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A DP's presence on set...


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#1 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 08:36 PM

We've all had opportunities to work with various DP's I'm sure, but I'm curious to know what some of your experiences are in regards to how much attention is given to the DP on set.

I've worked on shoots where it seems the DP is running the show, is the most outspoken individual on set, and is basically dictating the productions state of being at sometimes a semi-dangerous pace. On the other hand, I've worked with DP's who are very soft spoken, they confer calmly with their departments and are simply ready once the director is primed to call action.

I personally am more like the latter when I DP, so I find this style and pace of working as the most efficient and less stressful for a production. So I wanted to know what some of your opinions or styles of working were. And in addition, what are some of the things you appreciate most when you work for a DP (either as an AC or Gaffer).
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 08:58 PM

It's the First AD's job to run a set. I've seen DP's who are "strong personalities," but I don't know many who really want the job of the 1st AD also. No matter how big their ego, they still have to rely on the 1st AD to ensure the other departments are ready. No matter how vocal they might get, I have yet to see an impatient DP step in to supervise another department, other than to yell at them. I have seen 1st AD's put DP's "in their place" a couple times. Not the best scenario of course.

My worst experience was gaffing for a commercial director/DP who was a screamer. Being both director and DP, he was sure the world revolved around him. I managed to stay mostly on his good side, but I can't say the production came out any better for his tyranny. Most other DP's I've known are actually quite easygoing. I think I'm in that camp, although we all have to assert ourselves on set from time to time.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:53 AM

Naturally, I prefer to work for calm, easy-going DP's as well. On the other hand, I worked for one DP who was so laid back that she could never seem to make a decision and slowed the whole production down to a standstill. The camera trainee and I (2nd AC) spent our down time making a matchstick diorama of the Nativity scene out of shish kabob sticks during one 6 hour (!) lighting setup, a relatively simple day interior which only ended up using two HMIs. The 1st AC ended up running the set after the 1st AD disappeared just so he could go home at a reasonable time, which never happened. Then the DP would leave the set early to do some personal errands, leaving the rest us to finish up and wrap. I never want to work for a DP like that again.

What I appreciate in a DP: a basic respect for their crew as human beings, seriousness about their work, a sense of humor about less-than-ideal situations, leadership and discipline when needed, the willingness to share knowledge and experience, the wisdom to understand my shortcomings and to know when to work around them and when to just let me work, and the ability to let it all go at the end of the shoot. I've also noticed that many good DP's can attenuate their focus on the work at hand - they are deadly serious when shooting and then extremely relaxed while waiting around, bouncing back and forth in the blink of an eye.
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#4 Xavier Plaza

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:32 AM

Well I think the personality of each one influences one each work especially on set. I have to work with both good and awful guys... I remember when DP/Director who kick, screaming and manage the people with fear obviously hiding behind this image of "strict guy", what a dumass... I always feel shame for this people who don't have emotional intelligence, because when you leave the set that kind of behavior still with you.

I believe when you're in set it have to be a great energy, mood and collaboration like a fellowship because that's what it's and the major thing is everyone work with creativity and inspirational things, ok perhaps some works better than others with stress... yeah perhaps, but in general terms a good ambiance could bring peaceful, great things and a terrific day...


Xavier Plaza
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#5 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:59 AM

... When I hear about/experience directors/dop's shouting around on set I put it generally down to insecurity, overblown ego or just plain stupidness - of course there are those rare people that have all 3 of these attributes!

Calmness is always cool on set. Whenever someone starts shouting for the sake of it all it does is create unnecessary pressure and for me this can only lead to mistakes. When I dop I try to remain calm, even if inside the pot may be boiling for whatever reason. Crews like it if you keep focused and don't disappear up your own arse! If you're calm, your assistants are calm and the results are better. There's enough pressure on set without some twat adding to the mix even more...
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#6 John Holland

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 11:55 AM

Rupe is correct if a [ so called DP] starts being a wanker on set it just shows panic and not knowing what he/her is doing .
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#7 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 12:14 PM

I have worked with some stern DP's but never really a screamer. Some really never lose their temper, even when they decide someone in the department has to go. An some really expect too much. Like shooting in the desert under gale force winds and berating me for finding dust in the camera truck. Duh, what am I going to do, create a bubble around the truck so that the elements don't mess with it? Am I god? So some of that just borders on irrational.

I did once work a show where the production designer was a screamer and berated the location manager to the point that it was embarrasing to even be around it. I then promised myself that I would immediately leave any show during which my key would abuse me like that.

But, I have seen big name DPs make the life of award-winning gaffers miserable enough that some are having to be talked back to set several times during the lenght of a show, and some who have quit over the walkie as they drive off from set never to come back. So it runs the gamut.

I don't see how anyone would like to be tyranized on set anyway . . . As I like to say, this line of work is hard enough as it is for people to be making even harder by resorting to unproffesional temper tantrums.
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#8 John Holland

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 12:22 PM

Saul things have changed over the years mostly due to not enough money and silly working hours and just not enough time to get the job done , anyway we are so lucky not to be not stacking shelves in some crap supermarket. So as far as i work just try to have a fun time work hard and get the job done and keep everyone sweet . :rolleyes:
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#9 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 12:57 PM

...then the DP would leave the set early to do some personal errands, leaving the rest us to finish up and wrap. I never want to work for a DP like that again.


Wow, ha ha, that's kind of an amazing story! I know a guy who was working on "Milk" here in SF, and he said the first 8 hours of the day was just sitting and waiting, then he'd get the call, rush the camera to set and they'd shoot for 4 more hours. And that's the way the production was paced. If he tried to walk on set to see what was going on, he'd get kicked off immediately and told to wait. That's gotta be a weird feeling as an AC.

Well, I'm glad we have a lot of mild-mannered DP's on here :)
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#10 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 01:56 PM

This is an interesting discussion. I wouldnt personaly consider myself to be a screamer (does any screamer recognise they're a screamer?) although i have had to give a bollocking on occasion - never a pleasant situation for either person; but on a job i did a while back it became apparent that the director, when under pressure, couldnt cope and started leaning way too heavily on me to steer the ship. On this particular project the 1st Ad wasn't up to speed either so i effectively ended up running the floor and calling all the shots, with the cast directing themselves. The director thought this was normal and was quite happy working this way. We made teh day and got enough coverage to tell the story but obviously i hated the experience, my lighting suffered, the actors performance suffered and i felt the project suffered. Since then Ive made a conscious effort not to let myself be put in that kind of situation again but on more then one occasion i have seen situations arise where a director will turn to me with pleading eyes because he's heard i can "run a set" and get things moving - so when do we say enough?
As a side note when i mentioned this story to someone else in the business, i was told that certain producers actualy like to see DP's who can and will scream and shout to get things moving because they know that kind of DP will help minimise overtime etc and save them money!
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#11 Ed Moore

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:12 PM

I shot a short recently where the producer ended up doubling as the first. Not a combination I'd recommend. Producers have to do almost all their work off the set, and the first can't leave it.

Ended up in much the same situation as Stephen, in that I was sort of keeping proceedings ticking along whilst lighting. When I saw some of the footage, there was a continuity issue with a prop and I was getting annoyed with myself for missing it... suddenly reality kicked in! A DP's job is complex enough - especially on low budget shorts where for some reason the DP is often the most experienced person around (probably because they've worked on bigger shows further down the greasy pole and are just building their reel as a DP).

If you start to find yourself taking responsibility - and worse, been *seen* to be taking responsibility for things outside your ken, it's only going to end in unpleasantness.

Ed
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#12 Xavier Plaza

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 03:00 PM

On this particular project the 1st Ad wasn't up to speed either so i effectively ended up running the floor and calling all the shots, with the cast directing themselves.



That was what exactly happen to me on the last project... I was helping a lot on the production (especially the P.A.) because they have amateur people. I spoke with the production team and gave it specific task because i wanna help this guys because nobody knew that to do. Then I began to felt like the director give me "orders" because he thought I was his assistant... Then I see my BIG mistake "help the production" so I return to my position and specify my role... After that you see how the director have to go out the Air conditioner and still on the warm set, running all over the place and directing his team... ;)

Xavier

Edited by Xavier Plaza, 16 April 2008 - 03:02 PM.

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#13 Michael Collier

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 04:15 PM

I like to be the easy going DP, who doesn't yell or get hot headed. Most I have yelled on set was last weekend, but that was because the pyro forced everyone to have ear protection (either that or the director/actor was in makeup and I had to call cut to a room of 20 people doing fight correography and yelling at the top of their lungs with a full band playing behind them.)

I joke with my crew that I want to be regarded as a tyrant, and I hear that come back when I ask to switch a single net to a double. 'your a tyrant mike!' but I think keeping a fun open set is key, especially when it comes to crew interactions. I want my keys to be free to tell me exactly what they think. If they are concerned with how I will react, it may delay some vital peice of information from reaching my ears. Also a happy crew is a hard working crew. They won't flinch when I tell them that the day is going to run long and we might not get home exactly when the call sheet said we would. They keep the effort up, and I don't want to throw mud in the wheels in an effort to get things rolling.

That said there are times when I feel frustration building to the point where I feel like yelling (I don't however). It doesn't get bad and I do my best to mitigate my outward demeanor, but on rare occasions I think to my crew at least they can see frustrations weighting me down. I don't spread that to others though. Last weekend we had a 180 deg dolly around action with a wall of mirrors behind the subject. I was able to hide the camera quickly and still get the shot the director was after, but my key light was the bane of my existence. No matter where I put it, either the light or the silk would show. I would move it until it was out of view, only to find another point during the dolly where it was clearly visible in the mirrors. I think at that point my frustration level was about a 9. First shot of the day of a 16 hour day with no possibility of pushing the shots, and a light was taunting me. We got the problem solved in a reasonable way, but for about 20 minutes I couldn't think without my brain hurting. I remembered back to our location scout and the director asked me if those mirrors would cause a problem. I said, 'yes of course they will, but they look awsome, and I can work around them!' at that moment I was kicking myself for that, but once the day was done I watched dailies and remembered why I wanted those mirrors to stay.

That experience reminded me of how important it is to keep your cool on set. I wish I had kept a little cooler, but I could have been much worse. I kept the anger and frustration inside me until we got the problem fixed and were able to move on. It also reinforced to me why its best to keep a level outward demeanor. When we were able to move on, I was able to tell my key grip/gaffer what I needed out of the next light setup, and was able to go have a quite smoke and drink some water and calm down some. When I came back the lights were just about in place ready for tweeking (since my KG/G and grips weren't as frustrated as I was, they moved quickly with minimal supervision) and I was back to level headed, joking guy I normaly am. It seems the second you forget that filmmaking is problem solving, not plan execution, those problems will wear on your nerves. After that I was able to stay cool as fonzy the rest of the weekend even when dealing with more intense problems.
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#14 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 12:32 AM

I try to keep things as fun as possible. I've been working on my sarcasm and my mocking, when making jokes. Besides that, I always make time to talk, and teach. ery important parts of working on set.

I have been told by many people that I run the set very well, and I think I get that because I request a lot of prepro time. I'm not patient enough to go over each shot, angle, focal lenght...etc but I like to know the order of shots. I base them on schedules, time of day and efficiency. When I arrive on set, I know what has to get gone, so I can leave room for fun shots that might add to the story.
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#15 Serge Teulon

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 05:56 AM

When I assisted I worked for dp's that were really easy going and chilled out. But I also worked with some right ego cases!! The latter were the ones I was 'busy' when offered work.

When I began working as a dp I found that my natural way of being veered towards easy going and quite chilled out. And it has remained so. I like to have fun and feel a real sense of team, its an amazing feeling when everyone is in sync!
I do however have moments when I see things taking too long to happen and that is when I will have a calm word with my 1st or gaffer. In most cases they're so in tune that they understand what needs doing.
I don't believe in losing it and start shouting. That never achieves anything apart from resentment and bad feelings. Why do you need to shout to get your message across?! A calmer and assertive word achieves more.

There is one thing that pisses me off. AC's with chips on their shoulders!
I had one once that was playing all sort of mind games with me. He would even try and trick me by phasing the shutter in view. I would look in my viewfinder and see black.
At that moment I was under pressure with a scene at 3.30am on a winters' night in the middle of London and the last thing I needed was my AC fooking around with some emotional problem! Needless to say I've never called him back and never will.

Cheers
S
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#16 Ed Moore

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 06:15 AM

Can't remember where I read it but someone (probably David Mullen) said the best first ACs are like racehorses... I like that analogy. Massively cantankerous for a lot of the time, but the good ones get away with it because noone has to worry about the f/2.8 pull at 300mm being sharp.

A lot like how in office environments, the resident geek who has the skill to sort out other people's computer problems usually enacts a hefty social price upon those he or she helps.

Ed
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#17 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 09:32 AM

I'm surprised by all you softies! I rule with an iron fist!!! :P

IMO you would have to be a serious talent to act like an *sshole on set and be brought back and even then, it's really no excuse.

That said, I try to underappreciate my crews and belittle them publicly. It keeps them hungry. :angry:
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#18 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 05:24 PM

That said, I try to underappreciate my crews and belittle them publicly. It keeps them hungry. :angry:


I don't know if you are really serious, but I think that is wrong to under appreciate and belittle people in public. If you like to be treated like shite, that is your own deal. The rest of us would like to be treated like human beings.

The other day I heard what is fast becoming a favorite quote: "It is nice to be important, but it is important to be nice". It may be cheesy, but it really speaks volumes of a society that is moving steadily to cut throat business, and therefore personal, practices in the name of . . . whatever. It is not worth it, and I refuse to work with people who adhere to said practices. There is NOT a fine line between complacency and being appreciative of other people's efforts.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 17 April 2008 - 05:27 PM.

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#19 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 06:19 PM

I don't know if you are really serious, but I think that is wrong to under appreciate and belittle people in public.


A little at a loss for sarcasm, aren't we Saul. He was quite kidding.
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#20 Lars Zemskih

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 08:05 AM

That said, I try to underappreciate my crews and belittle them publicly. It keeps them hungry. :angry:


Hm, I don't know how it is in U.S. But in British productions, if you tell someone publicly about their shortcoming on the set, you basically won't be hired again. Unless you are Roger Deakins, but then he is a very nice guy:)
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