I know making films is a collaboration, but just how much decision making should a Director put up with by the Director of photography?
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There are no rules. As you said, it is a collaboration but the decision of how to work together and the separation of duties s decided by the Director and agreed to by the DP. And the Director can change their mind whenever they wish. Ideally the rules leave both free to utilize their complimentary strengths while expanding their knowledge in additional areas. Recognize and respect the expertise in others and allow them to to make the picture better. Conflicts can arise for many reasons. Miscommunication is the most likely origin. Use pre-production to lay out who does what. This can be a short conversation, or a long one. When something comes up on set that was not covered in pre-production, take a moment and discuss it. Usually the resolution is easy and obvious to anyone with experience making pictures. Solve the problem and move on. As always during a shoot everyone needs to leave their ego at home. Has something specific has happened? Care to elaborate?
We talked a lot about what we were going to do. But like you said, it all stemmed from a miscommunication. And it was never resolved on the set. Next time I will make sure everything is clear before we start. But what do I do if this person doesn't listen?
May I ask what the nature of the problem was?
A smart director will realize that he/she is only as good as his DP. Listen and process.
Thanks, I'll keep your opinion in mind.
The Director sets the rules for working on set. If anyone does not wish to follow the rules, once they are informed of them, the answer is pretty clear. Replace the person and move on. This is a drastic action, but if the problem is effecting the quality of the project, to quote Bill, “if it were done when 'tis done, then t’were well t’were done quickly”. It makes for an uncomfortable set for a while, but then everyone moves on. Once the transgression is discussed, there are as many chances as you wish to give, then you must take action but consider the implications to everyone else on the set and to the project. The biggest no-no I can think of in this relationship is where the DP might dare to give direction to an actor. That should never ever happen. Directing actors is the exclusive domain of the Director. Should a DP wish to make a suggestion, that suggestion is a whispered private one and the Director can choose to implement it or not, and of course it is then the Director’s idea. Direction can only come from one source. If it is a disagreement about something to do with shooting and after discussing it, both parties agreed on an approach, then that approach should be taken. Hopefully the approach is the correct one. Demand that the agreed approach be taken. If not, take action, but consider whether the ensuing turmoil will be worth it.
I absolutely appreciate all of this advise, Andrew. It will give me a better blue print on how to handle my situation. Thank you very so much.
If they don't listen...you are in charge...let them go!
So much of your end result depends on a good working relationship with your DP. Do you have good communication and mutual respect for one another's skills? That's going to go a long way to answering this question for you. Hopefully, you can trust your DP to know his/her job, and though ultimately the DP should defer to the director and try to align with the director's creative vision, the DP may have a better way or a better suggestion for a creative way to get the shot. A good DP will have creative solutions to visual problems, and try to help bring the director's vision to fruition. A good director will be able to truly listen and collaborate with all the other members of the team, recognizing that they are their because they bring something unique to the project. Listen with respect, leave your egos at home, and most of all, communicate. Maybe you should have a post-mortem with that DP and work out what went wrong in communication so that it never recurs?
Thanks for your input Curtis and Chris.