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What is 'Good Cinematography'?


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#1 Handoyo Setiawan

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 03:45 AM

Hi everyone,
my name's Handoyo. I'm a fourth year media communication student in Greater Vancouver area. I'm not sure if my question really merit your top-professional attention, but I'll ask anyway. I need to ask about how people in Oscar awards and movie critics actually evaluate on a movie's cinematography.

I have learned about editing, directing, acting and cinematography but I really have difficulty in how to actually do criticism on them, especially cinematography. I mean, I know about the different movie angles, camera movements, cuts, etc. But, how do 'best cinematography' award actually works? (Doesn't every film has different needs and thus different cinematography styles to properly capture it? If so, how is it possible to claim one style is better than another, much like how is it possible to compare if one hit by a boxer is better than one hit by a Southern-Shaolin style martial artist?)

Also, how do you differentiate between the different responsibilities of directors and DP's since both of these two positions seem to overlap a lot. Who actually make the last call on how to lit and shot a scene since in all of my student projects with my peers, the two really isn't distinguishable at all (and thus, there had always been much authority conflicts).

Additionally, how do you distinguish between the shots that are taken by the cinematography department and those that are taken by the editing department since I recall "Romeo + Juliet" editor explain that the editors added some cutaway shots on their own call. Do editors make the last call on how to edit the shots and how to color the movies?

My questions are perhaps very basic but they have almost always been a knotted-drag among my film project groups. If someone can explain how such things work in the real movie industry, that will be great. Thank you everyone.
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#2 John Doe

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 06:43 AM

Hi everyone,
my name's Handoyo. I'm a fourth year media communication student in Greater Vancouver area. I'm not sure if my question really merit your top-professional attention, but I'll ask anyway. I need to ask about how people in Oscar awards and movie critics actually evaluate on a movie's cinematography.

I have learned about editing, directing, acting and cinematography but I really have difficulty in how to actually do criticism on them, especially cinematography. I mean, I know about the different movie angles, camera movements, cuts, etc. But, how do 'best cinematography' award actually works? (Doesn't every film has different needs and thus different cinematography styles to properly capture it? If so, how is it possible to claim one style is better than another, much like how is it possible to compare if one hit by a boxer is better than one hit by a Southern-Shaolin style martial artist?)

Also, how do you differentiate between the different responsibilities of directors and DP's since both of these two positions seem to overlap a lot. Who actually make the last call on how to lit and shot a scene since in all of my student projects with my peers, the two really isn't distinguishable at all (and thus, there had always been much authority conflicts).

Additionally, how do you distinguish between the shots that are taken by the cinematography department and those that are taken by the editing department since I recall "Romeo + Juliet" editor explain that the editors added some cutaway shots on their own call. Do editors make the last call on how to edit the shots and how to color the movies?

My questions are perhaps very basic but they have almost always been a knotted-drag among my film project groups. If someone can explain how such things work in the real movie industry, that will be great. Thank you everyone.



If the director is big enough, and the studio agrees he can have more control over final cut... The opposite is true for directors who are doing a small indie film for little to no money and they have the skills and equipment to edit themselves...


As for how they're picked, there is no criteria, its merely a conglomerate bunch of elitist no-names that attempt to attribute "artistic" value to seemingly anything they deem important... The same can be said true for any "art" form... "Technical" shots that take weeks if not months to prepare are sometimes praised, but often ride on the clouds of movie obscurity because of low recognition. These people who pretend to have some sort of authority over anything movie related are simply self-indulged name-droppers...
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#3 Jamie Lewis

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 09:06 AM

The same can be said true for any "art" form... "Technical" shots that take weeks if not months to prepare are sometimes praised, but often ride on the clouds of movie obscurity because of low recognition.


Look no further than the car attack scene in Children of Men....
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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 02:05 PM

Look no further than the car attack scene in Children of Men....


That scene is spectacular but, when I said something to a friend of mine about it she had no clue what was special about it.

"Good" cinematgoraphy is that which suports a film and adds another dimension to it. Vague but so is art.
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#5 Handoyo Setiawan

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 03:41 PM

Wow, thank you for the fast replies, Mr. Doe, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Keth.

Yes, I reckon general audience doesn't have a clue to the intricacies of cinematography. Most people in my generation seem to prefer A.D.D.-like fast-cuts to a beautifully shot scene.

So, observing from your answers and what my professor has taught me, I guess that authorities in the film industry works much like those in politics, eh? Something Machiavellian because such positions depend on fame, personality and budgetting rather than pure talent, excellence and purpose?

Also, I've scoured around a few more books and the internet and found this article on wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia....i/Film_lighting

It says that DP's often have to deal with his own personnel and logistics. How do this actually work in the real world? I mean, doesn't film studios have one central logistic person for all of the departments of each film (line producer or PM?) or does each department handle its own needs and later give the reports to the PM?

Thank you very much for the assistance.

Kevin Liem


PS: Also, as a side note: when someone imitate your special cinematography method/style, for example, does he/she need to credit you or at least mention your name in the 'special thanks' list? (Boy, that would be a really long list, I suppose).
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#6 John Doe

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 05:25 PM

Wow, thank you for the fast replies, Mr. Doe, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Keth.

Yes, I reckon general audience doesn't have a clue to the intricacies of cinematography. Most people in my generation seem to prefer A.D.D.-like fast-cuts to a beautifully shot scene.

So, observing from your answers and what my professor has taught me, I guess that authorities in the film industry works much like those in politics, eh? Something Machiavellian because such positions depend on fame, personality and budgetting rather than pure talent, excellence and purpose?

Also, I've scoured around a few more books and the internet and found this article on wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia....i/Film_lighting

It says that DP's often have to deal with his own personnel and logistics. How do this actually work in the real world? I mean, doesn't film studios have one central logistic person for all of the departments of each film (line producer or PM?) or does each department handle its own needs and later give the reports to the PM?

Thank you very much for the assistance.

Kevin Liem
PS: Also, as a side note: when someone imitate your special cinematography method/style, for example, does he/she need to credit you or at least mention your name in the 'special thanks' list? (Boy, that would be a really long list, I suppose).


Good artist copy, great artist steal...

And as for how things are handled... Ideally in sets i've worked with, if it has a good crew, that is all working toward the same goal... They all understand what they're working on, and work towards it, its much like a temporary family... Sometimes you could be with each other for years and never see each other until your next feature or possible years down the road... Ideally people have their titles and roles, but if i see something that isn't my department and i can fix it real quick, i'll do it if it will save time(that is if i'm treated right to begin with)...

As for one "logistical" person... Sure, the producer... HAHAHAH Ideally he is the liaison between the studio cats, and the "artist." But he's mostly an annoying pest that is only around for money purposes... Although, you would never think that considering how many people kiss his a@$...
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#7 Carlos_Martinez

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 09:16 PM

IMO good cinematography is classified when you dont notice the angles lighting etc. What we do is an invisible craft, that only few can really appreciate.





carlos martinez
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#8 Josh Donnelly

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 09:42 PM

IMO good cinematography is classified when you dont notice the angles lighting etc. What we do is an invisible craft, that only few can really appreciate.
carlos martinez


That's the gist of moviemaking. When the art is so good that it disappears, you've done it right. ;)
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#9 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 01:45 AM

Good cinematography is cinematography that serves the director's vision, great cinematography lifts that vision to another plane of artistry by taking that vision and infusing it with an artistic truth that make it unique and original. Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, 2001, The Searchers THAT'S great cinematography! B)
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#10 Handoyo Setiawan

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 06:08 PM

Thanks for the replies. You've gotten great answers there.

On the paradigm that good cinematography will 'disappear' into the movie, I'd like to hear your comments on the cinematography of Frank Miller's 300 and Sin City, and some of Claudio Miranda's videos posted on his website (www.claudiomiranda.com). I love all of them all and enjoy them immensely but honestly all the while I was watching their stuff I personally am watching their choice of colors and filter like I am enjoying a great artist' painting since it's not normal to have those colors in real life. Are things such as these considered as 'good cinematography' in that sense or is this something else? Or is there more elaboration upon that paradigm?

Edited by Handoyo Setiawan, 11 July 2007 - 06:09 PM.

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#11 Dominic Case

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 11:28 PM

If you visit an art gallery, you can look at some of the "great" paintings there, and recognise that they are good - that is, they seem to have something about them - but have no idea what makes them "great". If you hang around and eavesdrop on one of the guided tours that come through (or even join one), the guide will point out the artist's use of colour, the composition, the way the attention is directed to a particular point in - or out of - the frame, and so on. Then it makes sense. And more importantly, you understand why (or better, how) the picture says what it says.

If you are an art student, you probably won't need the guide.

It's the same with good or great cinematography. If you know what cinematography is about, you will recognise what the DoP is doing in a film. It's more than getting the exposure right. It is participating in the communication of the message - working with the storytelling process. If you are an average member of the public, you won't understand any of the mechanisms - but you will come out of the cinema saying "that was a great movie" even though you aren't sure why.

Lighting, framing, choice of lens, choice of focus, camera angles, camera moves, are all parts of the technique, but importantly are all part of the communication. Each element tells a story.

So technical fireworks like the Children of Men sequence mentioned above are only great cinematography if they add to the message. Why did they do it that way? Would a more conventional, highly edited treatment have worked as well?

The DoP is responsible for all of that, and so the lighting team and the camera team are essentially his or her crew, and work to his or her instructions - though as someone mentioned above, in a good crew on a film where everyone understands what is going on, those instructions are minimal.
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#12 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 13 July 2007 - 08:36 AM

good cinematography takes you to the right mood of the movie :
- the mood for love, hate, fear....
that's just my opinion
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