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Hrishikesh Jha

Can a cinematographer "tell" if the final film will suck?

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Eh, not much you can do but laugh in a situation like this. As I always say, the worst jobs usually make for the best stories! So I guess I am getting something out of it. :)

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Eh, not much you can do but laugh in a situation like this. As I always say, the worst jobs usually make for the best stories! So I guess I am getting something out of it. :)

 

I'm reminded of the time I was loading up Del Monte food product out of a warehouse near the SOMA district for an industrial we were shooting at night up in Novato. I'm there with the warehouse doors open, by myself, loading props into my car, and I hear gunshots in the background.

 

Yeah, the best stories.

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I'm referring more to specific instances such as, 'eh, Walmart Halloween costumes will work for my period film, right?' type of mentality. And yes, this did happen to me recently...

 

On one film I was working on, we (i.e. most of the cast and crew) discovered when we arrived at our location that the owners of the house hadn't heard from the location manager or director in over four months, and didn't realize we were coming.

 

We made the last minute switch to a cast member's apartment, and then discovered that the director had put no thought whatsoever into the production design.

 

Of course, he was also the kind of director that thought that the DP's job was just to place the camera where the director told him to, and hit "record" on command...

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I am less concerned if a film is going to suck and more concerned if my director is going to have us do things like a "quiet scene" outside next to a highway in the pouring rain without any shelter with my own gear.

 

No matter how much the story sucks. I will do my best to make it look visually interesting. When my ability to do so gets hindered because the director or production failed to think ahead is when I start thinking about bowing out.

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Anybody with some tech and artistic training can. Though what defines "suck" has changed over the decades. These days there's a lot of technical competence with little story telling ability. Way back when it was sloppy or rushed film making of scripts that were okay to good, but could use a rewrite.

 

Reliance on medium focal lengths, masters, little coverage, are all elements for quickly shot B-films. If you're not grabbing cutaways between setups, or if your director doesn't care, then that project isn't worth the hard drive space or stock that was used to shoot it.

 

But some of the greatest films have long takes and few cuts. In fact most films I prefer have atmosphere over cutaways. Tarkovsky or John Carpenter's films for example. Even Terminator 1 seems to just flow on atmosphere. I always liked scenes where two characters are walking far away and we hear their dialogues. A master shot that makes the location a part of the story. Of course not always or even often, but I notice the structure of a scene and probably one cut-away and then a good long take or two is enough. Of course all this matters on the shot and vision.

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Definitely a cinematographer would and should know that the final film is going to suck. However, telling that to the Director is another story. A few years ago, I was the DP and told the Director of the film and it led to major disagreements. So I decided to focus on documentaries and corporates till I get a good director to work with.

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Why worry about it? It's our job to make it suck as little as possible :) We're not the filmmakers, and and we can only be as helpful as we can...

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But some of the greatest films have long takes and few cuts. In fact most films I prefer have atmosphere over cutaways. Tarkovsky or John Carpenter's films for example. Even Terminator 1 seems to just flow on atmosphere. I always liked scenes where two characters are walking far away and we hear their dialogues. A master shot that makes the location a part of the story. Of course not always or even often, but I notice the structure of a scene and probably one cut-away and then a good long take or two is enough. Of course all this matters on the shot and vision.

 

See my follow up post.

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A DP can definitely tell if a film will suck, but it doesn't mean a DP gives a sub-par performance.

 

The more a one shoots, however, the more they'll see the red flags of a bad film earlier on.

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