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Old August 22nd, 2006, 04:34 PM   #1
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Cinematographer and Directors of Photography

Which one is which? When can you call yourself a cinematographer and when is more appropriate to use the term "Director of Photography"?
Recently I had the fortunate experience to see a screening of "Cinematographer's Style", a documentary about many ASC members, including, among many, Laszlo Kovacs (Easy Rider, Ghostbusters), George Spiro Dibie, Gordon Willis (The Godfather) and Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris).
The movie starts with a montage of all the cinematographers introducing themselves, each one in 2-3 seconds. When the camera turned to Storaro he said "I'm Vittorio Storaro and I'm a cinematographer, not a director of photography".
That phrase stuck with me for weeks, I tried to find out why Storaro needed to make that distinction and exactly what that meant. At first I started asking around what was the difference between the two labels. Not much luck. Pretty much everybody thinks that the two terms are the same.
The answer was finally found in a book about Storaro and boy, he has a point.
The term Photography comes from the greek words photo (light) and graphia (writing). That's why Storaro is fond of saying that he "writes with light".
But photography is concerned with one single image while in cinema we use thousands of pictures each time we roll camera. We are concerned with the overall effect of telling a story with moving pictures. Hence the term "cinematographer". After all, the ASC is the American Society of Cinematographers. There is no ASDP.
At some point, and probably only in the US, the position has been renamed as "Director of Photography". Storaro has two very valid objections to this term. First, we are back to "photography" while we should talk about cinematography. The position would be more clearly described as "Director of cinematography".
Second, making pictures is a collaborative effort but there is only one director. While Storaro has always a vision, a concept that he pushes with all his energy, at the end he recognizes that there is only one person ultimately responsible for the direction of the story and that is the director. If the director has a diferent idea, even a 3 time Oscar winner cinematographer will eventually adapt and deliver what is requested by him.

So, I think it's time we adopt Storaro's point of view and, while I'm not there yet, I'll work to become a cinematographer.
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 05:07 PM   #2
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Hey, do we have great guys here or what? Nice article, Paolo. Now stop reading and get back to work!!! ;-)
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 06:05 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Ames
Hey, do we have great guys here or what? Nice article, Paolo. Now stop reading and get back to work!!! ;-)
OK, Boss ;)
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 08:06 PM   #4
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I've found that there's enough variation in the nature of the relationship between the director and D.P., that this discussion is nothing but semantics.

Some directors have a very good idea of what they want with the photography (including the primary difference between photography and cinematography, which is camera movement), and some directors leave everything up to the D.P., and are only interested in the actors.

I like and appreciate that Storaro is bringing attention to the difference, but in practice there is no difference except in spelling.

(p.s. Was the book 'A Man With A Camera'? I bought that 16 years ago when I was 18, but remember very little of it)
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 08:30 PM   #5
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Well, now we know that 2nd Unit continues to work. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Weaver once at JVC and found him to be quite pleasant. I'm glad to see that people don't have to be disagreeable to disagree. Others learn through the opinions of others using them to formulate, try and prove their own opinion and that's what 2nd Unit is all about. Thank you Nate.
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 09:12 PM   #6
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what a strange and twisted world...I was just rewriting my turnkey moviemaking site and covered precisely this topic...weird. to wit:

Quote:
Originally Posted by me
Photography, but moreso

You may have heard the term "Director of Photography" applied to the cinematographer. This is partially correct. The difference is that as Cinematographers, not only capture light and dark, but changes in them over time. In photography, frame composition, color and light control are the ways in which a photographer tells their story as a frozen moment in time. With video, we don't get to stop there, we have to make each moment in time interesting. This is why a dynamic frame is important. We are responsible for capturing not just a moment of color and light, but a series of moments in time and presenting them in an interesting way.
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 10:16 PM   #7
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I just reread my post and it sounds harsh. I meant nothing more than to mention the idea that in practice, the job has a LOT more grey area. I do admit though I like the word 'cinematographer' more :-) It's more romantic sounding.

Besides, it's Storaro. I mean, what, are my words going to carry even as much weight as his? Not hardly. I'm just a bum with a camera and a computer!

Storaro is considered a modern master, but given all the digital cameras and kids doing great things with them, you should see if you can track down some of the best younger D.P.s and see what they have to say. Like Matty Libatique, or Jeff Cronenweth.
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 10:31 PM   #8
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Welcome to the team, Nate. Go get 'em and we'll talk to 'em!
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Old August 22nd, 2006, 11:34 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nate Weaver
I've found that there's enough variation in the nature of the relationship between the director and D.P., that this discussion is nothing but semantics.
But that's exactly why the position was changed from "cinematogapher" to "director of photography". Enough people with enough power (unions/guilds) found semantic important enough to force a change in the title. Semantics has relevance.

Quote:
Some directors have a very good idea of what they want with the photography [edited..] and some directors leave everything up to the D.P.
That is a given and has nothing to relate with the original post. The word "director" has fundamental implication in the world of movies and Storaro rejects it because he feels that that role is covered by one person. I just brought that up because I happen to agree with him. The relationship between director and cinematographer is a completely different topic that we can explore in another discussion.

Quote:
(p.s. Was the book 'A Man With A Camera'?
The book is titled "Writer of light"
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