DOP - WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN

 

Director of Photography or Cinematographer. You hear it quite a lot these days from the creatives in the industry. With low-end film gear being easily accessible with low prices, it seems that everyone today is a cinematographer. I admit there are some people out there doing some really great work. But its not all about beautiful images I have found. I may not be a long yeared veteran to the industry like some of my idols or colleagues, but there sure has been a lot I would love to share to those aspiring DP's just stepping into the game.

STORYTELLING

It seems these days that a lot of DOP's are just creating beautiful images and not focusing on storytelling. It's easy to lose an audience when it comes to Features and TV shows if the cinematography is "OVERDONE" so to speak. With the new fashion of long takes and high tech equipment which allows us to do some crazy camera movements, its become all about the wow and not the engagement part. 

Basic storytelling is something that audiences have understood for a very long time and we shouldn't lose our audiences just because we have the new MoVI on set.  Don’t look for the shot, look for the story.

Coverage isnt always king, sure its efficient to perhaps setup multi-cam and nail a scene quickly with less takes at the sacrifice of an extra 20mins setup time, but over-doing the extra coverage just for the sake of it can also show you don't know what you are doing and that you may be de-attached from the story.

"Don’t look for the shot, look for the story."

PRIORITIES

Being a good DOP is not just about storytelling, but also about team management, knowing how to prioritize and how to run a set. This is where you can say we sort the men from the mice. Taking the initiative and responsibility of a crew whilst trying to manage the daily rush and surprises that come from working on set. A lot of DOPs are shooting great material on smaller cameras as a SOLO one-man crew, but throw them into a situation with several other heads, complicated problems out of their control,  and perhaps influences against their original idea caused by other departments and you can find that a lot of people don't know how to prioritise on the spot the right solution. Nailing schedules and solving problems immediately is key. If you stand around for too long you are likely to not just annoy the AD on set but also have your camera department or even gaffer lose confidence in you as you cannot be decisive with confidence. 

BE A PEOPLE PERSON

You could argue that knowledge of equipment, lighting, techniques etc takes over. And yes it is a compulsory requirement you must have in your skill kit, but at the end of the day to be good, you also need to have the social skills of working on set. The correct way to communicate plays a major role in who will work with you next or even who will give you a chance. This industry is 90% word of mouth, someone who knows you through someone. People only recommend people that they want to worth with. Ensuring that you communicate properly on set will help establish good relationships for the future and positive references to others in the industry. Let's face it, nobody wants to work with an asshole or someone who has a massive ego. Doing great work will always open a door, but being a team player will keep the door open.

"Doing great work will always open a door, but being a team player will keep the door open."

 
 

KNOW YOUR BUDGET

We have to be creative in all elements of filmmaking, but knowing how to be creative with your budget just doesn't mean knowing what equipment can get the job done, its also about understanding your schedule and crew. TIME IS MONEY. And working within your time limit to achieve something which tells the story should be your focus.

PRE PRODUCTION

Something to be taken seriously. Sure things might not go as planned on set. Things like weather, equipment failures, lack of crew or even some personnel you have to work with being in a bad mood, all these things can cause problems on set. Having taken the time beforehand to explore all possibilities to take a particular shot builds up a bank of different methods in which to achieve the shot. So when your plan doesn't work on the day, you can quickly spring out an alternative from your pre-production planning, which even the director may be aware of. This again is another skill which by putting in the extra time helps develop confidence amongst your crew and keeps the production within schedule and still achieves what is intended for the story. 

 
 

So remember

  • Be confident
  • Know what you want
  • Visualise each shot
  • Be a nice person, remember it's about who you know and who knows you
  • Be a leader