Dear Mr. Stapleton, Recently I moved to central London to embark on what will hopefully be a long and prosperous career in cinematography. I'm currently at university, studying for an unrelated degree, and I've found that the film industry over here is somewhat introvert and very difficult to penetrate. Aside from the my university film club (which happens to have fostered one-hit-wonder Christopher Nolan just a few years back), I'm finding it extremely difficult to get involved with *any* production whatsoever. As I understand that you're from this part of the world, I was hoping that you could shed some light on how you were able to navigate the business to such a successful extent! What is the best way to find out about productions coming to London, and smaller shoots such as commercials and music videos? Really, any tidbit of information you might have would be very genuinely appreciated. I think it's needless to say that this Q&A board is an amazing resource to the average Joe filmmaker, such as myself. Thanks very much for doing it, and I look forward to seeing some more of your work at Leicester Square very shortly! Sincerely,
Alexander McKenzie

First of all I suggest you read my site as this has some tips about how to penetrate the industry. There are a number of ways into the camera department.. here are some of them.
1. Work at a camera rental house like Panavision, Arri etc.
2. Become an official "trainee" through the Union (BECTU)
3. Befriend a trainee who might use you to help when they move on to be a loader.
4. Help with film school films and hope that you will join up with someone that you stick with.
If you have no professional experience it is generally not helpful to contact working camera people, as they have a long list of people before you that they would employ.
Right now the industry has laid off hundreds of people because of the recession, so it might be a good time to go travelling and come back in a year to look for work when (hopefully) things are better.

Dear Mr. Stapleton: I am a Technical director at a major visual effects facility. I have been fascinated since childhood with movies and creating images, I have previously shot video and some 16mm but I got seduced and sidetracked by computer and special effects. I'm in my mid thirties and after a weekend shooting my daughter with some super 8 and projecting it in my living room. It suddenly dawn on me that holding that camera, composing a frame and getting an image is what I have always loved. So I have resolved, as I have everything in my life, to methodically and step by step get back to my first love. As I'm sure you know a Technical director is a person who does lighting in the computer and matches(in my case mainly characters, monster, animals etc.) those computer generated images to live background plates. I work, for good or ill, in major motion pictures, so I think I have somewhat of a leg up since I have an understanding how motion pictures of massive scale are shot and put together. I have been shooting things here and there but I want to create a good looking demo reel that will get my foot in the independent scene to begin with. My interest is mainly in dramatic material but any type of fiction would be of interest to me. My desire is to shoot film not video and I have no desire to be a Director or screenwriter which is where my problem lies. How do I go about shooting material for a demo reel that would include people without the resources of a director or writer? I can't ask someone to put their faith in me since all I have is isolated shots of personal things and some landscapes. Is there some exercises that I can practice with a couple of actors that would yield imagery that could be put together as a reel?. Does a cinematography reel need to have audible dialog or is it possible to have a reel with just shots and appropriate background music and let the images stand on their own, akin to my current demo reel. As a matter of fact reels in the visual effects industry are routinely viewed with the sound off, since the image is all that matters. Is it so in Cinematography?, or is the context of the scene needed for a director to understand what he is seeing? I know these are a lot of questions but any wisdom would be appreciated.

I think the first thing to understand about the hiring of cinematographers is that the demo reel is only an introduction - and that the reels you will be competing against are always going to contain "professional" material shot for commercials and movies.  So I wouldn't say that investing time and energy shooting material "on your own" is worthwhile. I've never had a demo reel in my life, because when I got started there was no VHS tape, so the making of demo reels had to be on film, so most cameramen just got hold of the original if someone wanted to see it.  Mostly you just worked with your friends, which in my case I met during my time at The National Film School (UK).  Of course all that has changed and I gather now that demo reels are very important, which is all the more reason why making one on the lines of what you are considering is not worth while.  Imagine turning in a "home reel" in your own world of visual effects: unlikely to compete against your company reel. The strongest card the cinematographer has is the relationship with the Director.  The Director decides who is going to shoot their film, so your best bet is to cultivate a relationship with a budding director: beg, buy borrow a camera, film and anything else you can persuade your friends in the industry to supply and make a short, doco, commercial... anything that gets work on the screen.  A budding Director needs a chum to get all that practical stuff sorted... and the more favours you do the more people respect you!  I keep seeing ads on websites for cinematographers to work (for free I expect!) and supply equipment (for free!).. This is where to start because one day one of those groups of filmmakers will make it through the fog, and when they go you may go with them. Good luck with the change..

Dear Mr. Oliver Stapleton: Hello. I know this is supposed to be an e mail address for people who are knowledgeable about movies to be writing to. However, I just finished reading your essay and I found it very informational and helpful. My name is Lindsay Dyer, I'm 17 and live in Michigan. I am obsessed with movies and can think of nothing more I would like to do with my life than to work with them. This is the point in my life when I need to decide what I'm going to do with my life and what I really want to do is become a casting director. I really believe that I would be good at this and find it very interesting. What I was wondering was if, since you are so experienced with working in the movies, is if you could give me any information on how I need to go about persuing this type of career. Is there some sort of special college I need to attend or do I just fill out and application? This is what I really want to do in life and anything at all that you could tell me would be GREATLY appreciated. I realize you are a busy man, but if you could just take a bit of time out of your schedule to write me back, I would be SO grateful. Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Stapleton.
Sincerely, Lindsay Dyer

Hi Lindsay, Good that you have focussed in on an area you are interested in.  There are only really two towns to head for in your country: LA and New York.

At your age, your best bet is to get hold of one of the "recourses" publications like Hollywood Reporter, and look at the names of Casting Directors (or on IMDB).  Find out their addresses and write to them (preferably hand-writing), saying you would like to do a few weeks work experience, helping out etc.  If you are lucky someone will take you in. The more clear and positive you are about why you want to go to X (you like the movies etc) the more helpful that is. Quote dates/months when you are free.  Give any relevant details of anything you have done outside of normal schooling (theatre?).

You will need to find somewhere to stay cheaply, so if you know anyone in either of these towns who will put you up for awhile, then head for that one!

Good Luck,
Oliver Stapleton.

I've been involved in video/TV production part-time since 1995 and full-time since late 2001.  My experience includes grip, cameraman, lighting designer and technician, floor manager, technical director, set designer, location scout, [NLE] editor, associate producer and line producer. How do I make the transition into the wonderful world of filmmaking? thanx,

Sounds fairly staightforward to me.  Choose whichever of the things you have done as the focus for yourself, then submit your resume to upcoming moves in pre-production  and  make clear  that you want to make a “transition” into film so are willing to work at  a lower rate for the first job or two.  These are listed on IMDB pro or in Hollywood reporter.


Aged 27, after much contemplation I have decided that I would like to work in movie editing. The problem is, I have no idea as to the best way of getting involved. I am considering taking a part time degree in film studies, but would like to know the opinion of someone who works in film. I have excellent IT skills, although none as yet in movie editing and am willing to learn. Could you offer me any advice? ??--Lisa

First of all, 27 is the perfect time to make changes. I was that age when I went to film school. This is one very good way of marking a transition in your life. I would recommend the NFTS if you are in the UK; in the US you'll have to do your own research. "Part-time" film studies may not provide you with the hands-on experience you will get in a full time course.
Second, you could drag yourself around the editing suites of London, New York or Los Angeles trying to get a job as a trainee. It's generally a job for someone younger, but 27 year old girls often pass for 20 so you won?t have a problem here. You?ll earn no money and make a lot of tea and coffee but you'll be at the heart of the process, so you'll learn a lot. Lastly, make it known in your family/social/work circle that you want to edit. Learn what you can with Mac or PC editing programs like Final Cut Pro as these programs are very similar to the one's used professionally. I have a friend who was a carpenter, taught himself Final Cut Pro on a home computer, shot and edited a snow-boarding movie with a chum and is now a successful editor for TV! He was around 30 when that happened. Good luck!

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