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A question to all you cinematographers, re: working with directors


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#1 Brook K

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 04:06 AM

I am a new filmmaker and have a movie I am wanting to make (which is just in the planning stages at this point).

 

Here is my question:  I have a very specific vision of what I want the movie to come out like, even down to the camera movements and angles. Now, I know that many of you have gone to school to be cinematographers, and part of what you do is the camera angles, and you work with the director to figure out the way to best represent a scene visually; that is part of your art. My question is, would you work with a director who has to have every scene in the movie the exact way they envision, knowing that it removes some of your creative input (using the information you went to school for)? 

 

and if not, why? and what would you say to such a director about how he/she can work equally and in balance with you to get things done, and still allow both you and he/she to come up with a product you both are proud of?

 

hope that makes sense!


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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 04:26 AM

It varies. This is possibly why certain groups of people tend to work together a lot; at some point there is no rulebook for this, and merely being comfortable with peoples' approach is a big part of professional compatibility.

 

Some directors are actors' directors and almost ignore camera. Camera crews tend to feel overlooked and may dislike this. Some directors are very technical and live behind a bank of monitors. Actors may feel a bit let down by this sort of behaviour. The extremes probably aren't a great idea. Most people would agree that there is value in at least some degree of collaborative overlap, two heads being better than one.

 

It is often hard to tell by watching the results. Occasionally, you'll see a film that looks like it was shot to be a stage play, in wides. This could be the director's choice, or it could be a director of photography who's suffering lack of direction and playing it safe. There's a difference between a director of photography not being told what's wanted, and being expressly permitted the freedom. Not being told what's wanted leads to playing safe and this is probably not a good idea.

 

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#3 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 09:58 AM

I am a new filmmaker and have a movie I am wanting to make (which is just in the planning stages at this point).

 

My question is, would you work with a director who has to have every scene in the movie the exact way they envision

Of course.   The director can be a former or current DP and may know exactly what they want.  If you're paying for the film yourself and working with your own funds, then you need to be aware that asking for very specific shots can be more expensive because it  often requires altering the existing locations, sets, or renting a stage and constructing locations, sets.  That's the only way sometimes to get exactly what you want.

 

Working in practical locations requires you to be more adaptable with your shotlist.  This is why I always like to do a walkthrough with a director in the actual location and do a blocking and shotlist there so that we all see how things will really look.  Much more useful when shooting on location than a storyboard that's just concept art.

 

I would suggest that you schedule walkthroughs with your DP and bring your shotlist and then you'll probably find that working together you'll be able to collaborate more effectively and prep the scenes together.  You'll be on the same page when you actually shoot it.  At the end of the day, the DP is there for technical guidance and creative suggestions.  It's your film so if you want a particular shot, stick to your guns.  If it sends you over schedule and budget, don't worry.  You can't fire yourself. haha.  But be aware that going over budget and schedule when you're hired by a producer, may be something to consider when making demands.


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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 10:56 AM

I think it's great when a director has a good idea what they want-- and then is also open to new ideas and can adapt to the realities of production-- which isn't just DoP, it's also sound issues, actor issues, wardrobe issues, etc etc etc, so that specific shot, if you have all the time in the world, may work on paper, then you get to location and realize with that crazy low-angle wide shot that you can't position the boom well enough to get usable audio, or the actor has trouble hitting the specific mark to make your beautiful moving shot turn into a forced perspective, or, maybe, you get there, and when you look at how the lens represents the location (wide angle for example) that you hate it, and since you can't fly walls, you wind up on a tighter lens..

 

I think any professional with whom you work, you'll find should be adaptable, pragmatic, and helpful in taking what you've thought up and executing 90% of it and adding 10% to make it better (numbers may vary lol)


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#5 Brook K

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 01:59 PM

I think it's great when a director has a good idea what they want-- and then is also open to new ideas and can adapt to the realities of production-- which isn't just DoP, it's also sound issues, actor issues, wardrobe issues, etc etc etc, so that specific shot, if you have all the time in the world, may work on paper, then you get to location and realize with that crazy low-angle wide shot that you can't position the boom well enough to get usable audio, or the actor has trouble hitting the specific mark to make your beautiful moving shot turn into a forced perspective, or, maybe, you get there, and when you look at how the lens represents the location (wide angle for example) that you hate it, and since you can't fly walls, you wind up on a tighter lens..

 

I think any professional with whom you work, you'll find should be adaptable, pragmatic, and helpful in taking what you've thought up and executing 90% of it and adding 10% to make it better (numbers may vary lol)

 

Sounds like one thing I needed a reality check on was that LIFE gets in the way of a film coming out exactly like one wants it, unless all the "stars are aligned right".  I knew that already in the back of my mind but needed to be reminded of it.

 

It ALSO sounds like storyboards are a HUGE help, and almost are a must. There's no other way i can think of that the director can accurately communicate exactly what they want a scene to look like without those drawings. Also sounds like *pre-scouting* all locations is a must as well, because then  you can see what shots will and won't work and can choose ones that still look great and fit your vision, while working within whatever confines exist in the workable space.

 

thanks so much for that info sir!


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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 02:10 PM

I don't know if you need boards-- most of the directors i work with (outside of commercials) tend to have shot lists, which are a little bit looser. For anything with FXs, boards though are a must, so you can figure out the FX. A lot of people also get into previz these days, especially when dealing with camera movement.

 

Generally you'd go look at locations, take photos of all of them, pick the ones you want/like, book them up, then if you've done it already, re-storyboard re-shotlist or do it in the first place (often with the DoP and Prod Designer and any FX people there with you) and then eventually do a tech scout with other HoDs-- this is a much bigger thing, DPs, Gaffer, KeyGrip etc etc.


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#7 Brook K

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 02:13 PM

I don't know if you need boards-- most of the directors i work with (outside of commercials) tend to have shot lists, which are a little bit looser. For anything with FXs, boards though are a must, so you can figure out the FX. A lot of people also get into previz these days, especially when dealing with camera movement.

 

Generally you'd go look at locations, take photos of all of them, pick the ones you want/like, book them up, then if you've done it already, re-storyboard re-shotlist or do it in the first place (often with the DoP and Prod Designer and any FX people there with you) and then eventually do a tech scout with other HoDs-- this is a much bigger thing, DPs, Gaffer, KeyGrip etc etc.

 

 

ARRGHH! I'm already extremely daunted!  I knew making films is a huge undertaking and a huge amount of work, but seeing the steps laid out makes its scope seem even MORE daunting! LOL Guess I'd better get used to it huh, if I'm going to be a director. :) AND producer also, now that I think about it. :)


Edited by Brook K, 10 April 2017 - 02:13 PM.

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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 02:15 PM

the more time you  spend getting things done right in prepro the better production will go.


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#9 Brook K

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 02:19 PM

the more time you  spend getting things done right in prepro the better production will go.

 

 

Indeed! Awesome. ;)  Thanks Adrian.


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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 03:04 PM

It's good to know what you want, but you also have to be flexible to deal with the realities on a set. And there are budgetary issues, time issues, that allow some directors to exercise their vision more precisely without compromise than others. Another good skill though is to be able to think quickly to judge ideas that other people present to you, whether from an actor when blocking the scene or the cinematographer when setting up the shot. But there's nothing wrong with knowing what you want; as a cinematographer this is usually a plus if the director is precise, as long as they actually understand what they are talking about (it can be annoying if they ask that a scene be shot on a 25mm lens, not because they understand what a 25mm does, what it sees, how it affects perspective, but simply because they read somewhere that a 25mm is a good lens to use.)
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#11 Justin Hayward

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 03:16 PM

And just because you know what you want, doesn't mean what you want is automatically good.  Something I've learned the hard way! 


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#12 Brook K

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 03:28 PM

And just because you know what you want, doesn't mean what you want is automatically good.  Something I've learned the hard way! 

 

Great advice to keep in mind! Thanks Justin!


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#13 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 11:38 PM

A director's biggest skill is to know what to cut/drop. It always comes down to that and that's where experience kicks in. I'm saying this because I love directors who know what they want. Makes my much job much easier and faster, as we don't have to fish for stuff or find a compromise, but can work from a known base. But, if that manifests itself - which it often does with new directors - in an inability to compromise and know what is not needed, then it can be a disaster. This is a very common thing:

 

AD: "We have 20 setups to do, and we've got 5hrs left of the day. What can we prioritize?"

Director: "I need all the shots to make it work. I can't drop anything".

AD: "Ok, but that's impossible to do in 5hrs. That's a setup every 15 minutes, not going to happen. Something's gotta give".

Director: "Do whatever you need to do, push harder, but we need every shot as boarded".

 

This happens all the time. And it never ends well.


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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 12:23 AM

An experienced director knows what shots they absolutely need and which they'd like to get time permitting, and if necessary, how to scrap everything and improvise well.

 

I find it useful to shotlist and/or storyboard because it's a first pass at pre-visualizing the scene and breaking it down into its components, and like any first pass at writing, it moves on to being rewritten. But it's useful in the comfort of an office during pre-production or in one's hotel room or personal office at home to daydream about ways to shoot a sequence without that gun to your head with the clock ticking on the set.  You can imagine many ways to approach a scene and toss many of them out.

 

The part of my brain that works in pre-production imagining the scene is a different part that works on the set trying to get things done -- it's not a matter of one approach being better than another, they both can allow moments of inspiration. The key is to be open to something new on the set but be able to judge it accurately rather than chase a cool idea blindly on the spur of the moment.

 

It really helps to know editing...


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#15 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 07:46 AM

I've said a lot that people (of all levels of experience) should cut the stuff they shoot, even just as an exercise. It is very informative.
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#16 Justin Hayward

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 08:58 AM

It seems strange this day and age that there are working directors without first hand editing experience.  I mean, we're not splicing and taping anymore.


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#17 AJ Young

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Posted 12 April 2017 - 01:40 PM

I'd hate to beat a dead horse, but I here are my thoughts:

 

It's great that you know what you want as a director. However, a cinematographer is like an actor in regards to collaboration. The director isn't doing the acting for his actors, he/she collaborates with them on how to perform the scene. The same approach should be applied to all departments. The director knows what they want in the cinematography, but collaborates with the DP on how to achieve it. There's nothing wrong with precision as long as the director isn't micromanaging. Can you imagine how counterintuitive or inefficient it is for a director to tell an actor how to say each and every word exactly? Imagine the same scenario with the DP, PD, etc. Like in theatre, at some point the director has to let go and allow their team to execute his/her vision.

 

I recommend keeping a clear context during prep to set and manage expectations. The director should come to the prep meetings with the DP heavily prepared, but open to discuss better ways to shoot the film. Focus on getting the DP to think like you. Production is less about exploration and more about execution. If the DP is thinking like you, then he/she'll execute the way you would want it. I guess a cheesy quote can be "Give a DP a fish, feed them for a day. Teach a DP how to fish..."


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#18 Brook K

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Posted 12 April 2017 - 10:57 PM

Thanks so much everyone for all of this advice and these tips. As with all the responses to my other topics I've started, the info is overwhelming, but in a good way! I need all of this advice because it's from people doing what *I* want to do, and know what and how to do it. So again I thank all of you and am working on drinking all of this in.


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