Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Interaction With Directors

Excuse me, but I'm getting a little confused.

I know that the Director of Photography is responsible for the images. And the Director the Performance. I also know that the Director of the film has approval of the frame.

However isn't the image supposed to be a collaborative effort? Isn't it the job of the D.P. to contribute to the story telling process, and not just compose and light "pretty pictures"?

I am really just beginning to shoot for people. I've found so far that some directors aren't really good at communicating why they want something framed a certain way. I think that inability hurts them as directors, but they are green, as am I.

When we do understand each other I find that I'm more comfortable with the image, and I feel able to enhance the shot even more, in a way the director likes. I know that there are some really bad Directors, who for whatever reason won't share information with anyone, they just want it done their way with no input from anyone else. I would hope that at some level, these directors become the exception, and not the rule.

Forgive me if I seem obtuse, as I said I am only working on small really independent projects, for now. I thought it was the "Directors" picture, not ours.

We should have input, and so far the directors I've enjoyed working with, always were conferring with me, but if we (as D.P.'s, or Camerapeople) don't understand the Directors aesthetic, or their reasoning on framing, then isn't it our fault as much as the directors?


All true,

But many directors out there do not have complete confidence in their DP/operator or sometimes not that much, or possibly too much, confidence in them selves. It is usually more touchy the first few days with a new director but after a short while I find that understanding of each other's requirements and trust is easily established.

If a director still does not trust an obviously capable DP/operator after a few days I thinks he is the one with the problem. I worked a quite a while back with a director. He was a very nice guy but from his behavior and attitude on the set we could tell that if he could have done all the shoot all by myself and take all the credit, he would have. He was endlessly making, mostly, unwarranted comments about framing, getting really technical with the lighting aspects and generally getting on everyone's nerves.

Directors who don't understand and develop the sense that it's a team effort based on fluid communications between a few key players will never be fully happy with their results and make everyone miserable in the process. Just as DPs have to understand the complicity between themselves the grips, electrics and ACs.

Daniel Villeneuve

IMHO: As far as Producers and the financial guys in suits are concerned it is the Director who is ultimately responsible for the film in its entirety. Provided he/she has a reasonable degree of inherent trust in the DP, a wise Director will work to form a collaborative relationship.

The resulting films tend to be just that much stronger.

However, when all is said and done, it is important to remember that any flaws in the resulting film will be attributed to the Director first and foremost. The best Directors have a solid command of all cinematic tools including lens selection, composition, camera movement & the application of lighting in a dramatic or comedic sense. When a Director has been saddled with a DP he/she has little faith in, the Director would be performing an act of professional suicide, and would be negligent in his/her responsibilities to the Producers and financiers, by failing to take control of these issues.

It seems to me that the optimum situation is always one where the Director and DP have established significant trust in each other overtime. In the real world however Directors and DPs are constantly working at forging new relationships and that's one of the more interesting aspects of the business. There is usually something new you can learn about your craft from the other guy!

Mike Siegel

Of course it is a collaborative effort - that's part of the fun, if you enjoy interaction with people. There are no real exact boundaries, except that most directors do not get involved in technical detail relating to cinematography (like taking meter readings - but I'm sure someone has met an exception.) While the D.P. is responsible for the image, the director is responsible for the whole movie - which includes the image. So we work for the director.

But there are as many types of directors as there are people. Some have little skill in visual storytelling - and some think they do, but don't.

Ozzie Morris once spoke about the two types of directors that he's worked with: the one that leaves a lot up to the cinematographer and the one who controls every aspect of the production. He said both types can be enjoyable (more enjoyable with the first type), but if the second type is very artistic, very intelligent, and well-prepared, it can be more rewarding experience. Certainly John Alcott learned a lot when he worked for Kubrick, even if he also liked NOT working for Kubrick so that he could apply what he had learned on other films.

I would love to do a movie with a director that was such a visual genius that I could learn something from him. The reality is that I've met very few good directors, at least on the visual end. But as long as they are talented with actors and writers, and are well-prepared yet flexible, then I don't mind being more in control of the visuals.

Ultimately, it's the director's movie. I want him or her to be proud of the final product and feel that it represents their personal vision.

Hopefully, my aesthetics will coincide with the director's and I can feel that the final film represents my vision also. If we absolutely don't see things the same way, then maybe he should have hired someone else. I can bend my approach to suit most directors, but if I'm absolutely convinced that his ideas are wrong and damaging, then I have to tell him.

If he can't justify his decisions to me, then I start thinking about how to get off the film. But I haven't had to do that yet - I'm pretty good at talking to directors and coming to a consensus.

David Mullen

Well, nearly. <g>

I agree with what you say. But some directors are amazingly poor at communicating what they want, and you practically have to be telepathic.

Also I believe that not a few directors don't really know what they want until they see it. In this case even telepathy can't help you - something more akin to clairvoyance is what is required!

But I always try and draw out as much as I can in terms of visual reference, be it film, photography, paintings, graphic art, comics, anything, before starting to shoot, and trying to deduce and construct some sort of aesthetic for the project, if nothing more cut and dried is offered up. What pleases me most is when I do this and the director approves, or if I can improve(in their terms) on a visual aesthetic which has already been defined. I do think that there really isn't much point in trying to shoot in a style of which they disapprove. This generally leads to much argument and sometimes early retirement! I think you can try to move them in a particular direction if you truly believe the project merits and warrants it, but you *must* convince them by argument as well as example.

class="c493">But I think most directors engage DoPs (and operators, here in the UK) on the basis of what they can bring to a project in terms of a visual aesthetic. Even if they have a strong vision to start with, the DoP, camera operator(if he/she is allowed) art department, actors, in fact anyone on a set where contributions are encouraged, can enhance the aesthetic.

For me, cooperation and discussion is very important, and although I've done my fair share as a 'dolly jockey', I much prefer projects where there is an intelligent and cooperative attitude towards the work in hand.

Where this atmosphere prevails, no-one feels discouraged from making suggestions, and knows they'll be seriously considered and used(or not) if they are in the best interests of the film.



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