The Cinematographer (the Director of Photography)

Production process is considered to be divided into several stages, the component positions of which may vary depending on the production process peculiarities, film budget and the crew itself. Some experts think that production process consists of three main stages, which are: pre-production, production and post-production; others suppose that there is a separate stage called development followed by pre-production.

If to consider development a separate stage of production process, it deals mainly with the screenplay writing which is done over the period of several months. The producer makes an outline of events, visualizes key points, finds the message of the story he has chosen, etc. this stage usually bends with the pre-production stage. This stage covers everything that is to happen before the camera is on, starting with the screenplay preparation. People involved in this stage are the director, the producer, the scriptwriter, the cinematographer, the researcher, the make-up artist, the costume designer.

The producer sets things in motion, while the director is in charge of taking the screenplay from the beginning to the very end of the production process. According to Art and Science of Cinematography, the Director of Photography is a custodian of the heart of the film-makingas the writers are its soul his tool is a box with a glass window, lifeless until he breathes into it his creative spirit and injects into its steel veins, the plasma of his imagination the product of his camera, and therefore of his magic, means many things to many persons fulfillment of an ambition realization of dreams. The cinematographer is the only person on a film set who looks through the camera all the time. A cinematographer is a general equivalent to a director of photography, but is sometimes called the camera operator. The status of cinematographer is rather doubtful, some experts consider that this term can be used only when camera operator and the director of photography are one and the same person, but to the majority of professionals a cinematographer and a director of photography can be easily interchanged. In Britain, the cinematographic process separates the responsibilities of the director of photography from the camera operator. The director of photography is referred to mostly as a lighting cameraman. In America, the system presupposes that the whole camera department is under the guidance of the director of photography, who together with the director may discuss lighting and framing. In the pre-production process the cinematographer has definite responsibilities. The first stage of his tasks is conceptual research and design, the cinematographer has to discuss all aspects of the script and the director’s attitude to the picture production, analyze the script and the story structure or the subject, research all the elements of forthcoming process including all design elements, visualize director’s approach, come to some compromise with the director and technical adviser. The second stage of the cinematographer’s task in pre-production process is practical research and design, it consists of clarifying budget requirements, approving location, checking weather peculiarities, reviewing set plans, approving plans for stages, reviewing props, vehicles, miniatures, etc.  the next stage of cinematographer’s task is technical research and design which means that he has to study the laboratory, see exposure system, establish developing, printing and set timing and transfer protocols, explore new equipment, standardize some effects, design built-in or lighting fixture, consulting with gaffers and key grip. Two more stages are quality control and implementation and testing of all possible details.

It is necessary to point out one of the most important members of a crew aside from the director is the cinematographer. He creates the visual texture of the film and makes us have this or that impression of the film watched. The director of photography is the main person in the lighting crew, who takes on decisions, chooses the correct aperture, lighting to achieve the desired effect on the viewer. Such positions as casting director, researcher, cinematographer make-up artist, production designer and costume designer take active part in pre-production as well as production process.

It is natural that every production of a film relies on a number of people who participate not only in pre-production but also in production stage and even more actively. The pre-production stage smoothly flows into the production process itself, which is sometimes called principal photography. In production process there act such positions as director of photography, cinematographer or camera operator, cinema operator, who uses camera under the guidance of the director of photography, first and second assistants camera. The cinematographer has to select the film stock, lens, filters, etc., he has to realize that the scene corresponds to what the director visualizes, relations between the director and the cinematographer are in complete interdependence, the director may either allow the cinematographer taking on some decisions or do the majority of tasks himself, it depends on the intentions of the director. While the film shooting the cinematographer’s responsibilities concern the following spheres: planning, blocking, lighting, preparation, photography itself, administrative, quality control, training and some others depending on the location and peculiarities of shooting process. First of all, the cinematographer should plan everything in advance; he should check and approve the shooting order of the crew’s work. What is more, he has to watch the rehearsals of scenes, choose lens and composition, work out mechanical problems with camera, place all the equipment properly and work with assistant director on background action, there can be one or several cinematographers depending on the scale of production and its budget. Sometimes a director may take over the cinematographer’s duties while shooting need close privacy and a little people present as possible. The cinematographer should also care about lighting, he should design light for minimum reset time, set and match light value, volume, etc. He aldo has to prepare to work out sound problems, set additional cameras if it is necessary, double-check safety, get everything checked for final mechanical rehearsal. Moreover, the cinematographer also has to shoot any plates, video playback material as he never knows which material will be the most precious for future processing. John Toll, a cinematographer once said that when you have 1,000 extras and huge battles, you have to plan but you have to stay light on your feet. The unexpected always happens, and sometimes it can create something great.

The next stage after production is post-production led by the film editor mainly, though he is assisted by sound editors, Foley artists, publicists and a composer or composers. The chief editor has to build a rough cut from scenes based on individual shots. He should see to it that the story follows smoothly; the cut is to be approved by the director and the cinematographer. In post-production process the cinematographer has to do some additional photography, discuss delivery dates, photograph additional scenes, inserts, approve optical and digital effects, final answer print, release prints, approve all blowups and reductions. He should also approve film and digital original transfer to electronic media, supervise all letterbox, tape-to-tape color correction, digital projection media, etc. the cinematographer may also do publicity, which concerns newspapers, magazines, Internet and any kinds of commentary. Under the guidance of the cinematographer there may work: camera operator, focus puller, clapper loader, gaffer, key grip, dolly grip, production designer and art director, colorist, etc.

It goes without saying that cinematography is a creative process, which deals more with individual authorship of the director of photography as well as the director, rather than the simple recording of a physical event. Production process is a complicated process which involves a great number of people including those who never appear on the screen, but are as important for the film as the cast.

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