I'm a Cinematographer that's spent 15 years specializing in filming documentaries, the ones you might catch at the art house cinema. My most successful credit is the Oscar winning OJ: MADE IN AMERICA. This film also secured me a Prime-time Emmy nomination for Best Cinematography in a Documentary.
Back in 1985, when I was applying to colleges, I was asked what I'd like to study. I came up with Photography but I didn't have a great answer to their only question which was "how are you going to make a living at that?". So, in 1990 I graduated from Napier with a business degree. For the remainder of the 90's I put that degree to great use in the corporate world. I found my way into the international division of a Texan company that sold Aircraft Engines for Power Generation. I was fortunate to be based in Hong Kong for four years and Brazil for another two. At some stage during that career, I started to pursue photography and then got heavily into shooting video. One day I noticed that my camera case outweighed my brief case and I started to ponder a career switch.
In 2002 I graduated with an MFA in Cinematography from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where I've been based since. I read some career advice which mentioned that if you were over the age of 18 and were thinking about a career in Hollywood, you should consider specialising. It was fine to be well rounded, but this theorist was promoting the idea that it would behoove you to be perceived as a specialist because they are often considered a safer bet when hiring. I remember at Napier being introduced to the idea that being decisive was paramount to success. Oftentimes a decision can be better than no decision because things move. The idea of specialising made sense to me as a career strategy and I wholeheartedly implemented it.
I branded myself as a documentary cinematographer, which was basically unheard of at the time. It just seemed like a great fit for what I was interested in, and luckily for me there was a coinciding Renaissance in the field soon after. The theory working out and I was inducted into the Academy of Motion Pictures Documentary branch earlier this year, which means I now get to vote for the Academy Awards.
Without a doubt, the key decisions I've made in both my careers are steeped in the theories I picked up at Edinburgh Napier studying business.
What advice do you have for students and recent graduates?
To succeed in the creative world means generating work. You have to do this constantly with or without anyone else's help or encouragement. You have to clock up the hours however you can, because without those experiences you won’t get better. You have to be unstoppable and you have to put yourself and the work out there. If you don't have a boss, imagine what a good one would tell you to do and do that - It's most likely to keep trying.
When I started a family I was stretched to find time to generate creative work of my own, but I needed some to get more paid work. I saw an opportunity to get up at the crack-of-dawn for a week and to go down to the centre of Los Angeles, where I filmed the city waking up. The film took me five crack-of-dawn missions to shoot. The resultant four-minute film got programmed at festivals and was bought by Lonely Planet at a time when I had very few credits to my name. I still get hired directly as a result of that film.
Whatever career you go into, you have to make sure that people want to have you around. In my business career, a wise colleague once told me that no one would buy a ten-million dollar engine from you just because they liked you. That said, you should never ever forget that if they don't like you, they'll definitely won’t be buying one from you. This to me is universal.