Becoming DP: Camera side of Grip?
I am young filmmaker who is trying to figure out the best route to becoming a DP.
Now I am aware that there is no such thing as one-route but I am trying to decide what department
should I start learning the craft from, from the Grip side or the Camera?
I want to join the local union here in Toronto but cannot figure out which dept to steer to.
Ive mainly have worked as 2nd AC so far but realized that I am not learning anything about lighting which slightly upsets me.
I am very interested in lighting, shaping, giving character and texture to it but I am still amateur. Now Ive recently have done couple of Grip shoots which I enjoyed more doing but am not sure I can physically handle doing the work for long periods of time, eg. weeks (I am 5'2 female, but strong).
I am also thinking of maybe of trying to work in the union as Best-boy/Grip for a job and continuing learning to camera Op on my down time on other small projects since I don't want to abandon the camera side of cinematography.
What advice can anyone give me?
What are the cons and pros of working on either of the departments in the union?
I would highly appreciate any feedback. Thank you.
I have never heard of a key grip becoming a DP, but I have heard and know gaffers who do so. I suspect that what is bothering you right now is a natural impatience to get on to the next step. There is no sure way to do that other than try, try, try. If your current strength lies in camera, keep at it, but look around for non-union gigs helping out in the electrical department. It's a long haul to work you way into union work in the category you love. My hat is off to you.
San Francisco Bay Area
I'm with Rick... never heard of a key grip becoming a DP. I wouldn't say it can't happen, but it's not a usual career path.
Gaffers and camera ops though do, on (rare) occasion, move into DP jobs. I'd say though that cinematography gigs are not commonly start-at-the-bottom-and-work-your-way-up-to-it jobs... that's just not the usual path. Same for directors... people not in the biz probably think that an assistant director is working their way toward becoming a director. More commonly though the usual path is 2nd Second AD to Second AD to First AD to Production Manager... with PM being the end goal.
The more usual route to becoming a DP is studying cinematography and/or photography... and studying under and being mentored by another DP.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Todd- Thank you so much for your reply. I will try tackling as an electric and seek to mentor for DP.
Rick- thank-you for your reply. I highly appreciate it.
I asked myself this question about 8 years ago, and ultimately I moved my way up to DP through the electric department rather than the traditional camera department. I believe I made the right choice!
I would first start by saying however, that either way you should have a strong photographic background. You need a very good understanding of ISO, shutter speeds, lenses and their characteristics, camera accessories and what they do, etc. This can be either still photography and/or motion picture basics. Understanding the core of image capture is paramount no matter what!
One main reason I opted for the electric dept. over camera was that I believe that lighting and logistics are THE indispensable skills that make you truly valuable and well-rounded as a DP. Working as an electric and later as a Gaffer, I was physically accomplishing the DP's lighting schemes and plans. You learn a LOT by doing this because you get to see precisely what each instrument is doing, why it is there, and the effect it gives. You'll be introduced to all the toys and qualities of light. You are also forced to deal with many more logistical challenges than you would in the camera dept, such as cable runs, power issues, how much time things actually take, working in tandem with grips and learning those tools too, etc. Because of this, I personally am much more comfortable tackling different types of locations and scenarios as a DP. I use my knowledge to plan what is and is not really feasible given my production/budget/time parameters. I am confident I can handle tiny spaces, huge spaces, mixed lighting, indoor/outdoor and everything in between, and believe me, having confidence (especially early in your career) in this sort of thing is a HUGE asset. I saw many a seasoned DP in my gaffing days walk into a location and have no idea how to attack it.
I also believe that the times matter. In this day and age where a large (or even basic!) lighting/grip crew is pretty much a luxury, you will be much more valuable if you can quickly and accurately ascertain a location or a scene's visual needs and then execute it. MANY DP jobs, especially those in different forms of TV, documentary, corporate, reality, or commercial, are very minimal in terms of support provided to the DP by way of crew. The less dependent you can be on a large G&E crew, the better off you'll be. Having someone that is is skilled in camera operation AND lighting and electrical knowledge is a Godsend for many producers.
This isn't to say that there is no merit in going the traditional camera route. But the other thing is that digital technology has made cameras much more user-friendly and less cumbersome than they used to be. Intimate, technical knowledge of different camera systems and platforms is not as paramount because today's cameras don't require extensive film stock tests, loading mags, detailed report sheets, or knowledge of a camera's moving parts and capabilities. Sure, it's always nice to have that, but most cameras today have similar basic functions and intuitive design that any good DP can pick up in an afternoon of testing. Camera knowledge that used to be gained almost exclusively by being an AC can now be picked up (at least to a functional degree) with the studying of basic manuals and research. There is no such easy substitute for set lighting and logistical experience.
I'm sure that some might agree or disagree with me, but it all depends on you and what route you want to go. I felt that my aptitudes were best served by the electric dept. and I went that way and haven't regretted it whatsoever!
Eric makes a terrific case for working up through the electric department.
San Francisco Bay Area
[Rick Wise] "Eric makes a terrific case for working up through the electric department."
Indeed he does.
One of the best DPs I was ever around wasn't actually a DP... he was a gaffer.
He used to be the go-to guy if you needed a gaffer in Atlanta. In fact the first time I saw him was back in my wanna-be actor days on a TV movie. I was just a day-player so hadn't met the crew and didn't know the camera op was the DP on the movie... I thought the gaffer Joe was, because he was definitely the guy who was really Making. It. Happen.
I ended up being on several different gigs through the years where he was the gaffer, and frankly he could have DP'd just about anything.
Doing some Googleing, now he apparently owns a lighting/grip company, and doesn't have any IMDB credits for the last few years. So apparently he never became an "official" cinematographer. But he sure could have if he'd wanted to.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Wow, thank-you so so much for that amazing reply! Much gratitude goes out to you for your honesty and for the inspirational feedback. I believe electric is the best the route and I totally agree with you on the camera side, that I can keep continuing learning that on my own.