As a shooter, photographer, or any creative discipline for that matter, we all know that having an artistic style is important because it’s a major consideration prospects look at before hiring you. But it’s not everything. What kind of person are you when you get the job, and more importantly, how your crew, producer, peers or client perceives you is equally important. Are you conveying the image you want? Maybe you have not given that enough thought? This is essentially your reputation, or in media production, your on-set persona. I also like to call it your standard operating procedure (SOP). It’s how you walk, talk, do, and conduct yourself on the job. Just like your artistic style, you should create a SOP and reputation that is consistent and desirable for your audience because ultimately it’s going to be what you are remembered for, and being remembered for something is just as important as your portfolio/demo reel.
When I was working crew for 10 years I worked with a lot of different DP/cameraman so I’m using this perspective to draw my experience. Stereotyping is considered offensive but as George Clooney said it in the movie “Up In The Air”…” Stereotyping is faster”. So, I’m going to take liberty and stereotype a handful of very different camera/shooter/DP personas that I’ve encountered along my way. The point is while they are all different, they are all similar in one regard: they stand out from their respective crowd; for better or for worse. Who did I remember most and for what reasons did they leave an indelible impression on me?
The Dictator has a reputation that precedes him. They are quickly remembered as being very difficult to work with because the slightest thing can set them off. Working around these people was like tip-toeing on egg shells because you never knew when they were going to explode. As the day waned, the chances of these people exploding only increased as they tired. Many a crew has horror tales that have become the stuff of legend. I remember vividy watching a DP take a standard grip arm and bend it with his own bare hands in a fit of rage? Stories like this make you infamous and cast your persona faster than Han Solo in carbonite. When film was the preferred medium to shoot, these DP’s were notorious for being loud and angry, and they ruled their set with an iron grip Stalin would be proud of. They also hated suggestions and would scorn anyone that spoke out of rank. I don’t think these people are as common today as they once were but I had my fair share of encounters. These shooters demanded the best from their crews but they ran their sets like drill sergeants.
The Ego Maniac has trouble getting over himself and I often wonder if they see themselves this way? They crave being at the centre of attention all of the time because their arrogance trumps all. When they walk into a room their ego pushes everyone else to the walls. Moreover, they believe everything they do and say is genius including their morning dump. They have a profound ability to mesmerize directors and producers into believing they are the only ones on the planet gifted enough to “save” their job from certain disaster. Ironically, these types often take suggestions well but by the then of the day they are telling everyone and themselves about the brilliant idea they had that morning. These shooters truly were a “legend in their own mind”.
The social butterfly’s Modus Operandi is simple and straightforward: Never-Rock-The-Boat. The prime directive is for everything to be chill and smooth and they avoid conflict at all cost. They put commerce before art and everything drives toward the goal of securing the next payday. They prefer to chat and tell stories about jobs they were on, but never the one they are on in the moment. Ultimately, they care more about how people perceive their image than making the image in front of their lens. They will keep their questions to a bare minimum often agreeing to something before someone even finishes making the request. They show up and pretty much do exactly as the director or producer wish and check their creative input at the door. These people thrive because they are compliant, convenient and get the job done in a satisfactory manner, but it shows. Any lack of creative input is compensated by being a genuinely fun person to hang-out with. Working for this type is easy because they will never want to put anyone out in the first place.
The artiste is a relatively new persona that has flooded into the “profession” through the accessibility of cheaper and better technology. Good, digital cameras are ubiquitous today and these types of shooters have embraced this. “Finally, the playing field is levelled”, is the attitude. Money is of less concern to them and only serves as a means to an end; that end being art and purpose. These people truly have the project with their best interests and will go to extreme measures to bring the vision alive, where most others would have passed on the opportunity for involvement. They roll with the punches and working with these people is the polar opposite to the experience of working with the dictator. The set does not feel like a boot camp, rather more like a commune of like minded individuals collaborating where many ideas are built from inspiration than from blueprint.
The techno-weenie (and they are always guys by the way) is all about their gear. Unfortunately, I remember these types for being the least inspired shooters. They live for researching and buying the latest crap and their only passion is for the toys they are using. Every conversation starts with, “what camera do you use”? They know every technical detail there is to possibly know and spend an inordinate amount of hours on internet forum boards discussing these topics at nausea. I truly believe these types could give an “F” about what they are actually shooting. I remember these types as “lens-backward” shooters because they are more interested in diddling with what’s happening behind the lens than paying attention to the important things happening in-front of it.
The consummate professional is a paradox: A master craftsman and artiste on the level of Roger Deakins or anyone that has shot numerous features, countless commercials, and documentaries is all of the different personas rolled up into one, yet none of them at the same time. How is this? At this level, they have checked their ego years ago, but operate with a confidence that is sublime. They don’t dictate, they communicate. They don’t overly concern themselves with technology because it has become second nature. They don’t text, email or chat on the phone while rolling, they can wait for lunch. They don’t see themselves inherently as artists but see their job is to be an artist for the day. Like a magician, they do all of the above invisibly because they have transcended the need to operate so belligerently in any one way. They have achieved a persona that will be remembered as not having anything left to prove.
Truthfully, there is no one that deserves a label of any one kind. Everyone is a different mix of all of the above to varying degrees. For myself, mere mortals and working stiffs trying to follow our passion to paycheck, we have to find that “thing” which we can become known, because standing out is imperative to your success. Know what that is, embrace it and be consistent with your persona. Be aware of what you are communicating, how you convey it and think about how you might be seen to those around you. A standard way of operating, persona, rep, or whatever you want to call it, is just as important as your demo reel and it will be a major component that shapes your own distinct brand. If you can’t figure out what that may be quite yet, don’t worry because it will develop with experience. In the meantime, common sense would say not to annoy or piss anyone off and you will be ahead of the game.