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Frank Hegyi

How important is uniqueness?

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What are y'all'ses thoughts on uniqueness? High-end production values are nice (and that's why I usually get hired, to make something look "good" or "professional"), but that's not a unique skill in Los Angeles. How does one stand out from the crowd? Is there any way (other than personal relationships) for an individual cinematographer to be so integral to a production that it would be impossible to replace them with someone else?

Edited by Frank Hegyi

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First step to being unique is having uncommon influences. If your favorite films are mostly Kubrick, Tarantino, and Hitchcock then get in line with the other 5000 film buffs.

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Commercial cinematographers are primarily highly skilled technicians with an artistic eye. They should be able to mimic or replicate or originate any style as required by any given project. That said, it's preferable to have a signature style of your own, sure, but it would have to be something pretty special which of course would fall out of fashion eventually.

"Impossible to replace" is kind of a pipe dream and really only happens because of a long standing relationship (personal, professional, or otherwise). 

 

 

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You stand out from the crowd by having a unique point-of-view and, to some degree, imposing that personal taste onto your projects. 

Look at the masters: Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, Owen Roizman, Darius Khondji, Chris Doyle, Bob Richardson, Harris Savides, etc.

Their work is distinctive in part because they so often stuck to their guns despite sometimes being under intense pressure to do things in a more ‘conventional’ way.

That said, I agree with Bruce that ‘everyone is replaceable.’ More than a few of those great cinematographers have been fired or replaced at one time or another in their careers. If you’re primarily after job security, then being unique can be a hindrance.

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What most cinematographers do would be considered commercial art rather than personal art, so we are often asked to execute the artist vision of the director. Of course our personal aesthetics factor in but rarely are we asked to be far outside the norm. For style to be organic, I don’t think it should be too self-conscious, it emerges from who you are at that moment in time. If you have strong visual tastes and impulses, you should pursue them but I don’t think you should try to be different simply for the sake of being different. However, I think it is just as wrong to follow everyone else by route rather than by passion or inclination.

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Unique is a moving target, and often a Luxury. Kaminski has a very unique eye and a style that is always apparent, but not mimicked or in demand, apparently. But Spielberg likes it and that’s what matters. I don't know anyone who would shoot something that looks like “Crystal Skull” intentionally. 

Deakins is uniquely talented.  He openly posts his setups because you can copy something he did but you can’t “think” like him. And that’s what you’re paying for to get Deakins and why he’s “irreplaceable”.  

I’ve been gaffing for a DP who’s so good and so specific, he’s just transitioned to directing because he can more fully impose what he wants to do on a project and make the visuals work with the story more completely than he could as a DP.  

Honestly, unless you work with a very good, successful director who will fight for you as a DP, It’s impossible to get to an irreplaceable status.  I may be misremembering, but IIRC Matt Libatique at a Cinematographer’s round table one year, looked at Deakins, Phister, et al and said “Look, we’re all here because of one director.”  In the meantime, be agreeable, work hard, test and experiment, and make solid relationships with directors. 

Tristan

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I've often thought about this, having been very much involved in creative pursuits all my life. And my mother was a successful painter and she often thought about it too (not successful commercially, but artistically - she won competitions and we all felt she had succeeded artistically, fwiw). I while back I came to the conclusion don't seek to be original (or as David puts it, different). Just do what you want to do - if you are in a position to - and even in a commercial environment you will have the opportunity for some personal input of course. If you are a sincere person who seeks truth in art (an interesting concept but it's a real thing, difficult to define), you will without fail - if you have talent - come up with something that has its own freshness and originality. But don't try to be different. Unless for the reasons stated above it is the best way to go. I could have written this better and more exactly expressed it but this will have to do.

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