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To Monitor or Not


Seung Han
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Should a director be directing from a monitor?

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of watching a shot from a monitor? Are some shots more appropriate to view from a monitor?

 

Also, what is the relationship between Director and DP to the monitor?

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Well you have to watch some shots from the monitor... Like a crane shot.

If you have 1 monitor, you can have 2, 1 for dir and 1 for Dp, else share.

I'd say directing from a monitor is fine (so long as you can hear) so you can see how it looks on screen. But I am not a director, mind you.

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This seems to be a personal taste thing, some directors don't bother much with the monitor they just sit close to the camera and watch the performances. Others sit obsessing over it, moving the actors with their hands as they watch. The downside if the monitor is too far away, you lose direct communication with the cast and it becomes rather like a TV studio with the cast only hearing second hand through the AD.

 

In the past directors used to discuss with the camera operator if the camera framing etc. was good, so they're not essential. They often check things though the camera viewfinder during rehearsals or while setting the shot up with the DP or operator. Although some directors seem to think everything must come to a stop if a monitor isn't there.

 

Quite a few DPs also operate, so they won't be at the monitor.

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Personally, I like the monitor to be there because it lets me know, in real-time, if I'm going to like the shot or not. That said, I always forget to look at it when the camera is actually rolling...

 

I want to work for you. I usually get the directors that have to stare at it even before there's picture. :lol:

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Has anyone tried clamping or bolting a flat monitor on an flexible arm to the director's chair? To me that would be the way to do it so you could be there for your actors but still keep an eye on the frame. I actually was going to try that with Blood Moon (assuming I don't do a role in it). I saw George Pal's Director's chair for sale in an auction catalog that I have and it had a fold up desk-like table attached obviously for him to take notes or make revisions so It got me to thinking because plasma screen monitors are very light, why not attach a spring loaded arm like a desk lamp might have to a 14 in wireless monitor with a folding sun hood for glare and add a desk table for notes along with the bag for scripts, pencils and maybe a small tape recorder and or still camera AND the Director's viewfinder, with of course a golf umbrella and a combo cup / sunglasses holder sorta like a what Cadillac might build if they made director's chairs.

Edited by James Steven Beverly
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Guest Tim Partridge

A very well known DP who has shot many films that most of us here grew up watching said this to me about monitors: "I can't relate to how they make films nowadays. It is not the same. The directors these days... they don't direct anymore, they have these television sets, you know!"

 

I think a good director uses a monitor the same way a good driver uses a rear view mirror. This is to say that they are both one vital tool in the process.

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Personally, I like the monitor to be there because it lets me know, in real-time, if I'm going to like the shot or not. That said, I always forget to look at it when the camera is actually rolling...

 

That is what the eyepiece is for.. that is what the DP/ Operator (used) to be for....

 

I carry a monitor in my package.. but only a 9" Black & White.. for me, shooting film.. a monitor is for framing reference only... I put it away whenever possible! :ph34r:

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A friend of mine shot a film a year or two ago on S16. The director was a total film neophyte and was financing the movie herself. I think it was a few hundred thousand dollars. Anyway, he told her that he didn't want to have a monitor on set, and she said OK. So they shot the whole film without a monitor and they worked as they used to in the old days...the director watched the take and the operator told her if the take was good or not. There were no problems, no surprises, and the film looks great. I'd really love to work that way sometime.

 

As a steadicam operator, not only do I have a handful of people (many times more) watching the monitor, but I have to make sure that I provide a good wireless signal so that they can see the take. I've worked it out quite well now, but when I was starting out my wireless was a bit shaky at times, admittedly. I'm not a video assist operator.....I spend way too much time dealing with that crap! I've done so many extra takes because video broke up for half a second....it's just silly. The dependence on the monitor is downright ridiculous at times. When video assist became the norm, a certain amount of trust between the DP/director, and operator vanished. Now they don't need to trust their operator as much, because they're looking over his/her shoulder constantly. OK, sorry, rant over!

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Well it depends if you are a performance driven director or camera driven director or BOTH.

 

David Fincher: Is BOTH and yes he does work behind a monitor but it doesn't mean he is restricted by it. He is a masterful director and will do whatever is necessary to get the right performance, and sometimes that might mean yelling from behind the monitor or getting close and personal with the actor.

 

Steven Soderbergh: Is BOTH bur does not work behind a monitor because he operates the camera himself (most times) and says this is the best way to work as he is the closet person to the actors and is able to give feedback efficiently and effectively.

 

 

What do you think about those who DOP and Direct as a combined role?

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Hiya,

 

I prefer Monitors by far.

The film or documentary you are shooting will end up on a screen. Therefore, it is the best way to actually see how a shoot will look like and whether or not the shot actually works. Also, don't forget, you trying to show a world out of a window! By simply using no monitor at all, it's like directing a theater play rather then a movie as you will have no idea how everything looks later on a screen, and only trusting in your Director of Photography can hurt later in the editing room.

I recommend use technology to your advantage if you have the financial availabilities, it cannot hurt.

If you can't, then make sure you have a look through the cam more then once!

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  • 3 months later...

I don't see any problem with watching a monitor during a take, providing you immediately turn to the actor to give feedback. They hate it if they give their all, and then are just left hanging there, ignored. But one problem with watching a monitor is that you haven't got full attention on the performance. So maybe it's better to watch the actor, and check framing after. So, whatever works best for you. I find it varies.

 

One persistent question is whether to allow actors to view playback. Difficult to stop them of course, but you may find them altering their performance in a way you don't like. Back in them olden days, before VA, some directors banned actors from even seeing the rushes. They had to wait till the premiere!

 

There's also another, very rare, use for video assist. I once shot something where, when we watched the telecine, we were shocked at how sloppy the framing was, until in one shot we were certain it had shifted. I could spend two pages here describing the saga that ensued (at one point we investigated whether the ground glass could be out. Panavision thought I was an idiot for even asking: "The next person to use that particular camera was Steven Spielberg. I think he would have noticed."). We'd shot reference marks (which were also out) and were shown SMPTE line up film that 'proved' the telecine equipment was ok, etc etc. In the end it was the video assist footage that held an unarguable record of what the framing should be. We took our business elsewhere, and our first choice of telecine (a place that had a Citizan Kane warehouse of cans of BBC stuff, all of it presumably transferred wrong? :huh: ) never pursued us for the bill. I've never heard of this happening to anyone else, but presumably it must do. So hang on to those little tapes. ;)

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Hiya,

 

I prefer Monitors by far.

The film or documentary you are shooting will end up on a screen.

I don't agree with this at all regarding documentaries. Are you going to do another take? No. I think a documentary director needs to be near the operator and being the eyes in the back of his/her head, so that important moments don't get missed. They'll see it all later anyway. If it's really a documentary there is no second chance, so sitting at a monitor is pointless.

 

This isn't the case with features and tv of course, but one good example of someone who rarely uses a monitor is Clint Eastwood, and look at his track record as a director. He knows what he wants, hires good people who he knows he can trust, and makes films that are constantly in the running for awards and do very well financially. His example is one of the best arguments for not using a monitor. And I don't think he's an anomaly, I think his process is one that works for him, and could work for other directors.

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Has anyone tried clamping or bolting a flat monitor on an flexible arm to the director's chair? To me that would be the way to do it so you could be there for your actors but still keep an eye on the frame.

An easier way to do the same thing would just be to use a wireless transmitter and handheld monitor. You can be very close to camera at all times and no one ever has to lug around your chair and monitor.

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Monitors are a good and bad thing. I've worked with directors who camped out in Video Village and directors who stand just right of the camera and watched the performance live. Video gives the entire crew and opportunity to see the shot. Each department has a responsibility and many times the departments work shows up on film. The monitor helps the other departments see what is going on and what is going to be seen in the shot. That is the plus side. On the negative side, it takes time to set up which takes crew resources away from what is really important. In reality, setting up video village always seems to be the number one priority. It creates a bottleneck. With all the people that gather around, it's hard to get by sometime. Then there is all the unnecessary yacking that goes on. This is why BNC cable and barrel connectors are so handy. Then you have the issue of video playback where you get to wait while the scene is replayed. Where people congregate, people talk. Also a good boom guy with get right down the frame line but someone will always comment, "I think the boom dipped in." Then we do another take for no reason.

 

It does have it's good points. When I was on Tombstone we were doing a Steadicam shot on Sam Elliot in the rain at night and I kept seeing the stand holding the Lightning Strikes. Everyone was gathered around the monitor and nobody except me noticed the stand in the shot. I spoke up and they did another take. Again the stand was in the shot and I spoke up again. It started to get ugly after 3-4 takes and readjusting the stand, people started looking at me like I was crazy. The last take, I didn't say a word. The director said, "That was perfect, moving on." I pulled Bill Fraker aside and I said, "Bill, the stand was in the shot again." He said "No way, are you sure? Nobody else saw it." I said, "Nobody else saw it the first 5 times. Go look at the playback." He stopped the AD, looked at the monitor and sure enough the stand was in the shot." This time they reconfigured the Lightning Strikes and we got the shot. The problem was that the stand didn't show up until the Lightning Strikes struck. The Steadicam operator couldn't see it because her monitor would just blow out when the lightning hit. Once I saw it, I looked for it and nothing else. Everybody else was just standing around watching and really didn't know what to look for. It was late and people were tired. But, we have a duty to speak up. If I hadn't, they would have had to do it all over again on an already behind schedule. The down side was that everyone looked at me like it was my fault we had to do it over, except on the final take when everyone turned and looked at me and I said I didn't see it and we moved on. The important lesson is that the monitor is a tool and you have to use it to your advantage and not your disadvantage and when you see a mistake, you have to point it out. Just point it out to your department head and let him or her be the messenger.

 

Another monitor story, this time a funny one, was when I was on a commercial and the ad agency people all congregated around the monitor watching the lady with the tampon box. For those of you who have never done a commercial, any agency person with a pencil is a producer. If they have a director's chair, they are a director. If they have a video camera, they are a DP. I think you get the picture. We rolled the camera and an agency lady yelled "CUT!" Everyone turned in astonishment and she asked, "Aren't those little lines going to be in the picture?" The director said, "No, that's the ground glass. It's in the camera." Everyone cracked up and she sat down all embarrassed. Then the director said, "Let me call cut. After all, this is why I'm here."

Edited by Tom Jensen
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Reminds me of when I was summoned to our Channel 4 to show an edit in progress which had to be OK'd by one Marie Thomas, a jumped up sub-commissioning editor at the time. She spent the initial conversation trying to prove how much she knew, and how much more senior than us she was in the pecking order. We'd be wise to follow any advice she gave. We gritted our teeth and put the video on. After a minute she said, "I'm sorry, but we can't possibly broadcast that with all those numbers on the bottom of the screen."

 

:(

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What do you think about those who DOP and Direct as a combined role?

 

I worked this way on my feature film and four commercials. I think it's a great way to work if you can do both jobs, it's certainly a very fast way to work. No need to communicate any instructions to the DOP because it's you!! Several predicted disaster for me in doing this, especially on the feature film, but things could not have worked out better.

 

My shoot in July, film god's willing, I will be using a Hollywood DOP for the first time and a very large crew. So this will be a new way of working for me, as I will be directing from two monitors, one for each camera as we'll have two rolling at all times.

 

I expect as my budgets grow I will be leaving the DOP position entirely for good.

 

R,

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Reminds me of when I was summoned to our Channel 4 to show an edit in progress which had to be OK'd by one Marie Thomas, a jumped up sub-commissioning editor at the time. She spent the initial conversation trying to prove how much she knew, and how much more senior than us she was in the pecking order. We'd be wise to follow any advice she gave. We gritted our teeth and put the video on. After a minute she said, "I'm sorry, but we can't possibly broadcast that with all those numbers on the bottom of the screen."

 

:(

 

Very good story indeed. I worked at CTV Toronto for five years and I could tell the board a hundred stories about VPs and accountants who totally made fools of themselves by speaking out about production issues. Production issues they knew absolutely nothing about. A few times I had to find a diplomatic way of making the VP or manager not look like a total idiot. Hard to do most times at CTV.

 

The worst nightmare I have always faced is showing an off-line edit to a client, oh my gosh I would rather have my eyes cut out than go through that process. You explain what an off-line is 300 times and they are still no where close to getting it.

 

They say never work with kids and animals, they should add "non-film people" to that old saying as well.

 

R,

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I really think the director should be close to the actors so they can see him/her so I try to get the monitor as close as I can. Most of the directors camp out with me at the monitors. Some are on set. I think it is better for the actors if the director is on set. It is actually much harder for me when the directors are not with me and the script supervisor at the monitor. Sometimes actors miss lines or there will be blocking issues that the director is not seeing. It is really hard to run into the set and explain to the director some complicated three dimensional blocking issues that are obvious at the monitor.

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