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Modern Cinematographer | The podcast dedicated to the business behind cinematography

  • Hybrid Roles in the Film Industry and Art-List.io with DP Ira Belsky

    Show Notes

    Preditor = Producer + Director + Editor
    DP-Preneur = DP + Entrepeneur

    Hybrid Roles in the film industry

    01:05 – Filmmakers aren’t restricting themselves to being solely directors, editors, or DPs. People are taking on hybrid roles like Director+DP or DP+Colorist, etc. This a trend that will continue into the future.

    High End Production = Specialize

    01:25 – At the very high level of feature films and commercials, people specialize because the projects are so big that it would be impossible to fill multiple roles at once.

    New Media Landscape = Hybrid

    01:45 Cinematic branded content is a hybrid of commercial, a short film, a documentary and it helps broadcast a company/brand’s message to it’s customers.

    02:20 The visual quality bar is much because of access to quality cameras and post production. Micro budget content is starting to look like the 1 million dollar commercials and feature films.

    The Pros of Hybrid Roles

    02:42 The DP + Colorist has more creative control and authorship over the final image. Shooting and Coloring are part of the same image making pipeline and technology is allowing modern cinematographer to both shoot and color.

    The Old Ways

    03:00 When DPs shot film they never really had a hand in the color timing process. They were often there supervising but the actual process and mechanics were too complicated and specialized.

    03:20 With Digital Intermediate technology, systems like DaVinci and Pablo were tied to expensive hardware that were not accessible to DPs. They cost millions of dollars and training on the systems meant working night shifts and apprenticing under a “master” colorist.

    03:40 These days DaVinci is free and can be run on a modest laptop computer. Black Magic Design, who own DaVinci, also manufacture really decent digital cinema cameras that are incredibly affordable.

    With these cameras and post production software, anyone can create imagery that would have cost millions of dollars to produce in the past.

    04:00 These days people are skipping the “paying your dues” phase. They want to jump right in to the learning the skills that are 1:1 relevant to being a cinematographer and a colorist.

    Internet of Things

    Access to affordable quality equipment (Black Magic Ursa Mini + Xeen Prime Lenses) and access to affordable post production software and hardware (Macbook Pro + Adobe Premiere + DaVinci Resolve) have lowered the barrier to creating professional imagery.

    Online learning resources like Cinematography Database (yes this site!) and others like it have given access to information that was hidden away in NYC and LA.

    The Cons of Hybrid Roles

    05:30 The obvious con of having a hybrid role is danger of being a “Jack of All Trades and a Master of None.” Traditionally this was a bad thing in the industry. People valued specialists and the goal was to be the best at one type of thing.

    I’ve followed this methodology in my career and I’ve achieved success within my speciality or niche. However, there are more avenues these days to create content. We are not limited to the traditional :30 TV commercial, 30 minute TV show, or 90 minute feature film.

    With these new avenues of content, there is more room for hybrid roles and for individual filmmakers to retain more control of the final product.

    The Modern Cinematographer (and colorist)

    05:50 The modern cinematographer today can learn both cinematography and coloring at the same time.

    Cinematographer A – Specializes in learning cinematography only.
    Cinematographer B – Learns cinematography and coloring.

    Cinematographer A may progress more quickly at gaining cinematography skills in the short term, than Cinematographer B who is also learning coloring.

    Cinematographer B, long term, will be a better cinematographer for learning both cinematography and coloring at the same time. They are both part of the image making pipeline and they inform each other.

    As you travel the DP or Colorist Spectrum, you will likely specialize. But having learned both cinematography and coloring early on, you will have better perspective on the craft you chose to specialize in.

    Online Course on Cinematography + Coloring

    I want to work with Black Magic Design who create the Black Magic Ursa Mini digital cinema camera and DaVinci Resolve, the industry standard coloring software.

    I want to create a series of online courses that teach the fundamental concepts of cinematography and coloring together. They are both part of the same image making pipeline and modern cinematographers should learn them together. <3

    My Hybrid Background Makes Me a Better Team Player

    09:30 I have a background in directing, shooting, coloring, compositing, and 3D. Today I specialize in shooting but my background and fundamental understanding of other fields allows me to place myself in others position.

    I have a better understanding of what I can do as a cinematographer to make their lives easier and the final product better. That is the goal of a modern cinematographer. You must understand the full image making pipeline, understand your role in the pipeline, and how you can make the best final image.

    Learning Audio Recording and Mixing

    10:00 To produce content for Cinematography Database I’ve had to learn how to record and edit audio. And I’m terrible at it, but I’m working and improving every day.

    10:44 One thing I don’t have the time or experience to do on my own is produce quality music. And music is important to making compelling Podcasts, Youtube videos, and online courses.

     

    Art-List.io and Ira Belsky

    Ira Belsky

    Ira is a Cineamtographer-Preneur or DP-Preneur. He is a working commercial DP and a entreneur. Ira created Art-List out of a want and a need to make quality content. Art-list.io is a platform that connects real world musicians with real world filmmakers.

    There are quality musians who need to make a living licensing their music and there are quality filmmakers who need music. Art-list is a $200 /year subscription service that gives filmmakers unlimited access to a large library of music made by real artists.

    12:00 MW: I found Art-list.io from the beautiful branding films that Ira shot. They were shot economically but they have a look of a much more “expensive” production.

    Ira Belsky Interview

    13:43 MW: You have a cool story, you are a working cinematographer. But you have a new company called Art-list. Can you talk to me about your journey from cinematographer to entrepreneur?

    14:00 IB: I was always working as a DP and editor at the same time. Music was always a big part of my production workflow. I felt like there wasn’t a good source of music that was affordable that I could use for any project.

    Dealing with licensing on other platforms took me out of the creative process. I knew a lot of musicians and web developers so we had this idea of building a platform of our own. That is where Art-List came from. Out of necessity of good music.

    15:08 MW: The more DPs I talk to I’m finding that there are less specialized cinematographers. Filmmakers are becoming more hybrids.

    I’ve been a specialized DP for 10 years but now I find myself having to do my own audio, editing, etc. and I need quality music for my content.

    Art List Branding Films

    16:00 MW: I love the idea of seeing the artist who are performing the music. We get to see who’s music we are using.

    Can you talk about how the branding films and the campaign came together?

    16:40 IB: We knew from the start that the audience is making their owns films. They are enlightened customers. The key point we wanted to make was that Art List was a source for real music, not stock music.

    The artists love making music. From the beginning there was this idea of bringing the musician up front. At the end of the day Art-List is about the music and the artist who makes it.

    18:51 MW: The branding films are great, I felt like I was watching a movie about the musician. It’s a great alternative to a music video and a great way to promote the artist.

    19:30 IB: The musicians know video is so important and for them they love being able to speak and give insight into WHY they do what they do. They loved the opportunity and the end results.

    The Concepts and Techniques

    20:11 MW: Can you talk about what cameras, lenses, and how did you come to your decisions on those?

    21:00 IB: One of the key aspects was the fact was that I was the client and the filmmaker. And that gave me freedom to my creative choices. The hybrid that is commercial but guided my creative instincts will influence my future work.

    London, I chose the Sony FS7. And I knew I could count on it. I knew that it had great dynamic range and low light. It’s a great one-man crew camera. We used Canon L Series 24-70mm f2.8 lenses. Chasing a zoom was based on the fact that I would have to things very quickly.

    23:33 IB: There are a couple of key things that I do:

    1. Knowing the camera you are using and how it will work in post production.
    2. When I come to a room, I turn off all of the lights and look at the daylight from the windows.
    3. I try to work with the natural fall off of the light. Where are the spaces in the room I can shoot.
    4. Then I determine how much of the background I want to feature in the shot.
    5. I use long lenses to selectively chose what I want in the background. I want to limit what the audience sees.
    6. I want to focus the frame and try to get as little information as possible. Keeping the decisions precise to what you want to show.

    25:58 MW: I think the approach works for any size project.

    I heard that “the best director and DPs, they pick the spot where the light or location looks the best.” that is 90% of the job.

    You choice of what you show and don’t show in camera is the core of filmmaking.

    Once you learn the camera, you forget about it and you just use your eyes and mind to see the location you are in.

    28:00 IB: The film here I shot with the FS7, the Ursa Mini, the Red Dragon, and the Pocket Cinema camera. Each of these cameras have their strengths and shine in certain situations. If you get to know them, you can get great results.

    29:00 MW: There are new avenues with style of content that allow filmmakers to be hybrids and have more control and authorship over the image and still get great results.

    30:00 IB: Back in the day someone who was a DP was just a DP. And they think that by doing multiple roles brings the value down.

    But the tools are available to everyone. You don’t need 20 years experience to use a proper camera or a use a proper editing and coloring suite.

    People are talented and they want a certain look and they will go the extra mile to learn how to do it. No matter how many hours they need to spend learning it.

    31:50 MW: Where can people go online to learn more about Art-List?

    32:00 IB: The idea is to bring music into this generation that wants access to everything, so they can create quality content but not have to spend money they do not have.

    Today you can follow us on Facebook and there is a landing page (pre-launch) that will give you 5 free songs for signing up.

     

    Art-List.io

    Art-List.io Website
    Art-List.io – Facebook Page
    Art-List.io – Website

     

    Art-List Branded Films

     

    Behind the Scenes Gallery

    Art-List Branding Films BTS Ira Belsky

    Art-List Branding Films BTS Ira Belsky

    Art-List Branding Films BTS Ira Belsky

    Art-List Branding Films BTS Ira Belsky

  • Shoot, Curate, Share and “Born To” with DP Stephen Murphy

    “Shoot, Curate, Share (SCS) is a strategy that is going to enable you to build your personal cinematographer brand.”

    00:48 – Cinematographers today, are not only responsible for making beautiful imagery, they’re also responsible for marketing themselves and networking. SCS is a strategy that is going to help you do that, so you can move along the DP Spectrum.

    03:45 – It’s hard for DPs to market themselves. That is traditionally what agents are for. These days cinematographers need to market themselves and be aware of the brand that they are projecting into the world.

    4:20 – SCS is something you can do to market yourself from your house.

    0450 – You need to shoot great content. You need to curate the content on your website. You need to share it. Each part is equally important.

    Shoot!

    05:15 – You need to create great work and your passion needs to show in that work. That is your main way of getting attention. People respond to quality work.

    05:55 – The problem is “how are people going to find you?” The internet is a busy place, standing out is difficult, even if you have quality work.

    06:20 – You need to curate your work so people can find you.

    Curate

    06:30 – You need to get copies of your final projects for your personal reel. This is where it all begins. Ask the production company for a copy or take a copy from Youtube/Vimeo/etc. if that is an option.

    07:10 – You need to host that video online. I suggest Vimeo.com There is a free option and it’s also a very lively community in itself. Upload your final work to Vimeo and you can then link to the videos to show people your work.

    08:20 – You need a website. You should buy FirstnameLastname.com or .me or .co When people Google your name, your website will come up first.

    08:55 – If you are terrified of web design, go to SquareSpace.com and sign up for their basic account. Their sites are beautiful, they have portfolio templates, and they are affordable. I’m not sponsored by SqauareSpace, just a huge fan.

    Online Portfolio

    09:40 – Put the best 6 of your videos from Vimeo into a portfolio on Squarespace or your website.

    “Only put up the work that projects what you’re about visually. Share the kind of work that you want to do in the future.  You don’t want to show work that you didn’t enjoy shooting. Enjoyment of the process is  important.”

    11:15 – You can take the best 3 or 6 pieces of work that really show what you are about. People don’t want to think when they go to your website. They want a quick cohesive representation of you.

    It’s possible that they won’t even watch your videos. Some times within 10 seconds of just looking at the thumbnails, they will know if they want to work with you.

    12:12 – They haven’t met you yet. They will judge you from your website.

    12:30 – You don’t want to do web design. You want to shoot and to create and share.

    Contact Info

    12:50 –  Contact page or section should have all of your info and your agent’s info if you have one. This should be insanely easy to find within 5 seconds.

    Blog / Journal / Case Studies

    13:50 – Blogging will make you stand out from the crowd.

    No matter where you are on the DP spectrum, to most people your work looks identical to other DPs work that are at the same place in the spectrum.

    15:00 – Think of each blog post as a case study.

    You want to SHOOT and then DOCUMENT your shoot. Get the permission of the director and the production company and tell them that you want to make a case study of the shoot.

    15:30 – Take photos and write about your process on the shoot. Put this all into one blog post.

    16:00 – When someone comes to your website they can see how you work and how you approach problems. They can picture themselves working with you.

    16:30 – Blogging is another opportunity to sell yourself and to broadcast how you like to work. That will attract people who like to work, the way you like to work.

    16:65 – You can link to the Production Company and Director. You are now a business partner. You are helping market and promote them online.

    17:05 – I’ve seen blogging sky rocket DPs career.

    Your website and social media are opportunities for people to get to know you, that do not currently know you.

    Share

    18:00 – Social media is important.

    If you want to make money and get work from social media, should not post a stream of consciousness that is incoherent.

    18:55 – The director goes to your website. They like your work and your blog. They are going to look you up on Facebook and Instagram. This is your opportunity to extend your brand and for them to get to know you even better.

    20:00 – You should try to be best at one niche at a time. You should put photos on Instagram that support that nice.

    20:30 – You want to share a link to your blog post on Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter etc. Tag the director and production company and they will really appreciate you bringing positive attention to them.

    It reminds them that you are valuable beyond just shooting their project.

    21:22 – Facebook, share your blog posts and case studies. Instagram share photos that support your DP brand.

    Figure out what you are going for. It’s strong to be in one niche at a time. You can have several niches over your career however.

    21:45 – People want to go to your website and say “You’re the THIS, I’m looking for THAT. Let’s work together.”

    21:50 – Some people want to be good at everything. But when you are good at everything, you aren’t considered the best at any one thing.  And people are looking for the best and you want to show them the best.

    “Born To” with DP Stephen Murphy Interview

     

    View Stephen’s Work Online!

    23:30
    MW: How did you first get contacted about the project

    23:40
    SM: I’d worked with the director before as a 2nd unit DP and this project came up and he called me. It came together pretty quickly.

    The Amuse Brand is the subsidiary of the Vice Magazine company. This was the first in a three part series.

    25:03
    MW: Can you talk about how the anamorphic look and how you pitched it?
    SM: The original brief said that they wanted this to be as cinematic as possible.
    In the past people would be pushing me to shoot this on a 5D or C300. But everyone here wanted to make this particular piece as cinematic as possible.

    So I recommended Anamorphic. It was the most obvious suggestion I could make to push it towards a more cinematic piece.

    27:50
    MW: People are producing content for 5:4 vertical for phones. What is your take on that?

    SM: Vertical would be different. Vertical would be a proper bullock.

     

    29:00
    SM: A lot of what I do is online content. But I still try not to consider the phone as the viewing format. In my head I aim bigger. I want it to fill a bigger screen and that drives the decisions I’m going to make.

    I really hope that we don’t get to a place that we have to shoot content for a smaller screen specifically.

    31:15
    SM: If at all possible, I’ll shoot for the bigger screen. If you think about shooting for a smaller screen you may box yourself into thinking smaller.

    32:10
    MW: I didn’t come from shooting for the big screen. My DP sensibilities are not tuned for the big screen. I think that is a great take away that if you can tune your sensibilities for the big screen, that will make your work stand out.

    33:33
    SM: There are always going to be jobs that have very technical requirements that needs to be shot in a particular way.

    If the goal is to present something cinematic. How it’s going to be viewed, shouldn’t limit the thought process behind how we are going to shoot it.

    35:09
    MW: Can we talk about the camera and lenses that you shot this project with and how those decisions were made?
    SM: We had a conversation about shooting on 35mm, but the turn around was so fast and the film labs were too busy to get the rushes back to us in time.

    We decided to go digital, and my first choice is the Alexa. But we needed to stay light so we wouldn’t be able to shoot ARRIRAW or shoot high speed in anamorphic mode.

     

    Panavision gave us the Carbon Fiber Dragon and used the C and B Series Anamorphic lenses.

    The crew was the director, myself, the sound recordists, and a focus puller. We had to be able to carry everything ourselves.

    A handheld camera. 4 lenses and a tripod. No client monitor. We stayed very mobile, so we could hop in a car, land at a location, and be shooting in 5 minutes.

    38:00
    MW: People think that you need a big crew to achieve big images. But its really just about you and your decisions, not the gear.

    38:50
    MW: How did you approach the lighting given the doc style of the shoot?
    SM: We needed to work around the schedule of the athletes. They are training and working for an event.

    We hadn’t seen any of the locations before we landed on the first day of the shoot. We all knew that.

    We designed our visual approach around that.  We didn’t bring any light or bounces at all.

    When I work in a documentary style, I like to work quickly. And keeping things minimal helps me do that.

    40:50
    SM: We shot towards the sun frequently to give the scene a more 3D dimensional feel. We needed to stay nimble to capture the natural light quickly.

    42:15
    MW: You have a great “Big Screen” Aesthetic no matter if it’s content or a movie. Can you keep this look when you are shooting multiple cameras?
    SM: When you say two cameras, are they shooting 180 degrees from each other. Or are they on the same axis, 90 degrees at most?

    The thing about shooting two cameras, I don’t think about it being different if it’s a feature, commercials, or doc.

    If you want it to look good we should shoot towards the light. If we can stage things towards the window and towards the sun and have a second camera on the same axis, that is fine.

    If the camera needs to shoot 180 degrees, it’s a little trickier. But I would still push to shoot towards the windows.

    47:20
    
MW: I think it’s cool that director’s are trusting the DPs and not living at the monitor.
    SM: We would not have been able to do this shoot if we had added monitors and remote video and focus gear.

    John, is very good and he trusts the cinematographer. He would glance over my shoulder and see the onboard monitor. And was happy to see playback off of the camera.

     

    Born To | Episode 1 Freediving

    Born To | Episode 2 Freerunning

    Stephen Murphy Online!

    Online Portfolio – Link
    Facebook – Link
    Instagram – Link
    Twitter – Link

  • The DP Spectrum and “By the Sea” with DP Christian Berger

    In this episode, we breakdown the “DP Spectrum” and define the different steps along a DP’s journey and career. We also interview Oscar nominated cinematographer Christian Berger about his work on “By the Sea,” that was directed and stars Angelina Jolie.  Christian also provides some valuable insight on the Cine Reflect Lighting System, that he invented and used to light “By the Sea” and his previous films.

    Show Notes / Overview

    01:40 Matt: Every DP is on a journey.  The DP Spectrum is a way to understand where you are on that journey.

    02:15 Matt: DP#001 – You can picture yourself as a DP and you want to start your journey.  You may be a student, PA, crew member, or someone who works outside of the film industry. You are a DP in your mind, but not in reality.

    03:30 Matt: DP#002 – You are a DP and you’ve shot a couple of jobs and you are hooked.  You are considering becoming a full time DP.  You want to choose Cinematography as your major, or stop working as an AC or Gaffer, or quit your day job to pursue being a DP full time.

    05:24 Matt: DP#003 – You are an established DP in your market.  You are shooting consistently and you have a website and are building a good reputation and reel.  The stakes are higher for you and your are used to a certain lifestyle and you need a certain amount of income to sustain your lifestyle.  The competition is tougher.

    06:55 Matt: DP#004 – You have been given your first BIG project.  A movie, a TV show, a big campaign or music video.  You are now competing at a higher level.

    08:30 Matt: DP#005 – You have done a great job and you need to continue to work at that level.

    08:48 Matt: DP#006 – You have been at the top of your game for a while.  You’ve won awards and doing really well.  You’ve found success with a certain style but the market has changed and you need to reinvent yourself.

    DP Spectrum

    10:49 Matt: Each progressive step up the DP Spectrum is harder than the previous one.  You may think that it will be easier once you have a reel, once you’ve won an award, once you have an agent.  But the truth is that it’s harder.

    11:45 Matt: the DP journey is a marathon, not a sprint.  It will take many years and it doesn’t get easier at the end of the journey.

    12:10 Matt: the first step is easy, get a camera and shoot something.  Now you can call yourself a DP.  This is easier than it has ever been because of access to quality digital cinema cameras.

    12:50 Matt: the next step is get your first jobs.  Your employers are looking for someone that can capture an image and not mess up the process.  If you can do this, you will improve and move up the spectrum.

    13:40 Matt: once your are established you need a higher day rate.  Your employers are more decreeing. In some markets the gear that you own might make the decision.  How does a DP stand out from the crowd once you are established.

    14:50 Matt: You shoot your first breakout project.  You have an agent and you are up for some bigger jobs.  You need to be ready to go up against established DPs.  You are a small fish, in a small pool, with much bigger fish.  How do you compete as a new DP on a big agency?

    16:05 Matt: You’ve awards and you have a career that has gotten you to the “top.”  But things have changed, people have retired, and you need to adapt and evolve.  That is the hardest thing to do.

    17:35 Matt: At any point in your career you can brought back to the beginning.  And that is not a bad thing.  Every point along the spectrum is an opportunity to prove yourself again.  And you will have to continue to prove yourself over and over again throughout your career.

    18:30 Matt: The path to success is not a straight line.

    Interview with Christian Berger

    Photos: Universal Pictures
    MC001-ByTheSea-01

    • 19:26 Matt: I read that Angelina contacted you after seeing your work online and that you had a special approach to lighting that she thought would work well her film.  Can you talk about your first conversations.
    • 20:39 Christian: Angelina called me and said “Hi this is Angelina” and I said “Hi, I’m the emperor of China.”  At the first meeting I got the script and liked the story.  I admired and respected their courage to make a film about that subject.  It was quite risky.
    • 21:43 Christian: They saw the documentary “River of Light” and that was the trigger.

     

    • 22:13 Christian: She wanted to have the atmosphere from Nouvelle Vague.

    The New Wave (FrenchLa Nouvelle Vague) is a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_New_Wave

    MC001-ByTheSea-03

    • 23:36 Christian: The Hotel and Cafe was built on a cliff, I called it “Studio on the Rocks” because it was an interesting mixture of location and studio work. It was forbidden to place any light in front of the house because it was very steep. So we had to invent a special rigging that allowed us to move in and out 7 meters from the roof. To control the daylight and the sun and to add our own light. It was quite complex and a challenge but I loved it.
    • 25:00 Christian: The best compliment that I received was people saying that “Ahh, he used no light, it was only daylight.” Of course this is not true. Very often we had to shoot day scenes in the night.

    MC001-ByTheSea-04

    • 26:10 Christian: Both of them [Angelina and Brad] were really delighted. They really felt liberated to perform and they could move all around the room. And in 10-15 minutes we could changes from early morning to late afternoon. Always with a free view to the outside while the high contrast levels.
    • 27:00 Matt: Angelina stated that “By the Sea” wasn’t a traditional commercial movie. To me that was exciting.
    • 27:29 Christian: I appreciated that very strongly. They wrote the script for both of them because they would never be cast for those roles. They wanted to come free from that and to let loose and to make something experimental. I loved it. It was a very free shoot and I was able to follow with my department into a new situation.
    • 28:30 Matt: Your approach to lighting and the Cine Reflect Lighting System, if that allows the actors more freedom I can see why Angelina was attracted to that.

    MC001-ByTheSea-02

    • 29:22 Christian: For smaller movies it’s really a great reduction in gear and setup time.
    • 30:30 Christian: I’m not a fundamentalist. It’s not a religion. If you need another style those tools exist already. The main thing is to preserve and protect the beauty from natural light. From early morning to deep in the night. With the Cine Reflect Lighting System you don’t feel the source or the effect. You forget the lamps.
    • 31:57 Christian: The lamps only provide the requested lumens or light level. The reflectors control the quality and shape of the light. The lamp is just to feed the reflectors.
    • 32:35 Christian: [with traditional lighting techniques] you need 10,000 watts and in the end you only get 1,000 watts because of flags and diffusion. I don’t need that with my system, because I choose the right size and quality reflector. Each size provides the quality I need and it’s controllable.

    MC001-ByTheSea-05

    • 34:05 Matt: Does the system work as well on a studio/stage job?
    • 34:44 Christian: Ludwig, one of the largest European productions in 2011, about the Bavarian king. And we had a big studio and the background was light conventionally with 450,000 watts. But for our set that was a large winter garden, we used 25,000 watts and used the Cine Reflect Lighting System.
    • 36:18 Christian: The White Ribbon was also shot with the Cine Reflect Lighting System. The new system will be made by Dedo Weigert. Both a small HMI unit and a halogen/tungsten unit.

     

    By The Sea Trailer