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Director DP relationship


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#1 Joe Turrentine

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Posted 18 February 2007 - 12:25 PM

Hello,

my question for you guys is not something technical, but rather, a question on relationships of positions on the set. I am an aspiring DP, and have done about 15 or so shorts here and there over the last 3 years, and usually have been acting as Director and DP, sometimes co-directing with someone, but more recently, I have shot a few shorts acting solely as DP. I'll be shooting my first feature starting in April and wrapping (hopefully) in August.

For my question: I know that the DP has creative control(Unless explicitly told by the director) over technical things like aperture, film stock, frame rate, depth of field, lighting, lenses, focal length and so forth. But what about camera angles and movement. I hear a lot of conflicting opinions and "facts" about this. How much does the relationship between director and DP vary from director to director? How much control does the DP get over camera movement and camera angles?


Thanks
Joe
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 February 2007 - 12:54 PM

I hear a lot of conflicting opinions and "facts" about this. How much does the relationship between director and DP vary from director to director? How much control does the DP get over camera movement and camera angles?


How can there be "facts" about human relationships? How many types of marriages are there?

It's a collaboration, meaning that depending on the two people and how they interact, a DP may or may not be left with more control over those elements like camera movement and composition. Ultimately, though, the DP works for the director -- it's not a relationship of complete equals. As a DP, I have to convince a director of the validity of my ideas, I can't just force them on him (or her.)

Of course, a good director invites everyone to contribute creatively and gives them an emotional investment and commitment in the quality of the final product. If he just screams "I'm the director!" and forces actors, the DP, etc. to just follow his instructions blindly, then he won't get their best work. In fact, then their work only becomes as good as he would be if he were acting, doing the photography, etc. A bad director is afraid of someone else's talent in a field being shown to be greater than his own. A good director realizes that he will receive the lion's share of credit if he gets everyone involved to do their best work.

I've worked over thrity directors so far in my career, and no two are exactly alike in terms of how they work, how they collaborate, etc. On the other hand, there is a general level of professionalism that carries through many that allow me to do my job effectively. In those cases, camera movement and composition, like I said, is more or less worked out together. But it really depends on the shot. I may propose a camera move that the director likes; he may propose it, we may come to the same viewpoint just by watching the rehearsal, etc. It changes on every shot in terms of who contributes what. Hopefully after a few days you fall in sync with each other stylistically.
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#3 grantsmith

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Posted 18 February 2007 - 01:11 PM

I'd be interested to see some responses from those who work in the uk system.

From my experience there seems to be a menage a trois between the director, dop and operator in the uk but just dp and director in the american way.

though, like david says everyone works differently. I've only worked on one American film so it may just have been that one film.

Is there a big difference in the way uk cameramen work?
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#4 Larry Nielsen

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Posted 18 February 2007 - 01:41 PM

This is really a good topic, I have always felt the responsibility of a camera crew is to put the Directors image on film. I've worked with British crews also, but only on one show, my observations were this, The Director works closely with the operators for composition and lens choices, while the DP was merely a Lighting cameraman. Kind of explains why a lot of british DP's who work in the states like to operate their own camera's. I don't know any person who has operated that moved up to DP say they don't miss operating.
Also on the comment of depth of field, controlling the apeture. I know of some Directors who will tell the DP he wants more of the back ground in focus, or that he wants less of it in focus. It can be a wonderfull collaboration, or a meaningless one, and not every Director can explain himself, or what he wants so you have to keep an open mind. Also don't forget about all the people who work to make a DP look good, that can include Grips, Gaffer, and Art Dept. The collaboration is not just between the Dp and Director, its with every crew member on the set including the talent themselves. Finally again I will leave with this last qoute and hope that when things don't always work out the way you think they should you can have this little peace of mind. "Our Job is to put the Directors Image on Screen"
Larry
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 February 2007 - 05:48 PM

I don't know any person who has operated that moved up to DP say they don't miss operating.


For the most part, I don't miss operating, but I was never a professional operator.

I like looking through the lens, I like composing a shot, I don't like trying to follow actors as they sit up suddenly then cross the room quickly, all the while I have to step around the dolly, etc. Maybe the first few takes of that are OK, but ten takes later and the joy of operating starts to wear thin...
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#6 Larry Nielsen

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 02:46 AM

ok, so now I know One. lol
Larry
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#7 Joe Turrentine

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 04:05 AM

Thanks for your thoughts and explanations!


Joe
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#8 Christopher Schneider

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Posted 24 February 2007 - 07:18 PM

It's good to read the other posts and see what each experience has been.

I would also call it a collaboration. I've shot a number of shorts and had the miss fortune of prepping features that lost their funding several times. I've found the best relationships are the collaborative type. Where the director is open to discussion, but also confident in their understanding and capabilities. As a DoP I'm there to serve the director's vision, interpret it to the best of my abilities and never let my work get in the way of the actors or the director.

The worst films I've made have been with directors that are insecure, leading them to want little advice or collaboration as they see it as a sign of weekness to discuss/work out shots with a "technician".

I'm currently shooting a short with a fantastic first time director who is both confident in his abilities (he's been a Third AD for sometime in the British system) but also secure in himself to ask for my help when he feels lost. The film is looking great because of him, not me. I'm just doing what he wants, and am happy to be supporting him through the process.
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