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What Producers Look for When Hiring a Cinematographer

Hey there, Gio Toninelo here, producer and cinematographer at Rocket House Pictures. Today, I want to share some insights on how to break into the video production industry, especially if you’re looking to work with top-tier companies like ours as a cinematographer or camera operator. This article isn’t just about getting noticed. It’s about standing out and showing what you’re made of.

Why Did I Write This Article?

Over the past few years, Rocket House Pictures has made significant strides to become one of the top video production companies in the Denver Metro area. We consistently show up on the first page of Google for local video services queries, which is fantastic for visibility and attracting new clients. However, it also means we receive a ton of unsolicited job applications. I get it – breaking into this industry can feel like trying to crack a safe. So, let’s talk about how you can do it effectively.

Resumes are Nice, But Reels Matter Most

Here’s the deal: in my nearly 18+ years of running Rocket House Pictures, I’ve rarely, if ever, looked at a resume. When I do, it’s usually just a quick glance. What truly matters to me is the reel. Your reel tells me everything I need to know about your skills and what you bring to the table. You might be surprised to learn that some DoPs and cinematographers who have impressive resumes, including work for major networks, often have some of the worst footage I’ve seen. News broadcast footage? Not relevant here. The number of years you’ve been shooting? Doesn’t matter. Some of our best shooters are young and tech-savvy, while some older ones haven’t kept up with new technologies. In this field, talent trumps age every time.

Your reel tells me everything I need to know about your skills and what you bring to the table.

What Makes a Reel Stand Out?

Your reel should showcase your expertise in exposure, movement, and composition. Avoid sending mediocre footage just because the action is exciting. For example, reels centered on short films and student sports events are often overlooked by me. Show us your best work. I’m not expecting you to be a Roger Deakins, Greig Fraser or a Rachel Morrison, but I want to see that you have a good eye for composition and can handle a variety of shots. Include relevant samples – rack focuses, nice pans, a few slider or gimbal shots, and, most importantly, excellent framing. I also like to see how you play with light, so shots with flares or a well lit scene are a bonus. If your footage is well color-corrected, well composed, and edited professionally, you’re already ahead of the game.

Things I Look for When Hiring a Cameraman or Cinematographer (Beside Their Reel)

  1. Good Attitude: A good attitude is crucial. I want someone who can put those being filmed at ease, be patient during unavoidable delays, and understand the need for re-shoots if the footage doesn’t meet our vision. You need to show a relaxed vibe to clients, interviewees and crew, even if the ship is on fire.
  2. Technical Skills: Operating a camera, maintaining composition, and adjusting angles is a challenging feat. It takes years to learn and even more to specialize. Whether it’s fast-paced event videography, precise lighting for a music video, or multi-cam setups for interviews and testimonial videos, a good camera operator stays current with shooting techniques, lighting, new equipment, and a range of formats and resolutions. Also, handling a camera that costs more than a car and say, anamorphic lenses isn’t something you can just wing – it takes years of practice and technical skills.
  3. Endurance: The job sometimes has some physical demands, strength, and manual dexterity. Long hours, challenging conditions, and being on your feet all day are part of the package. Keeping up with our industry’s new gear is essential, but so is maintaining physical fitness to handle the rigors of the job.
  4. A Good Eye: Creativity can’t be taught. A skilled camera operator spots opportunities and has an artistic eye for framing shots. They see how elements like visual composition, perspective, lighting, and movement come together to tell an awesome story that aligns with a client or brand’s image.
  5. Attention to Detail: Producing professional video is an orchestrated event requiring precise coordination. A good camera crew executes instructions accurately, enhancing productivity and achieving communication objectives. Capturing the right footage in the field streamlines the editing process and provides valuable content for future use. You also have to be a team player and lookout for other crew members, specially the lighting department.

A true working cinematographer is defined by a deep understanding of the project, combined with exceptional talent and skills.

It’s Not About the Gear

With camera equipment becoming more affordable, the bar is lower than ever. However, owning a nice camera doesn’t make you a cinematographer. You need to know how to use it, how to communicate effectively with your crew, and how to showcase your skills. People often find themselves debating between RED and Alexa or full-frame vs Micro 4/3. The true focus should be on emotion, capturing the audience’s attention, and creating a video that touches people. The essence of filmmaking lies in the power of the idea, the strength of the story, and the passion fueling the creative process. A true working cinematographer is defined by a deep understanding of the project, combined with exceptional talent and skills.

How to Get Noticed by Top Video Production Companies

Additional Resources:

Partner with Rocket House Pictures

At Rocket House Pictures, we’re always on the lookout for fresh talent. Our success as a national corporate video production company is built on our ability to recognize talent without ever meeting the filmmaker. We have an extensive network of cinematographers in major cities and outlying regions, making us a reliable choice for clients and a great partner for your video production needs.

Breaking into the video production industry is no easy feat, but it’s definitely possible with the right approach. Remember, it’s not about having the best gear; it’s about showing your talent and skills. Get out there, shoot amazing footage, and put together a reel that sets you apart from the rest. Your future in the industry starts now.

For those looking to collaborate with a team that values talent and creativity, Rocket House Pictures is here to help. We make videos that matter, with a cinematic and story-driven touch that is is unmatched in our region.

For those of you looking for work, keep on shooting!

We’d love to see what you can do.

Gio Toninelo - Producer and Cinematographer

We make videos that matter.