WANT TO DIRECT? (The Secret: Hire a DP… DPs are Directors without Egos)

WANT TO DIRECT…WANT TO DIRECT GREAT? Then Hire A DP.

Confused about shot selection? Where to put the camera? What lens to use? How to dolly? How to frame shots? When to get a Master, a Medium, or a Closeup? When to use a Dutch Angle? When to do the cool Zoom-In Dolly-Out shot? How to make sure your setups cut together?

How? How? How?

Well, stop being confused. Why? Cause that’s not your job… it’s the job of your DP. Now your job, as a Director, is to know how to hire a DP (aka: DOP or Director of Photography or Cinematographer)

I’m sure you know how to get a script and even how to storyboard it for a shot list. I’m sure you know scouting and how to select locations. And I’m absolutely sure you know how to play the casting game and rehearse. Etc.

But do you know what to do with the camera? And do you know how to direct each step of post-production from picture, to sound, to ADR, to Foley, to Music, to Mix, to M&E, to digitizing, to DCP?

Probably not.

On a film set directors, especially new ones like you are full of traditional film school theory, focus 90% on actors, casting and their performance, which is important, but are lost and confused with what to do with the camera, the lights, the shots and coverage, especially within the very limited time schedule that you have to shoot a scene, with 5-7 setups, that will cut together and edit smoothly.

And, once again, first-timers rarely know 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; which setup (Master, Medium, CU or ECU) to commence with, which take is the “good take”, etc… Ask yourself, if you are to direct, if you know exactly what the first shot will be…

Likely, the answer is “No”.

So what do you do?

Director-4

 (The pointing-finger-by-the-camera-shot is totally bogus. It is staged 100% by a publicist who desires photos for newspapers and mags that make you look like you’re a Director…. The photo looks good… Doesn’t it?)

Answer is simple. You hire a DP.

Thus, if a first-time director, it is super imperative that you get a DP, a Director of Photography (aka: Cinematographer), who knows how, as his/her title states “Directs the Photography” but sets aside his/her ego and allows you to focus on script, actors and performance… and be called the movie’s Director.

Want to direct? Want to be a great director? Then get the great script, cast the actors, secure a location or two… And when it comes to actually directing… Then hire a DP.

THE DIRECTING SECRET… Hire a DP who is a DP.

When you desire to direct, or produce-direct, or produce-write-direct without a question of a doubt the most important person you hire will be the Cinematographer…. Thus, make sure you hire the best and not a kid, with a 4-year film school diploma who shot a couple of shorts…. Remember that person is about to get a $350/week job at a camera rental facility… please hire a DP who is a DP.

Below “CAMERA CREW” is where you discover what a person does to become a DP.

FYI: Three decades ago the Cinematographers union (I.A.T.S.E, Local 600) threatened strike. Why? They were pissed that Directors get to much credit for making a movie when it really was the Cinematographer that makes the movie. The strike threat lasted 8 hours and the Director’s Guild, realizing they couldn’t make a movie without Cinematographers, capitulated and allowed the Cinematographer to have a new title on movies containing the word Director… that is “Director… of Photography”.

Once again, If you are to direct, and have never directed before, then the most important person you hire is a Cinematographer and, not just any Cinematographer, but a Cinematographer with enough experience that is a “Director of Photography”… Not a kid with a business card, with 2 DSLRs, BlackMagics or GoPros, that says he/she is a Cinematographer… Hire a DP who is a DP!

Let me explain.

THE CAMERA CREW: The Cinematographer’s Pecking Order

There are 4-5 people that make up a camera crew.

  1. Cinematographer (aka: DP)
  2. Camera Operator (aka: CO)
  3. 1st Assistant Cameraman (aka: 1st AC)
  4. 2nd Assistant Cameraman (aka: 2nd AC)
  5. DIT (Digital Intermediary Technician)

When someone, desiring to be a Cinematographer, graduates film school, his/her first job is working at a camera rental facility as either a “gofer” (Go for this, go for that) or bookkeeper, inventorying returned cameras, checking for M&D (Missing & Damaged) and driving replacement equipment, when needed, to shoots.

He/she does this for 1-2 years and eventually meet a Cinematographer who is renting a camera package from the facility.

FILM SHOOT-2

 (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, who is renting the $200,000 camera package, that if he/she ever needs an Assistant Cameraman (“AC”) he/she will gladly work for them. One day the kids gets a call from the Cinematographer stating a need for an “AC”… The kid then leaves his/her camera rental job, marries up with the Cinematographer and becomes his 2nd Assistant Cameraman (“2nd AC”) who is in charge of equipment, camera reports, and slates the shots.

This kid does the “2nd AC” job for the “DP” for 20-30 shoots/year over 2 years and moves up the ladder to be the Cinematographer’s 1st Assistant Cameraman (“1st AC”) and is in charge of “Pulling Focus” on the camera. Again, after doing another 20-30 shoots/year over 2 years as a “1st AC” he/she then moves up the ladder to be the Cinematographer’s Camera Operator “CO”).

Again, this kid operates the Cinematographer’s camera and makes sure all shots are composed properly for another 20-30 shoots/year over for 2 years.

This kid, now, no longer a kid, but still only 30-35 years old has graduated film school, worked 2 years at a camera rental facility and has been on 60-90 shoots as a 2nd AC, a 1st AC & Camera Operator…and also, now that cameras are mostly digital, a “DIT” too, 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.

Voilla.

HARVEY-QUENTIN

 (Yes, I know that’s the evil one on the left… Question is, however, Who was Tarantino’s DP on “Reservoir Dogs”?)

Hire a DP who is a DP…or almost a DP, who has been on 60-90 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.

This is who you hire. And I promise you this 30-35 year old CO, who has been on 60-90 shoots, and wants to get his/her 1st DP credit on a feature film will save your ass time-and-time-and-time-again.

Pay for this person, your DP, $1,500-$3,000/week and it will be the best $1,500-$3,000 you ever spend to launch your career.

Happy Filmmaking,

Dov Simens

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3 comments on “WANT TO DIRECT? (The Secret: Hire a DP… DPs are Directors without Egos)”

  1. Liam says:

    Best explanation ever.
    Though you said this: “sure… you know CASTING GAME” . Like it is so simple. Please explain what do you mean? I’m afraid of actors, especially narcissistic from theater background. They know everything. How to look like a pro and choose well. How do you know

  2. The only caveat here is that most directors that will work at YOUR rate have also been directors, so avoid hiring one that is looking to make your movie theirs.

    Great stuff, Dov, as always. I look forward to catching up with you at the UMFF this year.

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