The Practical Cinematographer's Guide to craigslist

Being the sort of cinematographer that I am, I'm always looking for interesting projects. Even on craigslist. I get RSS feeds of relevant posts from cities around the world. I've been doing this for a couple years now and I've learned to filter them quickly. I have to. I only find about one in a hundred that merit any attention. I figure the occasional reply to a CL ad is a good way to experiment with ways to pitch myself without jeopardizing jobs I'm actually up for. I've had exactly one in-person interview, and regrettably I didn't get the gig, but I really enjoyed the interview. That puts the total number of CL jobs I've done at zero.

So here's my thoughts on craigslist ads. If you're short on time and patience, only look at the jobs section and not the gigs sections. People have to pay to place ads in the jobs section which weeds out most projects.

The ad I for which I took an interview was perfect - Firstly it totally stood out from the dross by advertising a purely technical shoot of visual effects elements and explicitly promised no creativity whatsoever. Technical VFX shoots are a great chance to work under a totally different set of parameters, and if the tech-team is competent you will learn. A lot. Secondly, the poster asked respondents' to give day rates. After availability, this is typically the first question I am asked when I get a call for actual work form credible producers. The producer and director were kind enough to review my reel and grant me an interview, even though I clearly stated that I didn't have the precise experience prerequisites. Ever courteous and professional they said they liked my reel. They let me know I didn't get the job, which I appreciated. I was thrilled to have gotten the meeting.

Their ad had exactly what I look for. A specific description of the job. Promising only what they could deliver. Good indications of a capable and experienced team. The willingness to negotiate salary seriously. Ads like this on craigslist really stand out after a while because they are so rare.

Here's a rundown of the kinds of ads I ignore. 

1. "DP with own camera and/or gear" -  While I have been known to consciously let myself be taken advantage of in the furtherance of my career, I don't think that this is the way for me to do it.

I'm a cinematographer. I am not in the equipment rental business.

I have enough responsibilities on a set and I don't need any more. If I own the equipment and it malfunctions or breaks, that's my responsibility. No thank you. Add the hassles of storage, transportation, insurance, prep, maintenance and on and on and I just don't find that owning my own gear is practical. Better to rent from good partners with whom I can build long-term working relationships.

2. Shooting on Canon DSLR's - don't even get me started on the topic of using stills equipment for live-action motion photography.

3. "unnamed Names" - I'm horrified at what qualifies as a celebrity these days. However, I think it's safe to assume that anyone I would consider a Name is extremely unlikely to be placing themselves before the lens of an unpaid DP found on craigslist.

4. "Award-winning" - Awards are cute. I enjoy bowling with my ten oscars. If it was actually notable, they'd have specified which award.

5. "aimed at Fesitivals" - Festivals are cute. Personally I prefer to work on projects that will be enjoyed by a large audience. Also, I don't care who you know, getting into festivals is not something you can promise.

6. "Future work" - In my experience, this makes me skeptical. When the money comes they go somewhere else because they don't take you seriously.

7. A ridiculously low wage - I operate under the assumption that worthwhile projects have no difficulty attracting talent. Even for free. Copy/credit/meals tells me you should know better. $75/day tells me that you're desperate and your project couldn't attract ants if it were covered in coca-cola syrup and left in the sun at a picnic.

8. "Low-budget horror" - I've got more than enough horrors in my experience already, thank you. I've done many unpleasant jobs (and not just in film) but the only one I would describe as soul-crushing was a couple overnights for some low-budget horror about Ed Gein's mother or something.

9. Web-series, documentary, reality - generally not my cup of tea, though making the occasional exception on these forms has been rewarding, but only by referral.

10. Apologies for the budget - This is distinct from lo/no budget. It describes a project that is attempting to do too much with too little and producers who lack the experience or ability to mount the project with an appropriate budget. Guaranteed nightmare.


You'll notice I don't rule out free work. Working for free can be valuable, though I typically only take it by referral. What I look for are interesting projects that are realistically achievable with the available resources and a focus on putting those resources on screen. I look for experienced knowledgable collaborators from whom I'm going to learn a thing or two. I usually regret taking anything that doesn't meet those criteria, paid or not.

That will tend to eliminate the vast majority of craigslist ads.  Fortunately I'm in position to do that. Though please note that I made a move to Vietnam because that's where I was getting work I wanted to do.

Getting work is hard, so do what works for you. Even if it means shooting an under-resourced web-based-reality-documentary low-budget horror show for $25/day with an award-winning director who has cast a Name actor's stunt double whose going to get the film into all the festivals and introduce you to more work than you can handle shooting with the Canon DSLR camera and lenses that you own. Oddly, I almost took a job of pretty much that description, but it was mutually agreed that my onscreen persona wasn't going to win any awards. That's ok. My place is behind the camera, not in front of it.

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