WANT TO DIRECT? HIRE A CINEMATOGRAPHER! (BIG SECRET: Your Cinematographer is the True Director)
by Dov S-S Simens on February 17, 2017
WANT TO DIRECT? Hire A Cinematographer.
On a film set directors, especially new ones, focus 95% on actors and are totally lost and confused about what to do with the camera, the lights, the shots and coverage.
No matter how many years of film school they had, they’re still insecure and confused about where to place the camera; what lens to use; what filters to get; where to place lights; how to move a dolly; how to block a scene; which setup (Master, Medium, CU or ECU) to commence with, which take is the “good take” and how to make sure the shots obtained during post-production will cut together smoothly.
(The pointing-finger-by-the-camera-shot is totally bogus for it is staged 100% by a publicist who desires photos for newspapers and magazines that make you look like you’re a Director….but they are staged)
Thus, if you desire to direct it is super imperative that you get a DP (aka: Cinematographer) who knows how, as his/her title states “Directs Photography” but sets aside his/her ego and allow you, who talks to actors, to be called the Director.
Want to direct? Then hire a DP.
FIRST-TIME DIRECTOR. Hire a DP who is a DP.
When you are a first-timer and desire to either direct, or produce-direct, or produce-write-direct a feature film without a question of a doubt the most important person you hire is the Cinematographer…. Thus, make sure you hire the best and not a kid just out of some theory laden 4-year film school…. and please hire a DP who is a DP.
FYI: 28 years ago the Cinematographers union went on strike for they believed that Directors were getting to much credit for making a movie when it really was the Cinematographer that knew how to make the movie. The strike lasted for 36 hours and the Director’s Guild, realizing they couldn’t make a movie without a Cinematographer, capitulated and allowed the Cinematographer to have a new title/credit on movies that is “Director… of Photography”.
Thus, I repeat… please do not hire some 22-25 year old kid, just out of a 4-year film school, with all that wonderful theory on how to direct assuming you have (A) all the money you need and (B) access to all the sets, locations, lights and equipment whenever you want it… for he/she has no experience in how to direct a feature film that is shot in 1-3 week s with 25-30 setups/day when he/she has (A) little money and (B) little time.
Please hire a Cinematographer that is a Cinematographer (aka: Director of Photography)… Not a kid with a business card that says he/she is a Cinematographer.
Let me explain.
THE CAMERA CREW: The Cinematographer’s Pecking Order
There are 4-5 people that make up a camera crew.
- Cinematographer (aka: DP)
- Camera Operator (aka: CO)
- 1st Assistant Cameraman (aka: 1st AC)
- 2nd Assistant Cameraman (aka: 2nd AC)
- DIT (Digital Intermediary Technician)
When someone, who desires to be a Cinematographer, graduates film school, his/her first job is usually working at a camera rental facility checking out cameras (film schools don’t buy or use expensive 4K or 35mm Cameras), inventorying returned cameras, checking for M&D (Missing & Damaged) and driving replacement equipment to the shoot.
They do this for 1-2 years and eventually meet a Cinematographer, who rents cameras from the camera rental facility.
(All camera crews have a DP, CO, 1AC, 2AC & DIT… Make sure to hire a DP who is a DP, not someone masquerading as a DP who is really an AC or a DIT)
This kid then asks the “true” Cinematographer if he/she ever needs an Assistant Cameraman (“AC”) if the answer is “Sure”. Then he/she leaves his/her job at the camera rental facility, marries up with the Cinematographer and becomes his 2nd Assistant Cameraman (“2nd AC”) who is in charge of equipment, camera reports, etc. and only gets jobs when the Cinematographer gets jobs.
This kid does the “2nd AC” job for 20-30 shoots/year for 2 years and then moves up the ladder to be the Cinematographer’s 1st Assistant Cameraman (“1st AC”) and is in charge of “Pulling Focus” on the camera. After doing 20-30 shoots/year for 2 years as a “1st AC” he/she then moves up the ladder to be the Cinematographer’s Camera operator.
This kid operates the Cinematographer’s camera and makes sure all shots are composed properly. He/she does this, for 20-30 shoots/year, for 2 years. This kid, now, no longer a kid, has been on 60-90 shoots over 6 years as a 2nd AC, a 1st AC & Camera Operator…and this is the person I want you to hire to be your Cinematographer.
BIG SECRET: Never hire a kid out of a theory laden 4-year $150K film school to shoot your film. Give him/her 6-8 years in the real world to learn how to handle electronic formats, pull focus and operate a camera without ever losing or damaging any equipment. Thus, hire a Camera Operator, someone 7-9 years out of film school, who over 5-7 years has been on 50-60 shoots and is now operating camera, for a senior Cinematographer on studio big budget feature films, but wants to be a Director of Photography…and he/she is happy starting with your ultra-low-budget, feature film project.
(Who was Tarantino’s DP on “Reservoir Dogs”?)
Hire a DP who is a DP…or almost a DP who has been on 40-60 shoots, is still only 30-35 years old and is now a CO for a Big-Budget DP, who wants to move-up-the-ladder and launch his DP career by DPing your Low-Budget feature film.
Pay for this person is $1,500-$3,000/week and it will be the best $1,500-$3,000 you ever spend to launch your directing career.
Dov Simens / Film Instructor
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