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First days on film set-My experiences and questions


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#1 Hrishikesh Jha

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Posted 05 May 2015 - 08:20 AM

Hey guys.

I have perhaps made the wisest decision of my life- attending a 3 month intensive film direction program. I have many plans upon completion of this course and am very excited. I have learnt more standing 2 days on set as 3rd AD than I have in 6 months of cramming up theory(though that has helped also).

 

I have made a couple of observations and I'd like your opinion on them:

 

1.) Why do you even need a DOP for a film? 

I have spent the last many many years watching films and understanding lighting and movement. Hence I know about shots and scenes from films many haven't even heard of in my class. I saw a documentary and in it they say even Martin Scorsese does this: watches random films and just take out selected scenes and show it to his DOP saying "This is what I want". A film called I AM CUBA has influenced me and I used some shots for my first movie. Literally the same shots and angles with lighting and art(on a much smaller scale of course).

So if I am telling the camera guy what to do, what length, what angle....am I not the DOP?

 

and this query leads me to my main concern....

 

2.) What is the relation between the DOP and the director according to you?

 

Today I was in a grueling 9 hour shoot and I observed a lot. What we saw was that the DOP was actually calling the shots and telling the director what to do. Not just my observation, all of us remarked suggesting he should be the director and not her. This was her first time on set and he was of course a 10 year veteran but he called the shots entirely. 

 

 

 

 


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#2 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 05 May 2015 - 04:49 PM

Some people consider the director of photography, more like a lighting cameraman. Someone to operate the camera AND deal with lighting challenges when they come up. More of a liaison between the director and the gaffer.

I'm the opposite, I mix the job of director and cinematographer into one position. I bring in a decent gaffer, someone I can give lighting directions to. I will also bring in one or two assistant's to work with the gaffer in order to achieve my vision. In my view, those are the two most critical positions because a cinematographer shouldn't be climbing ladders, adjusting lights. They should be on the ground working with the director to achieve their vision. This is why mixing the two roles into one person, makes a lot of sense. On smaller shows where I can't afford an AC, I've still brought in a gaffer and loaded the film can's myself. I've handed the gaffer a light meter and given him the role of AC. A lot of gaffers like that because they can touch the camera and sometimes run it, depending on how busy I get as a director. I have many fond memories being on commercial shoots loading film can's and talking with the actors or crew about the next shot.

The camera is everything in my view as this is a visual medium. If the shot isn't interesting, then people will turn off. Simply capturing a scene, isn't really interesting in my view. I'm sometimes forced to use that methodology on documentaries because there isn't time to get something interesting. However, on narratives, I tend to focus on more creative looks. It's the directors role to guide the look of the film, so in a lot of ways, they're the real cinematographer. However, on bigger shows, you can afford a cinematographer and I will admit, being a director working with cinematographers is great because you get a lot of input/feedback from them, sometimes invaluable ideas come from that simple exchange.

Due to this modern technical age we live in, I direct, shoot and edit. However, most of the time I don't do all three on one show, I'm hired to do ONE of those three. Because I know how to do all three, I generally can fill in some gaps where roles are left out. As a director, I can help the cinematographer understand my vision better. As a cinematographer, I can help the director understand what works and what doesn't. As an editor, I can help the director understand how certain scenes will play out in post. Unfortunately, most shows today are made in post production. The editor winds up being the real story teller and the director only add's their vision to the mix.

I have been very bossy as a cinematographer on shows, even left a few because the director had no vision. The relationship between the director and cinematographer needs to be strong in my opinion. With the advent of the video village, directors can now sit and watch their shots from a distance, making sure it's in the can. So the trust doesn't need to be nearly as strong as the film days, where you really didn't know if you got the shot or not. With digital, the role of the cinematographer has been diluted slightly as a consequence. It's easy to fix mistakes operators/DP's make and it's very easy to light very even/flat and fix it all in post.

So yes, I've seen DP's call the shots on set, with not very strong visionary directors. Generally the cream rises to the top and ya know, that's OK. If I went to direct a narrative feature and hired Roger Deakins to shoot it, I would listen to everything he said. He has more experience then I will ever have and ya know what, just that experience would be worth it's weight in gold for ANY would be filmmaker.

Edit: I've never worked on a shoot for 9hrs, most of my shoots are 12 - 16. So you're damn lucky!

Edited by Tyler Purcell, 05 May 2015 - 04:51 PM.

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#3 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 05 May 2015 - 05:35 PM

Tyler makes some good points.  Also, the DP doesn't just work on set during the shoot.  On a feature they are involved in the prep which includes helping the production department put together a gear and crew list based on the needs of the script and within the budget and schedule of the film.

 

A good DP has the experience to help make sure you have the right gear and crew for the job.  They know technically how to achieve the look you're after and can understand and translate the needs directly to a co-ordinator and A.D. so that they make the right allocations in the budget and schedule.

 

If this is something you have done successfully for other people, by all means, be the DP on your own movie.  If you've never worked in this capacity on someone else's movie as the DP, you're probably better off hiring someone. But if you've "been there, done that" and don't really need a DP, don't hire one.  Just get a really good camera operator and a solid gaffer and call it a day.    


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 05 May 2015 - 05:39 PM.

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#4 Albion Hockney

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Posted 05 May 2015 - 05:36 PM

I don't think the DP's role is defined but it would be very hard to bother direct and DP a movie.

 

The DP is in charge of lighting and that takes time on set where the director has a million other things to worry about (talking with all the other departments....reviewing the dialog, rehearsing the actors) 

 

that said it can be done. Reed Morano just directed and DP'd a film I'd read an interview about that to get a sense of what it would be like, she designed her film in a way to make it work though.

 

 

When you see a movie....lets take the Godfather, the director in this case Coppola is in charge of the overall vision of the film....he might know for example it should be dark (im sure he would say something more complex....but for the sake of the example...) the DP on the movie Gordon Willis will literally take Coppolas words and ideas and turn it into a literal picture. for example in God Father Gordon Willis used a specific style of soft top light to create the iconic look you see on marlon brando ....Copploa might have know

 

Every film is different for example some Directors shot list with the DP and others do a shot list themselves. On the day some directors place the camera and suggest focal lengths for the lenses and other directors let the DP do that alone. Often it is a collaboration though ....sometimes a DP will suggest a different way to block a scene or even be given notes on performance to the director.


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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 05 May 2015 - 07:58 PM

 
1.) Why do you even need a DOP for a film? 
So if I am telling the camera guy what to do, what length, what angle....am I not the DOP?

I think you will find after you do this for a few years that this is the easiest part of what a Director of Photography does. In fact, it's so easy that agencies and clients who come to set think they can do it too, often with disasterous results for the budget. A DP is hired to create and maintain a photographic look for a project, on time and on budget. That means they are generally involved early in preproduction, giving input to the production designer on locations, sets, wardrobe, hair and makeup, input to production on crew size, equipment, and scheduling, input to the director on script and coverage.

Once production rolls around, the DP along with the 1st AD is responsible for making the day (finishing the scheduled work in the time allotted). Falling short adds days to the schedule and overtime for the crew, costing the production company money. While the director is working on the current setup, the DP is working with his key department heads on the next setup, planning with the Gaffer the movement of lights for the turnaround, planning with the Key Grip where to lay dolly track for a second camera angle, or deciding with the 1st AC which lenses to bring for the company move coming after lunch. Then you have to support the director and give them the shots that they want, while politically deflecting any terrible creative ideas that will derail the schedule or not cut in the edit. It's a lot of responsibility to juggle, so you can see why it is a job that requires a lot of set experience to do well.

 
2.) What we saw was that the DOP was actually calling the shots and telling the director what to do. This was her first time on set and he was of course a 10 year veteran but he called the shots entirely. 
 

Well, I think you just answered your own question! There's a world of difference between working with a first time director and a master director like Martin Scorsese. Most directors you will work with are closer to the former than the latter. When you get to work with someone of that caliber, it is truly an honor.
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#6 Bruce Greene

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Posted 06 May 2015 - 01:08 PM

why don't you contact the DP and discuss this with him/her? I'm sure you'll get some insight here what's really going on. And I'll bet that the director is directing much more than you realize :)
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#7 Josh Gladstone

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Posted 06 May 2015 - 05:39 PM

Just want to add, semi-unrelatedly, that Soy Cuba is one of the most incredible films ever made.


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