Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

The End Of Professionalism

Published : 23rd November 2013

The biggest change I see is what I'm now calling "Small Camera Syndrome": as the cameras get smaller and cheaper the clients seem to think our jobs are getting easier and easier, so the budgets are getting lower and lower and they are calling more of the shots.

I'm ramping up for a job now where the client is dictating wardrobe choices, refusing to make script changes on a reasonable schedule, and won't actually scout the location themselves until the night before the shoot (the production team did it yesterday). It's a two week prep/2-3 day shoot that we're prepping in one week and shooting in one day, and we're telling the client that we need to nail things down or we'll end up shooting something that looks a lot like news.

"Oh, we don't want that," they say. But then they don't change anything that they're doing.

They aren't the only ones: It seems like everyone now knows more than the production professionals do. They seem to be confusing the ability to own an affordable HD camera with extensive production experience, a bit like someone who owns a really nice pen suddenly calling themselves a novelist.

The problem is that they can write a book, and they can publish it, but that doesn't make it good. Still, they wrote and published a book and you can't tell them different, and they'll do it the same next time because they don't know the difference between a book they wrote and a book that's nice to read. And here we sit, perfectly good editors, watching them do it and wishing we could help.

I get that budgets are smaller. That doesn't have to mean that standards go down. If anything it means they need my skills -more-. But it really is becoming amateur hour out there. It's strange, because there's nothing I want to do more than shoot cool stuff that makes my employers and clients look great, but for some reason more and more of them don't want my help. They'll hire me, but they won't actually let me do much.

Not being asked to the grade is only a small part of what seems to be happening overall in the industry, and I blame it on the fact that our tools are getting smaller and smaller and now look a lot like what our clients use to shoot birthday parties--therefore they must know at least as much as we do, and they don't need to spend as much money because we're not doing something that they couldn't do almost as well.

Art Adams | DP
San Francisco Bay Area

http://www.artadamsdp.com


Art Adams wrote:

>> The problem is that they can write a book, and they can publish it, but that doesn't make it good.

I think this is down to the fact they all want to be writers - and don't like the fact they’re not. They also desperately want the life we have and not one they have tied to a desk.

Dealing with this psychology is the hardest part of the day sometimes.

Michael J Sanders
DoP/Lighting Cameraman. London, UK.

reel: www.mjsanders.co.uk
m: 07976 269818
diary service: 0208 426 2200


"The biggest change I see is what I'm now calling "Small Camera Syndrome": as the cameras get smaller and cheaper the clients seem to think our jobs are getting easier and easier, so the budgets are getting lower and lower and they are calling more of the shots.

Art Adams | DP"

Is part of that our own fault, though, Art - how many DPs do you come across today that have - and promote having - their own camera, often because it is so affordable to get a 5D and a few lenses or whatever that can sort of do the job, and package that with themselves as a "complete solution"? Clients buy into this because it is cheaper and easier than finding the right DP with the right skills for the job and letting him or her get the exact right tools to do it from a good rental house - plus, of course, 85% of our clients haven't the experience to know better.

At the end of the day everyone gets screwed and quality goes down, as does the reputation of our trade/s. In some ways it was easier when, say, an F900 cost $95,000 for the body and an Avid Symphony cost $110,000, and there weren't any cheap alternatives - because if you made that investment everyone knew you had better be damn good at what you do to pay it off!

Chris Layhe
San Francisco Bay Area


>> an F900 cost $95,000 for the body and an Avid Symphony cost $110,000, and >>there weren't any cheap >>alternatives - because if you made that >investment everyone knew you had better be damn good at what >>you do to pay it off!

The other side to the cost of the equipment meant that for a production company or post house to UNLEASH you on that equipment, you needed to be good and that simply earning a "spot on the team" said something about you because the investment in the gear had to be protected by having the right person in the seat or behind the lens. The military doesn't just let anyone up into a billion dollar fighter jet. The vetting and training process means that if you're up there, you have to be good.

It's a similar thought, but it's not so much about being good enough to pay off the gear, but being good enough and trained enough that anyone would even let you near it... knowing that to get to that level, you needed to "put in your time" and learn and be vetted.

I only got on an Avid (back when they were six-figures) because I was good to begin with. Now, having an Avid means nothing. Just like me owning a 5D or even a RED means nothing.

Steve Hullfish
contributor: www.provideocoalition.com
author: "The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction"


And don't forget the biggest cause of this. The Internet. Because its cheap. And almost everything looks good on it. Why spend money.

All of a sudden the VHS guys have the market. And we killed cinemas. A whole generation that have no clue. How wonderful it really was.
Pity. Truly pity. Some organization or government should try to expose these days youth. To what a full cinema. With intermission and popcorn only them allowed felt like. And yes. You were allowed to smoke inside.
A lost world. Home cinemas bullshit did it. Now you can fast forward the "boring bits"

Luis Gomes
Digital imaging technician?

Getting old sucks.
But I had that pleasure in my life.
Was cheap. Was glorious.


WADR one might just as easily finger adverts, where attending a grade is a bit unusual. There are plenty of directors being given the brush-off after turning in their cut, too. And consider the level of respect traditionally accorded those "Schmucks with Underwoods". IOW, don't take it too personally. Unless they fire you first :-)

Tim Sassoon
SFD
Santa Monica, CA


Luis Gomes wrote:

>> And we killed cinemas. A whole generation that have no clue. How wonderful it really was.

So true Luis, but we adapt or die I'm afraid. I don't ask anymore if the Director wants me to be there when the final edit is being graded because they don't.
And in my experience their often not present either! I get a Vimeo link if I'm lucky! What can you do, things change.

Kieran Scannell



>> I only got on an Avid (back when they were six-figures) because I was good to begin with.
>> Now, having an Avid means nothing. Just like me owning a 5D or even a RED means nothing.

---And the strangest part of all that is, now that AVID is comparatively cheap to get into, they're a much more attentive company where support is concerned. How about that...hmmmmmm.

Jeffery Haas
camera-edit
Downey CA


Art Adams writes:

>>The biggest change I see is what I'm now calling "Small Camera Syndrome": as the cameras get smaller >>and cheaper the clients seem to think our jobs are getting easier and easier, so the budgets are getting >>lower and lower and they are calling more of the shots.

. . . And that they can and should pay us less.

Doug Hart
1AC, NYC


>> . . . And that they can and should pay us less.

Right. Back when the gear was expensive and it wasn't completely clear to everyone how to use it, you had to pay professionals to make it all work.

Now that the gear is cheap, and everyone can see the picture live, why do you need to pay professionals?

Yes, yes, I know--evolution, adapt and survive, blah blah blah. The bottom line, though, is that our skills are as relevant and necessary as ever but nobody wants to pay us for them simply because the tools are now universally accessible. We didn't change, but perceptions did. How do we change those perceptions back to something more amenable to all concerned?

-----------------------

Art Adams | DP
San Francisco Bay Area


Art Adams wrote:

>> How do we change those perceptions back to something more amenable to all concerned?

Wait about 3-5 years.

Aaron Owen
San Francisco based shoot/ edit


Once upon a time, there was a fella who was called Yack. He grew up in a small village with lots and lots of cousins and friends around him all day long. During harvest season Yack would get together with his villagers and they would cut the hay with scythes, stack it and then bring it into the barns.. it all took awhile and sometimes it rained spoiling the hay, but sometimes it didn't. Yack, by and large, was a happy man.

But when he was middle aged, this strange machine appeared in his village. He learned it was called a tractor. Next year, instead of the whole village turning out for the harvest, one man sat on that tractor and did the whole field and then another machine came and took all the hay to the barn. Yack and his friends spent the first day looking on from the edges of the field and saying things like:

"It's a shame.."
"It won't last.."
"It was better in the old days.."
"Let's go to the Pub.."

Progress is, I'm afraid, inevitable. If you care to see it in a negative way that is your affair, but dealing with it and moving on is a better option. When I was first shooting in 1980, various middle-aged men on the set kept telling me things were better "in the Good Old Days.." It was really, really boring listening to these old farts whilst I was trying to do a good job aged 30ish.. Now that I am an old fart myself, I will NEVER EVER talk to young people about "The Good Old Days.."

Much better to take the tools that are available and do the BEST EVER job so that you feel you did ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING you could possibly do to turn in a good piece of work. If the Owner takes over the House You Built and ruins it that's not your problem: just move on and make another that is twice as good.

"Yes, yes, I know--evolution, adapt and survive, blah blah blah. .."

Make your blah blah count.. big time.

Kind Regards to ALL,


Oliver Stapleton, BSC
Recently back from the high seas of Indonesia.. with a Canon c300 and no crew..


Alone. That’s a good point. I also have been working alone. Or maximum two guys crew. And there hasn't been any young people to tell about the good old days. And change is good. (Oh my). But several fatal changes to this business. That is truly sad to see it go. I was chosen by a respectable and professional audio engineer as an apprentice. That was winning the lottery in my book back them.

Trying to mind my punctuation. (See?)


There were really no schools. Well actually there was. But not really.
Now? What you do? When you need to learn something. Upload it up to your ...
Diplomas. And school everywhere. Clients outnumbering the crew. So much talk on set. And demands. That I feel like a ADHD patient.
What must happen for it to change?
I have no clue.
They have a term for this. Although not really related.
Metamorphosis.
Into what? I am holding my breath for the next three to five years as
someone said.
And yes. The joy of photographing is really just that. A joy.

Luis Gomes
Trying to be happy.
Digital imaging and post.


Oliver Stapleton wrote:

>> But when he was middle aged, this strange machine appeared in his village. He learned it was called a >>tractor.

It's not the shiny new tractor that's the issue. It's that the producer has the keys and doesn't know how to drive.

Still, I do enjoy watching them try.

Happy shoot
Liam Hall
Director | Shooter
Tel: +44(0)1525 220 538
Mb: +44(0)7973 626 648
www.liamhall.net


I think the problem is that tractors are now much smaller, much cheaper, and anyone can drive one and do a decent job... so now the farmer wonders why they need to pay a professional driver when they can do what they think is almost as good a job.

Farmers who recognize true driving skills are getting fewer and farther between.

Nothing to do for it but to make hay while the sun shines...

-----------------------

Art Adams | DP
San Francisco Bay Area


Art Adams writes:


"The biggest change I see is what I'm now calling "Small Camera Syndrome": as the cameras get smaller and cheaper the clients seem to think our jobs are getting easier and easier, so the budgets are getting lower and lower and they are calling more of the shots."

This so called Small Camera Syndrome is actually generating some business for me. More and more companies are starting Media Departments, where they do print, web, advertising and video in house. I have been hired several times in the past few years as a 'consultant' in the production area. Most companies want me to train their own staff in video production and still photography. I used to find this practice reproachable since it took some work away from us professionals, but hey, the man's gotta eat and we have to adapt to this new environment, right?

At first I used to do sort of a seminar with the basics (framing, exposure, colour temperature, etc.), but noticed most of my 'students' weren't really interested in the things that are my passion. What I do now is to give this companies 'turn key solutions' according to their needs: You do web videos? Ok, here is your lighting set up, press this button here, move this knob over there, put your brand new DSLR on a tripod over here, press record... you know what I mean. Most of them call me back to do maintenance of the equipment and whenever they need something more elaborate, with a real crew, gear rentals, etc..

I wonder if some of you have experienced this new trend?

Cheers,

Ricardo Alfonso
Photography in Motion
+1.604.551.3474
www.ricardo.pro
Vancouver, BC, Canada


How many of you reading this right now are wearing fancy, expensive shoes? How many are wearing something basic and utilitarian, pumped out relatively cheaply by a large factory and sold at a big box store or online? Are these cheap shoes "good enough"?

We work in what has become a commodity industry. For much of that work they may just be right -- "good enough" is in fact good enough. If you care about what you do and wish to practice your craft at a higher level, you need to find a niche outside of "good enough". They exist, but they won't come easy. Nothing ever worth it does.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


>> If you care about what you do and wish to practice your craft at a higher level, you need to find a niche >>outside of "good enough". They exist, but they won't come easy. Nothing ever worth it does.

Amen.

Back in the late 90s a producer I did a lot of work with told me, "The new model is the one man band production company. You need to buy a camera, get Final Cut Pro, and start doing everything yourself. That's what a bunch of other producers I know do and they're working a lot."

I also discovered that they were working themselves to death, making okay money, and turning out crap product. And they're still doing exactly that. And I'm not.

It's funny, a friend of mine who's been fairly successful working on high end projects took a staff job in a media department that sounds much like the ones that Ricardo is training. He's trying to drag them up beyond "good enough." I'm hoping he's successful as that's more work for me.

I do training and seminars, but I don't teach people how to do really basic stuff like stock lighting setups, push this button to roll, etc. That's not the level I want to work at and that's not the level I want to teach. I didn't get into this business to do average work, and I don't see the point in teaching others to do average work.

I'm glad someone's making money teaching "good enough," but it will never be me.

-----------------------

Art Adams | DP
San Francisco Bay Area


Do a better job than everyone else? I mean anybody can produce a cool lens flare or hold a camera on a talking head in the middle of a cloudy day but good cinematography is still good cinematography.

Nolan Maloney
Assistant Camera
New York, NY


Art Adams wrote:

>> I think the problem is that tractors are now much smaller, much cheaper, and anyone can drive one and do >>a decent job... so now the farmer wonders why they need to pay a professional driver when they can do >>what they think is almost as good a job.

Farmers ARE professional tractor drivers and often mechanics too... Agricultural machinery and other farming products are getting more sophisticated and much more expensive. Farming is all going corporate, the small farmer is disappearing... Precisely the opposite to what is happening to cinematography.

Jaime Reynoso AMC
cameraman who married the farmers daughter
Mexico City ...and Hay, Washington


Art Adams wrote:

>> I think the problem is that tractors are now much smaller, much  cheaper, and anyone can drive one

I heard Google is working on a tractor that can drive itself!

Alan Hill
Cameraman
LA


Mitch Gross wrote:

>> We work in what has become a commodity industry.
>> For much of that work they may just be right -- "good enough" is in fact good enough.

Very good advice that should be taken to heart.

Today's NY Times contains an Op-Ed piece on the subject of the tensions between labour, talent, and capitol
using the recent strike by football officials as an example. I believe this applies to the current discussion.

Go to:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/29/opinion/the-nfl-strike-and-modern-economy.html?hp&_r=0

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


Brian Heller wrote:

>> Today's NY Times contains an Op-Ed piece on the subject of the tensions between labour, talent, and >>capitol using the recent strike by football officials as an example. I believe this applies to the current >>discussion.

That's an excellent essay. Define yourself as labour and you will inevitably lose out because you are replaceable, sometimes by a box. Define yourself as talent and you have a greater value.

On a more philosophical level, wouldn't we all like to define ourselves as somehow unique and special?

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


This is what's happened in VFX. Partly because the tent poll shows have gotten so big, there's not much creative space left for most shops. That combined with the incentives rat-race, which has encouraged added capacity in the face of slumping demand...

Tim Sassoon
SFD
Woodstock, VA
(Clearing out an attic at the moment)


Education.

Rocco Schult
dit
WWW.augenmensch.com


The difference between now and ten years ago is, now they are listening and innovative.
What this means for me is, now are professional again, because there are reasons to work with it again, other than just being used to it.

A bit OT, but well, manufacturers started it somehow, didn't they.

Rocco Schult
dit


Here's a better evaluation of the NFL situation:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2012/sep/28/nfl-referees-lockout-deal

I think you're missing the real lesson in this. People who didn't know what they were doing (cheap), were brought in to replace people who did know what they were doing (more expensive), by rich people who didn't really give a shit about anything but money.

The product was diminished.

Kent Hughes
Dir/DoP
NoSoCal


Kent Hughes wrote:

>> I think you're missing the real lesson in this.

Perhaps there's more than one lesson

>> People who didn't know what they were doing (cheap), were brought in to replace people who did know >>what they were doing (more expensive), by rich people who didn't really give a shit about anything but >>money.

And since they always want more money, in the film biz the only place left to squeeze is the crew. Here endeth the lesson.

Brian "no analogy is perfect" Heller
IA 600 DP


Brian Heller wrote:

>> in the film biz the only place left to squeeze is the crew

And state, local, and foreign governments.

Mike Most
On Location Services Director
Technicolor Hollywood
Los Angeles, CA.


Mike Most wrote:

>> And state, local, and foreign governments.

I'm not sure I would say they are being squeezed exactly; it's more like they are tripping over each other in a rush to give money away.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


Brian Heller wrote:

>> it's more like they are tripping over each other in a rush to give money away.

That's one way to look at it. Another is to point out that in the end, the producers are still looking for who's willing to work the cheapest. And governments are playing right into that hand. That might be a bit different that the labour issue, but the result - and the cause - are basically the same. And in both cases, the producers are rarely averse to using the image of the industry as some kind of glamour industry that can bring one fame and fortune - and all they have to do to get a piece of it is work for as little as possible. And oh, by the way, if they won't do that, there's a steady supply of those who will. Or haven't you noticed how quickly every location that passes an "incentive" starts referring to themselves as "Hollywood East/West/North/South"?

I really fail to see a significant difference.

Mike Most
On Location Services Director
Technicolor Hollywood
Los Angeles, CA.


Often above all other considerations. Which is discouraging for those of us who got into the film biz for slightly higher motives. My family would've been thrilled if I'd gone into merchant banking or insurance instead. And those are occupations which make money with much greater regularity than any creative pursuit.

Tim Sassoon
SFD
Santa Monica, CA


>> I heard Google is working on a tractor that can drive itself!

Well, they need it: they have so many server farms...

On my bike,
Adam "oddly enough, asked to a grade" Wilt
technical services, Meets The Eye LLC, San Carlos CA
tech writer, provideocoalition.com, Mountain View CA
USA


Kent Hughes wrote:

>> Here's a better evaluation of the NFL situation:

Interesting. I read this essay and thought "yeah, and?". As in, what am I supposed to gain by this, other than a smugly self-satisfied moment of acknowledging that some rich guys are jerks?

(Frankly there are all manner of jerks out there at all levels of income, but it just effects me more when some rich guys are the jerks. Poor jerks are usually only bothersome to their spouses and pets, unless they spit in my food.)

So people in power don't want to pay for me to do my work. Welcome to every profession on the planet. Teachers in the US have it a lot worse. So do nurses. I would argue they both more "important" work than we.

So what to do?

(a) Find a different profession. Go be a dentist. Why else would you stick your fingers in other people's mouths all day if not for the money?
(b) Find a way to show that you bring greater value than the next guy who is willing to work for less. Make yourself valued.
(c) Find a niche within your profession which is specialized and demonstrably different from what everyone else does. Make yourself invaluable. Just realize that that if you choose to make that niche purely technical, there's a chance that someday a machine will render you redundant.

When I read the NY Times essay I think, "There's a call to action. I see a way ahead."

When I read the Guardian essay I think, "Life sucks and then you die."

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


I did (a) first. Unfortunately (c) is starting to catch up with me now. I still have clients but the difference between income and output has shrank to the point where now I'm making sacrifices I never thought I'd have to make. What's missing is primarily the gravy money building new facilities, gear has got so small and physically simple that an installation now might take one day, not a week or more. Plus the new equipment will run for years with very little, if any, routine or emergency maintenance.

It seems to me you took a variation on (c) a few years back, working for AbelCine.
Obviously not a bad choice for you, I've watched you admiringly in action at NAB.

Hal (sad but true) Smith
Broadcast Engineer
AM/FM Services


"Hal Smith" wrote:

>>It seems to me you took a variation on (c) a few years back, working for AbelCine.

Yes exactly, and thank you for the comment. In large part I did it because of the birth of our second child and the freelance lifestyle was not compatible with what I wanted for my kids out of fatherhood. But I could also see enough of where the industry (or my place in it) was going and decided it was time for a change. I spent half my time shooting and half consulting with clients how best to go about shooting. Moving to AbelCine, I basically flipped which half I was being paid for. That and this Internet thing is pretty good for communicating and I seem to have a knack for it. That was an interesting change as well.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


Well Mitch, it's obvious that you're comfortable consulting, solicited or
not.

Thanks for the advice.

Now, where did I put those Dentistry school apps...

Kent Hughes
Dir/DoP
NoSoCal


http://www.dent.ucla.edu/

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


Wonderful analysis.


You have just summed up the newest version of the "American Dream," 2012  style.
This applies to sports, politics, manufacturing, medicine, education, and especially the arts.

Doug Hart
1AC, NYC


It amazes me how outstanding Dp's get hired because of their wonderful reels, but then aren't given the time and resources to do what they were hired to do. "What, you can't produce that look without money and the producers 5D?!"

But then it always floors me that the crew budget is often so small, but every piece of high end gear IS available on "bigger" shoots, i.e. Technocrane, camera car, four cameras, great craft service and catering ... to impress the client.

We recently did a smallish shoot with a HUGE star. It only required a couple of cameras but we had four, with full crews, so as to look the part. Lavish, on scale.

Mako/Makofoto, posting a DSLR shoot from this weekend, S. Pasadena, CA


Mako Koiwai wrote:

>> It amazes me how outstanding Dp's get hired because of their wonderful reels, but then aren't given the >>time and resources to do what they were hired to do. "What, you can't produce that look without money >>and the producers 5D?!"

Ha!

Just had this happen the other day. The client wanted their shoot to Have a Scrubs look. I asked what part of the look they were willing to settle for given the fact that we had a day, no pre- lit set and 5% of the Scrubs crew to make it happen.
Coincidentally, they wanted to shoot with a 5D.

Mark Smith
DP
The garden state.