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Joseph Tese

Cinematographer & Director Combo

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Know any established cinematographers who successfully accomplished cinematography and directing at the same time?

I don't think I would/could/desire to do such a thing, but curious about the mentality and if anyone has implemented such a beastly idea into their workflow. In another world, there's been plenty of smaller corporate jobs where I essentially doubled, but is far from the work of larger scale narrative, among other things.

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Steven Soderbergh, Reed Morano, Nicolas Roeg, and Shane Carruth come to mind. David Lynch did once, and of course Alfonso Cuarón recently.

I do my own cinematography when I direct short films, but they're very modest in scope. The thing I've heard in interviews with those directors is to rely heavily on your other crew, especially your gaffer (Paul Thomas Anderson simply dropped the cinematography credit on Phantom Thread completely because he saw it as a group effort between himself and his crew). Do a pass at lighting, and while your crew works, you work with your actors.

I think some styles are better suited for it than others. Reed Morano, for example, tended to have the camera on her shoulder and become a very active participant in the scene with her actors. Soderbergh, at least more recently, has been trying to minimize his equipment needs so he can begin shooting as fast as possible, even an iphone and just one or two LED panels. Personally, I almost always shoot on a tripod with no camera movement whatsoever with very few close-ups. This allows me to light a space, compose a frame and block a scene, then focus almost entirely on the actors when the camera is rolling. It's a very specific, formal look, but it suits my narratives. If I had more elaborate camera movement, there's no way I'd be able to handle both jobs at once.

It's a fun challenge, but you're definitely limiting your options by doing both. I know I'm a better cinematography when I work with other directors, but because I do such a specific thing with my own films, it works for me. I certainly wouldn't try it for the first time on a project you can't afford to mess up.

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Personally, I find it hard to operate the camera and watch the actors. The things your concentrating on as an op vs director are different things. When I've op'ed on films actors sometimes asked questions about their performance that I literally couldn't remember from 30 sec ago - I'd only retain that they had hit their marks and the shot was in frame and in focus. 

I have found it easier to DOP and direct at the same time if I have a camera operator, then you can light first and just watch the actors during the performance and not worry about the camera operating.

I do think doing both roles represent a compromise, few people can do both roles at the highest level and its likely to slow you down on set. Needing to make lighting decisions when you could be working with the actors. 

I do have a low budget shot coming up that I'm on the fence about self-shooting.

I may not be able to afford to a DOP and its possible I'm a better DOP then the less experienced people that would be prepared to work for no money. (also I'm not keen on the idea of not paying the crew). One strategy I was considering is doing very careful lighting tests for each shot ahead of the shoot. So when it comes to the shoot - all the lighting positions, exposure etc.. is worked out in advance. Then a junior spark or PA could follow the plans to set up the lights to plan while I talk the scene through with the actors. I would still try and get a camera operator though. 


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