To be at the sharp end of making a feature film, ie. in the camera department, or as a Director, or any of the other departments involved in bringing the film to the screen, you must start with an understanding of how the jigsaw fits together.
I started working at Pinewood Studios for two years in the camera department straight from school – cleaning boxes and learning what went into those boxes – cameras, lenses and all the equipment necessary to photograph a movie. Most importantly, I started to learn the incredible discipline that goes to make a top camera crew.
Now, many years later, I find myself working as a Cinematography Tutor with the new student film makers of all nationalities, in several top film schools and universities and I find a fierce ambition in both young men and women to work in our industry. On my first encounter with my students, it is so important to gently remind them that they must learn to walk before they can fly. They are undoubtably talented but, as a seasoned Director of Photography, I feel it is my duty to teach them the system which has stood the test of time for more than 100 years.
Film making, first and foremost, is a collaborative venture between many groups of people and departments, all striving to bring the best storytelling film to the silver screen.
Even when a student only wants to be a DoP, he or she must go to the set with an understanding of each job done by their camera crew. In film school, I help them to understand each role – Grip, 2nd AC (Assistant Camera), 1st AC (Focus Puller), Camera Operator and the HoD (Head of Department). I am adamant that, as HoD, I am responsible for my crew at all times and that I can only be as good as the crew I have around me. All departments have one goal, to support the Director and his script – and you need to be punctual, remain calm and enjoy each day’s work, with all its ups and downs.
The technology in our industry has changed drastically over the past decade – but the role of the DoP has not! When confronted with a set to light, I don’t think …’what kind of camera is on the dolly behind me?’… I’m there because the Director has asked for me and my expertise on the set. Whether the camera is film or digital, my job has changed little. The Operator’s job has hardly changed either, he is concerned with composition and camera movement and working closely with the Director. The 1st AC’s job has seen the greatest change with the arrival of the computor box with a lens on the front. With these incredible sensors, depth of focus has become a real issue. Digital cameras have a much shallower depth of focus, so great care has to be taken with each shot, whether it is with an ultra wide angle lens, or any other focal length up to 1000mm. With new digital cameras coming on stream every few months, it is a constant battle to keep up with this wonderful technology – and with the range of new studio low voltage, dual colour temperature LED soft lights, an exciting new world is opening up to Cinematographers.
So, when I meet a new group of film students who are aspiring to become Cinematographers, I look for talent that will continue to produce wonderful images for the big screen, to entertain audiences all over the world. I try to encourage them to create a story with images that will entertain, make people laugh, cry and leave the theatre feeling that they have been transported into a world of make believe.
Robin Vidgeon is a Past President of the British Society of Cinematographers, a Fellow of the BKSTS and a member of the Guild of British Camera Technicians.
Robin’s film credits include: Following Footsteps – 2010, Nine Lives – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Event Horizon – 1997, Neverending Story III – 1994, As You Like It – 1992, Under Suspicion – 1991, Memphis Belle – 1990, Hellraiser I & II – 1997 & 1998, The Penitent – 1998, The Mission – 1986, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom – 1984, Never Say Never Again – 1983, Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981, The Dogs of War – 1980, Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 1977, Rollerball – 1975, The Great Gatsby – 1974, The Lion in Winter – 1968.