What I learnt from MA Cinematography with graduate Paula Osa
By Elise Czyzowska
20 May 2022
What do our students learn on our MA Cinematography course? Today’s blog is here to give you an idea of the skillset that our graduates develop during their time on this degree, and was written by Paula Osa, an MA Cinematography graduate from MetFilm School London.
Since graduating, Paula has been involved in commercial work for a number of brands (including Boxraw and Coucoo), as well as working as cinematographer on the 2022 short film Aamal, directed by Fatima Helou. She has also helped to create music videos for American artist John Hanifin and documentaries for the likes of Public Health England and Word on the Curb.
Keep reading to learn Paula’s top takeaways from her degree….
Three technical skills I learnt…
- Effective pre-production leads to stress-free production: throughout my course, we had to have a shot list, lighting, and floor plans prepared for each class exercise. This practice means the process is much easier for me now; this is crucial for the 1st AD to create the shooting schedule, as well as for your crew to be most efficient during a shoot.
- Setting up and operating cameras: we mainly worked with Arri cameras, and now it takes me just a short time to rig and set up (an essential skill for a 1st AC!). After graduating, most of the bigger projects I’ve worked on have used an Arri, so it’s great to already have an understanding of how the camera performs in various environments, something you can only gain from experience. We also spent time learning how to operate a camera on a tripod. My most valuable tip? Always leave the pan and tilt unlocked!
- Lighting: during my degree, I learnt to work with lights such as tungsten, LED (skypanel), and HMI. When you’re on set, you will undoubtedly need to change the positioning of lights from shot to shot, but it’s crucial that your exposure levels remain similar – so we learnt how to ensure lighting continuity. Part of the course is also learning to be comfortable with rigging lights in heights. Most of the sets I’ve worked on since have required lights to be rigged above, rather than on stands, and it’s vital to do this safely.
Three soft skills I learnt…
- Working with a director: during my MA Project, I learnt how important it is to have a good working relationship and understanding of your director. These projects were my first peek into the real industry, and I quickly realised how important it is to choose your crew carefully. Since completing the course, I’ve been working with a lot of the same crew, and a few of them are actually from my Master’s project!
- Trust your crew: building from the last point, it’s immensely important to choose your crew well, because they are the ones who will have your back. Sometimes, your AC can come up with an idea that saves the day, and because, as Director of Photography, you’re constantly busy managing a large crew, you might have otherwise missed the solution.
- Set etiquette: I learnt all the essentials to do with language, hierarchy, and the roles in both the camera and lighting department. Another point that was really reinforced into our learning, was respecting other roles. As Director of Photography, you can’t be micromanaging your team – this doesn’t mean you can’t help others when they’re short a pair of hands, but always ask before jumping in and taking over.
Three creative skills I learnt…
- Don’t over-complicate things: during my IP Projects, I got to experience the commercial environment of the industry, which is where I learnt not to over complicate things. The image needs to be universally pleasing to the eye, and not overwhelming. Nevertheless, there should be a few more technically complicated shots in the project to make it look more ‘expensive’.
- Collect a mix of static and moving shots: being able to move between static (simple) shots and moving (complicated) shots, is essential in ensuring the story you’re capturing is visually interesting. If you try to make all the shots complicated, it can feel overwhelming for the audience. More often, simplicity is key, and my course taught me how to use the visuals to elevate the story rather than overpower it.
- Always think back to the story: I studied film before coming to MetFilm School, so I already understood the meaning behind camera movements, angles, and lighting types. In MA Cinematography though, I learnt how to ensure that these aspects matched up with all the other moving elements in shot, such as blocking. I learnt that, for example, there’s no point in using a complicated moving shot if it doesn’t align with and elevate the narrative.