So sitting at work today I got asked a curious question that I, as a film maker, never really think about. "What is a Director of Photography?" To me, the Director of Photography, or DP, is my best friend and worst enemy on the set. See, I'm a director, and as the director, the DP's job is make my vision come true.
So how does this make him my best friend and worst enemy? Well, film sets are very tense, stress filled places packed full of hundreds of people moving in different directions with different lines of communication.
A director is seen as the highest individual on the chain. This is not the truth. The various producers are the top of the chain. There are always two directors on set. The Director, and the Director of Photography or Cinematographer. They both come together to make a single shot of a film work.
So the break down goes like this. Producer (Executive Producer, Producer, Associate Producer), Director, Director of Photography, Actors, Writer, Crew.
The Executive Producer is the money guy. The man in charge of wrangling in the sponsors and shelling out his own pocket cash in hopes of turning over a profit and making another venture. The regular producers also have a bit of cash in the venture, but usually not nearly as much. Their job lies more in the connections. Who to call, where to get stuff, how to get it. They have contacts in just about every business or walk of life. The Associate Producer is generally a sponsor of the film, or someone associated with a major part of the film like an actor or writer. Their job is entirely the business side of industry.
The director's job is very much glorified in most people's perspective. He isn't the die hard movie maker in charge of everything. He IS the captain of the ship. He has a very direct line to the producers, and just him. He is the guy having to answer all their questions, and when you shell out hundreds of millions of dollars, you have a lot of questions. They also deal directly deal with the actors. They see to it their demands are met, they are on the same page creatively, and all the other fun things that come with the wonderful moving props. The last part of the director's job is to over see the overall artistic vision of the film comes through. This vision is of his own choosing. To sum it up, the director is in charge of the artistic and the emotional side of the film.
The Director of Photography is very much like the director, but his job is more technical. He is more in charge of crew. He handles the every day people on the set, and instructs them on how to make things work. He has to have a strong knowledge of how to make things happen. His knowledge is all about how this will look on camera, how that lighting will effect the visuals, what sort of filters need to be used. He needs to know how the camera is moving, what it is seeing, and every little detail of the shot. Basically, he is making sure that what the director wants happens on camera.
What does all this lead to? Two people dealing with a whole boat load of people, and having to come together for a single vision, both of them with singular ideas for what happens. Most of the time, it is easy to come to an agreement with what to do with a shot. The Director and the DP often times will create beautiful work together. The fact is that they are worst enemies because both of them are dealing with too many people, each one in charge of one half of the production. If one is agitated cause of one little thing, it makes the communication harder, and often times difficult to come to an agreement. Producers endlessly questioning why, looking at production times and dailies (the best of the shot footage from that day), and trying to figure out why its working better this day than that day keeps a director on edge. Actor demands often compound this issue, often times pushing him to his very limits. The DP's frustrations come from having to maintain countless crew members and keep them on track, on schedule, and working together. When things on the DP's side fall apart, it becomes a cascade effect that continues to boulder down hill, constantly getting worse.
The tensions this builds to is the reason you often see two to four assistants for each of the directors. It allows them helping hands, and allows their presence in other areas of the production without having to pull their focuses away from that tasks at hand. It doesn't stop the tensions from building though.
The fights that directors and DPs have though generally leads to something amazing. After a fight, they two usually go off and think about what just happened, generally calling into question the shot they were trying to capture. The re-evaluation of the shot in question will force the two of them to think of different things, and when they've cooled off and came back together, they then will discuss the new ideas, and settle on something that wasn't in the original plan.
This is where the art of film making really is art. Pushing two individuals to their tension points will bring out creative thoughts they never originally had. Some of the most amazing, artistic, and powerful visual shots captured were come to in moments of anger and need to finish.
Just thought it was a neat story, and that I'd share a good bit of my film knowledge with the community.