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What should one consider when choosing a cinematographer?


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#1 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 06:33 PM

I'm going to be honest here, I don't have much knowledge of cinematography. As a matter of fact, I plan on going to film school after I graduate high school to be in the film business as a director (Cinematography is possibly something I'd like to get into one day). But I've always been really interested by the different looks that can be created by using different film stock or cameras, different lenses, different formats, and different lights and lighting set-ups. So I'd like to pose a question: What should one consider when choosing a cinematographer? And how should one communicate with a cinematographer? For example: Say I want to shoot anamorphic and I have my own preference of lenses and film stock, but my cinematographer wants to shoot with spherical lenses and digital cameras, how should I try to convince him otherwise? 


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 07:04 PM

I think you should be upfront when talking to potential cinematographers about your preferences so that if any of them have a real problem with those choices, the two of you can go your separate ways.  But assuming you find a flexible cinematographer, I'd then take the time to consider their ideas even if they differ, in case they can make a compelling argument.

 

Most decent cinematographers have learned to be fast and flexible because that's one reason they continue to get work. A bigger issue is whether they have an aesthetic sense (judged by looking at their reel and talking to them) that coincides with yours or seems appropriate to the project.  The thing is that most DP's are first going to consider the needs of the project, both visually and practically, before coming to a conclusion as to the best approach.

 

You can show a cinematographer visual references from movies, art, photography, etc. as a basis for discussion.

 

You also have to "cast" the cinematographer for the project, the needs of a particular project may require one set of skills or personality type over another.  And the budget may be a factor as well.


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#3 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 07:19 PM

So, how would you "cast" a cinematographer? As in, what things should I look for? (lighting, color grading, etc.)
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 08:08 PM

It all starts with the script, it helps to have some sort of foundation for making visual choices, otherwise the discussion gets too general.

 

Yes, the reel will give you a sense of their general aesthetics and skill level, it doesn't have to contain shots with exactly the look you have planned -- but you have to get the feeling from looking at the reel that they are capable of delivering the look you want.  

 

Then you have to look at their resume to decide if they have the experience to handle your schedule, logistics, pace of working, etc. You can try contacting some of the people they have worked for to get further insight.  

 

Then you have to talk to them decide if you can work with this person day-to-day on a collaborative process (they will be deciding the same things when they meet you -- the interview is a two-way street).  If you have a certain way of working on the set, then you have to see if that person will fit into that style.  If you feel you need help being a novice, you have to get a sense if they are a helpful person who will support you rather than walk all over you.  It's not easy to get all of this from a job interview, which is why it is helpful to talk to some of the directors that have worked with them.

 

As a beginner, I think it is a good idea to collaborate with a talented but beginning DP if the projects are small and the risks are small, better to have someone who also has something to prove and is enthusiastic, and you both can grow and learn together.  If the stakes are higher, then you need to find someone who has the requisite experience, just don't be someone who simply wants the biggest names for every job on the show, a resume whore, regardless of whether the person is actually right for the job.

 

Directing is a tough job so you want to find a collaborator who you won't mind spending time in the trenches with.  And you have to acknowledge that the person you hire may be an artist in their own right who wants to do more than simply execute other people's ideas.  As a director, your job is to get the people you hire to do their best job.


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#5 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 08:19 PM

I really appreciate the advice Mr. Mullen, especially when it comes from someone with the title, A.S.C. That's not saying I wouldn't appreciate the advice if it had come from anyone else, it's just that it makes it that more special.
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#6 Mark Dunn

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 02:39 AM

 As a director, your job is to get the people you hire to do their best job.

Such as the late, great favourite director of ours. The people he hired did their best work for him and picked up a few Oscars in the process.


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#7 George Ebersole

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 12:38 AM

I'm going to be honest here, I don't have much knowledge of cinematography. As a matter of fact, I plan on going to film school after I graduate high school to be in the film business as a director (Cinematography is possibly something I'd like to get into one day). But I've always been really interested by the different looks that can be created by using different film stock or cameras, different lenses, different formats, and different lights and lighting set-ups. So I'd like to pose a question: What should one consider when choosing a cinematographer? And how should one communicate with a cinematographer? For example: Say I want to shoot anamorphic and I have my own preference of lenses and film stock, but my cinematographer wants to shoot with spherical lenses and digital cameras, how should I try to convince him otherwise? 

Ask to see their reel, then spend a few hours talking movies with them.  Get a sense of what they think works in a film, hat kind of shots are most effective, and see if it gybes with your vision.

 

A lot of BS in the film industry is partially based on how well you get along with people, but that usually only applies to the creative heads.  If you have a talented no-nonsense DP, then you should be okay.  Just make sure you tell him the kind of feeling you want for a scene, and see how you work together planning a shot.


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#8 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 12:46 AM

Thank you all for your replies, you've given me some great advice.
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#9 Ryan Elder

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Posted 17 July 2013 - 05:01 PM

I am a practicing director and I parted separate ways with a DP recently.  The reason being that all of his preferences were too documentary style for my taste.  I did not want to make a documentary style thriller, but he couldn't get past doing it that way.  That's just an example of what to look for in a DP.


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#10 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 07:31 PM

I am a practicing director and I parted separate ways with a DP recently.  The reason being that all of his preferences were too documentary style for my taste.  I did not want to make a documentary style thriller, but he couldn't get past doing it that way.  That's just an example of what to look for in a DP.

Were you doing a narrative film?
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#11 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 07:33 PM

Also, would it be considered micro-managing if I myself had a lens or camera preference?
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 08:01 PM

Maybe, but any artist is allowed some degree of personal idiosyncrasy -- Gordon Willis said that he didn't really like the color blue, both John Boorman and Ingmar Bergman felt that sunshine was depressing and/or disturbing -- that's an artist's choice, they just have to communicate their ideas in a way that makes some sense to the viewer.  

 

I know that goes beyond lens choices, which may be mostly a technical choice, but the truth is that even choices in tools are just as much emotional as they are rational.  As a DP, if a director really had some sort of love affair for Cooke lenses or whatever, I'd have to factor that in if I wanted to work with him. It's only a problem if his choices are not practical for the production.

 

I would, however, privately worry about a director that seemed more hung up on which equipment we used rather than the story, the acting, etc. but I'd have to wait to see if that happened or not -- some directors can be both skilled in technology and in storytelling.  You basically want anyone working on a film to have some sort of perspective on things, who could prioritize.  I would worry about a director who really felt that the movie would be fail or succeed just based on whether we chose a Cooke, Primo, or Zeiss Ultra Prime to shoot it on, I mean, to the point where he couldn't function if he couldn't get exactly what he wanted.

 

Results are all that matter, as long as you keep this in mind.

 

Also, I would hope that when a director said that he preferred an Arricam over a Panaflex, or a Cooke over a Zeiss, that this was based on personal experience and not just on reading some specs online.

 

Honestly, if you are about to make a feature film as a director, I hope the problems that keep you up at night isn't going to be about some piece of equipment.


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#13 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 10:18 PM

Maybe, but any artist is allowed some degree of personal idiosyncrasy -- Gordon Willis said that he didn't really like the color blue, both John Boorman and Ingmar Bergman felt that sunshine was depressing and/or disturbing -- that's an artist's choice, they just have to communicate their ideas in a way that makes some sense to the viewer.  
 
I know that goes beyond lens choices, which may be mostly a technical choice, but the truth is that even choices in tools are just as much emotional as they are rational.  As a DP, if a director really had some sort of love affair for Cooke lenses or whatever, I'd have to factor that in if I wanted to work with him. It's only a problem if his choices are not practical for the production.
 
I would, however, privately worry about a director that seemed more hung up on which equipment we used rather than the story, the acting, etc. but I'd have to wait to see if that happened or not -- some directors can be both skilled in technology and in storytelling.  You basically want anyone working on a film to have some sort of perspective on things, who could prioritize.  I would worry about a director who really felt that the movie would be fail or succeed just based on whether we chose a Cooke, Primo, or Zeiss Ultra Prime to shoot it on, I mean, to the point where he couldn't function if he couldn't get exactly what he wanted.
 
Results are all that matter, as long as you keep this in mind.
 
Also, I would hope that when a director said that he preferred an Arricam over a Panaflex, or a Cooke over a Zeiss, that this was based on personal experience and not just on reading some specs online.
 
Honestly, if you are about to make a feature film as a director, I hope the problems that keep you up at night isn't going to be about some piece of equipment.

What if they felt the look of a certain lens was a better choice than what the DP had in mind?

Edited by Reuel Gomez, 20 July 2013 - 10:18 PM.

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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 12:04 AM

The simple solution is to just shoot a comparison test and look at the results with your DP.


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