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Having arguments with your director


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#1 Daniel Meier

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 09:49 AM

A couple of months ago I shot my first short film as a DP. It was a small shoot, two days of prep on location and two days of shooting. 

Up until that point I had only been shooting music videos, documentaries and corporarte stuff.

 

This was also my first shoot with a quite larger crew. Having a gaffer and few electricians as well as one camera assistant aiding me was a real pleasure.

The thing that wasn't always that much of a pleasure though was the director. (She also wrote the script and produced the short, since it was a student film)

I had quite a few arguments with her about composition, shot sizes and blocking.

And since this was my first shoot of this genre I didn't know how to behave correctly.

 

Let me explain it using one scene.

We had to shoot a long dialog scene with all three actors at a dining table. I was happy meeting the director's wishes with the master shot:

 

4oqrrg7k.jpg

 

 

But after that the uncomfortable part began, when shooting the coverage. 

The director insisted on shooting all three actors in a clean single, close-up. Whereas I had planned to shoot OTS, medium close ups.

Then she also wanted me to frame the actors in the middle without giving them negative space nor screen direction (almost like a POV-Shot of each actor).

Thank god the sound engineer backed me and said, that even he thought that this would be looking awkward in the final edit.

There were several such moments when she would be asking someone else of a different department, whether shots made sense, the way I planned them.

Like looking for some kind of mediator. (I guess it was her first movie shoot as a director as well, having only a production assistant background)

And I also felt like being the only one on set she was arguing with that heavily.

Long story short, after a longer discussion I shot the coverage as she insisted. Since it is here movie and she's the director I thought I'd have to help her instead of battling her.

All in all it was quite an uncomfortable experience, having this fight on set with all crew being around. I wish this happened during prep and not during principal shooting.

 

I also shyed away from asking to be involved in the blocking during the prep-days. Because I felt unwanted there. 

Do I have the right to join the blocking sessions or is it up to the directors decision?

 

I know that directors are to be supported at any time during the process of shooting. But how far can they go, especially when unexperienced.

Film is art and there is no right and wrong. But how do you sustain your integrity on set? What is the common way to behave as a DP in such kinds of situations?

 

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Daniel

 

 

 

 

 


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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 10:30 AM

The more central framing is valid, Kubrick is known for it - cross hairs on the left or right nostril (Wes Anderson also uses it). This should be part of a discussion on framing and what the director trying to achieve though this framing.. 


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#3 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 11:50 AM

"since it was a student film"

 

Well, student films operate differently than paid professional jobs.

 

However, in the larger discussion with regards to who has authority on set, well.the director has the final say on everything.  Unless of course said director answers to a producer who controls the budget, and says to the director, no we don't have budget for 27 cars in the big car chase scene you can only have 13.

 

As for the DOP/director relationship, as David Mullen has stated previously, it's not a relationship of equals.  You may be a creative partner, but you are not an equal partner, sorry.

 

R,


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#4 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 12:37 PM

"since it was a student film"

 

Well, student films operate differently than paid professional jobs.

 

Yeah was about to say that.

 

You're rarely going to find someone who actually runs their role well in film school. It IS film school after all, not "film masters club hangout".

 

If I see a director deferring as much as the person in your story, I immediately lose faith in whatever the project is. Not to say the director needs to ALWAYS have a concrete plan stuck to 100%, but deferring nearly every time is too limp-wristed. At that point there is no real vision being carried out. They wrote a script and are going about it as "oh this would be a fun home movie to shoot".

 

Unfortunately yeah you don't have final say, but a lack of on paper position is where verbal manipulation comes in to play. The ability to articulate/persuade your points will come in handy, especially when that person is looking for answers rather than enforcing their own.

 

If you don't mind my asking; was this a paid gig?


Edited by Macks Fiiod, 11 February 2017 - 12:38 PM.

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#5 timHealy

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 01:53 PM

Consider this a learning experience and next time you can include types of shots and coverage in your pre production discussions and planning.

 

Best

 

Tim


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#6 Ben Scott

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 03:06 PM

The fact you went into the shoot not having discussed and confirmed with the Director how you were going to frame the film means it's on you.

 

And to have the soundman having your back means you've now got two members of the team 'against' the Director, which is a huge no-no. 

 

There's ways of of being diplomatic and trying to ascertain the reasoning behind a Director wanting a certain type of shot and supporting the idea while demonstrating how it can also be achieved in a way that will cut in the edit. These are conversations you have out of view of the rest of the crew, to whom you should present a united front and united vision. And if you exhaust ways of getting your point across in the spirit of supporting the Director's vision, shut up and do what they want you to do and don't put it on your reel. 

 

Frankly, and I mean this in a nice way, nobody cares about your 'integrity'. You're there to do a job. If you can't do the job with a level of professionalism then that problem lies with you. I'm saying all of this as someone who has been in the same boat and made the same mistakes as you when dealing with  a Director/Producer who was clearly 'wrong'. And with hindsight he wasn't because that's what he wanted, and it was ME being the idiot. . 


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#7 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 03:37 PM

And if you exhaust ways of getting your point across in the spirit of supporting the Director's vision, shut up and do what they want you to do and don't put it on your reel.

That's also very true. One of the reason's I'm asking if he got paid.

 

If you show up, get no money, and also get no creative/reel satisfaction, then what is the point? lol.


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 04:25 PM

Shooting closer on wider-angle lenses so you feel that the camera is "inside" (forward of) the foreground shoulder is a valid choice for singles in coverage as long as it doesn't get too unrealistic (as when two people are almost nose-to-nose talking). The Coen Brothers do it all the time, shoot clean reverses.

Visual awkwardness is not always a mistake and editorially, many directors like clean coverage so they aren't tied with the continuity of the foreground person, who might be lifting a cup or fork at a different time than they did in the reverse over-the-shoulder.

Not to say, I've never questioned these sorts of decisions, it's basically a taste thing. But I wouldn't make it an open discussion -- assuming the editor isn't right there on set, stylistic issues regarding coverage should be between you and the director, maybe the script supervisor as well (and sometimes the AD if it affects set-up time and maybe the stunt coordinator if it's a fight scene being covered) but beyond the two of you, you start weakening the authority of the director in front of the crew. You're better off trying to understand why the director wants what they want.
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#9 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 04:28 PM

When you say "wider" are you talking 35mm or more 18mm? I find myself doing 35 a ton for convos.


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#10 Ben Scott

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 04:34 PM

Huge fan on closer shots with a wide. Ever since I saw Brazil...

 

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And then Delicatessen... 

 

6Har31f.jpg


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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 04:36 PM

Depends on the distance and the shot size and the physical distance between the actors. If the actors were five feet apart in the master and you have to move them eight feet apart to get a clean single, then maybe your shot is too wide or the lens is too long.
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#12 Justin Hayward

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 04:58 PM

I've found this to be one of the hardest things about DP work, catering to people's taste that you don't share.  When you get popular enough, you can pick and choose your jobs.  But, until then...

 

edit:

...one of the most frustrating things...


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#13 Ben Scott

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 05:00 PM

Meh, every time I do a job that I know is going to not be good - for whatever reason I don't control - I just remind myself how lucky I am to not have to wear a suit to work and/or travel in rush hour to an office :)


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#14 George Ebersole

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 06:08 PM

Meh, every time I do a job that I know is going to not be good - for whatever reason I don't control - I just remind myself how lucky I am to not have to wear a suit to work and/or travel in rush hour to an office :)

 

Yeah, just show up at 5AM ... shoot depending :rolleyes: 


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#15 Justin Hayward

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 06:43 PM

Yeah right... When it's 2am, 5 degrees below zero with wind gusts up to 30 mph and you're shooting on a bridge, suddenly that office job doesn't seem so bad. :P


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#16 Reggie A Brown

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Posted 11 February 2017 - 07:04 PM

I'd have to say the director is in charge and you're there to help the director bring the images from their brain onto a platform that others can view. A relationship with the director is important and there should be communication, positive communication. Any disagreements should NOT be done in front of other crew members! Some directors are ok with other ppl presenting new ideas, some are strict and only want their vision shot, some are willing to accept a new idea if it's presented to them as if it were "their own great idea". If you're really against the way the director wants their compositions, be professional and finish the job, but have your name removed from the credits if you don't want to be associated with the work. Here's a link I think you should check out. The part that starts at 5:55, Sean Bobbitt is talking about this exact topic. Give it a watch!


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#17 Ben Scott

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 03:25 AM

Yeah right... When it's 2am, 5 degrees below zero with wind gusts up to 30 mph and you're shooting on a bridge, suddenly that office job doesn't seem so bad. :P


Done overnight winter timelapses on the roof of a building on my own and STILL pleased about the suit thing :)
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#18 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 03:57 PM

The fact you went into the shoot not having discussed and confirmed with the Director how you were going to frame the film means it's on you.


I would like to echo Ben's point about the important of hashing out differences as much as possible in pre-production, so that once production rolls around you are both in-sync, speaking the same language, and just trying to execute a plan that you have both agreed upon. This in turn makes it easier to improvise on the day if necessary because you have already established parameters to work within.

In your initial meetings with a director, try to just listen and internalize their perspective on tone of the project. Ask a lot of questions. Afterward, you can suggest your own visual ideas based on their framework. Offer options and share visual references. It's important to get their approval on each creative decision before moving forward. After a certain amount of trust has been established, the director may give you more leeway to just 'do your thing', but ultimately they have the final say.
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#19 Ben Scott

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 04:00 PM

Yep - One of the hardest parts of the job is making sure everyone sees the same thing you do when you describe it and making sure you understand what the Director sees when he or she describes it. It's different for every writer, director and producer. 


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#20 Sabyasachi Patra

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Posted 13 February 2017 - 08:03 AM

Couple of years ago, I too faced a similar situation. The director had no clue and for every shot he had to ask the opinion of one of his assistants, who was completely clueless about cameras, equipment etc. I was a very painful experience. However, the fact is ultimately the director's writ prevails. Despite some of our best efforts, once in a while such things happen. In a student film, you always have the option of not including it in our showreels and hoping that not many people notice that you have shot it.  :) Once you move up the ladder and do bigger projects, this option vanishes.

 

These creative tensions also exist when a producer or a financier sees some rushes and gives opinions. In case of documentaries and commercials that I produce for clients, often one executive from the clients side tries to poke his/her nose even when he/she doesn't known what they are talking. Discussing the rough cuts is where I find a major problem. I have found that it is better to sort it out face to face rather than via emails. Having been a suit-boot executive earlier in my career, I can tell you these confrontations can be nasty. 


Edited by Sabyasachi Patra, 13 February 2017 - 08:08 AM.

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