Who plays the greater role in determining how a film is shot - the director or DP?

M6L

Member
I understand that most of the answers here will be generalizations, as no two shoots or directors are the same. That being said, in your personal experience, who plays the greater role in determining how a film is shot (specifically, positioning of the camera and choosing angles) - the director or the DP/cinematographer? Most of the amateur filmmakers I know take on the role of both director and cinematographer because they don't have the funds to hire a dedicated cinematographer, but I'm curious how things typically work on a higher budget production.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff member
Admin
The director is responsible for the "look, feel, and mood" of the film, and the DP is responsible for conveying that through his or her photography. But the DP is the expert, that's why you hired them. The relationship is symbiotic, but can differ in all cases. Some directors may call for certain shots, some may not. But what you described as "the greater role" (setting up shots etc.) would traditionally be the DP, as they are the "director" of photography, but the director is still the creative boss.
 

Sweetie

Member
I guess a better question then would be is it unusual to see the cinematographer handling blocking?
Yeah, kinda. They should get involved, but not be in charge of blocking. The DOP, The First AD and the actors (occasionally sound too, gaffer and others depending on the shot required) often get involved as there are lots of moving parts to coordinate, but it tends to be primarily the responsibility of the director.

As you already mentioned there are lots of variations. The less experienced the director (or less skilled with particular functions), the more s/he will rely upon others to pick up some/all of their duties... or the films suffer when those duties aren't handled.

Note: These are just my opinions. YMMV
 
A DP has saved a director's ass more than once by suggesting what needs to be shot, (and as a DP I've been thrown into this position more times than I can count), but in an ideal situation, the DIRECTOR should be the one blocking scenes and calling the shots. Ideally, the DP handles the lighting, maintains an agreed upon "look" of the film...filtration, color, etc...and hires/supervises the camera/lighting crew. And the director "directs"...
 

jax_rox

Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
In my opinion this falls under blocking, which is mostly the responsibility of the director.
I'd say blocking of the actors is separate to position of camera and shot selection. Blocking of actors is definitely the domain of the Director (with perhaps a little input from the Cinematographer if absolutely necessary as you outlined in your next post).

I see - I guess a better question then would be is it unusual to see the cinematographer handling blocking?
Blocking of actors - yeah.

That being said, in your personal experience, who plays the greater role in determining how a film is shot (specifically, positioning of the camera and choosing angles) - the director or the DP/cinematographer?
Ideally it's a collaboration, but each Director/Cinematographer team will work differently. Some Directors are very set about specifically what each shot should be. Others aren't as experienced in the visual/technical side and so leave it to the Cinematographer. I like it to be a collaboration - and if the Director has very specific ideas about what they want I will often throw in suggestions on ways it could be made better (if possible/necessary).

At the end of the day, it's always the Director's call, and they're going to be the ones sitting in the edit suite with the Editor, so know (or should know) exactly what they're going to need.
 

M6L

Member
I'd say blocking of the actors is separate to position of camera and shot selection. Blocking of actors is definitely the domain of the Director (with perhaps a little input from the Cinematographer if absolutely necessary as you outlined in your next post).
I see now - when I saw the word blocking I thought that meant planning out camera positions/shot selection beforehand. Blocking of actors definitely seems like a strange thing for the cinematographer to handle. I work as an editor at the moment but have become interested recently in learning more about the process of planning out shots and angles (though I'm not sure if I'd be any good at it!). I feel confident in my editing skills but was wondering if being somewhat weak when it comes to shot selection and camera positioning disqualifies you from taking on a more directorial role.
 

Quality

Member
The director has overall control of the film. But, he works hand in hand with the DP, so no one is good without the other.
 

jax_rox

Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
was wondering if being somewhat weak when it comes to shot selection and camera positioning disqualifies you from taking on a more directorial role.
Not at all. Many first-time (and not just first-time!) Directors aren't as adept at the 'technical storytelling' and lean heavily on their Cinematographer for that kind of stuff.

Others are more experienced and therefore take a bit more control.

A background in editing would be great for a Director - knowing how everything needs to come together is a very important part of the vision.

Most importantly, especially if you're not as experienced, is to work with people you like and respect and trust their judgement and experience. Filmmaking is a collaboration.
 

Quality

Member
I do agree that a Director should have at least basic knowledge on every role on a film set because when things go wrong, it's your problem. You are in charge of everything on that set.
 

M6L

Member
Not at all. Many first-time (and not just first-time!) Directors aren't as adept at the 'technical storytelling' and lean heavily on their Cinematographer for that kind of stuff.

Others are more experienced and therefore take a bit more control.

A background in editing would be great for a Director - knowing how everything needs to come together is a very important part of the vision.

Most importantly, especially if you're not as experienced, is to work with people you like and respect and trust their judgement and experience. Filmmaking is a collaboration.
Well that's good to hear! :) I'm probably very biased, but I feel like it's easier to screw up camera positioning than it is to screw up during editing. I don't think it's particularly difficult to piece together something that looks relatively clean and professional, but if the angles are "off" it gives the video an amateurish look that's difficult to ignore.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
Making a movie is quite collaborative and there are many different
types of directors. Many beginners believe strongly in the auteur
theory and insist on full creative control. Many directors admire the
creative vision of the DP and allow them more creative control.

I'm not a technical director. I don't have a basic knowledge of every
role on a film set. I prefer to surround myself with people who are
skilled and passionate about their roles who can advise me. I very often
let my cinematographer block actors within their shot.

I agree with you M6L; it's easier to screw up camera placement than
it is to screw up editing. The creative editor can usually "fix" many issues
using cuts. But if the shots aren't there and aren't interesting it makes
that job impossible.

It's collaborative.
 

Sweetie

Member
I'd say blocking of the actors is separate to position of camera and shot selection. Blocking of actors is definitely the domain of the Director (with perhaps a little input from the Cinematographer if absolutely necessary as you outlined in your next post).
We just have different interpretations, but we're for the most part on the same page. I see all movement in front of the camera as part of blocking. Actors, camera, extras, foreground, background etc.

Regardless of the skill of the director, the more talented crew (and even cast), the more benefits you receive from being more collaborative, or at least that's been my experience.

I feel like it's easier to screw up camera positioning than it is to screw up during editing
It's easier to screw up both. It takes more effort and skill to get both right. Get lazy on either end and screwups can easily happen.

I work as an editor at the moment but have become interested recently in learning more about the process of planning out shots and angles
Don't fret about it too much. I came from an editing background too.

I feel confident in my editing skills but was wondering if being somewhat weak when it comes to shot selection and camera positioning disqualifies you from taking on a more directorial role
Personally, I'm still consider myself relatively weak in that department too. I often rely heavily upon my DOP for input.

Moving from editing to directing requires a bit of a different mind set. You've used to being given a puzzle and you put it together. If you're an experienced editor, you have an advantage. You understand which pieces fit together, what works better and what you will never use. You'll understand what little bits will save your ass, what shots make a scene stand out and what you'll need from a performance, so you'll ensure you have those when it comes post production time. You'll be in charge of making the puzzle. What will also help you is your sense of timing. You'll be able to pull from your experience and understand what timing you'll need to make a scene work. You'll be in a position to do it on set, instead of needing to create it completely in post. Being an editor, you'll also know when you have enough coverage for the edit so you can move on with confidence.
 

jax_rox

Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
I'm probably very biased, but I feel like it's easier to screw up camera positioning than it is to screw up during editing.
I actually think the background of an experienced editor would be less likely to ‘screw up’ camera positioning as they know in their head what works in the edit.

I’d suggest a Director who knows what kind of shots will go together well (in collaboration with a good DoP of course) should (in theory) get more cohesive shots than, say, a first time Director who insists we cross the line because they’re set on one particular shot...

If you’ve got a vision of how the scene might cut in your head, it becomes a lot easier - and you’ll see straight away when a shot isn’t working.
 

buscando

Member
Lots of good answers from people here.
M6L, you can get a basic idea of why certain angles are used if you study good films, read books, watch tutorials, special features, etc. You can start to have ideas of what might be good for your story.

When you rehearse with actors, you keep in mind the story you're trying to tell, & the mood that best enhances it. When you're all at the location, camera positioning depends a lot on what the actors are going to do & how they move in the environment, so you allow for that in rehearsal.

Your actors, DP, & sound crew should all be on the same page as to how you think the story can best be told, & you'll work with them on how to achieve that. You have to take all their input & try to make it work together with what you have in mind, & make adjustments & compromises if needed.

Start small & simple. Find a story you like. Try to think of angles to tell the story. Later, work with actors. The more you do it, the better you'll get.
 
On my first short, I paid for a DP.

I did it all wrong. I wasn't assertive enough and did not know what I was really do. He shot it at 30 fps and I deferred too much of the vision to him. I was more of a producer because I was conscience of time since I was paying hourly. $75/hour!!! So, I relied on him. However, for my next and last short, I will DP it (haha :/) because I've been studying how to bring my vision to life and convey what I want to a cinematographer.

So, finally, the answer... it's circumstantial. Plus, a vision go as far as the budget.
 
On my first short, I paid for a DP.

I did it all wrong. I wasn't assertive enough and did not know what I was really do. He shot it at 30 fps and I deferred too much of the vision to him. I was more of a producer because I was conscience of time since I was paying hourly. $75/hour!!! So, I relied on him. However, for my next and last short, I will DP it (haha :/) because I've been studying how to bring my vision to life and convey what I want to a cinematographer.
I would argue that hiring a DP wasn’t (fundamentally) the mistake. Not conveying things like time base (24p) and overall vision... those are the mistakes, and you’ve already acknowledged that.

Hiring that particular DP may have been questionable, but only in hindsight. Lighting that is flat and dull, poorly-recorded sound, poorly-framed shots, a glaring and obvious C-stand in the background... all signs of a DP who isn’t paying attention. And the lesson here is that these things can be corrected on set. The director should be sitting at a monitor, wearing headphones fed by the primary audio recorder. It’s your job to see and hear what’s being recorded and to speak up if it doesn’t meet expectations.

I’m not sure the solution is just to do it yourself, because that doesn’t give you any more experience in communicating effectively to a DP. You know what went wrong, and that gives you a great place to eliminate those challenges on the next short. A thorough pre-pro meeting can move most of that conversation away from the set, too. It’s there that you look over the storyboard and clarify tech specs (“to be shot at 1080p24” or “to be shot at 4K, 24p”) and convey your visual taste (do you want contrasty, dramatic lighting, or lower-contrast/desaturated, or something else?).

The good news is that you’ve got all this from your last short, so going into the next one should be much smoother.
 
I would argue that hiring a DP wasn’t (fundamentally) the mistake. Not conveying things like time base (24p) and overall vision... those are the mistakes, and you’ve already acknowledged that.

Hiring that particular DP may have been questionable, but only in hindsight. Lighting that is flat and dull, poorly-recorded sound, poorly-framed shots, a glaring and obvious C-stand in the background... all signs of a DP who isn’t paying attention. And the lesson here is that these things can be corrected on set. The director should be sitting at a monitor, wearing headphones fed by the primary audio recorder. It’s your job to see and hear what’s being recorded and to speak up if it doesn’t meet expectations.

I’m not sure the solution is just to do it yourself, because that doesn’t give you any more experience in communicating effectively to a DP. You know what went wrong, and that gives you a great place to eliminate those challenges on the next short. A thorough pre-pro meeting can move most of that conversation away from the set, too. It’s there that you look over the storyboard and clarify tech specs (“to be shot at 1080p24” or “to be shot at 4K, 24p”) and convey your visual taste (do you want contrasty, dramatic lighting, or lower-contrast/desaturated, or something else?).

The good news is that you’ve got all this from your last short, so going into the next one should be much smoother.
You watched my short? I ask because you describe it perfectly

I am not against DPs, just can’t afford one now. Definitely, in the future of this career I know. I take partial blame because I didn’t have a storyboard, it was rushed, left my shot list, etc.

However, I followed him on IG afterwards and his work seems to be mostly commercial and rap videos. Not cinematography and a film aspect. He has IMDb for a movie coming out, maybe I’ll see it.
 

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