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Director Loyalty


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#1 fstop

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Posted 12 May 2006 - 02:06 PM

I just read that Nicholas Hooper will be composing the music for the upcoming Harry Potter. Apparently it was "director loyalty". However, I heard much the same thing said about director David Yates' DP Chris Seager, who has shot as many Yates movies as Hooper has composed, yet it didn't stop the studio bringing in Swalomir Idziak.

This got me thinking about how far "director loyalty" extends. If the director has a hit, as a DP, do you ever progress to great heights too?

It seems very rare that a DP starting out who lights a successful feature/short gets to stay beside the director. I suppose union rules and what not come into play (as do gambling on limited experience), but given how important the contributions of a DP are as visual collaborator in a visual medium, I can't get my head around this one. If you can afford to invest in a young hot new talent driving your movie as director, why is it too much of a risk bringing in an equally underqualified DP?

Has anyone on this board lit a hit and the director has left their cameraman behind?

Something to think about.
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 May 2006 - 04:44 PM

I guess the comparison depends on where you draw the line on what's an "underqualified DP." I don't deal directly with studios so I can't speak for them or their thinking. I would think it comes down to the old risk vs. benefit -- if the perceived benefit of letting the director work with his familiar DP outweighs the perceived benefit of bringing in an "A"-list DP, then they'd go ahead and do it. And budget factors into the risk as well.

And sometimes directors like to stretch and learn by working with other DP's, and return to their favorites for the right project.

But there are plenty of examples of directors and DP's sticking together from their "undiscovered" days. It usually turns out that the DP has proven himself independently from the director collaboration, though. Our own David Mullen and the Polish Brothers comes to mind.

I believe John Schwartzman and Michael Bay are buddies from USC film school. It was Schwarztman who actually turned down Bay for his first feature "Bad Boys," because it was his self-imposed year off from features to do commercials instead. Robert Richardson was not yet huge when Oliver Stone tapped him, and they went on to make cinematic history.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 May 2006 - 05:23 PM

Just depends on how much the director is going to fight to keep his DP. Some studios actually like to separate a director from their usual DP as a way of controlling the director better (Miramax, for example.) Even on "The Astronaut Farmer" the studio told the Polish Brothers to consider hiring a bigger DP. On the other hand, I got "Akeelah" partly because the studio in that case told the director that he couldn't use the DP from his first feature (a friend of mine, who recommended me to the director then. And I hired him to do B-cam/2nd Unit.) The studios are resume whores, basically -- the bigger the name in each position they hire, the more secure they feel. If you're lucky, the director and you move up the budget ladder in increments, to ease the shock and get the studio used to the idea that you are the director's DP. Richardson and Stone moved up together, Pfister and Nolan, etc. rather than simply jumping from a small non-union film to a huge 100-mil production.
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#4 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 12 May 2006 - 06:40 PM

Loyalty can be a rare thing in this business. And at some point one has to to put oneself in their shoes: let's say a director makes it "big" overnight and the studio who's dangling Mission Impossible 4 in front of the director is also promising Darius Khondji, ASC or some other bigwig DP - would you say no? I probably wouldn't. Also, it's common practice to pair a relatively inexperienced director with a veteran DP to safeguard the project.

Director David Fincher commonly gives commercial DP's a chance to step up, but that's probably because he's so technically adept and knowledgeable that he really could shoot it and light it himself, if he watned to (or were allowed to).
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#5 fstop

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Posted 13 May 2006 - 06:59 AM

Great points everyone.

David,

if the Polish brothers had gone from TWIN FALLS IDAHO straight to ASTRONAUGHT FARMER, do you think they would have been forced into hiring a big name DP at the time?

Also, in the case of Harry Potter, do you think a music composer has an easier job going up the ladder than a DP?
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 May 2006 - 10:43 AM

Well, it may be expensive and you'd lose time, but you can always replace the composer's score if you don't like it, so I'd say that a studio would be more worried about the DP in terms of keeping the production on schedule while delivering the level of work they expect.

Yes, I would have had a hard time getting hired to shoot a 12 mil. movie if I had never shot anything bigger than 1 mil. up to that point, not to mention that I wasn't even in the union at the time I did "Twin Falls Idaho." On the other hand, the Spirit Award nomination would have helped a little.

Trouble is that once you have a certain amount of money, every big DP becomes a possibility to hire. Agencies tell the producers "John Schwartzman / Roger Deakins / Emmanual Lubezsky, etc. is interested in your project and wants to meet the director".
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#7 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 13 May 2006 - 11:14 AM

Good point, David. The amount they have to spend on a DP on a big-ish feature is the same - why not get the best, or most experienced or most tried DP? Why should the beancounters give a total unknown $100.000 rather than Robert Richardson, ASC?

It's like I've said before here when it comes to careers: When you can finally afford to buy your own drinks, that's when they're all for free. Morality being; it's only when you don't need all these offers for work that you will get them.
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