What Do DP’s Really Want?

It’s been a while since I’ve stepped foot on a film set, but that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly looking for ways to brush up on my director’s toolbox. It just so happens that a column posted on my favorite blog, Shadow and Act,  has been reappearing on my Twitter feed countless times these past couple of days so I figured that was a sign to check it out. With a title like “5 Things Cinematographers Look For In A Director and Project Before Taking A Job”, I knew there would be some exciting revelations ahead. The introductory piece was written by a NYC-based Director of Photography named Cybel Martin who offers a rare glimpse into just what working professionals such as herself seek before signing on the dotted line.

The column stood out to me because for two reasons. First off, Cybel is a Black female cinematographer. Let’s recognize that even in 2012 that is a rare title to hold. She also gives readers real-life examples from her own career to follow-up each of the 5 ingredients needed in order to create a solid director/director of photography relationship. Almost all of them I’d encountered in school while working on my senior thesis film: provide visual references/notebook, flexibility, compatibility and reasons behind doing project besides “I have a cool idea.” But then I looked back again and paused at the following:

3. Producer attached – As much as I cherish the Director / DP relation, I believe the one between the Producer and Director is paramount. Not only do they believe in the director and their vision, they will do whatever in their power to make sure that vision is manifested. They are the family member who says, “don’t worry, I got a guy”.

A DPs work is straddled between two worlds. There is the one of fantasy; of daffodils, ponies and helicopter shots. This is the world I share with the director. The other one is of numbers, rates, compromises and deal memos. This is the world I share with my producer. I am equally comfortable in both. However, I, the DP, should never have to drag my director out of their vision and into the world of “shoulds, won’ts and meal penalties”. That dynamic exists until there is a producer attached and can erode a great Director / DP collaboration. Producers won’t take it personally if I discuss my rate or my crew needs. A director can. And if that director is a friend, they may not be much longer.

This is one to bookmark for all future projects, folks. I didn’t learn the true power of the production trifecta (Director, Director of Photography and Producer) until my last film project of college. Films, good films, aren’t made by images alone. They are a business and without proper fiscal responsibility, the images can go no further than our pretty little heads. During production, I felt the wonderful relief of seeing my DP and producer compare film stock costs while I got to rehearse with my actors. Looking back, it never crossed my mind that this might have been a beneficial working arrangement from my DP’s perspective as well.

To the directors who have a hard time letting go of the “do-it-all-by-yourself” mentality (myself included), don’t let your vision be compromised by not putting together a complete team. If you’ve brought truly skilled key players to the table, allow them to do their thing and you will ultimately preserve the relationships necessary to bring the stories you’re most passionate about to life.

So before you call “Action!”, grab a pen and take notes on the rest of Cybel’s cinematographer inside scoop HERE via Shadow and Act.

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One thought on “What Do DP’s Really Want?

  1. Sanele Mkhize says:

    Why is the Cinematography department prejudice about black female Cinematographers every single set I work on people are stunned that I am competent. It is taboo to find black cinematographers but colour n gender can not determine the Skill of ones work. We already put ourselves down don’t make it worse story telling is a gift and doing it through motion is the art of it and I live for that.


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