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Old May 20th, 2005, 08:54 AM   #1
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Issues with my DP...

I am directing my first feature. What am I responsible and what is the DP responsible for?
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Old May 20th, 2005, 09:07 AM   #2
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Short answer:

You handle the actors. You manage the on-screen talent. You mold their performances to your liking in a manner that best suits the story you're trying to tell. For the most part, the Director is a director of acting.

The DP handles the image. The DP manages camera placement, camera angles, choice of lenses, etc. The DP molds the image in a manner that they know will best suit the story. For the most part, the Director of Photography is a director of the image.

Anybody else care to debate this?
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Old May 20th, 2005, 11:54 AM   #3
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Chris,

I think your qualifiers, "For the most part" are important. Many directors will express their 'vision' of the scene, and the DP's job is to help the director achieve that look. Often, a director won't know what lens to use, and will say "I want to be able to see all of the table, but not the door way...". The DP will know what lens to use. The director is free to say... "We dolly in close, by the time he pulls the gun out of the drawer." The DP might say... "Not enough room to lay the track, and we don't have a steadicam..." but he would never say... "I don't like that, we're not going to do that."

I know YOU know this... but some people might have taken your description as a license for the DP to have complete controll of the image. He has as much control as the Director gives him. Depending on how much the Director knows, he must trust his DP to make the best choice, and to give him suggestions for even BETTER choices.

Just my take on it.
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Old May 20th, 2005, 12:16 PM   #4
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I think it varies wildly. Chris, your answer is a great one, but I don't think it works that way often enough. A lot of directors these days came through the ranks as DPs first, and they direct the picture first. I was watching special features the other day for "Catch Me if You Can" and they were saying that Spielberg chooses the lenses for each shot. They had a lot of fottage of him framing things also. An actor friend of mine had three pages of dialog in an HBO series, and when they shot she said the director never gave her a single word on her performance.

I do believe that the visual look - the camera placement and moves - is a large part of any directors style, and should be. Kubrik, the Coen Brothers, Tarantino (who is an actor), all have strong visual styles that they bring. Films are visual storytelling, afterall.

Now if you look at someone like Elia Kazan, who came up through theater, you are going to get a very different view. That's all about the acting. I think there are fewer of them today, though.

My advice, Ahmed, is to go with your personal vision for what you want to convey with your movie. If you have a strong visual sense of what you want then bring that to the table and find a DP you can work with to implement it. If you have a vision that is mostly about the actors and performances, then find a DP with a strong vision to take the lead on the visual aspect in consultation with you. Go with your strengths, and find people to help you with everything else.

I have had a range. I have directed things where I was essentially the DP as well, and I have worked with DPs I like and trust and said "This is what this scene is about for me, now I'm gonna go work with the actors, figure our how you want to shoot this."

Good luck.
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Old May 20th, 2005, 01:43 PM   #5
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I think lighting is where a director typically leaves a DP to work the magic. Many famous directors from Spielberg to Kar-Wai Wong choose lenses (many of the art house directors swear to themselves to never shoot with long lenses), make suggestions about framing and direct camera movements. For example, David Lynch has a style of dolly move he uses in essentially everything he makes, regardless of the DP, and Martin Scorsese is always touted as a master of using the Steadicam in his movies. So I think good directors should be making suggestions and giving direction in those areas. But I've rarely seen on set or read about a director making major suggestions on lighting. That seems to me to be among the top responsibilities for a DP.
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Old May 20th, 2005, 03:40 PM   #6
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Thanks for expanding and expounding on my admittedly over-simplified answer... please keep it up! I just wanted to get the ball rolling is all. One of my favorite directors, Barry Sonnenfeld, started off as a DP (shooting the first three Coen Brothers films in the process).
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Old May 20th, 2005, 05:31 PM   #7
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I think what you'll hear is that it all depends on where the Director is coming from, and what his relationship is with the DP. Sure, Directors who are coming up from behind the camera, will feel more comfortable calling the shots, literally, to the DP. Those that come 'across the film plane' as actors, will be a little less tech savvy, and a little more dependent on their DP to make judgement calls in camera placement, lenses, moves, and lighting. Its a wise director who knows his own strengths and limitations, and listens to his DP.

The flip side is, a Director with no 'acting' knowledge, often must rely on the innate skills of the Casting Director, and AD or Dialogue Coach, to help interpret his vision to the actors. And actors do like 'direction'.
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Old May 20th, 2005, 05:59 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zach Mull
I think lighting is where a director typically leaves a DP to work the magic.
Funny, was recently watching the re-release of Dr. Strangelove. In one of the DVD features they say that Kubrick kept a pair of gloves handy so he could adjust lights himself. One day Peter Sellers snatched one of these from him and made it a part of the "spastic hand" that became the title character's trademark! :-)
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Old May 20th, 2005, 06:34 PM   #9
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This is a fascinating thread. I've wondered how the director and DP on studio shoots manage to do their jobs without strangling each other. I always smile to myself every time a director mentions switching DPs in the middle of a shoot over "creative differences." Judging by the articles I've read in American Cinematographer, it seems to happen pretty regularly. I've never heard of a DP overthrowing the director though. On the last shoot I did, my partner, who is the director, story boarded the whole thing by herself, and I never even looked at her story boards. During the shoot, I'd just ask her what angle she wanted and how wide. Then I'd move the camera and the lights and frame the shot. I was amazed at how well it all cut together. (I had my doubts actually). Somebody recently commented that it was some of the best editing they've ever seen, and it was all cut in the camera!
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Old May 20th, 2005, 07:55 PM   #10
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Another version is the so-called, British system, where the DP is known as the "Lighting Cameraman" and the camera operator works with the director to set-up the shots, and then the Lighting Cameraman works his magic. But even this isn't written in stone.

There is a documentary out now on legendary cameraman, Haskell Wexler, who was known to be one of the most difficult DPs for directors to work with, as well as one of the most talented. And yes, even he was replaced in the middle of production for being difficult, and interfering with the director's relationship with the cast.

Moral of all of this is that if you are directing, you better be happy with your DP or it will have a negative effect on your work.

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Old May 21st, 2005, 06:05 AM   #11
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"Look out, Haskell! It's real!"

But of course he was directing that one. I'll have to check out that doc.

For an example of a lead actor nearly overthrowing a director (well, influencing the final cut anyway), check out the Alan Smithee scandal of American History X. There's an elaborative thread about it around here someplace from a couple of years ago.
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Old May 21st, 2005, 10:51 AM   #12
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For me, I like to work this way:

1. On short short films, esp. ones that Jon Fordham is shooting, I give him some ideas for lighting (warm, cold, bright, dark, contrasty, etc.) and angles, but he, for the most part, comes up with stuff that I approve. It's easy on a 2-3 page script, because we have time. If he's not shooting, and it's me, I just write down notes (I've only shot two short films and most of a feature). I prefer to NOT shoot, unless it's something I really can't explain, short of storyboards. When I shoot a film I'm directing, I end up neglecting the actors.

2. On my next film, 9:04 AM, I'm going to have extensive meetings with Jon F. about the look, lighting, angles, hand held vs. tripod, etc., then I'm going to draw up some key storyboards and some shot lists, and be loose with them. For the important scenes, that's where the storyboards or shot lists will go.

That's my style. Once upon a time, I was a dictator director and made my old DP Jeremiah Hall (now a co-producer with me) follow the hundreds of storyboards I drew up. And the actors were given line readings, which pissed them off to no end. I had forgotten it's a collaborative effort!

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Old May 21st, 2005, 11:19 AM   #13
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The way I understood it, the Director is the artist, the DP is the tool... not meant in a derogatory way. The Director has the scene in his head, and relays his vision to the DP. It is up to the DP to make sure that the angle, dof, etc, are going to capture the scene to the Director's vision. While some Directors have skills behind the camera, they also have every other thing to deal with. They have actors to direct, which will bring HIS scene to life. Therefore, they hire a DOP to deal with the camera aspect, leaving him time to deal with the rest.
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Old May 21st, 2005, 12:52 PM   #14
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What happened is that I am directing my first feature film and although I worked hard with my actors, I also have a direct vision on what I want for the framing. However two incidents happened which upset me. The first was that I momentarily left the set and the DP proceeded to do a take without me there. Then the next day, while I was going to speak with my actors, he physically restrained me from walking to them and had me speak to them from where the camera was placed so that I could give them more directions on how to act.

This upset me a little because I felt overwhelmed from telling him exactly how I wanted the framing and the shots. I didn't want to step on his toes because he has more experience than me. I instead kept my thoughts to myself and allowed him to do all the shots and everything. I've been depressed because the film isn't turning into the film I wanted to make. Thanks a lot for your suggestions guys. It means a lot.

Should I approach him about this? How should I approach him about this?
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Old May 21st, 2005, 01:00 PM   #15
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I would have a word with him. Take a look at his take, and see how it measures up to your expectations. If he has more experience, he may have got what you wanted. However, YOU are the Director. YOU call the shots. If he has a thought on getting the shot, listen to him, but it is you that has the last word. He does not control the actors or the direction of the film.
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