The moment of leaving a normal job and jumping into a passion without a safety backup may sound scary. The best and most satisfying plunge is just that. I must admit, I never really had a normal job. For a time, I worked with my father at his jewelry store, I always was thinking about the filming I could do in my spare time. I one day, then, quit working with my father and pursued working for myself doing videography services. Hey, I was filming and getting paid. I was happy... This was freedom. I was pursuing my passions and filming beautiful stuff (what I thought then). I did this for a couple years.
At the start, I was willing to do anything for work. I was happy just to be filming for a job. Later on, that thrill diminished and I realized some of the gigs I was taking weren't satisfying. In fact, it felt like I was just following the crowd. I would watch what others did and follow. That is a "big no no." This seems to be normal though, it is fine to try and figure something out by trying to do what another does. So many beginners do just that. They then get stuck doing just that and don't find their own voice until very late. As an artist I wasn't satisfied with the voice and style I was portraying. I wanted to stand out.
People were hiring me for services and not really my art during the beginning. I was doing wedding videos that didn't have much context. They were simple highlights of the day. I wanted to be telling stories and really creating a voice for my work. I wanted my work to be known. When someone watches a film they could say, "Oh, that is Jared's work."
It began with a couple interested in having me experiment and try the things I have wanted to try. I went for it. I tried something that hasn't been done around the local scene with weddings. I actually told a story. You know what, that boomed my short wedding videography career. From that one video it sparked my business like dynamite. People wanted it. Couple's would request, "I watched your so-and-so video.. Could you do one like that for us?" It was a video that was so satisfying as an artist. To have a voice, to have a style that is unique and that is wanted. Then, others started to follow what I had done.
photo cred: Geoff Duncan Photography
Now, after feeling happy filming for a career, and feeling more satisfied with my weddings, things felt like they connected. After a couple years I wanted to make my wedding stuff more unique. My approach and inspirations were from different categories and even from different creative realms. I created L'amour, and Boda Boho. Both were videos that were satisfying art pieces. I achieved this satisfaction from a huge key, preparation. I find that preparation is what will take your film to the next level to be noticed. What kind of preparation do you do?
Get to know your clients.
If this is a wedding, you can do a questionnaire or just simply chat with them. Discover why they chose you, what music they like, ask about the details of the event. Know the theme, the colors. Find out if they would like a unique masterpiece, something new and exciting. Find what is most important to have documented that day. From questions like these and much more, you will feel much more confident in what you're able to do with that project. Be sure they know too what you have in mind.
Prepare the REAL Story
In weddings there are the same stories that happen. A couple is joined together, and two families join too. However, there can be something much greater aside from the mundane. Find out the REAL story in that day. Example, The Bride is a single mother and the groom is about to join into that family and become a father figure. Imagine if you told the story through the eyes of the young son of the Bride. This would add more meaning. Another example is from a story of a friend. He was at a wedding, and it was pouring rain, it seemed like a disaster of a day. As he was in the bride's room getting details, he saw the bride looking out the window and say ever so slightly, "I hear you mom." He was curious, and asked what she meant. She explained that the day her mother died it rained, and on every special occasion, since, it has rained on those very days. She said she could feel her mother's presence on her wedding day. This then ignited the story to the artist. He then began documenting the day with an additional theme in mind, water, rain. He then incorporated many detail shots of the rain, and tried to utilize that as much as he could in that day.
Use the right tools
When preparing for L'amour I prepared certain shots I wanted to get. I wanted to give a richer look and knew the tools I had to use in order to achieve the look I envisioned. If you watch Boda Boho, you should be able to tell I tried something new. Not every wedding would have those kind of effects... All in camera too. The tools I use vary. I honestly use many different cameras, lenses, filters, camera supports, etc. depending on the job and what I feel it needs.
photo cred: Geoff Duncan Photography
Why do you need to find a voice?
Satisfaction as an Artist. (Molding to something that doesn't appeal you, hurts you creatively.)
You'll get the clients you want. (You attract the niche of people you have been wanting to work with.)
You'll get hired for your voice and style. (More work of what you love.)
You'll stand out from the crowd. (The Purple Cow, continue reading you'll understand.)
However, this leads to the end of my full-time wedding videography career and shifting to becoming a full-time Cinematographer.
Doing weddings was fun and I was happy. I just knew that my skills could be excelled outside of that industry. I knew what I loved regarding filming, I loved creating the visuals and I always sought inspiration through commercials and music videos. I decided to dive all in, I then began working with friends who were directors and we could create things. It was just like starting over with weddings. I was happy to be DPing full-time, I just wasn't satisfied with the work I was putting out. This then began my journey anew to put out my style and voice as a cinematographer. Though, at this very moment the aesthetic and style I am going for is not on my portfolio, it is to be updated as soon as I have a couple of films I want to put up.
The stories shared lead to my purpose in sharing this, the thought comes from one of my favorite marketing books. Imagine you are driving through the country side of wyoming, you will notice the beautiful landscape and the hills of endless grass fields. you'll then notice the livestock, cows. It is a very beautiful vista, especially if you are from the city. Now after a few hours the sight gets a little dull, it starts to look the same. Now, imagine while driving that you see a Purple Cow among the herd.... Quite the sight now. It will catch your eye and you may even want to stop and take a photo this time. We can take this story and compare it with your art in your industry. There may be a lot of work out there that is pretty to see for the first while, but then it may all look the same. This was the case with the wedding industry. Now, what will make you the Purple Cow? What can you do to stop someone on the internet highway and cause a traffic of attention to your brand?
Consider what your brand needs to become that Purple Cow!
There has been something special about learning filmmaking a non-traditional way. Traditional meaning, going to film school, or going through the steps from PA to Director of Photography, or whatever position you desire. It all started with self produced short films in high school, followed by wedding films, then to documentary shorts. Would I have changed the way I got to become a Cinematographer? No... I learned great things doing wedding films. I would say, I acquired a certain skill that is very difficult to achieve unless you shoot guerrilla style. It is a skill that I obtained through trail and error. Through great patience studying how people behave. it was understanding how people react to others during conversations, through understanding body language. Basically, when shooting weddings it was imperative to capture moments. The luxury of working in commercials and productions with intense planning is that you can plan and polish the spot to look a very spectacular way, however there are always happy moments that happen that aren't planned. It is between camera and performance. The weddings did teach me how to foresee moments happening. It may sound very odd to some, but maybe you relate.
I heard Roger Deakins say this very similar thing. He used to shoot documentary work, he loved it because it helped him acquire this ability to foresee things happening. This has helped him work with actors and have a feeling for their reactions and motions. It was something I starting picking up because of the moments I had to capture at weddings. I got really good at capturing moments after having shot near 200 weddings. I took an opportunity to do a documentary project in Guatemala, filming about my humanitarian movement down in the village of Seamay. Because of my experience with weddings, it made it much easier for me to capture the right moments from such a different style of film, even with a different culture.
Early December, I took a trip back to Guatemala to take on a strict photojournalism trip. I was only going to take photos. My intentions were to better the "sixth sense of filmmaking."
While there I had ideas planned of what I would like to capture. I thought a lot about using just a 24mm lens to capture the 10-day trip. I brought a 24-70mm lens just for the rare occasions of using it more telephoto. The majority of all the shots I loved were from the 24mm. Because, in my mind that is all I could think of visually that I wanted to tell. In fact some of my portraits were shot at 24mm.
When shooting photography, I love to pretend that I have a single roll of film loaded into my camera. I like to limit myself to a certain number of shots that I can take for the day. This is one tool that has helped me treat each frame as a canvas and masterpiece to work on. Now, this is really hard when shooting for the moment. It takes a lot of patience and a sharp trigger figure. More importantly, it takes one to dial in the exposure ahead of time. Setting your exposure beforehand will help you capture those right shots. The brief window of foreseeing something is mere seconds. To adjust your settings and take the shot is just too risky, and will most likely end in failure.
These images are from my recent trip, I chose the wide lens to challenge me to focus on adding depth and dimension into the images. Just below, the image with the five kids is one of my favorites from the trip. What does this image tell you? What story do you think it has? I find that taking still images helps benefit my cinematography by taking your time with a frame, you break down the essentials in the image. You direct the eye right where you want it to go. I like to have the eyes linger in the images longer, having them wander finding clues and subtle details that make the images feel balanced and or even better.
Though not all my goals weren't met at the trip, I feel like I took home a greater sense of foreseeing moments to capture. I took home many great memories from this specific trip.
If I were to share ways to achieve or improve your sixth sense I would suggest the following:
1.) plan the image ahead of time. Seems impossible to plan an unknown shot ahead of time. Allow me to explain. Let's say you are downtown, you are going for an image of a biker going through a harsh alley of light that is from the sun peaking in between 2 buildings. First you find a location where you seeing the lighting behave the way you envision. Second, make sure that there is biking traffic. Third, wait... wait... In the image of the kids playing soccer with the mountains in the background, I knew I wanted a kid hitting the ball in the foreground, I wanted it to happen where I was located because I liked the background and the sun beaming through. In my part I had to set myself up to where I wanted the action to happen. I knew that the kids would have to come back and try to score. I then just waited, my exposure was already set and now all I had to do is just press the shutter release.
2.) street photography, get out and look for opportunities. If you need samples of fantastic moments captured look at Magnum photography. They have some outstanding photographs from legendary street photographers. My personal favorite is Alex Webb. Don't be discouraged when looking at their stuff. If you know how many shots it takes for their finest it will be more encouraging. They however are ahead because they are always looking, and hunting for those moments. If you research their photography, I believe you'll be inspired to get out and hunt for those moments too.
You may still wonder "Why does this even matter, everything I shoot is planned anyway?" The best way I can answer this is to share personal experience with directors I have worked with on planned shoots. While the director is focusing on the performances, I am controlling the relationship between the camera and the performance. If I found something that I feel will benefit the shot or overall story, I am responsible to bring that up to the director and explain my reasons why. He does have the ultimate say, but this is a collaborative effort to tell the story the best way. He will listen to your thoughts, I mean, he hired you for a reason. Don't be afraid to bring up an option. In addition, an actor might bring something new to the table. To have a feeling of what they will do by reading their body language puts you at a huge advantage.