>Director and DP Simultaneously
Published : 17th August 2006
A few CML members have previously mentioned in their posts that they've both directed and DP'd projects that they've developed.
Would any of them care to share their thoughts on how they managed to do these two jobs at the same time? What do they think are the disadvantages to working like this? What do they think are the advantages? And finally, what did they learn from their experience that they would care to share with us on the list?
Los Angeles based Director of Photography
West Coast Systems Administrator, Cinematography Mailing List
class="style11">>Would any of them care to share their thoughts on how they managed to >do these two jobs at the same time? What do they think are the >disadvantages to working like this?
I am just slightly above the student level as a DP and director, so I'm sure the experienced folks can give you more information. But from my experience, unless it is a really short film and a really small production, don't do it. Either one of those jobs is a full time deal.
To really direct something well will take all of your energy during the shoot, not to mention pre and post production. To really photograph something well will take all of your energy during the shoot, as well as pre and post production. So if you try to do both, both will suffer.
That being said, I am planning a very small production to be shot mostly handheld with an Arriflex 16S. I will be both directing and DP'ing the film, but this is a micro production, with a crew of two, and two actors, in an experimental piece. I will spend the next few months planning how I want to light it and shoot it, as well as casting and rehearsing. It will be a fairly long pre-production. Once we start shooting, I will be director, DP and camera operator and my other crew member will be both gaffer and will help with some sound recording (it is not a sync film).
One other production I directed and DP'd, and it was a bigger production, but again I spent alot of time in pre-production and when it came time for the shoot, I hired a gaffer with a truck (of lights) and he was also the camera operator. He and I met a number of times at the locations and we went over how I wanted to light everything, so when it came time to shoot, we were both on the same page and he handled setting up most of the lights. I also shot a few rehearsals with a video camera and we went over that so he could see what I was aiming for.
Finally, I had the opportunity to work on a couple of short films, one as the director and one as the DP, and I have to say, it worked much better only trying to do one or the other of those at a time.
Just my experience.
Lil' Folks Productions
(Here is part one of a two-part post)
I shoot and direct most everything I do these days from education films to infomercials. I think the answer is like asking how a director comes up with visualizing a shot, there just isn't one answer.
My excuse is that I am a multi-tasker, very capable of spinning six plates at once, but that doesn't mean that a plate doesn't break every now and then, it does. As much as I do it I always make mistakes. Most of the time I find a workaround, but the mistakes are still there. Thankfully doing this as long as I have has made it easier to do. Practice has me knowing what I need to make sure I do.
I actually find working with talent and directing probably the easiest thing to do I have to look with one eye and really concentrate on everything going on in the camera so I see the shot and the talent as one. That was part innate and part learned over time. In other words, I used to make more mistakes with framing and the like because I used to concentrate on what was being said, and sometimes I didn't catch mistakes in what was said but framed up a beautiful shot. Over time I learned to find my balance. Here is an example of a local spot I conceived, shot, directed, lit, did sound for, edited. Basically, it was me and the talent. Not the best of talent, so I had to work harder as a director while still being DP and everything else.
I'm happy with the result. No crew, nothing but me a camera, a light or two and a few mics :
But sometimes it's not talent that is necessary to distract me. Sometimes it's just being a director and dealing wit all the people, and tings going on. I had a tabletop spot once. We propped a desk for $20k. Flew in special irises for the shot from Holland I think. Camera was mounted on a plate on a ten foot ladder looking down at the product which was on this beautifully propped desk. At one point I went up to make sure I liked the frame. The tap never gave me enough confidence to trust it. About five minutes later we rolled the camera to get the shot. But sometime in that five minutes a light must have been moved ever so slightly. And since I had to deal wit the art director, creative director and client, I never looked again at the shot.
What could happen anyway. Well that light that must have been moved?
Caused a flare across the product which made it unreadable. Only cost me $6k out of pocket to electronically put the label back on.
That's a bad example, but there are also good ones too. Just finished an infomercial. I was the crew. Shot produced, directed, wrote, edited, even composed all the music myself. Basically produced a 30K half hour show from scratch with no help. The reward? I created the second in a series of infomercials for this company. The first did so well it increased sales 40%. In fact it allowed them to open two more stores with two more on the way, and this infomercial? I LOVE IT! I am so proud of the result.
Here is the show :
As I said before the answer as to how is very subjective. I'll use this infomercial as my example because it involves just about as much complexity as one could imagine. I work backwards on a project such as this. In other words I can't write a script because I am making this a reality style program and have to have my subjects shot first. So I spent 6 weeks tracking down people as they came into this establishment and made sure I followed a template. One, always sit them down after they are done and rehash the story as if I am a cop putting together a crime scene.
This guarantees that when I edit I will find a line or two that will say what I need. B-roll to fill it in is easy. Two, follow them through the process so that I know I have b-roll and “nat” sound that will fl in the story. I don't want this to be just folks sitting for an interview. What makes it universal (the key to successful advertising) is that folks see that these are real people with the same problems and same life situations as them. Showing them in real life outside of the interview seals that. Three, a bit of this is all part of the unknown. I'll always hit a slight roadblock in editing and need workarounds. What made this less of an unknown was that after I shot all the subjects, I had the story, I just had to tie it together.
So I have seven successful stories. What better way to make sure it all fits together than to sit the employees down later on and ask them the questions that would illicit responses that would tie it all together, and best of all I knew that the manager had a strong language skill and was smart so I relied on her to give me most of what I needed to make it all stick. So I interviewed the other employees but with here I not only asked a few questions but made sure she said what I needed. It worked great. That was until I edited the program together after four weeks only to find out she was fired and my client needed to remove her from the program. I wouldn't mind except that I timed finishing this project so I could finish in time to make Anne Klein's showroom video for '06 which need a solid three weeks and also a commercial and showroom video for another apparel manufacture.
Basically I am screwed! But I am also a pressure person who would rather work one week before a project is due and do it better than if I started the month before and took my time. In fact it was the pressure of shooting and directing Klein's video that helped me make it better than I expected:
More in part two...
(Part two of a two-part post)
So what does all this have to do with a tip for you? First, if you have not tried to direct and shoot as one, you are going to fuck up somewhere.
Example is the product shot. Second, you are going to have problems that come from outside the production that is going to put pressure on the job too. That example I just demonstrated.
Third you are going to have things go wrong internally that will cause you problems.
Example : I directed a $600k series of films once for Nike. It was an educational series that I shot (Steadicam too, and directed). I knew the key for me as it always is was to have a great supportive crew. While I can easily make a commercial alone, try a thick script with eleven talent and 25 extras shooting over 12 days. The AD I wanted (about the MOST IMPORTANT THING SUCH A PRODUCTION COULD HAVE) was not available. The producer I was hitched up to came from TV and had little experience in any long format dramatic. That made one more internal pressure as now I had to do some of her job too. But circumstances (friends friend) got her on board.
Trying to work with her I mentioned I was looking for an AD. She said she had a perfect AD. I asked his background and he seemed to fit the gill. Time was ticking so I called him and asked him if he could work with me. Imagine you are driving along and all of a sudden a truck bumper comes crashing through the driver side door at 60 MPH and forcibly rips your head from your shoulders and all the time up until the blood in your head becomes oxygen deficient, you feel every least moment. That's what this guy was. I not only spent a month marking this script and pre-visualizing every last detail (The key I'll talk about in a second), but I made this guy a perfectly typed shot sheet and script that I bound in a nice folder. Very simple, make sure I get every shot down because I am shooing like a jigsaw puzzle in terms of order. I ca deal with six shots in a 30 second spot, but not with 60 shots in a day.
He seemed to be on top of it. Allowed me to walk away to breath while he set up the shots. Stood by me with his book. Towards the end of the day my assistant came up to me and said "I was just talking to the AD and he's not marking off anything in the book." I replied "What does that mean?" The response as the bumper started to just make contact with my door, "He isn't taking any notes nor checking off what we have shot today". Well without going into anymore I fired him that day. And now faced a problem. I only shot for 12 hours that day with an hour travel both ways and now had to go and watch the tap to check off what I shot. And if you've ever been in this situation, you know that when that first day gets screwed up, so does the rest of the production schedule. It seems like you are never on top of it as a result.
Thankfully I so pre-visualized every last shot and motion that I was able to direct and AD this project while shooting and dealing with talent, etc.
Pre-visualization is the key to all the projects I just mentioned. If it's scripted I will make sure I have detailed storyboards so that by the time I shoot, I already have seen it and can concentrate more on directing. I think what I have learned is to make sure the DP part is explored and set in stone as much as possible so that I can direct without the DP'ing getting in the way. I want to be like a viewer as DP, and not have to worry about too much.
So my technical support must be good. I'd rather pay my Ac more to know I am getting the best AC because I need to do one thing, stand behind the lens and/or have it handed to me on my shoulder and removed when I call cut. I want to worry about nothing else. In the lighting department I want a crew that I can give a picture to and walk away until the last moment for tweaks.
Basically DP'ing becomes more secondary in the sense that it's more automatic (good previz, fantastic support) because directing is going to take about 70% of my energy.
Often I sue casting as a good way of getting to see what I want something to end up like. So if that means a part is played outside at night, I cast outside at night so I get to see the person in the element. Or if they are on a busy street corner, I cast by shooting on a busy street corner. Yes it is very unorthodox but man does it make directing easy. I see the person in the element, know if they are right for the role with better accuracy and use that casting to previs what I want it all to look like in the end.
Hr is a casting I did for one of those local spots. You are seeing my selects edited together in somewhat the shape and form of the final spot. What it did for me was one, I knew who was right and who was wrong for the part. I needed a flavour of minorities and while I liked a causation girl better than this, the client liked this girl, so I edited her audition which I shot on a street in front of a car. Both were shot two different days.
I think what you should be able to see from these two links (the first the audition and second the final spot) is how similar the end product looks as if it's just a refinement. It was and having the pre-visualization allowed me to concentrate more as a director than as a DP. And BTW I was also the crew on this spot having to set up my own butterfly and directing while shooting.
But it worked out well. I had not only the audition but had drawn boards before the audition so by the tie I shot it, the visual direction was written in stone and all I had to do was paint by numbers.
Here is the audition :
And here is the final product :
I have gotten pretty good at the dual role but lots of mistakes were made along the way. I would never tell you not to do it, but just know that it ain't easy at first.
I hope my rambling helps...
Disclaimer : My opinions, thoughts, and beliefs are my own and may not reflect yours. The use of the pronouns "you, "some", and "many" to name a few are generalizations and without a proper name attached to them are not references to anyone reading my posts.
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I've shot all my own films, although only one to date is a feature & none are sync sound (my feature had elaborate sound design, elements, 1 hr of original music etc, not to mention extensive night work, sfx etc etc...)
Why choose me as DP ? I'm available, affordable, and get along with the director (usually)
Also I'm very good. (Then again, one might argue that you could leverage that very fact: if you hire a DP you know exactly what to look for, and it's not like you won't understand what they're job is !)
The whole way I prefer to work is that *every* idea on some level emerges from light and shadow. Whether spontaneously shot in what you might call an experimental tradition, or carefully prepped, noted, storyboarded even as was my feature. So, probably I'm at some kind of 90 degree angle to more conventionally scripted drama - even as I use elements that relate to that.
I literally feel, in the films where I've lit that lighting is writing. (cinematography literally defined). In that "light" I think the best asset I had was my gaffer (I should say gaffers, for a long term project). And it wasn't just sheet tech rigging skills but persons *on the same page* and I should put that in caps. Same for the crew as a whole. I like the ESP. One simply does not have time to re-invent wheels, deliver lectures, demonstrate cooking tricks.
I also feel I need to operate my stuff. I need the exact frame & its dynamics. I even want to feel the 'pressure of light' on the ground glass. (Paradoxically, when I've shot for other people I tend to not want to operate, I feel somewhat constricted behind the camera -- need to be mobile. But cinematography then is a kind of act of translation - no translation if it's my film - it's simply my film.)
(Plus if it's video I don't have to look at the B&W postage stamp, I can watch it on "my colour TV" - the monitor ;-)
Sanity dept: What I lacked for most of Wired Angel was a good
Production Manager (I hope to never again be lacking in that dept).
I CAN'T tell you how much more efficiently I worked when I had one.
This might not pertain to what you are doing but...If there was ONE thing that I would have done differently on that feature it's this : I would have found a way to shoot half as many locations and shoot twice as long on the ones I used. Because in the way I work, I think it's like mural or fresco painting, where I'm the "artist" and the crew are the "artisans" - and it's easier to manage a fresco that doesn't move around a lot
I'd suggest along those lines you pick your coverage strategy very carefully. I confess I've become quite drawn to directors who essentially shoot in a spatially sophisticated, but essentially non-coverage style (Hou Hsiao-hsien is a prime example)
I have to say that on my current project (it's really sort of a series of films, and eventually far more than feature length in total) I'm in a much different mode, more cinema verite, more experimental, more ethnographic almost - and the dynamics are not concerned with, crew, "Production" etc. And this is a deliberate attempt to retain some sanity I suppose. (but "geopolitical" circumstances have dictated this)
>And finally, what did they learn from their experience that they >would care to share with us on the list?
You can learn way too much from this experience
I used to do a fair bit of combined directing and shooting and always felt that I wasn't maximizing my potential at either when doing so. I know that's my personal limitation and that using both sides of my brain at once or alternately is not something I should do.
The one thing I did learn though was that it is imperative to have a camera operator and gaffer that I could count on to cover me while I was distracted with the directing side of the job. Having those extra eyes and brains working for you will keep details from being overlooked and let you concentrate on the other aspects of the show.
Randy "happy for someone else to say action" Miller, DP in LA
I've done this a few times on some smaller industrials, and music videos.
Mostly talking head type stuff with B-roll, but often with some narrative bits or re-enactments and so forth. I find that with a lot of this type of work my big job as a DP is during setup--adjusting the lighting and such, and my big job as Director is while the camera is rolling. The operating is fairly straightforward, even when I'm doing something like a jib or dolly shot. Not that
I'm leaving it in the lurch, but the material doesn't call for the type of operating that is particularly intensive. Frankly on many industrials that are low in budget I find myself to be more of a soundman than a DP when the camera is rolling, but on jobs that I direct as well as DP it is mostly one job after another, not too much overlapping. It does hurt that I can't devote more energy to prepping the talent (often a non-professional interview subject) when I'm busy rigging lighting, but for these situations I try to schedule some extra setup time and then ask them to sit in as I "tweak the lighting just right for them." While I do a bit of lighting adjustment (mostly just making it look like I'm doing something, I engage them in conversation and once again go over the material we're about to cover. I find I do pretty much as well as when I work with a Director.
The best jobs for this are when I work with an agency, because then there's always a bunch of people crowding the monitor and acting like directors anyway.
In these cases the director is more like a traffic cop anyway. As long as I can get them to filter it through me anyway the results are pretty much the same, but boy can I be exhausted at the end of a day.
Did an industrial last year on an assembly line machine for a manufacturer.
They specifically didn't want to see any human beings in the piece because the machine was supposed to be fully automated. A great gig and the best talent I ever dealt with, although she could be temperamental and required a bit of rebooting (like all talent).
NYC DP and occasional Director
Mitch Gross wrote :
class="style11">>best talent I ever dealt with, although she could be temperamental and >required a bit of rebooting (like all talent).
"we'll be down for 3 minutes while we reboot the talent"
class="style11">>Did an industrial last year on an assembly line machine for a >manufacturer.
This is starting to sound dangerously close to my stock in trade . . .what on earth is happening? I spent half of November and much of December demonstrating, on camera, how to be a more effective meat packer.
Phil "shrink-wrapped" Rhodes
Meat packing consultant
Phil Rhodes wrote:
class="style11">>I spent half of November and much of December demonstrating, on >camera, how to be a more effective meat packer.
I once did an industrial on the proper filing procedures at an insurance accounting firm. I was pushing my little cart around in there for three days and asking myself what I'd done with my life that landed me in a central Florida business park.
DP, Sonoma Co.
Phil Rhodes writes :
class="style11">>Did an industrial last year on an assembly line machine for a >manufacturer.
No packing meat here, this was a leak detection system that measured down to the micron. I did some work on the machine hooked up to small scale testers such as silicon chip wafers, but the big day was on an assembly line making 55-gallon drums. The huge vacuum chamber system with elevator platforms and control arm valves was impressive and quite noisy. Good thing I didn't have a director because I'd never had been able to hear him. The thing could bring in a barrel, suck it up into the chamber, pull a vacuum, test for microscopic leaks and either accept or reject a barrel in about 8 seconds.
In the vein of Walter's One-man-band-athon, I tried to sexy up the product by having a female voice-over talent for the product, a sort of Michelle Pfeiffer in Tequila Sunrise style. But in the end they preferred the temp track yours truly laid down on the rough cut.
class="style11">>I once did an industrial on the proper filing procedures at an insurance >accounting firm.
I once fled Wash. D.C. so that I didn't have to make a film about international garbage
SFD vfx & creative post
Santa Monica, CA
I haven't read all of the posts on this topic, sorry -- no time -- I have directed several series (CSI and Pasadena). It is my experience that the mechanisms and processes that I commonly go through as a director of photography will automatically and sub-textually interfere with my process as a director. I don't go out and set every light and adjust every flag as a director of photography.
It is not my job as a director to set the shot or light the set. It is my job to communicate with the actors and the other artists on the set (including director of photography) the feeling, scene intent, sense of place, and rhythm of the shot/scene. If they don't express what is in my mind I find that what is expressed is better or an extension or I've mis-communicated or have the wrong person for the job. That holds true for my work as a director of photography as well.
I don't have to do the physical I only have to communicate my interpretation. I always say the difference for me as a director is that I don't have to move the metal. As a director of photography I must consider the physical aspects of crew versus equipment versus time. The great gift as a director is that I am more disengaged from the physical/material aspects of film making.
I hope this makes sense.
Roy H. Wagner ASC
director of photography
class="style11">> It is my experience that the mechanisms and processes that I >commonly go through as a director of photography will automatically >and sub-textually interfere with my process as a director.
I think that the energy who involve the jobs as DP or Director are very different and some time opposites. Occasionally (just occasionally) this difference could be a nightmare but most of the times give it the balance to create a piece. Roy, you have right when you said that is a communication matter, no only to express the ideas to actors or crew but express clearly the ideas to your self.
Imagine an critical shot (mean by time) you must change the actors intention and the set feeling.. where do you go first.. talk to the talents or explain the gaffer what you want. Or worst .. you have the same problem.. you will have the opportunity to see both when you are watching the monitor?.
Some times I think that this differences are because every director have a little constructivist inside and the DP's have, maybe, a expressionist trying to paint the constructivist machine.
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In some situations, dealing with talent can be much like babysitting kids, managing a birthday party/dinner-things can get out of control!
So juggling the two can be dangerous and difficult at times, depending on various factors. If you have a great team, producer, production coordinator, AD, some PA's etc...small crews can be easier to manage, but in low budget situations people can end up doing too much. It is after all a collaborative effort, so hopefully everyone is collaborating.
I have a client(University)and the first project involved shooting some important people(Carnival cruise lines President, Ryder President, President of the School, President of a Bank, 3 partners of a ticket/event production company and some current students.
The first three were used to speaking on camera, were fairly easy to deal with, didn't mess up their lines. On edit it was a matter of picking the best takes.
They were patient with the lighting/setup issues.
On the other hand, if there's a delicate situation, the talent is a very important person, is rambling and taking off like a runaway train-and you're walking on eggshells to yell cut...it happened and I smoked a whole 400' roll when it should have taken a lot less...
A teacher, who during set-up was very helpful and enthusiastic, talking and showing off the facilities etc, seemed very comfortable-but after slating and rolling camera for the interview, it was a disaster, stuttering in front of the students, couldn't make any sense at all- it was quite absurd- and you're dealing with camera/shooting and trying to make the person relax, do another take, not easy.
The nice thing is if you're doing both, you are in control of a lot of things … the telecine/post process, pick the look you want, perhaps the editing.
On some of the music videos I shot and directed, there was at times the difficulty of managing talent and explaining things like time-lapse, it will take this long, etc (patience, patience...)but again if the band/talent is used to it, it helps. With music videos people can be very self conscious about their looks, etc. Signing the contract with Warner was another matter, and dealing with the record company people isn't always easy (I've had some experience dealing in that arena...)
I got a last minute call to shoot some spots for FL senator Daryl Jones who ran for Governor-I became the accidental Director I guess-breaking the ice was hard at first, but a good small team made it flow easily, and with the new versatile film stocks, small lighting setups, and a great vibe on set made it a pleasure at the end, and he was quite happy with the results. But again, a great speaker, comfortable on camera, etc
So if you have a great crew, there's room for improvising, it can be fun(whatever happened to all the fun in the world?) If you have a difficult crew it can be "Mutiny on The Bounty" on set and that's the worst thing (whether you're doing both or just shooting) I haven't shot a feature but admire Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic" etc)but as some have pointed out, R. Rodriguez's "one man band" suffers from lack of collaboration.
I also collaborated on a different kind of a situation once-the director was the singer in a music video-it was last minute help and I operated some shots- but it was a lot of fun, and very, well, collaborative...
What's the old saying... living and learning Also, if you're shooting video, depending on the situation, it can be a lot easier-
So good luck Jessica, what are you shooting?
I've only done both on short films, but what I've learned is that pre-production and ability to multitask are hugely important, along with a fairly generous shooting schedule. To exemplify the opposite, I did a short film about a year and a half ago that was reasonably expensive (partly out of my pocket, total close to $10k.. on DVX100) and was way behind schedule with only a few weeks to shoot.
I had the decision to make (as director/DP at that point), which was more important to me - a good looking short or a well directed but moderately visually lacking short. It was sort of an actors piece, so this was a legitimately complex decision. Didn't have any free gaffers or DP´s I trusted with things completely.
The film was heavy on special effects and stylised lighting (a sci-fi/comedy), had a GlideCam scene, and all sorts of little visual ideas that had yet to be fleshed out with only a few weeks to go.
Ended up handing the directing reins over to a writer/producer and it worked out OK. I would have done things a bit differently on the storyboarding, but I was there on set to make a few modest changes without disrupting things. Still felt like it was lacking a bit in certain areas, but because of the extra time I gave myself as simply the DP, I was able to fully prep the film visually and I was very satisfied with the results. Looking back on it, I feel that cutting my losses was the best decision to make. The director was able to get some great ideas out of rehearsals with the actors, and had the calm mind on set to keep things moving along properly (while as DP I was moving my ass up until the last possible second on each setup).
If I had much more time to get things together in pre-production I may have been able to do both. But even with more time, I might still choose to simply DP.
This is a visual medium and while it's good to pose the model, I'd prefer to be the one holding the brush. At some point I may be good at both, but there's nothing wrong with saying "this is what I'm good at" and sticking with it. It's very easy to underrate what a director does, stand there, talk to the actors once in awhile, yell action and cut. But the ability to think clearly and judge performance is probably a lot to ask of someone who's also checking if backlight and key are hitting just right.
Directing and shooting at the same time is something I do frequently.
There are two things that make it or break it: a good gaffer and a good AD. With those two, it's a breeze (or as much of a breeze as film production can every be), without either one of them, it can be a nightmare.
A good AC is vital too, but that's easy. There are many good first AC's out there; great gaffers and good AD's are hard to come by.