Wednesday, March 5, 2008

cinematography wisdom

I've noticed that, every so often, people stumble onto my pocket-sized blog after Googling things related to cinematography. Which got me thinking: why the hell don't I write more about cinematography?

So, without further ado, I'm going to address a few of the Google searches which have lead people to me.

cinematography and visual design in the apartment (1960)
Since I haven't seen The Apartment, I can't help you there -- yet. When my shoot ends (Sunday), I'll rent The Apartment and get back to you on that.

ivy league cinematography major
Don't bother. No Ivy League school has a worthwhile film department, and speaking as a USC grad, I'm not even sure I'd recommend going to the big film duo (USC & NYU), which are ridiculously expensive and don't offer a guaranteed return on your investment. Think about it: unlike business, law, or medicine, there's no guarantee you'll get hired out of school. In fact, the chances of you NOT getting work in film are horribly high. And the debt will crush your soul and make you very, very bitter like all my film school buddies.

Instead, learn filmmaking at a community college in L.A. and then transfer to USC (or do community college in N.Y. and then transfer to NYU) for the last year or two, so you can put USC or NYU on your résumé. This is much cheaper than actually attending USC or NYU for all four years, and you'll probably have some of the same instructors you had at the community college (lots of local faculty crossover). Then -- and this is key -- work on EVERY DANGBLASTED PRODUCTION YOU POSSIBLY CAN as a production assistant. Get coffee, pick up dry cleaning, clap a few slates, and after a while you'll know a whole lot of people who can give you more work, and before much longer you'll be the next George Lucas. You never know.

food cinematography
Always use diffused (soft) lighting, always use lighting which is psychologically warm (think golden tones), and more often than not try shooting fake food, since real food looks congealed and gacky FAST. There are mini tripods on wheels which are specially designed for tabletop cinematography, but since I've never used them myself, I'm not going to bother recommending anything here. Try Googling "tabletop cinematography," and you'll find tons of food-shooting resources.

women wearing jodphurs
Not really related to cinematography, but I couldn't resist including this. Let's face it: chicks are hot in jodhpurs, along with shiny black boots and riding crops. When I'm on set, though, I favor a burlap sack and a tutu.

Actually, I tend to wear jeans or cargo pants with a fitted T-shirt, and maybe a hoodie if it's chilly out. Yeah: I totally tomboy out.

Also: if you're shooting outside for even ten minutes, NEVER FORGET SUNBLOCK, SPF 45! I learned this the hard way.

cinematography secrets blog
Noodle around on and you'll learn some great stuff.

Bear in mind that there aren't really secrets, mostly just mistakes which make you wiser. I'll start sharing those over subsequent postings, but here are a few to start you off:

If you don't want people to mix up their water bottles with yours on set, label yours with a Sharpie. This isn't a cinematography secret per se, but I gotta tell ya, it really makes the shoot go a whole lot easier when you're not swapping cooties and what-have-you.

Here's another bit o' wisdom: never wear open-toed shoes. You'd be amazed how often pointy/heavy equipment will fall on your feet, so I'd even recommend steel-toed boots. Optimally, you'd wear steel-toed boots with comfy gel inserts, because you'll be on your feet for hours on end.

In fact, since we're on the topic of clothes, here's something else: do not wear skirts or kilts. I have seen male crew members wear Utilikilts, which seem like a great idea in theory, but they are horrible. Trust me: horrible. As a camera person, or as a grip or electrician, you often have to squinch (technical term) into odd positions, or even climb up ladders, so...yeah. If you're going to insist upon wearing a skirt or kilt, then PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF LINDSAY LOHAN wear shorts underneath. And I'm not talking roomy boxers, either; fitted shorts will do nicely. Leaving things to our imagination is a good thing, people.

panavision genesis 14-bit
It's an awesome digital camera, but it's also built like a tank, so it's not easy for handheld work if you're a pocket-sized cinematographer. I still love it, though.

pronounce cinematographer
Okey dokey: SIN eh mah TAW grah fer.

Incidentally, a cinematographer is also known as a director of photography, which is frequently shortened to 'DP.' Unless you're a zany European, in which case you say 'DoP.' Some cinematographers hate saying 'DP' because it also stands for 'displaced person,' 'disabled person,' and 'double penetration.' Me being me, I don't give a crap; I'm lazy, so I call myself a DP ('dazzlingly phenomenal').

cinematography lesson plans
I have plenty of those, and I'll be goddamned if I'll post them for free! E-mail me (astridica at yahoo dot com) if you'd like private tutelage, or even if you just have random shooting questions. My consultant rate is $60/hour, billed by the quarter hour.

cinematographer business cards
Mine are hand-drawn, and they are also magnetic so that people have to stick them on their fridge, and then they have no choice but to have a reminder of me every day. Who wouldn't love that?


Carpe diem, folks, seize the day. And remember, there's no reason to be intimidated by cameras -- they're technically just sewing machines with lenses on the front and film instead of thread. No lie.

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