For my first blog post, I want to talk about something that I believe to be really important for Cinematographers who are just starting out.
Shoot for the project and not your reel.
Now that may seem like a strange thing to say, and an even stranger thing to hear, especially for someone who is just starting out and looking to create a badass reel. Just hear me out.
When I am approached to shoot a project and I get to read the script for the first time, I do my very best to just read it. I need to understand the world that the writer wants to bring to life. I need to understand the characters’ wants and needs. I need to be enthralled by the story as a reader.
Then I read it a second time. Now the second read through is where I break it down from a cinematographic point of view. I go scene by scene and write down what my initial instincts are in regards to the lighting style, the camerawork, etc.
Then I go through the script a third time and challenge every single instinct that I had. I ask myself,
“Does the lighting make sense for the scene, or would it just look cool for the sake of looking cool?”
“Is doing this shot as a steadicam ‘oner’ going to create the right visual language for the movie, or is it just a flashy shot for an arbitrary reason.”
If my answers are the former, I keep the shot. But if my answers are the latter, I scrap the shot and call upon my first read through of the script to create the right visuals for the story.
Not every project is going to be flashy, and that is okay. Some of my favorite works are those that are simple, but with so much thought put into each and every frame. As Cinematographers, it is our job to execute the visual intent of the story to the best of our abilities. Shooting what is right for each project may not give you jaw-dropping shots or eye-candy lighting for your reel. Actually, 9 times out of 10 it won’t, unless you are shooting music videos every weekend. But it will give you something way more valuable. It will give future collaborators a chance to see that you have what it takes to make sure that their story is told the way it should be.