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Camera Operator Dianne Farrington Takes Her Knowledge of the Craft to USC's School of Cinematic Arts

September 30, 2020
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Featured photo by Bonnie Osborne

Returning for a fifth year of teaching Production 2 at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Camera Operator Dianne Farrington feels the absence of students especially strong.

Now taking Farrington’s course online, the 30 students – 15 undergraduates and 15 grads – are still very much in attendance, but from as far away as Qatar, India, China, the Middle East, and Scotland as well as locally. And the asynchronous nature of the class means that the students can see Farrington’s presentations and demonstrations at whatever time is convenient for them.

Still, the transformation of what would typically be a hands-on class to an online experience has been a learning experience for students and instructor alike.

“Basically, there’s no interaction whatsoever with the students,” said Farrington, a member of Local 600’s National Executive Board. “I do still have access to the stages on campus so I can do lighting setups, but it’s limited to my input and not theirs. With a group of 15 students, you can designate, ‘you’re the gaffer, you’re the electrician, you’re the dolly grip.’ This way, there’s just me and a mannequin, and I’m positioning the lights along with the assistance of IT and operations staff.”

Farrington says she is adapting, and the students are catching on. The class involves a lot of modeling with the teacher shooting, the students following her example and then everyone talking about what they come up with. The students still come to the class with short film scripts which Farrington helps them break down and work through.

The Production 2 students are in this class because they have an interest in cinematography, but their experience level runs the gamut. Some already work in the industry and can come out of the class with a near professional level product. Others arrive barely knowing the definition of an F-stop.

“Now with COVID and teaching online, the classes are very project-centric,” Farrington said. “It takes longer. But I see great promise in all the students. Through teaching, I try to give them the tools to speak the language that we use to tell our stories.”

It’s a collaborative effort. She’s grateful to Director of Photography Lawrence Sher’s, ASC, contributions to the image library on ShotDeck, which has proven to be a valuable resource.

Farrington sees herself as a cinematographer first and an instructor second. Influenced by an uncle who was a photographer, Farrington knew she was going to work in camera. She didn’t envision herself in the classroom despite teaching kindergarten in a Head Start program for her first job. Nonetheless, Farrington found she has enjoyed teaching, and when she was invited to both shoot and teach indigenous filmmakers in Columbia for the Ficamazonia Project, she jumped at the chance.

Why teach? “I felt that there were points in my career that I needed more information and it wasn’t available,” said Farrington. “There was a niche I could fill where I could help people get answers and share it with them. As a person of color and as a woman, I could provide support. We all need support. I’m very good at providing that to the students.”

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