Tip Of The Day


Learn Stuff

You never know when you might actually need to know how
to use a light meter. Now is a good time to start, as it takes
some practice. Practicing while you're shooting is not
something I would recommend.


Try to build a team that will grow with you over several projects. New blood is good,
but too much of it at one time can alter your universe.


Take the time to research a problem you might be having. The information
available at our fingertips just blows me away.


I always take bear spray with me in the woods around
here, but around my house too?? I think not.


If you hear about a gallery opening, a workshop at school a guest speaker of interest somewhere in your town try to attend these events. It will be worth your time and I promise it will help you get ahead!

Call Home

Give your Mom a call today and tell her...

To Germany

Ich bin schrecklich traurig durch die jüngsten Ereignisse in Ihrem Land,
meine Gebete und Bewunderung für die Deutsch Menschen kennt keine
Grenzen.Schlagen diese Sache jetzt.

To Mexico

A todos mis amigos en México, gracias por ver mi nuevo video y visitando
el sitio web. Aprecio mucho su cultura, la pasión y el amor de la familia. Dios los bendiga!

to france

Pour tous mes chers amis en France. Mes prières sont avec vous,
mes pensées sont avec vous, mon cœur est avec vous. viva la France.


See if you can go one day without a cell phone.

Stay Busy

If you're looking for work and can't find any,
stay busy and live as healthy as possible.
Now is the perfect time to re-charge!


I know all of you lead busy lives. If possible, please take a moment
and write me with any ideas you might have to help make the site
more helpful and interesting. Contact me at markvargo@mac.com

a quote from George Washington

"In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the
voice of the multitude."

A Spanish Proverb

"Estar solo es preferible que estar en malas compañías."

"Being alone is preferable to being in bad company"

Italian Proverb

"Prima che un uomo possa svegliarsi e ritrovarsi famoso,
deve svegliarsi e ritrovarsi."

"Before a man can wake up and find himself famous,
he must wake up and find himself."

a russian proverb

Маленькие воры повешен, но большие из них бежать!
(little thieves are hanged, but great ones escape!)

Histogram Series

If you missed any of the recent Histogram series
you can find all five of the installments in the Musings
section of the website.

New Series!

For the next few installments, updated every other day,  I'll be discussing
histograms and other qualitative and quantitative tools we have as image makers.
If you miss a day, go to Musings where I'll be posting the entire series.

New Series about Histograms

This Sunday June 5, I'll begin a bi-daily discussion of
Histograms and what they mean to us as image makers.


You have your family, and your film family. Don't ever
wonder which of the two is more important.

Wait for a cloud

If you're shooting a scene that requires a gloomy feel
and it is a partly cloudy day, wait for a cloud. This slight
delay drives directors and production crazy but thats too
bad. It is your job to fight for the look of the project so stick
to your guns and don't cave!

two cameras

Try to find a place for a second camera when blocking a
scene. Especially when there is action or a lot of dialogue.
A properly placed second camera will shorten your shooting
time and help your editor out of a jam.

Close ups

Everyone likes the look of a long lense "close-up". Try
using a wider lense closer to the subject and see if that
changes the feel and emotion of your shot. Lenses have
personalities too!


Try to avoid challenging the production department on
any issue whatsoever. Don't start a turf war, you'll lose,
take it from me.


I always make my bed first thing in the morning.
It sounds like a little thing, but it starts my day
with a succesful first task accomplished. Keep
that mindset throughout the day and everything
will work out for you in time.

Shooting is the easy part

You will spend more time, rehearsing, blocking 
and setting up the cameras than actually filming
the scene. Shooting is the easy part. Since you
are all set up, do an extra take or make a lense
change to maximize your visual harvest.

know it all

You can't possibly ever "know it all" - so don't be one.
Nothing will turn a crew member off faster than being
dismissive of their help and ideas. They may only be
right one time, but that one time might just save your ass.

The long and winding road

Like the snowflake in the mountains that finds its
way to the mother ocean, our careers take many
twists and turns. It's impossible to find a path of least
resistance. Find ways to enjoy the journey, even if it feels
like your bumpy ride through the rapids of life seem
never ending.

quit smoking

Want to be more productive? Quit smoking. There
are a number of smokers on my crew who spend
more time thinking about their next cigarettte than
the work at hand. They think I don't notice. You'll get
farther ahead in the business quicker and feel much
better too if you quit. Best thing I ever did years ago.

The never ending job interview

Remember, your supervisor is an observant person  -  I watch
the entire crew all day long. Think of your efforts at work as
the execution of all the promises you made during your job
interview. Keep up your end of the agreement, always.

Watch a film classic

Watch a film classic or two and the saying "the
past is prologue" - may resonate a bit more for you
as you encounter and solve your production problems.

keep your cool

It takes a long time to earn the respect of your peers
regardless of your resume and reputation. Don't
blow it to smithereens with an irrational outburst. I
have a bit of a temper and struggle to maintain my
compusure at least once a week. Keep your cool.


We all have tough days on set. When I do, I remind
myself that there are many great talents who would
like to have my job. This is a wonderful industry and
lots of people want to be a part of it. Try not to take
any of it for granted and always finish strong.

First setup

The most important shot in starting a scene is your
first setup. From this shot, you establish the blocking,
set the screen direction and lock in the lighting. Allow
your actors to contribute to the process too, if they want
to roam about let them, but accept the fact that it might
add to the shooting time.


We aren't as durable as we were at ten years old. Don't
attempt tricky stunts without a stuntman to help supervise
your shot. It's dangerous! Of all my tips, this one is the most
likely to be ignored.

Reserve some Light

When lighting a set, try to use bigger lamps so you can scrim
them down while achieving your look. If you or the director
decide to change frame rates or shutter angles, you'll be able
to get more light by pulling those scrims for the additional
exposure needed. Otherwise, you'll have to pull out larger
instruments which is time consuming and possibly embarrasing.


Be alert for magical moments, a light change a
great performance from an unlikely actor a flare
from nowhere that enhances the shot. Magic is
everywhere - capture it and embrace it!

It’s a creative job

Remind everyone on the set that regardless of what
they do - they are forwarding the creative process in
in some way!

Don’t waste a second

If you are fortunate to be paid for prep
time - GREAT - don't waste one second!

Keep that old computer!

Keep your old computer! You never know when
you might have to download something from your
elderly camcorder. The new systems can't retrieve
data from older tape based cameras. I learned
this lesson the hard way. (It's a long, sad story.)

Don’t overpack

Leave some room in your bags - you can buy stuff
at your destination and besides, you might have to carry it 
a long way. Pack like a sailor!


Make 2016 your breakthrough year! Write that short film,
buy that new lens, learn Final Cut, Premiere, After Effects,
Photoshop and Final Draft. You can do it!

spread goodwill!

smile and say hello to people for a day or two!

Swiffer Cam

I needed to do a fast low shot as an example for class. I got out
my smallest video camera and zip tied it to a "Swiffer" mop and
ran around the house chasing the dog . The shot worked well.
Look around your house for things to attach your camera to!


Share a tip with someone who is working hard
and on their way up! It's great Karma and that
gift will pay dividends in time!

Shoot a color chart

Color charts are universal - buy one! Shooting
one at the head of a roll will help you determine
where a color problem might be. Is it the Camera?
Is it your Monitor? Find out by shooting a color
chart. We shoot one, every time we change the lighting..

Save stuff!

You can't imagine the special memories that
ran through my head when I came across
the letter that launched my career.

don’t be rude

Be careful about how you talk to someone you don't know
on the set. They may be powerful enough to remove you
on the spot if you address them with an attitude or rudely.

Have Fun!

Shoot a car chase with models! Make a shot list, plan
interesting camera angles and cover it like the pro's
would. Cutting it all together is a great exercise too.
Pick-up shots are cheap, easy and most of all SAFE.


Be curious. It's never been easier or faster to look things up.

Learn an App

I have for the longest time wanted to generate old fashioned
blue screen elements.....somehow. Finally, I sat down and figured
out a way to do it in Photoshop. So with a 20 dollar X-Wing model
and some cheap blue felt from the fabric store I did a shoot yesterday
and WALLA - my blue screen elements at long last!

Not so fast!

Don't be fooled by thinking you have to shoot
with only expensive movie equipment. Get with
a handy friend and build a cheap slider or go to
the hardware store and find a utility fixture to use
as a light. Be creative in new ways!

Look Alive, Stay Alive

If you are working with someone who seems unhinged,
say something! We all must look after each other. Speak up!

Take Responsibility

Admit fault, take responsibility! I don't know anyone
who warms to excuses and far fetched explanations.
You do way more damage to your reputation in the
long run by not coming clean immediately.


Attend Functions!

We lead very busy lives and sometimes the process
of washing up, changing clothes and then getting in
your car to attend a workshop, a seminar or an
opening seems like an enormous bother. Rise to
the occasion - participate - and good things will happen!

Rain gear

This fall - don't be that person wearing a plastic bag
as a raincoat. Have a bag with all your foul weather
gear and keep it in your car or close at hand. Think
of this clothing as an important tool in your kit!

Look Alive

In a classroom setting, if you're too shy to ask a question,
at least look interested. Believe me, your instructor can tell
and will remember to your benefit, somewhere down the road.

your lens

Good lenses are very expensive. Spend a little more for a UV or haze filter
to protect the front element of your lens. I was shooting stills yesterday and
noticed how many scratches and nicks were on the filter that otherwise would
have seriously damaged my lens.

Learn what the other guy does.

To be a better filmmaker ask questions of your
crewmates. They will show you some tips and
and appreciate your interest in their craft.


Learn these knots: clove hitch, bowline, square knot
and a double sheet bend. You'll use one at least once
on your next shoot!


You have to shoot with the camera you have, not the
the one you wished you had. Don't put off shooting because
you aren't happy with your equipment. Make it work - tell your story.

ask questions

Hey I'm off for awhile and able to put together topics
for my site visitors. Please give me some feedback
so that i can get some answers to your specific or
general questions. I should have asked more questions
when I was coming up!


Save stuff

I'm not a pack rat by nature, but whenever I come across papers or pictures
I saved because I thought they might be special one day - when re-discovered -
ARE REALLY SPECIAL! Consider how you might feel about a potential  keepsake
30 years down the road before you toss it or give it away. I truly wished
I had saved more and not for the money, but for the preservation of film history.

The whole picture

When prepping, give equal time to all departments, because if any one
of these important parts is sub par, the whole picture suffers. Costumes,
paint finishes, source lighting fixtures, set dressing, window treatments, etc.
Look and think about how all these things mesh with your visual goals.


When you have extra time - find a biography of any famous
cinematographer. I think you'll find that you have more in
common with these guys than you could ever imagine!


Even if you're short on cash, make an effort to show your face. Texts and emails are
good maintenance tools, but there is no substitute for standing in front of a colleague
or a potential employer. I've gotten more jobs by physically hunting down leads, as
opposed to letters, phone calls or any agents efforts!

down time

Enjoy your time off during hiatus or if you are
between jobs. These are the days you dream of
when you are working. Don't despair - cherish
your freedom!


These days you'll never get the budget you want for your
project. As DP's it's our job to solve problems regardless
of financial restraints. There is always a solution to be found.
Be creative, be ingenious, get the team involved - there is a
lot of brainpower around you!

Setting the Bar

If there is something about a shot that you don't like, fix it!
If you don't, it will haunt you for days, trust me. Set your
visual bar high, and keep it there - all the best DP's do.


Get familiar with the vast array of filters available to us today.
I rarely shoot without some kind of diffusion, polarizing or neutral
density filter in front of the lens.


I was asked for a reel today. I haven't kept a current reel for several years
now. Lets see if it costs me a good shot at a great job! My recommendation
would be to keep your general reel current, but be able to cut a specialty reel
if you have a broad range of footage in your library.

UPDATE - they wanted to see something so I dug out a reel that is 4 years
old, uploaded it and linked them all in. Hopefully it will do more good than
harm. I should hear something tomorrow or Tuesday.

Take Every Meeting

I turned down an interview once because I didn't understand the script.
The DP who got the job confessed to me later that he didn't understand
the screenplay either. The movie was MEMENTO and the DP is the great
Wally Pfister, ASC - my former camera operator. If you get invited for an
interview, say where and when!


If you feel like you are fresh out of ideas and inspiration, take the time to
visit an art museum. If you leave that place un-inspired, see a doctor, you
may have bigger problems.

Touch Base

After you've finished a job, take the time to send out notes
of appreciation to your key crew members. Then, stay in touch with
them periodically. You may need them more than they need you!

getting along

Film crews consist of many types of people. You won't
like or be liked by all of them. Film projects are finite, so
try to get along with the jerks on set, because before
you know it, you'll be on to the next wild and crazy crew.


This might be an old theme - but surrounding yourself
with people who have your back is the last line of defense.
Let them know that you will reciprocate when they're in trouble.


In order to cover a scene well you must understand
editing. Some directors are more concerned with
performance rather than how and where to place the
camera. This is where the Cinematographer steps in!
Practice editing - it will improve your shot list!


Filmmaking is visual storytelling. Think of your shots as
adjectives. How best can you descibe your scene with
where you place the camera? A good shot is the equivalent
of using the perfect descriptive word in a sentence.

Communicate Clearly

Make sure everyone understands exactly what you want
to accomplish. Speak clearly and repeat yourself if necessary.
This is particularly important if shooting in a foreign country.
Then, keep an eye on the progress to make sure everyone is
proceeding as planned.


Film sets can be dangerous places, look out
for inexperienced crew members who may be
unaware of potential hazards.


A timeline is how much time you estimate for every scene
on a callsheet. They are a helpful reminder of where you
are at any given time during your shoot day.

Take Some Chances!

Playing it safe is a natural inclination when you're shooting on someone
else's dime. But remember that progress is made when we take chances - take a few
the next time you're shooting. At the very least, while testing, try some
crazy things!


Once you think you're at your breaking point and don't break, then
you haven't reached your breaking point. Hang in there!!!


I'm 60 years old and I am a much better Director
of Photography today than I was 2 weeks ago.


If you think your director is undercovering a scene. insist on shooting
the necessary pieces. I's way more desirable than reshooting the scene
sometime in the future if it doesn't cut together.


If you feel there is a problem with a shot, underexposed, poorly framed or a
problem with the background - fix it! You won't get another chance and its
worth the slight delay to get it right.

Dare to underexpose!

Shoot tests that will clearly define the low light sensitivity of your
cameras chip. You might be surprised at what you can get away
with. I'm lighting by eye for our night scenes now as my meter 
doesn't respond at these levels - but the Alexa's sensor does!

Listen Carefully

Promote freedom of speech on set, you are working with people
who might actually have a better idea than you. Embrace that!


Pace yourself - I see crew members half my age burning out. Remember
this business is a marathon - stretch it out for your entire life.

Leading Lady

Fuss over your leading lady, make
them look as good as possible always!

Light Meters

Don't think that because it's HD a light meter isn't necessary. I am
using my incident and spot meters dozens of times a day on SALEM.
At the low light levels were at, I need to keep track of the values so
that I can apply them in the next scene and pass them on to the 2nd Unit.

No Tips for awhile due to my schedule


Even if you know the script well, re-read the pages on the

call sheet for the upcoming days shoot.


Always have a plan B. Very few shoot days go as planned and
directors always want more shots than they have told you about.


Always look very closely at the schedule an AD has designed. They usually
underestimate what you need for you to do your job. Call them on it.

Build it!

If you have an idea for a new piece of equipment and the resources to make
a prototype. Build it! Most of the innovations we use today started in a garage.


Get Fit

Shooting is an exhausting ordeal. Try to get lots of rest
and exercise. Moderate your partying too - there is nothing
worse than trying to be sharp and likable with a hangover.


Though prep can be tedious at times, know that when its over, you
can't be surprised by anything. Thats what prep is about! Eliminating the
unknowns, ask questions, test concepts. Prep means preparation.
Don't squander this part of your production.

Don’t be picky

Shoot with anything you can get your hands on. It's the story that
counts, and if thats good - no one will care about the quality of the image.