This badass wants to selflessly help you, for some reason
There is no shortage of self-appointed authorities online, and the world of DPs/Cinematographers is no exception. Besides the ceaseless flood of opinion generated by forum junkies, there are literally thousands of sites and blogs (like the one you’re reading), devoted to doling out advice, reviews, techniques, and generally holding forth in a near-constant stream. At the extreme, and in a particularly contemporary phenomena, there are entire careers built around internet celebrity, where minor players gain major name recognition as “masters,” and find high-profile work from their online visibility, rather than the normal reverse sequence of these events.
Talking the talk now leads to walking the walk, and there are more than a few examples of internet notoriety among the online community leading to real-world, high-profile work. Case in point, Philip Bloom, a gearhead who built an extremely popular blog at the start of the DSLR video boom, was subsequently invited to Skywalker Ranch, to show off the revolutionary large-sensor small cameras to the tech heads there. This eventually led to second unit work on LucasFilm’s upcoming film, Red Tails. Or blogger Vincent LaForet, who recently was gifted a massive budget (and massive exposure to cinema dignitaries like Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez and JJ Abrams) by Canon to produce a short film exhibiting the new C300 Digital Cinema Camera.
I’m not disparaging the trend. I think it’s a beautiful thing that the knowledge base for a technical understanding of cinematography no longer requires $200,000 in student debt, or the classic Exodus to LA or New York, and 30 years working up from 3rd Focus-Puller’s Assistant on Crest commercials to eventually, maybe, someday, DPing for some huge Hollywood undertaking like The Dark Knight Rises. Suburban, self-taught teenage filmmakers like Freddie Wong and Seth Worley are leapfrogging this system, no-doubt aided by the steady stream of free, amateur and semi-professional tutorials readily available on YouTube, blogs and forums, and this should be cheered.
Still, there is an aura of the blind leading the blind. You often don’t know what the guy or girl on the RED or DVXUser forum has shot, and once you do, often you wish you hadn’t checked. They really sounded like they knew what they were talking about!
Which is why I’m shocked that the very best resource on the web has gone relatively unnoticed. Roger Deakins, ASC, a prolific DP whose résumé reads like primer for the late 20th and early 21st century cinema canon, and who has been nominated for the cinematography Oscar nine times, operates his own forum, where he humbly helps literally anyone who asks troubleshoot their filmmaking scenarios. It’s a rare example of a true master, an artistic genius at the height of his career and literally the best in the business, offering his insight to anyone who asks. It’s roughly akin to Micheal Jordan volunteering as head coach of a middle school basketball team in Wyoming five nights a week (six including game nights) or Bill Gates doing a weekly stint helping underprivileged youth in Detroit learn coding basics.
In an profession usually shrouded by secrecy, with famously paranoid photographers and cinematographers the norm rather than the exception, it’s an incredible thing for Deakins to take the time to help noobs everywhere, when he could be hanging out with God-knows-who, drinking brandy and making charming observations with his English accent. Whatever deep, selfless love of humanity motivates this gesture, just… thank you Roger.
With all the self-professed gurus out there, who are certainly technically proficient, generous with their time, and great communicators, it’s easy to find resources to help you on your cinematic journey. Just be aware that you have direct access to the very best authority, right now!
Nathan Lee Bush is a fashion and fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his site, vimeo and blog.