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My First Job as a DP. Thoughts?


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#1 Jake Ures

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 12:57 AM

Hello all,

I've been browsing this website for some time now, and you guys seem to be pretty knowledgeable. I was wondering if any of you would interested in critiquing (mainly the lighting--which was my area of concern) a short film (roughly 12 minutes) that I DPed.

The budget was somewhere around $10000. We rented out lights:

-Two Teenie-Weenie Moles
-A 5K lamp

For the most part we used some PAR lamps and some Kino's that we owned.

My main questions would be:

1. As a first venture into lighting, how did I do? Where can I improve?
2. With the lights we DO own, where do you think I should go next as far as purchases go. Let's say our budget is $500.
3. What would you have done differently?


EDIT: There was some coloring done in post, using the Color program with Final Cut Pro.



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#2 Serge Teulon

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 09:07 AM

Hey Jake,

My internet is slow and I'm being rushed out at the moment.
I did however see the first 7-8 mins and I really like your work.

Well done!!
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#3 Chad MacKenzie

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 05:44 AM

Cool short. I'm not a DP but your work looked cool to me. The guy that's singing reminds me of Jack Skellington.

Edited by Chad MacKenzie, 30 December 2008 - 05:45 AM.

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#4 Jake Ures

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Posted 01 January 2009 - 02:40 PM

Hey Jake,

My internet is slow and I'm being rushed out at the moment.
I did however see the first 7-8 mins and I really like your work.

Well done!!



Anyone else have any thoughts or answers to some of my questions?
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#5 Ryan Patrick OHara

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Posted 01 January 2009 - 06:49 PM

I'll take a stab at it.

This website is filled with some very knowledgeable people but sometimes these sections can get really slow.

First of all, let me say that I am very impressed if this was your 'first time' as a Director of Photography. You either have had lots of previous experience watching others (DP's) work, had a badass gaffer, or just learned your ass off before making the first attempt. Either way, the cinematography of the piece speaks much higher then a first timer, so congratulations! In addition, I am willing to bet you are quite the salesman considering a film with a $10,000 budget went with a first time DP! I think I am going to have you do my negotiations for now on. ;)

Let me get into the film:

First scene where they are singing... Looked good. I felt like a very weak rim light could have created a little depth and separated the men from the back ground.

Scene where they come out of the doors... looked great! Reminded me of something I would see from "The Man Who Wasn't There"! Good job!

The man hobbling along with the child was ok. Nothing special, but certainly not harmful. I would have instead of a strong wide stroke side key, considered some higher and multiple pools of light through which he walked through. This would increase the sense of depth and can be easily motivated as over head lighting. Also it keeps attention of the audience as it's more visually interesting. The big light you have, I can't figure out what gives that lighting off.

The lighting when the man approaches the musician (while he is sitting on the stage) is amazing. Beautiful, grade A. Hell ya, my friend. Truly made me envious! ;)

The conversation is good, but the lighting was slightly odd for me. Not sure what it is. I think you treat the man with to much flat light. Sometimes the key is right in line with camera and at other times you have multiple keys. It's not wrong, it's a little against my personal choice in lighting style, therefore sticks out. Nothing to worry about, just something to think about.

Again, when the musician stands... looks very good.

The singing portion, was good! The camera movement really helped the powerful parts of the song! I think you're biggest weakness so far is creating visual depth in the scene (some scenes you successfully do.)

Depth is achieved by 'layers of light', blocking, framing or depth of field. Sometimes (like with the man approaching the magician) the background is competing for attention with the actor because of its exposure. This is because both are lit to the same level causing the eye to debate which to look to. You can either force the background out of focus even more or just take the light levels down. Again, purely my opinion. :)

Thus far, I think you are doing a wonderful job... and whomever wrote the music is immensely talented.

The next shots in the theater, back lighting/ rim always does 'magic' on theater seating. ;)

Love the transition to the outside!!! Your film has been so monochromatic thus far, I loved how you transitioned into the color world. So refreshing and hopefull, which is why I assume you did things the way you did. My ONLY suggestion is to hit the actress with a warm bounce to help give her a more lively appearance in the colorful world. For such a lovely fantasy world, she still looked dead to me.

Slow motion from the phantom looked very good! Always great!

Back in the theater, you have nice close ups with nice depth due to depth of field being more dramatic, but the lighting is a little flat. Perhaps a nice back light to the flat frontal would help. You could abandon flat frontal all together and give them a key. Your choice.

Back to outside, still looking good! Love the location and how you balanced the sky and ground. I don't know if you were blessed with good weather or if you used some grad filters, but your chosen exposure of the entire frame helps convey the mood and fantasy of this world. I truly get it.

His complexion is pale and very nice when he is close up when the kid is being tossed. Love how it looks as if he is still in the theater and not part of their world. She looks slightly warmer in regards to skin tone which is exactly what I wanted from my previous comment about her looking dead.

Rest of the film is pretty much the same as I've previously stated.

I hope this helped you in some way. I know that analyzing your film has helped me understand and think critically about cinematography. Thank you for posting this film. It is a wonderful short and I think that you are going to be very successful as long as you keep learning, striving, and growing as a cinematographer.

Best to you and happy new years!

-Ryan P. O'Hara

ps: If you have any questions for me please respond. I absolutely enjoy discussing cinematography to no end.
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#6 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 12:30 AM

After watching the entire thing, I'm pretty impressed that this is your FIRST venture into lighting. I'm curious how you got the job ;)

Just a couple notes though. The opening looks nice, but perhaps a bit more background lighting to see the lamp posts and such. And the shot of the people leaving theatre was very nice, would have been better if the light weren't actually in the shot, in my opinion.

The coverage of the dialogue between the janitor and magician was kind of weird, especially the janitor's closeup. The shot of the janitor was kinda low con, then the shot of the magician would be high contrast. So, just a bit more consistency would have been nice.

Some exterior shots of the magician could have been softened up a bit with a 1/4 silk or something.

Lastly, since the magician was wearing such a black suit, it would have been a good idea to keep in mind that he definitely needed a backlight for nearly every shot in the theatre for some separation from the background. I know with those low wide angle shots, it can be nearly impossible, but even a top light would have sufficed.

Still, there are some gorgeous shots all throughout, congrats! The slow mo stuff looked especially nice. Now, on to watch some of the behind the scenes footage :)
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#7 Mike Lary

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 01:22 AM

In respect for your request to get advice that will improve your skills, I'll forgo positive feedback. I think the previous posters have already done enough.

One question first, though. Why are there two people (you and the Director) credited as Cinematographer?

Overall, it's clear that you didn't have enough lights to do the job. That's not to say you didn't use the lights you had properly, but you can't sell a wide night exterior with extras walking around if you're stuck with small lights. The interiors needed backlight most of all, which could have been motivated by the few practicals in the shot (hanging bulbs, sconces - I remember seeing some here and there) as well as the understanding that a stage would have any number of lights hanging high above the frame.

When the doors open and everyone is backlit by a single source, we can clearly see the shape of the light. If you're going to show the source you need to sell it. I don't buy for a second that any venue like that would have a small, blinding light aimed at anyone coming in the door. It would be a softer globe at the least, spilling in all directions. In the future, unless you're going to blow out the whole area behind the crowd, I'd put that light out of frame. If it isn't bright enough to do what you need it to do that high, get a bigger light. If you can't get a bigger light, change your lighting scheme.

Watch your focus. The janitor's face is out but his shirt is in when he's approaching the magician from behind. Also, the magician is out when he's walking around the stage after singing, and there's some questionable focus when he's back on stage after the exterior scene.

Watch exposure on exteriors. Part of the girls face blows out. Her face goes from being soft and fairly even toned to ugly, high contrast with blowout - not ideal when she singing about the magic of a lover's touch. Throw a silk or a net there to cut down the intensity, especially where it's a close-up and you could do it with a very small modifier.

When the magician and the woman are back on stage, the scene suffers from underlighting. Coming from the beautiful outdoors, during a crescendo, there should be more molding of the faces at the least. Both figures are very flat.

In the future, be involved in art direction decisions whenever possible. Actors wearing white shirts with black jackets is an avoidable nightmare. When you're shooting digital that kind of wardrobe decision can be very problematic for regulating exposure.

There was a strange reflection on the magician's face when he stooped down in front of the child. I'm assuming it was from the coin, but it was very large and distracting, and it didn't look intentional.

I hope that helps. Best of luck with your next project.
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#8 Daniel Porto

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 09:59 PM

Hello all,

I've been browsing this website for some time now, and you guys seem to be pretty knowledgeable. I was wondering if any of you would interested in critiquing (mainly the lighting--which was my area of concern) a short film (roughly 12 minutes) that I DPed.

The budget was somewhere around $10000. We rented out lights:

-Two Teenie-Weenie Moles
-A 5K lamp

For the most part we used some PAR lamps and some Kino's that we owned.

My main questions would be:

1. As a first venture into lighting, how did I do? Where can I improve?
2. With the lights we DO own, where do you think I should go next as far as purchases go. Let's say our budget is $500.
3. What would you have done differently?


EDIT: There was some coloring done in post, using the Color program with Final Cut Pro.



Jake, I just took a look at the credits and found out that you were listed as 'Lighting' and not 'Director of Photography.'

Thus all the comments above are referring to the work of the real DoP and not yours.
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#9 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 10:27 PM

Thus all the comments above are referring to the work of the real DoP and not yours.


True, but even working as a gaffer, he can take the lighting comments and consider the advise for future projects.
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#10 Mike Lary

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 12:42 AM

I wish I'd read the credits more closely before making a lengthy critique. Co-gaffing is certainly not the same as DPing. I'd like a few answers to set the record straight on this project.

Why did you say you DP'd the project? Did the DP hand over creative decision making to you in regards to lighting? What about the other 'lighting' person? Did they share equal responsibilities with you?

Was this a student film? The credits are bloated considering the scale of the project. There are 13 Grips listed in addition to a Key Grip. Did they count juicers as grips, or did you and your partner take on all the electric needs? Were the Grips floaters who came in for a half day here and there? If not, why did you have such a large grip crew when you had such a small kit?

The camera crew had two 1st ACs, one 2nd AC and two 'focus pullers'. Did you have focus pullers full time? Just wondering why there's so much bad focus when there are four people listed in the credits who should be able to pull competently.
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#11 Ryan Patrick OHara

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 10:41 AM

Whoa. :o Tough crowd!

Despite his exact role, no matter how confusing or ambiguous, I think he is interested in cinematography, knows how and why things were done the way they were, and therefore can learn just as much had he been the 100% DP.

I certainly gained from your additional posts, therefore I am sure he will just the same.
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#12 Daniel Porto

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 01:16 AM

Whoa. :o Tough crowd!

Despite his exact role, no matter how confusing or ambiguous, I think he is interested in cinematography, knows how and why things were done the way they were, and therefore can learn just as much had he been the 100% DP.

I certainly gained from your additional posts, therefore I am sure he will just the same.


No doubt about that, he just shouldn't have said he was the DoP.
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#13 Jake Ures

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:02 PM

No doubt about that, he just shouldn't have said he was the DoP.



Thank you to everyone who responded. I'll take everything you guys brought up into consideration.

As far as the credits go, I was not misleading you. I was given the position of Lighting Director, and the woman credited under lighting was there for consultation and when I could not be present. This was my first time given full reign over the lights. The cinematographer was in charge of shot composition. I was given the role of lighting. As I get more experienced, I will be able to work on composition as well. My next step is Director of Photography. If the credits were in the film, why would I bloat my importance? I wouldn't count on all of you being blind.

There were two AC's and thirteen grips because this film was created by one hundred percent volunteer work (besides our actors). Everyone from director to production manager to grip was not paid.

Our focus issues were not realized until post because our back focus on our Pro-35 lens adapter was all kinds of screwed up, and our monitor didn't make it apparent. All of the close ups were out of focus. We did the best with what we had.

Anymore helpful tips? Thanks a bunch!

Edited by Jake Ures, 05 January 2009 - 11:06 PM.

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#14 Brandon McCormick

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 09:07 AM

Jake, I just took a look at the credits and found out that you were listed as 'Lighting' and not 'Director of Photography.'

Thus all the comments above are referring to the work of the real DoP and not yours.


Hi there, my name is Brandon McCormick, Director and Owner of Whitestone Motion Pictures and the film That's Magic!.

I first want to thank you gentlemen for your time spent looking at our project and giving feed back for Jake.

Jake Ures is my Director of Photography, mostly in terms of light and texture.

There are co-cinematography credits as me and another gentleman work the camera, and Jake primarily deals with the photography and lighting in relation to the camera.

I know that it's not a traditional set up, however it works great for us.

He is inappropriately credited on the film, due to us sending the credits to a animator, and not having the correct credit to Jakes name. I am in the process of fixing this, and it will be corrected on IMDB.

I just wanted to stick up for him and have you all know he was not misleading in anyway.

Thanks for your input into him, and your desire to share your information and help a new upcoming DP get some expert advice. This forum is excellent!

If you have any questions, you can email me.

Again, Thanks!

Brandon McCormick
Whitestone Motion Pictures
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#15 Brandon McCormick

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 09:17 AM

I wish I'd read the credits more closely before making a lengthy critique. Co-gaffing is certainly not the same as DPing. I'd like a few answers to set the record straight on this project.

Why did you say you DP'd the project? Did the DP hand over creative decision making to you in regards to lighting? What about the other 'lighting' person? Did they share equal responsibilities with you?

Was this a student film? The credits are bloated considering the scale of the project. There are 13 Grips listed in addition to a Key Grip. Did they count juicers as grips, or did you and your partner take on all the electric needs? Were the Grips floaters who came in for a half day here and there? If not, why did you have such a large grip crew when you had such a small kit?

The camera crew had two 1st ACs, one 2nd AC and two 'focus pullers'. Did you have focus pullers full time? Just wondering why there's so much bad focus when there are four people listed in the credits who should be able to pull competently.


Hey Mike, thanks for your overly harsh and critical thoughts.

I am Brandon McCormick, filmmaker at Whitestone and Director of That's Magic.

Jake Ures is the Director of Photography for this project, and had full creative control on the lights in every aspect.
Our grips were volunteers, and each and every one of them worked for free. They switched off some days.

We do about 6-8 films a year, we work fast and for little money.

We certainly have quality issues, and are learning on every project. This project was made in about 3 months.
As we head towards a feature film, we are constantly looking to get better, which is why I have asked Jake to submit to this forum. This place is usually a great place for "constructive" criticism, however your last comment was anything but.

I hope my answers here put the heated 'was jake the real DP' on this project to bed and we can get to the more important issue.
Which is how can he get better for the next project.

Thanks for your time.

Brandon McCormick
Whitestone Motion Pictures
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#16 Tim Tyler

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 10:23 AM

Brandon,

Given the specifics initially presented by Jake and the credits in the film you published, I think Mike's questions are completely justified.

I am interested to know how the cinematography tasks and responsibilities for That's Magic were divided up by yourself, Jake, and Dan Marrero who you've referred to here only as "another gentleman" even though he's credited as Cinematographer.

There are co-cinematography credits as me and another gentleman work the camera, and Jake primarily deals with the photography and lighting in relation to the camera.


So, does that mean that Jake is the Lighting Cameraman while you and Dan Marreo are the Directors of Photography, as in the English camera department system?
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#17 Brandon McCormick

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 11:01 AM

Thanks for the response. I believe that everyone has been intensely helpful, however biting and critical attitudes don't help anyone.

Our credits are done the way we like them.
We are a low budget film company, and many of us wear many hats.

Jake Ures lit every scene and designed how the look and feel of the film would come across on camera.
His job was to interpret the vision I had and make it come to life through the light and textures of the physical spaces.

He has been asking for help in the area of lighting, and for the most part has gotten great responses from many of you, and for that I thank you. I don't feel the need to go into every detail of our process, however I feel that we do our best to appropriate correct credit according to the talents and investment from each individual. Again, this means many of my crew have to wear multiple hats and are engaged in their department from different areas.
I wold hope that those doing completely independent film projects would understand that.

Brandon McCormick
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#18 Mike Lary

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 12:14 PM

This place is usually a great place for "constructive" criticism, however your last comment was anything but.


Brandon,

Welcome to the forums and thanks for taking the time to respond.

As far as proper etiquette is concerned, critique is not a back-patting session. It's a way for artists to get feedback on their work and improve their abilities. If you ask for a critique you need to put your ego and emotions on hold and use the analytical part of your brain to objectively evaluate comments. None of my comments were derogatory or insulting. They were direct and deconstructive, as they should be in a critique. Holding people accountable at a professional level for their work is a service to them.

My comments and questions were all aimed at pointing out problem areas that should be corrected if Jake wants to improved his skills. One of the skills you and Jake need to work on is understanding the roles of crew members and taking / giving proper credit where credit is due. You are making a distinction between Cinematographer and Director of Photography, two interchangeable terms. If you give either credit to someone you are giving that person credit for camera AND grip AND electric. Neither you nor Jake, according to your post, were fully responsible for those departments. Your roles were malleable. Credits, however, are not.

If you're unclear about the distinction between roles, please search the forums. There are threads discussing the perceived and actual differences between Cinematographer, Director of Photography, and Lighting Cameraman. Understanding roles will help you when you recruit professional crew in the future, and it will help your crew to be more competent in the jobs they perform.

I hope my comments have been helpful, and I wish you success with your future projects.
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#19 Jake Ures

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 12:24 PM

Brandon,

Welcome to the forums and thanks for taking the time to respond.

As far as proper etiquette is concerned, critique is not a back-patting session. It's a way for artists to get feedback on their work and improve their abilities. If you ask for a critique you need to put your ego and emotions on hold and use the analytical part of your brain to objectively evaluate comments. None of my comments were derogatory or insulting. They were direct and deconstructive, as they should be in a critique. Holding people accountable at a professional level for their work is a service to them.

My comments and questions were all aimed at pointing out problem areas that should be corrected if Jake wants to improved his skills. One of the skills you and Jake need to work on is understanding the roles of crew members and taking / giving proper credit where credit is due. You are making a distinction between Cinematographer and Director of Photography, two interchangeable terms. If you give either credit to someone you are giving that person credit for camera AND grip AND electric. Neither you nor Jake, according to your post, were fully responsible for those departments. Your roles were malleable. Credits, however, are not.

If you're unclear about the distinction between roles, please search the forums. There are threads discussing the perceived and actual differences between Cinematographer, Director of Photography, and Lighting Cameraman. Understanding roles will help you when you recruit professional crew in the future, and it will help your crew to be more competent in the jobs they perform.

I hope my comments have been helpful, and I wish you success with your future projects.



Unfortunately, in an independent film company, we cannot have all roles filled. As we grow, we may then be able to make more distinctions between all of the departments, but no one just did their one job. At some points, I was a grip because we were short-handed. I guess I was also the gaffer, but I'm not looking for credits; I'm looking for experience.

In some circles, a cinematographer and a DP can be two separate individuals. I dealt with the lighting, Brandon dealt with the framing and shot composition, and Dan brought both of our departments together as our camera operator. I believe all of us were properly credited aside from the one clerical error which could be partially my own fault.

Thank you for your criticism, though. We DO need to get better about crediting our crew members.

_Jake
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#20 Brandon McCormick

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 12:33 PM

Mike,

Your first post was certainly more than helpful, my mention to the end of your last.

I see that credits are very important to some, and we certainly are working on what a title or roll means as we grow.

Brandon
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