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.


8 thoughts on “A WORD TO THE UP-AND-COMING”

  1. Richard,

    My mind is blown by this! You Sir are a truly generous man and an incomparable resource for anyone passionate about cinematography at any level, student or professional. Being able to reach out to you is such a blessing. It brings a smile to my face just to know you are there, always willing to help, and with a kind word. Thank you.

    Maybe it is generational? We have had cinematography interns at our studio for many years now. Some definitely connect better than others. My experience has been that interpersonal skills seem to have suffered as people seek more of the world through their smart phone. I often stop our students from digging around for info on their phone and force them to call or better go visit that rental house, artist, or work of art they are running a google search for. It takes a lot of effort getting them to learn how to talk, listen, build confidence, and to build relationships with actual people. Especially people they hold in high esteem.

    For my part, I’ll be bothering you more often…

    A friend in Brooklyn,


  2. I find few cinematography students really want to discuss art and history of cinema and rather want to talk about new technologies or how to get hired on a job. Honestly if there was some simple trick to finding work and getting hired, I’d love to hear it!

    What I can relate to is someone having a passion for lighting, for visual storytelling, and for great movies in general. And what I appreciate is someone having respect for the work of past cinematographers — someday we’ll all end up in the past!

  3. Richard,

    I have found the same issues with mentees. I tell them virtually word for word the same thing, but the moment I tell them, I will not get you a job and I will not guide you on how to get a job they show no interest.

    And they vanish. They don’t seem to want to put the work in to get the job they just think they are owed the job. It’s a big issue in the Steadicam community where people are taking on huge debt buying questionable gear and then angry that they aren’t working on the “Big Shows”

    The biggest change in my operating skills and approach was after working on a film with Tom Priestly as the DP. We talked thru every setup and I would pick his brains on how to be a better operator. He loved it and was a fountain of information and remains a good friend and mentor to this day. All because I asked a question…

  4. Wow! What a blown opportunity for these mentees.
    They must think they have everything figured out.
    And you’re so gracious in offering your direction
    and leadership. Really sad. If it was me I’d want hang
    out and learn as much as I can from a real pro.
    I would have endless questions.

  5. It’s discouraging indeed. I tried to mentor two young cinematographers and they showed little interest. An older Operator turning DP calls me when he needs advice. He is well on track.
    My ASC Mentee is great. Two 2 hour Skypes so far and he is full of energy and questions. He is the one reaching out. I send him articles, links and book recommendations and he eats it up.
    I’m suprised that any ASC Mentee would not take this more seriously as I judged twelve applicants and I was impressed by the work put into it.
    Although I did have menors of sorts, I wish I had the mentorship being offered by the ASC.

  6. No truer words have been spoken or written by Rich: “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!”

    And to Eric Fletcher, I worked with the late Tom Priestley Sr., who started as a Pathe newsreel cameraman and went on to direct documentaries. He was old school gruff but always ready to help. We became close friends in the last 10 years of his life.

  7. As someone who’s made a “living” behind the camera for 25 years, I would have killed for something this. They won the lottery, they just don’t know it.
    Oddly enough, if you offered these services and put them behind a paywall like Patreon, you’d probably have plenty of people signing up.

  8. Hello Richard,
    The thing you have done for me can never be estimated in price! It was such a huge uplift for me to get the chance to know you and get an advice and mentor from you and it will always be! I will continue developing myself through your very amazing advices and helps.

    Thank you so much Richard!

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