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Seeking advice - My freedom as a DoP?

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  • Seeking advice - My freedom as a DoP?

    Hi folks,

    I need advice on a collaboration I have with a directors duo.

    On a regular basis I work together with two people. They are a both scenarists / directors and have been working together for years. They have a sort of language together. On set they divide the tasks: one is directing the actors, and one is the “image director” (don’t know the official term) so is making sure all looks good as an image.

    As a friendly DoP I fit in quite well with them, for the most part. However, each shoot there is one point where responsibilities and tasks overlap too much and there’s discussion taking place. Often with actors on set. Often the discussion is between me and the “image director”. He would often say: “go wider, more to the left” and stuff like that. It feels like he is micro-managing all my shots.

    It feels like I can choose either to follow his instructions and lose my creativity - and frankly, quality wise his sense of images isn’t that good, he neglects the edges of the frame, for example - OR I “make a scene” and try to discuss or explain why it works better what I want. It seems our tasks are overlapping too much to work confortably and with some degree of freedom. Each shoot we lose a lot of time and I feel like my opinion is undervalued. I really try to keep my ego out of the equation, but with my own creativity at stake that’s really difficult.

    In a few weeks we will “discuss tasks and responsibilities”, so there is an opening to talk about the abovementioned theme. So my question is: what are your experience on directors who micro-manage shots? Does it bother you? If so, how do you mamage this? All the advice is more than welcome! And remember: I’m talking about sub € 10.000 indie productions, not Hollywood productions ;-)

  • #2
    This "Image Director" sounds - by definition - the same as a "Director of Photography", so that's like having two Directors on the shoot. A difficult position to be in.

    If this Image Director is there for every shot, then why do they hire you? It seems another DP is just redundant.

    Now, a DIRECTOR is absolutely entitled to add as much control as they want over the DP. It's their shoot.
    I really have never before heard of this situation that you have - 2 DPs. And I really don't see how it can work.

    Personally, I don't think I would ever accept a job with these conditions. It just doesn't seem worth the hassle and risk of a bad experience.
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    • #3
      Some people have different titles for positions and some take it more seriously than others, but in this case, the "Image Director" is the DP and you're the camera operator...that's really what it comes down to.

      And...like 99% of everything in life, is it worth the money? Lots of work with them? Because if it is and there is lots of work and the credit for this lower-budget work doesn't matter (like they aren't winning awards or anything), who cares, you know?

      But if you do care and it's something that will not be compromised in the future, you have your answer...

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      • #4
        Originally posted by NorBro View Post
        Some people have different titles for positions and some take it more seriously than others, but in this case, the "Image Director" is the DP and you're the camera operator...that's really what it comes down to.

        And...like 99% of everything in life, is it worth the money? Lots of work with them? Because if it is and there is lots of work and the credit for this lower-budget work doesn't matter (like they aren't winning awards or anything), who cares, you know?

        But if you do care and it's something that will not be compromised in the future, you have your answer...
        The voice of experience.
        Cameras: Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Pocket Camera (x2), Panasonic GH2 (x2), Sony RX100 ii, Canon 6D, Canon T2i,
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        • #5
          Thanks for the responses!
          When I was typing up the post I (sort of) realized the same thing: I am the operator and he is the DoP. Even when I’m more qualified for the job as a DoP.

          It seems I’m working with them for more jobs. Some low budget, some no budget. I gain a lot of expierence and - for now - that’s the most important part. BUT what I want is the experience as a DoP, not as a camera operator.

          So I will have to talk to them to have more room for experiments.

          Another question: what percentage (a rough guess) of the directors are micro-managers?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Ruben de Boer View Post
            Thanks for the responses!
            When I was typing up the post I (sort of) realized the same thing: I am the operator and he is the DoP. Even when I’m more qualified for the job as a DoP.

            It seems I’m working with them for more jobs. Some low budget, some no budget. I gain a lot of expierence and - for now - that’s the most important part. BUT what I want is the experience as a DoP, not as a camera operator.

            So I will have to talk to them to have more room for experiments.

            Another question: what percentage (a rough guess) of the directors are micro-managers?
            No idea, but I kinda like them to be micro managers. So I give them exactly what they want, or I get the impression they know what they are doing. But yeah on other occasions I have had directors who where clueless some that took my advice and some that didnt. Not saying my advice is correct all the time, I have had my share of misses too, but I know the feeling when you know when something is going to work better and they ignore it

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            • #7
              I have worked as DoP with directors and "creative" producers, and have been directing and producing too. As a DoP and director, I have had encountered our creative producer to want to inject their "creative view" of the scene from the monitor, telling me where she thinks the image should fall into frame. There are times a second advice is helpful and I'd give it a try. Most of the times I will acknowledge what she says, tell her that I got this, and go do my thing. The most important thing as a DoP is get a relationship with the director and his confidence in you. If the director says what you shot was good for him, who cares what others have to say... in a polite way that is.

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              • #8
                Sounds like you expected to be in control of the image, and these conversations should have transpired in pre-production.

                Since the film is already filming, for consistency's sake, the best thnig is to keep it in the same style range as is already shot. There's a point to argue, anyway. Good luck.
                Filmmaker - Author
                https://jgiambrone.wordpress.com/

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                • #9
                  Ultimately, the true definition of what is an appropriate credit depends on who does the lighting. If your shows have a gaffer doing the lighting and the shots director tells him what to do rather than you, then you are just an operator. If you oversee the lighting then you are the DP. The Coen brothers is an example of a team where one deals with the actors and one is more in tune with the technical side of calling shots. In this example no one would ever dispute that Roger Deakons was DP.

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                  • #10
                    I've worked with co-directors a fair bit, the ones who do it best and I've worked with the most are brothers who have been doing it together for a decade. So not only do they have a lot of experience together but have known each other since birth as well! Although one of them tends to be the more artistic director while the other manages all the behind the scenes operations to make everything move smoothly. So perhaps more like producer/director than co-directors.

                    Anyway, I just had some truly "evil" (?) thoughts for you to try (but be careful! They might backfire):
                    1) give him comteks so that he listens to the sound as well, then hope he bugs the soundie more than you! ha
                    2) go multicam with a sacrificial lamb that is the other camera to distract him with! ;-) I know one DoP who did this for a feature film....
                    https://www.youtube.com/c/SoundSpeeding

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                    • #11
                      Thanks again for the responses. I have been listening to a dozen episodes of the Wandering DP and this helped me a lot to figure out the angles. It's a great source to get to understand the role of the DP better :-)

                      Originally posted by Joe Giambrone View Post
                      Sounds like you expected to be in control of the image, and these conversations should have transpired in pre-production.

                      Since the film is already filming, for consistency's sake, the best thnig is to keep it in the same style range as is already shot. There's a point to argue, anyway. Good luck.
                      I think this is the main point. For my next projects I need to invest more in the pre-production...

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                      • #12
                        The absolute truth of the matter is no one knows until you get into editing what shot is going to be the shot, correct feel, angle, light, pacing etc. I've just come off of a really huge learning experience on the last feature. The director always felt he knew best and every shot upset me because it didn't feel right. So, I started saying, 'sure let's try it your way, then I would add but I have something I'd love to try too.' Once he started seeing some of the choices I was making he soon became more trusting of my judgement. I knew what was going on since I was there during the final shaping of the script but I think that system is great. Then everyone gets one. It allowed me to feel like I was a part of the shoot and not just an op. What do you think?

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                        • #13
                          I think you have to understand also the other side. Normally nobody wants to make a bad movie, so naturally everyone tries their best to get whatever they are capable to achieve. This director has not developed enough confidence in you to blindly trust your choices, so he tries to micro manage you to play safe. Like a helicopter parent. For some people it is also hard to give up control.
                          So the first step would be to have a talk about how things are going and what can be done to improve the set workflow, speed, and climate for everybody on set. That can only work if they are willing to change things, improve and cooperate.
                          If they are absolutely resistant to any changes than you might rethink your workplace relationship and in the worst case leave the project.

                          If they are open for improvement then just insert some suggestions for different shots, try it out together, stay calm and friendly if they say no sometimes, as long as you can get here and there nice additional shots you suggested, your relationship should improve and the director will start to trust your judgment more and more. That could develop into a very creative way of working with much better output than either you or he alone could achieve.

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                          • #14
                            Thanks for all the feedback, I really appreciate it.

                            An update:
                            I talked with them both first, and had a long conversation with the "image director" privately. I explained our overlapping roles and had a conversation about how roles are divided in the industry (mind you, the guys aren't full-time professional filmmakers). I listened to a dozen WanderingDP podcasts over the summer to help me understand all the perspectives and roles.

                            We ended up re-dividing the roles. The "image director" will be more of a art / set director from now on. That makes an interesting triangle - director, DP and art director. Your feedback helped me to see that I wasn't crazy. And the podcasts from the WanderingDP helped me to see what roles belong to what person. That way I could easily explain how thinks should / could work.

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                            • #15
                              This saying always helped me... - "This one is for my craft or this one is for my mortgage and when both are covered I have a career."

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