You know those conversations at parties where the discussion eventually ends up at:
"So, Matt, what do you do?"?
I've personally always felt uncomfortable labeling myself as a "Director of Photography", especially since I then need to go into detail about what that means exactly, and once that awkward explanation is done, the next question inevitably arises:
"Cool, how exciting! So what movies have you shot, anything that I would have seen?"
Hehe...no, probably not, unless you follow the indy circuit, or happened to be in Geelong for the two weeks THE NINJA was screening ;) I say. Either way, I just feel like I'm big-noting myself with the title "Director of Photography", only to end on what seems like a lack of success since I didn't shoot Skyfall or Transformers 8. But should I feel that way?
There's an interesting discussion going on over at REDUSER at the moment. While it tends to go off track and cover other topics, it got me thinking more about what it means to call yourself a cinematographer, or Director of Photography.
Even though I've worked in Photography, television and post-production since my early 20's, I've really only got 4 years experience as a full time "Director of Photography", and it still feels a bit pretentious giving myself such a title. I know a title isn't what defines me, so how else does one make waves in this quickly rising sea of "DoP's"? Are you head of the camera department, working tirelessly to master the craft of lighting, camera movement, blocking, shooting for the story and post production techniques? Do you keep up to date with technology, learn new camera systems and test them? Do you work well with people, communicate clearly and enjoy collaborating with other departments, striving to bring a story to life with your own style whilst servicing the Director's and Writer's vision? Are you an artist, a technician and a teacher? Do you care more about the film you are working on than the #setlife pics of you and a zoom lens? And finally, is this what you do for a living?
Personally, I feel that if you think you think you're a DoP, then go ahead and call yourself a DoP :) I'm not here to enforce any unwritten laws - I'm just a guy who writes whatever he wants at a blog. I do however believe that with such a title, you need to understand the responsibility it carries. Remember, people like Roger Deakins use the same title. Does that mean by calling yourself a cinematographer or DoP, you're comparing yourself to the great masters of the trade? Not at all. But it's not a title that should be chosen lightly, or used without respecting/exploring what it fully represents.
Another reason this topic has been running around in my head of late, is because of this video: https://vimeo.com/100096260
Whilst I agree with some of the words and admire some of the beautiful shots in this clip, the whole thing just makes me shudder at the self importance it casts on "Cinematographers", and seems more like a "What it means to be a hipster" promo. We certainly are passionate about what we do, and there's more to it that positioning the camera and "lighting a couple of frames", but honestly this is NOT how I want to be perceived when I get asked that question at a party. Especially since the work I do relies so heavily on the involvement and collaboration of many other important departments.
Okay, wow, that got pretty heavy, pretty quickly. Sorry about that. I wasn't planning on having such a strong opinion...but it is Tuesday...that weird day of the week that doesn't seem to have much meaning.
Anyway, I guess I'm trying to make the point that you have to start somewhere, and if you're 100% dedicated to the job, respectful and professional, then when is it okay to define yourself as a DoP? How many years experience or IMDB credits do you need? And how many more times can I write the words DoP, cinematographer and Director of Photography in this post? AND! What is the difference between a Cinematographer and a Director of Photography? One sounds more important....and maybe that's my other point. Sounding important shouldn't be a big part of the equation, but I didn't invent the title! Anyway, back to what I love doing :) Got a Dragon in my grips this Thursday and look forward to seeing what it can do! PEACE!