve Martin Teaches Comedy Writing & Acting MasterClass
- Annie Leibovitz Masterclass: Learn Photography from the Legend
- Jimmy Chin Masterclass: Learn Adventure Photography
- Judd Apatow Comedy Writing/Directing Masterclass
- Six Secrets to get into Film Festivals for FREE!
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
If you like Don’t only hire DPs because they own a RED Camera, take a listen to:
Suki Medencevic ASC & the Art of Cinematography
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I welcome thoughts and remarks on ANY of the content above in the comments section below…
Please note some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase or use a service. Understand that I have experience with all of these services, products, and companies, and I recommend them because they’re extremely helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I earn if you decide to buy something.
Transcription – Indie Film Hustle Podcast Episode #18.
Welcome to the Indie Film Hustle Podcast Episode Number 18.
“The only safe thing is to take a chance.”- Mike Nichols
Thank you guys for listening to another episode of the Indie Film Hustle Podcast. Remember head on over to freefilmbook.com that’s freefilmbook.com to get your free audio book from and you can choose from over forty thousand different titles. So it’s my gift to you guys. Today is a episode I think that’s long overdue. It’s something that a lot of first time filmmakers make mistakes and this is kind of in my series of pitfalls and things still look out for. This is just based on my experience as a filmmaker and as a post guy as well seeing it from other filmmakers point of view but today’s story and today’s topic is something I learned the hard way at the very very beginning of my career is not to hire a cinematographer based on gear and gear alone.
And that is a mistake a lot of first time filmmakers or filmmakers in general make because they get glassy eyed one DP shows them a new RED Camera or I have an ALEXA or this and that. So I want to talk to a little bit about what a cinematographer is and I’m sure I’ll go over really quickly. I’m a sure most of you know what a cinematographer is but I have the utmost respect for cinematographers and cinematography. It is a very difficult job as a colorist I see what they do. I see a lot of times people see the final image and they don’t realize how difficult the day of the shoot was or that production in a given the lights that they need or their assistant camera stuck that day or a million other things but the DP gets blamed for it especially in the color room because all you see is a final image. So it’s a DP’s job to make sure that final image looks as good as possible regardless of the problems but it’s a lot of times a thankless job in many ways.
It’s great. They praise you when you do good and they destroy you when you do bad. So it’s a tough job so I have the utmost respect for cinematographers. Now with that said the explosion of low cost camera gear and lighting gear has exploded the number of quote unquote cinematographers in the marketplace all around the world not just Los Angeles. All around the world. I had this happen to me in Miami but as well as other places as well. Around the world as well here in Los Angeles as well. So the problem is that nowadays people say well if you bought a RED Camera.
Does that make you a cinematographer because let’s say I have one hundred fifty thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket and I go out and buy a full blown RED Cinema Dragon system full set of lenses the best money can buy and then you know I have also have a fifty thousand dollar equipment truck with every piece of lighting known to man. You would assume that someone who’s purchased all this gear would know what they’re doing.
But time and time again I’ve realized that that’s not necessarily the case. So when you hire a DP. You must look at their work you must interview them, you must understand it if they understand the kind of budget level you’re at because you can get an Academy Award winning DP. But if they’re used to playing with very big toys and your budget is one hundred thousand dollars. It’s not a good fit. So that’s on a side note but I’m going to tell you the story of what happened to me when I first first got in the business. Shot my very first big big thing. I was shooting back in the early ninety’s. I was shooting on film thirty five millimeter film believe it or not. And I knew this company that happen to have film cameras lighting kits.
They had a whole business shooting a bunch of different things. They have a sound stage everything all in Miami. And these guys wanted some new cool stuff on there real. So I told him look you know if you guys jump on board. You know I’ll give you a copy of it for your real and you know blah blah blah and we all kind of work together. But on the outset it looked like these guys knew what they were doing. I mean they had a full business doing it. What I didn’t realize is the business that they were in. Was kind of like inferential kind of lighting and corporate video kind of stuff. They had no idea how to do a high end fashion Nike commercial which is what I was doing and I was doing, actually did three commercials with them and I was shooting thirty five and they had thirty five millimeter cameras and it cost me about fifty thousand dollars to do my demo real which was about three what ended up being five commercial spots.
When it was all said and done. So I packaged them all out to do him in like five days and you know it and try to do it is you know affordably as possible because there was no digital anything back then. It was like I was barely able to edit this on an avid back in the day. But anyway. So we went to start shooting and I didn’t get one DP. I got two DP’s and now my crew was top notch. I had a good producer who was working with me and she basically inherited these DP’s and all their gear she didn’t choose them she didn’t know she was a seasoned professional. After day one the crew. That day one. Excuse me. Hour one the crew walked off the set from them because I said we’re not working with these guys, these guys are idiots. They have no idea what they’re doing. So the producer had talk them back.
Blah blah blah. Because the crew was actually a professional film crew. But these guys were complete idiots and what happened is if you ever are on a set with two DP’s you need to run away. There’s no reason for two DP’s ever at all. There is a DP. There’s a grapher that’s standard but two actual Director Photographers with credits as Director Photographers both of them talking about how they’re going to light the scene. It is absolutely insanity. The crew members for years later after I worked with many other projects they kept referring to them as two monkey DP’s because they would just jump all over the set.
They used to use a light meter and they would light and they would check the light meter. Fifty times a minute to see how their lighting was and they would pull out four hundred lights from their massive group truck to light this scene and the crew was like what are these guys doing. So I was pushing the envelope. I was shooting very unique stock of film.
I actually gave them a booklet that I created on how to shoot the stock of film it was called Reversal Film Stock to get some very unique looks and I even felt that didn’t know they had never shot anything like this before so I did all the research to have them understand it and then I was on top of them a lot of times because I’m technical so I was like what’s your what’s your F-STOP and you know how is it and what are you doing in with all this kind of stuff so fast forward to the entire the endless thing.
One of the commercials came out so so horribly horribly bad. That I literally burned the negative. I didn’t give it to them. I actually went outside of my house opened up a big metal pan dump to the thirty five millimeter negative in there and burned it because I would never I never wanted to let anyone see this
let alone them get their hands on it because they would have promoted it as their work and I didn’t want my name attached to anything like that. So I had to then reshoot a bunch of stuff with another DP who was actually a real DP who also had his own camera but I saw his work and he came highly recommended. And so on and so forth but that experience taught me that you never hire a cinematographer based on the gear that he brings. The gear that he brings is a huge plus.
Nowadays these owner operators are becoming the norm. Because you can hire a DP who owns a RED camera that’s just part of his day rate or owns an ALEXA or owns his own lens packages and the DP is doing that because that way he gets more work or she gets more work and that’s wonderful. And there’s a lot of DP’s you know I did an interview with my good friend Suki who’s in the AC amazing cinematographer. He owns his own ALEXA camera. You know because he wants to own his own ALEXA camera and it makes him a more valuable DP because he has his own camera because now every almost every DP has his own packages.
Even the biggest DP’s will have. You know I was talking to a Get More Tutorials DP’s right hand man who’s a good friend of mine and they own twenty ALEXAs And you know fifteen or twenty RED Camera and they rented out and that’s just part of their business plan. Now so there’s nothing wrong with a DP that owns their own gear but you can’t hire them based solely upon the gear that they bring to the table and that goes with anybody with anything. Sound guy that has all the greatest gear.
I’ve had bad experiences with that as well. You know you can’t hire people based on the gear that they bring. You have to make sure that they can do the job right. I would rather hire someone who doesn’t have their own gear who could do the job right. And rent the gear somehow or hopefully find someone that has both together. So a word of warning don’t hire people based on their gear. Look at their work interview them. Ask for references because I’m telling you, you will get burned.
You will get burned badly and I did it on a small you know commercial shoot. You know fifty thousand dollars not small to me but comparable to a million dollar movie, a half a million dollar movie or feature you know small I did thirty second spots. So I would have done a full short film with them with these guys for three four weeks on a feature. I would have shot somebody literally I think.
And I think the crew would have cried done the job for me. So don’t hire monkey DP’s. Now I’m joking. You know just like I said before hire people based on their merit and on their skill, on their real and on the personality if they mix with you or not because the DP is your right hand guy as a director as a filmmaker. If they if you don’t mix with your DP it’s going to be a long long long long shoot. So make sure. And it’s kind of like dating. You know before you jump in to marriage you should date them, talk to them really get to know them make sure you’re making the right decision because it is a relationship that you will have an intense relationship you will have for the duration of issue whether that be a few days which is not that big of a deal but if you’re in a feature can be extremely detrimental to your final product or absolutely beneficial if you hire the right person because a DP can also save your butt.
If you’re not a technical director and compose shots for you and you can handle the actors and things like that. There’s a lot of things a good DP prints to the table and it’s imperative to have a good DP when shooting a feature film. So I hope this story word of warning helps you guys. I hope that you will hire people based on their merit and not on the gear that they bring to the table. No matter how beautiful the gear is. Don’t care what new RED Camera it is, don’t care what ALEXA it is, don’t care anything and same goes for post just because a guy owns a full blown color system make sure he does he knows what he’s doing. Make sure he has colored a bunch of movies. Make sure he understands how to deal with your
kind of file format. I mean it goes with every crew member that brings gear or has gear to bring to the table. All right. So I hope it was helpful to you guys. Thanks for listening. Remember head on over to iTunes. You can just go to indiefilmhustle.com/itunes and leave me an honest review on the podcast. It really helps us out a lot to get these reviews and helps us get the word out on Indie Film Hustle. So thanks again for your time guys. Keep hustling keep making your movies. Don’t let your dreams fall to the wayside. You gotta keep going no matter what. Alright. Thanks again guys talk to us soon.