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How do you direct your cinematographer?

Cinematographer Director

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#1 Harry Weaks

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Posted 10 October 2015 - 03:35 PM

When hiring a cinematographer to figure out and assist in filming ones project and aid in making it look the way the hiring party envisioned, how is it advised to direct them? What information do they need to aid? Directions? Detail? How much of any of the mentioned? How long of a directorial process is it? What should they be told as a description for ones vision? I want it to look like a standard film? A reality tv show? Daytime talk show? Dark and moody? Is that last description more for a colorist to change/do during a post production process? Cinematographers job? Is there anything I haven't mentioned that they may need to know> If so, what? If not, why not?
 

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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 October 2015 - 04:17 PM

It depends on the DoP and the director and the project.

Storyboards help, screen references, films you think are a good point of reference, but it really comes down to how well you can articulate your vision to a DoP. The best DoPs, I think, are good at translating and reading how the director works and modulating themselves to that.

For myself, I like to sit down and just talk about the project, what it's about, what the director thinks of this or that look, and then often pulling out photos or little clips or full films and talking about what they make us think and feel etc.


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#3 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 10 October 2015 - 05:42 PM

Yep Adrian is spot on.

A pre-shoot conversation discussing look and feeling with visual examples (taken from other movies or drawn) if possible.

I also feel getting the DP involved with composition is also smart, that collaborative process really helps.
Figuring out the color pallet for each scene prior to shooting is also important. This way art decoration, clothing and lighting can all work well together. Things like that can really make a film more professional.

If you have the time, money and talent, decent storyboards can be a huge help. I've never done them because I can't really draw and hiring someone can be very expensive. So in extreme cases, I've done video storyboards, shooting key scenes with a video camera and friends, to work out exactly how things will intercut prior to shooting. This helps save money on set and keeps your production moving along since you won't have to discover very much during the shooting process. It allows the director and cinematographer to be on the same page for every day of shooting.
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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 10 October 2015 - 08:44 PM

A cinematographer can only do their job properly if they fully understand what you want as a director. So it's your responsibility to be prepared and know the story and script completely, the tone of the film you want to make, and the look you want it to have. You should also know the perameters of the project - if you are also the producer then you'll have to set the budget, secure talent, locations, and equipment, and be able to make the call on what is logistically possible and realistic for the project.

The next task is to communicate that information to your collaborators as fully as possible. So have examples ready from other films, photos and artwork, location stills, and whatever else you can think of. You need to be able to answer any question that your collaborators will have about the project or be honest if you don't know yet and be open to a better idea should one present itself.

A cinematographer will typically want to know what the total budget of the project is (and by extension what the budget is for the camera, electric, and grip personnel and equipment), what talent, key collaborators, locations, and other assets have already been secured for the production, the style, mood, and look you have envisioned for the project (and any references and look books you may have already put together), and if you already have a distribution deal in place or where you expect the final project to play (festivals, online, broadcast, etc).
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#5 Jonathan Dzwonar

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 11:33 PM

A sort of on-topic follow-up question: How much technical jargon should a cinematographer expect from a director?
I know quite a bit more than the basics when it comes to this art but compared to some of the folks on here I feel like I've just taken my first baby steps.


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#6 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 01:22 AM

How much technical jargon should a cinematographer expect from a director?

I know quite a bit more than the basics when it comes to this art but compared to some of the folks on here I feel like I've just taken my first baby steps.


Filmmaking is a craft that takes a lifetime to master, so don't feel bad if you feel you have a lot to learn. We are all learning every time we shoot, so it's important to always stay humble and admit when you don't know something.

Technical jargon is a common language that can help crew members communicate basic standard setups quickly on set. It's less useful for communicating new fresh ideas. The director's job is to communicate their vision for their film and the cinematographer's job is to receive and amplify that vision into something shootable. This requires time, empathy, and patience from both sides. Obviously, it can help speed up the process if you and your director already share a common language, but in some ways it can be more exciting to work with a director with a unique process. I think Terrence Malick and Wong Kai Wai would fall into the latter category.
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#7 Mark Dunn

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 06:03 AM

What I think you should avoid, pace Steven Spielberg, is making a little rectangle with your thumbs and forefingers.

 

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Edited by Mark Dunn, 15 October 2015 - 06:06 AM.

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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 07:01 AM

Usually, I find direction given is something like "Quickly, just shine that light at the ceiling, we have to shoot, come on, quickly, quickly, it's only 8.30am and we're already two hours behind."

 

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#9 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 07:18 PM

I don't mind a first time filmmaker at all.  Very patient with people who are learning the craft and have a story to tell.  It's all good. You will learn the jargon within a few days.  A few examples of similar shows is a great starting point.  Also how you plan to work with the actors and whether you want to pre-block everything in advance or if you'e more of an improviser on set.  It helps to know that ahead of time.

 

So yeah, first time directors are totally welcomed.  I do however mind it GREATLY when there's a 1st time 1st A.D.  That drives me mental to no end.  My best advice to you would be to get a career 1st A.D. and listen to them and let them run your show.  It's really going to compromise your film if it's a long shoot and there's no experienced production staff.  By experienced, I mean people who actually do it for a living.  They will not work for free cause production is a really grueling department and it's not fun. Pay pros.  It's the last thing in the budget for most green, inexperienced filmmakers.  But it's actually your first and most important hire.

 

Important to mention - It's okay to be a 1st time anything really.  But a 1st time 1st A.D. should at the very least, have worked as a 2nd A.D. and actually watched an experienced, professional 1st A.D. for a few shows before taking on that job.  It's really a job that you need to witness someone good performing it before you can take it on.  Learning on the job is impossible cause it's way too much responsibility.  Far too much juggling if you've never tried it.


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 15 October 2015 - 07:22 PM.

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#10 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 07:36 PM

Could be a chance for a good 2nd AD to step up and run the show if it's low budget. I agree, there's nothing worse than a green 1st AD - you're better off letting the DP run the set.
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