Becoming a Cinematographer

How do I get a break in an entry level position on my journey towards becoming a cinematographer? Or can I just get out there shooting?  We all had to start somewhere in our careers.

The primary focus of the NZCS Professional Development Program is to fortify the skill base of established cinematographers to enable them to continually move forward and produce ground-breaking work of an international standard. However, we are often asked by film students and individuals keen on breaking into the camera department, and eventually earning a living as a cinematographer, how to get a foot in the door in a very competitive workplace.

There are no short-cuts or easy answers. You can either start right at the bottom of a full drama crew as a camera trainee and work your way up over the years through the different levels of responsibility, or you can leap right in shooting on your DSLR on projects with your contemporaries and forge a different career path. You can also quite legitimately pursue both pathways at the same time.

The NZCS is not a resource which lists upcoming productions or hands out names of DP’s who may be engaged in upcoming films. We suggest this is part of your research process. There are lots of on-line portals to help find out what is going on. The NZ Film Commission website and NZ on Air will list grants that have been given for local productions, and you can follow up names from there. You could search individual DP’s whose work you admire - many of them have websites and contact details on the NZCS website - and flick them a cover letter with your CV, and links and tell them your story. The more baits you cast, the more chance you have of hooking a fish!  Our cinematographers report that when they've been in the process of crewing up interns on productions, the jobs often go to the enthusiastic individuals who make a personal approach at the outset, with an e-mail expressing interest in working on the production, and an attention grabbing CV.

There are free crew listing resources like The Data Book, Showtools, and Crewlist where you can hunt down 1st, and 2nd AC’s as they often do the hiring of their own interns. There are also booking agents like Film Crews in Auckland, who have a special rate for “Newbies” who want to put their names on the books, although this would involve a monthly fee. 

Another avenue is to post on the NZCS Facebook page offering your services as a camera trainee, and see if that raises some interest. Many DP’s from all levels of production are active on our page.

If you're already shooting and feel ready for the responsibility of DP'ing a short film or music video, its all about networking, and making yourself visible in the right creative circles so you are noticed by like-minded contemporaries, who may be launching their own projects and crewing up productions. Don't expect to be working for full rates all the time - we've all contributed our talents to low/no budget productions as an investment in our future careers. This process is usually easier when you are young and/or a student, before children and mortgages and other responsibilities come along! Any time spent on a film set in any role is a valuable place to learn the basic protocols.

Having a comprehensive CV, some credible references, a strong social media presence, a 'go-get-em' attitude, and socialising at film screenings/ festivals and NZCS events are the first steps to attracting some attention on your journey.

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