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I heard from a friend of mine that I hadn't seen in awhile yesterday. He's in pre-production on a low-budget feature, and was complaining that the DP (DoP) hadn't gotten him a shot list yet.

What the huh...?

Look, I understand the layman may have a misunderstanding of the director's job, but I'm increasingly hearing about directors letting the DP do the director's job. And increasingly, I'm hearing about DPs that THINK camera placement is their job. It's fucking not.

Lord knows, I've had trouble with DPs and camera operators wanting to do something I don't want, or try to say something like; a 50mm at 12 feet is the same as an 18mm lens at 3 feet. It's fucking not. Or that an audience won't notice a difference in camera height (my biggest pet peeve with DPs) of 8 inches or so. So much of placement is psychological when it comes to the audience. It matters. As director, how much power you give your DP is completely up to you. But if that shot he picks for scene 30 doesn't foreshadow scene 56 like it's supposed to, damn it, say something.

So listen up, kids: the director picks camera placement, camera staging, lenses, how many setups a scene needs. All of that. Yes, you need to discuss all of that with your DP. Yes, if he has an idea, you steal it if it's good or at least try to accommodate it if it's mediocre, but placing the camera is the director's job. Period. Full stop.

  • Whilst I agree with most of what you say, it isn't strictly true. In my experience different directors have different levels of what they like their DoPs to decide. As long as they know what they are doing, it is fine. Some directors will rely more heavily on their DoP for these things depending on their experience level.

    I have been in the situation where I have been asked to do a shot list (I am a DoP) and I hate it - because if I don't know what the actors are going to do, I have no idea what the shots are going to be...

    5 years ago
    • I think we're in some agreement; I did say how much power you decide to give your DP is up to you as director. But it is outside of the DPs job description to set camera placement. But if the director wants you to do it, that's another story.

      5 years ago
  • Dan, bang on fella! You are right. We run the ship from top to bottom and that includes the look of the film; consequently the shot-list is our gig. I block out a week with my DP and run through my vision for the film. I rely on his input and some of the shots will be almost totally his. I'll offer an idea and he'll maybe chime in with something better. But yup, expecting the DOP to do the shot-list is unacceptable.


    5 years ago
    • Let me just say that before meeting with your DP to discuss the look of the film, and director should have already done a shot list, and hopefully storyboards for at least a couple of scenes. That way, you have time to discuss things with your DP, and he/she may have better ideas than your own. But it's important for the director to do those initial shot lists and explain to the DP what he is trying to accomplish with those shots.

      5 years ago
  • Correct, the DP should not be doing the shot list. Adam seems to have a good collaboration with his DP - but I have to say I find the attitude conveyed in Dan's post to be symptomatic of a big problem.

    I read a lot of this kind of post, and it's very depressing the number of shoots which must turn into a battlefield with the DP and director vying for ultimate power.

    Firstly to be clear, the director has the final say on all these aspects, so there can only be one 'winner' of such arguments - but it should not come to that. As a DP, I expect my ideas to be listened to by the director, and I understand that it's totally their prerogative to take them on board or not. But if the director is micro-managing every aspect of the camera department, then they are not giving enough attention to the performances and the story, which should be their main concern.

    You should be hiring a DP because of their talent for camerawork, and then not to listen to someone in that position (who often has much more experience than the director in such matters) is extremely short-sighted.

    I usually find it works best when the director and DP have a strong idea of the look and style which they've formed together in prep. The director will block the actors and describe the shot he or she wants, at which point we'll agree on a camera position and a lens. It's usually a discussion rather than a dictation, and if you've not already mentioned shooting close-ups on an 18mm lens then don't be surprised when the DP calls for the 50mm.

    Then the DP will oversee the placement of the camera, and setting exposure, adjusting lighting, initial framing and so on, while the director continues to work with the actors. Once ready, the director comes and looks at the shot, asks for adjustments if necessary, and then we're ready to shoot. 80% of the time there's no adjustment needed at all, and often it looks better than the director may have originally envisioned, due to the DP's careful camera positioning/lighting/framing, etc.

    In my opinion, the idea of 'auteurism' is a massive problem which can hold back starting out filmmakers. We've all read the stories about Kubrick having to keep his pesky cameramen in line. However, sadly there are not many Kubricks out there, although a large proportion of new directors try to approach their work in the same way, and it just doesn't work like that in reality. So if we're offering advice to the 'kids', I would say that you should get the best people around you that you possibly can, and trust them to do their best for your film. If you're lucky enough to get an experienced cameraman to shoot your film, don't just try to domineer them because that's what you heard Kubrick did. Listen to what they're saying, because they are absolutely not trying to fuck your film up. And if (by some miracle) they have 'an idea', no need to steal it as it's being offered for free anyway. No need to graciously accommodate mediocre ideas either.

    Of course say if you don't like what they're suggesting, but a strong director/DP relationship is one of the bedrocks of a good film shoot and should give the director the space they need to concentrate fully on the story and performances.

    5 years ago
    • I agree with all of that. And hopefully director and DP will have a good working relationship.

      BUT, and this happens often, is that there are DPs out there who will shoot for their reel, and not for the needs of the film. In other words, they don't have a "look" they need to show their range, and give YOUR film that look.

      I once worked with a DP/cameraman (I used work uncredited fixing films in trouble), that would re-frame a shot slightly IN THE MIDDLE OF A TAKE. If that wasn't bad enough, he'd shake the camera so that the editor couldn't use the bit of film where he re-framed. That kind of shit is an insult to everybody, but especially the editor. After the 3rd warning, the producer got somebody else to shoot it. Please don't pull shit like that, guys!

      5 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich We has a cameraman who used to spoil any shot he thought not good enough by abruptly ending the take and putting his hand across the lens; many a time we could have used the take, or part of it; it was annoying. Less confident folk will do that to try and show they have higher standards. Being told not to do it is part of the learning curve. We got him to let us make the judgement.

      Always finish a take as well as possible even if it seems something went wrong during the effort and then take another one if deemed appropriate.

      5 years ago
    • @John Lubran Oh, good lord, John, now that's a new one. So basically, the camera op was calling cut. So often, on multiple takes, a director is looking for just that one look from an actor for that split second. A DP needs to trust that the director and editor aren't going to use sloppy framing or a bad camera move.

      5 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich "A DP needs to trust that the director and editor aren't going to use sloppy framing or a bad camera move." Just like a singer trusts the music producer to use the right take. Which doesn't always happen.

      That's the type of thing, precisely, that makes it so important to work with people you trust in every way, including artistically. I don't know a DP of that description anywhere near here.

      5 years ago
    • @Alève Mine Sure, that happens, Aleve, but it's not the DP's call.

      If a shot is slightly off, whatever that is, and the performance is amazing, the actor wins. Nobody is going to notice an odd shot except for the person that shot it.

      You can go around and around on this. What if the prop in the background isn't right, but the shot and performance are spot on? Or the cigarette is in the wrong hand of the actor on this take where she's absolutely brilliant otherwise?

      None of that means the DP can put his hand over the lens, or the script super can run into the shot, or the prop man throws a baseball at the wrong prop in the middle of a take. Shit happens all of the time. After the take is done, the camera op, or whoever, can inform the director of the screw up, and he/she can make a decision.

      5 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich (I wasn't equating the actor with the singer in this comparison. I was equating it with the DP. Either way,) I agree.

      5 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich Everyone has his/her area of speciality and how the director combining his/her different takes on editing that's his/her decision. Sometime DPs expect directors to explain final edit on set. I mean if the director is also a good editor and whilst filming he/she knew that we have different takes and on edit some portion of 1st take and some portion of 3rd take will make best and there is no point of keep filming when finally it will go in edit.

      3 years ago
    • @Kamran Qureshi I don't disagree at all, Kamran. Usually, my discussions of editing are toward the actor. I might say something like "You need to hold that gaze for a beat longer, because I'm cutting to character B, and I need something to cut on. If you look down right after that line, I'll lose the connection between the characters."

      Truthfully, though, I've had longer conversations about editing with the script supervisor when she thought something wouldn't cut.

      3 years ago
  • Once upon a time the director did almost everything yet now there is an army of people to do this that and the other for him or her. DOP does have in its title the word director but surely the DOP is about making a beautiful picture not really directing or are we splitting the picture and the acting by the two titles. For me at least if a Director is worth his or her salt they should be a master of directing and slightly more than a jack of all trades on everything else. The very best directors will be master of nearly all of it!
    As part of a husband and wife team we can have some pretty heated discussions at times depending on which of us is directing with most of this coming down to the minimum focus distance/technical abilities of a given camera setup or potential edge violations, parallax too strong, for 3D content in which case while I appreciate what my wife is trying to do, physically it isn't going to work no matter what with the current setup so the "picture" needs to be recomposed and or a smaller camera setup brought in etc. What I have noticed over the years is that the scenes we argue most fiercely about are always the very best just not sure the stress is worth it lol. Essentially my wife is a very talented director and often so brilliantly adds the tear jerking human factor I so often miss, but her technical understanding is low. So I guess what I'm saying is where the director has little technical understanding then sticking just with directing the human acting aspect and leaving the shots to someone else makes sense however I do feel the directors who can do it all produce the very best outcome.
    Just my 2 cents worth.

    5 years ago
  • Director of Photography is an aggrandised title for Cinematographer which isn't a world away from Lighting Cameraman. Maybe the overuse and overreach of the title helps cause this confusion.

    After all, is there an ASDoP or a BSDoP? No, it's ASC and BSC.

    5 years ago
    • I remember a union fight here some years ago, where the casting union wanted a "Casting Director" credit, and the Director's Guild said, basically, "fuck no. Not another directing credit! We've given everybody a directing credit and we're sick of it! As it is, everybody thinks the DP directs the goddamn picture!"

      5 years ago
  • These job titles ought to provide some clear demarcation of roles and responsibility, but they don't. The structures of productions can differ hugely these days. Big budget features are usually much more defined in this context but as one drops down in scale and budget these demarcations can become quite blurred and inconsistent. Equally job titles used by broadcasters are often different from others, such as the BBC's eccentric use of the terms Editor and Producer. In my experience working as a cameraman with BBC Directors I've several times found myself calling the shots entirely within only a skeletal guideline provided by the Director.

    On our short camera courses we've had experienced directors coming to learn basic camerawork! Back in the 90's I was quite astonished to have two Directors who had been directing Panorama for several years who had barely ever touched a camera. How can any Director with so little craft knowledge actually be solely in charge of creating shot lists? We live on differing planets in this industry which makes it impossible to take any case as a generality.

    5 years ago
    • Yeah, John, there's a lot of directors here in Hollywood that don't know shit about lenses. Mostly great comedy writers that came up that way. I really don't understand those directors that have no interest in learning what placement and lenses can do. They lean heavily on the DP, and, in the end, that's their prerogative.

      5 years ago
  • Have to agree with you John. I was working on a feature doc last month and the Director had next to no camera knowledge, even though she's completed three feature docs and a fiction feature, all winning praise from plaudits.

    For me it's just about good relationships - I know you can't expect it on all projects - if you have a discussion up front about what you want from your DP and vice versa; there doesn't need to be a fight on set.

    I also ask to sit down for a few days and work collaboratively on shots lists where time allows - I feel so much more in control of the camera if I know the story and approach.

    5 years ago
    • YES! That's so important, Andrew. Everybody needs to be on the same page. And too, the director needs to respect the expertise involved in everyone's job.

      5 years ago
  • Let me start by saying 'wow everybody replying to Dan seems really nice and polite' I like a challenge and one day Dan I hope we get to work together because the way I read your posting I thought you sounded like a.....(add your own appropriate swearword here...) you sound like the kind of Director who's forgotten that your main job is to Direct Actors and Actresses and you are trying to take over the DOP's the following:

    If you can't be bothered to read the whole article I quote 'Devise shot list with director (coverage)
    Choose lens and composition; show to director for approval'

    Another useful article is:

    FYI not all DOP's are 'he's (in your posting you used the term 'he' for DOP's...a more PC way of writing would be 'he/she') and not all are going to let you bully them into having everything 'your way'.

    As a DOP I have the right to argue my case and have experience and expertise that a Director should be using not controlling...if you are such an excellent Director that you can get a perfect performance out of all your cast and also do my job for me I'll bow down and let you have more control over the things you've mentioned...but the chances are you should be focused more on actor/actress performance and not on lenses, camera placement, distances etc...that is the DOP's job.

    Anna Carrington

    5 years ago
    • Hi Anna, I think a part Dan's point is that EVERYTHING that ends up in the film is the director's job, it's his or her name on the film, so he or she has ultimate control. Should she or he prefer to allow the cinematographer to provide suggestions, then he or she should allow him or her to do so. Should she or he not wish to do so, it is her or his prerogative not to, and to not get push-back or attitude from the cinematographer!

      Look at it this way, the director can fire the cinematographer, but not the other way round. This tells you who is the boss and who should be listened to, ultimately. It isn't a case of the cinematographer allowing the director to have more control over the director's film, because it IS the director's film, much as if the head of costume 'allowed' the producer to choose a shirt colour for a cast member, or a caterer 'allowed' the location manager to send out for a burger.

      Films are huge, hectic places and spending tens of thousands of pounds a day, even on a fairly modest production. To stay efficient, there is a chain of command, and the DoP is head of a department, but they are not top dog. Their name didn't attract the money, they didn't attract the cast. If it came to having a clash between the director and DoP, production will replace the DoP in a heartbeat if they have to, to keep the ship on course. If that means replacing the whole camera department, so be it, time on set is that valuable. I have had situations where a backline band member (rock'n'roll, not a movie, but still applies) thought they were more important than the lead artist, or at least started getting a bit ungrateful. The management had a new band member rehearsed and standing by to replace him on the tour one day, just like that he was fine, and so were the problems. The added bonus was it snapped everyone else right back into line immediately. What I'm trying to say is that any friction or push-back from a crew member is detrimental to the production, and that's someone's money getting wasted. The fastest solution is the most brutal, but don't imagine it won't happen if you 'disallow' a director to tell you what they want!

      5 years ago
    • I don't disagree with anything on that list, Anna, for the most part. But I can see where much could be taken out of context. For example, let's say you and director have worked out a high shot looking down, but after visiting the location, it's the DPs job to say to the director "The ceiling is too low for that shot. We need to find a different way."

      But in no way is the DP in charge of camera placement (the shot list), or how many setups. If I were going to let anybody else do that, it would be the editor (but I'd never do that either). The DP doing all that is simply wrong. Is the DP going to be in the editing room to make his shots work? No. If the director wants to use short lenses, is it your feeling that the DP can override that decision? Are you telling me that Bob Yeoman designed the shots and setups for Wes Anderson's films? Then went off and did "Bridesmaids" in a completely different style? No, that's 2 different directors. That's why they look different.

      Most directors are on films months or even years before a DP comes on. They've worked on every aspect of the look, the storyboards, the staging... if you walk in to a meeting with a director with storyboards about how YOU want to shoot his/her film, you may not have a job 5 minutes later. No matter what your list says, that is simply a diplomatic nightmare.

      I talked to a friend of mine this morning, thinking that the U.K. way of doing things might be different (I've worked in New Zealand, and the 1st AD saying "action" is something different I'll never get used to). He's directed in the U.K. (The Ruling Class, The Krays, Let Him Have It), and I read him your post. Here's a direct quote from Peter: "Oh, no, Danny, that's crazy. The director is in charge of all of that."

      To say the director's main job is to work with actors may or may not be true, depending on the director. But in most director's worlds, camera placement and coverage is equal to performance. They work hand-in-glove. You simply can't separate the two. Here's a simple example: if the DP sets camera height equal to an actor's forehead and tilts down slightly, that is not as effective as setting the lens at nose height and tilting up slightly. Why? Because an actor carries emotion with the eyes. The audience gets a much clearer view of the eyes my way. Hand. In. Glove.

      Look, if I'm going to fuck up the movie, I want it to be my fuck up, not somebody else's. (Damn. I tried to make it through the post without swearing).

      As I said originally, how much power the director wants to give the DP is up to him/her. But shot selection is the director's choice. Framing that shot correctly and holding that frame is the camera operator's job. Often, lens selection is the cinematographer's job, because a lot of director's don't know lenses. But if I want an 18mm and the DP wants a 50mm, guess who's going to win? Those are 2 completely different shots.

      Do you work with the DP in preproduction and discuss all that? Of course. But that shot list is ultimately the director's job. Here's what I'm not going to do: tell the DP which lights to use. He/She shouldn't tell me where to place the camera. In Peter's words, "that's crazy."

      5 years ago
  • Got to agree with Paddy. Doesn't matter what source of learnedness you present on this issue Anna; if any of these worthies suggest that there's a fixed way, determined by some unempirical science, that places the DOP in charge of the director, then that's just plain nonsense. There is no general rule about any of the issues in this discussion. Some directors are total hands on control freaks because they know everyone else's job and exactly how it will manifest in the completed film; others are more into delegating, which is a great skill in itself.

    As a multitasking producer myself I would not tolerate prima donnas. Fortunately the very best craft people tend to be confidently graceful and lovely to work with. Amongst less experienced beginners that attitude almost always results in a successful career too.

    There is however someone who can fire both the DOP and the Director - The Producer.

    5 years ago
    • "Fortunately the very best craft people tend to be confidently graceful and lovely to work with."

      That's so true, John. The best DP I've ever worked with operated on these little films like "Die Hard" and "X-Men" and was John Cassevetes cameraman (after John fired Caleb Deschanel... so there's that). Seems the more experienced people are, the more lovely they are. I guess because they have nothing to prove.

      5 years ago
  • David Lean was renown for sacking cameramen/dops etc because they wouldn't do things his way. Given the way his films turned out I'd have to say he was 100% right to do so. However in his case he did know his way round a camera and for me at least every director should, or how can they know what they are doing. Sure direct the actors but know what the camera will see - take the camera to the action or bring the action to the camera, choice is the directors because its his or hers story! Shouldn't ever be a two person story.

    5 years ago
  • A very interesting on line debate. And whilst sitting in my camera truck eating for half the none camera crew to arrive on set I thought I would join in.

    In the years I have worked in film & television which go back to the early ninteen nineties and having started at the bottom and worked my way up to director of photography, writer & director and producer and executive producer as well as headed three production companies in that time with my main focus being a full time director of photography. I have worked with many directors and on my way up many DoP when I was a camera op and 1st AC / focus puller.

    The relationship between the director and the Director of photography should ideally be a mutually beneficial one and one where good communication between both is paramount in order to get the best out of each othe. Dan is very clear about what he as a director wants and how he wishes to work with his choice of DoP and he is very clear about what he wants and where he wants the camera putting and the lense he wishes to use. In some respects that can be great and in others it clearly takes away a big aspect of having a DoP and one might wonder why in that case simply employ a camera operator and tell them where to put the camera and what lens to use or better still get a robot.

    Look it's clearly the director who has to interpret their own version of the script and who they wish to tell the story and who the story unfolds. It's the directors job to get the best performance out of the cast. Some directors like to focus on the performance of the cast and give the movement and camera to their DoP. Others are more like Dan in their approach to working with dop's.

    However as Dan sounds extremely experienced in his field and is clearly exact in his vision and how he wishes to portray the script to tell the that's fine. I don't think Dan should be shot down for doing his job in the way he has chosen to work.

    But at the same time the DoP shouldalso be hired for their skills and eye as well and it in my opinion should be a partnership relationship between the director and DoP its however not a committy but a mutually beneficial working relationship. And a good director should allow for a short moment to discuss the best possible shot if the DoP has suggestions to offer the director which my provide a higher level of production value to the film or production.

    Sometimes having worked with extremely experienced directors who know exactly what they want it's very easy to shoot and other times with pretty inexperienced directors who often term to the DoP for help and guidance as well as ideas on a shot. Both than be a joy to work with at times but let's not forget we are in the creative industry and I think it should also be fun as well when possible.

    There are many types of directors many levels of experience and above all its about finding a happy working relationship between the two when ever possible. That however is sadly not always possible. For me it's whatever works best if the director is hard and fast on what he wants and no movement well one could say oh my god this is going to be a long shot or you could say well the director knows what he wants so that makes my job easier and simply enjoy the ride lol.

    Or you can end up working with a director that doesn't have too much input and relies on the DoP to assist in getting the write lens and camera position for the shot and tens to concentrate more on directing the performance of the cast.

    Again I don't think there is a right or wrong way its what ever works best withing that diynamic between the director and DoP for a given situation.
    And being as flexible as possible to achieve great work between the two individuals.

    I once worked with a director he was very clear on what he wanted he was not going to listen to any ideas offered in suggestion on camera movement and camera positioning. I look back at that project and often cringe when I see it because the film could have been so much more than it became simply because the director was not interested in considering any creative ideas on the shots that he could have had. When I arrive on set I always have my camera dollies and jib so there are many things that can be offered but in order for that to happen the director would need to be open minded and open to considering other options.

    This is why it's good to go over the shot list and storyboard with the director ahead of time. However ultimately the DoP is there to help capture the vision of the director. It should be the DoP providing options and alternative choices for the director to consider if needed or warranted.

    I could go on but need to get on myself now we could argue and debate who does what and departmental boundaries but fundamentally it's really about assessing and managing working relationships and what works best between the individual director and DoP. It's really shouldn't become a pissing competition because that will effect the project and future careers.

    5 years ago
    • Owen, I ABSOLUTELY listen to my DP. And if I'm stuck, they are the first person I turn to. And if the DP has a better idea, you better believe I'll use it. After all, the director gets the credit. But this whole thread started because a friend was waiting on the DP to do a shot list. That initial shot list needs to be done first by the director, then gone over with the DP to shape it up. Apparently, I have given the impression that the director, or myself, is or should be a little dictator. Not at all. And if the DP wants to do something that I don't think will work, I'll still accommodate that if there is time. The last thing you want, creatively, is the crew feeling that they are not part of the creative process. They most certainly are.

      The DP isn't a robot, they are part of the process, but not the process unto itself.

      5 years ago
    • Ownen, I just want to commiserate a bit on this part:

      "I...cringe when I see it because the film could have been so much more than it became simply because the director was not interested in considering any creative ideas on the shots that he could have had."

      Isn't that just about every film? There is always someone on set that thinks they can do it better. It's usually a P.A. just out of film school.

      Early in my career, I was editing a feature for a first time director. Days were wasted trying things that didn't work, and having some experience at that time, I knew they wouldn't work. And the edit was going badly, too. It just wasn't as good as it could have been. Exhausted, I finally turned to the director and said, "why do you insist on ruining your own movie?" Yep, I was fired. And he was right to fire me. Making a film is pushing that big rock up a hill, and every fight means you're holding that rock while the clock ticks away.

      There are times when you just have to suck it up, keep your mouth shut, do the work, and hope the next film is better.

      5 years ago
  • Hmmm - I'm a director. However I challenge myself to learn as much as possible about everyone's jobs and techniques to enhance my abilities as a director. For me planning a shoot is significant, choosing the right people to work with is significant also. I know how to craft a story, frame, compose shots and operate a camera and I know what lenses to choose. I know how to edit, grade and how to export projects to specific mediums. However, I am not a cinematographer. I think that's an art within itself that takes a dedication to that one thing alone. Shooting a drama is all well and good for a standard approach to cinematography, but unless you have developed that talent and skill then I think the cinematographer is an important voice to listen to (either way). I always use people's skills to the best of their ability, because I plan, storyboard, communicate and clearly define the approach, tone and style of the production before we walk on set. I think some directors do dictate everything on set right down to the lens used (I have also asked for a specific lens, then the cinematographer does wonders with it!) You can still achieve the same result through discussion on set when creatively veering away from 'the plan'. That's not to say there aren't disagreements, but I don't see this relationship as a battle, nor should we clearly define how people should generically work due to lazy/auteur individuals who are simply difficult to work with.

    5 years ago
    • Yes. And if you ask for a specific lens, and the DP disagrees with that, you DO need to discuss it. Because if he disagrees, you two are not on the same page and you need to be on the same page. I started as an operator on commercials in the late 70s, so I'm pretty familiar with cameras and lenses (well, film cameras of that era, anyway), so I've not had too many problems with disagreements. Usually the difference is millimeters away, and I usually defer to the DP or camera op if that comes up. But if they want to use a lens that changes the shot in a significant way, it's an issue.

      5 years ago
  • Just to add, the Director does have final say, but all professionals know this.

    5 years ago
    • The final final say is with the Producer(s).

      5 years ago
  • I will add one last point to this discussion. From my comments above When I'm directing a shot which is about 30% of my work on set yearly. If I feel the need I will direct from behind the camera that is to say directing and personally shooting the scenes through choice. But if I hire another dop to shoot the project for me allowing me to concentrate on the subject matter and performance of the cast. Then I will allow the dop to do his job.

    I may have very definite ideas about what I want as the director and we will get that coverage first. However if we have time and my dop has a better idea on getting the scene shot. I will of course consider their suggestions because they might just have a better way of shooting it and maybe adding to the projects production values.

    I think I would be a fool not to consider my dop's suggestions but those onversations are in private and very quick if on set. The reason I'm willing to consider such suggestions is pretty simple. I might just be too close to the direction of the script to see the opportunity from another perspective at the time.

    However on some occasions like Dan I will have a very definite goal and direction to take because I know what I want to see in the edit full stop and suggestions from my dop can interfear with my exact plan.

    But whenever possible I will always consider shots offered to me by my dop even as an experienced dop with over ten years experience as a dop myself. Or I may as well shoot and direct it myself and as i have said on occasions I do just that.

    Remember people its about managing working relationships from both sides that's the director managing his relationship with the Director of Photography and the dop managing the relationship with the Director as well.

    5 years ago
    • I don't disagree with any of that, Owen, and sorry if I gave that impression.

      5 years ago
  • As a producer myself, everyone does what I say. I give the freedoms and I can take away those freedoms. I pay the bills. I typically start the project. I typically hire the director and everyone else. However, I'll give the director the most freedom to make me a movie that i want made. If he doesn't, he's fired. And I expect him to tell the cinematographer what he wants to see on screen. Yes they can collaborate, butter it's the directors vision I buy into when hiring him. Not the 'DoP'. Sorry guys.

    My 2c worth.

    Now back to work all of you!!!


    5 years ago
    • Exactly Wozy! Delusions of grandeur shattered by the blindingly obvious!

      5 years ago
    • Wozy, 99 percent of my career is/was working uncredited fixing films in trouble or coming in if a completion bond was triggered. Aside from completion bond work, director's getting fired was my bread and butter. Up until about 2001 or so, that was a couple of pictures a year, so don't think it can't happen kids. It happens more than you would think. Especially back in the days of film when first time directors would blow their shooting ratio in the first 3 days.

      5 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich To add to an earlier comment, as a DoP generally the only time I will call "cut" is if something has gone wrong with a shot and we were about to do something one-time, or are shooting on film - ie. to allow the shot to run knowing it was not usable was basically irresponsible.

      5 years ago
    • @James Martin Absolutely. It does no good if you're not recording things meant to be recorded! But it's also the assistant camera's responsibility to say: "we only have 80' of film left" before the take begins. The director then may decide just to get a certain look or line from an actor for what's left. I did that all of the time (to the point of the 1st AC saying, "I've never worked on a film that had NO short ends). Waste not, want not.

      5 years ago
  • Assuming the people on either side of the equation aren't just dickheads with clashing egos, it is the DP's job to support the Director's vision of the script.

    That process is (should be) a collaborative one in the days/weeks/months leading up to production, and a Director should be able to rely on their DP as a right-hand man/confidant/sounding board. But that doesn't mean they should just be a 'yes' man. If a DP questions a decision if you've built your relationship on trust then you know there is a reason for them doing it and you should listen. At the same time the DP should always accept if the director disagrees with you it's his prerogative and he has last say on the matter. These elements of a working dynamic should be ironed out in pre production so there are no surprises come shoot days. The DP and Director's dynamic sets the tone for the entire production and it is important for BOTH of them to work at making that relationship work.

    However, if you as Director are setting frames, choosing lenses, setting t-stops, dealing with the gaffer etc then you don't need a DP. You are being one, and you just need an operator. Likewise in post, an editor isn't just someone who pushes the buttons. He is an active collaborator and contributor to the storytelling process.

    As an aside - as a DP I'll cut if there's an obvious screw-up that means it is impossible to use anything from this take. Will try to intimate to the Director if he is in my eyeline but if not I'll call it. But that will be pre-agreed with the Director too.

    3 years ago
  • Just to add as others have said, it is the Director's prerogative to be however hands-on he or she wants to be. It is equally the DP's prerogative to not want to work in a way that makes him and operator instead of a DP, which is why this stuff should be ironed out ahead of time.

    Also, this talk of 'stealing' ideas and getting credit for them is naive and petty. We are either all in this together serving the film in our respective ways or we are not. My ideas become the film's ideas.

    Finally, I've never wanted to steal power from a Director. But if he is out and out wrong about a technical issue (say exposure of a log image for example) and full steamrollers over me and my objections and it comes back and bites him on the arse a month later in post - this then very quickly becomes a 'I can't believe the DP screwed up the exposure of this shot' line which starts in the edit suite and ends up in the ears of the Producer. As a former editor I used to get this all the time.

    3 years ago
    • I agree with most of that, Ben. But you've thrown choosing lenses in with choosing T/stops. So you lost me there. Some directors know lenses. Some don't. Some DPs have an affinity for longer lenses while I prefer shorter lenses, and that becomes a sticking point at times. Directors can give the DP all the power when it comes to camera placement and lenses. That, too, is directing. I just don't agree with it.

      Once a director explains the visual style to the DP in preproduction and they discuss each scene, the DP should be on board by then. I've certainly made edits that made me cringe, but I made them. It's the director's film. If the director then blames me for the bad edit, any good producer knows, that is bullshit. Having said that, I have never in my life known a director that insisted on an exposure. Ever. Or placing the lights (though I have worked with DPs that are lighting for their reel and not for the movie we are making). That's just inexperience.The mere fact that a director is worried about exposure instead of actors, staging, and all the rest, is just weird.

      Look, if I tell the DP I want an over the shoulder with a 28mm, I have a damned good idea of what that will look like. It's the DPs job to make that frame look good with that lens. We might have to adjust actors. The set decorator might have to add something to balance out the frame, or a dozen other things that go into that shot. A 50mm says something different dramatically than a 28mm or an 80mm. Drama is the director's job. On the other hand, if the DP knows my style, and says, maybe we should try an 18mm instead of a 28mm, I'm going to listen and consider that.

      Look, I can look at footage, not knowing the director, of Polanski, Scorsese, or Anderson and know which director directed that footage. If they let the DP choose camera placement and lenses, their own style would vanish.

      Yes, the director and DP relationship is a cooperative one, but the DP should cooperate with the director and not the other way 'round. It all depends on how much power the director decides to give the DP.

      3 years ago
  • There's a difference between cooperate and collaborate. You don't need to explain the difference to me between various focal lengths and their effect on a frame. If you felt you needed to do that to a DP in the past I'd suggest they weren't a DP.

    It's not the Director's film. It's the Producer's film. And often the Star's film. Never lose sight of that. 'Drama is the Director's job' - what does that even mean? You seem to have a very high opinion of Directors in comparison to all the other disciplines on a film and there is a constant theme in your posts about asserting authority and dominance over other people on set. The best Directors I have worked with, and the best DPs I have worked with, have never had this aspect to their dynamics. 90% of making a film is working out how to work and communicate with each other.

    I was a Director long before I was a DP and I can look at the footage of the body of work of various filmmakers and identify the style or motifs of various cinematographers and at the same time recognise a Director's aesthetic as well.

    If I want a gaffer to set something up I'll tell him what I'm after and let him sort the details and then we can finesse. I don't list the exact fabrics and fixtures he should be using.

    Likewise as a Director with an actor I let them give me their interpretation of something before we finesse it and work on honing it into place.

    My 'style' changes with each project to support the vision of the Director and the narrative. I know my place on a set but I am not interested in being, what in post, I'd have referred to as a 'button monkey'. I am only interested in working in environments where people let me do my job.

    3 years ago
    • First, you're reading a lot of your own baggage into my post. I'd suggest your read the entire thread.

      Producer's film. Yes. But the producer hired that specific director for a reason. Creatively, it's the director's film. If that director ain't cutting it, guess what? I get hired. (I fix films for a living).

      The post is about camera placement and lens selection. Of course actors are major contributors. Of course that's true. If you want me to write a post about that, I can do that. I tend to let actors stage themselves and work out my camera placement around them. So I give my actors tons of freedom.

      How is having the director select the shots a high opinion of directors, tossing all other creatives under the bus? I don't know where you got that from. Those professionals more often than not have better ideas than mine, and of course I use them. I'm saying that picking the lens and camera placement is simply part of the director's job description. It is the director's prerogative to decide how much power to give the DP in that area. I'm certainly not going to tell the DP where to put a 2k.

      Drama being the director's job means exactly that. Where you place the camera and which lens you use is drama. Letting the actors take characters to the next level and leaving them alone is directing drama. Or if they don't understand the scene and need to be brought around back to the script is directing drama. If the DP lights a scene beautifully, then I'm not saying a word (and frankly, I can count the number of times I've brought up changing the lighting on 2 fingers in 30 years of doing this). That's directing as well. "Directing" being the key word, there. If a certain prop is wrong for the character, yes, I WILL bring that up. If it's perfect, I'll say so. Props are drama.

      I once sent an actress back to the makeup trailer because her makeup was wrong for the scene. She trusted me implicitly after that. That, too, is drama. I'm not saying the makeup artist was bad, but given the wrong scene by the AD after he switched up the days schedule. Makeup is drama, but guess who has the last word?

      As for script, I'm one of the few directors around that actually wants the writer on set. So there's that.

      When, oh when, did I ever say that the DP is a button monkey?

      I'm not going to get into a pissing contest about the caliber of DPs I've worked with. But guess what? I win. And not one of them said "put a 50mm on, and lay the dolly track here," without discussing it with me first.

      Simply because I work under non-discloser agreements, doesn't mean I don't have decades of experience.

      And if you still think I'm a little dictator, perhaps you should read my post on "Why A Director Shouldn't edit their own films."

      3 years ago
    • Ben, go down to 6 or 7 days ago on "Discussions" to find my "Why A Director Shouldn't edit their own films." so you can argue with me about being a directorial dictator there as well.

      3 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich - The tone of your posts is constantly about how YOU had the right idea and YOU fixed the film and YOU noticed the mistake in make up and YOU YOU YOU and look, this, and look, that. Without even knowing me and my background you even tell me you WIN the DP contest :)

      Every good Director I have ever worked with talks about how WE had the right idea and WE fixed the film and WE saved the day from the actress going out in the wrong makeup. Talk of auteurs and all that bollocks is for the people on the OTHER side of the curtain, the paying public, to go on about.

      Not disputing that you might get things done. Not even disputing whether you were right or not all those times. As a Director and as a DOP I would have zero interest in working with people who behave that way. Perhaps when I was young and desperate for work/experience but not now. Luckily our industry is large enough that there is space for both ways of working.

      A lot of the issues you've raised about conflict in the working relationship are things that should have been sussed out before a contract was ever signed. Like most people, I get hired because of the attitude I bring to my job and (hopefully) because after a couple of decades I almost know what I'm doing. To mix a ton of metaphors, here in the trenches we are a bunch of experts and specialists in our various instruments working under a band leader who has chosen us because of what we bring to the party. Don't hire Yngwie Malmsteen and then be surprised that he wants to play neoclassical guitar solos all the time.

      Yes I read your piece about Directors not editing their work. Of course I believe that should be true, but amazing how it became another way of posting about how you know more than someone else.

      3 years ago
    • @Ben Scott It's not that I know more, but if a DP wants to do a style that is not in accordance with the script or my interpretation of the script, then yeah, trouble starts.

      Look, if I'm fixing a movie I can't change the original directorial style. Otherwise you end up with a huge mess of mismatched crap. Conversely, the DP has to match the lighting of the previous DP, even if he or she thinks it's crap. And if the DP is good, hopefully the producer will have enough sense to keep that DP on. They usually do.

      From my original post: "the director picks camera placement, camera staging, lenses, how many setups a scene needs. All of that. Yes, you need to discuss all of that with your DP. Yes, if he has an idea, you steal it if it's good or at least try to accommodate it if it's mediocre, but placing the camera is the director's job. Period. Full stop."

      What don't you get about that? It IS a cooperative relationship between the DP and director. As it is a cooperative relationship between the director and actors. The director and the production mixer. The director and the camera op. The director and everybody else.

      3 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich I just re-read all my posts in this thread. I can't find the ego you speak of. I mostly agree with people who are much more articulate than I.

      So the YOU YOU YOU must be from my editing post. When I fix a film, I'm trusted by the producer. That's why I got so much work. And yes, I do know what I'm talking about (I assume you're talking about my editing article). So I am largely left alone once in the editing room.

      Look, I can point out what was done right, but that's not a learning tool. We tend to learn by our own mistakes and by the mistakes of others. So yes, I point out the mistakes. So if it helps you out, I still have panic attacks over a shot I left too long in a film I edited 30 years ago. I'm not kidding. Full blown panic attacks. Of course I make mistakes.

      3 years ago
  • Hi Dan

    Great post, lots of different and valid points have been made.

    A DP that doesn't know the visual and emotional difference between a 50mm at 12 feet and an 18mm lens at 3 feet or the effect of lens height shouldn't be a DP.

    As a DP if the director has already said they wish to shoot the whole film on a 12 mm 2' in front of the actors or on a 135 mm from the other side of the room I would want to find out what their motivation is for this choice and how we can further develop this style in support of the film.

    I would absolutely do a shot list as part of my overall prep, based on initial discussions, and present this to the director for consideration and further development between us. Doing a shot list will give me a better connection with the script and allow me to contribute at a deeper level.

    One thing to mention is how important the script is in this process. What has the writer actually written? Not in terms of camera shots/ angles but what they think is needed to visually to tell the story.

    Happy shooting


    3 years ago
    • Chris, I absolutely agree with everything you just said.

      It's odd, but the only DPs I've ever had trouble with are the ones coming out of AFI. I'm sure they do know dramatically what those lenses mean, I think they are just trying to control the set. I've actually seen them make fun of people or dress their camera crew down in front of everyone. It's so freakin' unprofessional. And I knew the guy at AFI that taught cinematography there. He was the sweetest man on the planet. He had no idea why they all had a chip on their shoulders either. But most of them did.

      I didn't mention the script writer because the post is about camera placement and lenses.

      3 years ago
  • I think that the shot list/storyboard MUST be done by the director...The director have the vision and must lead, However certainly if OK it's nice and useful to accept polite advice from the DOP both during preproduction and shooting but last word it's always the Director's one...The light must be the first and most important duty and world of a DOP(to help the director to portrait a visual concept with lights), within the technical camera leading role...this is my idea and my (little) experience as a writer/director

    3 years ago
    • I wouldn't say it's polite to accept input from the DP, I'd say it's a necessary part of pre-production. But the AD and Producer don't go to the DP for a shot list or storyboards. They come to me. Maybe things are just different in the UK, but I don't think so.

      3 years ago
  • Last word is the Producer's one and however much freedom he or she gives the Director is up to them.

    David Mullen ASC summed up the relationship between a Cinematographer and a Director perfectly when he said it's a partnership, but it's not an equal partnership.

    One person making the final call on a particular decision does not mean the other person in the partnership is not entitled to ask for an explanation of the reasoning for certain choices and if they feel it is a wrong choice to communicate that.

    3 years ago
    • My response was disappeared, so I'll try again:

      It's the producer's film, but he hired a director for a reason. Look, if we've only got a location for one day, and I'm behind on my setups, the producer will come to me and say, "we have to wrap this location in 2 hours." I will then adjust my shots to get the rest of what I need in the time allotted. The producer isn't going to step in and start directing.

      My tightest relationships on a film are with the producer, writer, actors and editor. With that in mind, if a scene isn't working visually, of course the DP and camera operator are the first people I go to. If a scene isn't working structurally, I'll go to the writer (so often scenes are amazing on paper and complete shit in reality).

      Of course crew should feel entitled to bring shit up. OF COURSE: THAT'S THEIR FUCKING JOB. But they goddamn better bring it up out of the earshot of the actors, or you'll piss me the fuck off. If actors don't trust me, the whole fucking thing goes off the rails.

      3 years ago
  • Firstly, I absolutely agree with Dan’s original post. But that’s not to say that Dan or I are dictators with a Napoleon complex who absolutely have to have their way. There has to be a hierarchy or it falls apart, and the director ultimately decides the shots.

    It’s definitely a collaborative process, very much a dynamic duo, and finding a DP you work well with is a satisfying relationship. No doubt why you often see directors working with the same DP, e.g. Danny Boyle and Anthony Dod Mantle. I’ve got a couple I work with now and then, and often I’ll give a rough idea of the shot I want, go and chat to the actors etc, come back and the DP will show me a shot and I’ll usually be happy with it. Then other times I might have a very particular idea of the exact shot, and I’ll make sure they know that. It gives the DP a bit of creative freedom, and eases the burden on me. I always listen to suggestions and thoughts; sometimes I’ll go with them, sometimes I’ll overrule.

    I wonder where this notion came from that it’s the DP’s job to create the shotlist? Is it something that’s crept in over recent years? The 2nd link Anna posted (couldn’t read the 1st one) does rather suggest that the DP should create “the visual identity, or look, of the film” and that they read the script and decide how it’s going to look, with no mention of realising the director’s vision. There seems to be an increasing number of ‘Shooting Directors’ these days, who have their own camera and do a fair amount of corporate work etc which they both direct and shoot - maybe that has something to do with the assumed expansion of their role?
    My issue with the above is that these folk are primarily DPs, who’ve expanded into directing as well (usually to pay the bills). Which doesn’t necessarily make them a good director. I’ve worked with a couple of those sorts on shoots and have had some problems, because they can try to direct as well, and forget that their role is DP not director. I had one guy who was chummy with the 1AD and between them they tried to direct the film; like, I would ask for one shot and they would argue for another shot, in front of everyone. This being on an advert with a supercar, and neither of them had directed an advert before. Needless to say I didn’t work with them again. He was a good DP in that he knew his way around a camera, but if he’s not going to do the shots I want then he may as well be making the tea.

    Anyway, I guess in summary I’d say that the director should absolutely listen to the DP, but the DP must also listen to and respect the director.

    3 years ago
    • Paul, thank you for being more articulate than I ever could be. I agree. A post about lenses and camera placement has put me in the position of micromanaging everything. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

      3 years ago
  • Paul, I completely agree with you! in every single point.

    3 years ago
  • Paul, that sounds about right, but you appear to have had to work with some dickheads. There's so many egos at certain levels of production but please don't tar us with that same brush just because you worked with an idiot and his idiot AD friend.

    My interpretation has always been the Director sets the 'what'. The DP sets the 'how'.

    In that 'unequal partnership' the DP helps inform the 'what' and the Director outlines various key specifics for the 'how' such as the limitations of the cinematic language of the film (ie no handheld, every shot on a dolly, protagonist always shot eyeline always looking into negative space, close ups on an ultra-wide to distort the faces etc). My job is to take problems away so the Director can get on with the blocking and actors and whatnot. If there is a problem my job is to raise them and offer solutions.

    And then when that's done the Director signs off on it.

    And then I will set the 'what' for the grip and gaffer.

    3 years ago
  • Ben,
    Oh no I totally didn't mean to seem like I was tarring you all with the same brush. Absolutely not.
    As I said, I've got a couple of good relationships with DPs, and when it works that's just what it's like - a relationship, where there's chemistry and the two of you 'click'. And that's very satisfying.

    3 years ago
    • Absolutely. One of the greatest pleasures in this job is when you describe something to the Director (or as the Director when you describe it to your DP or editor) and you know they see the same thing you do when you say it, and then you go out and get it.

      3 years ago
  • Damn, I had no idea that such a simple concept of the director placing the camera would be so controversial.

    3 years ago
  • I love that this discussion took off, and remained on topic, so I wanted to chip in.

    My limited experience has allowed me to work with two DPs, both of whom were chosen because I felt that they could welcome instruction whilst providing their own technical expertise. At first I appreciated the input, but in doing so too often, I lost control (of the original hire). He insisted on attempting his variations of every single shot, and ended up frustrating the rest of the crew by killing valuable time.

    His replacement was guilty of the same behaviour, and so (believing that it was my fault for being too lenient) I had to put my foot down on when we were happy with the shot. His reaction was to lose interest, and although we made up time, he barely spoke for the rest of the shoot.

    I realise I was unlucky in this instance, and it was a learning experience for me, but it proves (as we seem to agree) that the relationship, and ultimate duties, need to be established from the start, whatever that delegation may be.

    3 years ago
    • Yes absolutely. Just like I have had gaffers try to move my camera in the past, and an art director criticise and try to change a frame of mine, sometimes there is a lot of ego on a set coming from the strangest places, especially on the earlier few tiers of production before those people are weeded out.

      Had a makeup artist start moving lights once without even telling anyone!

      These are the times where a great AD can keep everything rolling and keep everyone in line.

      3 years ago
    • James, you are absolutely not alone in that boat. That type of behavior is typically from inexperienced DPs, but I did have one experience like that with a DP that normally worked as a camera op. In addition, he couldn't light a scene without using every light in the truck. It was eating up the day. The producer replaced him with a British DP who took one look at the truck, and had them return half the lights/grip equipment. Things went very smoothly after that.

      Listen, you're going to run into this every now and again until you start working Union. Everyone knows what their job is, and adheres to that.

      3 years ago
  • Paddy is right. The union grade has been Lighting Cameraman although they call themselves Cinematographers but distributors think Director of Photography looks better on the credits. The relationship between the director and the DP (I use this for brevity) is interesting. It is the perogative of the Director to appoint the DP but in the case of The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn Monroe insisted upon Jack Cardiff to light so Lawrence Olivier had no choice. Their relationship was interesting. Jack stood behind the camera to advise framing (after lighting) whilst Larry directed doubles. When he liked the movements he told them to take a break and stepped in and saying Action after which Jack hit the switch on the camera. I got all this from Jack himself and Tarquin confirmed.

    3 years ago
    • Franz, I don't know about the UK, but it was the union that fought for the "Director of Photography" credit, and the DGA gave in to that. Had nothing to do with distributors here. Plus, here in America with union shoots, there's a separation between DP and Camera operator, which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing.

      3 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich it's a good idea unless you are a DP whose style is already derived from their camera technique, like Sean Bobbit. Unions usually preclude the DP from operating as it is taking work away from an operator. A lot of times this means an operator is hired and told to stand at the back and not get in the way while the DP operates until his arms get tired and he switches over.

      3 years ago
    • @Ben Scott In 30 years, I've never once seen the DP take over for the camera operator. I guess the UK is different.

      3 years ago
  • In the UK you can operate all you want. In the US it becomes an issue on a union shoot. But Tony Oliver who shot 'Get out' and '12 Years a Slave' DP Sean Bobbit are 2 who recently had an issue with this. Greg Frasier operated for lots of 'Rogue On'e. Roger Deakins stills likes to operate when he can.

    3 years ago
  • There seems to be a confusion for some of the people here between the shots/shot list and the cinematography. The shot list (what shots and what order) are, as Dan rightly says, the province of the Director. The photography of these shots, the cinematography, is actually what is in these shots. How they are lit, how they are photographed, what make of lens is used (all lens makes have different characteristics) are determined by the Director of Photography. And the Director of Photography is rightly called the Director of Photography as he actually directs the lighting, directs the lens choice etc. These shots do not light themselves, a spark doesn't suddenly decide to put a lamp in a particular place. He/she has to be directed to do this and the person in charge of this direction is the Director of Photography. Hence the term.

    Some directors choose to delegate the shot list to the DOP, but it is that particular director's decision to do this. He/she is subcontracting out this role to the DOP. If the director wants to do this that is fine as the director is the director. Personally, I would prefer it that the director didn't do this as it just means more work for the DOP.

    Some DOPs like to operate a camera themselves, others don't. Both ways are fine as the DOP is the DOP and its his/her choice. When a DOP operates he/she is actually doing two jobs as being a Camera Operator is not the same as being a DOP (a confusion many people using Shooting People seem to have).

    I work as both a Camera Operator for other DOPs (I am a member of the ACO, the UK's equivalent of the SOC) and as a DOP. When I work as a DOP I operate. When I operate on my own jobs I am wearing two hats: the hat of the DOP and the hat of the Operator.

    3 years ago