Cinematography Mailing List - CML

DP's & Directors

On the wake of many E-mails. I was wondering, what is for you, the perfect Director/DoP relationship?

I'm very curious.

Kevin Demeo

No matter how many do's and dont's you draw up about the roles of DPs and Directors the only way you're going to get what you want is to stick up for it and be prepared to walk if necessary.

I know it ain't easy but when a director says "time to put the promists in" that's the time to walk up to an actor and give some directions or shout "Action". Seriously, it's time to remind him gently who the DP is. The same with an Operator/director who decides your stop. Tell him the first time he does that that's your prerogative as a DP, if he wants to set the stop get a "yes, sir" man.

I did a shoot recently where I was lighting and opping and the director wanted to ride the dolly *during* the takes. I did a couple of takes that way but I was bursting inside from holding back. In the end I just swallowed hard and at the risk of upsetting him I pulled him to one side and said I can't operate like that. He said OK and spent the rest of the shoot at HIS monitors. That's why we have vid assist - don't we? But I should've (with hindsight) told the director on the first take he can't ride the dolly.

I think all the tacit set rules are there for a reason and have been arrived at thru years of trial and error - you break them at your peril. It may seem OK for an Op to set the stop but down the line there will be problems. Wasn't there some posts about Asian ACs taking the readings? there's a practice full of pitholes waiting for DPs to fall into!

Shangara Singh London Based DoP/Lighting Cameraman

Throwing my .25 cents in (inflation, you know) - I completely disagree. As a director of photography our job is to photograph the project according to the director's vision. The director IS the boss. If he/she decides for promists in a scene... That's what's gonna happen. If I feel strongly against it - I will argue the point, but ultimately the director's word is final. It is the director's ass who's on the line much more so than ours. The typical moviegoer does not go to see Kaminski's latest work -- they go to see Spielberg's. 90% of the world has no idea that we even exist... In my work ethic (and I never consider myself a "yes" man, but I do always try to deliver what a director wants) the director is my boss. My job is to serve his/her vision of the film -- not my own agenda. My own agenda must fall under his. This is difficult in situations like my last feature where the director's vision was very contradictory to what I felt -- but we compromised. Ultimately he's happy and I'm happy with parts. It's a sacrifice, but a necessary one, I feel.

Just some thoughts.

Jay Holben


you couldn't be more right. OTOH I understand Shangara's frustration and there are definately times when directors go to far- you're name is on the film as DP and you have to have the say in the photography. you're right its the film that matters. the public doesnt know who we are or care. very true. but OTOH i know- and some respect (i repeat _some_) for my craft and role on the project has to be there.

He may be saying I want the BPM filter - but your AC may have netted behind the lens already, may be using a soft zoom and not want to filtrate. I donno.

If he wants to ride on the dolly my job is to clear a place for him quickly. If he wants to operate a shot, well _maybe_ my job is to set the eyepiece quickly and tell him i can fire the switch on his call. thats never happened but i agree- within reason what he wants is what has to happen. but if he wants to start in on my filter pack and my stop- then i need to talk to him alone and say "sir, please tell me what you want the shot to look like and let me get us there."

I think everyone may be right here. We are there to make HIS film and do what he wants- but we're the photographer not him- and there is a point beyond which he cant encroach. I dont know what that point is- but im sure im not putting any stop on the camera but mine.


in the end of course you have to do what the director wants, but it's a drag. after doing freelance cinematography for a couple of years i'm really starting to think maybe im not fit for it. lately i've had to deal with some megalomaniacs and it has driven me crazy. my problem is not that they want to ride the dolly or put a promist on the lens, but that they demand the most boring photography possible. my attitude is if he wants it he gets it. i set up the shot, i explain to him what it will look like on film, and i have him look through the viewfinder. that way no matter how bad the shot is, he has no one to blame but himself. i see my role to be more than just a technician, not just a guy that knows the film stock catalog numbers and how to work a lightmeter, but as a contributor to the final piece, a collaborator in the work. i've had the pleasure of working with some directors that trusted my sense of aesthetics and style and its commonly agreed by people who know my work that it's been the pieces that stand out in my reel. to me the ideal relationship between a cinematographer and a director is


I was in the position last week of having almost completed an entirely (personality) stress free three week documentary digi-beta shoot. The director had gone home a day early to keep certain appointments in London, and we only had a very short sequence to shoot in a factory in southern France. For the preceeding weeks the director had not only let me get on with getting the picture required, he had never asked to look through the viewfinder, only at completed sequences, unless we were recreating and dramatising when I gave him a monitor to look at. This director is very experienced, and shoots only what he knows will be needed, and seemed to trust me completely despite this being our first job together.

On the last day it was the producer in charge. This producer really wants to direct, and has shot a lot of (broadcast news) stuff of his own on DV. In the factory for the last shoot, he's watching the monitor, with a little lighting going on, suddenly its 'The light should be warmer....stop it down......tilt up half an inch, I don't like that radiator.... look, just do it ok?' I found it very, very irritating, and the sound man gave me a rolled eye 'here we go again' kind of a look. There was almost a scene, but then the sun came out, and I took the CTO's I hadn't wanted anyway off my lamps to get more light out to balance the inside and mountains outside. By the time we were ready to actually shoot it, the lamps were bare, and the sun had gone back in so the scene was back to where I had wanted it to be originally. The tilting up half an inch was also forgotten about, as the subject leaned down into his computer, then sat up, etc etc.

Later, at the wrap dinner, after we had all shared a couple of bottles of wine, the producer was telling us that he had started as a student making anthropological films entirely by himself, and he felt he had a lot to learn about not being a one man band film maker. I chimed in with my 'Learn to let it go and trust the people you've hired at significant expense to do their specialist jobs . Respect them and respect your own judgement in hiring them.' It seemed to go down well. Time will tell.

Chris Merry

Well, certainly. I completely agree -- in a perfect world, or even a good percentage of the time we're hired by director's (and producers) who trust our aesthetic and ability and will then defer to our judgment -- that's the way it's supposed to look. However, just as when I was gaffing, many DP's made lamp, color and diffusion calls very specifically -- which was frustrating, made me a glorified electrician more than a gaffer -- there are director's I've worked with who make lens calls and filtration calls for what they're looking for. I've worked with director's who are DP's who will tell me a stop they're looking for in a particular scene... It's the way they communicate. Does that just make me a glorified operator? Or in the case of a recent commercial where the director wanted to operate a handheld shot -- I let him have it and I AC'd for him letting my first have a break... Whatever works. In reality, if a director that I did not have a relationship with was making all the calls -- lighting, stops, lenses, filtration, stock, movement... I'd probably question why I was there. I would certainly have a talk with him, but barring all else, I'd do what I was asked to do. But perhaps this stems from my directing experience as well... As a director, things are hard enough... If I felt a scene absolutely needed a 1/2 Warm ProMist -- I'd ask for it. I wouldn't want my DP to get offended or pissed off -- if he had a problem I'd want to hear it -- but ultimately, If I want that Mist... I better get that Mist... Ain't I a bastard that way? :)

Jay Holben

Something like Steven Poster has with his director friend Jeremy (whose second name I forget, hope I've got the first right!). He once described how they get on so well that they had to stage a fight in front of the crew while they were shooting Roswell to be taken seriously.

Putting on my Mullen hat: Roswell, Director Jeremy Kagan, DP Steven Poster ASC, American Cinematographer Feb 1995!

I've always thought that's how films should be made but too often people's insecurities get in the way and they create unnecessary tension or take it out on someone else and just create a bad stink on the set. Very unproductive.

I've had the good fortune to work with some first class directors in the theatre but in film I've had just bad luck. They've been either totally new to the game (fine and grateful for a couple of gigs only then they want to prove themselves!) or just OK at their job and relying on me to carry them!

Before I retire I would love to work with a director who knew his job, had a good sense of humour and was secure enough to change his thinking when something better was suggested. I've worked with one such director as Camera Op but never as a DP.

Shangara Singh London Based DoP/Lighting Cameraman

In separate interviews both Sidney Pollack and Sidney Lumet pointed out that lenses are very much part of the Director's toolbox. While a Director could most certainly hire a strong DP and a strong Editor, completely defer to them and have a resonable shot of coming away with a film that works as the Director expects, the odds are much higher if the Director understands the tools of those disciplines. Photography, and how to use it to communicate effectively to the audience is an essential skill to a Director, not merely the domain of the DP.

Judith Weston teaches a workshop called "Acting for Directors" in which the Directors must function as Actors. She believes, quite rightfully, that in order for a Director to fully communicate with an Actor, they must understand and experience the process first hand. Perhaps a similar experience should be requisite for DPs. Perhaps those of us who have never directed a dramatic project should do so in order to more fully understand the process and therefore how best to serve the needs of the both the Director and the film while on set.

Michael Siegel

>As a director, things are hard enough... If I felt a scene absolutely needed a 1/2 Warm ProMist -- I'd ask for it. I wouldn't want my DP to get offended or pissed off -- if he had a problem I'd want to hear it -- but ultimately, If I want that Mist... I better get that Mist..

But would you say it infront of the crew, or talk to him privately before hand?

Steven ( Oh man, this topic is just too meaty) Gladstone

I've directed, as well as shot, as well as gaffed, feature films and other stuff.

One of the reasons I like shooting the best of all is that if the scene isn't working, if the dialogue isn't working, if it turns out the actor was great in the audition but is a blithering idiot on the set ...... it's not my problem! I can still make the dang thing look good! That's my job, and I can control it, and it's not that hard to do (usually) as long as I have the tools and the personnel to make it happen.

Directing a feature film is one of the most stressful things a person can ever do. People have NO IDEA until they've actually done it themselves! (if they would, so many people wouldn't want to do it) Ultimately whether the film is any good at all rests on the director's shoulders, no matter who re- wrote the script, mis-produced it, cast a lead actor who was wrong for the part, or shoved a re-edit down the director's throat.

If it doesn't "work" it's for one reason: The director f***ed it up.

But here's another thing about directing (which we all know): anyone can claim to do it. It takes absolutely no experience or expertise. You actually can fake it!

And people who are directing usually get there for one reason: Because they can. That's all. Not because they passed any test, or showed any talent in particular, but simply because they've been able to get into the situation.

And here we are, with all our experience and craft and technical expertise, trying to explain the most basic things to them sometimes.

But other times, they actually do know what they're doing. I've worked with directors who could be excellent DP's if they chose to be. And if they want a 25mm, then who am I to argue, unless I think they're making a mistake? Why should I complain if they actually know their craft to that degree? I certainly know the craft to that degree when I'm directing -- I say what lens to use, so why shouldn't they?

I guess it's like any relationship and that it all boils down to one thing - trust.

And like any other kind of relationship, it's hard to find good ones! And when you do, they're worth hanging onto!


I was challenged on the last feature project I shot earlier this year by a director with a very specific idea of what he wanted. Several times in the past I have talked about this here. I was hired as director of photography of an independent film directed by a first time writer/director. I had a very hard time with many of the things he was asking me to do -- out of focus shots, "shakey cam," bumping the camera deliberately during a lock off establishing shot... He wanted a film that demonstrated the imperfections of people -- something that wasn't perfect. Behind the scenes of this film were some extraordinarily powerful Hollywood players. People I have looked up to, admired and studied for many years -- and people from whom praise of my work was very important to me. I had a different ideal for the film, and being more experienced than the director (and also being on the same page with the producer) I fought hard for my ideal. I argued when he asked for "odd" things -- saying that it wasn't appropriate here. In the end, looking at the film -- I was wrong. Playing the film straight was wrong. Being more experienced then the director didn't help me. HE had the proper idea for the film. We've got to remember that even though we are "Director's" of photography -- we really only are lighting cameramen. The DP title has evolved through political pressure (and respect for our abilities) over time. We're not involved in the development of the script, the shaping of the actor's, the orchestration of the score, or the editing -- all of which the director oversees and considerably shapes the film. We are only ONE part of the film. Albeit a very IMPORTANT part -- but who are we to tell the director he's wrong? Especially if we don't have a preexisting relationship with him and an understanding of how he works. What about director's like Ridley Scott or Spielberg who, as I understand, do ask for a 35 over here with the camera this high... And I'd WANT a director to give me his thoughts on how a scene should be lit -- what is he seeing? We many be looking at a situation COMPLETELY opposite. I'd rather tell him what I was thinking and make sure we both agree. If I light the scene and he looks at it two hours later... Not at all what he wanted, but we have no time -- so we shoot. Later on in editing -- it doesn't quite work... How many times has that happened? If you have a complete synergy with a director -- then things are great, but how often does that happen.

I know we've all worked with director's who didn't know what they were doing. They make big mistakes and things turn out bad -- but where do we draw the line? Who are we to decide whether a director is right or not? If you want to make those decisions -- then direct yourself, in my humble opinion.

The best world is when you and the director are working together to continually better each other's ideas and shape the film together -- but in the ideal, the director is there to direct everyone into their idea of the film. Theater is a writer's medium -- film is not.

Just my thoughts - as always, take them with a grain of salt...

Jay Holben

> But would you say it infront of the crew, or talk to him privately before hand?

Personally? The relationship between the DP and Director is too vital to the entire workings of a set to have a stupid argument or degrade the DP in front of the crew. But there is a very fine line. Directing is a very hard job. You are not only constantly bombarded with situation after situation that if you do not solve, the production will fall apart (that's your job), but you are constantly challenged. Challenged by actors trying to push you -- trying to insert their own agenda -- challenged by a personality conflict between the make-up key and the 2nd AD that's slowing down the show... You don't need an outburst between the DP who is supposed to be your second in command, the liaison between you and the crew and you and the technical aspects of the film... I am a very hands-on director. I can't stand sitting by a friggin monitor, I am in there working with everyone. Taking a peak at the brush stroke the set painter is using, the lamp the decorator is putting on the table, the belt they're putting on the second actor in a scene, the quality of light and lens selection... If I wanted something specific that happened to fall under the DP, I'd always talk with him one on one. I would never bellow out before a take starts -- GIVE ME THE 1/2 WHITE PROMIST! That creates a conflict and undermines the DP... I would talk to him during the setup and make it one on one. If we had a conflict (I would certainly hope that a filter would not destroy a working relationship) I would have to question how important it was to me. If I was deadset (again as a director) then I'd have to do what it took to make sure he did what I asked. A disagreement over a filter or operation of a shot is more often than not indication of many deeper things going on -- and perhaps, like Shangara said, it not a collaboration that should happen.

On a recent commercial I did, the director wanted to operate a series of handheld shots. I quickly handed him the camera and stood right by him (as an AC for him) to make sure we were still both there working on the shot. It bothered me slightly, and I felt that the shots he did weren't quite what they could have been -- but in the end -- he was happy, he got what he wanted. I suggested another angle while he was operating and he went for it -- that's the right working relationship. Later on, for the final shot of the spot he had a very specific move scheduled that due to time constraints we had to change. He asked for something different that wasn't quite as dramatic -- a quick solution. I came up with a different idea that took a bit to sell him on, but in the end he saw where I was going and it was his call to use it. That's the way it should work.

Damn... I'm really rambling about this one... Guess I got my blood pumping with this one. All in all -- everyone works differently. I'm a DP now because I'm a director. Meaning I have always felt to be a good director you need to understand and have a level of proficiency for each position on the set. I started as an actor, worked for quite a while to gain proficiency, then moved to being a technician... I found a passion as a DP, in equal competition as a director, so I've settled comfortably here for a while, honing this craft... This could account for my bias toward the director's side -- but what if everyone felt that their idea was right?

Bear with me for a second more --

Working in theater, during my last year I had the opportunity to do two shows back to back as a Master Flyman. Both were five character shows, and both casts were filled with five extraordinarily talented actors, great scripts, great sets, great costumes, great lighting... One had a mediocre director, one had a great one. The first show was a demonstration of five shows in one. Each actor was doing his own thing (fantastically) but all of them weren't on the same page. They didn't have guidance. As a result, the show floundered. It lacked focus. The second show, was right on. A unified direction kept everyone on track and the difference the director made was considerable...

All in all -- someone's got to keep an eye on the big picture. We're just one piece of a much larger puzzle, that if made right, is truly a sum larger than it's parts.

Jay Holben

Remember: You can always add the letters "U.P." (under protest) next to your name on the slate for a scene you're shooting against your better judgement.

-Gerry Williams

Hmm, another webpage

My own 2 cents :-

Ultimately the director is in charge, it's their film, if you don't like their way of working then don't work with them again, but do this job properly.

I seem to get on best with directors who have a strong visual sense, they know what they want, and rely on me to get it for them, if I can push it further in that direction then great!. We push each other further.

I have no problem with directors who want specific lenses, lights etc., as long as they know why they want them :-) and not just because they're fashionable.

I worked for 6 years with a well known stills photographer who directed commercials, he didn't light them and he rarely interfered, erm, suggested things :-). He knew that lighting for film was different to lighting for stills. On the other hand, he set the frame, his operator, and note that, HIS operator, knew what he wanted and framed the directors way.

As has already been pointed out I find the worst kind of director the one who always plays safe, who says he wants to be dynamic/adventurous and then insists on the most bland images possible.

Most important I want a director to respect that I know what it will look like on film, not what it looks like on the Video Assist, not what it looks like to the Eye, not what it looks like on Polaroid, but what it will look like after it's been shot on film and transferred to D1.



I had the pleasure of working on a film as an Assistant with Director Sidney Lumet in the fall of 1997. The has not been released and is called "Gloria" . Mr. Lumet made every single set - Lens, position and height. In addition where dolly should start and end and marks for the actor. I had a hard time keep up with his frantic but controlled pace. The DP was David Watkin which I think some members of the list know him personally. David never felt his toes were being stepped on because he came out of the British system of Lighting Cameraperson which made their relationship perfect. Once the shot was set by Sidney David would light the shot through the camera not questioning the purpose or particulars. Of course, Sidney Lumet has many years of experience so it was not necessary to question this and this also falls under the blanket of the British system as I understand it. As an Assistant it was a dream and a real workout. I knew exactly what was going because Sidney was exact with his decisions and never changed them!! So there's my 2 cents.

Brian Fass

>Remember: You can always add the letters "U.P." (under protest) next to your name >on the slate for a scene you're shooting against your better judgement.

Has anyone done this and lived to tell the tale? I mean as a DP and not as a matchstick seller!

Shangara Singh London Based DoP/Lighting Cameraman

There's a good tale of this from Arthur Penn (re Peverell Marley, ASC) in the old book "The Film Director as Superstar" by Joe Gelmis, circa 1971. Penn (new to film, from a TV background) was directing "The Left-Handed Gun" (1958?) and would ask for, say, a two-shot. Marley would swing his putter and say dismissively to his crew "He wants a two-shot. Give him a two-shot." Penn insisted on using an Arri as a second camera, which Marley disliked, and all his slates stated that the second camera was unlit. Back in those days, Jack Warner was watching dailies... Lots of the Arri footage was used...

OK, it's not that good a story...

Jeff "but I typed it" Kreines

>Has anyone done this and lived to tell the tale? I mean as a DP and not as a >matchstick seller!

Unfortunately, I have had to resort to it on rare occasions. More often I would quietly have the Script Supervisor put a note into the script notes. I believe in giving credit where credit is due.


>Has anyone done this and lived to tell the tale? I mean as a DP and not as a >matchstick seller!

A number of times, sometimes you don't work with that director again, sometimes you DO work for that producer again, sometimes you get a call from the director saying "ha! it worked", rarely, you get a call from the director saying "you were right".

At the moment that tray of matches is looking very attractive



OK, Jay, let me try again (although Caleb has already beaten me to it). I don't think anyone will disagree that it's the director's film, though to be pedantic I always call it the writer's film, but if you are hired as a "DIRECTOR" of photography then that word must have some meaning, surely.

There are the rare times when you are on the same wavelength as the director that when they say "time for the promist" or "let's do this hand held" you know exactly what he means because you have the same idea and then there's no objection - and you've talked about the look beforehand, anyway. The difference is in how they ask!

>As a director of photography our job is to photograph the project according to the >director's vision. The director IS the boss. If he/she decides for promists in a scene... >That's what's gonna happen.

The director only thinks he's the boss because you let him! I think you have equal amounts to loose. Your careers and your self respect. He may earn more but then I say he probably deserves it. But your ass is just as much on the line - probably more so as when things go wrong YOU will be the most likely scapegoat!

>what a director wants) the director is my boss. My job is to serve his/her vision of the >film -- not my own agenda. My own agenda must fall under his.

That's why I said you must be prepared to walk, meaning if your agendas differ -however, easier said then done. I have no problem with serving the director's vision, as a matter of fact I relish that, although it's much more satisfying to serve the writer's vision, but when a director says let's have a 12k thru the window and a smidgen of fill here and highlight that over there and get the picture. What do you do then? Who has the unnecessary agenda and counter productive at that?

Because it's a very short step from saying "next setup, the 35, over there looking this way" to doing your job "badly" and then blaming you. Because, in my opinion, any director that rides the dolly during a shot or sets your stop for you is doing his job badly. And that can't be good for any film. If the director wants to ride a dolly during a rehearsal that's cool as long as he gives time for focus marks and for the Camera Op to rehears too. But during a take? Nah...

I think any director worth their salt will turn people's creativity on and not depress it. There's nothing that turns people off then someone encroaching on their territory. And remember even the most humble spark is a creative.

And who is this Speilberg guy I keep hearing about? Kaminski, Toland, Zsigmond, Storaro, yes, but who ever heard of Speilberg? - and a foreign sounding name if I ever heard one. Tell him he's got to change his name if he wants to make it in this biz!

Shangara Singh

London Based DoP/Lighting Cameraman

>Before I retire I would love to work with a director who knew his job, had a good >sense of humour and was secure enough to change his thinking when something >better was suggested. I thought I was the only one

Its surprising how many times I work with directors who are complete ignorants about cinematic language. Most of the time they are very good at directing actors (and even that sometimes is questionable) and all they demand is to make a caption of the scene the actors perform. It has to be as simple as possible without any interference with the actors. So the actors are completely free and can at every moment decide to change completely the rythm of their movements, change direction etc. And don't try to even miss a take, even if the grip was not prepared to having to running talent instead of a walking one as during the rehearsal. But they don't use any filmlanguage, and they leave everything in the operator's hands. For my work it is very exiting because I have a lot of artistic input and I can propose a lot of shots to the director. But I am not sure it is always a good thing for the film. When I propose shots, I make them in function of my interpretation of the script and even after talking with the director about the scene, I don't have the same vision as the director who follows the project from beginning to end. Of course afterward the editors will cut the film into any rythm provided we made different shots in a scene. But I think that the rythm of a film starts in the preparation where the director makes his shot list and decide how every scene connects to another and how all the shots succeed one to another. And as Michael pointed out: " While a Director could most certainly hire a strong DP and a strong Editor, completely defer to them and have a resonable shot of coming away with a film that works as the Director expects, the odds are much higher if the Director understands the tools of those disciplines. Photography, and how to use it to communicate effectively to the audience is an essential skill to a Director, not merely the domain of the DP." But every film is for me a way of learning this very subtle language and I hope to assist a lot of directors for a very long time

Chris Renson

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