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#1 Tim Carroll

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 07:54 PM

Been studying some of Martin Scorsese's early work and spending time with Who's That Knocking At My Door, the last iteration of his first feature.

There's a wonderful scene when Harvey Keitel's character first meets Zina Bethune's character on the Staten Island Ferry. It is one of those "talkie" scenes and it goes on for about five minutes. It could have been visually very boring. But what they did was wonderful. The camera slowly moves about through the whole scene, pulling back, slowly panning, dollying right, panning left, coming in, circling around. It is very subtle and I'm sure the average person watching the film wouldn't even notice.

My question is, who's decision was that? Who's responsible for putting those kinds of camera moves in there, the director or the cinematographer? Or is it both/collaboration? I feel certain in this case it was Martin Scorsese's decision and he was responsible for it being in there. But part of that may have been he was a young director and very involved in all aspects of his first feature.

But most often on the set, who is responsible, who's decision is it as to how and where the camera moves?

Thanks for any and all info.

Best,
-Tim
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 February 2009 - 08:01 PM

It's a collaboration most of the time, but some directors are more specific to their DP's as to what they want than others. Bertolucci, for example, says that he designed the camera moves on his films with Storaro and let Storaro handle the lighting. I'm sure Scorsese is pretty specific too. But since the DP and operator have to make this movement a reality, and light it, most directors are going to get their involvement and some will listen to alternate ideas or modifications, especially if it makes the shot better.

Other directors will be less sure and solicit ideas from the DP.

Stephen Burum once said that he would sense when DePalma would want a scene to be covered in one long shot -- they'd block the scene and DePalma would say that he wanted the camera to cover from X to Y but then Burum would say "what about all the way to Z?", knowing that DePalma would be happier to not cut up the scene into too many shots. DePalma would say "can you do that, light all the way to Z?" and Burum would say yes. So sometimes a DP and director will push each other to be more ambitious.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 03:53 AM

I think it's a pretty safe bet that the scene you mention was mostly imagined that way by Scorsese. There are very few directors who are that cinematically gifted and have such a distinctive voice in their films, really.

One factor in the director/DP relationship which can have a strong effect on the structure of a film is the dynamic of power between the two filmmakers. Relative age, experience in the business, personal history, and personality often play into how much power the DP has in putting his or her own stamp on a film. A famous example is the work of Gordon Willis in "The Godfather."

Willis has very clear ideas of what he feels is good photography (contrast of light and dark, well composed frames, simplicity of coverage, limited camera movement). He is also (by all accounts) a very opinionated person who has no problem telling his director (or anyone else) what he thinks. So when Francis Ford Coppola wanted to get a high angle overhead shot of Don Corleone getting shot in the street, Willis challenged him on it, asking him whose point of view that was supposed to be. He was implying that he didn't believe the shot was appropriate for the style of the film that they'd agreed upon and was trying to get it nixed. Coppola famously responded, "it's MY point of view" and he ended up getting his way. Of course, it's now one of the most recognizable shots in film history. But Willis got his way for the majority of the picture and it shows, which is why he's so frequently cited whenever people discuss the film - he's a de facto co-author.

That kind of influence can be either a good thing or not, but it's definitely something to look for when asking these sorts of questions.
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#4 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 02:44 PM

So sometimes a DP and director will push each other to be more ambitious.

I love when things like that happen - you end up with magic. I have a background in theatre, and I was involved in a production of "Fiddler on the Roof" where the director, choreographer and music director pushed each other in that way, and the result was one of the most beautiful productions I've ever seen.
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#5 Alfeo Dixon

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Posted 24 February 2009 - 09:49 AM

Also, many times the DP will not be so involved with the movement when he has good operators. The DP may decide on letting the operator work with the director on the composition and movement... especially if the DP doesn't mess well with the director or the operator is more experienced than the director and dp.

But its all a collaborative effort.
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#6 Tim Carroll

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Posted 25 March 2009 - 09:57 AM

Also, many times the DP will not be so involved with the movement when he has good operators. The DP may decide on letting the operator work with the director on the composition and movement... especially if the DP doesn't mess well with the director or the operator is more experienced than the director and dp.

But its all a collaborative effort.


That would be my follow up question, how much input does the operator have in a situation like that?

And a follow up to the follow up, how often is an operator involved in a narrative/feature production? At what level (as far as overall production budget, i.e. $100,000 or $500,000 or $1,000,000) does the DP turn over operating to an operator? On lower budget films is the DP usually also the operator, or is an operator fairly common on most narrative/feature work?

Best,
-Tim
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#7 John Brawley

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Posted 25 March 2009 - 05:07 PM

That would be my follow up question, how much input does the operator have in a situation like that?

And a follow up to the follow up, how often is an operator involved in a narrative/feature production? At what level (as far as overall production budget, i.e. $100,000 or $500,000 or $1,000,000) does the DP turn over operating to an operator? On lower budget films is the DP usually also the operator, or is an operator fairly common on most narrative/feature work?

Best,
-Tim



It's something that is negotiated and it really depends on the way the director and DP want to set up the working situation. I have a director that's keen to look at operating on the next film we do together. In fact i saw Elergy yesterday and noted that the director operated. I had already noted that the operating was unusual (in a good way) and there it was in the credits.

Here in OZ, no one wants to PAY for an operator. Our budgets are FAR less than those in the US. A larger budget film here would be AU$ 5 Million+. That's more like 3.5 Million US. And that's a larger budget and even then its not automatic that an operator would be employed.

The majority of DOP's here operate, mostly because we have to like it or not.

jb
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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 25 March 2009 - 05:33 PM

At what level (as far as overall production budget, i.e. $100,000 or $500,000 or $1,000,000) does the DP turn over operating to an operator? On lower budget films is the DP usually also the operator, or is an operator fairly common on most narrative/feature work?

Well, I've never shot anything anywhere near those budget levels, and I still prefer to have an operator when possible... I mean, if there's someone who is better at operating than I am and I have the chance to work with them, then it's a no brainer really.
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 25 March 2009 - 06:27 PM

That would be my follow up question, how much input does the operator have in a situation like that?

Every situation is different of course. Sometimes the operators job is simply to figure out the best way to get the shot the Director/DP want without adding any input. Sometimes the operator makes little creative suggestions here and there to try to better achieve the shot the DP/Director is looking for. And sometimes the operator is given a lot of free reign to come up with their own shot that works with the general ideas that the Director/DP have.
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