Eight Questions From a Budding Filmmaker About Working in Film and Television

Questions originally submitted to Sam Prigg from a budding filmmaker Jonathan Nelson for his personal blog.

White Rabbit Productions on location in Salt Lake City.

White Rabbit Productions on location in Salt Lake City.

1. What type of shooting do you/your company specialize in? Our company, White Rabbit Productions, specializes in what we call acquisition video for TV networks, cable shows, corporate clients and documentary-news magazine shows. That means we are hired to shoot a high quality video that usually includes a well lit interview with a variety of different subjects, and some creative B-roll, and copy the media- the video files,  and send them back with the producer,or Fed Ex, or FTP or satellite or UPS or whatever means the client desires. We also shoot and edit productions for other clients, and deliver a final edited product, usually via Vimeo or Hightail, but most of our work is with national clients who just need acquisition of video.

2. What steps/process do you go through when you prep for a shoot? When we are contacted to do a shoot, especially a new client, we have a lengthy talk about the scope of the shoot. When is it?  Who or what is it for? What does it entail? Where is the location-close by or lengthy travel?  Is it for a broadcast, internet, corporate client, convention presentation?  Does it have to match something else that has already been shot?  Is the producer or client going to be on location? How is hair and makeup being handled? How long is the finished product going to be? Two minutes or seven minutes or longer? What camera or format or camera profile do we need to use? And most important, how are we being paid?  

Sometimes we go out on a location scout to check out rooms, lighting, noises or construction or parking problems. Frequently, we have never met the client and are on our own to get what we think the client is going to need.  We have a production manager who is also copied on all correspondence and helps make arrangements and does the billing for each project.

3. When you are on a location for an interview, how do you decide where to put the subject? Lately, we have been using large sensor DSLR type cameras that get a soft focus look that many clients want for their videos. When we look for a place to do an interview, we are looking for a background that has something of interest that will look good, that we can control the lighting around, and might evoke a sense of place or create a feeling that is appropriate for the story.  We are very good at quickly finding a space or several spaces and lighting them appropriately.

Using a large sensor DSLR type camera to achieve shallow depth of focus. 

Using a large sensor DSLR type camera to achieve shallow depth of focus. 

4. How do you choose which camera to take on the job? The camera we take to the job is usually dictated by the client or the nature of the job.  A run-and-gun shoot will usually require a broadcast camera that has the controls easily located and a good zoom lens that allows for the quick reframing of images and capturing of natural audio.  Sometimes we combine camera formats to allow the interviews to be shot on a large sensor camera but the b-roll to be shot on a smaller sensor broadcast camera.  More recently,clients are asking for a camera that can shoot in 4K or ultra High Def, or they want a GoPro to go with the other cameras. Depends on the job, but requires us to have several cameras in our arsenal.

5. How do you decide whether or not to take a job? The choice of whether we will take a job or not is usually determined by the budget or the crew requirements. We learned a long time ago  that one of the first questions we need to ask is what the client has to spend on the project. If their expectations don’t meet their budget, we pass and recommend someone else who might be a better fit, creatively and budget wise. Sometimes the job requires specialties that we do not have but have to hire out. If we have to hire out too many specialists, we make less money and it is not worth our time.  

White Rabbit Productions works with a variety of talented freelancers. 

White Rabbit Productions works with a variety of talented freelancers. 

6. What are some differences between a freelance cinematographer and a production company?  A freelance photographer and production company can be similar in many ways, but different in others. A freelance cine/video photographer is usually a skilled person who sometimes has their own equipment, but many times relies on the production company that hires them to have the equipment they will use. Many times the photographer has a specific skill set that the production company is looking for such as being a good commercial photographer.  Sometimes our production company is looking for a photographer that is good with a reality show/documentary background.  Sometimes we need someone with a good news sense, or who can light products well, or who knows how to use a drone or has a familiarity with specific pieces of equipment like a steady cam or high end camera equipment. Production companies typically have to have access to or own cameras and lighting and grip equipment. They may have a physical building and have to be insured and bonded and do payroll and provide Workers Comp.  Sometimes our larger network clients prefer to work with a production company because we have access to a pool of different freelancers who have been pre-qualified as good, reliable, talented  production people as well as providing the right kinds of production equipment.   It’s a much bigger responsibility to have a production company than to be a freelancer.

7. What qualities make up a good DP? A good Director of Photography should have a wide breadth of experience with different lighting styles, working with different directors in a variety of situations.  He or she should know all of the lighting terms and pieces of equipment, how to use them to solve problems and be able to interpret the directors or producers ideas into images that help tell the stories they are trying to tell.  A good DP also needs to be creative,  a mind reader, diplomat, mentor and business person.

8. What's one piece of advice you would give to the new generation of filmmakers trying to break into the business? The best advice I can give to the next generation of filmmakers is to know and understand the business you are getting into, prepare for the challenges of the industry and to network and be persistent in your pursuit.  Many students do not understand what the business is, or how it works or how to prepare for the job market they are entering.  They think they are creative and like the idea of making films or videos, but are not prepared to enter the job market, or have unrealistic expectations of what the job is going to be like. There are not a lot of openings in the film production world and the more preparation or training or internships or networking, the better the chance of being successful in the industry.

White Rabbit Productions behind the scenes. 

White Rabbit Productions behind the scenes.