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Director of Photography - Rights


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#1 Carlos Herrera

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Posted 12 March 2018 - 01:47 PM

Good afternoon,

 

Quite frequently I've come across stories of DP's having their work altered by studios and/or producers. Most commonly I've heard about LUT's being a cause for complaint, yet I've also heard such extreme examples of Producers changing a 2:39 film into a 16:9 film so It could be a series of close ups.

 

This left me with 2 questions:

 

1. Do DP's have any rights or legal basis to protect their vision for their work?

 

2. If a DP or Cam Op records footage, how does it become the Studios intellectual property? What is the legal basis?


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#2 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 12 March 2018 - 02:08 PM

1. Not usually. The DP is a work-for-hire person, and most always that results in the work to DP is doing becoming the property of the hiring party.

 

2. Work-for-hire is the legal basis. If someone pays you to produce work for them, they are entitled to contractually own the product they paid for.

 

 

From the US Copyright Office:

https://www.copyrigh...ircs/circ09.pdf

 

Section 101 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the
U.S.
Code
) defines a “work made
for hire” in two parts:
a
a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment
or
b
a work specially ordered or commissioned for use
1
as a contribution to a collective work,
2
as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work,
3
as a translation,
4
as a supplementary work,
5
as a compilation,
6
as an instructional text,
7
as a test,
8
as answer material for a test, or
9
as an atlas,
if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the
work shall be considered a work made for hire.

 

Notice the 3 above underlined passages that would apply to a typical DP contract.

 

From the US Copyright Office:

https://www.copyrigh...ircs/circ09.pdf

 

Owner of the Copyright in a Work Made for Hire
If a work is made for hire, the employer or other person
for whom the work was prepared is the initial owner of the
copyright unless both parties involved have signed a written
agreement to the contrary.

 

 

As for LUTS and other such things: that is a common post-production change. The DP might be in the grading room, or he might not (depends on if the budget is there or not). In any case, the final decision of color grading is almost always up to the director, not the DP, in terms of final say.

 

In any case, I can't say I have heard too much complaining about people running wild with a DP's work. Is it a common thing?


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 12 March 2018 - 02:22 PM.

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#3 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 12 March 2018 - 06:21 PM



In any case, I can't say I have heard too much complaining about people running wild with a DP's work. Is it a common thing?

 

I don't know if it happens often, but it has happened.

 

Paul Schrader Cinematographer Asks: Who Killed The Color? (Guest Column)

by Gabriel Kosuth

 

I’m writing because I’ve just seen a movie, “The Dying of the Light,” with pictures I don’t recognize, although the credits say I’m the director of photography. The film we shot had images with strong, violent colors and was dark. This one is not. A minor thing for some, of crucial importance for others. I’m writing therefore in the name of those for whom the sudden disappearance of even a single tiny element from a picture is the end of the world, because they (perhaps stupidly) think that the image in which they invested blood and tears has been destroyed.

 

In my case, I was denied the possibility to accomplish in post-production what is any cinematographer’s duty: “assuring that what audiences will see on cinema and television screens faithfully reflects the “look” intended by the director” (according to the American Cinematographer Manual). I have to say that this is the only version of “The Dying of the Light” I’ve seen and to which I can relate Paul Schrader's intentions as they were expressed during pre-production and shooting. Regarding the issue of a possible “director’s cut,” and the non-disparagement agreement that (according to the press) prevents Paul from talking about it, I can only express my stupefaction at such a Kafkaesque situation. Seen from my country, Romania, it is hard to understand how a contract may contain language in conflict with the sacred First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

 

Paul Schrader wanted color to play an unusual, extremely important role in the visual style of his movie. An Expressionistic approach where color doesn’t just represent moods and feelings, but meanings and symbols. This is why he insisted that color should be embedded in the very fiber of the image — using filters on lenses and colored lights — so that we were not merely catching colors on film, but truly sculpting the picture with color.

 

The moment you try to “re-paint” or modify such a thing, it is supposed to crash to pieces. And this is what has happened to “The Dying of the Light” — an unpleasant and tragic demonstration of the limits to the so-called wonders of digital post-production. By surgically eliminating the expressionistic color from the image — the pasty yellow-green of the African scenes, the dense sepia-chocolate of the American ones, and the bluish-green from the European ones — an unknown author has offered the public not only a crippled caricature of everything, but a collection of images deprived of soul, emotion and significance.

 

The result is that an unconscious feel of inartistic simplicity and amateurism pervades things you would not normally connect with color. As pretentious as it may sound, the reality is that color affects not only the perception of the artist’s world on screen, but the perception of an actor’s performance too: eyes, skin, make-up, hair, come to us in an “intended” emotional color. (For those who don’t believe, try watching “Apocalypse Now” in black-and-white.) The unbalancing of a well thought “color formula” has the effect of mutilating not only atmosphere, composition, and centers of interest in the frame, but also detailed production design, costume and make-up concepts all based on that original formula.

 

I’m writing this letter because I’m trying to understand why would someone deliberately ruin such a visual expression. Just because it’s possible? By pushing some magical buttons at a console, or because of some kind of aesthetic Daltonism? Why would someone damage something achieved with unknown effort and sleepless nights? Just because there are people today who cannot take a human activity called artistic creation seriously?

 

In the absence of a logical answer I can only make suppositions. I imagine there was someone at the production or distribution company who was suddenly struck by the thought that too much color is equivalent to too much art. “Art” being something traditionally understood by only a few, this person thought you cannot sell such a thing to too many people (ticket buyers). So he or she proposed to get rid of the art by getting rid of the color. Making things look “normal” seemed, for this person, a normal way of thinking. The unanticipated effect of killing the color — a Hiroshima-like image landscape — was determined by the fact that the color was not in the objects, but in the light. With the color died the light itself.

 

I am always reminded in this kind of situations — regrettably frequent nowadays — that you have the right to re-paint a precious painting bought with your money. Why not repaint a Picasso if you own it? After all, it’s yours. I agree, but this sort of thing will make the artist (wherever he is) very sad. And he may well ask: Why ?


Edited by Ravi Kiran, 12 March 2018 - 06:24 PM.

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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 March 2018 - 07:09 PM

As a DoP you have no "rights" as it were. You were paid to facilitate something to production-- and you did, what they do then after to the property they bought it up to them. It would be like a cabinet maker having the "right" to make sure you never re-finish or paint over their work-- or take the doors off because you didn't like opening them, or gutting them wholly and leaving just a shell. Sure it might not look great, or the way it was supposed to; but you'd have no "right" to them.

Generally speaking, these things are often figured out way before-hand, but minds can change as can the realities of getting the film sold later on, or competing in one way or the other. It's disheartening, sure, to see your work altered, but to be honest, I think many DoPs need to take a step back and realize they are there to facilitate the vision of the film through their skill, talent, and contribution, not to be the final say on how it will look.


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#5 Mark Dunn

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 02:52 AM

In the UK and Europe we have the concept of moral rights as part of copyright which entitle an artist not to have his work disparaged or altered. It's absent from US copyright law.

Of course it would depend on what the contract says. It would be an unwise producer who didn't try to limit what the DP was entitled to do. But that approach appears to have destroyed the film referred to.


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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 03:02 AM

I'm not sure that applies to the UK, the concept is stronger in some other counties in Europe.


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#7 Mark Dunn

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 03:12 AM

I'm not sure that applies to the UK, the concept is stronger in some other counties in Europe.

It is in the CDPA, not quite as strong as it has to be asserted and can be waived.


Edited by Mark Dunn, 13 March 2018 - 03:13 AM.

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#8 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 03:22 AM

Maybe there will be a move away from shooting LOG ..and burning in your own LUT,s..!!  I guess a famous DoP could have that written into their contract before a shoot.. to demand integrity of a look they intended in post would be alot harder .. anyone not famous they will just call someone else..  I think you have to be right at the top on the pole to really have a big say in post.. IF .. the producers or director decide to change it.. also why people tend to work with the same directors I guess.. they can trust them .. rather than being a Camera operator for hire..  but with digital yes I guess its becoming alot  easier for post to completely change the look these days ..  broadcast and corp level is the same.. you see footage that is basically log footage just edited and thrown up there.. either as the new " style " or they didn't actually know what to do with it..!!


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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 04:24 AM

I know one doc cameraman who never shoots log only rec709, because most of the local producers don't know what to do with it.


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#10 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 05:23 AM

I know one doc cameraman who never shoots log only rec709, because most of the local producers don't know what to do with it.

 

 

Yes its getting better.. but it was actually more of problem with doc,corp than features.. as they tried to grade Log with edit only software.. and log didnt respond like REC709 did.. and the poor editors where stuck with grading.. and just didn't know really how to do it.. and producers just said get it done.. Resolve has pretty much saved the day..

 

But when they tell me to shoot log.. well I have to shoot log ..


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#11 Kyryll Sobolev

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 01:50 PM

there was a similar discussion on the canadian society of cinematographers facebook page, and jeremy benning noted that you, as a DP, can ask in your contract for a "right of first refusal" clause

 

so if there is tinkering at a later point, you get consulted first


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#12 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 04:31 PM

You can always reserve the right to forfeit credit as the DP.    Before you take an IMDB listing or onscreen credit on anything try to view a cut of the final film with the director.  If it's a trainwreck due to poor color correction or just a bad film, use a pseudonym on it.  


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#13 Carlos Herrera

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 08:26 PM

 

Thank you for your referenced feedback! I will read more on the government websites you posted in regards copyright law.


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#14 Carlos Herrera

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 08:31 PM

 

 

I totally understand with your illustration of the cabinet maker, and as I result I must say I agree with your sound reasoning.

 

Thanks for your feedback! You're the coolest!


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#15 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 08:59 PM

Historically I dont think film camera people have ever had rights to their images, un like stills.. sometimes a percentage of the box office.. if the producers cant pay the full wage the DoP they specifically want... which has worked out very well for some DP,s in the past when low budget films have made alot of money.. 


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#16 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 09:30 PM

I had a similar situation happen recently on a movie I shot a year ago. Due to a chaotic post-production, the first couple of passes at color timing were completed without anyone telling me they were happening. The post production supervisor didn't even know who I was, or that my contract stipulated that I have the right to attend the sessions. When I finally got to see what the movie looked like, I was not happy, but by that point it was far too late to make any significant changes.

 

 

Maybe there will be a move away from shooting LOG ..and burning in your own LUT,s.

Honestly, I've thought about doing this so many times. Not sure if I'd keep getting hired though... 


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#17 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 10:05 PM

 

Maybe there will be a move away from shooting LOG ..and burning in your own LUT,s..!! 

 

Honestly, I've thought about doing this so many times. Not sure if I'd keep getting hired though... 

 

I've pondered it myself, many times. And to be honest, I'm starting to doubt that anyone would actually even notice.

From the (far too few) grading sessions for my work that I've been invited to. As far as I can tell, the Director comes in, the colourist tweaks the wheels a bit until they seem reasonably happy with the colours and balance, and then they move on.

The level of specificity is always so far below what we (as cinematographers) are thinking, that I suspect delivering only LUTted footage would actually help all involved. The image would already be 90% of the way there, so that would minimise the amount of tweaking being done to it. And the reduced latitude to tweak the image, would help keep things contained to something approximating what we shot.

It's scary because obviously we're giving up some level of control over the ultimate image quality, but more and more I'm starting to think that it's well worth the compromise, for the sake of improving the odds of the images we actually shot (and intended), making it to the screen.

I was having this discussion last night at a screening organised by the ACS. And I'm constantly shocked by just how many projects I work on, that capture additional photography with other cinematographers who NEVER call me to talk through the look and specifics-of-approach that we've already taken during principal photography. And the same thing goes for colourists - they NEVER call. 

It strikes me as mind-bogglingly deficient professionalism. And invariably when I see the underwhelming an inappropriate results (either of the footage, or the grade) it basically guarantees that I'll never recommend that person to another production in the future.

 

I keep telling this to every single colourist that I run into, in the hopes that it might help to affect change - I tell them "call me", call any and every cinematographer whose images you grade. Even if it's just a five minute conversation about the basics of the look that you're trying to achieve. It helps get the images closer to where they should be, and it allows us to point out specific sequences that were shot in certain ways (perhaps overexposed or underexposed) specifically to make the grade better. And far more importantly than any nonsense image-related stuff - it guarantees that we as cinematographers will be FAR more likely to send work their way in future.

The same thing goes for operators or 2nd unit people. If they're not coming to me before they start shooting, and asking about the approach to take - I instantly have doubts about them (and rightly so).
 


Edited by Mark Kenfield, 13 March 2018 - 10:08 PM.

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#18 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 13 March 2018 - 11:31 PM

Maybe different at feature film level.. but in corp world.. its not that unusual now for the DoP to send his/her preferred LUT,s.. be that a camera manufactures or a custom made 3D LUT.. or a brought in one.. I have some made by a guy in Belgium for Slog3.cine to an Arri "type" look..  often they are thankful for it.. but of course its still up to them if they want to use them or not.. I dont think there would ever be the day that I could insist on them using my LUTs.. but you just put them on the HDD.. and send it off.. no extra cost :)


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#19 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 10:27 AM

its not that unusual now for the DoP to send his/her preferred LUT,s..

 

but of course its still up to them if they want to use them or not..

I work with one director, who while he doesn't often invite me to color timing, always insists that they use my LUTs, so the movie looks 90% like I wanted it to. There's a lot of colorists though, who turn their noses up at using LUTs, and prefer to grade using other tools. There's nothing wrong with that except that they are now reinterpreting the images to how they think you wanted them, and there are bound to be differences. Add in directors who always want to try something 'new', and producers who just want it 'brighter', and the stage is set for your images to look vastly different to your intentions


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#20 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 07:41 PM

Maybe it could be a halfway house fix.. that DoP,s could have a certain LUT applied (maybe built during prep) ,to set the ground rules..still leaving room for some grading .. in their contracts ! ..  The LUT clause ..  knew I should have been lawyer as my mother wanted..


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