All Grown Up

Last month I talked about how important it was for Guild camera crews to be literate; to be able to describe, in a concise and cogent manner, how, why and exactly what it is we do in this industry. As workflows and technology grow ever more complex, knowing how best to communicate with directors, producers, editors and other creative stakeholders on a production becomes, if anything, a survival skill.

But there’s one aspect of how we communicate (which relates closely to this month’s Product Guide theme) that needs a second look.

I’ll give you a big hint: How many different terms are there for the equipment and materials that we use? In the U.K. they’ll ask the director of photography, “what’s new in your kit, mate?” When we rent our personal equipment to a production here in the U.S., it shows up as a “box rental” line item on the budget. Hence the oft-heard query on movie and TV sets, “so what do you carry in your box?”

Naturally, those are both harmless enough descriptions of an essential aspect of our work. But there’s another term, used throughout the camera department as well as by the people who sign our checks that I have serious objections with.

Calling the equipment we use toys.

We’ve all heard it. As when producers say, “oh, you DPs just love to play with your toys,” implying the world’s best film craftspeople knowingly try to inflate a show’s budget in order to satisfy some deep personal creative need or affectation.

We don’t play with toys! We work with tools – the right and best tools the budget can accommodate – to get the job done.

I don’t know any working directors of photography who don’t work their tuchuses off to come up with just the right gear to make a job flow, both artistically and for the production. We have to do it the right way because of just this kind of stereotype that exists around camera. Walking the floor at any of the major equipment conventions – NAB, IBC, Cine Gear, Createasphere – only serves to reinforce this silly notion that we are wildly indulged children running free on some technological playground, where cost, size, application, and other prerequisites have no bearing to real life.

“What are the latest toys?” “What kind of new toys you got for me?” “That’s a great little toy we can mix into our next location shoot.” On and on it goes and I have to strenuously object. Referring to the tools of our trade – serious and, yes, often very expensive equipment – as “toys” demeans our profession and undercuts our skills, especially in the eyes of those who don’t use or fully understand new technology.

We at Local 600 are all about getting images up on the screen in the most efficient, productive and artistic fashion. We’re not waiting for the recess bell to ring on the first day of production so we can run off to go play in the sandbox.

Please remember that in this industry, perception is often reality. And we need to be perceived as the skilled and conscientious professionals we are by everyone we encounter.

Fraternally,

Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600