Guest Article: Cinematography DeCal Week 6 – Ethics

The Cinematography DeCal at UC Berkeleyphoto-1

I’m sure many of you can agree with me in saying: what a crazy week it has been! For those of us just now undergoing midterms, I guess the craziness has just begun. I foolishly didn’t realize how heavy the workload would be when I transferred to Cal this semester. Luckily, Thursdays have worked as my de-stressors. I have classes like this DeCal, where for once, I can leave all that theory nonsense behind and just relax, with lectures that actually interest me on a personal level. I hope all of you are also finding time to relax; it seems to be important when you’re in a new environment, or even if you’ve been here for a couple of years.

Week six was an interesting lecture; the previous week, we all had been proposed to do something “crazy,” whether through a film, or through some sort of action, in hopes of attaining inspiration and clarity, and so we began this lecture with discussing the stories of what we came up with. My attempt at “crazy” was a bit unconventional, you could even say queer. I decided to approach this assignment internally and bodily, experimenting with something I don’t do often: shave. Previous to this week, I probably hadn’t seen my face in about a year- I mean truly seen it; I usually kept a scruff and allowed the higher androgen levels in my body to visualize my appearance. This previous week I decided to shave it all. Sorry folks… I decided to keep my eyebrows, shaving them would have indeed been “crazy.” I shaved my entire body though, including my beard. Needless to say, it was a liberating experience, to state the least. Other people also had interesting stories, but I suppose it would be immoral of me to elaborate on them, since they’re not my own.

On that note, week six was all about that: Morality and Ethics. As Vice Magazine would put it, the “DOs & DON’Ts” of the film industry.


We begin by supposing a catch twenty-two: when you’re offered a job that would replace one of your friends, what should you do?

How I would look in this situation.

  • Do: Choose your friends over a job- speak to the employer and elaborate on the situation, if they really want you, they’ll figure a way to include you and your friend on the project.
  • Don’t: Taking a job from a friend without talking to them first will only hurt you in the long run. Remember that in the future, friends will bring you better jobs than clients.


Sometimes you will realize that you have been placed in an environment where you are working alongside people who have a smaller skill set than you. You will notice that regardless of their capabilities, they somehow still managed to attain a higher position in the production. It is important to remember that film is a collaborative medium, and by no means should you overstep on someone’s job simply because you assume you could do a better job- this will only burden your reputation. Instead, respect their position and worry about those who are under your control. Cinematographers: never try to take over the director’s job. Instead, always be attentive of your gaffer and G&E team. If your gaffer feels ignored, their job will most likely have mediocre results.

Something I found empowering with regards to this same topic was Tobias’s suggestion of taking dramatic steps when your staff is being abused in a production, making sure you’re not only looking out for yourself, but also for your fellow crew members. In particular, it was suggested that in a serious situation of abuse, a cinematographer should place his/her staff on strike until the team attains what is been promised, e.g. a paycheck.

With a team being on strike (such as the cinematographer’s), there is no movie.

Protecting your crew.

Protecting your crew.

Note to self: In small cities like San Francisco, production crews usually remain the same throughout production for most independent films. For this reason, it is important to always be cordial and amicable to each member of the crew. In addition, make an effort to present yourself in the best way possible; leaving a positive impression will secure you a job in the future.


Film credit is one of the most important ways to attain recognition. IMBD is usually the only reference a filmmaker has to support their specific role in a particular film. It is not only important to always protect your own credit, but also, to do the same for others in the production. If you realize someone took upon additional tasks on the set, but was not credited properly, speak to the producer and bring to their awareness this discrepancy. For the producer, adjusting minor changes like distinguishing a 1st assistant from the 2nd is only numerical. For a crew member though, this distinction is crucial to their resume.

Something to be aware: The people who are most insecure with their creativity are usually those who are susceptible to partake in credit theft. They sometimes feel that without giving themselves the undeserved credit, and so stealing this title from someone else, other opportunities will not be available in the future. In addition, as I’m sure we’re all aware: people who are liars tend to be bad news! In the entertainment industry, you will always run into people who drop names because they think it will make them, in the end, more exclusive and desired. It should be easy to recognize those who lie, so it is your personal task to separate yourselves from them.

I remember when I was younger and interned for a wardrobe stylist in Los Angeles, I always heard that person name drop possibly everyone on the “bible.” Sure, I was aware that this stylist worked with amazing talent and knew a great amount of prominent artists, but sometimes, it was brought to my attention by their first assistant, when this person would be caught in a lie- usually exaggerating stories, possibly in order to boost their self-esteem (?).  The point is: people always know when you’re lying, just be warned.

Trust = Access

If you can be trusted, you will get far.

Otherwise, how do you expect someone to hand you a debit card with $10k+ at your fingertips for the production of a film?


  • Do: ALWAYS practice safety on set.
  • Don’t: Never push someone too far. Accidents are very common on set, and sometimes having people partake in stunts that are not properly planned can have serious consequences, even death. If this is your set, it will be your responsibility. Such dramatic accidents might even cause you personal guilt and trauma.

Trauma kills creativity!

  • Do: Always listen to other crew members when they are reminding you of what is impractical. They may have more experience than you, since they are constantly on sets partaking in ludicrous requests. Always be cautious, after all, the blood doesn’t wash off.


Self-Promotion is the freelancer’s way of getting work, and without this self-initiative, the jobs will simply not become available. YOU ARE YOUR OWN PUBLICIST.

  • Do: Begin to put your creative work out into the universe, even if it is simply to your friends via Facebook.
Being your own boss.

Being your own boss.

When going about self-promoting, be interesting. Create a persona around your image, and allow your viewer to understand your aesthetic, while intriguing them to watch more of your content.

  • Don’t: People who constantly send out spam messages succeed at being obnoxious.
  • Do: Always keep your posts interesting, making them relevant to your audience.

Hope you all found this article helpful. Next week’s lecture on quality control should be interesting- be on the lookout for the next guest article. Also, stay tuned for our second DeCal assignment, which will be in the form of a short visual essay entitled “The Explorer”!

Click on these links for additional breakdowns on how to behave on set; or on these links if you’re interested in freelancing. See you all when the cameras are rolling!


Christopher Rivera

Oh, hi there.

Christopher Rivera is a junior transfer student who grew up traveling back and forth from Los Angeles (where he was born), to the Central American country of Guatemala. In Guatemala, he attained a mestizo Mayan upbringing, with an American perspective. There, he resided mostly in Guatemala City, but traveled throughout the country, gaining a strong cultural intrigue that eventually became a factor for his interest in film-making. In particular, the customs associated with Holy Week in the springtime, added to his interest in visual aesthetics, mostly through its traditions & religious symbolism, which along with different existentialist novels and surrealist art, have all strengthened his desire to direct cinema & create his own vision.