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A Moral Question

Published :  14th August 2003


If you are called to work for a day on a shoot that has been in progress, then upon arrival at location or later on in the day you discover that a scene to be filmed is objectionable to your morals, what do you do? This would be something that had you know ahead of time, perhaps would have turned down the work. I understand that going into every shoot it would be impossible to know ahead of time, for many reasons. I also understand this is a subjective question.

How do you avoid working on shoots that don’t agree with your morals?

Thanks
Richie Schut
New 2nd AC
Washington State, yeah we make films here…



Richie Schut wrote :

>If you are called to work for a day on a shoot that has been in progress, >then upon arrival at location or later on in the day you discover that a >scene to be filmed is objectionable to your morals, what do you do?

I think it would depend on your personal relationship with the director. If you know him well enough and he respects you for your decision, no problem. If you don’t know him and have been hired without a background to a relationship, it may be difficult to refuse to operate and then develop a working relationship with him in the future. You run the risk of not being hired by members of the production team again.

Its a tough decision and only one you can make based on what’s happening in front of you.

Kindest Regards

Laurie K. Gilbert s.o.c.
Motion Picture Director of Photography
Electronic Cinematographer
Global Web Site :  www.limage.tv/
Hollywood S.O.C.  www.soc.org/gallery.html
Europe:  www.ukscreen.com/crew/laurie.



You Make a Quiet but Bold stance and say That (for me as a DP) "I will not shoot that so either you can bring someone else in or we need to change it."

As a Second AC You can refuse to participate in that shot or make it clear that you feel it is inappropriate and the easy way is to say C-Ya and go because people that would work on things against your morals are likely going to either respect you more for having some or they are people that you don't want to work with anyway.

More importantly you may be the swaying moral straw that raises the bar in others to also object to such activity. There are things more important than a day Job or a month Job.

If more people were like you we would have better stories and images on our TV's and Big Screens.

Always do the right thing regardless of who it hurts especially yourself. You will benefit greatly in the Long Run.

B. Sean Fairburn
Director of Photography
Castaic Ca



>If you are called to work for a day on a shoot that has been in progress


Lower your morals.

Tom "Go on take the money and run." Jensen
Hell-A



B. Sean Fairburn wrote

>Always do the right thing regardless of who it hurts especially yourself. >You will benefit greatly in the Long Run....

Things are rarely this simple.

A real-world example that happened to me a few years ago:

My employer disintegrated. He was a smart, talented and energetic man who had been sober for 10 years. He fell off the wagon, and things got weird and ugly very quickly. He started taking jobs that went directly against some of my beliefs, and started acting like your standard drunken rage-filled maniac. Fun… fun…fun.

My wife had just had our first child, and was not working. Our kid was sick, and we very much needed the insurance provided through my employment.

We did not have substantial savings and I could not afford to take any kind of substantial time off. Working a job that contradicts my beliefs vs keeping my family safe and healthy.

What's "the right thing?"

For me, family wins. (but I did start looking for work immediately.)

And even in this case, the choice is muddy. Exactly how far are you willing to compromise your morals? The level that my boss was as at was not enough for me to quit immediately. But it could have gotten to that point.

Life is a balancing act. There are no absolutes.

Lucas Wilson

Moral Relativist Hollywood



I think this is a troubling issue that gets to the heart of freelance work. While I've never encountered a moral issue, I have encountered quite a few safety issues that I think pose the same dilemma. As an example, years ago I was working on an ultra-low-budget film as a 1st AC. We were shooting a scene on the dive platform of a power boat where one of the characters shoots another character. The initial shot took place from a second boat, it was wide and some distance away.

At the last minute, the director decided he wanted a shot of the gunman shooting at the lens, with the camera on the dive platform. But the platform was only about 2 feet wide and maybe six feet across. That means I, and the DP, would have been within a few inches of the muzzle of the gun (there was no other way for me to work the shot - the transom of the boat was too high for me to reach down to the camera - even with a whip) and since this wasn't a planned for shot, nobody had any safety gear (I don't count goggles and earplugs as appropriate safety gear at that range) (and yes it WAS NOT a well run set) and the gun handler only had full-charge rounds. I said I'd be happy to set the camera up as a lock-off, but since the actor was at minimum focus and it was at night, I doubted it would hold very well.

Well, the Director (who was, by the way, an established DP and should have known better) went ape. He told me to mark off the lens and he would stand there and pull focus. So I did and he chickened out. It was quite amazing the scene it caused. The key grip, gaffer and the 1st AD backed me while the producer freaked out and director literally said that I was trying to incite the crew to mutiny (we were on a boat.) The DP I was working for, sat back and basically stayed out of it. I explained to the producer the problem that, yes, stuff does come out of those guns, and I wasn't going to stand there with a T-Shirt between me and the muzzle.

Ultimately we did it as a lock off shot. But part way through I realized from the DP's attitude that it was not going to work with him again and to be honest I didn't really care and in the long run. He wasn't an established client and it wasn't really going to affect my bottom line that much. The problem is that situations like these arise all the time and I've seen much more horrific examples of people putting their lives on the line - one very specific example that I won't mention for risk of embarrassing someone - rather than say, "no" because they're worried about the next job.

R J Thomas



Sean writes :


>Always do the right thing regardless of who it hurts especially yourself.

In theory, I totally agree, but I would amend it to - To thine own self be true.

Beyond that, to purport that you know right in wrong in regard to others is the height of arrogance, and the source of so much misery around the world and throughout time.

Brent Reynolds
DP / Film maker
Tampa FL

BTW - I just saw a trailer for "Once Upon A Time in Mexico", didn't you operate on that?



I just can't believe that one would walk into a project without some understanding of what they were up against. Even if they walked into a job as a day player, I can't imagine that someone wouldn't have clued them into what they were getting into.

Walter Graff
HellGate Pictures, Inc.
BlueSky, Inc.
444 E. 82 Street
New York, NY 10028

www.film-and-video.com



I can imagine a situation where a young AD gets onto a Larry Clark set and is shocked and depressed at what is being shot. However, I do think that it is part of your job to find OUT what your job is before you get involved. If you have unwavering moral beliefs then it is probably your responsibility to know the job before you take it.

>I almost think that you should be held monetarily responsible if you leave a film job for moral reasons. You're not on the set to agree or disagree with what is being shot, you're there for a job and you will really screw things up for everybody if you suddenly decide that you don't agree with the subject matter.

>The only legitimate reasons for leaving a film set are, in my opinion, issues of safety and salary. If you feel that the situation is putting you in bodily harm or that you are being screwed out of a pay check then you are perfectly reasonable in your right to leave.

>Your moral opinion of what is being shot is not the production's problem, or at least it shouldn’t be.


Bob Patrick
NY/NJ DP



>I just can't believe that one would walk into a project without some >understanding of what they were up against.

Now that I am a DP, I get somewhat fuller briefings and have pulled out of some programs. The last one was last month where I turned down the pilot to a children's TV series after reading the script. Since I have certain ideas about what I want my son to watch, I have to live up to that.

But when I was a video camera operator, I didn't get that advance notice. In one occasion, I had travelled to the location with a political candidate in a Lear Jet and found that the recording was about something I totally disagreed with and wanted no part of. I kept quiet and did the job, knowing there was no way I could be substituted without causing huge problems to production.

On the next occasion, I found out the day before and resigned my job (I was probably too dramatic. Luckily my boss didn't accept my resignation and sent someone else.

I also have a theory that the higher up you are, the more responsibility you have for the content. As an apprentice on staff of a production company, I worked happily on quite a few jobs which I wouldn't take now as a cinematographer. I feel a certain degree of authorship now which I didn't have before, so I'm a little more careful with the content of what I shoot.

So, it depends on how serious it is and whether you can be substituted or have someone replace you.

It's a tough decision and you can only leave a set in the last resort.

Bruce Douglas
DP - Sao Paulo, Brazil

P.S.
You may get the idea that I turn down a lot of work but that is EMPHATICALLY not the case! I will do everything possible to convince my conscience that everything is OK, first!



Richie Schut wrote:

>I How do you avoid working on shoots that don't agree with your >morals?

Gosh, I worked on commercials for many years...morals? What are those?

All kidding aside...

I think you need to find out what it is you are shooting and, if it offends you, turn it down before you get hired. If that isn't possible then replace yourself with someone else once you realize the situation and either 'fess up to your moral dilemma or make up a good excuse and lie which, of course, has it's own moral dilemma. Walking off is bad form no matter what as long as what your doing is safe and legal.

Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



>Your moral opinion of what is being shot is not the production's >problem, or at least it shouldn’t be.

I can't agree with that, true you should try and find out beforehand what the shoot is and make the decision on whether to do it or not, but that's not always possible.

I've only once refused to shoot something on "moral" grounds and I left the building whilst my assistant shot it, she had no qualms.

What was it? killing a few more frogs for a documentary, an experiment we were filming wasn't working on camera, the researchers were getting the info they needed, so it was decided to kill as many frogs as were needed to get the shot right, I decided that I wouldn't kill anything for a picture, certain producers excepted, and walked out.

I cleared it with the director first and explained why and that my AC was covering for me.

It comes down to your personal beliefs and if you can't be true to them, whatever they are, then I don't think you can live with yourself.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS

Director of Photography
EU based
www.cinematography.net



>Gosh, I worked on commercials for many years...morals? What are >those?

Hmm, story about a member of this list who shot a commercial for an organization that I would have just refused to work for.

He then donated his fee, and persuaded the rest of the crew to also donate, to an organization committed to opposing the maker of the ad.

Way to go Mike!

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS

Director of Photography
EU based



>He started taking jobs that went directly against some of my beliefs, and >started acting like your standard drunken rage-filled maniac.

If I'm not prying, what were some of the jobs that you felt compromised your morals and how did you feel it compromised them? As a TV news shooter, I run into stuff at least once a week that I feel is journalistically unethical.

Marty Hamrick
photojournalist/cinematographer
WJXT TV
Jacksonville, Florida



>As a TV news shooter, I run into stuff at least once a week that I feel is >journalistically unethical.

How about those images of Sadam's sons on TV...horrible, very irritating, to say the least. I bet some kids are having nightmares. Worse yet, our "president" talking about it.

John Babl



>How about those images of Sadam's sons on TV...horrible, very >irritating, to say the least.

Okay, before this turns into another one of "those" political discussions ...

I'd like to invite everyone who's a Democrat who'd like to vent and talk and etc. etc. to this site:

http://www.democraticunderground.com

Jump into the forums and let it all hang out. "Latest breaking news" and the "general discussion forum" are the main sites it seems (busiest anyway) . I've been an addict for a couple of months now. Has helped me keep my sanity (if it was there to begin with).

If you're a right-winger, well there's one for you, too:

http://www.freerepublic.com

The two groups naturally hate each other.

I would recommend taking the discussions there rather than here.

Just my two cents!! :)

Phil Badger
gaffer, LA



>I would recommend taking the discussions there rather than here.

I have an even better suggestion. Everyone purchase “Non-violent Communication: A Language of Compassion” by Marshall B. Rosenberg PhD.

This one is on my book club list and a must read for anyone that wants to learn how to communicate with the world much clearer.

Reading this book will teach one that when we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt , and needed , rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the true depth of our own compassion. In the end one realizes that we don't even need to have such a discussion.

It will also teach you the difference between 'moral judgments' and 'value judgments which I have often seen incorrectly interchanged in this discussion.

Learn more at  http://www.cnvc.org/main.htm

Walter Graff
NYC



>I can't imagine that someone wouldn't have clued them into what they >were getting into.

I had a gig once where I was promised a relatively decent budget for lights and grip equipment, even though the project was a deferred pay spec job. The day of the shoot, the stuff I was expected to work with was abysmal and I did the best I could with what I was given, though I bowed out of the remainder of the project. There are some unscrupulous producer/director types out there.

Marty Hamrick
photojournalist/cinematographer
WJXT TV
Jacksonville, Fl.



>How about those images of Sadam's sons on TV...horrible, very >irritating, to say the least.

I have mixed feelings about stuff like that. What I run into from time to time are reporters and producers with PC agendas of their own and many times perfectly non offensive shots are excised from a story. An example, we had a story here where an African American mayoral candidate had racial slurs written on his campaign headquarters by graffiti vandals. Our news director would not let us show the dreaded "N" word that had been spray painted on the wall. Despite the objections from many of the black folks that had seen the video who complained that such was censorship.

Marty Hamrick
photojournalist/cinematographer
WJXT TV
Jacksonville, Fl



WalterNY wrote:

>Reading this book will teach one that when we focus on clarifying what >is being observed, felt , and needed , rather than on diagnosing and >judging, we discover the true depth of our own compassion.

Sounds like a great book, Walter. And focusing on those things leads also to being able to have discussions that don't end in ad hominem attacks.

>In the end one realizes that we don't even need to have such a >discussion.


Well, I don't know. I think having conversations about our differences, in whatever forum, on whatever topic, are good for us. But maybe I'm missing your point.

>It will also teach you the difference between 'moral judgments' and >'value judgments

I haven't noticed it here but I've been reading fast this week. But it's a common problem in discussions of a political/moral nature. In education, we talk about "character education" vs. "values clarification." And the terms are used differently by different people.

*sigh*

Ben Boyington
Film Guy at Large
New Hampshire, USA



Vaughn Hamrick wrote:

>An example, we had a story here where an African American mayoral >candidate had racial slurs written on his campaign headquarters by >graffiti

All of which reminds me of an article on a seminar somewhere on the West Coast a year or two ago. A large university had a renowned linguist talking about words and prejudice. In the newspaper the next day, the event was reported, and this line followed (mind you, we're talking about the power of WORDS, about words as words): The linguist said that the worst slurs in the English language are kike, gook, and the N-word. Apparently, that N-word is just sooooo awful that the newspaper couldn't print it, even though gook and kike were fine for publication.

I'm absolutely sure that the linguist spoke the dreaded word, and why not? How can you discuss the power of language if you're afraid to use the words. Similarly, with images. I'm not saying the Hussein boys' death visages should have been shown (or shouldn't); I'm saying that if we can't look at the things we find problematic, how can we look at our feelings about why we find them problematic. (Like people who denigrate, say, the Harry Potter movies or books for their purported Satanism, but have never seen or read them.)

Ben Boyington
Film Guy at Large (or is that Large Film Guy?)
New Hampshire, USA



Vaughn Hamrick wrote:

>Our news director would not let us show the dreaded "N" word that had >been spray painted on the wall.

That's incredibly dumb! If you're reporting on racist acts, you shouldn't hide them.

Jeff Krienes



I did have a feature years ago that I felt pretty uneasy about after first reading the script. It wasn't JUST a serial killer who prays on teenage girls, it also involved a bit of necrophilia. But I was also just starting out and it would be my first 35mm feature, so I took a meeting with the producer/director and explained to him my misgivings. I told him that I wasn't comfortable helping to bring this project into existence in its current form. He was startled but thankful for my honesty and explained how he planned to handle the production so that it would not be offensive. In the end I agreed to do the shoot but also reserved the right (contractually) to remove my name from the credits should I be unhappy with the final results.

A separate incident had a scene of a Santaria-like ritual that included boiling a cat. I had my guys rig a lighting gag underneath a large empty pot to simulate the stovetop burner. There was no animal wrangler on set and as far as I could tell this cat was picked up that morning from an animal shelter. Needless to say the poor creature was terrified by what was going on as it was stuck into a metal pot and had a lid dropped down on it. The moment I saw what was going on I went to the director and said I was giving him one take, no rehearsal and that was it. I explained it was animal cruelty and what was going to come of this little creature after the day's shooting anyway? We got the one and only take and that was that; the production fully understood that I would consider all the camera batteries dead and the mags jammed for this shot. We went to coverage and an already closed pot.

Sometimes you can represent your morality before it becomes an issue on set and sometimes you need to put your foot down at the moment. In pre-production I feel I have the authority to deal with issues that only affect my sensibilities because the worst that happens is that I walk away and they find someone else. Once in production my moral centre shifts a bit to things that affect others such as that cat. At that point I'm costing a lot of time & money to a production and if I just walk away it's not really going to serve any purpose other than to piss off others and they'll likely do whatever I was against anyway. But by doing my job but also having a little backbone I am in a position to prevent or at least mitigate something "immoral," rather than feel pride in my righteous indignation. Morality matters most when it can be used as a tool for altering events.


Mitch Gross
NYC DP



The Moral Question? How do you answer that one?

For many years I was a news cameraman/director in such places as Pakistan,
Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine etc. In 1985/6 I was in Ethiopia and Sudan filming the dreadful famine at that time. I have filmed dead bodies (men, women and children) on all my assignments...it has coloured me for the rest of my life, and will remain so.

Now where do I stand as far as the moral question goes? After 67 countries as a news person, filming death and destruction, hopefully affecting the viewers perception of what is going on in the world. (some hope...I may add)would my pictures or images have changed the world?

Since then (I stopped doing this some years ago) been asked to film/direct some crazy things - of which a few, not many, I have objected to. Now how do I justify this against all the things that I have pointed my lens at, made news on TV, archived material in news agencies?

Actuality or Fiction?

The moral question that I keep on asking myself is "was I right in being there when things happened? Did it change things?"

I know that I would never shoot anything that offended me and would say so loudly but, then, I am maybe just old and boring.

Barry Paton BSc
The Salignac Foundation
France 24590
www.salignacfoundation.com