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Cinematographer vs. Director


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#1 Derek Diggler

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 12:37 AM

I'm a cinematographer, and I have two directors that regularly bring me in to their projects. One guy is very easy to work with. We storyboard the complex scenes together and he lets me handle the rest of the shots on my own. I have a lot of artistic freedom, and he likes my "look."

The other guy is almost the polar opposite. He dictates every shot he wants, he usually demands everything to be shot handheld (which isn't usually my thing), or if I argue enough, he "cuts me some slack" and wants steadicam, which usually are for shots that I don't think are appropriate for the steadicam look. He dictates the light he wants, the framing, etc. He leaves the film stock up to me, but I think that's really because he is more used to video so he doesn't know much about film.

I'm pretty submissive to this guy because he is, after all, the director. But I mean, where is the line? Is this common to have little to no artistic input?
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#2 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 01:22 AM

The short answer: It depends.

Some directors trust their cinematographers and expect them to come up with a lot of ideas and creative solutions to problems. Some others plan every shot, down to the lens aperture, by themselves. Kubrik and David Fincher fall under the last category.

There is a reason why some cinematographers who work well with some directors keep on doing so for a number of years. It is all about finding a team that works. There is also a reason why some DPs move up to director / DPs . . . ;)
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#3 Justin Hayward

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 01:49 AM

Do you personally (subjectively) and honestly feel his/hers ideas are bad ones (the latter director, that is)?

If the pay is good, then do whatever he/she wants.

If not, but if the project is worth it (for yourself) - say what you think and work it out. If you can’t come to an agreement… well, I don’t know what to say, cause I don’t understand with work-first scenarios why two artists couldn’t come to a reasonable compromise.

Of course I’m assuming its all WORK FIRST.

When egos get involved, we’re talking a whole different world. Which is probably what you’re referring to?
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#4 Derek Diggler

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 02:21 AM

Do you personally (subjectively) and honestly feel his/hers ideas are bad ones (the latter director, that is)?

If the pay is good, then do whatever he/she wants.


Yes and yes. :) The pay is quite good and I usually am very fond of the scripts he picks up, which is why I continue to attach myself to his projects despite the stress and conflict of "vision."


Of course I’m assuming its all WORK FIRST.

When egos get involved, we’re talking a whole different world. Which is probably what you’re referring to?


He certainly has an ego, and I'd like to think I do not, although I guess I'm not the one to say. :) My "philosophy" (or whatever) is that a cinematographer is there to execute the director's vision, to serve as an abstraction to that process, and to consult the director on the look and feel of the film. So I definitely take my commands and do them, but I try my best during the planning process to suggest that maybe we shouldn't shoot the entire film with a 50mm prime wide open, or maybe we shouldn't allow the mix of daylight and tungsten temperatures so much in a shot. But he has these things set in his mind, so as much as I dislike it, I execute it.
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#5 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 02:41 AM

The director is the 5 star general of a production. There are NUMEROUS, truly brilliant directors who are egomaniac in their approach yet create some of the greatest cinematic art of all time. The cinematographer's job is to bring his vision to light, period. NOW that said, I believe a director who doesn't listen to the opinions and recognise the artistic talent of thier cinematographer, giving it his most heartfelt consideration and respect is a total fool. YES, ultimately, it is the director's decision, but if you work with a cinematographer you respect, why wouldn't you take his advice?
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#6 Tom Jensen

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 03:56 AM

Don't forget the rules of the forum require that you use your real name.
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 10:30 AM

The director is in charge, and unless his/her shots are going to cause a major issue/problem, or you have a better idea then you just do what they say. Now, of hopefully you'll be able to talk to the director and work out all this stuff before hand. It just depends on how you two work. I've been in the same boat where I get a lot of freedom, or none. Thankfully, most stuff falls somewhere in between. Sometimes you gotta trust in the director as much as s/he trusts in you.
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#8 Gus Sacks

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 10:56 AM

Best case scenario it shouldn't be a "versus" situation...
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 11:37 AM

If the pay is good and the results are good, I'd keep going with this director -- maybe over time, he'll leave more and more to you because, in some ways, you'll start thinking more like him.

Otherwise, if it's no fun, you start looking for other work so you can turn him down. If he sees that you are in demand, he may decide you must be worth something and maybe he'll listen more to you. Or not.

If the results are mediocre because the director's ideas are not as good as yours, I'd decide how much I need the money.
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#10 Tony Brown

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 02:19 PM

What happened to the name rule?
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#11 Edgar Dubrovskiy

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 03:47 PM

But I mean, where is the line? Is this common to have little to no artistic input?


from my experience, it is not SO common. but it happens. and you have to go with it. the director is director.
and again, Fincher-Kubrick were mentioned already.

PLEASE CHANGE YOUR NICKNAME TO YOUR FULL NAME.
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#12 Ram Shani

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Posted 23 December 2009 - 05:09 PM

i agree with all the things been said

but then how many Fincher-Kubrick you know?
i know only 2 :)
it's always easy to give example like fincher and kubrick and forget that those directors are also geniuses directors with very clear and profound knowledge about cinema

with all the respect to the directors you work with.what is the chance that they are the next fincher or more then that kubrik
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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 01:11 AM

I enjoyed working with Denis Maloney, ASC a great deal on The Dogfather. I just finished the final colour correction and it's a GORGEOUS looking film. I was very fortunate to have Denis on the team.

Every now and again I would listen to a suggestion that Denis was making & then decide not to go with it. This was mainly because as the director I had the clearest over all vision. Plus I was also the editor, so in some cases I knew I wasn't going to use a particular shot or that I needed a particular shot.

Denis being the consummate professional 100% respected my decisions and would go along with what I was asking.

The movie has Denis' finger prints all over it though as he had too many great ideas to list. I was smart enough to listen to his excellent suggestions on many occasions. He taught me a great deal about higher end filmmaking.

R,
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#14 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 02:08 AM

If the pay is good and the results are good, I'd keep going with this director.... If the results are mediocre because the director's ideas are not as good as yours, I'd decide how much I need the money.

I also think this is the key point - if the director has proven that he knows exactly what he's doing and the results served the film well, then there is no problem, other than one of bruised ego. I've been in the opposite situation where one director I work with on a regular basis often has bad ideas which produce scenes that don't cut. If that's your situation, then I think you are certainly right to argue (politely) for your way. Either way, it's nice that the pay is good, money is money!

BTW Dirk, please respect the rules of the forum and change your user name to your real name, first and last. It helps to keep things civil around here, thank you.
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#15 Romain Garcia

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 02:31 AM

I dont see how a cinematographer is subjected to the director's whim. Both take the same amount of years to finish. If anything, a cinematographer is virtually more knowledgeable than a director.
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#16 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 09:14 AM

I dont see how a cinematographer is subjected to the director's whim. Both take the same amount of years to finish. If anything, a cinematographer is virtually more knowledgeable than a director.

In their own right, yeah, they are focusing on the camera and the lighting specifically. So it is understandable that they excel beyond what the director is capable of in that aspect. Much the same as an editor can distance himself away from the material and focus on how the story will come together. But neither roles are thinking about the other hundred things going on and crew member's questions and the actors acting and if the producers are happy and what have you.

But yet there are many cases where first time directors with no vision lean on the cinematographer for guidance and give them power of the image which there's nothing wrong with and sometimes you do indeed get these fantastic looking films but they don't always serve the story as well as they're supposed to, evident by the lack of director's vision.

I've heard John Seale say something along the lines of a cinematographer shouldn't be shooting a movie for awards, they should be shooting for the story. And there's great truth to that, everyone on set should be ultimately making the same movie.
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 10:14 AM

I dont see how a cinematographer is subjected to the director's whim.


Because it's not a relationship of equals - the cinematographer serves the director. Never heard of an employee being subject to the whims of a boss?
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#18 Richard Boddington

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 03:03 PM

I dont see how a cinematographer is subjected to the director's whim. Both take the same amount of years to finish. If anything, a cinematographer is virtually more knowledgeable than a director.


Obviously some people on this board are going to go through a learning curve. Eh David? :D

Maybe the DOP from Romain's world would like to also give notes on the script and decide who to cast?

R,
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