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A strange trend...


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#1 Dimitri Zaunders

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 01:22 AM

I've been noticing an odd trend lately, and I'm wondering what everyone else's opinion is...

Lately after talking to a lot of talented DPs that I've met or crewed for, I've noticed that many have confided in me that what they REALLY want to do is direct.

I even found out the other day that my cinematography teacher at school, who is a really knowledgeable and talented guy, is actually mostly a director who will more often than not hire a DP to shoot his commercials for him.

I know that there has always been a lot of crossover between the role of director and DP, with many high profile DPs going on to direct their own projects (Chris Doyle, Nicholas Roeg and Jan de Bont being just a few of many examples) while other high profile directors often shoot their own projects (Steven Soderbergh etc).

Still, I've always considered the roles diametrically opposed, dating back to the traditional separation of duties where a director was essentially an actor who looked after the performances of the rest of the cast, while a DP was essentially a technician.

I'm just really curious whether I'm the only person who's 100% focused on cinematography without having an interest in writing or directing my own projects. Is it just a coincidence that so many people I've spoken to really just want to direct, or is this really common among cinematographers??

Edited by Dimitri Zaunders, 02 March 2010 - 01:22 AM.

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#2 David Auner aac

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 08:01 AM

I'm just really curious whether I'm the only person who's 100% focused on cinematography without having an interest in writing or directing my own projects. Is it just a coincidence that so many people I've spoken to really just want to direct, or is this really common among cinematographers??


Hi Dimitri,

am in the same boat you are in. Which is to say I might direct a couple of short films or whatever, but I want to be a cinematographer and nothing else. I guess there's people who want to direct and then there's those who don't, I'm guessing your result is a coincidence!

Cheers, Dave
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 08:30 AM

I direct/edit when you're talking those small projects that need something done such as a quick PSA or a commercial, or a music video. But in truth, I'm perfectly happy just being a DoP.
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#4 Paul Bruening

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 08:42 AM

There's a flip side of that coin. I pretty much prefer coming up with ideas. But, I have to be able to do enough of every job or those ideas will never see the light of day.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 10:13 AM

I went to film school at the age of 26 after making my own short films for a decade, with the intent to become a director. But I fell into cinematography mainly because I was the only incoming student who could light and shoot competently.

But I've only worked as a cinematographer for the past 19 years since graduating.

The thing is, though, in all that time, I've had to help out so many inexperienced, struggling directors that the thought constantly comes up of "why not direct?" After all, the director is getting paid a lot more than I am. But the job comes with it a lot of heartache, politics, responsibility, and struggle that short of a directing job being handed me on a silver platter, or if I come up with a personal script that I feel that only I can direct, I'm sticking to cinematography -- it's a lot more fun and I feel like I'm getting to "make the movie" without all the extraneous bulls--t that directors have to put up with.

But occasionally some name actor has noticed my contributions and suggested I get into directing, especially for television.
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#6 Dimitri Zaunders

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 11:11 AM

Thanks for all the input!

I guess I can understand that need to direct your own project when you feel that no one else can or will. As a cinematographer just starting out, I guess I live in the naive hope that eventually I will fall into a partnership with a visionary director or two who will bring out the best in my work, but the feeling I get is that this doesn't always happen, and that sometimes you need to just direct your own films out of disillusionment with the quality of the directors you meet...

What still really puzzles me though is the fact that so many people (even the esteemed David Mullen ASC!) fall into cinematography accidentally after wanting to be a director. And many talented DPs I meet on graduate student films or low budget music videos describe themselves as directors just using cinematography as a stepping stone in their directing career!

I'm glad to hear from David Auner that there are others like me who are interested only in cinematography, but by the sounds of it we are a fairly rare bunch?
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 11:16 AM

I wouldn't say it's a rare bunch. What I would wager is that a lot of people get into film not really knowing and understanding what all the jobs are, so they go to directing, and then in that route they discover something in film, such as cinematography, which they really love and are passionate about and the want to stick to that, they are wooed by it. I know I was, when I was looking at an old Betacam a long time ago on a set just thinking, "that thing is soo cool!" Or, they do such a good job behind the camera that that's the work they keep getting and that's what they want. While this isn't to say that any of us would turn down a silver platter job directing, or producing, etc, it does say we tend to stick to the cameras. At least that's what I'd say. There are times, of course, where you wanna give something a go, for whatever reason; but most people tend to go back to what they know and what they love.
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 11:34 AM

I think Adrian hit it on the head, many of us go to film school with sort of generic notions of what we want to do, i.e make films. We come out of film schools as editors, DP's, sound recordists, etc. because we learn what is involved in those fields, plus we want to earn a living once we graduate.

It's just like little kids who all say they want to be firemen, doctors, astronauts but grow up to run some specialized piece of technology they never even heard of when they were younger.

The thing is that I believe a good narrative cinematographer is a good visual storyteller and general filmmaker FIRST and the person who deals with lighting and equipment SECOND. Otherwise you end up being someone who thinks what you do is the most important thing on the show, rather than see yourself as supporting something greater, i.e. the story and the performances.
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#9 Richard Boddington

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 04:48 PM

I think a lot of DOPs would shy away from the director's chair if they really knew about all the pre-production and post production work involved. These days the vast bulk of director's are also raising the financing for the film, which is why they get to direct it.

"Director for hire" is becoming a very tough job to get for feature films. In TV of course much less so as director's are rotated through the machinery that turns out Lost, Law & Order, & Glee, etc.

It's quite common for director's these days to "shepherd" their projects for years before they actually get into production. On set all any one sees is the director being the boss and giving the orders, they didn't see him going to meetings for five years trying to lock down the financing.

Once the financing is in place the new DOP turned director must now deal with two issues he normally doesn't touch, the casting and the script. Once that's done the shoot can move forward which is where the DOP has the most experience, on set.

Then comes the months of post, which may also be a new area for the DOP.

Having directed two feature films now I have discarded the old adage, "any one can direct."

R,
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#10 Brian Rose

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 05:39 PM

If I could be either an A-list director or an A-List DP, I would surely take the latter, simply because the DP gets to make more films. I mean, if you're LUCKY, you might make one film a year, but that's a big if. It's probably longer, and god it must be exhausting.

Now, I'm not saying DPing ISN'T exhausting, but a different kind. Its free from much of the politics of filmmaking, as someone else already made mention. As a director, you much more likely to have to make compromises, while for the cinematography, there is much more freedom. Artistry still lives and breathes for the DP.

I believe you make masterpieces through many outings, rather than waiting for that PERFECT shot. And the great DPS made many films, honed their craft, worked with talented visionaries, and both uplifted the other. And they get to be a part of so many great films. I mean, look at Gregg Toland from 39-41, or Jack Cardiff from 46-48. Heck, look at the year Roger Deakins had in 2007.

I could die contented being "the guy" who DP'd a masterpiece.

BR
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#11 Dimitri Zaunders

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 11:18 PM

Thanks again to everyone for all the great discussion.

David and Adrian, I know exactly what you mean. When I was much younger, I obviously knew nothing about the realities of film making except that I wanted to be involved in them - and therefore, had to be a director! But I've really loved this long process of introspection in the years since I left high school, in which I've come to understand what it is about films that I love so much, and what I see myself doing for the rest of my life.

But still, I guess my problem is that I'm fixated on this romantic notion of the cinematographer who comes to film through a love of photography and the visual arts, rather than someone who takes up the duty of photography out of necessity or as a means to an end (an eventual directing job). I definitely don't think there's anything wrong with the latter (and obviously many talented DPs, such as Mr Mullen, have fallen into cinematography almost by chance) but it still feels like a slap in the face to hear from DPs in my own peer group that it's not REALLY what they want to be doing...

For those of you who have fulfilled both roles (Richard I'm looking especially at you!) why DID you decide to direct? I know that these two jobs certainly have a lot in common (and David I would completely agree that a DP is first and foremost a storyteller, something definitely shared with a director) but I still feel like they are such thoroughly different jobs. Is it possible to happen to be in love with both, or is one always a kind of secondary occupation?

Oh and Brian I would completely agree about just wanting to DP that one masterpiece. I think that that's what appeals to me most about cinematography as opposed to directing, which is the freedom to endlessly reinvent yourself between projects, moving from script to script and style to style in a way that very few feature film directors would ever be able to do.
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#12 Richard Boddington

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 11:30 PM

For those of you who have fulfilled both roles (Richard I'm looking especially at you!) why DID you decide to direct? I know that these two jobs certainly have a lot in common (and David I would completely agree that a DP is first and foremost a storyteller, something definitely shared with a director) but I still feel like they are such thoroughly different jobs. Is it possible to happen to be in love with both, or is one always a kind of secondary occupation?


Well in my case I was never a "working DOP" I wasn't hired by other people to shoot stuff. I only shot my own material. I also never aspired to be a full-time dedicated DOP, I always wanted to be a director, first.

I shot Dark Reprieve myself because it was a low budget, and I knew it would be faster and easier if I was director, DOP, and operator. I have also been director and DOP on a number of commercials, also for budget and speed reasons.

The Dogfather was a whole new ball game, it was a multi-million dollar project and beyond my DOP abilities. I could never light the way Denis Maloney lights, he has 50X more experience than I do. Plus I had kids and animals to deal with, there just would not have been time for me to direct lighting set ups and then work with the actors.

Being the director and DOP can be a lot of fun at times, but having a DOP is also quite luxurious and you get used to it real fast :lol:

I am glad I spent so much time shooting though, it's a major plus to have that background as a director. When you ID film stocks by their number you certainly get the attention of the camera crew in a hurry. ;)

R,
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#13 Alain Lumina

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 01:59 AM

Just for the sake of completeness, I'll volunteer the experience of someone who is under the bottom of the totem pole in micro-budget land-- I'm directing out of pure necessity-- I started writing screenplays simply to see if I could do it, finished some people liked, and was damned if some suit with a three million dollar house in Hollywood was going to decide if my movie got made. He
is the exact person who should not.

It was a question of what need I do next to make this happen no matter what. That requires the kind of arrogance that one can create a unique, compelling world in ten thousand words.

Hitchcock said 80% of his job was casting. He also deliberately helped torpedo the career of Tippi Hedren when she wouldn't put out.

Offering a professional opinion ( I finance microbudget with my psychologist income) it's a strange mind that believes it deserves to be allowed to persecute the innocent.

For further reference, see Michael Douglass's interview on youtube in which he describes how during the filming of Wall Street Oliver Stone deliberately called his competence as an actor in question again and again during the making of the film, until Douglass finally confronted him and demanded he stop.

It's so bizarre.

But Wall Steet lives.

Maybe you really need a little bit of an emperor complex.
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#14 Paul Bruening

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 03:06 AM

You used the words, "torpedo" and "Tippi Hedren" in the same sentence. I am in state of complete distraction.
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#15 Ram Shani

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 03:52 AM

i agree with all the things that said above.

to add one thing that was said but in weak voice

as a dp you get to make a lot more films then a director.

just ask David how many films he made,and how many the talented polish brothers, in the all this years.

for me. i made this year 3 feature films and one tv drama and many music videos and commercials

no director can do that

and the best thing is you don't need to handle all the politics director need to deal with

one more thing is that for every project, you meet different people with different world and taste and personalty.

and i think it help you to learn more about film making and life(at list for me)
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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 04:05 AM

I think that many filmmakers regardless of specialization would like to direct certain projects that are close to their heart. Very few of them would like to do it exclusively as they get too much enjoyment from working in their own creative fields.

I know that when I started taking film classes at 19, I wanted to direct because I misunderstood how the films I loved were made. I thought the director did everything, wrote the script, chose the location, selected the lens, placed the camera, directed the actors, edited the film, chose the music, etc. It sounded like the only game in town.

I realized slowly that I enjoyed designing shots, sequences, lighting, and editing, but was indifferent to everything else. I was generally good at those things, and mediocre at everything else. Other students were talented where I was not, but lacking where I could contribute. And there was a name and a job title for what I enjoyed doing! Hard to beat that. There are still projects I would love to try to direct, but that is mostly ego since I'm pretty sure there is someone out there who could do the job better. Some fantasies die hard...
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#17 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 08:59 AM

For me, to go a bit off of what Satsuki says, the only way I would direct anything I've ever thought about that would "make a good movie," would be if I couldn't find anyone who I trusted with the story. Case in point of that is a tiny tiny short I wrote (10 pgs) which is basically all images and very little dialogue. It's just something I have so completely in my head in terms of how I think it "should be," that I don't think anyone else could do it.
Though for the most part, I love shooting. I love being a DoP. Many of you can recall a recent thread of mine where I'm stuck in this position of what to do about being a DoP-- and the truth of it is, no matter how much I try to rationalize a good opportunity I really don't want to do it, I just want to shoot. The people who make it in this industry, I think, are rather like addicts. We find our drug of choice through experimentation in the industry, and we get hooked. And we just need "another hit," by doing what we do be that Dping, editing, scoring, or even something as simple and pleasurable as getting a light in right position, or figuring out a complicated rig.
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#18 Tim Partridge

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 10:35 AM

I think a lot of DOPs would shy away from the director's chair if they really knew about all the pre-production and post production work involved. These days the vast bulk of director's are also raising the financing for the film, which is why they get to direct it.

"Director for hire" is becoming a very tough job to get for feature films. In TV of course much less so as director's are rotated through the machinery that turns out Lost, Law & Order, & Glee, etc.

It's quite common for director's these days to "shepherd" their projects for years before they actually get into production. On set all any one sees is the director being the boss and giving the orders, they didn't see him going to meetings for five years trying to lock down the financing.

Once the financing is in place the new DOP turned director must now deal with two issues he normally doesn't touch, the casting and the script. Once that's done the shoot can move forward which is where the DOP has the most experience, on set.

Then comes the months of post, which may also be a new area for the DOP.

Having directed two feature films now I have discarded the old adage, "any one can direct."

R,



I think you are right about that. Everyone, especially frustrated crew members, want to direct and most probably could hold their own on a set from set up to set up. They just want to shoot and make creative and technical decisions, not to overlook the serious talent, skill and artistry involved in that of course. It must be very frustrating if you are an experienced crew member watching someone without the skill and experience trying to hold their own on set as director, unnecessarily overworking the crew into long days with indecision, shooting too much bland coverage or whatever the offence might be.

I don't think nearly as many aspiring directors would want to develop a script from scratch to the point that they can then seriously pursue funding and convince someone to lend them their money to make the film expecting a return. Then finding longievity in that career must be even harder, keeping afloat, which as we all know is soley down to the amount of money made.

Roger Deakins said in an interview I think that he had aspirations to direct, but doesn't think he could do all of the work off set, such as the money raising.
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#19 Thomas James

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Posted 03 March 2010 - 01:01 PM

So what you are saying is that you are not a real visionary film maker unless you write a script, draw the illustrations, direct the actors and operate the camera ?
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#20 Dimitri Zaunders

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Posted 04 March 2010 - 01:37 AM

So what you are saying is that you are not a real visionary film maker unless you write a script, draw the illustrations, direct the actors and operate the camera ?



I don't know who this is meant to be directed at, but I don't think anyone in this thread has expressed that sentiment!

Satsuki, I think that I have had exactly the same experience in film school that you had. I was so excited to learn that there was a single job title that perfectly encapsulated everything I loved about film making, and to then go off and discover that there were worldwide societies for cinematographers, online communities such as this one and various publications and other resources - well, it's inspiring.

Anyway, I've gathered from all the feedback that aspirations to direct are quite common amongst cinematographers. I guess in a way I've even come to realise that I'm quite the hypocrite, as Adrian's description of a visual short that he would have to direct sounds like a lot of the projects that I'm always running through in my mind. I've never thought of it as directing, more as something a still photographer might undertake under their own steam, but now that you put it that way I guess there are stories that I would want to direct.

One other thing I'm curious about (although I know it's hard to generalize about such things), but do DPs tend to make good directors?
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