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Lee Tamer

Directors shooting their own films

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And did I mention Robert Rodriguez? He DP's many of his own films including Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Spy Kids. Ironically both Rodriguez and Soderbergh are indie-kind-of-filmmakers who are used to being involving in every aspect of filmmaking. I'm sure the Coen Brothers would have shot their own films if wasn't for godsend Roger Deakins.

 

Some of these DP/Directors have a lot of back up, including DITs who are DPs in their own right.

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James Cameron frequently operates the camera on his shoots. Is the DOP or some camera union rep going to tell him he can't do it?

 

In the mid50s, Jack Marquette ASC produced some very low budget movies, including 'The Brain from Planet Arous', so he could hire himself as cinematographer and get credits for joining the union.

 

So there's yet another way to get your union card.

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Steven Soderbergh.

 

Next question?

 

it definitely shows :rolleyes:

 

cinema (and any other kind of filmmaking) is a collaborative media, the main skill of a director should be the ability to get the best out of each of his collaborator, both the talents and the head of dept. all the greatest directors did and do so. it is not a one man show. there can be exceptions, but this is the rule.

Edited by Vincenzo Condorelli AIC

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As stated, I think you have to have a strong support team to do both to the best of your ability. I Direct and DP but have a good Camera operator and Gaffer.

 

I definitely feel that operating the cam properly, especially during more complex camera moves, will interfere with your directing. It might not be by much but it will.

 

If your operating the camera, focusing on proper composition, following the actor, making sure the booms not in the shot etc. small nuances or performance flaws by the actors can go unnoticed. If your focusing too much on the actors the boom could dip into the shot for just a second or your pan might drag etc. Its just better to have someones complete attention on both of these jobs.

 

As far as lighting the most important part is to have access to the locations well in advance so you can plan and test your lighting ideas before you shoot. Bring your gaffer with you and make sure you are both on the same page and that he understands what you want. Use stand ins of the approximate height of your actors to dial in the lights. Once you have everything the way you want it draw a lighting diagram for each scene or setup and give a copy to your gaffer and relevant crew. Being thorough and organized is critical to pulling off both jobs.

 

Its a lot of work for just one person so you need to do as much as feasible during preproduction because once your actors arrive they are your primary responsibility.

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I've always liked Peter Hyams' work, his anamorphic work in particular (which makes up most of his career). People say his movies are too dark, but I've never really thought that.

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I worked for a commercial Director/DP named Peter Smillie who, like a Russian gymnast, made it all look so easy. He also owned the production company as well, which I believe made him the exec producer. His big account was Lexus I think.

 

In the last few years I've noticed commercial production company's have hired well known feature ASC cinematographers to come in and Direct/DP car spots that are all running footage and pack shots. This tends to be a very productive way of getting a large quantity of good looking footage.

 

I am not so sure that taking on both roles is a good idea on features. I can think of several Directors who are more than capable of doing both but choose not to. I think they realize it is important to have somebody watching their backs both technically and creatively. I have listened to Tony Scott give instruction as to exactly which lights he wanted used and where he wanted them mounted. He also choose the focal lengths and camera positions. His DP (at the time) just called out changes in exposure.

 

Mr. Soderbergh seems to do just fine. I know he rely's heavily on his department heads. Peter Walts, his gaffer, takes on more responsibility but is also given a lot of creative freedom. One of Mr. Soderbergh's smartest attributes is that he has created a family of crew that he loves, trusts, and is loyal to. His crew has his back 100%.

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I can think of several Directors who are more than capable of doing both but choose not to

I have met endless numbers of directors who are incapable of doing either but try regardless.

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Tony Scott give instruction as to exactly which lights he wanted used and where he wanted them mounted. He also choose the focal lengths and camera positions. His DP (at the time) just called out changes in exposure.

 

 

Riddley often directs and operates too...

 

love

 

Freya

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Doug Liman Directed, DPed, and Operated "Fair Game," but he had a "Camera Operator" who is a top-notch gaffer, as well as a top-notch gaffer. Can't tell you how it looks. (Plus there's the whole Red variable to consider.)

Kubrick always had DP's, or a lighting cameraman, but his visual stamp is all over his movies.

A director's job is to tell the actors what to do, the DP's job is to tell camera, grip and electric what to do. If you're the director you can design the shots as much as you want - down to the color gels on the lights, but it really helps to have someone overseeing the photographic details.

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I have met endless numbers of directors who are incapable of doing either but try regardless.

 

I was not sticking up for directors as a whole. The best of the best are truly amazing to work with. I'd say majority of Directors have no business even being a Director, let alone trying to be a DP.

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I've both directed and shot most of the work I've done.

 

Given the luxury of enough budget to cover hiring a DP I trusted intrinsically, I think I'd probably be happy to just focus on directing. That said though, I find it extremely hard to separate my 'vision' of any given narrative/script from the images we're capturing as we shoot - so I tend to feel a good deal more comfortable operating as my scenes unfold, because then I know exactly what I'm getting, and how well that matches what I need.

 

Personally I've never found it to be much of a burden. So long as I have a competent crew around me (i.e. a solid AD, AC and gaffer(s)) it's always a pretty simple matter to tell them what I need, and then work with my actors as they set things up. Directing and operating don't happen at the same time, so I've never found the overlap to be an issue.

 

In the end, it all simply comes down to whether things work or not. If a director can make it work filling both roles, that's perfectly fine. If he can't, that's fine too (so long as he has a DP to do it instead). Film, by it's very nature, is a collaborative medium (you need someone in front of the camera and someone behind it), how the collaboration works and who plays what roles is irrelevant, all that matters is that it DOES work.

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I must say i think Peter Hyams is a better DP than a Director. He has Directed a load of shite movies.

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I must say i think Peter Hyams is a better DP than a Director. He has Directed a load of shite movies.

 

That is a little harsh. What was wrong with Timecop??? It is pretty hard to make Van Damme look bad.

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I guess it really depends. There is also an option of hiring a DoP only for the lighting for example Lars von Trier. He's got a clear idea and of course his very own style of a film. He likes handling the camera himself to visualize this idea of his.

 

When it comes to directing and DoP (including lighting) then it could get pretty stressful. You have alot of people asking you questions. Most importantly of course you have the actors. Then come the lighting department, camera assisstants and other staff.

It depends on the person, i guess, but this could be very stressful and affect the work as a whole.

 

Another thing is that with the DoP being a different person he also has a different view on a subject, a different perspective (Of course the these two people have to able to work with each other i.e. understand each other). This could lead to ideas the director would never have thought of whereas if the director himself did all the operating and lighting all of his work could turn out similar since his main focus should be on the actors; meaning less time for lighting and trying out different ideas.

 

Everyone is different and I guess it depends on experience aswell as personality

Edited by Julian Hitomi

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Guest Christopher Sheneman

If it was a movie with a good budget, I'd defintely hire a professional DP and be done with it. But if this is a no-budget or very low budget I would shoot it myself.

This isn't often said but there's a lot of aweful DP's out there (just like everything else) who will ruin your film before you even get to edit (esp. 16mm). A bad DP can derail a project permanently (if it's extreme low budget- I'm talking to the no-budgeters here).

 

No one's gonna help you out at that level (you might get promises though) and lots of DP's aren't sure they want to be cameraman or directors or they're directors with equipment wanting side work. Watch out- they're like crazy ex-g/f's trying to work out their career issues using your film.

Just do it yourself, compose, focus and expose- that's about it. And load everything right and try to be smooth. You'll learn and have a better understanding once you edit..

 

Craziest DP story. I was told I was going to be shot (with a gun) by a experienced indie DP if I messed up shots in my own film -which was wasting his time.He said all this during the interview for the job. I was scared-seriously.

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Guest Christopher Sheneman

I read that Tom DiCillo had a cinematographer on his feature Johnny Suede (1991) that purposely made unfocused shots after arguing with DiCillo about camera placement. This is the type of damage cinematographers can do. On low-budget shot-on-film features this can sink the entire project. If it's on HD, maybe you salvage something or restart.

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I think you are being a bit paranoid, there have been a lot of successful collaborations with beginner directors and beginner DP's -- how do you think I got my start? Obviously you don't hire a bad DP with a bad attitude. You're making an assumption that a first-time director doing a small budget project is somehow going to do a better job acting as his own cinematographer than a young, talented DP early in his career who needs a break, and I don't see any logic behind that... only paranoia and pessimism, figuring that the worst possible things are going to happen if you hire someone on a small project. If that's your attitude, you might as well do the sound recording yourself too because obviously (to you) only terrible sound recordists with a bad attitude are going to work on a small budget project.

 

No, it's not easy finding someone good who can work under those conditions, or wants to, and if you can't find someone good, then you might as well do it yourself, but you shouldn't start out with the attitude that there is no one out there that can shoot a small budget project and do a good job.

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Guest Christopher Sheneman

You're absolutely right, Mr. Mullen, I am a bit paranoid. But I think it pays off in the end (it's just a little more work now- we ain't afraid of a little more work?). Especially for the extreme low budget filmmakers who have zero room to maneuver if/when a critical component is bad.

You know the saying- "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you" hahaha, Kurt Cobain btw.

I think it's bad advice/waste of time to advise beginning filmmakers to outsource duties, what happens if they're not socially able to keep a crew together. With all the cheap HD/16mm equipment it's never been a better time to DIY!

 

Off-topic here but relevant, I was stopped by the police a long time ago and sat down on the sidewalk with actors while my name was ran through NCIC in their cop computer because I had been in a parking structure after hour briefly to film a quick scene sans lights and a crew and which almost immediately caught the attention of security who then called the police. It actually a film school property and I had a Arri 16 BL BUT I didn't attend the school.

 

So I sat on the curb while two police officers decided to "let me off with a trespass" order if I promised never to return. They had every intention of locking me up but a instructor at the school who had stayed after hours saw what was going on and interfered on our behalf.

 

I tell this little story as a example of the sort of indifference and hostility any low budget filmmakers can face. While you can find handsome support online- like this website and others- it will a total different situation once you hit the ground. I'm sure many people have no idea what obstacles a no-budget film production faces these days. I have a million stories involving me and my brother and we're still trying to strike it rich! Pessimism's got nothing to do with it.

 

Another story here. In 2005 there was a 35mm "PSA" trailer circulating in theaters in these parts which asked locals not to interfere in Hollywood film production which were shooting in the area, to please let them do their jobs and they'll be outta there asap. Isn't that funny? And that was before the Great Recession..

 

Simply, No one likes filmmakers. Nobody. Experimental dance troupe in the park? Yeah, alright. But nobody likes filmmakers- no one. I don't even like filmmakers and I AM A FILMMAKER!

 

I'll drop this quote from Roger Ebert before I gitty up, he said about indiefilm "Nobody wants to help you make a film, nobody wants to be in your film and nobody wants to see your film. And still you go on."

 

And I also do the sound recording myself. Me and Nick Broomfield!

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Obviously I'm not opposed to the DIY method of filmmaking since that's how I started -- I think that's how most people start! And certainly some projects lend themselves to keeping things as small and simple as possible, such as a documentary, or even certain extremely intimate dramas. But in general, for feature filmmaking, I wouldn't be afraid of crews or hiring a DP and relieving yourself of that particular burden as a director so you can concentrate on the million other things you'll still have dumped on you as director. You reach a tipping point where it is more efficient, more practical, to delegate than to do everything yourself. Plus there is always the chance that your DP will be more talented than you are at cinematography...

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I would say one of the most important things in filmmaking are having honest "other eyes" on set-- to see things you may miss. This alone may be enough to encourage one to get a DoP; but please, make sure you mesh well. You gotta trust your DP to say they don't agree with you, as a DP I have to trust you to do what is best for the film (your film in the end, but it does reflect upon me).

Certainly, you can go it alone- but to quote Jurassic Park:

 

"your scientists (erm, you the director) were so concerned with whether or not they (you) could, they didn't stop to think if they (you) should."

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Guest Christopher Sheneman

Of course you should surround yourself with capable, enthusiast people. It's one of the joys of collaborative film making. I definitely agree with you guys on that.

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I think the tendency is directors moving on to shoot their own films--that is not to say lighting them. While many directors have a clear vision of how they want the film to look like and the camera movements within that, they generally tend not to be qualified enough of judging color palettes and lighting design.

 

In those cases where director's also shoot their films, they will operate the camera themselves and hereby decide the lens, the stop and filtration to put on the camera. The remaining work, they will leave mainly to the gaffer and the production designer.

 

And I do think it's generally a bad idea if they take credit for DP'ing a film, while leaving crucial DP work for other people to work on. For instance, in the case of a film like Casino, Martin Scorsese actually sketched out every single shot in the film without consulting the DP first. However, Robert Richardson got to work on the lighting on the film, was still credited as the DP, and the film still looks utterly brilliant. In other cases, like with Soderbergh, directors will decide their shots, operate the camera and leave the rest to the gaffer while giving themselves the DP credit.

 

Finally, I think it depends on the sheer size of the production--you won't find many directors who manages to direct and shoot major Hollywood blockbuster. While other productions such as small independent films and commercials, it's quite possible and common to see director/cameramen doing all the work.

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A director's job is to tell the actors what to do, the DP's job is to tell camera, grip and electric what to do.

I have to disagree with this. As an operator I think of myself as having two direct bosses, the director and the DP. Sure, on some projects the director doesn't give much input to the operators, but on most projects they give plenty of input directly to operators. It really depends on the director and how visual they are and how specific they are about composition, lens size and camera movement. I worked on two projects (one feature, one pilot) in the last year where the director and I talked about shots much more than the DP and I did. Every project is different.

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I have to disagree with this. As an operator I think of myself as having two direct bosses, the director and the DP. Sure, on some projects the director doesn't give much input to the operators, but on most projects they give plenty of input directly to operators. It really depends on the director and how visual they are and how specific they are about composition, lens size and camera movement. I worked on two projects (one feature, one pilot) in the last year where the director and I talked about shots much more than the DP and I did. Every project is different.

 

Yes, it's a bit of an oversimplification. Which is why those other sentences are there ...

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