Jump to content


Photo

What makes a "Great" Director from the Cinematographers perspective?


  • Please log in to reply
41 replies to this topic

#1 Nikhil Bhagat

Nikhil Bhagat

    New

  • Basic Members
  • Pip
  • 3 posts
  • Other

Posted 23 July 2013 - 04:48 PM

What do you guys think a great director does? What makes one? One who is able to get the most out of their team and motivate their crew and team to create something at the top of their game? What would you describe a great one does?

 


  • 0

#2 Paul Salmons

Paul Salmons
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 46 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 23 July 2013 - 04:50 PM

communicate. 


  • 0

#3 Stuart Brereton

Stuart Brereton
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 3073 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 23 July 2013 - 06:47 PM

I don't know if I've ever worked with a 'great' director, but in my experience, the qualities that make a good director are good communication skills, good prep, a willingness to listen to, and collaborate with, their crew, an awareness of what other departments actually do, and the knowledge that it's not just actors that need direction.

 

You would be amazed at how many directors demonstrate few or none of these attributes.


  • 1

#4 Nikhil Bhagat

Nikhil Bhagat

    New

  • Basic Members
  • Pip
  • 3 posts
  • Other

Posted 23 July 2013 - 07:47 PM

What attributes do they show then? What makes them fail? 


  • 0

#5 Paul Salmons

Paul Salmons
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 46 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 24 July 2013 - 07:39 PM

This isn't across the board but a slight trend I have started noticing from first time or inexperienced directors is they hover around camera and get overly involved with camera. They tend to neglect their actors and want to spend a lot of time designing ground breaking camera movements. I love working on great moves and angles as much as the next guy but it drives me crazy when I get a short notice 30' curved dolly move that should really be on a stedi-cam and we are getting crap performance or no time for extra takes. 

 

The best directors for me are the ones that give me a very clear vision of what they want prior to the shoot day, the ones that send me still images and clips and have a very clear idea of what they want and listen to my feedback on how to make it happen. When I can collaborate is when I get the most of a production.


  • 1

#6 Christopher Sheneman

Christopher Sheneman
  • Guests

Posted 24 July 2013 - 11:02 PM

Sense of humor, lots of practical jokes on cast and crew.


  • 0

#7 Adam Frisch FSF

Adam Frisch FSF
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2009 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, USA

Posted 13 August 2013 - 10:08 PM

As mentioned by previous poster - they tend to get involved with either technical things, or background minutiae/actions/extras and ignore the actors right in front of the camera. Often because they're nervous and don't know how to deal with actors or the bigger picture. I don't know how many times I've had actors turn to me for feedback (because I'm closest), whilst the director is buried in some technical nonsense three rooms away in video village. I see this all the time.

 

Pet peeves:

 

1. Don't direct five rooms away and from a video village and yell across the stage and/or direct over the walkie talkie. Sit right next to the camera, close to the actors, where you should be and where you don't have to yell. And if you sit on the dolly and watch the actors performance without looking at a video monitor, then I know you're a good director already and you have nothing to prove in my book (never happens these days, btw).

 

2. Don't get a "shit hot" DP in to mask or try to hide the fact that you're lazy, haven't done your homework, haven't prepared and don't have a point of view and expect everyone else to prop you up. It's my most hated pet peeve. I can't really save it for you, but if I have to, I'm gonna step on your toes and take a bigger place than you might be comfortable with. The void and lack of direction/preparation will be filled one way or the other as long as my name is on this thing as well. The key word here is "hide" - if you pretend. If you genuinely don't know and you tell me so, I will do everything in my power to help you silently and supportively to make it the best it can be.

 

3. Learn blocking, for chrissakes. It's what telling stories with moving images is all about. Yet, it's the most lacking skill of all bar none.

 

4. Be a leader. Always have an answer and a plan or a point of view. Even if it's wrong. That's all we need and we'll follow you to the end of the earth, do anything, if you have that. Note, this does not mean you're not a collaborator. They're not at all mutually exclusive.

 

5. Don't cover your ass with million 6-camera setups and every size available and then let the editor figure it out. It's lazy, it's shows poor form and lacks professionalism. Have a plan, shoot what you need. Never over-shoot. Never over-cover.

 

6. Be clever. Show that you know film language. Bring the line with you, or cover a scene in just a master, or cut to the one not talking in a dialogue scene. Be bold. That's what all the great filmmakers have in common - they know how to do that and add flourish. Any hack can hose it down in masters, mids, and CU's.

 

7. Stop shooting close ups for everything. It's an underline, an emphasis. The same as writing with BOLD LETTERS. It's a useful tool, but it get tiresome if you do it in every scene, no matter if what is said is important or not. Let things play wide once in awhile. Let us know where we are.

 

 

Two final thoughts:

 

One is the simple matter of taste. Now, taste is very subjective and it can be hard to be on the same page as others. It's our job together to be ahead of the curve, or be so behind it we're retro again and therefore right. But taste is not a fixed set of parameters, it evolves and moves with the times. What's right today, isn't going to be tomorrow. Film is fashion. But if you're unsure, err on the side of less. Minimalism never goes out of style. In my mind there is a simple rule: if you've seen any kind of gimmick too much lately - flares, rack focuses, handheld, slo-mo, bullet time (remember those?), swing shift - then don't do it! That's where taste comes in. But so many people love to beat a dead horse. I know I'm sounding like a grumpy old man here, but these days I find most things to be gimmicky. If I see one more DSLR handheld shot with a flare in it from the sun, I'm going to scream. Anything that draws attention to the camera is ultimately detrimental to storytelling and the art.

 

Finally - a gift of a director is one who comes on set and knows what they want. As simple as that. "We're going to be here, on this lens and then we'll pan over here and see that. We'll cover it in a wide and in two overs. No need for a mid". When that happens it's music to my ear. It doesn't mean you as a DP can't contribute, not at all (in my experience), it just means that you have a plan of attack and you know the parameters and you can create within. Limitations are good.

 

In defence of directors; it's not an easy job to do. Everyone thinks it is and are eager to step in your shoes, from the PA's to the film school grads. We've all said to ourselves "I could do that better" at some point on a film set. But the reality is we probably couldn't. It's the hardest job on set to do well.


  • 3

#8 George Ebersole

George Ebersole
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1570 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • San Francisco Bay Area

Posted 13 August 2013 - 10:44 PM

Someone who, like many of you have said, who has confidence of vision, isn't an a__hole, knows when to flex muscle, and trusts his crew to be as professional as him.

 

Maybe I'm shooting myself in the foot here, but I've run into a lot of egotistical jerks who think they're something because they scored that Heinz 57 or Sun Micro gig.  On the other side of that coin I've run into a lot of pros who were just like regular managers with a good artistic vision.  Those are the guys you want to work with and for.


  • 0

#9 Matt Stevens

Matt Stevens
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 702 posts
  • Other

Posted 15 August 2013 - 08:09 AM

Adam, a long and detailed response and one worth reading. I am gearing up for my first feature after numerous shorts and I agree with all of your points. 


  • 0

#10 Satnam Khalsa

Satnam Khalsa

    New

  • Basic Members
  • Pip
  • 8 posts

Posted 15 August 2013 - 11:30 PM

Adam's post was right on the money but I want to add a little bit of my experience. I have directed 4 shirt films but I was the camera operator on three of them. When I was t operating the camera I found it easier to focus in the acting when I watched on a small monitor. I wasn't distracted by all the lights and random stuff out of frame, I was just focused on the actors doing their job.

But I wasn't in another room. The monitor was parked about 2 feet behind the camera so I could easily talk to the actors if needed. It as also nice to be able to sit down for a few minutes at a time.

I will continue to use this set up wherever possible in the future.
  • 0

#11 George Ebersole

George Ebersole
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1570 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • San Francisco Bay Area

Posted 16 August 2013 - 02:34 AM

*snip*

 

2. Don't get a "shit hot" DP in to mask or try to hide the fact that you're lazy, haven't done your homework, haven't prepared and don't have a point of view and expect everyone else to prop you up. It's my most hated pet peeve. I can't really save it for you, but if I have to, I'm gonna step on your toes and take a bigger place than you might be comfortable with. The void and lack of direction/preparation will be filled one way or the other as long as my name is on this thing as well. The key word here is "hide" - if you pretend. If you genuinely don't know and you tell me so, I will do everything in my power to help you silently and supportively to make it the best it can be.

 

3. Learn blocking, for chrissakes. It's what telling stories with moving images is all about. Yet, it's the most lacking skill of all bar none.

 

*snip*

 

Isn't blocking part of shot design?


  • 0

#12 Adam Frisch FSF

Adam Frisch FSF
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2009 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, USA

Posted 16 August 2013 - 06:54 AM

Yes, blocking is part of shot design. There's very little flavor going on here on most of my shoots. Today it's mainly about "hosing it down" and giving the editor "options", rather than actually solving the storytelling on set or in the camera. I personally suffer this daily as I mainly shoot commercials and there's very little time do these more elaborate things there. You guys who work mainly in long form might have a different experience.


  • 0

#13 Stephen Murphy

Stephen Murphy
  • Guests

Posted 16 August 2013 - 07:53 AM

Great post Adam
  • 0

#14 George Ebersole

George Ebersole
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1570 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • San Francisco Bay Area

Posted 18 August 2013 - 04:17 AM

Yes, blocking is part of shot design. There's very little flavor going on here on most of my shoots. Today it's mainly about "hosing it down" and giving the editor "options", rather than actually solving the storytelling on set or in the camera. I personally suffer this daily as I mainly shoot commercials and there's very little time do these more elaborate things there. You guys who work mainly in long form might have a different experience.

 

Well, it's been ages since I've shot anything, but isn't getting coverage part of telling the story?  Isn't giving the editor lots of options part of getting the story across to the audience.

 

I'm not trying to be a thorn in the side, I'm just wondering what the pros think about this, because it's something that's bothered me for a very long time.


  • 0

#15 Brian Drysdale

Brian Drysdale
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 5070 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 18 August 2013 - 04:53 AM

Just shooting coverage can take more time than a more focused decision on which angles best tell the story, but the limitation to how much coverage you can do depends on how tight your shooting schedule is. It's a bit of a balancing act. Blocking also involves the actors, which can introduce new ideas, since their body language etc can communicate things in a way that hadn't been thought off at an earlier stage.

 

Producers like lots of coverage because it gives them more control in the cutting room.


  • 0

#16 Adam Frisch FSF

Adam Frisch FSF
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2009 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, USA

Posted 18 August 2013 - 08:00 AM

No, there are of course many times when one needs to give the editors options. I'm not at all opposed to delivering a lot of coverage or using more than one camera. These days many of my shoots use 2 cameras - and I can see the benefits in many instances. I'm just lacking a point of view and film language. Image collecting, and lately more and more just being a glorified operator, isn't what gets me excited. I don't want to point out where we should hang the 10th GoPro camera on the car or where we can stick another 5D camera "where it's not in the shot of the other cameras" or "hose things down". That's not what filmmaking is about. I want to design the shot with the director, light it, block it, and have a point of view. Not just be a hired collector.


  • 0

#17 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 19769 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 18 August 2013 - 10:48 AM

You need a little bit of coverage that allows the pace to be adjusted if necessary in post, or to truncate the scene -- sort of depends on how tight the writing is, but often you can sense when a scene is not going to survive in its written form by the end of editing.  Your gut tells you that whether or not it is a nice 4-page scene, it only can be 2 minutes in the final cut before it wears out its welcome or serves its narrative purpose.  So you look for an "out" while covering the scene to help the editor.

 

But knowing how to cover a scene efficiently for editing is different than simply covering every angle and letting the editor figure out what the scene was about structurally.  That's not efficient, neither on set or in post; it's a waste of time and shows a lack of point-of-view on what the scene is about.

 

I agree with Adam that a number of modern filmmakers don't understand blocking, designing a shot, choreographing the camera and actors together to tell a story, build suspense, create tension, etc.  A cut to a new angle should mean something. One useful lesson I learned in film school from director Alexander Mackendrick was that we had to block a scene so that we only needed one cut in it -- this was great because it forced us to think why we were cutting, and to whom and when... and to do that, we had to understand the scene.  Most well-written scenes have a turning point in them, the reason why the scene exists and the moment when the narrative is pushed in a new direction, but the trick is to find that moment and then block the scene with that in mind. Often the cut happens at that moment.  

 

Of course, since I learned this lesson, I've learned that many scripts are not well-written and there are scenes in there that do not have much of a reason to exist, or do not have a dramatic turn, they are just there to unload exposition on the audience.  And the other rule I learned from Mackendrick: Exposition is Inherently Boring.


  • 1

#18 George Ebersole

George Ebersole
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1570 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • San Francisco Bay Area

Posted 18 August 2013 - 12:06 PM

This is very interesting, because I told myself that if I ever made it back in and got to direct something, that I would splurge on the budget by renting something like five or six camera packages to cover something like a dinner table scene with a family talking about stuff.  But it sounds like that's a bad idea.


  • 0

#19 Justin Hayward

Justin Hayward
  • Sustaining Members
  • 928 posts
  • Director
  • Chicago, IL.

Posted 18 August 2013 - 12:47 PM

Excellent points Adam.  Thanks for posting.  I will say I'm pretty new to the world of professional directing, but I'm learning there's a game to play with agencies if I want to keep working.  And one thing is for sure, agencies LOVE coverage.  Even if they'll never look at all the film, sometimes they just want to know it exists.  

 

George,

That's not a bad idea for a dinner scene, but imagine if you tried the exercise David mentioned where you only allowed yourself one cut?  Think how interesting the scene could be if you held on a wide shot, then cut at that critical turning point in the scene :)


  • 0

#20 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 19769 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 18 August 2013 - 01:03 PM

Occasionally you do get the "circle of hell" dinner table scenes where seven or so people talk around a table, so blocking is minimal and coverage is hard to avoid, so yes, two cameras are useful, maybe three if you are lucky but at some point you run into the problem of getting more than one camera over the same shoulders, in other words, more cameras at the same time may just create too many screen direction crosses. Not to mention the problems for sound having more people up close speaking plus keeping more cameras out of each other's shot -- there are limits to how far around the circle you can spread cameras before they get in each other's way.
  • 0


CineLab

The Slider

rebotnix Technologies

Visual Products

Willys Widgets

FJS International, LLC

Tai Audio

Technodolly

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Rig Wheels Passport

Glidecam

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Abel Cine

Metropolis Post

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Wooden Camera

Aerial Filmworks

CineTape

Opal

Ritter Battery

Paralinx LLC

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Willys Widgets

Visual Products

Glidecam

Ritter Battery

Technodolly

Metropolis Post

Broadcast Solutions Inc

CineLab

Tai Audio

Paralinx LLC

Wooden Camera

rebotnix Technologies

Rig Wheels Passport

Abel Cine

Aerial Filmworks

FJS International, LLC

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Opal

CineTape

The Slider