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#1 Matt Pacini

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 05:28 PM

This question is for everyone, but especially D. Mullen, because it was some of his posts that got me thinking about this:
David, you've posted some of your excellent storyboards here in the past, and discussed how you storyboard a lot of stuff (if not everything you shoot).

I do all my own (when I'm directing), and can't imagine giving that responsibility to anyone else.
is this common that a director will leave the framing, composition, etc., up to the DP?
I'm just curious how many directors leave this up to their DP's?
Or do they give you shot lists, general descriptions, and you storyboard so you'll have a more specific idea than what they have given you?

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 08:00 PM

Every director is different in terms of how much they collaborate with the DP in terms of shot coverage and composition. In terms of my storyboards, they have varied in terms of how much they were the direct product of the director's ideas or something I had to come up with and show the director for approval, which is the operative word here: the director always has the approval, even if the idea was not originally his.

When talking over shots, it's very hard to be precise in terms of composition, but even if you could, you KNOW that circumstances on the shooting day will affect it, if only because you finally are seeing things through the camera's lens. Which is how it should be -- you should always be open to better ideas on the day of shooting.

That's really the key: a good director is open to better ideas because if it makes the movie better, then the director is the one who will get the lion's share of credit anyway. Ultimately, it's more important for a director to know how to filter other people's ideas than come up with all of them himself: that's why that call it DIRECTING. You direct others. But you're the final arbitrator, the final judge.

As a DP, my favorite directors collaborate with me by talking through the scene and telling me their thoughts and asking me for my ideas, no matter how far off the mark.

In fact, I usually come up with two or three ways of approaching the scene. I know with one first-time director, this used to drive him up the wall because he wasn't decisive; he'd actually get (semi in jest) upset with me "you gave me three good ideas and I don't know which to pick! Stop doing that!" Now if I were really taking over the directing, I'd just give him one good idea, but that's not my job -- I'm supposed to supply options and solutions, not be the final word.

Most of my conflicts with directors are not creative but logistical. If I hear them telling me they need this shot...(I nod)... and that shot... (I nod) and suddenly we're at fifty shots for the day, I start to question whether we really need all of that. Or if one of the shots is like a three-hour set-up. Particular for night exteriors where I cannot always provide a lit wide-shot in every direction in the time alloted.
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#3 Tenolian Bell

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 08:35 PM

I also have different experiences with every director I work with. Most of the time composition is a collaborative effort as David stated. Myself in particular I generally work with a lot of new directors, who don't have much practice with seeing the world through a lens. They have no idea of a 12mm from 100mm. Some directors have more problems with this than others. Often I tell them to walk around and look through a still camera. Just to have a general understanding of what the world looks like through a lens.

In my experience male directors will tend to lean more toward being dictatorial on composition. Sometimes directors will give a lot of instruction on lighting. I don't mind that though if they really know what they are talking about, and its something that can be realistically done.

Female directors tend to come with less ego and are more open to asking questions and accepting input.

On the other side of it which is just as bad is the director who doesn?t know what he/she wants. Actually I think this is far worse than the dictator. Because a weak director leaves open input from all the crew. I?ve had a shoot where the make up artist was giving advice on shots. Not to look down on the make up artist but she has little idea of composition-lighting and the time it takes to set these things up. She is free to let her imagination fly.

Over all generally though the most talented and mature directors I work with are collaborators and we enjoy working together.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 09:55 PM

This is one reason I don't get involved in judging actors' performances unless there is a problem where I can help, or perhaps, something technical is creating a problem. Actors should feel that only the director is directing them. Even when it comes to blocking, I am wary about getting too vocal in front of the actors unless directly asked for an opinion by the director in front of the actors. Otherwise, it's better to talk to the director privately about blocking issues unless mundanely technical.

It's important not to undercut a director's authority, although it can be hard when a director is particularly inexperienced and inept because you can only protect them so far before it becomes clear to everyone that the director is somewhat clueless. Then they all start looking at the DP or AD or Producer for guidence.

I've worked with two female directors and haven't found the experience different really. Both knew their jobs, both very much in control on set, not dictatorial but firm as to what they wanted. One director who I like very much is tough to work with because she is demanding and doesn't back down on what she wants, but she is always pleasant about it. But being uncompromising can make the days rather long...

There are certain directors I've worked for who I consider the real "professionals". They don't necessarily make the best movies (the script determines a lot of that) but they are what I consider to be model directors. Totally prepared every day as to what the work will be and what they need from the actors. Totally collaborative with every key creative person. Organized to the nth degree, remembering to spend some time with each department during prep to supervise what's going on. Completely knowledgeable about editing issues. Flexible. Problem solvers. Cool under pressure. Generally pleasant with a sense of humor. Knows when to push for more but is not unrealistic. Is aware of the time. Exercises good taste in all decisions.

Oh, and they like most of my ideas....
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#5 Jonathan Spear

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 07:55 AM

David,

Ever consider directing or screenwriting? With a DP background it could be quite interesting.

-JonS
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 10:37 AM

Ever consider directing or screenwriting? With a DP background it could be quite interesting.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Sure, that's why I got a BA in English Lit with a minor in creative writing at UCLA when I didn't get accepted into their undergrad film program. But I fell into cinematography at film school when it turned out that I was one of the few students with a lighting & photography background -- since then, I haven't given much thought towards anything but cinematography.
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#7 Tim J Durham

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 11:15 AM

There are certain directors I've worked for who I consider the real "professionals". They don't necessarily make the best movies (the script determines a lot of that) but they are what I consider to be model directors.  Totally prepared every day as to what the work will be and what they need from the actors.  Totally collaborative with every key creative person.  Organized to the nth degree, remembering to spend some time with each department during prep to supervise what's going on. Completely knowledgeable about editing issues.  Flexible. Problem solvers. Cool under pressure. Generally pleasant with a sense of humor.  Knows when to push for more but is not unrealistic. Is aware of the time. Exercises good taste in all decisions.

Oh, and they like most of my ideas....

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

David,
Do you think that directors in Hollywood are more susceptible to "flavor of the month" syndrome than DP's?

Just curious. Thanks.
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 11:40 AM

The difference between DP's and directors in the indie world, maybe even the studio world, is that DP's are valued for their experience while directors are beat-up for it, meaning a first-time director is always more valuable because as soon as you make one film, you have a track record for commercial success or failure, whereas if you are a beginner, there is always hope.

As for following styles, everyone is as guilty or not guilty of it. My only beef with some directors is that their tastes in movies can be rather shallow and only covers recent things. The only modern style that too many directors suffer from is the tendency to overcover scenes in tight shots. Otherwise, I wouldn't necessarily mind working with directors who are inspired by some of the latest trends in commercials; you find just as many directors who don't have any strong opinions about visuals. I like classical, well-composed, old-fashioned filmmaking but I also like experimentation -- what bores me is some sort of bland inbetween world of mediocrity that we all fall into too easily, myself included. But it's a fine line between being classical, formal, etc. and merely being unimaginative. That's why I've always been fascinated by Gordon Willis, who seemed to create a strong sense of style with such simple lighting elements and limited camera movement. He's SO precise that he gives emotional weight to something that would be uninteresting if others half-attempted it.
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#9 Michael Struthers

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 01:17 PM

Anyone have any fave storyboarding software they like? B)
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#10 John Thomas

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 08:08 PM

Anyone have any fave storyboarding software they like? B)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I don't use software but a decent digital camera with a long zoom is very helpful. If you get decent prep on a show you will be in every location scouting and have an opportunity to take stills and movie clips. I like to go back to the office and goof around in photoshop and show the director some photos based on the discussions we have had. For complicated action sequences, storyboards are indispensable but normally I prefer a shot list and a few of my own sketches. My main beef with a director's boards done with an outside artist, is that they are usually not based on the realities of the location and simple physics. (some of these people can draw some crazy cartoons :blink: ) I like to use my own distorted imagination. Recently I've been doing a lot of episodic television. Those directors rock! They either have their act together or they're out. If every feature director first had to graduate from television before they got to do a movie, there would be many cinematographers and ADs with a lot less grey hair.
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#11 J. Lamar King

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Posted 18 May 2005 - 01:04 AM

I don't even like to do boards that aren't based off information from the actual location. I've been on shoots where more than half the boards were shots we couldn't get do to the geometry of the actual location. I find the best situation is to scout with a finder and a camera, taking very detailed notes.

When actually shooting, the boards will be very close but I like to do the fine tuning in concert with the director using a finder. It makes things so easy. I was recently on a shoot where we were scouting ahead of the crew. We got our morning setups done, then me, the director and the UPM went ahead and scouted the next location, locking our shots and we were done by the time the AD got there with the crew. I would of course suggest you scout before a shoot but we were forced into the situation. Point is it went so smooth because the director and I knew exactly what we could do in a given shot.
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#12 Mark Allen

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Posted 18 May 2005 - 02:19 AM

The difference between DP's and directors in the indie world, maybe even the studio world, is that DP's are valued for their experience while directors are beat-up for it,

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


David - that's very quotable, keep that one on hand.

As for some of the various subjects brought up:

Storyboarding software: I've tried the demos of all the softwares available in the last few years, additionally used Maya and Electric Image and Poser (all 3D programs) and hand sketched... but my favorite method - not unlike John Tomas - digital camera. Doesn't matter where - I've done it in a living room. As long as you have at least one other person, you can whip through shots, then load them up, quickly paint out the backgrounds, throw in some backgrounds I've sketched or found on the net and manipulated. I do it very quickly in photoshop and eventhough I'm doing it "sloppy" it ends up looking very professional and gives everyone the best idea of what the shots were. I did a whole bunch of boards in Poser once and no one "got them" - made sense to me, but I was really intrigued that they didn't read that well - certainly no better than hand sketches. Digital photos are fast too. If you can have individuals representing the various actors, it's best. Of course, you want to have a shot list before you start, but if you know the shots and the blocking you have in mind, it takes very little time. It also addresses the issue that J. Lamar pointed out very accurately - half the boards people (including me) draw are geometrically impossible.

David's mention of talking to the director about blocking: Yes - it is important that anything that has to do with the actors go through the director. The reason is not to protect the Director's ego, but to protect the actor's focus and reduce confusion. The commotion swirling around the actors seems a bit more chaotic to them because they're not privy to what is going on and anything to reduce where their focus is going helps. Additionally, the minute someone other than the director starts to give "direction" to the actors, the floodgates will open up and producers chime in, the AD chimes in.
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#13 Bob Hayes

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Posted 18 May 2005 - 10:06 AM

I will draw my own story boards on the set to convey complex composition or to see if I understand what they director?s vision is. I?m fast enough, good enough, and can capture lens dynamics enough to make this work for me.

When I shoot motion control they usually come in with Animatics. Moving story boards that I try to match. I find that very helpful. On action sequences or movies with very specific compositions I find storyboards very helpful. On the down side I feel like a storyboard artist and the director are making decisions the DP and director should be making.

Over all I find my notes look more like football game books. A camera moves left and up. B camera low and inside. I usually see it as a ground game.
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