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How much does a DP need to know?


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#1 George Ebersole

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 12:20 PM

How much knowledge about lights and gaffing in general should a DP have?  Does he need to know anything at all other than what he wants visually?

 

I'm kind of curious here, because I've never seen a DP have any significant knowledge of gripology or gaffing, but it seems like they'd benefit from it.


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#2 Ryq Peden

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 12:42 PM

I would think they should have a deep and wide knowledge of lights. Or, at least, they will acquire it working. Maybe not in the sense of knowing every brands' lineup by model number, but should effectively know what types of lights and modifiers will offer them what they are looking for visually. That's really part of the job.

 

If they've ever worked on low-budget films with skeleton crews they've probably had to do a bit of grip work along with Cinematography. Though, perhaps some folks just enjoy or respect the division of labor a bit too much and never learn the ins-and-outs of their companion departments. Makes sense to be able to communicate as effectively and efficiently as possible though.


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#3 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 01:31 PM

I mean, from what I've gathered the more successful DPs here seem to have knowledge/insight of literally everything going on set.

 

Perhaps related?


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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 02:05 PM

A DP need only know enough to know they do not know and be able to deffer to those smarter then themselves (and hire those smarter than themselves). However, most know at least a bit about lighting and grip and cameras, lenses, and filters. Where a DoP is strongest will depend on the DoP.


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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 04:50 PM

There are times when a more experienced gaffer will try to convince you to light things their way because it's faster, to their taste, or simply less work. So it helps to know enough about lighting to make the call if their approach will still get the look you want, or whether you need to insist on doing it your way. You also have to know when what you are asking for is unreasonable, unsafe, or will take too much time. So it goes both ways.

My biggest regrets in the color grade or when watching the finished project are usually when I didn't push hard enough for the look or shot that I originally intended. If my name is on the project, I'd prefer the photographic mistakes to be mine and not those of a frustrated crew member who wants my job.
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#6 George Ebersole

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 04:51 PM

Yeah, when I first entered all those years ago I made it a point to learn everything I could about everything.  I never did learn how to load a magazine, nor too much about sound, but it just seemed to me then (and now) that the more you know the better shape you're in to trouble shoot and overcome problems, and also appreciate everyne else's job.

 

It just seems like you'd know better how to  .... what's the term ... "gauge" a shot.  Not neccesarily compose it, but just have a kind of idea of how it could be best achieved.

 

Again, many thanks for the replies.  Very much appreciated.


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#7 Justin Hayward

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 06:25 PM

There are times when a more experienced gaffer will try to convince you to light things their way because it's ... delete... less work. 

 

This happens at some point at almost every level on set.  The more you know, the faster you can nip it in the bud.


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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 06:56 PM

This happens at some point at almost every level on set.  The more you know, the faster you can nip it in the bud.


To play devil's advocate for a second - I think it can be a legitimate point to bring up in the right circumstance. For example, if you simply don't have enough G&E guys to do a particular effect in a safe and timely manner, then the gaffer should inform the DP of this (assuming they haven't already discussed it in prep). I'd be very wary of a DP or director who insisted on doing things their way, on every single setup, no matter the consequences. That's how Sarah Jones died... Luckily, the ones who can get away with such things are rather few and far between, at least in my limited experience.
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#9 Richard Boddington

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 08:28 PM

Does he need to know anything at all other than what he wants visually?

 

 

I think you just described the director, not the DOP.

 

R,


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#10 Justin Hayward

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 08:48 PM

To play devil's advocate for a second - I think it can be a legitimate point to bring up in the right circumstance. For example, if you simply don't have enough G&E guys to do a particular effect in a safe and timely manner, then the gaffer should inform the DP of this (assuming they haven't already discussed it in prep). I'd be very wary of a DP or director who insisted on doing things their way, on every single setup, no matter the consequences. That's how Sarah Jones died... Luckily, the ones who can get away with such things are rather few and far between, at least in my limited experience.

 

I'm not talking about safety, or low budgets, or any of that.  I was a PA and a grip and a gaffer and a DP before I was a director and I can not tell you how many times other crew members confessed that they were going to half ass something and try to slip it past the director or DP.  It drove me crazy.  I wanted to scream at them that they were on the clock, being paid their full rate!  Why not do their job as best they can???  It made me very jaded, but it also made me hyper aware of those kinds of people.

 

But the same thing can be said about any job.  When I was 16, I was a dishwasher at a pub, and I made a point to be the best dishwasher that pub had ever seen.  When I told this story to certain crew members on certain films I've worked on, they laughed at me and bragged about being fired from crappy jobs like that cause they don't put up with bulls--t.  I can't imagine bragging about being fired from anything... but that's me.

 

That said, I've also worked with many crew members that have an excellent work ethic, and I love working with them.  


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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 09:16 PM

I hear ya, Justin. I have certainly worked with my share of those crew members as well - never understood that attitude myself. Why bother even showing up if you're not going to take pride in your work?
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#12 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 09:23 PM

mortgage? though honestly, no idea


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#13 George Ebersole

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Posted 23 March 2017 - 09:51 PM

To play devil's advocate for a second - I think it can be a legitimate point to bring up in the right circumstance. For example, if you simply don't have enough G&E guys to do a particular effect in a safe and timely manner, then the gaffer should inform the DP of this (assuming they haven't already discussed it in prep). I'd be very wary of a DP or director who insisted on doing things their way, on every single setup, no matter the consequences. That's how Sarah Jones died... Luckily, the ones who can get away with such things are rather few and far between, at least in my limited experience.

 

 

I've told this story before, but your anecdote brings up a sore point with me; I was working an INTEL shoot years back for a woman who ran her own production company, and was essentially a "one-man-show" deal; she did everything, and only hired people when she absolutely needed to.  She shall remain nameless.

 

We were shooting something about a car-pool service Intel was offering its employees, and she wanted shots of traffic on southbound 101.  So, come 4:30 PM we get on 101, and between 92 and San Jose we're hitting all kinds of traffic jams.  But, even when the traffic lets up and goes normal speed, get this, she insisted that I do 25mph in the fast lane.

 

Not a chance.  sorry.  No.  Not going to happen.  And for anyone who knows bay area traffic, you know that 75 is the average for fast lane.  And, on top of that, get this, she told me she didn't care if we were in danger.

 

We parted ways after another shoot.  Again, no names mentioned, but I would never work for her again.  She was a "do things my way no matter what" kind of director.  And she got a lot of high profile and high paying clients because of social connections, not really because she was particularly good ... she was so-so in terms of skill and artistic savvy. 

 

But she actually didn't have a lot of knowledge on gripology, sound, and even though she called herself a video technician, she couldn't tear off a camera cover on a video camera and trouble shoot a problem. 

 

So yea, those people are out there, and at all levels of success. 


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#14 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 24 March 2017 - 12:19 AM

Yikes! I had a producer ask me to do the same thing on the Golden Gate Bridge to shoot car-to-car for a Danish alcohol commercial once. Without permits, police escort, or follow vehicles. That was not safe, to say the least...
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#15 Albion Hockney

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Posted 24 March 2017 - 12:26 PM

every DP has a different path to becoming a DP and a different way of working. Some come from Camera/Lighting departments and know everything there is - others come from broader backgrounds like photography - every DP also does different work. IE working on a feature film that is very "naturalistic" you need a different set of knowledge then being a DP on say a car commercial or shinny pop music video 

 

That said I think most successful DP's have been around long enough to know at the very least the same as a moderately expereinced Gaffer and you need that knowledge to make good choices a lot of the time - especially if you are working with a variety of gaffers 


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#16 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 06:39 AM

There is no right or wrong way. I know a very successful DP that uses really nebulous and artistic language - he might ask for a soft cosmic feel or reference a feeling, rather than a specific light or how to achieve it. We use the same gaffer and he's one of the best in LA, so he can interpret that and translate it into lighting. 

 

I'm more hands on when it comes to sources, but also realize that there are always different ways to achieve the same look. I tend to just dissuade from sources I know are not time efficient. Kino's are a recent addition to that list - they're no longer time efficient units to use in my opinion. Sometimes you need a very specific source to achieve something, like a Source 4, X-light or a Xenon or something, but that happens less frequently. But certainly experience here helps.


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#17 Bruce Greene

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 12:03 PM

I've worked with successful DP's who know next to nothing about lighting, to those who know more than the best gaffers.  Every DP has strengths in different areas.

 

But, I think the best DP's know lighting in extreme detail.  When working with their favorite gaffer, they may not need to say much, but they sure are ready to step in and light the set when necessary.  Only the DP has the complete picture of the director's viewpoint and desires, the producer's viewpoint, and the schedule. Not all great lighting ideas from the gaffer fit the schedule.  Not all lighting packages fit the budget.  The gaffer may not know all the director's ideas about camera movement.

 

It's best to know as much as you can, far more than what you want it to look like :)


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#18 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 12:37 PM

I don't keep up with all the latest development in LED's lighting, but I welcome it and some of my gaffers are all over the new stuff, others less so. I love to try the stuff, but I'll also revert back to real old school stuff. A good mix. The longer I do this, the more I also realize that you can do 95% of your lighting with really simple units. Famously, Eduardo Serra ASC, AFC, basically just brought a truckload of open face Blonde's with him on his features, and they look great. He used them for everything.

 

I find Parcan's extreme versatile and useful and I love old Zip soft lights. I also love covered wagons, but not all gaffers carry them or want to build them. But they're the greatest lights for soft uplights. On the newer end I've come to rely on all the bi-color battery LED panels heavily. Sometimes you just need a very quick light somewhere and not have to run cables and gel etc. Another new light I'm absolutely in love with is the bi-color Quasar tubes. Basically a single LED tube the size of a Kino you can run on battery or line. Super quick and super easy to hide as an uplight for a background or even tape straight on a wall - another lifesaver.


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