What I (think I) want in a DP

While the director is the main creative force behind a movie, and is ultimately responsible for answering to the producers (and thus to viewers), he or she is the ringmaster in a giant circus and needs lots of help to be successful.

Largest among those helping is the cinematographer, or Director of Photography (DP).  Typically second in charge of the whole circus, the DP is the person responsible for what the movie actually looks like (e.g., dark and moody, pastels and slightly out of focus, etc.).  The DP is also in charge of most of the crew and needs to be a capable manager in her (or his) own right.

When I start looking for a DP for my Treasure Hunt movie, I’m hoping to find someone who can become a long-term partner I can work with for many years (decades) to come, making a dozen (or more) movies.  That’s a lot to ask for when I’m a nobody with a micro budget, but why not ask for what I want? What do I have to lose?

Having given some thought to the visual style I’d like, one thing that’s really important to me is holding the damn camera still.  I hate shakey cams and think the invention of the steadicam rig was the mark of the highest genius. I prefer the idea of long takes and having as much coverage done in parallel with up to three cameras.  Visually, I like clear, sharp focus and realistic, but strong, colors. Except when the story calls for otherwise, I want the viewer to see what I see when I’m watching the action unfold.

This is not to say that I can’t be persuaded into some interesting angles or movements, just that I want the default to be a rock steady camera and clean, realistic images.  I defer to your expertise, but also have a certain vision in mind.

While I will (am) doing my best to develop an in-depth technical understanding of all the jobs of the crew (and cast), my intention of doing so is so I can learn a shared vocabulary in an effort to communicate better with you.  I don’t want to become an expert on lenses or lighting, microphone placement or dolly vs steadicam.

I’m a strong-willed person who is… not very diplomatic at times.  I tend to respond in a knee-jerk way (emphasis on ‘jerk’) to ideas that aren’t my own, so please give me a few moments to realize how right you are.  As such, I need a DP who is not afraid to push back, who can deal with an ‘artistic temperament’ (but little actual artistic ability). I get angry easily, but I also get over it easily.  Often, if not reminded quickly, in a few minutes I’ll have forgot that I was upset. I try very hard not to be an asshole, but that’s my default personality, so I need a DP that can work comfortably with that, and to shield the rest of the crew from my raw nature.

I’m a firm believer in the chain of command and will do my best not to interfere with any of the crew directly.  That being said, I have lots of curiosity and like learning, so my being absorbed in the technical aspects of the crew’s work doesn’t mean I’m trying to muscle in.  If I overstep my bounds, just push back and I’ll adjust my attention.

Author: mitusents

Biochemist, MBA, then programmer. Now novelist, screenplay writer and hopefully director. What a strange trip it's been.