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When to say "no"?


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#1 Jon Amerikaner

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 02:08 AM

There is a sequence in Jon Fauer's documentary Cinematographer Style, where cinematographers discuss knowing when to say "no". I discussed this idea with a director friend of mine who said he will never work again with any cinematographer who says "no". To clarify I am not speaking about being stubborn and saying "no, I won't do it" without offering any solutions. I am talking about those moments when a director's idea simply won't work for the time, budget, or logistical constraints of the film. For example, 8 real-life locations in one day with a student-volunteer crew.

When is is appropriate to say "no, this won't work, we need to do x, y, or z as an alternative in order to get this film done"?

What situations make saying "no" an appropriate response, and what situations make it inappropriate?

Thanks
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 04:16 AM

May be your director friend will have to fall flat on their face and learn a lesson. If the director won't take reality into consideration, there's a good chance they'll never work again because producer's won't employ them. Part of the director's job is to balance achieving their vision of the story within the finite time and resources available to them.

Saying "no" is just as creative as saying "yes", but if no really means I won't use any of the input from people advising them to make the best compromise that's another matter. Saying no works when everything has been thought out and saying yes weakens the vision or how the story is being told. The secret is knowing when to say no.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 09:58 AM

I look at my job this way... I'm there to lend my skills, creativity, and experience in order to HELP bring a project to life and get it on a screen. I'm there to RECOMMEND the best choices and course of logistical action, but it is NOT my job to make those final decisions. I might walk into a room or on a set and SUGGEST that we shoot one direction or another or light the shot one way or another, but if the Director or Producer chooses to override me, THEN it is my responsibility, not to say "No!" but to speak up with my reasons for my recommendations and the possible ramifications that I foresee.

Then the ball is definitely in their court. I've done my job by bringing my suggestions to the floor with explanations for why and why not based on my skill, creativity, and experience. If the Director or Producer choose to ignore what I have to say, then if we run into problems down the line, they can't look at me and claim that I should've known better or get a "why didn't you tell me?!" The only person they have to blame is themselves at that point.

Of course, the result could be that they become angry and there are unreasonable people out there who will turn that anger on you or the crew in an attempt to deflect their own failure. But, if you just say "No!" that kind of person would be mad at you anyway so it only helps you to cover yourself by just explaining why you think that their suggestion might be fraught with peril.

The other "ramification" is that because of a "poor" decision that results in problems later in the day, they'll be looking at you to somehow "fix" the day which generally results in some kind of compromise on subsequent shots in order to make the day. But again, if you warned the Director or Producer ahead of time, they may stomp around a little in frustration, but the best thing you can do is to refuse to get worked up too. Remain CALM and feign concern if need be, even if you're quietly laughing on the inside. It does no good to anyone or the situation to feed into someone else's angst.



PS... one caveat is when technical requirements just won't let me do what I'm asked to do. For instance, a few weeks ago I had to go shoot a famous musician on greenscreen. When I got to the location, the Producer showed me to a room that was just about one inch longer than the greenscreen. I wouldn't have adequate room to hang the green and I would have no room to properly light the green and get camera and other lighting in and do it right. So, I let them know that I couldn't do it there, told them exactly why, and another location was found nearby.

Edited by Brian Dzyak, 21 February 2011 - 10:02 AM.

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#4 Sean Elder

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Posted 08 March 2011 - 07:50 PM

I've run into the same situations where I've given the producer or director technical suggestions on how we could shoot the project. I usually don't give any advice or give out any information unless I am asked. Here's my question: When does saying "No" create a problem between yourself and classmates when you are asked about Dp'ing a project?

I look at my job this way... I'm there to lend my skills, creativity, and experience in order to HELP bring a project to life and get it on a screen. I'm there to RECOMMEND the best choices and course of logistical action, but it is NOT my job to make those final decisions. I might walk into a room or on a set and SUGGEST that we shoot one direction or another or light the shot one way or another, but if the Director or Producer chooses to override me, THEN it is my responsibility, not to say "No!" but to speak up with my reasons for my recommendations and the possible ramifications that I foresee.

Then the ball is definitely in their court. I've done my job by bringing my suggestions to the floor with explanations for why and why not based on my skill, creativity, and experience. If the Director or Producer choose to ignore what I have to say, then if we run into problems down the line, they can't look at me and claim that I should've known better or get a "why didn't you tell me?!" The only person they have to blame is themselves at that point.

Of course, the result could be that they become angry and there are unreasonable people out there who will turn that anger on you or the crew in an attempt to deflect their own failure. But, if you just say "No!" that kind of person would be mad at you anyway so it only helps you to cover yourself by just explaining why you think that their suggestion might be fraught with peril.

The other "ramification" is that because of a "poor" decision that results in problems later in the day, they'll be looking at you to somehow "fix" the day which generally results in some kind of compromise on subsequent shots in order to make the day. But again, if you warned the Director or Producer ahead of time, they may stomp around a little in frustration, but the best thing you can do is to refuse to get worked up too. Remain CALM and feign concern if need be, even if you're quietly laughing on the inside. It does no good to anyone or the situation to feed into someone else's angst.



PS... one caveat is when technical requirements just won't let me do what I'm asked to do. For instance, a few weeks ago I had to go shoot a famous musician on greenscreen. When I got to the location, the Producer showed me to a room that was just about one inch longer than the greenscreen. I wouldn't have adequate room to hang the green and I would have no room to properly light the green and get camera and other lighting in and do it right. So, I let them know that I couldn't do it there, told them exactly why, and another location was found nearby.


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#5 Sean Elder

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Posted 08 March 2011 - 08:02 PM

I've run into the same situations where I've given the producer or director technical suggestions on how we could shoot the project. I usually don't give any advice or give out any information unless I am asked. Here's my question: When does saying "No" create a problem between yourself and classmates when you are asked about Dp'ing a project? Also, what kind of projects should one choose if the expectations placed on the DP are unrealistic.
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#6 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 08 March 2011 - 10:44 PM

I've run into the same situations where I've given the producer or director technical suggestions on how we could shoot the project. I usually don't give any advice or give out any information unless I am asked. Here's my question: When does saying "No" create a problem between yourself and classmates when you are asked about Dp'ing a project? Also, what kind of projects should one choose if the expectations placed on the DP are unrealistic.



It all depends on the situation. One example off the top of my head involved a couple of friends of mine who were asked to shoot the wedding of a major movie star. They went to scout the location, which was at her beach house in Malibu. The ceremony was to take place with the bride & groom overlooking the ocean at twilight.

They determined that to do it RIGHT they'd have to light the event to have a chance at a real exposure against the bright sky. The actress/bride refused to let them use any lighting at all.

So, they chose to say "thank you" and didn't do the job. It was a setup for failure and the distinct possibility that the client would have been very unhappy with the final product and not pay them for the work. So it was best for their careers to NOT do that job.


It's one thing to be innovative and figure things out when you don't have all the proper tools... but it's another to be put into situations that are nigh impossible, like the one above. What if the Director really wants a super wide shot of a gothic church interior with sharp beams of light cutting through the smoky air... and all you have to light with are two 1Ks and a Litepanel? Sometimes the appetite of those in charge is bigger than what they can afford and if they seem like unreasonable people who will put you in impossible situations AND blame you for it, then it's best to not even get involved in the first place or graciously walk away when it starts to go south.

Choose REALISTIC projects that have goals that are in line with the budget, schedule, and manpower... and the SKILLS of the manpower you have available. Not all crew are created equally so you have to know the limitations before asking too much.
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Metropolis Post

Visual Products

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rebotnix Technologies

Willys Widgets

Rig Wheels Passport

Abel Cine

Wooden Camera

Ritter Battery

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Tai Audio

Technodolly

Opal

Paralinx LLC

CineTape

Aerial Filmworks