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I had an interesting past couple of days.

 

A couple of months ago a producer I?d worked with called and asked if I wanted to interview for a feature she was doing. I went into the office for the interview, and found the director was someone I?d already met. I?d met her months before through some mutual friends. She expressed that she was really interested in working with me because she?d heard only good things about me.

 

The director called me the following week and invited me to a full cast reading of the script. She told me the Executive Producer wanted to hire another DP but she was really pushing for me. I sat in on the reading and became really interested in the script. I told the director I usually get to read the script and then am able to present ideas to the producer on what I could bring to the show. That is usually how a producer is able to determine whom he/she will hire.

 

A couple of weeks later the producer who asked me to interview called and said they were stuck between me and another DP, that my reel was the best but there were other political reason the Exec Prod wanted this other DP. I told her to let me know as soon as possible what the final decision was because I was getting other job offers in the meantime.

 

After a week of hearing nothing I took other job offers and figured I didn?t get that feature. The director eventually called me and apologized that I didn?t get the job, I told her she was the first to confirm. She exclaimed that she?s gotten funding for a second feature that she will have more control over and she definitely wants me for her DP. I thanked her and told her I looked forward to working with her.

 

Last week I got a call from the producer who originally wanted me to interview, she told me they lost their DP and have their last week to shoot. She asked if I wanted to come on and finish the show. The end of their schedule ran into the beginning of another film I was to shoot, so I told her I could work up until a certain day and then I had to move on to another job. She told me they may be able to finish by the beginning of my next job. So I agreed to take the job.

 

I go into the office the next day to view dailies and get caught up to speed on where they are at this point. I?d met the Executive Producer briefly but didn?t really know him that well.

 

As I watch the dailies I largely see the same actors playing parts that I?d seen during the reading a couple of months before, except for some changes. What surprised me is the Executive Producer in the Lead Actor role. I was a bit confused and a warning bell went off, but I didn?t say anything. As I watched the dailies further towards the end I saw him giving direction to actors while the camera was rolling, and I didn?t hear the director giving them direction.

 

After viewing the dailies I spoke to the director she told me the Exec Prod didn?t like what she was doing and took over directing. So now he?s the Executive Producer, Lead Actor, and Director. Lots of warning bells were going off at this point.

 

I would have declined the job right then and there, but the Producer who really wanted to bring me on was desperate to finish the show and needed a DP badly. The director was heavily invested in that she wrote the script, and wanted the feature credit. I wanted to keep a good working relationship with both of them, and was to coming in to save the day.

 

The first day of shooting the Exec Prod/ Lead Actor/ Dir was an hour late. We couldn?t set up the first shot because he hadn?t told anyone what it was. He?d set things up so that every decision had to go through him. So we couldn?t do anything until he ok?d it.

 

Finally he got there and I got him to explain the first shot. The camera was to pan with an actor he stops at a point an actress walks up from behind and they talk. On the first couple of takes the actors walks but stops at a different place both times, which changes the composition, and changes the relationship between the two in the final frame. The EP/LA/Dir looks at me and says I keep changing the framing. I tell him the actor stops in a different place, lets give him marks. The EP/LA/Dir tells me marks don?t matter I need to keep the framing the same. We proceed to argue about how can framing be the same when the actor doesn?t stand in the same place. Finally the actor agrees to stop in the same place, we get the shot and move on.

 

The rest of the day was pretty eventless. It would take the EP/LA/Dir a long time to block the actor?s and decide where the camera was going to be. A couple of times he wanted terrible compositions and we argued about that a little. A couple of times while I was with the gaffer lighting a scene I caught the EP/LA/Dir messing with the camera changing things, I had to get on him about that.

 

I found out from the sound recordist that once the Exec Prod took over as director most of the previous crew quit. He would have quit but they begged him to stay. I asked him how long did the DP stay after he took over, the sound recordist told me the previous DP was on for one day after he took over.

 

Another really bad thing he did, while the actors were in the middle of their performances he would stop them mid performance tell them to do it a different way and say ?go?. As though they were supposed to stop mid emotion change inflection and jump right back into that emotion, and still give a convincing performance. I think all of this had tension brewing underneath for both of us.

 

The second day of shooting. The EP/LA/Dir was again two hours late. Which meant we sat around doing nothing because no one knew what the first shot was going to be. Once he got to set. He the original director, and AD were talking, but didn?t really explain to the crew what was going on. Finally he tells me the first shot, and we can set it up.

 

We were in a clinic that was supposed to be a poor inner city hospital, but didn?t really look like it. Production Design told me they told the EP/LA/Dir what they needed to make it look like a real hospital, but he didn?t give them the money needed to accomplish the task.

 

We were in the reception area of the clinic looking through a window at the receptionist. She's speaking to a guy holding a bloody towel to his head. We got that shot and then prepared for the turn around. We went around to the other side of the glass and looked out into the reception area. The EP/LA/Dir complained that the reception area didn?t look like a big emergency room waiting area. I suggested maybe we could have the guy blocking most of the frame and have extra?s block the other part of the frame so that it would be difficult to tell exactly how large the room was. As the gaffer and I lit and set up the shot, the EP/LA/Dir disappeared. After we finished we sat around for another 15 minutes wondering what was going on. Finally the sound recordist comes to me and tells me the shot is being changed.

 

I find the EP/LA/Dir out in the hall way I ask him what?s going on. He yells that he?s been trying to explain for the past 10 minutes. I look at the sound recordist and gaffer and ask them if they?d heard of the shot being changed and they said they didn?t know. So he explains to us what he wants.

 

He wants to set up a plexiglass rig, to look like the window, and shoot in the hallway so it look like a larger space. I think to myself that the plexiglass looks nothing like the window we just shot through. The window was a clean, thick glass, with a greenish tint, and most importantly antiglare. the plexiglass was flimsy, scratched, and revealed every glare. Instead of objecting I just began to set the next shot. In the middle of setting up the plexiglass rig, the EP/LA/Dir comes back and announces everyone stop, grab everything and come downstairs.

 

I tell the gaffer not to change anything, because the lighting is still set up in the real waiting area. I go downstairs to see what he was talking about. There is a thin hallway that opens up in a larger area. And he has decided he wants to shoot there. "Do you really think this is worth it", I ask him. We are about 4 hours behind of a 12 hour day. It will take at least an hour and half to bring all that stuff down here set it up, light it, and get everyone in place. We are still set up in the waiting room, does this shot really add that much production value?

 

He responds ?you are the DP just light it and shoot it, don?t worry about anything else?. I respond, ?ok if you want to be that way, once my 12 hours are up these sneakers are walking out that door?. He responds ?do what every you want?, ?I will? I agreed.

 

The cast and crew bring everything downstairs. We set up the plexiglass rig, and I have to turn off every light from the camera side because of glare. Once we get the actor with the bleeding head in front of the glass and under his lighting, it quite obviously doesn?t match, and makes him look dark and moody. I have to light from his side, if I turn on a light from the camera side it creates glare or washes out the glass. The EP/LA/dir and I get into an argument about this because he want me to turn on a frontal light camera side, I tell him it doesn?t look good. He argues just turn it on and see what it does. I turn it on, he goes and gets a blanket. We cover the camera with the blanket that blocks most of the glare, but also blocks most of the frontal light on the actor. There is also a slight reflection of the camera on the glass, and the light washes out the glass. I bring that to his attention he say?s its fine.

 

After that shot we eat lunch. All department heads are complaining about how terrible of a show this is, and how their needs are not being met. The script supervisor is frustrated and wants to just quit. She argues that we all should quit and leave the EP/LA/Dir high and dry. I?m the one encouraging everyone to stick with it, there?s only a couple of days left, we?ll just get through it.

 

After lunch the producer who brought me on shows up. She asks me how its going. I tell her the EP/LA/Dir and I aren?t getting along too well. I tell her he won?t listen to me, he?s a terrible communicator, and he?ll just change everything at any moment. She tells me to be patient with him, I tell her I?m trying.

 

I go with the gaffer and begin to set up the next shot. I hear the EP/LA/Dir voice down the hallway yelling, and I hear him yelling about me. I have finally had enough and get angry I go down the hallway, and I see him yelling about me to the producer who brought me on. He?s telling her I?m belligerent and won?t follow instructions.

 

I get in his face and tell him I was trying to tell you this shot down here on this plexiglass would not match what we shot upstairs in the waiting room. I tried to tell you that light was washing out the glass and it didn?t look right, but you won?t listen to me. When you try to edit that together it won?t match.

 

And right there we have it out right in front of the entire cast and crew. He argues that he didn?t like that shot upstairs. I argue that I understand but we are on a time limit and the crew shouldn?t be punished because he came to set unprepared. He asks how was he unprepared. I said I?m sure this building has been here for the past 10, 20 years, he could have come here at any point, scouted the location decided that he didn?t like the waiting room and wanted to shoot the turn around downstairs. While we were shooting the upstairs shot the crew could be preparing the hallway down here for the turn around. You came unprepared.

 

He argued that he?s the director I?m the DP I should just do what every he says. I say we have a time limit, you are not paying us over time, and I?m not willing to work over time for you. We have been severely behind time the whole day, and you aren?t doing anything to help us move any faster.

 

He says there?s was one thing I failed to understand. Director?s hire DP?s not the other way around. One day he?s going to have his 30 million dollar film and he gets to pick as his DP. I say that is your choice to make but for right now that does not stop me from telling you how fu**ed up this whole production is.

 

He goes into how many features he?s worked on. I tell him it seems you would have learned how to run a production by now.

 

He begins to attack me and say that I was taking too long to light scenes. At that moment the gaffer walks up. He says ?you two why is it taking you two so long to light the scene this isn?t Titanic?. The gaffer says ?well this is a rudderless ship?. He begins to yell at the gaffer, the gaffer says ?don?t yell at me, you don?t know me.?

 

He begins yelling at me saying that I must be a sad person because I?m the only one complaining, I tell him the rest of the crew feels exactly the same way, I?m just the only one saying anything. He begins yelling what a terrible DP I am.

 

I look at the gaffer, he looks at me, and we walk away. We left the EP/LA/Dir standing there yelling at us. See all of the grip and electric equipment belongs to the Gaffer, he brought the entire package. And at that moment we?d both had enough. We walked back to the set, the gaffer announced to the crew ?everything that?s mine pack it up.? We begin taking down all the lights, c-stands, grip equipment.

 

The EP/LA/Dir, comes back yelling at us more. He tells the AD, ?get both of there names, every Director I know, every Producer I know, every AD I know, will have your names, and you will never work again.?

 

As we pack the gaffer?s truck, we see nearly the entire crew packing up all of their stuff. The sound department, the script sup, the grips, PA?s, all quit.

 

I speak to the producer and original director, apologize and tell them I can no longer work with this guy.

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I was in a very similar situation about 5 years ago. What is it about these money poeple that think they can do everything and do it well? It's taken the business about 100 years to establish the need for different people in these different positions.

 

It's always hard to decide what to do in that kind of situation. Some would say just suck it up and do it and go home, others will do what you did. I think you did the right thing because you were at first diplomatic and presented the options, letting him make the descisions. But there was a point where it's not worth your name being on the film.

 

I wouldn't worry about him telling everyone he knows about how bad you are...I'm sure there isn't anyone he's worked with before who wouldn't agree with what you and the crew did.

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I've been tempted to walk off of shows before. I've never worked with someone as incompetent and rude as you describe -- but close. You probably did the right thing -- at some point, the guy has to learn that there are consequences to his bad behavior. Tell me his name at some point so I know not to return his calls...

 

I'm so passive-aggressive that I usually stand my ground simply through sheer inaction when confronted like that. But I'm usually in a position where I'm respected enough for the director to listen to my objections and not want to piss me off too much. But I also bite my tongue a lot. Some directorial decisions are so bad that you shoot the scene knowing that it won't make the final cut.

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as a rule i try to work out potential problems in pre-production. if i read something in the script that raises a red flag i express my concerns to the powers that be and at least lay the seed for my thoughts in their head.

 

this has saved my ass several times and i think helped my reputation. as the DP there are so many people you have to keep happy and it is always a delicate balance.

 

and i have come onto several features to "finish" up or re-shoot sequences. and i have also had one person threaten me the same way..."i am gonna fax evryone i know and blacklist you, etc..." that bothered me for about 5 minutes...

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One other story I forgot to tell from the first day.

 

While I watched dailies I noticed lots of blown out windows. In one shot the background was a giant glass door leading outside that was totally blown out. But you could still see small detail in the background. Like people walking by, or cars and trucks driving by.

 

I told the EP/LA/Dir that I didn't like that look. My first choice would be to bring the glass doors down to exposure or not shoot in that direction. If we have to look that way, I would prefer to place material over the doors so they bloom entirely and no detail can be seen. At least that looks like you did it on purpose for aesthetic reasons. The project is shot on the SDX-900, so I told him that entire back area would all be zebra stripes.

 

After that he became obsessed with zebra stripes. I told him there will be a small amount of zebra's at times. And small highlights are a good thing.

 

The first day of shooting he was watching the frame diligently for any zebra anywhere. I had to keep reassuring him it was ok.

 

On one scene in an office where we had to look towards a window. I closed the window blinds. but little highlights from the sun were peeking through slats in the blinds, and creating small zebras in the monitor. We blocked and lit the scene and were about to shoot it. He noticed the zebras and asked if we could do anything about them. I had the grips place a dark scrim like material over the window to bring it down, but there were still some zebra.

 

I told him it was ok, the windows are in the background, the actors are properly lit in the forground, its hardly noticeable. He declared to me he will not have zebra stripes in his movie.

 

He got on the camera and turned down the exposure until the zebras in the window dissappeared, which of course made the room really dark, then he said why don't you bring the light in the room up. I said you are asking me to match the intensity of the sun, we don't have that much light. Why don't you just try he asked me. Well if you rent us a 10K and a genny that would probably do it, I told him sarcastic but straight faced.

 

How can we not have enough light he asked. We have a couple of 2K's I told him, by the time we CTB them and bounce them into some board it will brighten the room, but still won't match the sun. Well just try he responded.

 

So I had the gaffer add the 2K's, and when we turned them on the room was a bit brighter but still too dark. I opened the aperture on the camera to proper exposure for the light in the room. And the zebra stripes were still there in the slats of the blinds.

 

We need to do something says the EP/LA/Dir, I don't want zebra stripes in my movie. Right after he says that all of the lights in the room go out. We've blown a couple of breakers. So we have to call building security to get the building superintendent to find the breakers and turn them back on. Which takes over an hour.

 

Once the power is back on we are back to where we started in the first place. The EP/LA/Dir comes up with idea and instructs the grips to place gaffer tape over the hot spots on the window behind the blinds.

 

All of this wasted a couple of hours, I'm tired of going round and round with him so I say fine.

 

I figure out the second day of shooting that he thinks the zebra stripes are going to be in the final movie, that's why he was so anal about them. So I turn them off and he never sees them again. From then on I use my light meter to judge contrast and hot spots.

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I've never walked out on show either. That's the first time and it feels kinda' weird.

 

I've been in dissagreements with director's, but never a full out arguement in front of cast and crew. I've seen it several times, but never thought it would be me.

 

Generally I'm such a laid back guy, most of my friends can't believe that story. I generally like to set up a fun atmosphere with my crew on set. I'm so much like that that no one can believe I would get mad and quit.

 

If the director and I really dissagree on something. I compromise by saying lets shoot one your way, and one my way. My way usually ends up in the final edit, and the director normally feels good and confesses that's the reason you have a good DP by your side.

 

I'm not worried about him telling anyone I'm a bad DP. I may loose some potential work from it, but on the other hand anyone who thinks he's a good director I'm sure I wouldn't want to work for.

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Thus has it always been. I remember some 30 years ago a guy like that who called me up after the shoot and fired me. Then he called again and re-hired me. Then he fired me again and re-hired me again. By the end of that night, I had been fired eight times and re-hired seven.... ;-)

 

Take heart that so far everybody who's ever told me "You'll never work in this town again" have themselves never worked in this town again.

 

 

-- J.S.

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Don't worry about his threats to slander your name, you just keep being the pro you are and he'll keep being the schmuck he is and good folks will figure out the rest. Nobody wants to walk away from a show, our instincts are inclined oppositely. The fact that you feel weird about it says you're a dedicated professional. The issue is whether or not that guy deserved you, Tenolian. You deserve to be respected and appreciated. I would have done the same thing. Enough is enough. Warn your friends to steer clear of this guy. You are a service that has the right to refuse service to any customer. You are in control of that. He is a detriment to your reel, to say nothing of your health. Life's too short.

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I figure out the second day of shooting that he thinks the zebra stripes are going to be in the final movie, that's why he was so anal about them.

That's truely pathetic. I have encountered strong egos of the sort but at least they had some talent and knew something about cinematography. I think you did the right thing after all. I admire your patience. I doubt that this multi-purpose filmmaker (if you can call him one) will make it. Good luck on your next job!

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Um... wow. Sorry to hear about the shoot blowing up like that.

 

(then again, the last feature I helped on had the lead actor as exec producer and director as well, but that went fine as far as I saw, but I only helped on 2 days when they had a sick PA)

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Thanks everybody.

 

You can sort of loose your balance on things when dealing with someone so different.

 

But its cool I've moved on.

 

I hope this story can help some one else deal with a tough situation.

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I once got into such an argument, the director took a swing at me. I am a pacifist (i'm french, no? :P), but I cracked this guy in the mouth. He was just starting out then, but he is fairly high profile now. I also met Harvey Weinstein a few months ago, and he was an even bigger a**ho**. No tact whatsoever. He kept calling me "Comrade," and got my name wrong not once, but four times in 15 minutes. Now tell me: what is so difficult about Remy? I was waiting for a rim-job joke. Thankfully, it never came. Probably beyond his brain power to make the association.

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