I’m going to tell you a story of how one job can be experiences in two different ways.
I am an aspiring cinematographer, and I like to think that I am pretty good at it at this point in my life. Yes, I have much to learn but that all comes with the more hands on experience I get. In the space of a week, I had two different experiences whilst doing the same job. One of which could have made me never want to work in film again, and the other giving me confidence and motivation to continue towards my goals.
The first experience, sadly, is the one that very nearly made me have the talk with myself of “is this really what I want to do? Am I cut out for this industry?”. I was brought on to a project as a DoP, which meant I would be the camera operator, and create the shots that would essentially make this film!
Bare in mind, this was a student film. Not that I’m trying to belittle student films, it is a great place to make and learn from mistakes. But with it being a non-paid job, I did do some things I would NEVER do on a professional set.
So the shoot was for two days, day 1 the Director would stop me from taking control of the camera, shush me constantly, and asked for someone else’s opinion of shots as opposed to me; his supposed DoP. I spent that day doubting myself over and over again; “does he not like my style?” “Does he think I’m not good at this job?” so much so that I went to my friend on the sound department countless times “Please can you tell me, honestly, if I am doing well?” I doubted myself that much, I was looking for confirmation from another friend. Which is not the way it should be.
This friend of mine is honest with me with everything, so if I was doing a bad job then he would definitely not sugar coat it. But he told me I am good at what I do, and it’s not me, it’s the Director. He has a reputation of being difficult to work with. So I continue the rest of the shoot biting my tongue for the majority of it. I was ignored, spoken over, treated like dirt by this Director. Until I snapped.
As I say, I am not particularly proud of this, but there are certain things I will not stand for.
We were meant to be out the location by 4:30pm, by 4:45pm we were finishing up the last of our mid and wide shots, so I was very eager to get out the location so as not to anger the owner. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you! Don’t annoy the owner of the location that you are using! So by 4:45pm I am being told “I want these closeups” which I totally get, but with the time restraints the pressure was on. So with that, I am telling him to tell me EXACTLY what it is he wants, the shot angle, what he wants in the shot, everything! Because we needed to get moving! With that, he speaks to me in a contradicting voice and micromanages exactly what he wants, leaving out any creative freedom.
This is basically what he had been doing with not only the crew but with the actors for the past two days. This is DEFINITELY not what you do with either crew or cast.
So, after telling him to listen to me (because he kept talking over me) he continued to NOT LISTEN so I cracked. I turned around, and said “I’m not doing this. You’re not listening to me and I am not being treated this way.” And I walked out. He was completely oblivious as to why I walked out, despite being told by others that his attitude was terrible.
Now for the second experience. That very weekend I went to meet up with a friend of mine that I met at West London Film Studios to sit in on a rehearsal for his short film. Prior to this, I was told there was a second DoP that was going to be initially filming, because we were going to be using her equipment. But after an issue between herself and the Director, she was removed from the project. Making me the sole DoP for this short film!
Safe to say, I was nervous but very excited!
For the next 4 hours, I went through a couple of scenes with the director and actors and we organised the shot list and blocking for the actors. During this time, it was a wonderful experience! I was included in every decision making in relation to the camera. I felt like the communication between myself and the director was professional and honest, so if I gave an idea he listened. He trusted me with my choices. That in itself was an amazing feeling.
Having spent two days earlier that week feeling like I wasn’t any good at this job, it felt marvellous to be told that “Yes! You are doing a great job! I’m so happy to have you on this project!”
And that is the main difference between these two experiences. The first one very nearly made me question my entire life choices of going into this industry, but the second experience only fuelled my passion further. Of course I’m going to have complications with directors (and even actors) in the future, but it is from going through these current experiences I will be in abetter place to tackle these issues in the future.
I should have handled the first experience better than I did, and I admit I was in the wrong to lash out the way I did. But it is only from going through these different experiences that you realise how to respond in a professional manner. These three tips can be used for any working industry;