Director of Photography

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    • 00:03

      [MUSIC PLAYING][Director of Photography]

    • 00:11

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN: My name is Gretchen Warthen.I'm a Director of Photography.[Gretchen Warthen, Director of Photography]And basically, what the director of photography doesis we interface with the director or the creatorof the project that we'll be working on,to figure out what the vision and the emotion is.And then we take that informationand decide what type of cameras we're going to use,or lenses, lighting, theories on shooting to figure out

    • 00:34

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: how we can convey the emotion of that storythrough our camera work.How can I take that idea that's being given to me verballyand capture it so that it can be put on televisionin a physical manifestation?

    • 00:51

      NATALEE WATTS: And my name is Natalee Watts,and I'm an Executive Producer.[Natalee Watts, Executive Producer]We started working together on a show here in the Statescalled Secret Millionaire.And from there, I hired Gretchen to comebe the Director of Photography on a series call OperationChange.It's a 10 part documentary series that we did.

    • 01:14

      NATALEE WATTS [continued]: She has been the main DoP on my projectsfor the past three years, and she's done it differentlythan anybody else I've ever seen.The first time I saw her shoot anything,it was horses' hooves.And we were shooting this scene.And I look at the monitor and it'sjust the most beautiful shot of these horses' hooves going

    • 01:38

      NATALEE WATTS [continued]: through the sand.I don't know what made it different.But I thought-- and it was the first time we shot together.I thought, who is shooting that?And they're like, that's Gretchen.So I started paying attention to the monitor.And the way the story flowed so naturally through her lens--

    • 01:59

      NATALEE WATTS [continued]: she has a keen sense of just really knowing, you know,it's kind of like she didn't even have a camera.It's kind of like she's in the conversation with the peoplethat we're shooting.But luckily, she's filming it, if that makes sense.And the sensitivity that she has for the subjectthat we're talking to, or the story,

    • 02:19

      NATALEE WATTS [continued]: you can tell through her shots the way she covers the scene.How she frames them, the depth of field,the close ups of either people's hand movements or faces.So she changed the way that I realizedthat we could shoot television.

    • 02:40

      NATALEE WATTS [continued]: And I think it's just, I don't knowexactly what she does different, but she is different.And is it because she's a woman?Maybe.I don't know.Maybe it's a certain sensitivity that's innate.I'm not quite sure.But she brings it to life and makes the viewer

    • 03:03

      NATALEE WATTS [continued]: feel like they're a part of it.

    • 03:05

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN: I was a junior in college, political sciencemajor.I had worked for a law firm, big law firm for seven years.I was a legal assistant.I was going to be an attorney.Done deal.Watching MTV one night, so there's this big contest,Madonna's make my video contest.So on a lark, some friends of mine and I

    • 03:28

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: made a video for the contest-- lost.But I loved it so much, I completely changed my major.And within a year, I didn't work for the law for any more.I was now in the communications apartment.It's going to take me two more years to graduate,but it was the best decision I ever made.And I look back on it, and it was just something

    • 03:49

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: that I did naturally.It came really naturally to me.Just the simple process of coming up with the conceptsand making it a reality that you could watch,and trying to figure out how to tell that story.And the camera angles.All these things, at the time, I didn't know had names.I was a political science major.

    • 04:10

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: I didn't know what a storyboard was.I didn't know what a treatment was.I didn't know what different angles meant.I just know what I thought was telling the story.So I'm on one path, thinking that's goingto bring me happiness.And then I realized in a moment, cinematographyis what's going to make me happy.So if it hadn't been for Madonna,I would be an attorney today.

    • 04:30

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: I would not be sitting here.I knew I wanted to be an operator,but you can't just start as an operator.So I came in with the wardrobe department,which got me to the set department, whichgot me to props, which is on set,which is where the camera is.And then at lunch every third dayI would sit with the camera department,which got me a camera PA job, which got me a camera assistant

    • 04:53

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: job.So it was just like I knew where I wanted to be.And how to get there was this odd, interesting route.When I first started getting paid jobs,it was features and commercials.And I was working as a second assistant camera,which is, basically, the mother of the department.We clean everything.We do everybody's time cards.

    • 05:15

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: We make sure that everything is good for every-- we get coffeeif can.It's we're the mother of the department.And I was able to work up to first assistanton non-paid sorts of jobs.But there were no female operators.And what I got when I was like, I would like to operate,

    • 05:35

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: is, the camera's too heavy for you.I mean, to my face.You're too small to be a camera operator.You cannot carry heavy cameras.You're great as the camera assistant.Then a reality show came to town.And I took a job as a camera assistanton it, because I thought it would be different and fun.And within the first week, they're like,do you want to take a camera and go sheet a scene?

    • 05:58

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: I'm like, but I'm not an operator.And they're like, just go.See what you got.So I took the camera in, big Betacam, shot a scene,came back out.And they're like, that's great.And that scene made the show.Five months later, I was a camera operator on that show.And reality was the format that allowedme to be a camera operator.

    • 06:19

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: That let me put the camera on my shoulder and run around.So I went on this journey, and that's whereI started to travel the world.And then that led-- eventually, competition realityhappened, which is all big huge multi-cam setups, which isthe opposite of single camera.Then I started DPing smaller projects.And then worked into bigger.And then I did a couple features and series.

    • 06:41

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: And then I did Operation Change.So it's been fun and interesting.And you do, you do all these little jobs along the way.And you learn a little secret that you'regoing to put in your pocket for later.And then eventually, you get to a placewhere have this whole dictionary of secrets at your disposal.

    • 07:02

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: And you flip through your book and you're like, yeah, yeah,yeah.This is what I need for this.So it's just, it's been two decades now,two decades of gaining little tricks of the tradeand being able to apply those.

    • 07:18

      NATALEE WATTS: She's one of the original, first lady cameraoperators in reality, here.

    • 07:25


    • 07:26

      NATALEE WATTS: Which I think is cool.

    • 07:27

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN: American reality, when I came into it,was about 17 years ago.And at the time, there were only three womenwho had ever worked reality.So I was number four.I do feel like there's a turning point right now,and more and more women are operating.But I still, like even this week, as a woman,

    • 07:48

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: it's that camera must get really heavy for you.And I'm next to two men.And I'm like, why are you talking to me about this?I've been carrying a camera this big for 20 years.I'm fine.So there is a perception that women cannot carry largecameras.And 40 pound cameras is what I use.So I've been told my face, we're not

    • 08:09

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: going to hire you because you're toosmall to carry a camera around that's that heavy.We need a guy that can do this.And so that is a huge thing.A huge obstacle.There isn't a week goes by that I get the comment, oh,aren't you happy that cameras are getting smaller?That must make your life so much easier.

    • 08:30

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: And as a camera operator, small cameras are harder to operate,because they're out here, and it'slike they're hard to keep stable.And you got like-- put it on your shoulder, weight,stability, you need to be able to take your hands away,and it's just rest there.That's how you go in with a camera.These little cameras are terrible.You know, don't hire me.

    • 08:51

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: I won't take those jobs.Because at the end of the day, it's like, oh, I ache.And I've actually built-- I have three shoulderrigs with big weights and all sorts of stuff thatmake it about 30 pounds.And then I-- doot-- put that little camera up there.And that's how I operate.So I intentionally make my stuff heavy.These totally have their place.

    • 09:11

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: These camera, I mean, in a car great, awesome.But like for running around telling stories?In documentary filmmaking, where you need to size up the emotionin that moment, because you only have one chance to shoot it,I believe that women are raised to be listeners.And we are also raised to be more emotionally connected

    • 09:33

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: to who we're listening to.So as a camera operator, I'm always,always have an ear piece in listening to the audio that'scoming to me.And I am keyed in, emotionally, to what I am shooting.Because I'm a woman, and we're allowed to do that.So for documentary storytelling, Ithink, women definitely have an advantage over man,

    • 09:54

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: because we're just doing what we've always done,which is listening and keying in to emotion.Instead of staying stoic and distancing ourselvesfrom that emotion.So I think that's an important--

    • 10:09

      NATALEE WATTS: You kind of get a-- you know,we've shot around the world.And a lot of times the women, we put the women on the scenebecause it just makes you feel a bit more comfortablein certain cultural situations.And I don't know.I don't know what I'm trying to say.But maybe you kind of get a free pass

    • 10:32

      NATALEE WATTS [continued]: at times, because you are woman and peopleare less intimidated.

    • 10:36

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN: When we are in Tanzania,there was a woman who spoke fluent English who would notspeak English if there was a male present.So my audio mixer was a man.But when he disappeared behind the house,she started speaking English.So in my presence, she would speak English.But if I'd been a man, we never would have, you know,

    • 11:01

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: heard her side of her story in English,which was very fascinating.And then in Papua New Guinea, after having this experience,in Papua New Guinea, we decided--because we were talking to the female membersthe tribe about their experience with the situation.And then male tribe members about their experience.So we put a female crew with the women.And they had never seen women camera audio, camera assistant,

    • 11:24

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: and were amazed by it.And they've loved it.And they immediately just opened up to us,because we had this, like, unspoken bond.That they were strong, we were strong.And so in that instance, by being an all girl crew,including my audio and camera assistant,we were able to get into stories with these women

    • 11:46

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: that they never would have told.And same with the men.Sometimes men, like, they're veryrestrained about the stories they'regoing to tell if there's a woman present.So in those situations, it's not to my advantage to be a woman.Then you want a man for that situation.So it's important, also, as a documentarian,to know when it's appropriate, an advantage for meto be a woman.

    • 12:06

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: And when it's appropriate for me to haveone of my male operators cover a scene.It's not about ego.It's about culture.Probably one of the biggest challengesas director of photography, isn't the gear,isn't the technical side of it, isn't the subject matter,it's working with the director.Is this director somebody who's vision is a vision I share?

    • 12:27

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: Are we on the same page?Do I know exactly what he means?There's a director I work with on features, completelyscripted, doesn't give me a lot of information.So I have to be kind of creative about how I get the story shewants to tell out of her.And luckily, we're on the same wavelength,

    • 12:49

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: as far as storytelling.Once she realized she could trust me, it was great.But that relationship with the director is critical.And you do need to be open to what they're talking about,because the director is your boss.I mean, even though you're directing the photography,the director is your boss.So it's making compromises and trying to visually get

    • 13:12

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: on the same page.And sometimes I will work with the director,we are not on the same page at all.I want to shoot in nice, sexy, like lots of foreground-y shot.They want something straight on, overhead, boring.And at the end of the day, I haveto do with the director says.And sometimes, that can be really difficult.

    • 13:34

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: So that interfacing with the director is very important.You know, working with somebody whoyou share the same creative vision is important to find.But also, being able to work with people whosecreative vision you realize into the project you don't share,and are you going to quit or not?And if you walk away from a project, how

    • 13:55

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: does that reflect on you, professionally?So that's a big gray area decisionthat people will need to make in their future.But working with the director whose vision you don't sharecan be very, very challenging.Much more challenging than the gear.But another thing I'll say, another challengein the documentary world, when I am

    • 14:16

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: in somebody's personal space, their home, their work,wherever they're at, treating it with respect,giving them distance so that they canyou feel relaxed, and having an unspoken.Because as a camera operator, I'm not speaking with themwhile I'm shooting.I'm just recording the events as they occur.

    • 14:37

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: And being respectful about that and keeping my energy low,to myself, so they don't feel like I'mthere, that is another skill.And to have this whole kind of nonverbal relationshipwith somebody in a room, who is supposedto act like you're not there.But you've got this big camera, and maybe a light,and your audio person, it's a lot in a room.So navigating how to do that in documentary filmmaking

    • 15:01

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: can be a huge challenge.So those are the two things that arethe biggest challenges for me.First, if you're going to go to school for camera,my recommendation is figure out where you want to live.And go to school near where you want to live,because you're going to make connectionsin that local community.Intern as much as possible with local businesses,

    • 15:25

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: because then you get a reputation locally.And don't make it about the money.Make it about the experience.I will work for a much lower rate, even now, or for freeif it's a good content or it's a directorthat I want to work for, I will do it.Because to me, you get paid by money.

    • 15:45

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: There's spiritual growth, which isn't necessarilythe religious.And then there's fun.And am I happy?So if I am super happy on a show,or like with Operation Change, huge spiritual growth,the paycheck isn't the point anymore.So for me, you need to go, live where you want to live,

    • 16:07

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: immediately start interning and networking.And then when you start working, regardlessof how much you have learned at school, come in humble.Come in not telling people how to do their jobs.Be a blank slate.It's a new phase, blank slate, let them ride on you.Take all their experience.

    • 16:28

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: Never be critical.Always say yes.Even if you don't want to say yes, say yes,and be happy about it.People want to work with people that say yes.They want to work with people that arehappy about what they're doing.Because it makes everybody happier.And those really, really, really incredibly important ways

    • 16:50

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: of living your life on set that are rare.I don't need your attitude.I don't need a lot of things.We're all in this together.Let's just, like, do this.So I knew I wanted to work in camera.It's hard to get into the camera department,so I went into wardrobe.Like I would do anything.

    • 17:11

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: And I would do it for free to get on set, to get experience.And I would watch the camera department.How do they interact?How are they professionally on set?And that's another thing.Know the hierarchy.Know your place in the hierarchy.It's all just, like, simple, basic things.But take advantage of everything that's given to you,regardless of the money you're going to make for it.

    • 17:32

      GRETCHEN WARTHEN [continued]: That's how you get to be successful, followingyour heart not your checkbook.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Director of Photography

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Cinematographer Gretchen Warthen discusses her career as a camera operator and director of photography in film and television.

SAGE Video In Practice
Director of Photography

Cinematographer Gretchen Warthen discusses her career as a camera operator and director of photography in film and television.

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