Film School vs. Experience on Set
Sam McCurdy is a British cinematographer that started his career in a traditional way. He studied art, finished a fine art degree in photography in college, with the goal in mind to work in the film industry. When he got his degree, he started working on film sets as a trainee, then moved up as loader, first A.C., camera operator, to finally become a director of photography. Back in the days when productions were still shot on film, one of the only ways to learn your craft as a cinematographer was to be on set – in fact, that is probably still the case. However, with a “traditional” film school education, Sam McCurdy thinks that times are changing.
Film school can be useful for you to develop your storytelling skills, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a requirement to become a successful filmmaker. As Sam McCurdy points out, film schools are expensive, and with the money you save, you can buy a second-hand cinema camera and shoot your movies. The great thing with digital technology is that it allows anybody to shoot their film, publish it on the Internet, and let the audience decide if they are a good storyteller or not. If it works, then brilliant, if it doesn’t, you can try doing another film or determine whether a film school is maybe a better path for you.
If you have a really good story, you can shoot it on everything, and people will watch it. – Sam McCurdy
However, it doesn’t mean film schools are useless; they can be fantastic to make connections and finesse a talent you might already have. Storytelling is critical, and Sam’s advice is to give filmmaking a try first to see if you like it before going to film school.
Perfecting your Craft
Sam McCurdy grew up in the 70s/80s, with big American blockbuster movies. All these big scales movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and so on had an impact on Sam’s work. He started shooting low-budget horror movies during the late 90s, and found his style slowly moving along the productions. Nowadays, Sam McCurdy is also known for having excellent expertise in shooting dark scenes.
But, all projects are different, and he reminds us that it is essential to progress and perfect your craft on every job you take. You’ll make some mistakes, some things will not turn out how you expected, but you’ll learn something for the next gig. Never stop trying new techniques to finesse your skills, and go on set to deliver your best work. This is how Sam McCurdy landed a gig on Game of Thrones season 2 episode 9, also called the “Blackwater” episode.
Shooting a Game of Thrones Episode
Game of Thrones s02e09, “Blackwater”, is very dark, and the production called Sam McCurdy to shoot it as a cinematographer because of his expertise. Television schedules are much shorter than feature films ones, and they had only ten days to pull one hour of the television show. One advice Sam gave us is to be well-prepped during the pre-production process so that you can adapt to any change during the shoot.
There is an incredible amount of people and energy on a TV show, but everything has to be done quickly. You can’t spend three hours rehearsing or lighting for a scene, but it has to look as best as it can and as a feature film. It is essential to know where you want to go as a cinematographer to execute the vision of the director without losing your crew’s time nor energy.
Something cool to hear is that the director and cinematographer had total freedom to make the show look as good as they wanted. Otherwise, this episode received a lot of critics for being “too dark” (though not nearly as dark as season 8, episode 3, “The Long Night”), but as the producers told Sam McCurdy during pre-production, “Game of Thrones can never be too dark.” Also, a good reminder is that once the show was aired, it doesn’t belong to you anymore, and people will judge it as it is. Don’t be afraid of the critics, it is how it is, and like everything in life, some people will like it, some people won’t, and it’s a matter of taste.
In the second part of this interview, we will talk with Sam about gear, cameras, and lenses they used on Game of Thrones, as well as his work on Lost in Space.
What do you think about this first of the interview with Sam McCurdy? Did you learn new things that you can apply for your next job? Let us know in the comments below!
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