What Producers look for when Hiring a Cinematographer

Before we get into the details, let me explain the need to write this article.
In the last few years, Rocket House Pictures has been making a stride to become one of the top video production houses in the Denver Metro area. Currently, we always show up on the 1st page of Google for any local video services query. Which is great! We are highly visible to potential new clients. But it also means that when someone searches for "video production companies to work for", we are also a reasonable choice. Hence, we get a lot of unsolicited job applications. I get it. I’ve done it myself many times in the past. How do you break into an industry that is so close-knit without cold calling/emailing?

The key to our success as a national corporate video production company is our ability to spot and recognize talent without ever meeting, working with, or otherwise knowing the filmmaker. Through careful selection, we have created an enormous cinematographer network in major cities and outlying regions that has evolved into a reliable database of pros. Understanding the selection process is beneficial not just to cinematographers, but also to clients who may be curious about the process.

Resumes are cute. Reels matter the most.

Hardly have I ever taken the time in nearly 12 years of business to look at any cam operator, cinematographer, colorist’s resume, if they even bother attaching it. Some people include a partial resume in the body of an e-mail, which I glance over but it never factors into my decision. I believe in selecting the best talent, which means the reel tells me everything I need to know about the skills of the work they do. Some DoPs, cinematographers who have done work for major networks, according to their resumes, have among the worst footage I’ve ever seen shot. News Broadcast footage is not relevant at all to me. I also don’t value how many years any given cinematographer has been shooting. Many of our best shooters are young and many of the oldest shooters haven’t adapted their skills to new technology, which means in film and video, age is not a factor in the hiring process. A young talent is just as likely to be a great cinematographer as veteran shooter.

The most important thing in a reel is to show expertise (exposure, movement, etc) and demonstrate a good eye for composition. Avoid mediocre footage just because of the action.  For example, a huge oversight is to send reels centered on short films and student sports events.

I am a cinematographer myself and a creative director and can appreciate artistic work. I’m not expecting you to be a master artist, a “Roger Deakins” or a “Reed Morano”. I want you to be at least equally yoked, or have a similar eye.  Producers want to see examples of your work as close to what they may hire you to do. Send highly relevant samples. If I see a reel incorporating rack focuses, nice pans, a few slider or gimble shots, and most importantly: nice framing, I know the person is capable of handling any type of shot our clients may want to see. If the footage is nicely color corrected, well-framed and edited professionally, the presentation is excellent and so is your chance of being hired.

You can’t simply buy your way into the industry just because you have a nice camera.


Keep in mind that our film and video industry is very competitive  for cinematographers/camera operators. With gear being so inexpensive these days, the bar to become a camera operator is fairly low, but your talent and skills are still the most important factors to become a true working cinematographer. You can’t simply buy your way into the industry just because you have a nice camera. You have to know how to use it, how to communicate effectively with the crew, and how to showcase your skills. And we want to see those skills. Not in a resume, but on the screen. Get out there, shoot incredible footage (even if it’s for your friends first), and put together an awesome reel that sets you apart and ahead of veterans.

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