Almost 20 years ago I attended a lighting seminar in Los Angeles at Northridge State University, it included some of the biggest names in Cinematography of the time. Up on stage, an extremely well respected and accomplished Cinematographer spoke of the challenges of getting hired as a Cinematographer in commercials and features and it was his anecdote regarding commercials, that stuck with me all these years.
And so the Cinematographer tells a story of getting a call for a commercial which needed someone who could shoot, ‘2 people walking through the woods at night’ for an upcoming spot. The Cinematographer was excited, ‘I have something just like that’, and he tells his agent. This is in the age of sending reels on film, yeah kids; they really did that, so you could imagine, that the competition was a lot less than today. So the Cinematographer with the assistance of his agent sent off a reel of wonderfully shot footage to represent his skill and range, included on the reel was a shot of 1 person walking through the woods at night. The next day or so, as the story is told, the agency passed on said Cinematographer, because although they recognized that he could shoot ‘1 person walking through the woods at night”, they needed someone who could shoot ‘2 people... walking through the woods at night’.
Speculation as to the accuracy of this story and whom in fact the agency did hire in the end, but this is not the only story shared around campfires by talented cinematographers and yes, even directors. Quotes like: ‘I lost that job because they needed someone that could shoot blue cars and I only had black and red cars’ ‘Yeah, they wanted someone who could shoot red liquid and I had amber’, ‘They wanted someone who could shoot a McDonalds commercial, but all I had was Pizza Hut’ ‘they wanted comedy outside, I had comedy inside’ you get the point.
And so it goes, as working professionals have been scratching their collective heads for 30-40 years, as those identified as ‘creatives’, want to hire someone not based on body of work, ability, accomplishments, or creativity, but based on, ‘you’re the one who shot the purple car on a Friday in Chatsworth’ type scenario, and that is exactly what we are looking for!
So here is the reality: Buckle your seat belts and open your mind:
No one… not one single cinematographer or director was born with a reel, hard to believe I know. No one was born with “Black cars at night” on their reel, with “Cows in a field” on their reel, with “golden retrievers jumping” on their reel, or “comedy spots in ice skating rinks”, on their reel. The only way these spots land on a reel is that someone said, “wow, I like this persons style and creativity and obvious ability, I know they will make this look great.”
I think many wonder, when will the madness end, when will the identifier be talent based and not so specific as to discredit the hard work of an accomplished professional with such specificity akin to splitting hairs with a razor blade under a green Swiss microscope in Cleveland in the fall on a leap year. When will experience and skill and breadth of work be the deciding factor? Don’t hold your breath…unless of course they need a person who has shot a spot while holding their breath.
This will either get me hired or fired…to be continued.
Below you can view various spots which I was either the Cinematographer or Director/DP :
I didn't have these spots on my reel before I shot them.
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