Vernon Dolan (MA Cinematography) on starting out in the industry
By Giuseppe Bruni
22 May 2020
This week we catch up with another of our MA Cinematography students, Vernon Dolan.
One of seven students on the course, Vernon had already worked in the industry in Germany for many years on German TV productions as well as major international productions such as Cloud Atlas and Homeland, before joining the course. Originally from Ireland, Vernon has been enjoying a successful career, living in Germany for many years. We caught up with him to find out about his start in the industry, studying on the MA and living in Berlin.
Where did your interest in cinematography begin?
My interest in film came from a simple love of cinema and this led me to the first part of my training with Film Base in Dublin. It was a 16mm course that covered all departments in film making. I never knew half of these jobs existed. From my first moment on set, I felt at home in the camera department, no matter what job I had. Cinematography seemed to be the perfect mix of creativity and technical know-how.
After working in the industry for many years, what motivated you to join our MA Cinematography?
For a long time, I was looking for advanced education in cinematography that could be achieved in a short space of time. I was constantly working and stopping for a long period of time was not an option. I had heard about MetFilm School from my second assistant Anna who had attended the London campus. She seemed very well informed and was extremely professional on set. So I kept an eye on the School until they offered the Cinematography MA course in Berlin.
You’ve had past experience working on a variety of projects, from TV to international productions – what have been your career highlights so far?
Everybody sees the big name projects on your CV and this does help you get your next job. Films like Cloud Atlas, The Hunger Games and shows like Homeland are great gigs. Lots of camera toys and good wages but some of the smaller projects can be much more creatively satisfying. Big teams can be impersonal and you can get stuck in your department. Smaller teams are more like family; everybody knows each other and ideas flow easily. A good Director as your creative partner and a friendly team can be much more satisfying.
What is your favourite camera to use and why?
Ah! The camera question! There are two answers to this:
Arri Alexa is the industry standard and for good reason. It has the best picture, codec choice and is very reliable. Our tutor Ralph Netzer made sure we used the Alexa this year and I could see how the younger students took to it instantly. On the other hand, I’m a Blackmagic fan. I bring the Blackmagic pocket camera with me on every job and we have always used it as a B camera or a car mount camera. It cuts together very well with Alexa and offers real post-production possibilities. I’m combining the pocket camera with the MetFilm School Canon c-300 on my next shoot, so I can’t wait to see how they match up. Camera snobbery can be a production problem, so don’t concentrate too much on how new or expensive the camera is. Ideas are king.
Do you feel Berlin is an exciting piece to be a creative right now?
Berlin is wild and it’s unfinished. I’ve been here since 2003 and it’s changed so much. I have been reintroduced to this city by the younger students around me. As they discovered the city they drag me along to these crazy new places I would have never have found by myself. So I’ve got this new twist on a city I thought I knew thanks to MetFilm School. Berlin is a cultural hot spot… a lot of theatre, art and music combined with small bars and restaurants and parks where you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have fun.
What advice would you give to someone interested in cinematography?
Make contacts….now. Surround yourself with creative people you can work with, people whose opinion you trust, people who push you and challenge you. Keep these people close, you never know who can help you later. Observe life, collect images that interest you. Even if you are watching a bad movie keep watching but start analysing. How did they do that? Where does that light come from? Copy those who you admire, but then develop your own style.
What are your aspirations for the years ahead?
Paying the rent. I still love being a focus puller when I can work with the right people. It’s a great job and can be creative. I would like to work more as an operator and second unit DOP and build up a showreel for my move to full-time cameraman. At the moment I’m enjoying working with the Documentary & Factual MA Master students on their industry projects. I could definitely see myself making some documentary films in the future.
Interested in studying Cinematography? Find out more about our postgraduate courses at MetFilm School in Berlin.