Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Haffe Acosta, who works on films as a DP and an AC from low-budget indies to mainstream big budget projects, about the things a director and DP should do to make for a great working relationship and a great picture. He suggested 3 things a director can do for the DP and vice-versa.
"The relationship between the DP and the Director is like a marriage; there must be ultimate trust in this partnership." ~~Haffe Acosta.
3 THINGS THE DIRECTOR SHOULD DO TO MAKE THE DP's LIFE EASIER
- HAVE A LOOK BOOK OR SKETCH JOURNAL FILLED WITH NOTES, ARTWORK, PHOTOGRAPHS AND VIDEO CLIPS. A picture is worth a thousand words is never more true than when a director is trying to explain to the DP what shot they want. The DP's life is made much easier when the director can point to pictures and other movies for what look they are going for.
- BE REALISTIC (BUDGETWISE AND TIMEWISE). A good DP loves a challenge but some directors stretch the limits on what's possible with the amount of money or time available. They forget that camera set-ups take up time and that some things are not doable without the proper equipment (like certain cameras, lenses, lights and dollying equipment). A DP will try to come up with cost-effective or creative solutions to get the shot the director wants but the director must remember that the most important thing is to serve the story in the best way possible. So director's be realistic and before making demands for an impossible shot ask yourself if it's really necessary for the entire picture.
- GIVE THE DP TIME AND ATTENTION. The director's main job is to work with the actors and envision the final picture which is why he must meet with the DP in as many pre-production meetings as they can possibly schedule. It's during preproduction that the DP gets to know the director's vision and most importantly, the story. During this time they can test things out . The director can decide on the look of the film and the DP can recommend the format, aspect ratio, lenses, digital or film. If the DP's schedule permits, the director should invite the DP to see rehearsals to get an idea on blocking.
- DON'T LOOK DOWN ON THE DIRECTOR OR TRY TO STEP ON THE DIRECTOR'S TOES. It's not unusual for a DP to work with an inexperienced or first-time director. Or that the DP is a director in their own right. As a result, the experienced DP might end up unintentionally undermining the director's authority on the set and even looking down on the director's choices. That's asking for a disaster. A DP is a professional, first and foremost, and if a DP is not willing to accept his or her role and let the director lead then the DP shouldn't take the job. Plain and simple.
- PLAN THINGS OUT, EXPLAIN THE PROCESS, LENSES AND SHOTS AND DESCRIBE WHAT IS DOABLE WITHIN THE TIME AND BUDGET. Because the dir is extremely occupied w/the actors and their lines, blocking, make-up, marks, etc., the director will rely on the DP's preparation and experience to help mold the look of the film. Besides the technical aspects of lighting and shooting the film, a good DP will empower the director with the ability to make good decisions. That means that the DP will provide the director with the knowledge, experience and advice to help the director decide on what will make the story work most of all.
- MEET WITH OTHER DEPARTMENTS OR CREW MEMBERS - ESPECIALLY THE SET DESIGNER, WARDROBE, PROPS AND EDITOR. Aside from sitting in on rehearsals, a good DP will also want meet and speak with the production designers to get an idea of how he/she would design the set and how it relates with the overall look of the film. This includes wardrobe and art department. These departments are particularly important because they can enhance (or hurt) what the DP lights and shoots. Also, as a DP, I like to know who the editor is to see how they work and what I can do to make their job easier (besides discussing the technical stuff too). This will help the DP prepare and think about how all of the aspects of the film (the mise en scene) will come together when he or she lights and shoots it.
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