When a movie is successfully produced and released, it is usually the director and the actors who received the praises for all their hard work. Nevertheless, everyone knows that there are other people that are involved during the whole movie production process. Writers, producers, editors, composers, and other members of the production crew also play important roles in creating a good quality movie.
Amidst all the stages of the production process, there is an important person whose role has a huge impact on the final form of the movie – the cinematographer or the director of photography (DP). The cinematographer is in charge of the proper and creative use of the camera during the shoot. Basically, the DP oversees every member of the film crew who work with the camera. In addition, the DP is also commonly seen working closely with the director, discussing the proper angles and lighting of the camera that should be used when shooting various scenes of the movie.
The DP is also the one person who possesses adequate knowledge about operating the camera and solving any technical issues that may arise upon its use.
Some people think that the DP is an important factor that determines the successful production of a film. It is important that the DP firmly understands the instructions of the director and his vision for the movie. In fact, the DP can be considered as the medium that channels the vision of the director into a full length movie.
The DP also understands that cinematography requires more than skills. Creativity and knowledge on the basic science involving perception are also vital that will enable the DP to properly perform his job.
THE DP AND THE DIRECTOR
In the production of the movie, the main job of the DP involves creating the mood and the feel of scenes aided by proper lighting. The director may decide where the lights should be placed in the set, or the DP is provided with the opportunity to set up the lights based on his judgment. Still, the DP should ensure that the director’s instructions are thoroughly followed.
The director and the DP are usually seen together. Most of the time, they can be seen conversing regarding how the cameras should managed and utilized during the shoot. As soon as the movie production begins, the director already has some ideas regarding the angles of the camera, the color, lighting, blocking, and movement. On the other hand, the DP should not be discouraged to make suggestions or raise some issues especially when he thinks that it can help in the successful production of the movie. Thus, the DP and the director should be able to establish as good working relationship during the shoot.
It is not unusual that a DP and director partner up in creating several projects. Once they understand each other’s needs, both individuals can smoothly work out their jobs during the film production. In addition, a DP who has already worked several times with a director easily develops his skills and learns about the limitations of his job.
THE DP AND THE CAMERA CREW
The DP is also tasked with managing all members of the camera crew. The DP ensures that the crew properly do their jobs when it comes to film lighting, exposure of the camera, composition, cleanliness, and other factors concerning photography and cinematography. In addition, is the DP who commonly chooses the people who will be part of the camera crew during the whole movie production process.
It is very important that the camera crew understands what goes through the mind of the DP and follow thoroughly the orders given to them. For example, the camera operator plays a huge role in ensuring the proper focus of the cameras as dictated by the director. On the other hand, the grip handles the camera dolly and its movements. Basically, the gaffer serves as the chief electrician, and he usually accompanies the DP.
THE DP AND THE MOTION PICTURE CAMERA
The motion picture camera is an important piece of equipment that a cameraman must be able to operate. Simply, the motion camera is used for shooting moving object during a shoot. The cameraman should be adeptly skilled and comfortable with using the motion picture camera in order to provide focus on the creative aspects of cinematography while working.
The lenses are also considered when using a specific camera to shoot a scene. There are some cameras that have lens with diffusion filters. The DP should exercise proper care when deciding to use other types of lenses with the cameras. However, no matter what the kind of lenses a DP requires for a camera, the audience should still be enticed by what will they see on the big screen.
More often than not, cinematographers can choose from a variety of lenses which they should be able to use wisely to bring life to the images that are captured by the camera. Moreover, the DP should have a thorough understanding of the optical distortions that may occur in the lens, such as pincushion distortion, barreling, and chromatic distortion. Lastly, the DP must know the implications of using a variety of lens during the film production process.
Another thing that is commonly handled by a cinematographer are rolls of film or film stock. Unexposed film, on the other hand, are called raw stock. Rushes refer to exposed but unprocessed films. A film becomes the master negative after exposure and processing. Lastly, dailies are the processed print or tape brought back by the laboratory to the production.
At present, color film stocks come with a support medium called the base. The base has nine layers of light-sensitive coating (collectively called as emulsion), where other kinds of layers, such as the yellow filter layer, can also be added.
In the emulsion, the top layer is called the super coat which provides protection to film and its lubrication while passing through the camera gate. The removable ram-jet layer is found on the other side of the base. The ram-jet layer eliminates the haloes that can be seen around bright points of light.
Aside from knowing the history and the proper use of films, DPs are usually required to provide a full negative during the production of a movie.
MANAGING THE FILM STOCK
Since the film stock would contain all the images captured by the camera, it is very important that it is handled very carefully. If not handled properly, the images can be degraded by various factors, such as temperature, humidity, and fogging caused by gases and radiation.
Usually, films are used within six months of purchase. Since DPs are involved with the acquisition of these materials, they should seek for stock manufacturers which can provide them with favorable service of payment and collection to ensure that the films will not be subjected to the factors that can cause their deterioration.
When shooting in various locations, film stocks should be properly handled and transported with extreme care. If flying to other places is required, film crew are advised to just carry with them the films to avoid possible damage that may be caused by baggage x-rays. Meanwhile, the weather can also endanger the quality of the films used in the production of a movie. During high-temperature conditions, the film crew are advised to strike a deal with hotel staff and ask their permission to store the film stocks in their fridge. Moreover, quality cool bags can be used in carrying the films.
On the other hand, when using films that are stored in the fridge, their temperature should be adjusted to room temperature to avoid condensation. In some cases, the film crew begin thawing the films the night before a shoot.
Though DPs are expected to be very careful when handling the films, it would be much better if DPs can have them processed right away after use.
WHAT IS SENSITOMETRY
Sensitometry is one topic that most film technicians do not like very much. However, film technicians, and cinematographers as well, should be equipped with enough knowledge of the subject.
Basically, sensitometry is used to measure and evaluate a film’s sensitivity to light. Cinematographers pay close attention to this detail because they have to determine the required amount of light that reaching the emulsion to attain their desired density for an image on the film after processing.
Considering the range of brightness recorded on the film, cinematographers know the ratio of the amount of light, exposure, and darkening can vary, resulting in varying densities. The variations that are produced in this aspect contribute to the mood of the final film that will be produced.
In relation to this, the DP focuses on the details that accompany the shadowed part of the image. For example, when shooting outdoors, they look for details that can recorded as part of the highlight of the scene. The DP is also very meticulous when to comes to lighting since it is the main factor that create the mood of the scene, which in turn, should be able to touch the hearts of the audience.
The cinematographer should also pay close attention to the contrast of the film. And it is important that they do not confuse contrast with gamma. Contrast is the range of brightness and gradation of the highlights and the shadows. In addition, cinematographers should know the difference between the contrast expressed as ratio and the apparent contrast.
PRODUCTION OF CINEMA RELEASE PRINTS
Cinema release prints are produced for the distribution of a film in country or worldwide. The cinema release prints are prepare using just a single camera negative. However, if the demand for cinema release prints is high, the camera negative may not be able to handle the processing.
To remedy the problem that may arise when using just one camera negative, duplicates are used to create cinema release prints.
The DP, together with director and producer, oversees that the grading and production of trial print using the A and B roll cut negative. Several answer prints may be produced before they give their approval for the trial print.
Afterward, a test print using what is called the inter-negative is produced and checked. If the inter-negatives are satisfied with the results, bulk release of prints can now commence.
GRADING THE FILM
Usually, part of a DP’s contract requires participation in the grading that takes places at the laboratory. In the grading process, the DP decides if additional polishing should be made with the film.
The grading starts with the DP and the grading assessing the cut rush print in the viewing theater. These people would then start discussing about any changes which they think should be done on the film for the benefit striking the first answer print. The answer print will be viewed the next day; another assessment would ensue.
THE JOB OF THE CINEMATOGRAPHER
Being a cinematographer requires learning how to operate the camera, the functions of its various parts, and the mechanisms that make them work. For example, the person behind the camera must know about the standard frame rate used when shooting. Cinematographers should also be knowledgeable in the four basic types of exposure meter, such as the built in camera meters, reflected light meters, incident light meters, and spot meters.
Some cinematographers give much importance to light meters, whereas others think that they are not that essential for the film production.
Cinematographers also pay close attention to lighting ratios. Before the film crew begin lighting a scene, the cinematographer must identify that lighting ratio that should be used. Determining the proper lighting ratio is very important because changing it can last awhile if it proves to be not fit for the scenes that are being shot.
The importance of lighting ratio can be appreciated by looking at how much a face is lit in a scene. The cinematographer carefully notes when he has determined the proper lighting ratio for a scene. Thus, cinematographers are also known to take notes while doing their jobs because it helps them in doing their tasks at a faster rate in their succeeding projects.
The lighting ratios may also differ depending on the subject of the scene. For example, when the focus is on the leading man, the lighting ratio used can reach up to 8:1. On the other hand, night scenes ay require that use of lighting ratio with values of up to 16:1.
In relation to the lighting ratio, the cinematographer ensures shadows in a scene have the proper measurements. The cinematographer adjusts the amount of light if necessary then makes sure that the shadows are within the film’s tonal range.
Color temperature is another important factor that is on a cinematographer’s checklist. With this aspect, the cinematographer checks if all the light source in scene appear neutral. A cinematographer also understands that the color of light has psychological and emotional effects that contribute to the overall quality of a film.
Setting filters on lamps may necessitate the use of color temperature meters. The two-color meter is for reading the blue and red color, whereas the three-color meter also includes the color green and are used in readings from fluorescent tubes or mercury vapor lamps.
A cinematographer’s expertise in color temperature manifests in the recreation of daylight. The cinematographer should also know that different sources, such as direct sun, shadow, and deep shadow, possess different color temperatures. For instance, direct sunlight is affected by the presence of clouds in the sky.
When a cinematographer wishes to make some changes in an image, they use filter to make the necessary alterations. Filters are also used in changing the color of a light source by reducing the intensity of the light. Meanwhile, cinematographers utilize color compensating filters when the available light comes from fluorescent tubes.
During the shoot, all equipment should be meticulously prepared. Proper installation of such things help the crew in accessing right away the equipment that they need and it also ensures the completion bonds included in the film crew’s contract.
Though it usually against the will of the production company, the testing of the equipment commonly lasts for up to three days. During the first testing day, the film is run through the camera. If everything goes well during the first testing day, test dailies are inspected. The third testing day covers the maintenance or replacement of equipment and additional film tests.
THE CINEMATOGRAPHER AS A RESEARCHER
In his job, the cinematographer may face the task of doing some research. For instance, a director may be looking for a certain style or look, and it is the job of the cinematographer to accomplish the task. However, with the busy schedule associated with film production, a cinematographer may not have that much time to do the necessary research for a film. In this regard, it is very important that a cinematographer has some research materials at hand that he can use when doing some research.
Research may also come in handy when a cinematographer is studying and trying to understand the deeper meaning of a script. Understanding the script is very important since the it would be the job of the cinematographer to interpret it based on the director’s vision for the film.
In addition, the cinematographer should let the director know if some equipment or additional work are needed in specific scenes of a movie. This way, they can calculate the additional costs that the production may incur due to the changes that are made with the set of a particular scene.
In relation to the costs of production, the DP first visits the locations of a movie shoot and begins visualizing about the scenes that will be shot and the expenses that will deducted from the budget of the production.
In addition, the cinematographer understands that as the production progresses, the budget for a film diminishes, and thus, he tries to save money through early preparation. If they are fully prepared, the DPs will have no trouble doing their jobs and they can also help in making the jobs of the other film crew members much easier. A cinematographer also provides his team with lists that should help the entire production crew. The lists include the camera equipment list, the lighting equipment list, the film stock breakdown, and the technical schedule.
In conclusion, cinematography is an important element of a film which basically is effective when it is able to reflect the emotion of the film. And in this aspect, it is the cinematographers who make sure that such purpose is achieved.
In the whole movie production process, the cinematographer usually takes on various roles. Cinematographers are among the first people who visit location, converse with the director, and read and learn about the story of a script. They should have a good and strong working relationship not only with their team, but also with the producer or director whom they usually work closely with during movie production.
On the other hand, skills are not the only thing that make a good cinematographer. Creativity is also an important factor that lets a cinematographer fulfill his job and successfully interpret the vision of the director for a film. Moreover, cinematographers should have a firm understanding of their work and must be able to follow instructions accordingly.
During a shoot, it is the primary aim of photographer to be able to invoke emotions from the audience and make them empathize with what they are seeing in the big screen. A good cinematographer should be able to add color to the film and reflect the emotions that it aims to convey.
A lot of people in the movie industry probably think that every movie employs a specific language, and cinematography is an important factor in the development of such language. Cinematography is the means by which the movie can impart its message to the audience and present the vision that is originally formulated by the director for the movie.