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Simon Gulergun

Critiquing a script (as DP)

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As a DP, how appropriate/to what extent can a DP offer their constructive criticism on a project that is being offered to them? What are some strategies people here have for navigating these situations?

With friends, I err on being honest - but where is the line drawn in more strictly professional settings? Let's say it's a script/project you really want to like, but you know it needs work.

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1 hour ago, Simon Gulergun said:

As a DP, how appropriate/to what extent can a DP offer their constructive criticism on a project that is being offered to them? What are some strategies people here have for navigating these situations?

With friends, I err on being honest - but where is the line drawn in more strictly professional settings? Let's say it's a script/project you really want to like, but you know it needs work.

I guess it depends on how much relative clout you have. If Roger Deakins has script reservations about a project, I’m sure most directors would listen. Similarly, on very low budget projects where you as the DP might be the most important hire, you might be able to suggest some story changes.

Otherwise, it’s probably best to stick to the cinematography, especially on a job interview. 

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What he said.

I believe the American military likes the phrase "stay in your lane," which encourages people not to involve themselves in things that they're not responsible for and have no training to handle. In general, this applies here in spades.

Ask first - "is this something you want me to get involved with?" Ask that question as early as possible - certainly at interview - and be minutely sensitive to the tone of the response. It's a double-edged sword because they'll often want someone who's fully invested in the script and the story it tells, and you demonstrate that to them by discussing it knowledgeably, but nobody likes a slagging-off.

Commenting on the work of other departments, even in the positive, is a dangerous road to go down. This is one reason film production work can feel a little stifling and introverted, because everyone's trying to be appropriately approachable without making even the most oblique comment about what's going on around them.

That said, on very small jobs, especially where there isn't a full crew nor really a proper budget to cover the proposed work, it can be very useful to get involved at an early stage specifically, and only, in ways that directly affect your work. As a director of photography, it might be reasonable to offer a cautious and gently-worded opinion on a selection of location, for instance, if one were easier to light than another, or on how a change of time of day might be avoided,

It's been my observation that on many modern productions, DPs generally aren't brought on early enough to get involved in much of that sort of thing anyway. With a couple of weeks to prep a TV show, the production design choices tend to be a fait accomplis even if we're still shooting episode 1, in which case there's not much point in griping about it on the tech scout. Grind your teeth and figure out the best solutions you can with what you have.

In short, unless you've been asked, and beyond the interview, it's not really your job, although there are as many approaches to film and TV work as there are crews who do it. To some extent this sort of working-relationship issue is one reason that, at all levels, the same groups of people tend to work together repeatedly. They just agree a lot on this sort of judgement call.

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Generally, I'd say keep your comments to yourself. If you have reservations about the script, but it has other selling points to you, like a director you want to work with, or a genre you're interested in, or you feel that they are aware of the problems and working to solve them, then fine. If not, don't take the job.

Very few people are receptive to unsolicited criticism, particularly from a crew member whose job is images, not words.

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Problem is, what if they ask, or if you end up in a conversation that goes from "hmm, if we made this a day rather than a night, it'd be easier to schedule," and then you end up involved in a discussion of the relative merits of its being a day or a night, and you get dragged into why and what effect that has on the storyline. So, it's sort of hard to avoid sometimes.

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2 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

then you end up involved in a discussion of the relative merits of its being a day or a night, and you get dragged into why and what effect that has on the storyline. So, it's sort of hard to avoid sometimes.

I think by the time you're far enough involved to be having a scheduling discussion, you probably know people well enough to express an opinion on issues outside of your immediate responsibility. I've certainly had plenty of discussions with directors regarding dialogue and plotting once I've got to know them (and once I'm sure they didn't also write the script...)

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it is mostly the producer's job to rip the script apart if it does not look to work well and something needs to be changed. In small budget stuff where the director is producing by himself it is very challenging because there is no one to criticise the script and thus every weaknesses are left untouched

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Hopefully you can build an open an honest relationship with your director and talk honestly about the script - this is how you will make the best work. The flipside is if you're being paid well or a job is good for your career it can be good to tread lightly. 

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On 8/5/2020 at 11:03 PM, Satsuki Murashige said:

Otherwise, it’s probably best to stick to the cinematography, especially on a job interview. 

I also thought this is the best strategy, but I was surprised that a lot of Directors (especially in Saudi Arabia where I live) like it when the DP suggest to add some changes to the script. Because for them it means that the DP has really got into the script and he/she genuinely care about it.  

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4 hours ago, Abdul Rahman Jamous said:

I also thought this is the best strategy, but I was surprised that a lot of Directors (especially in Saudi Arabia where I live) like it when the DP suggest to add some changes to the script. Because for them it means that the DP has really got into the script and he/she genuinely care about it.  

Interesting. At what budget level were these projects? And did you notice this at the initial job interviews, or during the course of pre-production and production? 

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Interesting. At what budget level were these projects? And did you notice this at the initial job interviews, or during the course of pre-production and production? 

Initial interviews, when more than one DP is competing for the same job. I would say that they mostly suggest to change things like locations or whether a scene is external or internal.

 

But frankly... I don't feel comfortable about this. I feel sorry for screenplay writers because they might have spent months or even a whole year working on a script and then they got to deal with the director, producer and actors who might turn their master piece into a mess!

 

At the end of the day the DP is not responsible for the story,,, but he/she is responsible for the way how the story was told.

Edited by Abdul Rahman Jamous

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I think in a situation as you put it "a script/project you really want to like, but you know it needs work."

you should voice your concerns in the initial meetings.

 

Politely you can say what you really like and got exited about the project and
then say "however i got couple of issues that seem ________ (illogical, whatever...) to me" and discuss it.

I think the idea is not to try to rework the entire thing,
just address issues you can't live with and would not like to see
your name associated with that construct.

 

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I've witnessed plenty of actors either offer unsolicited story suggestions, or debate the character's motivation on set. And I've had to sit through the awkward conversation as the director turns them down. I don't wish to slow down production and do that to the director.

I would only make a suggestion if both, 1) I am educated enough on the particular subject or storytelling, and 2) If I know the director well enough for that to be acceptable. Very rare. Otherwise, I wish not to disrupt their workflow and to instead support it.

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Yes its best to stick to what Mr Phil Rhodes says 'Stay in your lane'.  Any suggestion on script is usually not taken in a good spirit. I realised two things. One is that ppl are generally in a defensive state of mind when it comes to their own creations. Two is that i realised, script is too big an ocean and highly challenging on its own...so there can be absolutely no small suggestion. Any suggestion will require to reanalyse the script at a very deep level and its always too late to get that deep when we are already going to be shooting in a few days! So any suggestion coming is not gonna be effective. So Stay in your lane ! 

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On 8/22/2020 at 1:12 AM, Stephen Sanchez said:

I've witnessed plenty of actors either offer unsolicited story suggestions, or debate the character's motivation on set. And I've had to sit through the awkward conversation as the director turns them down. I don't wish to slow down production and do that to the director.

I would only make a suggestion if both, 1) I am educated enough on the particular subject or storytelling, and 2) If I know the director well enough for that to be acceptable. Very rare. Otherwise, I wish not to disrupt their workflow and to instead support it.

I would abide by the same guideline.

Although I'm usually in the roll of the director I do appreciate a hint on things that I might miss.

For example a couple of weeks ago we were shooting a pilot episode for a TV series and the crew and cast was very light. Our producer served as our sound guy and our cast helped out. Sufficed to say that most of us knew each other well and honestly I love working with the people that were on set this time because they all love filmmaking and enjoy the process even though we had to squeeze 4 shooting days into 2.

But as I said I always appreciate advice or a notification from most people that I've worked with on something that I might have missed and I also allow the talent to explore their character withing the confines of the story. So if they say that they feel that this character would do something differently and it aligns or at least doesn't conflict with the complete picture that I've envisioned in the end I have nothing against it.

But sometimes this leads to the inevitable outcome that everyone wants to chip in as it also did at one moment as I and a cast member were trying to figure out a better way for them to say their lines for a particular scene. Of course with everyone trying to chip in it soon became impossible for myself and the talent to even thing what was written in the screenplay much less how it could be altered, so I decided to leave the set with the talent and move to a more privet place where we got the lines turned around in about two minutes. At the same time the producer was smart enough to notice that I had become a little frustrated and wasn't able to do my job (which is their job) so while we were working with the talent he politely asked the crew to pipe down a little and that we needed to stay focused or we wouldn't be able to make the day. Everyone got the message and we finished ahead of schedule even though it was packed anyway and everyone still had a nice time on set.

And my point being that I've always tried to keep in not only good relations but great relations with the crew and cast because it's important for us to work as a team who wants the project to succede but at the same time I've always had great producers who have always been tuned to the way I work and have kept the few people that there ever were in check. In essence being a bad guy so that I don't have to be. 

Literally the only time I've sent people off the set was recently on a music video shoot where we were shooting the talent changing behind a bush and of course the whole band and every guy that was there wanted a sneak peak of her getting undressed. Which of course made her a little uncomfortable, so after the first take which was perfect incidentally since the uncomfortable situation made her more authentic I sent everyone that wasn't essential to the other part of the set but in the end decided to cut the second take short since it was not working and ended up using the first one anyway.

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