Mentor-mentee… A relationship through which knowledge, experience – and hopefully, wisdom – is passed from the seasoned professional to the aspiring person of a new generation.
I have shepherded many students over the years. In fact, through the good graces of the ASC and AMPAS, I’m carrying two young cinematographers under my wing at this very moment. Supposedly. I say that because both have shown little to no interest in accessing the tremendous resource I offer. Sadly, this has been the overwhelmingly common response. Many of my colleagues report the same. I have no idea why, but for me it might have to do with the ground rules I lay out during our first exchange.
I will rarely contact you of my own volition. The initiative belongs to you. I cannot get you a job.
Here’s my personal cell phone number. I enthusiastically encourage you to reach out at any time, for any reason. I will never turn you away. If it’s 35˚ and pouring sleet on location in the middle of the night – and you have no idea how to handle the next scene – I’ll be ecstatic if you call me for advice. I’m available 24\7 to discuss any aspect of cinematography. I will never consider you a pest. I’ll be happy to advise you, guide you and help you build a great presentation reel. The doors to the kingdom have been flung open for you. I will make the entirety of my knowledge and experience available to the extent you wish to explore it.
But the burden of asking remains with you.
I dunno… Sounds pretty simple and enticing to me! Yet few have ever probed the wire, let alone taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity.
Is that too intimidating? Is it a generational issue? Or do the poor responses I’ve gotten just indicate a lack of passion for and commitment to the road my mentees have chosen? Looking back to when I was in their position, if a well-established cinematographer had made such an offer, that person would have never gotten rid of me!
So, if you truly have your heart set on becoming a cinematographer, here’s some advice. Should you be so lucky as to connect with someone willing to give of themselves, go for it! Seize the initiative, show some enthusiasm… some desire. Take everything that person is generously offering and use it to begin building a career!
Whatever you do, don’t waste anyone’s time taking up space if you’re not all-in. I trust there are plenty of candidates who would kill for the chance. My challenge has been in seeking them out, but maybe I should let the right ones find me instead.