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my DP is riding me/lights are taking forever


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#1 firsttimedirector

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 06:11 PM

I'm a first time director in production on a $50K 35mm short. Everyone but me including my dp is very experienced. I'm only two days away and things are a lot better than the day 1 nightmare I don't even want to think about but I know things could and should run a lot smoother. I know this board is for DPs but if you can relate, please, help.

I understand composition inside out, I also wrote the script which helps a lot. Unfortunately I'm also in the film and the scenes that I'm in my DP tries to direct and treats me like one of the PAs. My AD is overqualified and on his side, my producer is incompetent. The Gaffer is knowledgable but his people are green. Everyone else is very nice to me and are working very hard.

The good news is that I like what I'm getting, the endless rehearsals with the cast show, I'm happy w/ the performances, and I know it will look good 'cause I've seen my DPs reel and know he is a perfectionist, and I like what I see in the monitor when I'm not in the scene. The problem is that his priority is pretty pictures, and my focus is on telling the story visually. He told me once that he is taking a certain shot for his reel that I didn't need which pissed me off since I'm paying for the film and stock is expensive. I do understand how any dp would want a shot of a brand new ferrari peeling out, but my stunt man almost killed the engine. I don't care that my DP has a h u g e ego, I knew that before I hired him but didn't think it would be a problem. It does bother me that he wouldn't even consider talking to my scripty or production designer when they aproach him and just barks at them to shut up and leave him alone. He is working very hard though I give him that, and I think since he's got all his crew he is bossing around and I only have my cast he feels like the man. It does bother me that he snaps at me or just walks away from me in front of everybody - that makes me look bad and I find unacceptable.

What's really killing me is lack of knowledge of how the set works. It's the little things. Like my AD not letting me call: "Action" saying it's unheard of director saying it the AD usually says it, but I've seen countless directors say "action" on behind the scenes. May be 'cause they're names and can do whatever they want. When I firmly asked her if she doesn't check to see if I'm ready every time I won't let her say 'action' anymore she said: "ok mommy" and walked away and still checks to see if I'm ready only once every three times. I know I can cut but don't want to cut all the time when I'm not ready 'cause we have to make the day. So far we made our days but barely. It also bothered me that my DP said to me on day 1 that he would rather AC on somebody else set and get twice as much ($300) than DP for me. He usually ACs btw. The lights are taking f o r e v e r and I don't know anything about lights beyond the basics so can't help much but once we go over 12 hours everybody hates me and gets it out on me. My cast nails it in two takes on average btw. The reason things are the way the are because I'm still learning on how the set works and when I try to be a leader and call wrap when I know I got all the shots I need I forget that we haven't taken the room tone yet and i look stupid. The funny thing is that I have one of those over the top personallitys and usually command respect anywhere but the film set. Any words of advise would be greatly appreciated. Also my AD asked to be paid $450 for her last day or she walks which is much highter than what I'm paying her now and was wondering if it would be too risky to replace my AD just for the last day.

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#2 oscar perez

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 06:22 PM

TELL THEM ALL THEY ARE NOT CURING CANCER OR MAKING ATOMIC BOMBS!!!!!
Congrats on the short.....

I'm a first time director in production on a $50K 35mm short. Everyone but me including my dp is very experienced. I'm only two days away and things are a lot better than the day 1 nightmare I don't even want to think about but I know things could and should run a lot smoother. I know this board is for DPs but if you can relate, please, help.

I understand composition inside out, I also wrote the script which helps a lot. Unfortunately I'm also in the film and the scenes that I'm in my DP tries to direct and treats me like one of the PAs. My AD is overqualified and on his side, my producer is incompetent. The Gaffer is knowledgable but his people are green. Everyone else is very nice to me and are working very hard.

The good news is that I like what I'm getting, the endless rehearsals with the cast show, I'm happy w/ the performances, and I know it will look good 'cause I've seen my DPs reel and know he is a perfectionist, and I like what I see in the monitor when I'm not in the scene. The problem is that his priority is pretty pictures, and my focus is on telling the story visually. He told me once that he is taking a certain shot for his reel that I didn't need which pissed me off since I'm paying for the film and stock is expensive. I do understand how any dp would want a shot of a brand new ferrari peeling out, but my stunt man almost killed the engine. I don't care that my DP has a h u g e ego, I knew that before I hired him but didn't think it would be a problem. It does bother me that he wouldn't even consider talking to my scripty or production designer when they aproach him and just barks at them to shut up and leave him alone. He is working very hard though I give him that, and I think since he's got all his crew he is bossing around and I only have my cast he feels like the man. It does bother me that he snaps at me or just walks away from me in front of everybody - that makes me look bad and I find unacceptable.

What's really killing me is lack of knowledge of how the set works. It's the little things. Like my AD not letting me call: "Action" saying it's unheard of director saying it the AD usually says it, but I've seen countless directors say "action" on behind the scenes. May be 'cause they're names and can do whatever they want. When I firmly asked her if she doesn't check to see if I'm ready every time I won't let her say 'action' anymore she said: "ok mommy" and walked away and still checks to see if I'm ready only once every three times. I know I can cut but don't want to cut all the time when I'm not ready 'cause we have to make the day. So far we made our days but barely. It also bothered me that my DP said to me on day 1 that he would rather AC on somebody else set and get twice as much ($300) than DP for me. He usually ACs btw. The lights are taking f o r e v e r and I don't know anything about lights beyond the basics so can't help much but once we go over 12 hours everybody hates me and gets it out on me. My cast nails it in two takes on average btw. The reason things are the way the are because I'm still learning on how the set works and when I try to be a leader and call wrap when I know I got all the shots I need  I forget that we haven't taken the room tone yet and i look stupid. The funny thing is that I have one of those over the top personallitys and usually command respect anywhere but the film set. Any words of advise would be greatly appreciated. Also my AD asked to be paid $450 for her last day or she walks which is much highter than what I'm paying her now and was wondering if it would be too risky to replace my AD just for the last day.

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#3 Tim J Durham

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 08:39 PM

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Too bad you didn't ask before you hired people. If you had watched the show "Project Greenlight" at all, you would know how difficult a film set can be when the fist-time director surrenders all the hiring to someone else and ends up with zero allies behind the camera.

You live and learn.

First-time director (well, first studio pic) Stanley Kubrick had a famous confrontation with DP Raoul Coutard and made it very clear to Raoul who wore the pants. There's always next time.
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#4 Johnny Derango

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 10:21 PM

Don't be afraid to take control, you are the boss. No DP, should be disrespecting a director on set, if there is a problem he should pull you aside and talk to you like an adult. As for the AD if she agreed to work for a certain rate, and now she wants more, fire her on the spot, they are a dime a dozen. Anyway check out my website (www.johnnyderango.com) and when you are ready to do your next project and you need a director friendly DP give me a call.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 11:25 PM

Live and learn -- you probably hired the wrong people. Being able to shoot pretty pictures is not the only job skill a DP has to have.

On the other hand, the DP may feel they are protecting your vision even when you're ready to chuck it because you're feeling rushed, etc. But they have to be aware of the time just like everyone else.

It's clear that your DP doesn't have a lot of DP experience, not in the deepest sense that goes beyond mere photographic concerns. On the other hand, if they are delivering a professional-looking product for little money, poor pay, etc. then ultimately you may be the one who benefits too.

Personally, I would never take the time to shoot unrelated material for my reel on a production.

Truth is that MOST DP's work with less experienced directors -- it's sort of the nature of the industry -- so the problem isn't your lack of experience but your DP's attitude towards you. On the other hand, perhaps you haven't done enough to generate respect from everyone in terms of being organized, clear as to what you want, being decisive, and acting professionally all-around. Crews can sense weakness. I'm only making guesses here; your DP may have a different story! Hence why I keep saying "on the other hand" -- there are always two sides to an argument.

As for the AD, they can't suddenly blackmail you into paying them if they had agreed to something else initially, so I'd start looking for a replacement.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 11:29 PM

As for "lights taking forever", has a first-time director EVER thought the lighting was going faster than they thought it would? I mean, do you have any frame of reference to know what a reasonable amount of time would be to light a particular situation or location?
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#7 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 11:31 PM

directing entails just as much management as creative work. either your DP is a big jerk, or he's treating you that way because he thinks YOU'RE a big jerk. you were kinda heading into a gauntlet if you've never directed or lack any kind of production reel to show them-- i don't mean this in a "there's no way you could possibly know what you're doing" way, but rather a "your dp probably assumes that your inexperience demands that there's no way you could possibly know what you're doing" way. again, this doesn't necessarily reflect badly on you, it's just that the phrase "first time director" often generates a groan followed by a palm applied to the forehead for anyone who's ever worked with one.

and on the lighting... except for a few genius cinematographers, good lighting takes time. and bad-to-mediocre lighting doesn't. just try to keep that in mind when you're waiting. lighting always takes a lot longer than people expect it... whenever someone's at a shoot that is unfamiliar with production, 99% of the time i actually hear these words come out of their mouth. if your production has a lean crew, then that's awesome that you're making your days. to be honest, i wouldn't expect such milestones from a production with a first time director.

and i'm not saying this venomously (actually, it's with severe envy), but... it's a little odd to jump from no directing experience, to $50k 35mm production. i would've highly recommended you first make a short on dv or shoot & edit some rehearsals or something. or definitely pitch in and observe at a film shoot. more or less, you're just having the obligatory growing pains. at least you'll have a 35mmm short when it's all over. watch "living in oblivion" for an empathetic experience.

also, mentioning the $50k, ferrari, and stuntman will result in about twenty or so solicitations from DPs from this site. maybe you can find someone more cooperative for your next film.

best of luck and let us know when it's done,
jaan
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#8 Tim Tyler

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Posted 19 August 2005 - 11:41 PM

I DP'd a very low budget feature in the late 80's and we had a similar situation. The writer/director was the star, I was the most experienced crew person (and I wasn't THAT experienced) and I don't think anybody got paid much if anything.

It was frustrating to have a director who was film-tech-challenged, and who was an inefficient filmmaker. It really slowed things down and since I was working for peanuts, it was not rewarding. My objective was to create images I could be proud of and to gain more experience lighting and managing a crew.

Although it sounds like your DP might have some issues, I recommend that you cut him some slack and recognize his talents if he has any. Take him out to dinner alone and discuss how you can work together on set so you're both happy. If he's not willing to compromise then find another DP.

If your AD wants to call 'action', let her, especially if you're acting in the shot. What's the big deal? Often times the director will signal the 1st AD and then the 1st AD will communicate 'action' to whomever needs to hear it.

How long is your shoot?
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#9 firsttimedirector

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Posted 20 August 2005 - 01:59 AM

It's a 6 day shoot - two days left. I didn't just jump into it I took a year to study film on my own, and produced/directed/starred in a few instructional dvds that've done ok. I expected an hour hour and a half but not three and I half hours which is how long it took them to set up lights last time. So I called up my gaffer and asked if there is anything I can do to make his life easier. Turns out he had to teach most of his crew on the set (that my producer hired). So I offered to hire one of his own people at $200/day he confirmed one in five minutes so will see if it'll make a difference tomorrow. I'm super prepared and I come in with my shot list - my dp doesn't want to look at it, then last minute says what about this and loses me in two seconds and then everyone is pressured to just shoot just to make the day and i have no choice to let him do it his way. I'm planning to take control tomorrow. I know exactly what I want and since he didn't even look at my shot list last time I will lead to shoot my way.




I DP'd a very low budget feature in the late 80's and we had a similar situation. The writer/director was the star, I was the most experienced crew person (and I wasn't THAT experienced) and I don't think anybody got paid much if anything.

It was frustrating to have a director who was film-tech-challenged, and who was an inefficient filmmaker. It really slowed things down and since I was working for peanuts, it was not rewarding. My objective was to create images I could be proud of and to gain more experience lighting and managing a crew.

Although it sounds like your DP might have some issues, I recommend that you cut him some slack and recognize his talents if he has any. Take him out to dinner alone and discuss how you can work together on set so you're both happy. If he's not willing to compromise then find another DP.

If your AD wants to call 'action', let her, especially if you're acting in the shot. What's the big deal? Often times the director will signal the 1st AD and then the 1st AD will communicate 'action' to whomever needs to hear it.

How long is your shoot?

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#10 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 20 August 2005 - 03:58 AM

Welcome to the forum Johnny!

Don't be afraid to take control, you are the boss.  No DP, should be disrespecting a director on set, if there is a problem he should pull you aside and talk to you like an adult.  As for the AD if she agreed to work for a certain rate, and now she wants more, fire her on the spot, they are a dime a dozen.  Anyway check out my website (www.johnnyderango.com) and when you are ready to do your next project and you need a director friendly DP give me a call.

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#11 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 20 August 2005 - 04:42 AM

To me it sounds like you did your homework.

Plus, you were smart to spend the few extra dollars the get one of the gaffer's regular guys. I think it could help.

Taking 3 hours on a lighting setup is a long time, or it?s a short time depending on the location, etc.

For example, I always tell the AD and the director ahead of time (during prep) that I will take a fairly long time lighting the master shot, but then he can shoot all his coverage with very minimal tweaking. I spend the time to light the world (essentially), thus I don't break the flow from setup to setup.

I always try to establish how I work early on, and hear how the director likes to work. I do my best to accommodate him, and hopefully he does his best for me. At the end of the day, it will be the director who wins out, but like anything collaborative tension happens. But, I find when I try my best to get on the same page things just go smother.

I am sure we (cinematographers) have all been guilty of "bullying" a director, intentional or not (he may have left feeling bullied without us even knowing it) at some point in our lives.

I can?t say much on your situation, as I have not been there any of the days, and know noting about what shots you have been trying to get, but to me a DP who won't look at a shot list clearly has his priorities in the wrong place.

As for ADs, you won't find much sympathy for them on this forum, as the DP and AD never totally get along (their agendas are essentially polar opposites - we like time, they never have any to give) ;) .

Like I said, it sounds to me like you are handling things in a smart way, so hopefully it will all go better.

Kevin Zanit
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#12 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 20 August 2005 - 09:35 AM

First-time director (well, first studio pic) Stanley Kubrick had a famous confrontation with DP Raoul Coutard and made it very clear to Raoul who wore the pants. There's always next time.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


It was Lucien Ballard was the DP Kubrick set straight, not the famous French DP Raoul Coutard, known for his work with Godard.

For the film "Killer's Kiss" the union had forced Kubrick to hire a cameraman, and he hired the well-known and well-respected Lucien Ballard.

Stanley had set up a tracking shot with a 25mm lens and told him what he wanted. Then he later he came back and the tracks had been moved back, quite a ways from where he set them up, and he asked Lucien what he was doing. Lucien said he was "giving him exactly the same coverage you wanted, but with a 50mm lens which makes my job quicker and faster." But Kubrick said, "What about this change in perspective?" And Lucien's reply was that it doesn't matter that much. Which is wrong. Maybe perspective doesn't matter that much to someone who is just watching a movie for fun, but for Stanley, that slight alteration, that change, means everything.


Alex Singer recalls ?Stanley looked up at Lucien Ballard and said, ?Lucien, either you move that camera and put it where it has to be to use a 25mm or get off this set and never come back!? There?s a long silence and I?m waiting for Lucien to say the appropriate things in two or three languages to dismiss this young snot-nose, but no, he puts the camera where it has to be and there is never an argument about focal and length and lenses again. To me it was a defining moment. I don?t think Stanley did it casually and it cost him something, but it was done without hesitation. It was done calmly, unhysterically, and in deadly earnest. It marked the kind of control and icy nerve he brought to the job at the very beginning.?


But the point is well taken, a director needs to have a solid foundation as to what every job on the set entails and enough experience to know and understand how long things take and whether people are doing them correctly. Otherwise, you're just a canvas chair dilettante.
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#13 Tim J Durham

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Posted 20 August 2005 - 10:08 PM

It was Lucien Ballard was the DP Kubrick set straight, not the famous French DP Raoul Coutard, known for his work with Godard. 

For the film "Killer's Kiss" the union had forced Kubrick to hire a cameraman, and he hired the well-known and well-respected Lucien Ballard.

Stanley had set up a tracking shot with a 25mm lens and told him what he wanted. Then he later he came back and the tracks had been moved back, quite a ways from where he set them up, and he asked Lucien what he was doing. Lucien said he was "giving him exactly the same coverage you wanted, but with a 50mm lens which makes my job quicker and faster." But Kubrick said, "What about this change in perspective?" And Lucien's reply was that it doesn't matter that much. Which is wrong. Maybe perspective doesn't matter that much to someone who is just watching a movie for fun, but for Stanley, that slight alteration, that change, means everything.
Alex Singer recalls  ?Stanley looked up at Lucien Ballard and said, ?Lucien, either you move that camera and put it where it has to be to use a 25mm or get off this set and never come back!?  There?s a long silence and I?m waiting for Lucien to say the appropriate things in two or three languages to dismiss this young snot-nose, but no, he puts the camera where it has to be and there is never an argument about focal and length and lenses again.  To me it was a defining moment.  I don?t think Stanley did it casually and it cost him something, but it was done without hesitation.  It was done calmly, unhysterically, and in deadly earnest.  It marked the kind of control and icy nerve he brought to the job at the very beginning.?
But the point is well taken, a director needs to have a solid foundation as to what every job on the set entails and enough experience to know and understand how long things take and whether people are doing them correctly. Otherwise, you're just a canvas chair dilettante.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yes,
I stand corrected on Ballard, but I thought the film was "The Killers"?
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#14 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 20 August 2005 - 11:10 PM

Yes,
I stand corrected on Ballard, but I thought the film was "The Killers"?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Yes, it was "The Killers" now I stand corrected :) Thanks
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#15 Matt Sandstrom

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 07:28 PM

on a shoot that's big enough to have a "real" first ad i let them yell action. they like to be in control plus everybody listens to them, so it's a pretty good idea. i'm the one who says cut though (after which the ad does the same, only louder and more convincing) ;-) and i give cues to the ad as to when to yell action if the scene shouldn't start right after rolling and slating. that seems to be how it usually works. i work as a director of photography and first ac too, so i've also seen quite a few productions where i haven't been in the chair...

speaking of which, how many working directors are also directors of photography? people are often surprised that i am. i didn't start as one and made a "career move" to the other, i've just done both from when i first started out. and i don't mean that i shoot my own stuff, which i usually don't even though it happens...

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#16 Tomas Koolhaas

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Posted 22 August 2005 - 02:58 PM

Hello,
As someone else stated, we are only hearing your side of the story here, and as you yourself admit you do not have much actual on-set experience, I have worked with many first time directors, some where a pleasure to work with as they displayed a very raw talent and openness to learn from more experienced professionals, and others were a nightmare to work with as they tried to cover-up their ignorance with passive-agressive behaviour and bravado. I have often wondered why some first time directors know SO LITTLE it seems as though they embark on one of the hardest things a person could do without even having mastered the basic principles behind it (which could be easily discovered by reading a single book about directing, but which they seem unwilling to do).
Having said that I have also witnessed many DP's who have the most bizzare work attitudes I have ever seen. I am almost tempted to ask the name of your DP because he sounds like so many DP's I have met in the past. Firstly he has no right to shoot demo. reel footage on your dollar, secondly if he thought you were paying him too little he should have turned down the job, thirdly he has no right to snap at you or disrespect you in front of the crew if you have been treating him with respect. I have many friends who are DP's and love them all, but I have also seen a very numerous amount of DP's who act so similarly to your DP that they might actually be him, and you should not put up with him!! And as for the 1st AD- SACK HER NOW!!! she sounds terrible and please don't think you can't find a good 1st AD because I could give you the phone number of at least two 1st AD's that will get your day done on time and also let you keep your balls and won't call you mommy.
In short it is time for you to take control back of your project, even if you need to break a few things to do it!.
Good luck.
Tomas.
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#17 firsttimedirector

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Posted 23 August 2005 - 01:39 AM

Thanks everyone for the words of wisdom. The nightmare is finally over and the most important thing is that I feel that I have what I need to save the film in post. As far as the knowledge goes yes I went to film school, and yes I know the 5 c's of cinematography, and shot by shot, and many others inside out, and I have studied many films frame by frame - nothing tops experience and I'm glad I now have some. I still do feel very strongly that my DP only knows a fraction of what I know when it comes to composition and I should have made him stick to the storyboards. But bottom line the director will always be the weakest on the set of this scale because he or she is the only one who really cares about the quality of the picture. Unless everyone is getting paid the real money. It's just every argument once he threatens to walk there is not much I could do because my priority has always been the quality of the film and not my ego. If I would have replaced him on day 3 with an unknown it could have ruined the film. I'm slowly building my rolodex and already picked a few amazing people from this crew for my next picture. BTW, I hate talking about someone to strangers, but what really pissed me off is after I found out from my producer that he held film in his car hostage until he got the check that he needed. Thank God my producer didn't tell me that on the set - everyone has a limit.
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 August 2005 - 09:26 AM

But bottom line the director will always be the weakest on the set of this scale because he or she is the only one who really cares about the quality of the picture.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


That's a really poor attitude to have towards your artistic collaborators...

I care the same about how a movie looks no matter what my salary is; if that weren't true, then the films I made the most money on would look the best, but sometimes the opposite has been true. I got one of my lowest rates for shooting "Northfork".

Just hire people who care about their work in the future.
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#19 Marc Alucard

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Posted 23 August 2005 - 10:15 PM

Yes, it was "The Killers" now I stand corrected :)  Thanks

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It was "The Killing"
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#20 Mark Allen

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Posted 24 August 2005 - 12:00 AM

Two things caught my attention in this thread:

David's comment that Director's being the least experienced on the set... Yes, that's one of those things which, as a director, you have to make sure you don't get intimidated by. The reason you're the director is because you know THIS story inside and out. You know everything about this story and the true professionals don't disregard you for your lack of set time - they use their experience to help ellicit from you what they need to do their job. What's going on right here in this scene and how can they contribute? I say this as someone who has over 100 feature credits and have been on both sides - director and collaborator - so not biased to one or the other.


Another comment to comment on: "on a shoot that's big enough to have a "real" first ad i let them yell action."

My first big shoot where I had a big crew, I let the AD do all the calls and I never spoke directly to the extras. That was the last time I ever did that. Things move a lot faster when I make the calls for action and cut and when I can talk to the extras about what I want. I thinkt he extras are performers. Now, the AD can run them during the scene for large crowds or something - but if something needs to be conveyed, better I do it. As for the calls - I like using the action call to set a mood or now and then. I also will very often toss out direction while the camera is rolling because you can get some very live variations. (I've never done this with video and I wonder if it would have the same effect - because even the actors can feel when the film is rolling.)


My 2 cents.
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