Vanessa Whyte works as a Director of Photography on music videos, adverts, shorts and feature films. She tells IdeasMag how she broke into film, and explains why there are no head starts...
Full name/age/job title:
Vanessa Whyte, 28, Director of Photography.
Please give us an overview of your average day:
If I’m working in prep, it can be anything from meeting the director and planning our shoot to going to recces. Shoot days start early and finish late and can be anywhere. There’s a lot of driving! Seeing new places is one of the perks of the job.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That it’s just about lighting and camerawork. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort – it’s about working with people and articulating your ideas. You have to stand your ground for what you believe is the best way to make the film as well as know when to accept better ideas than your own.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
Remembering the creative side of what you’re trying to achieve when you’re surrounded by a crew that is up against the clock. It’s easy to put a camera up and shoot something but it’s hard to find the perfect angle, lens, movement and lighting style to capture the mood needed to create the scene. Doing this while surrounded by the chaos of a set is a real challenge.
We all struggle to make good work for small budgets and have to be flexible. You plan these brilliant shots, then you have 60% of the money you were hoping for and half the crew.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
When I was 14, my dad built a darkroom in the laundry cupboard. I wanted to be an actress and the dark room arrival was about the same time I realised that I couldn’t act – I always knew I wanted to do something in film, so photography just took over.
I had a job as a camera trainee on a BBC drama and within days I was convinced it was what I wanted to do. However it wasn’t until after I’d done a degree and been working in production for a year that I managed to pursue it properly. I applied to the National Film & Television School, and have been plugging away at it ever since.
What can you do to get a head start?
Work hard! I don’t think there are any “head starts”. Each job teaches you something new – the people who are good are those who have worked with dedication and gained a huge amount of experience. The best cinematographers have been making films for decades – it’s a slow uphill climb with no secret tricks. It’s nice to know that I’ll be better when I’m 50 than I am now.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
It all stems from the director: you need to understand their vision. Things always change as you go along, so you’re required to separate the technical side of your brain from the creative one on the day.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
It took me a while to ask questions without feeling stupid. It’s OK not to know everything and the more questions you ask, the more you’ll learn.
Which organisations/ websites/ resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
Cinematography.com is an amazing forum for working DoPs as well as students. If you ever have any questions about cinematography, you can guarantee the answers will be on there.
American Cinematographer is a brilliant monthly magazine, featuring articles on all major film releases as well as a few on shorts and student films. The BSC (British Society of Cinematography) has a similar publication.
If you’re interested in music promos you should keep up to date with all new releases. Good sites are Promo News and videos.antville.org.
Go to the cinema!
Fancy winning £30,000 to fund your work for a year? Apply for Sky Arts Ignition: Futures Fund.
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