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David Hines

Writing and DP'ing a film

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Kind of an odd question, but does anyone know of any films that were written by the Director of Photography? I ask because I enjoy writing almost as much as I enjoy Cinematography, and have some ideas for scripts that I'd love to shoot.

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I find myself with similar inclinations, not that I have any realistic expectation of fulfilling them (in either role). I'm not aware it's very common. Peter Hyams is a director, screenwriter and cinematographer, credited as both writer and director of photography on Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Narrow Margin, and 2010. Rumours abound that he effectively directs photography on many of the things he also writes and directs, but usually someone else is credited - it's really impossible to tell what's going on in that sort of situation. I quite like his stuff.

 

P

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Steven Soderbergh writes, produces, shoots, edits and directs most of his movies. Due to union issues, he generally ghost writes and gives someone else the credit and of course his cinematographer name is "Peter Andrews". He's credited for a few of his movies as the sole screenwriter but I know for fact, he's written most of his movies. Robert Rodriguez and Stanley Kubrick are both examples of writer, cinematographer, directors, even though they've worked with other DP's, they generally are the "ACTUAL" cinematographer.

 

Almost all of my films have been done the same way. I generally take two or three credits, but try to bring in a writer and producer to help. I enjoy the story aspect and weaving the story around cinematography and editing. Directing is actually the easiest part because all you're doing is getting your vision on camera. The work pre and post shoot, is actually the most difficult.

 

I'm kind of old school when it comes to directing, I like to do it from behind the camera, looking through the lens. I don't use monitors and never use replay systems. In the end, this really keeps your crew small, allows the actors to focus on acting and puts the director closer to the action. So a cinematographers job of lighting, really falls onto the gaffer. So having a super strong gaffing crew and key grip really helps. I also have a camera assistant who helps with equipment and of course metering.

 

With that said, working as a writer, cinematographer, director, editor, is extremely time consuming and it does slow down production. Handing off the task of cinematography is usually the best thing to do. It free's the director to focus on the actors and telling the story. Plus it adds another creative mind to the picture, which really helps. Sure there can be some tension between two cinematographers, one directing and one shooting, but if you find the right guy to help, it can work well.

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I shoot my own films. I'm in the process right now, after writing the script, doing all the other jobs; Casting, set design, script breakdown, scheduling... I wish I had someone to do all that and I could just Direct and do my Cinematography thing. The problem I always run into is that I can't find anyone in my area that has any sort of experience working ON a crew... they're all use to doing it themselves too so I find it difficult to find someone who really understands how to work with someone.

 

Tyler is correct in that having two creative minds are better, and if I could afford to fly someone out for one of my long weekend shoots I certainly would!

Do try to find others in your area you can work WITH, having someone to bounce ideas off of is an awesome way to discover another way to tell the same story.

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I've played in both camps, a dedicated crew where everyone has their own role, and the do everything yourself side. I'm much more a fan of the crewed up production than the latter. Being a DP on a fully crewed shoot feels like magic after some of the crazy hectic shoots I've been on (once shot a near feature-length film with a crew of four, in five days). So I guess my original question would be more geared towards the world of the professional crews. When it gets right down to it I suppose it doesn't really matter who wrote the script, as long as it's good and everyone shares the directors vision of it. For me, the difficult part is to let go of the image of the the story that I had envisioned when writing, and to relinquish that responsibility to the director.

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Being a DP on a fully crewed shoot feels like magic after some of the crazy hectic shoots I've been on

 

Yes.

 

Actually having time to think makes you realise how they get the big movies to look good. They just have a dozen people following each of the key creatives around, to reduce their workload.

 

Sad but true.

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I'm a DP; I could direct, but I know that I not only don't want to, I find it personally too easy and unfulfilled. As such, in moments when I have had to play just those two camps, one or the other suffers. As for writing, I can do that as well (you should see the volumes of books I have in my storage locker) but again, It's not something which personally fulfills me and anything I've ever written I've given to better people. I think that is the key really, not that you need a DoP or a writer or a whatever just to fill the role-- rather that you need to be with someone whom you respect and respects you back on the day. You can't and you don't know everything, and there are more than one way to accomplish anything-- so it's helpful to be with others who have had differing experiences, and differing levels of knowledge to approach the myriad problems attendant to a production. Beyond that-- too-- it's quite wonderful to have someone whom you can have spirited discussions with crashing a bit your ideas together to see what can survive a little bit of advocacy.

 

However, all that said, you should find what works for you-- though it's a pretty safe bet to say you're not any other director working or who has worked in talent or skill-- not that that's a bad thing-- rather that I find such arguments as so and so does this or that so therefore x to be rather too simplistic a view-- especially as they represent, without a doubt, a level of career not yet attained and perhaps no longer attainable.

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I'm a bit of a control freak, so It's usually a battle for me to release control to other departments. Being a cinematographer, with a decent amount of experience directing, I usually find myself wanting to "correct" the director on a lot of the shorts that I shoot. Fortunately, I've secured a gig later this month where I'm directing, and that's it, so hopefully that'll get the control issues under thumb for a while.

 

I'm writing a feature length script right now, and I plan to shoot it, but not direct it. I feel like someone else could lend a much needed secondary opinion to the story, which could only make it better in the long run.

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I'm a bit of a control freak

 

It's called Lucas Syndrome, and you don't want to catch it. The name comes from a particularly prominent and financially successful filmmaker who became so prominent and so successful that nobody was ever allowed to question his views, and as a result, nobody ever said to him "George, Jar-Jar is a stupid name for a stupid character", and the rest was history.

 

P

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nobody ever said to him "George, Jar-Jar is a stupid name for a stupid character", and the rest was history.

Point well taken. I've been working on giving up control over the past few years. I've had my best experiences on set when everyone does their role and stays in their box, including me. Some of the best work I've ever done was when I was able to completely focus on my own scope of the production, and trust everyone else to do their part to the fullest of their ability.

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Yea, I mean filmmaking is collaborative and everyone should give their input without being shut down. As Phil said, it's when you don't have people to give you input, that things fall apart.

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"George, Jar-Jar is a stupid name for a stupid character", and the rest was history.

 

P

 

Oh damn, I knew I should not have put the zebras in pants on that last movie.

 

R,

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Robert Rodriguez and Stanley Kubrick are both examples of writer, cinematographer, directors, even though they've worked with other DP's, they generally are the "ACTUAL" cinematographer.

 

Robert Rodriguez is someone who likes to credit himself with having done just about everything on his movies. The truth, apparently, is very different.

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Robert Rodriguez is someone who likes to credit himself with having done just about everything on his movies. The truth, apparently, is very different.

 

Sorry wrong quote ... Tyler .. I didnt know that Stan Kubrick did his own DP work.. ??? that might be news to Gilbert Taylor..John Alcott ... Geoffrey Unsworth.. the list goes on.. I really find that hard to believe.. is he on record as saying that.. if so I imagine he was laughed out of the room..

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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Sorry wrong quote ... Tyler .. I didnt know that Stan Kubrick did his own DP work.. ??? that might be news to Gilbert Taylor..John Alcott ... Geoffrey Unsworth.. the list goes on.. I really find that hard to believe.. is he on record as saying that.. if so I imagine he was laughed out of the room..

He was his own lighting cameraman on his early pictures and usually knew as much as his DPs. He often operated.

He famously relit a scene in "Spartacus" because he didn't want a "Russ Metty sunset" and was secretly consulted on "The Spy Who Loved Me".

But he never tried to take credit- it was John Alcott who walked up to the podium. Those great men simply wanted to work for him, and they did their best work for him. So did everyone. Just look at the awards given to his art directors, editors, composers.

Edited by Mark Dunn

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Ok fair enough.. yes he obviously knew a lot about making films.. and i guess every director and DP work together at different levels.. I just couldn't see John Alcott et al.. standing around watching the master set all the lights while they marveled on ..

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Kubrick designed the lighting rigs, he choose his own lenses/cameras, he choose the composition and most of the time ran the camera. The reason he had a cinematographer was 2 fold... One; the unions wouldn't let him shoot his own stuff. Two; he needed someone to bounce his ideas off of. He was notorious for pissing off a few cinematographers early in his career, but Alcott worked well with him because he didn't have an ego. It's truly unfortunate he passed away suddenly from a heart attack in the mid 80's.

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I shoot my own films. I'm in the process right now, after writing the script, doing all the other jobs; Casting, set design, script breakdown, scheduling... I wish I had someone to do all that and I could just Direct and do my Cinematography thing. The problem I always run into is that I can't find anyone in my area that has any sort of experience working ON a crew... they're all use to doing it themselves too so I find it difficult to find someone who really understands how to work with someone.

 

Despite my main focus being photography, I have been tending to not fight people for that coveted position, but have taken up such activities as 'sound', 'editing', etc. I also 'write', both for my own original scripts, and I will take someone's 'idea notes' and turn that into a script as well. I've done that for the last 5 short film projects I've worked on.

 

I also don't fight for the Director's Chair on 'other people's projects'... but in many cases, even with my non-pro/non-industry experience, outside of general project management... I tend to end up 'assisting' the designated director in significant ways...

 

As for Directors who write, DoP, Edit, Sound... write notes for the projection booth... etc...

 

I think Kubrick is probable most noteable.

 

I also recall reading that one of the differences between Hollywood and the UK, is that the DoP may 'operate', which in Hollywood is a different union, and so the DoP may/may not operate depending on their union membership.

Edited by John E Clark

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Kubrick designed the lighting rigs, he choose his own lenses/cameras, he choose the composition and most of the time ran the camera. The reason he had a cinematographer was 2 fold... One; the unions wouldn't let him shoot his own stuff. Two; he needed someone to bounce his ideas off of. He was notorious for pissing off a few cinematographers early in his career, but Alcott worked well with him because he didn't have an ego. It's truly unfortunate he passed away suddenly from a heart attack in the mid 80's.

 

Ok thanks Tyler.. I didnt know that .. have to say I would think that really stinks for the DP.. I don't think those guys had much to learn about the craft .. even from Kubric.. what did the DP,s do.. stand around with a beacon sandwich.. even I wouldn't want to work like that !

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