Things to do differently


New member
Hello David,

I have a question not so much related to cinematography/technique, but more on career. In terms of the steps to becoming the well respected and successful cinematographer that you are, is there anything you might have wished you'd done differently or wished you had done? For example I often work behind a respected DP in the SF Bay Area and he has alwas said he wished he worked under a gaffer for awhile. He thought he could understand ways of lighting, etc. a little better. I've often thought about that and wondered on my own path. Other very well know DP's I've chatted with have talked about the virtues of working up a craft system, but have said ultimately to just keep shooting and work as a DP. This is the path I'm going down now and I often wonder about the other options. It's true that I learn the most from doing it myself, but the times when I do work as an AC or in G+E I like seeing how other people do it.

I'm finishing up my M.F.A. in Cinematography right now and do feel like I have a great advantage in that I've gotten to experiment so much on a ton of films and can almost make a living shooting as a result of that. It's tough but I keep at it. Other friends of mine who took to departmental positions and moved to L.A. make a better living, but sometimes it seems like they have fallen into a work pattern and have missed out on shooting opportunities I've come accross. I don't know though because they're working under some real pros. Sometimes I wonder if I too should try to work under the people I really respect, or just keep blazing my own trails.

I remember an old post of yours in which you discussed shooting a lot of 35mm B films and whatnot, but one day you decided to concentrate on festival contenders and films you really cared about, and it was then that you moved into the career you have now. I've often thought about that and try to adhere to a similar mindset. Anyways sorry for the long post, but I'm just trying to get advice from as many people I respect and look up to as possible. I'm still reletively young and have time to get there, but honestly I want so badly to get there as quick as possible.

Thanks for any advice or reflections you might have.


Aaron Meister
It would be hard to play a "what if?" game because I think one gets where one is today one step at a time, so if you change a step, it's hard to guess the results.

I suppose there are a couple of movies that I shot that in retrospect didn't really get me anywhere, but often you take a job because you don't have any other work on the table. And you never know where it will lead, or how the contacts you make will help you.

My regrets are mainly just artistic, not being bold or brave enough, not taking more chances. I tend to learn one lesson at a time so I can learn it thoroughly, but this means that I take a lot of baby steps. Sometimes I worry too much about getting along with the production, the director, the cast, and I don't stand up for my ideas enough, and the work gets compromised.

Sure, I wish I had a few more opportunities to observe other DP's at work. On "Big Love", I worked with a co-DP, alternating episodes, and I learned a lot watching another DP handle the same sets & actors.

I probably could be further along in my career if I weren't inherently lazy -- I like taking time off between jobs to be with my wife, read, travel, and answer questions on the internet...