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Why do DPs dislike 2nd units?


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#1 Bage Gillford

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Posted 07 November 2015 - 10:13 PM

I have an idea of having a 2nd unit director on the entire shoot that is constantly rolling and doing fun stuff, during downtime or on the side. Chances are, I will end up using it and it will be very helpful in the edit. I don't care who shoots what. I even took a shot from the behind the scenes guys footage last time. Am I wrong or right about this? My circle of DPs all tell me they don't like this idea because it won't match and the lighting won't be up to par with the primary unit... but I think the real reason is that they don't want to share.

 

I know it is not conventional but I feel it would be very useful, especially if the 2nd unit was brought in early and was on the same page about the film's aesthetic, and is talented and resourceful with light. Is there something I'm not seeing? 


Edited by Bage Gillford, 07 November 2015 - 10:14 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 November 2015 - 12:31 AM

If that style works for you, then go ahead.  Just warn the cinematographer in advance during the job interview that this is your intent so that person can make an informed decision whether they want to work on that project.

 

The reason why directors and cinematographers sometimes dislike relying on 2nd Units is mainly over creative authorship, they want the final movie to reflect their particular skills and decisions.  They object to anything that resembles "art by committee".  And they also feel that they are the best people to be creating those shots.

 

If moviemaking is a highly personal and hands-on experience for you, it is very hard to hand off shots or sequences to other people even when that might be more practical.

 

And I can see why a cinematographer might object to a movie where they are listed as the cinematographer having shots cribbed from behind-the-scenes footage and you should at least listen to them out of respect if they say something won't match quality-wise or lighting-wise.  Now you could tell them that you don't care if something doesn't match, that's your choice as a director, but that doesn't mean they are wrong or lying about the issue of matching, it's just that you've decided that matching is not a priority.  

 

Some people actually care about the quality of something with their name on it.  They don't want to see some badly-lit shot made by someone else cut into the movie where they are credited with the photography, and then later get questioned in future job interviews about that badly-lit shot.  Sure, they could then blame someone else or blame the director, but then it sounds like they are making excuses.

 

There are certainly good reasons for 2nd Unit work on a movie, but usually the goal is to make it look seamless with the 1st Unit footage.

 

And while I can imagine some special movie now and then that cares more about making lots of cuts using footage of variable quality and poor matching, just for a particular rough style, maybe in order to feel semi-documentary, or maybe for some sort of Godard idea of throwing the viewer "outside" of the movie and reminded them of its artificiality, most movies aim for a more consistent quality lest things feel amateurish.  

 

So I think it is OK to embrace this rougher style if it is clear to the viewer that this is an intentional approach that supports the narrative, rather than being due to a lack of caring or skill by the filmmakers.  

 

Take a look at the trailer of Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups", which mixes formats including GoPro footage into the movie:

 

I haven't seen the movie but the cuts to the GoPro footage create a disorienting effect that seems to be part of the narrative, the emotional journey of the character.  And overall there is a consistent use of wide-angle lenses no matter what the format.  This isn't a case of, let's say, using some poor B-roll shot just to fill a hole in editing, but more of creating a style for the whole movie where one can jump to different formats as a style.


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#3 Miguel Angel

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Posted 08 November 2015 - 07:01 AM

I wrapped a tv series 1 week ago where I was the b cam operator and the 2nd unit cinematographer and we worked a bit like the way you were describing on your post, no b - roll tho!

It took a couple of days for all of us to find out how to work things out because the director wanted to roll the b camera whenever we found interesting things when on set which meant a lot of times

Hence, at the end of the second day we agreed on shooting inserts for around 10 minutes after shooting the sequence we were shooting at that time and while the dop and the director were rehearsing with the actors on another set or they were discussing other set ups.

Of course, the inserts had to match the "main photography" so I was very careful when choosing the angles and in the odd moment where I had to shoot an actor's face, I asked for the cinematographer to come before shooting it to take a look at the setup and see if he was happy or he wanted to change something.

Again, if I was not sure about shooting something, I did not shoot it because it probably was not right.

I do think that the director, the dop and the person who is going to shoot your 2nd unit have to meet up in advance and have to discuss the aesthetics of the project and find a way to make it work because it is possible, there were a lot of movies made that way and in our case, the second unit shots match the main unit shots in both, light and quality , as it happens most of the times.

If you are going to hand long sequences to the second unit then those sequences have to be discussed in advance with all the parties involved, you, the dop, 1st ad and the 2nd unit heads.
The "main unit" dop will want to either light those sequences or will create a rough diagram of how he / she wants it to look so the "second unit" dop will know what to do and will be able to play around to create that look.

As you suggested, the person who is going to shoot those things have to be very resourceful, talented, has to know how to frame and needs to be able to feel what you and your dop are looking for, also, needs to see things and needs to know IF what he / she is going to shoot will be helpful during the editing process or not.

You might end up with hours of poorly shot things which you might not use if you don't bring a person with those characteristics.

Said that, it is my opinion that that person needs to talk to your dop a lot and let him / her know what he / she is doing all the times, maybe your dop might want to frame one of those inserts / things differently or might want to change the lighting setup to accommodate that shot.

Also, ask the dop if he / she knows somebody who could fill that role, chances are that your dop will bring a fantastic person whom he / she will be happy to work with!

Have a good day!
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