One of the things that’s struck me on my travels is the different attitudes to training, education and accreditation around the world.
Lets face it, these days anyone can call themselves a DoP, I do! But what is a DoP? What does it mean? It means a lot less today than it did 10 years ago. When I started in the industry there was a kind of unofficial apprenticeship system. You started as an assistant, became a camera operator, learnt how to light, becoming a lighting cameraman and worked your way up. If you tried to sell yourself as a lighting cameraman without having the skills to back that up, word of mouth would mean no one would hire you. Today however it seems that almost anyone can pick up a camera and call themselves a DoP, Director of Photography, a very grand sounding title. There is no requirement to have actually had any training or real world experience before you can call yourself a camera operator, DoP, colourist or whatever you fancy.
The problem for production companies is working out who really does have the skills and experience to back up their job title. I’ve spent many days helping production companies train their staff and frankly it’s quite scary sometimes as I’ve met many so called DoP’s and camera operators that have huge holes in their basic skills and knowledge that really shouldn’t be there.
Education and accreditation are what’s needed. I don’t just mean education through college and university courses, but real world, hands on education. Out in the field with more experienced camera operators. That’s hard to get these days as few productions have the budgets for camera assistants and even fewer have the time for mentoring and one to one teaching. You also tend to find that a production, depending on the budget will use either more expensive, skilled and experienced operators or low cost self shooting AP’s and the two rarely come together on the same project at the same time. In addition we need certification or recognised accreditation. We need industry standard recognition of skills and experience, not just for those new to the industry but also for those of us that have long term practical experience. The IOV (Institute of Videographers) has the right idea. You can gain different levels of accreditation through assessment of your skills by a panel of IOV members. However this accreditation is not widely acknowledged outside of the IOV and is not always relevant to some areas of broadcast television.
A further issue we have here in the UK is that we don’t like paying for training. In the USA and Asia for example that attitude is quite different. I know many Asian freelancers that consider it normal to spend significant sums of money to attend week long, peer led, practical workshops. Why? Because at the end of the workshop they know they will have new or improved skills and they will have a certificate to back that up. That certificate will help them get more work or better paid work. Because the workshop is run by working industry experts, not just college lecturers, the knowledge gained goes beyond just the “how to” but also includes the “why’s” and “when’s” and practical how to run a business experience that is often lacking in traditional schooling. Because many here in the UK either can’t afford to pay for training or simply think it’s not worth the investment they will turn to the internet for help. That’s a whole can of worms in itself because absolutely anybody can set up a web site and write anything they want. While there is a lot of very good information on the internet, there is also a lot of incorrect information and if you don’t know any better how do you know whether what your reading is right or wrong?
This isn’t something that can be fixed overnight. Our attitude to training and education needs to change, especially as the rate of technology change continues to increase. There are new concepts to grasp almost every day these days. Great cameras do not, on their own make great pictures. It also takes a skilled operator. We need a formal way of recognising different ability levels to make it easier for production companies to find the right people for the job. I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years, but I’m still learning and many of the most useful things I’ve learnt have been from those more experienced than me. So we need more peer based training and it needs to be accessible to freelancers, not just those with staff jobs. We also need to think of education as an investment. People are prepared to invest £1000’s in a camera that may have a working life of just a couple of years, but are much more reluctant to invest a few hundred in a workshop that might give them skills and knowledge that might last a lifetime.
Finally, what is a DoP anyway? It used to mean Director of Photography. The person that directed the camera operator, chose the lenses and film stock. The DoP did not normally operate the camera. The DoP would normally be the most experienced person in the camera department, typically with many years of experience as an assistant then camera operator. Today it appears to mean anyone that can operate a camera and make a YouTube video.