What does a cinematographer do?

A subforum to discuss film culture and criticism both old and new, as well as memorializing public figures we've lost.
Post Reply
Message
Author
DrewReiber
Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 3:27 am

#1 Post by DrewReiber » Sat Apr 07, 2007 3:01 am

Nothing wrote:Erm, Tarantino (like any other half-decent director) has always chosen the shots and framed his own movies. The DoP provides the lighting.
Ohhhh, so that's why Kill Bill looks so much like a Robert Richardson film!

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

#2 Post by Nothing » Sun Apr 08, 2007 6:24 am

DrewReiber wrote:Ohhhh, so that's why Kill Bill looks so much like a Robert Richardson film!
In all of the scenes where one can draw a comparison, there is a continuity to Tarantino's past work (eg. the Pasedena scenes at the beginning look like Pulp Fiction). Whereas the shot selection and framing bears little or no resemblance to The Aviator, Wag the Dog, Platoon, etc.

I'm constantly amazed by how many people overestimate the responsibilities of a DoP. In television soap operas, maybe...

User avatar
HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#3 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun Apr 08, 2007 6:55 am

That's utterly and absolutely wrong. It depends entirely on the sensibilities of the director, of which there are a thousand and one varieties. Some directors are entirely concerned with rehearsing and blocking the actors, and leave the arranging in depth, camera angles, and even at times movements completely up to the cinematographer. These would be your performance-driven or stage-originating director who have no visual style, and who benefit enormously from the presence of a strong dp. It's been like this since the silent era, where cameramen like Bitzer, Wagner, Freund, and on thru Glennon, Edeson, Howe, Cardiff, Perinal, through to Metty, Willis, Hall, storaro et al leave an indelible and often immediately identifiable mark on the films they work in.

Some directors pictureboard every scene and time it all out, others wouldn't go near that kind of visual pre-blocking and rely on the input of the dp and the feel that develops from the set and the rehearsals.

It's the same with editing. Some directors are utterly terrified of going near an editing facility as they are petrified of ruining the obvious potential in gorgeous dailies, as often and notoriously happens with a swaggering schmaltz who thinks he understands editing conceits and makes a total ass of himself. Others simply have the process within themselves and are completely comfortable directing the entire cutting process.

It all depends on the director. There are very few Josef von Sternbergs in the world who literally compose and light all their own films, even those with a dp credit (or at least who do so deservedly, with such raw power and luminescence).

User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

#4 Post by MichaelB » Sun Apr 08, 2007 8:43 am

HerrSchreck wrote:It all depends on the director. There are very few Josef von Sternbergs in the world who literally compose and light all their own films, even those with a dp credit (or at least who do so deservedly, with such raw power and luminescence).
Nestor Almendros once wrote that Terrence Malick was highly unusual in that he was a director who genuinely did know a lot about photography - most others are quite happy to agree lighting and framing issues in broad brushstroke terms and let the DoP get on with it.

(And as a result, it's pretty easy to tell by eye which Eric Rohmer films were shot by Almendros, the only really world-class DoP he ever worked with)

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

#5 Post by Nothing » Mon Apr 09, 2007 12:58 am

HerrSchreck wrote: Some directors are entirely concerned with rehearsing and blocking the actors, and leave the arranging in depth, camera angles, and even at times movements completely up to the cinematographer.
Yes yes, I realise there are some so-called directors who abdicate responsiblity in this department - but these are generally theatre directors masquerading as film directors (eg. Sam Mendes), along with the occassional justified experiment (Dancer in the Dark, Natural Born Killers, Cannibal Holocaust). However, most of the directors taken seriously on these boards, most of the time, will at the least tell the DoP where to put the camera(s) and what lens to use.

You know, in France, a term often used for direction is 'Mise en Scene'. eg. the Best Director prize at Cannes is known in French as the 'Prix de la mise en scène'.

User avatar
HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#6 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Apr 09, 2007 1:12 am

Nothing wrote:Yes yes, I realise there are some so-called directors who abdicate responsiblity in this department - but these are generally theatre directors masquerading as film directors (eg. Sam Mendes), along with the occassional justified experiment (Dancer in the Dark, Natural Born Killers, Cannibal Holocaust). However, most of the directors taken seriously on these boards, most of the time, will at the least tell the DoP where to put the camera(s) and what lens to use.

You know, in France, a term often used for direction is 'Mise en Scene'. eg. the Best Director prize at Cannes is known in French as the 'Prix de la mise en scène'.
But wait! You didn't tell me what "Cannes" meant yet. And what's this "Pricks in the mice" that they use in the scenes?? Did the French really like "Williard" that much?

PS: what do they call Direction the rest of the time in France?

DrewReiber
Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 3:27 am

#7 Post by DrewReiber » Mon Apr 09, 2007 1:31 am

HerrSchreck wrote:
Nothing wrote:Yes yes, I realise there are some so-called directors who abdicate responsiblity in this department - but these are generally theatre directors masquerading as film directors (eg. Sam Mendes), along with the occassional justified experiment (Dancer in the Dark, Natural Born Killers, Cannibal Holocaust). However, most of the directors taken seriously on these boards, most of the time, will at the least tell the DoP where to put the camera(s) and what lens to use.

You know, in France, a term often used for direction is 'Mise en Scene'. eg. the Best Director prize at Cannes is known in French as the 'Prix de la mise en scène'.
But wait! You didn't tell me what "Cannes" meant yet. And what's this "Pricks in the mice" that they use in the scenes?? Did the French really like "Williard" that much?

PS: what do they call Direction the rest of the time in France?
Are you guys kidding around? I can't tell. Mise en scene does not exactly translate to "direction" nor "director". It is a more complicated term that has to do with on camera detail as manipulated by the director. It's typically a way to gauge a director's actual talent because it concerns the plastics (props, sets, etc.), lighting, actors and other aspects captured by the camera only. It does not include post-production (cutting, CGI, additional audio, etc.) or other aspects of crafting a film outside of those physical elements. For instance, mise en scene is probably not something you spend a lot of time talking about if you're discussing Michael Bay or Tony Scott. Sorry you Scott and Bay fans out there...

User avatar
HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#8 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Apr 09, 2007 1:49 am

This is getting incredible.

"STEPPS! Pistol pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaasse!"
Are you guys kidding around?
Absolutely breathtaking.

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

#9 Post by Nothing » Mon Apr 09, 2007 4:29 am

Drew, sure, the term incorporates the entire physical look of the image, from the lighting and the framing and the blocking to the set design. And you will find this credit on many a French film. eg. "mise en scene - Bruno Dumont".

Or, to put it another way, perhaps there are two different 'views' on what the responsibilities of a director should be: the French/auteurist viewpoint and then the American/British viewpoint as expressed by MichaelB.

User avatar
HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#10 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Apr 09, 2007 4:42 am

Someone please do something. This is breathtaking.

User avatar
miless
Joined: Sat Apr 01, 2006 9:45 pm

#11 Post by miless » Mon Apr 09, 2007 12:01 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:Some directors pictureboard every scene and time it all out, others wouldn't go near that kind of visual pre-blocking and rely on the input of the dp and the feel that develops from the set and the rehearsals.
Buñuel would use a stop-watch in order to time everything to how he planned it in his head... and if it wasn't right he'd tell the actor to go faster or slower and get his preferred take in one to three takes... many cinematographers claimed to have hated working with him because he would tell them exactly how to shoot the scenes (and many complained that his films always looked like B-pictures because of it)... my favorite Buñuel anecdote revolves around Los Olvidados and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (he had quite an ego, apparently, as he was a hot commodity in Mexico at the time). When Buñuel wanted him to frame a shot cutting off the characters at the knees Gabriel flipped out saying that nobody ever does that. Buñuel responded by saying that many great classical painters did it that way (in particular Goya) and that he'd show him later. a year or so went by before Buñuel brought him a book with particular images ear-marked (when Gabriel had either forgotten the incident, or was convinced his leg had been pulled).

There are definitely filmmakers who "collaborate" more with their cinematographers than others (some like Cassavetes would try anything)

User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

#12 Post by MichaelB » Mon Apr 09, 2007 12:25 pm

I haven't seen it for years, but didn't Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby use a different cinematographer for every scene? I don't recall it proving very much, since it's unlikely that they would have adopted a traditional DoP role - at least insofar as being given a chance to plan the look of the entire picture in advance.

Also, the Buñuel anecdote reminds me of one involving Renoir - apparently the only time he really lost his temper on set (I think it was on La Bête Humaine, but don't quote me) was when his cinematographer asked one of the actors to move because he was in the "wrong" position for the intended framing. Renoir said that it was his job to follow the actors, not the other way round - not least because the audience would be watching them, not marvelling at the way it was lit.

Which is a problem I have with many films directed by cinematographers - they're often visually gobsmacking but dramatically inert. But that's not always fair: I'm glad I had the time to read Imre Kertész' Fateless between viewing and review deadline of the film version, as the novel's rhapsodic description of the sunrise over Auschwitz made it clear that cinematographer-turned-director Lajos Koltai was being absolutely true to the text, even if his unnervingly beautiful evocation of the Nazi camps seems wildly inappropriate on a first viewing.

User avatar
Nihonophile
Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 12:57 am
Location: Florida
Contact:

#13 Post by Nihonophile » Mon Apr 09, 2007 8:51 pm

MichaelB wrote:I haven't seen it for years, but didn't Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby use a different cinematographer for every scene? I don't recall it proving very much, since it's unlikely that they would have adopted a traditional DoP role - at least insofar as being given a chance to plan the look of the entire picture in advance.
This is true it had over 20 different DPs. Supposedly like every two weeks a new DP was brought in, it had something to do with scheduling. That said, the film retains a consistent look which almost certainly was from the director. The room Bubby lives in at the film's beginning had walls that could be expanded and retracted depending on the scene. This kind of planning came from de Heer not the DPs. That said, this is an example of how de Heer worked and in no way reflects any other director's system of working with a DP.

User avatar
Abulafia
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2004 12:44 am
Location: The Banana Republic

#14 Post by Abulafia » Mon Apr 09, 2007 9:12 pm

At a relatively recent festival in Australia (post 2000 anyway) de Heer was asked about the look of his films. He replied that he was a storyteller (standard Australian directorial response) and not that visual and left a lot of the framing/lighting to the DOP, which is very believable given the inconsistent "looks" of his films.

User avatar
david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

#15 Post by david hare » Mon Apr 09, 2007 9:28 pm

And it shows in the fucking movies.

Sternberg was one of the VERY rare Directors who also shot several of his own movies. He takes DP credit for a number including Devil is a Woman, Anatahan and Salvation Hunters, but even the movies shot by others including Garmes are VERY hard to distinguish from his own shoots, if only because he (and also Dietrich eventually) controlled the lighting and the blocking the decor and the overall mise en scene to a degree that basically overrides the "normal" task boundaries of a DP. The Von also claims to have substantially shot several other pictures like Blonde Venus in any case. You have to bear in mind as well Sternberg was, of course an ASC member.

As for DPs directing - the two outstanding examples are surely Freund with Mad Love, and Ted Tetzlaff with the Window.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

#16 Post by zedz » Mon Apr 09, 2007 10:03 pm

One of the most intriguing director / DP relationships may be Satyajit Ray's. IMDB doesn't back me up on this - the technical credits on Ray's films all seem to be pretty skimpy - so maybe I'm misremembering this, but my understanding is that from the mid-sixties onward Ray would act as his own camera operator, but continue to work with various DPs. I have no idea how this worked in practice, and I'm not aware of anyone else who worked this way.

Actually, here's some verification in a Bright Lights interview with Ray:
I'd like to follow up with a related question: what's your relationship with your cinematographer?

Well, I started out with a very good cameraman, but after each shot he would say, "We must take another." I asked him why, but he was never precise. Multiple takes are very dangerous when one is shooting on a small budget, so I decided to operate the camera myself. Sometimes during a tracking shot in which there is a lot of action, a slight shake — inevitably caused by me — is not important if the action is good. But this man thought only about the shake; he wanted smoothness at any price.

As the camera operator, I have realized that when I work with new actors, they are more confident if they don't see me: they are less tense. I remain behind the camera, I see better, and I can get exactly the framing that I want. If I am sitting over to the side, by contrast, I am dependent on the cameraman. He frames the shot, he does the panning, the tilting, the tracking — he does everything, in fact. Then it's only when you see the rushes that you know exactly what you have. I am so used to doing my own framing, my own visual composing, now that I couldn't work in any other way. It's not that I have no trust in my cameraman's operational abilities; it's just that the best position from which to judge the acting is from behind the camera, and therefore I must be the one looking through the lens.
EDIT - Just noticed that this quotation had been truncated during a past board upgrade, so I've restored it.
Last edited by zedz on Tue Feb 24, 2009 5:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

#17 Post by david hare » Mon Apr 09, 2007 10:11 pm

Doyle's ep in Paris je t'Aime is interesting from this perspective. The look is immediately his but it's even MORE garish (although largely daylight rather than fluoro) than usual. As the piece is only five minutes long the comedy pays off but I have NO idea how his particular brand of lunacy would develop into a feature film.

Also on Paris - there are of course 17 separate DPs for the 17 directors (at least from memory none of them doubled up.) One thing immediately noticeable from the opening night screening was the wildly variable quality of such basic things as the film stock, grain, exposure and color timing. Some of it looked like complete junk!

EDIT: Zedz didn't Ray actually start his career as - uncredited - focus puller and general dogsbody on Renoir's the River?

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

#18 Post by zedz » Mon Apr 09, 2007 10:34 pm

davidhare wrote:EDIT: Zedz didn't Ray actually start his career as - uncredited - focus puller and general dogsbody on Renoir's the River?
I know he was some kind of gofer, but I don't know if they let him near the cameras! Completely off-topic: how many other great directors got their start on a Renoir set? There's Becker and Visconti as well. Any more?

User avatar
Scharphedin2
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 7:37 am
Location: Denmark/Sweden

#19 Post by Scharphedin2 » Tue Apr 10, 2007 12:40 am

I think Robert Aldrich worked on one or two of the American films, but I could be wrong...

User avatar
david hare
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:01 pm
Location: WellyYeller

#20 Post by david hare » Tue Apr 10, 2007 12:52 am

You're right. Aldrich was AD on the Southerner.

User avatar
The Fanciful Norwegian
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 2:24 pm
Location: Teegeeack

#21 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Tue Apr 10, 2007 2:46 am

zedz wrote:One of the most intriguing director / DP relationships may be Satyajit Ray's. IMDB doesn't back me up on this - the technical credits on Ray's films all seem to be pretty skimpy - so maybe I'm misremembering this, but my understanding is that from the mid-sixties onward Ray would act as his own camera operator, but continue to work with various DPs. I have no idea how this worked in practice, and I'm not aware of anyone else who worked this way.
Von Trier has served as camera operator on all of his films since Dancer in the Dark (bar The Boss of It All), with Robby Müller as DP on Dancer and Anthony Dod Mantle on the others. Given the differences in style I suspect the dynamic was very different in Ray's case.
davidhare wrote:Doyle's ep in Paris je t'Aime is interesting from this perspective. The look is immediately his but it's even MORE garish (although largely daylight rather than fluoro) than usual. As the piece is only five minutes long the comedy pays off but I have NO idea how his particular brand of lunacy would develop into a feature film.
Wonder no more

Mise En Scene
Joined: Mon Oct 03, 2005 4:24 pm

#22 Post by Mise En Scene » Tue Apr 10, 2007 4:03 am

Nothing wrote:Erm, Tarantino (like any other half-decent director) has always chosen the shots and framed his own movies. The DoP provides the lighting.
Let's not forget the DP's role in film processing (push, pull, saturate, desaturate, color palette, etc.).

The director may tell the DP what he wants, but the DP knows what's possible with what lenses and film stock (etcetera) are used.

I don't think there are that much directors out there that know as much info on lenses, film stock, film processing, and other technical matters as much as DPs. If I'm wrong on that, I'm okay with it and will gladly admit so, but that's my impression at the moment.

In short, even with a director heavily involved with camera setups and moves, the DP provides more than lighting.

User avatar
HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#23 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Apr 10, 2007 4:28 am

Wait until this sucker is finally restored and tours in 35mm resto and goes on dvd. You will see one of the most notorious (along of course w his more obvious collab w FW You know who from the year prior) examples of what a genius mann on de kamera can do to a film....

Nothing
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:04 am

#24 Post by Nothing » Tue Apr 10, 2007 9:00 pm

MichaelB wrote:insofar as being given a chance to plan the look of the entire picture in advance
For someone so clearly concerned with clear sentence and paragraph structure, that's an awfully muddy statement. Yes, the DoP will usually be involved in planning certain aspects of the entire picture in advance - eg. the film stock, the desired f-stop, the tone of the lighting, maybe the colour scheme. Things like that. The technical means by which to achieve a certain look. NOT the shot list.

And whilst some directors like Pialat and Renoir will allow actors to miss their spots, this, then, is a directorial choice, a visual choice.

And, zedz, many directors also operate (outside North American Union shoots, where the unions forbid the practice). The practice was even more common before the advent of video assist (although Kubrick was both operating and using video assist on The Shining).

Of course it can go the other way too. Christopher Doyle is absolutely a DoP who will usurp the role of a less-established director on set. I have heard many stories of this, but then I would consider him a co-director on these movies (at the least), whether credited or not. I also consider this trait a failing as a DoP.

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

#25 Post by domino harvey » Tue Apr 10, 2007 10:49 pm

Will Oldham to thread

Post Reply