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Directors operating cameras


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#1 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 03 December 2013 - 08:03 PM

I cannot stress how far away from doing even a short film I am (I'm a 15-year-old sophmore in high school), but I've always wondered, is being the director and operating the camera at the same time counterproductive? I know Michael Bay does it a lot and from what I understand, Ridley Scott pretty much operated the camera most of the time on "Alien".
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 December 2013 - 04:50 AM

I think it depends on the director. People work in different ways and I've seen great and terrible directing coming whether or not the director proper is opping.


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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 04 December 2013 - 06:14 AM

I've done it both ways on films I've directed. The director needs to have a clear view of the action and to be able to hear the dialogue, although how much attention they can pay to both of these when operating depends on how complex the shot becomes and how good an operator they are. With video assists and now digital/video cameras and their own monitor,  the director should have the clear view, although it's not a good idea to be too far from the actors.


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#4 Lance Soltys

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Posted 04 December 2013 - 09:02 AM

I mostly shoot very small, no-budget, short films and I did shoot and direct one of them, and I feel that if you do two jobs at once, at least one of the roles (if not both) will suffer. I remember it becoming very clear to me that what you're looking for as a director is almost opposite what you're looking for as an operator.  When I was directing, I'm actually trying to avoid thinking about things like the frame (I would worry about that before the shot) so I can get into the scene and "feel" the performance.  When I'm operating, I actually try and stay removed emotionally from the scene so I can focus on technical stuff: is the framing right, are actors in their light, anything in the frame that shouldn't be there, focus sharp, etc.  Essentially all the things an operator needs to do. Maybe it's different on big pictures where there's a lot more crew (and time for play-back), but I found it was pretty tough. Plus I was DP'ing, which was a really bad idea, though sadly, I would probably do it again (I produce the movies I direct, so I'm just throwing my own money away).  


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#5 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 04 December 2013 - 11:08 AM

That depends on the type of film it is.  I will DP my own shorts & I never really feel bogged down with too much responsibility because I plan everything out way ahead of time. 

 

But that's a short.

 

If I were to work on a larger project I would have someone else handle all of that because there is a LOT  more to it on a big production.  I would, however, make sure I had a very close working relationship with the DP.  After all, we're talking about the visual language of the film.


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#6 Justin Brown

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Posted 17 December 2013 - 04:23 AM

From the very small amount of experience that I have had I found that it can be difficult. I have tried directing at the same time as operating with some short films.  It can be done for shorts although, I just feel that directing wise I could have done a much better job if I wasn't operating the camera.


Edited by Justin Brown, 17 December 2013 - 04:26 AM.

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#7 Richard Boddington

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Posted 17 December 2013 - 03:17 PM

Operating the camera is no big deal.  It's when the director insists on editing the movie that the fun begins!  :D

 

R,


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#8 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 17 December 2013 - 09:39 PM

Those two things should be related as no matter how beautiful the images are, they's gots to cut together otherwise you're gonna need LOTs of cats for all those windows. :D 

 

I personally don't particularly like to operate while directing. I find it a distraction that divides my concentration between framing and performance and when I'm running a camera I tend to focus a little bit more on framing when as a director, I should be focusing on performance. I prefer to tell my DOP what I want to do with the camera then let him do his (or her) job while I watch what my actors are doing, but then again, I came from the theater so performance is paramount for me, besides I'm a journeyman operator whereas some of these guys are truly brilliant at their job so letting them do the work is more often then not, the smart move.


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#9 Kieran Scannell

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Posted 18 December 2013 - 04:16 PM

If the Director is an experienced camera op with all the necessary skills and can find the time to direct as well I have no problem with it. In my experience however this is almost never the case and ultimately reflects badly on the DP. I have worked with a director who also fancied himself as a Cameraman and you can see every badly framed, focus issued shot that made the cut and probably wouldn't have made it had it been another operator.


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#10 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 18 December 2013 - 07:45 PM

If a director wants to operate, I'll usually suggest that a director operate a "run through for camera" to demonstrate to me exactly what they want.  Which is helpful.  Then when we roll, I'll operate on the take.  That seems to satisfy most directors.  They get to find the shot on their own but also get to watch it actually happen at the monitor.


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#11 timHealy

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Posted 19 December 2013 - 06:21 PM

Peter Andrews doesn't mind Steven Soderbergh operating the camera.

 

Best

 

Tim


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#12 Richard Boddington

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Posted 21 December 2013 - 03:02 PM

I always reserve the right to operate the camera myself if I want to, and I have done so on several occasions.  The director isn't obligated to make his case or arguments to the DOP or camera department, if he wants to operate the camera, he can operate the camera.  No different than if the director wants to design a set, a costume, change the script, cast a certain actor, etc etc.

 

That's just the way it goes in film, he's the highest ranking crew member, and making a film is not a democratic process.

 

R,


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#13 Micah Clemente

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 02:08 AM

Hey Reuel, I'm 17, so I am in a similar situation as you. FIrst off, there's nothing stopping you from making a short film! Use whatever camera you happen to have, use your phone even! Basic video editors can be free with Windows Movie Maker and iMovie. Just go out and make something, anything, just for the experience of getting your first short out of the way, and learning from it. With regards to your question, chances are your shorts are no-budget projects with friends, just like mine. For the sake of our projects with the resources of a young filmmaker who is starting out, I would actually recommend being both the director and camera operator. There is no one who knows what you want out of your film better than you do. For a lot of your projects, chances are you're the one that comes up with, and writes the scripts. So you have the best idea about what you envision your film to be. Plus, having to find a DP that is willing to work for you for free, since you probably don't pay the people that help and act in your films, is going to be very hard. Another thing is that if you are the one that is going to be editing the film, then you really should be operating the camera! You're the one that has the vision of what you're final product will be as a director, and operating the camera will make it so much easier to achieve what you want, rather than trying to explain it to someone else, no matter how good they are. As a young filmmaker, you should make as much quality content as you can. Put yourself out there! Constantly make films and expand your horizon. If you limit yourself, or don't do something because you can't get a DP, it will be very hard for you to gain the much needed experience to separate you from the competition. Doing things yourself while in high school is a great chance to learn and experiment with different things. Don't limit yourself to a textbook role of a Director. Get in there and get your hands dirty! Good Luck!


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#14 Will Barber

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Posted 20 January 2014 - 11:19 AM

I don't allow my director to touch the camera. Then again, the one I work with the most is my best friend and we have an amazing working relationship. My trump card is that the last time he tried to do my job, we ended up with shaky, out of focus handheld.

One of the reasons we speculated that Primer wasn't better is that Shane Carruth tried to do too much. Doing too many jobs can be taxing, but if you can't find anyone to do it better you might as well do it yourself.

Of course, a lot of my opinion stems from having really no ambition to direct, so as a DP I want to do my job 100% and be able to communicate the director's vision effectively, rather than have the director doing it for me.


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#15 John Miguel King

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Posted 14 February 2014 - 03:34 AM

I'd say... don't allow so called common wisdom or practice define how you relate to your director. When shooting something what matters most, and what you will enjoy most, are the relationships you develop with your director and all the other lovely people on set.
 

Each director is a different person, hence the relationship you will build with her/him/them shall be unique and different to the ones you build with others. Follow your instict and don't forget it's a group effort. As a DP/cinematographer your responsibility does not stop with getting a technically correct image or move, you are telling the story. From this fact one thing derives, the one I personally enjoy most, and it's that you are expected to have a vision for the film just as the director has. You are the Director too, in fact, you should have a solid grasp of the editing and of the visual flow, so that your boss can focus and all the other gazillion aspects of the production.

Actually, and I'm talking from personal experience, I appreciate a director that can and wants to operate. It'll give me a much firmer understanding of what the grammar and style of the film are, an understanding which is very difficult to communicate with words. Sometimes, and here's when I do enjoy most, this switching of the roles leads to a healthy competition to see who gets the best shot.

Look at this picture, these two have known each other since high school and they're creating the cinema of the future. Do you think they care who operates what and when? Their relationship is way beyond what the rule book says it shoud be! And maybe that's why they keep creating such stunning work...

 


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#16 Gabriel de Bourg

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Posted 14 March 2014 - 08:44 AM

I'd say... don't allow so called common wisdom or practice define how you relate to your director. When shooting something what matters most, and what you will enjoy most, are the relationships you develop with your director and all the other lovely people on set.
 

Each director is a different person, hence the relationship you will build with her/him/them shall be unique and different to the ones you build with others. Follow your instict and don't forget it's a group effort. As a DP/cinematographer your responsibility does not stop with getting a technically correct image or move, you are telling the story. From this fact one thing derives, the one I personally enjoy most, and it's that you are expected to have a vision for the film just as the director has. You are the Director too, in fact, you should have a solid grasp of the editing and of the visual flow, so that your boss can focus and all the other gazillion aspects of the production.

Actually, and I'm talking from personal experience, I appreciate a director that can and wants to operate. It'll give me a much firmer understanding of what the grammar and style of the film are, an understanding which is very difficult to communicate with words. Sometimes, and here's when I do enjoy most, this switching of the roles leads to a healthy competition to see who gets the best shot.

Look at this picture, these two have known each other since high school and they're creating the cinema of the future. Do you think they care who operates what and when? Their relationship is way beyond what the rule book says it shoud be! And maybe that's why they keep creating such stunning work...

 

Well said! Our job on the set is to serve the directors vision and if the director sees his or her vision while operating the camera (and are skilled enough to do it themselves) I see no reason not to.

 

Spielberg is another director who operates the camera a lot. Heck he's even an honorary SOC member. Just look at this footage from Jurassic Park (one of the best Behind the scenes I've seen, as it's not edited, but really shows the work going on) and you can tell that he knows what he's doing:

 


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#17 Daniel Mimura

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Posted 16 March 2014 - 08:29 PM

Peter Andrews doesn't mind Steven Soderbergh operating the camera.
 
Best
 
Tim


Ha ha! Peter Andrews/Steven Soderberg could probably have that argument like when Gollum talks to himself in the 1st LOTR movie.
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#18 Jamison Madison

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Posted 23 March 2014 - 10:40 AM

The director can operate if he wants, he's the director. But here is where the problem comes in in that situation. Most of the times when the director operates, regardless of whether the shot came out well or not, because of ego or because he simply doesn't know, the director will say that its good and move on. 

 

I've seen it happen a bunch of times when I was assisting for a young DP's, the director would operate the camera after a bad take, and then say "That's the one, that one is good, moving on" and both me and the DP, would just look at each other knowing that the take was bad or the previous one was better. 

 

A lot of the top directors are pretty good so they both trust the DP and most importantly the DP trust's them, so that way it works. 


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#19 Rakesh Malik

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 03:29 PM

That's one of the strongest reasons to get yourself teamed up with a good DP early on - after all, there are aspiring DPs also starting out who would want the experience.

 

When you're starting out is the best time to start learning to communicate your vision to the rest of your team, and if you're planning to be a director, you should learn to concentrate on directing while on set.

 

So far, only one director I've worked with has done a good job while also being camera operator, and that had a lot to do with the fact that he talked his actors through almost every scene (we were shooting MOS).

 

In every other case, when the director has attempted to be DP + camera operator, it's been a disaster. The director didn't know how to do what he wanted to do, no one else knew what he was trying to do and so no one was able to help him as much as he needed, and no one was really paying much attention to things like the actors' performances and glaring continuity problems.

 

 

So you have the best idea about what you envision your film to be.

 


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#20 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 26 March 2014 - 03:35 PM

I have sadly worked with a few directors who like to fancy themselves DoPs. It's my job, however, not to make a judgement on them (or try my best not to) but rather to support them in whatever they need. If that means I have to play Freud, so be it-- and if they want to save my shoulder for a few hours, well I'm sure my 8- yr old self will thank them. The interesting thing, however, to really start to think about is authorship-- It's murky enough who deserves credit for what when, but throw in a DP/Director and a 2nd DP there trying to read their mind, and man, things get so much more convoluted.


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