A Career Path for Women

"From my very childhood, I grew up in the atmosphere where filmmakers were all around.  My father was also very much involved in the film industry.  He was one of the founders of the film school with Eisenstein.  It was just the atmostphere, the air I was breathing since I was a little kid."
Marina Goldovskaya, Documentary Director/Camerawoman (Russia/USA)
DIrector, UCLA Documentary Program

"I was the only black union cameraperson... I was strong.  I knew what I wanted to be.  And I knew I had to know what I was doing in order to go out there, because I knew they were going to test me."
Jessie Maple Patton, Camerawoman/Director
(New York/Atlanta)

"I enjoy the process and what is required to make a movie--that process of visually creating a movie, an emotion, and working with a director or an art director--where you talk about the colors, you talk about wardrobe, emulsions, camera movements and how we are going to communicate an idea or the story.  That is what moves my soul."
Hilda Mercado, AMC, Camera Operator
(Mexico/Los Angeles)

If you didn’t grow up in a filmmaking family, like Marina Goldovskaya, how do you get into filmmaking?

Here’s what Dianna Cox, a senior at California State University, Northridge, recommends:

“Many community colleges offer film studies and production classes.  The classes at community colleges are accessible and less expensive than four-year universities.  When you do transfer to a four-year university, you arrive with some knowledge and experience in film and television production.  If your parents don’t want you to move away for college, see for a list of the many regional universities which offer programs in film and television production.

The top three film schools in the U.S. are:  USC, UCLA and NYU.  Additional film schools in California include: the American Film Institute, California Institute for the Arts, Stanford University’s documentary program, Cal. State University Northridge, Cal. State University Long Beach, San Francisco State University, and Los Angeles Community College.  Additional schools in New York City include: Columbia University, School of Visual Arts, and the New School.  Internationally, there are also many renowned film schools, such as the London Film School, FAMU in Prague, the Australian Film Television and Radio School, and the Mumbai Academy of Movie & TV Arts.

If you are unsure about which career to pursue in this field, I recommend 100 Careers in Film and Television by Tanja L. Crouch, an easy-to-use guide the skills and education needed to get these jobs, as well as a glossary of filmmaking terms and appendices listing professional organizations, unions, film schools, and film festivals.  Another way to explore filmmaking is by volunteering at film festivals in your area.  It is a great way to meet professional filmmakers and have fun at the same time.”


“Studying film production in college has its advantages.   If I had just learned film history, I still wouldn’t know how to go about being an actual filmmaker vs. just being a film student.  For me, the biggest step towards becoming a filmmaker was taking photography courses to familiarize myself with the technology.

The principles of photography and cinematography are basically the same.  It was important for me to gain experience handling a camera, learning the proper apertures, angles, lighting techniques, camera movements, etc, to achieve a certain look, as well as determining what the right composition for a frame or shot was.  I’ve learned how to appreciate the depth of my craft:  for me, this is a crucial step towards becoming a professional.”
  -- Miriam Bautista, Senior, California State University, Northridge

Some cinematographers start by shooting digital films with their friends as kids or in high school.  Others prefer to learn about cinematography and cameras by going to film school and volunteering on independent films or interning at local television stations.  Still others find their path by working in camera rental houses in Hollywood or New York till they know the equipment inside and out, making contacts while mastering the technology and shooting on weekends.  Some work at something else to make money, so they can afford to shoot films that mean a lot to them personally, or that are socially relevant but not necessarily commercial.  There are also careers behind the camera in animation and special effects, requiring patience, precision, and consummate artistry.  That world of the imagination can be completely different from the world as seen through the eyes of video journalists, whose lives are sometimes full of danger.  Many camerapeople-- men and women alike-- donate their services as cinematographers while building their show reels.  (But be careful, because more women than men get stuck continuing to shoot for free on worthwhile low-budget movies, without being able to make a living).  Once you have a good reel, it helps to find a good agent!  It’s definitely worthwhile to invest in having your own camera, and to keep up to date with the latest technology when possible.  Having editing software can also help in developing your storytelling skills, which is as much a part of being a good cinematographer on features as the ability to light a set or organize a crew.

Those who decide to take time out while raising children keep shooting, practicing their craft on home videos instead of features, music videos, commercials or documentaries.  Some camerawomen successfully combine career and children (with plenty of help); still others opt not to have children, focusing on the long hours of perfecting their craft in locations far from home.  Shooting television sit-coms or local news affords a lot more quality time at home than shooting features or international news, for those whose plans involve two roles.  If you are planning to have a family, the health benefits of belonging to a union can be very important.

If you want to be a professional union camerawoman on mainstream productions, moving up the ranks from Assistant Camera to Camera Operator to Director of Photography, some of the following terms may help you get started:


    Assistant Cameraperson


    Director of Photography (sometimes referred to as “DoP” especially in England)


    Production Assistant


    International Cinematographers Guild - International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees


    American Society of Cinematographers


    Society of Camera Operators

Being a camerawoman is challenging proposition.  Less than 5% of the top 250 features are shot by women today.  The hours are long and the work can be very challenging.  But it’s also one of the most exciting and artistically fulfilling jobs in the world.  If being behind the camera is something that you truly love, you will find the right path to become one of the growing numbers of women who work as Directors of Photography, Camera Operators, Steadicam Operators, Special Effects Camerawomen, Camera Assistants, video journalists, documentary camerawomen, etc. 

For further information, please see the websites on our Links page.

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