Should I shoot my own film or hire an experienced DOP (Cinematographer)? This is a question that I am asked by my clients on a regular basis. So here is my take on this all important question.
I believe that if you do not intend to earn a living from shooting films, hiring a professional DOP is the best option. This means you can focus on the job at hand – producing and directing your film.
Most Film Directors have never trained as DOPs. The Film Directors who make Hollywood films and big budget independent films, always hire a Director of Photography who takes care of the technical aspects of shooting the film. The DOP in turn will then hire their camera operators on a big budget film. This is how it has happened since the early days of Hollywood and how it happens today at the top end of Film Making.
In small independent films, the lines between DOP, Camera Operator and Director are more blurred. One extreme example is El Mariachi where Robert Rodrigos was an all up one man crew directing the film and shooting the film as best as he could. The book “Rebel without a Crew” is a great read and talks about Robert’s adventure shooting El Mariachi with a crew of only one.
My feeling is this. As a Film Director, you want to be like the General looking at every aspect of the film. You want to be like Steve Jobs and have the vision for the project and imbue your vision through to your creative crew. Hiring an expert DOP will improve the quality of your film dramatically.
Matt Smith hired me as his DOP on “Repressed” (please have a look). This meant that he could add his vision to my cinematography skills and get the film that he wanted. I was able to help him get the visual look that was needed for the film. I spent a full day on the various locations in pre-production planning the shot list. Matt also had ideas visually for the film and as a result a wonderful collaboration happened with a great result, a short film that looks awesome. Matt actually edited “Repressed”. What a great job!
Hiring professionals will increase the success of your film. Remember the Director in the indie film world will usually get the credit for the successful film and not the DOP or the Editor. So why make life hard for yourself?
If you shoot the film yourself, it might be a lot of fun. However, if you are inexperienced, it is likely that you will make many mistakes and shoot films with lack of coverage, ultimately ending in a poor film.
If your goal is to use several films learning via mistakes and you are not worried by the results of your film, well this might be a fun way to go. If your goal is to earn money as a gun for hire DOP, it is important to learn how to be an expert DOP via shooting as many films.
However, if your goal is to become a successful film director as quick as possible, shooting your own films is not a great way to proceed. Hiring a professional DOP is the way forward and should be part of your production plan for your film productions.
Hiring an experienced DOP Pros and Cons
Pros for hiring a DOP:
- You get great shots and coverage for your edit
- The Film looks much better and has the professional sheen
- You can find a collaborator in the DOP you choose that will stay with you on many future films
- It is much less stress
Cons for hiring a DOP:
- You might have creative clashes with your DOP
- You might feel that your vision for the look of the film is not adhered to
- You might choose the wrong DOP
- Good DOPs cost money; all good professionals do
Most of the above cons can be alleviated if you check out your DOP. Check how you feel intuitively with the DOP when you first meet him or her.
See the films that he or she has shot before. Do not look at showreels. See the full film. Make sure their previous work is exceptional as that is exactly what you will get. A great way to get value when you hire a DOP is to ask them to throw in all the cameras and lights equipment with their labor in a daily capped fee. This way you can get the equipment as part of the deal.
Trying to do it all yourself usually leads to an amateur result unless you have been trained in cinematography and have shot many low budget short films. Here are the suggestions for hiring a DOP:
- Look at our Services page
- Place in Google Search one or all of the following Keywords: DOPs, DOP Agents, Cinematographers
- Star Now
However, I highly recommend that you learn as much as you can about cinematography and shot listing for a scene when you are learning film making craft. This way you will be able to communicate with your DOP and get the result you are after. One way, of course, of learning about cinematography is to book on to a film school that teaches you all the technical side of film making. Make sure you get to do all the crew roles. That is the why we created the ‘4 Month Film School’ so you get to sample all the crew roles. This will ultimately make you a better Film Director in the long run.
Colm O’Murchu Director