Hello everyone. Bill Winters here. I am glad to be participating in "The 914 Film and Video Group." Jonathan asked me if I could write some articles for the group on a variety of topics that live under the umbrella of "Cinematography." Well, I am not a writer, but I am a cinematographer so I figured I'd give it a shot. On this go-around I will answer the first two topics Jonathan threw at me:
1) Film School vs. non-film school route, (everyone seems hung up on film school questions -- did you go or not?) Are they worth it? and
2) What does a DP really need to know?
Well, here it goes. I hope you get something out of it. If you don't, feel free to print out a hard copy and use it to start a fire if necessary. Oil ain't cheap!
1) Film School vs. non-film school route, (everyone seems hung up on film school questions -- did you go or not?) Are they worth it?
I hate school. I always have and I always will. Ever since day one of my nine year run in catholic school. Sister Mary Mustache made us all sit in a circle on a cold tile floor and listen to her sing folk songs as she strummed her cheap plastic guitar. After what seemed to be hours of pure agony I felt an unexpected warm sensation creeping onto my hand and over to my leg. I looked to my right and saw little Dave Hornblower begin to cry. Apparently the cold tile floor caused him to loose control of his bladder. I was rather disturbed by this incident and by some bizarre stroke of luck the nun thought I was the cause of little Dave's problems. So I was whisked from the floor by the overgrown penguin and off to "The Spanking Machine" I went. This, my friends, was just the beginning of a long traumatic run in catholic grammar school.
Let's jump several years forward. Once again I am doused in a warm wet liquid. I am sure it consisted of a fairly high percentage of urine but this time I didn't care. It was party time. I was standing in the middle of the infamous fountain in Washington Square Park participating in the ceremonial fountain jump at NYU's graduation. The nuns, the rulers, the bruised buttock and the plastic guitars were a thing of the past. I had just graduated from film school and was ready to start my career in the film business!
But was film school worth it? Should you go to film school?
Hell, I really don't know, but here is my take on it anyway. It certainly won't hurt to go to film school unless it puts you seriously behind the eight ball financially. My experience was fantastic and I would recommend film school to anyone interested in entering 'The Business'. However, I would advise future film makers to go to a school that is heavily production oriented - unless you are more interested in being a film scholar as opposed to a filmmaker. Hands-on production was the single most valuable thing I got from film school. Over 1,000 films are made at NYU per semester.
This gives you the opportunity to work on numerous productions in a variety of positions. On one film you can do location sound recording, on another you can gaff, and of course 1 to 5 of those 1,000 films will be written and directed by you (depending on what year you are in). I worked on countless number of films in all different positions. This experience was invaluable.
I learned what is expected from every person in each position on the crew. I served as DP on 50-100 films. My light meter became an extension of my brain and I began to harvest my lighting skills. I poured the concrete for my film making foundation.
The second most valuable thing you gain from film school is who you attend school with. Your peers are the future of filmmaking. They can challenge and inspire you to do your best work. They can also get you jobs. For example, I met my friend Justin in my first film production class. Justin wanted to be a producer. He produced a few of the films I shot. He really liked my photography and we worked well together. Justin and I kept in touch through school and after graduation (thank God for e-mail). Guess what?
Justin is now a producer for one of the biggest production companies around. Guess who he calls when he needs a DP? Janusz Kaminski. Just kidding! He calls me! Not that you can compare my youthful skills to Mr. Kaminski's, but Justin is producing smaller projects that Janusz probably wouldn't be interested in so, he asks me to shoot them based on the relationship we built in film school.
This worked out well for both of us. Justin did a great job producing the projects and my photography was solid so we are both moving up the ladder onto bigger and better productions. If it wasn't for film school, Justin and I would have never met and that means we each would have had one less connection. Believe me, connections are everything. There are stacks of DP's reels at this company and most of them are good, but I am getting jobs there because of my connections.
I have never gotten a job from a production company that I blindly sent a demo reel to. All of my work came from a connection, then my demo reel.
I was fortunate enough to go to film school and have a great experience. But don't get me wrong -- it is not the only way to get into the business and many of the folks I went to school with are not working in film or TV. Actually, I would say only about 10 or 15 percent are presently employed (i.e., making money) in Film and TV. Of those 10 or 15 percent I can only think of 2 who actually got a feature film deal (as writer/director.)
A lot of them are still trying to make it and some will, but the majority won't. I am making progress in my career, but I have a long way to go before I reach my ultimate goals financially, and as an artist.
Just like any school, you get out of it what you put into it. If you go to film school and work hard at your craft then you will have a valuable experience. However, this education doesn't guarantee you a job. There are countless examples of people who dropped out or never went to film school in the first place and became successful filmmakers. There is no right answer except that as long as film school doesn't bankrupt you, only positive things can come from it.
2) What does a DP really need to know?
This one is easy: EVERYTHING!!!