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Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 6 of 16

Create Style Concepts & Break Down the Script


Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 6 of 16

Create Style Concepts & Break Down the Script


Lesson Info

Create Style Concepts & Break Down the Script

Once you've gotten the job now you're you're trying to put it all together and start to prepare and I know there are six stages of grief but or maybe five but I've got eight stages of prep that you know, I hadn't really thought about it before, but like when you you know when you get started there are these distinct kind of distinct phases where you break down the script, you meet with people, you go around and scout, you put together equipment, you know, you do the production meeting, you do some testing and you know, and then I'll decide in your shooting and it usually happens faster than you think so like being conscious of kind of where you are and what you need to do working out a timeline for yourself, you know, it all helps like so that when you show up on set the first day, you have some idea of what you're going to do. So the first thing is you wanted you wantto come up with some some concepts for the style of the movie what you know and it'll very depending on what the what t...

he genre is, what the subject matter is but you do want to be able to somehow articulate a sense of style so that when you're standing there on the set and you say like, alright, how how am I gonna like this you have some place to go you have some you have some reference to draw from you have some adjectives and so that every day because you know the the process stretches out over weeks or months or whatever and and you know every day you want to be ableto have those those sort of those ideas as concept that you can go back to so that the stuff that you shot on the first day feels like it's part of the same movie that you shot that you know as the stuff that you shooting on the last day so and part of that is you know is about going through the script you know, since everything get shot out of order you know the thing you shoot on the first day maybe you know cut right that may be the scene right after the thing that you shot on the last day or right before you never know and so you want to be able to have some sort of consistency in your vision so aye, the first thing I do is I go through the script and I you know, just forces I force myself teo to deal with what you know what is this giving us? What are the problems we're gonna have to solve and what's the look I want you know, how do I want to make this look and you know, so I you know try to work through for myself, you know each scene I make notes for myself and I'd try toe take a long time doing it, I'll do it over the course of days and I you know, I don't do definitely don't do it all at once because at the end you may start with you may start writing down no, I haven't idea for a beautiful dollar shot and then three hours later you're hungry, your brains fried and it's just like it's, a two shot and two close ups alright, next and you don't want to get yourself to that stage if you feel yourself, I kind of getting automatic with it if you feel yourself not ableto toe, pull out something original, I go do something else for a while um and, you know and definitely, like, keep track of any thoughts that you have for the director and any any questions you might have for them. So for me, I I've cooked up a my own little system, I don't know that it's not that minds any better. It's definitely hasn't been, you know, work through by a large number of people it's only work through by me, so you're probably going to come up with something better for you I think the most important thing, though, is that you that you think about thinking about it that you like to you know, develop some sort of, uh you know, some sort of system for yourself where you know it's just like, you know, my daughter when she gets her homework it goes in one folder and then when she's finished it, it goes into another folder and, you know, she kind of has her way that she knows, like, oh, this is the homework I have to do this like we have to be able to do the same thing, you know, the assistant directors, they all have their a system that's, that's very much in place and very structured and I think that it's, you know it's nice to be able to use the things that they, you know, the same sort of mentality that they have toe toe work for yourself, so but at the same time, like not every movie is the same and you may come up with a, you know, some kind of elaborate and complex system that you know you is it becomes more cumbersome than you know, then it needs to be so it's finding something that's flexible, adaptable and, you know, when I first started out, it was definitely it was a notebook spiral notebook with a pencil and, you know, each page was I know each page was for location, and I just kept all the notes for that location on that page and now I do it with the computer, but it's basically the same idea so here's, how you do it, it's what I do, you can do it however you want, but what I realized is, when you're you know they're two things, they're two concepts there's the idea of of a location, which is the like the address it's, the physical place like we're at the creative live studio right now, this is the location and then there's this set, which maybe like, in the case of jessica script, the set is the work space or the roof of the workspace, those those of the sets and they're at the creative live building. So the sat is the place that's referred to in the script and the location is the place that you actually go to to shoot it if that makes any sense. So what I do when I'm reading the script, I have a page that that where all kind of list all the scenes that way we shoot at a set, so as I'm you know, like I've read the script a few times already have made my notes about the general ideas, and now I'm just going through and saying ok, like here's, everything that gets shot in the workspace hears everything that gets shot on the roof here, the things that happen in dan's car there's, no scenes in our script about dan's car, but, you know, I go through, and so by the end of it, I have a page that has all the scenes for each set on I have a book that has all the the scenes for each set on a page, and so now I have a place when I think of other stuff, that page becomes the place where I right all my notes and so and, you know, the reason the reason I do it this way is that usually that there is a correlation between the set and the location. Sometimes, you know, the interior of dan's house might be a different, you know, across town from the exterior of dan's house, but you know, if you if you break it down that way, when you're on the location scout, when you're standing there shooting it, all those scenes tend to get shot together. So even before you've seen a schedule from the first assistant director, even before you before any of that stuff is done, you can be kind of putting together, you'll you'll be able to anticipate not necessarily what day things get shot on, but what things get shot together, so and, you know, so that way when you're standing there on the location scott, you could just open toe one page in your notebook virtual or riel and and be able to have all the information that you that you thought of and that you've collected and that you've you know that you've assimilated accumulated all in one spot and I think that's like for me that took ten years to figure that one out, but once I finally did it was you know, it was like, you know, the clouds part the sun comes out it was amazing so do this all before you show up like once you know, because the first thing that's gonna happen when you you know, when you show up like for profits they're going to put you in a van and drive you around to all the different locations and show them to you. And so if you've kind of gotten this all done beforehand as much as possible, um you you know, like you'll be that much more prepared when they bring you to this place, you know, to some location I say, all right, well, you know, here's the church, you're going to say, oh, yeah there's the wedding scene there's the funeral scene like I know all the things that happened in the church and that's, you know, it's like it's it not only you know, helps you kind of get up to speed really quickly, but it it makes them realize that you know what you're talking about so the other thing that you can do and you know, while you're kind of going through the script is you can say, oh, well, like, you know, there's idea of the of sequences like maybe there's flashback sequences in the movie and so you can you can kind of keep track of those on your note page like, you know, because maybe the flashback sequence requires special filters air a special camera or, you know, you're using black and white film stock or something like that some, you know, again like what our job is is we take these kind of, you know, loose ideas and turned them into concrete physical realities like, you know, we're the ones who make the machine work with the you know, that that creates this pictures, so if there if there are specific things that you need to, you know, to create the flashback sequence of the dream sequence or whatever you can, you want to keep track of what of what seems those happen in a cz well as kind of like how you're going to do it? So what I do on my own breakdown pages is I have I, you know, I have a page where I write the scene number whether it's day or night and a little synopsis of the scene and then I have a place for no it's a different departments as well including myself and you know you don't you don't know normally need to write whether its interior exterior because I break that I make a separate page for the interior or the exterior because those locations are often different and so the other things that I write down kind of in the general notes I get an idea of what them you know, whether it's what the mood or the tone of the scene is like if there's anything special that happens there um you know whether I need to call out lighting effects you know, to make sure that you know the the electric department is ready if there's a tv gag or something that's going on you know, is there lightning does you know doesn't actor come and switch the light on and off and you know, for that matter is there an opportunity even if it's not in the script for for something like that to happen? You know, and maybe maybe it's the right thing to do you know that somebody can turn off a light at the end of a scene or something like that and so you want to be ready to do that? You know, if there is if they're moving vehicles you know like partly that's a speed bump for the production but it also lets you know that there's going to be some time spent there but maybe you need some special equipment for that maybe you you know, if it's a bigger budget thing maybe you want an insert car or maybe you need some you know, some rigging gear to stick the camera on the hood of the car you know a cindy saddle or something like that you want to make sure you're keeping track of you know of special equipment that you might need like that I think it's you know if you get too absorbed in kind of the story when you're reading the script it's hard to think sometimes about all the like okay, well how are we going to get the camera to do the thing that we wanted to do? You know, so it's I think it's it's important at this point in the script that you don't worry about, you know, like getting absorbed, absorbed in the narrative and worry about the nuts and bolts. So if there's trick shots if you if there's going to be some concert lighting any of these kinds of things like it's it's kind of important toe you know to make sure you're thinking about the you know what? What the script is implying even if it doesn't state it specifically, you know, I think about our script like would we you know, there's a pomegranate that sits on the table like do we need the macro lens to get a close up shot of the pomegranate? I don't know I would ask the director like, how close do you want to be on this pomegranate? And then maybe I would use you know, it was my view finder app to figure out how close we physically need to be to a pomegranate and you know, to know whether we need to spend the money to order a macro ends all that kind of stuff, you know, um so I think that all this you know, all this is to say, like, what the movie finally looks like at the end is if you if you if you come out it as, um you know, like that, you know what it's going to be at the very end like and you kind of have to form it into you're making it conform to something probably that something is something that you've seen before and you're so you've watched, I don't know, stanley, all the stanley kubrick movies and, you know, you've seen all the things that he's done, you know, visually and you know, and now so your answer is we're going to do a dolly shot straight in down the hallway here and, you know, and you realize like where that where that visuals coming from is from something that you've seen before and I think that it's important to remember sometimes that you if you look at it from what's the emotion supposed to be in this story what do you know where where is the feeling coming from this in this story and you know and work at it that way you may come up with something that they you haven't seen before that's kind of the unexpected answer and I think that you know that for me is more interested so interesting you want to think so just I like to try to think about like going through the process rather than thinking about what it's going to look like at the end and once you do come out the other end sometimes you're surprised that no bye where your process is gone all right so now I think this would be a good time to switch over to my laptop because I have the script in here and we'll go through a glimmer of hope so I um I'm just going to zoom in a little bit here so I'm not going to go through the whole script I think it's you know it would take too long and you know to do it the right way so but I will just kind of like talk through how I do it so you know I looked through and you know there you can you know as the different departments will look through this and and see different things but like for me I look and I see okay it takes place in the morning so I'll highlight that you know the room's bright and calm kind of high like you know and I go through and look for things that are sort of clues or insight for you know, for what I feel like I need teo take away from it and I you know, I kind of look through t get to get an idea of you know, in this in this particular piece like for example, there's there's a long section here that describes what's going on in the room in you know, in a lot of detail and what I take away from that is that this is, you know, in terms of screen time this is going to be we want to make a moment out of this we want to create a mood with this it's not going to be just one wide shot that show's down sitting at the table looking at his teacup but that we want to actually do we want to actually stretch out this time a little bit and kind of get inside dance head and so that makes me think that they're going to be you know we're going to be doing a number of different shots and the other thing is that there's like from reading later in the script, I know that there might want to be a little bit of a sense of tension or foreboding foreboding. And so maybe we want to do some movement on this, maybe there's a little very slow push in on dan something that, you know, he he's feeling some tension. Maybe we want to feel the sense of the world closing in on him a little bit. So, you know, I think of all of that, then I switch aps and I go teo ever note, which is it's, I'm not advertising ever note, but just what I happened to use because it's, you know, it's convenient and that I you know, I can type this stuff on my computer when we're out on a scout, it'll be on my phone, I can take pictures like these, you know, I took some pictures of the location when I was scouting it this morning for breakfast and and, you know, it took it with my phone. It shows up on my computer it's just it's kind of convenient to keep everything in the same way. So and at the top of it, I I've made a little a little table and I had like, I make a template, which is just this it's like a blank template. Checklist for myself this is my standard thing the only thing that's different about this one is I put this little picture of a house there to show it's like a placeholder for the photos I did don't do that for myself because I know that that's there but I didn't dare to illustrate it for you guys and then I will I do have the you know where where it says location info that's that comes as part of it and it's mostly when I'm standing there and the location to help let me remember what I'm doing so this is the basic form and for now I'm mostly just worried about the top part I'll go through I'll fill out the scene number whether it's a day or night thing a little synopsis and then whatever notes I um I can think up like for here it's bright and calm and you know, because that's what I pulled out of the script and there's you know, so that's that's the beginning um and you know and then I've I've made just some preliminary notes to myself about you do we need a macro lens to get a shot of the pomegranate? I don't know question mark you know, we probably want to dolly and then you know, I found out on the scout which we'll talk about later that we probably want some lighting but this is, you know, as just there's a template that's what I'm doing so yeah so basically I go through the whole script and then I will do the same sort of thing when we get to the exterior I look and you know, I I think like all right, how are we going toe how we're going to cover this? This probably is you know, they're they're standing facing each other so there there probably are a few beats there before they move into position, but the tricky part here is that, um dan is about to put his pattern that briefcase and somehow he falls back towards the ledge and we hear him scream on the way down so that to me suggests that there is going to be, you know, some stunt action involved and that we're going to have to come up with a clever way to shoot this within our means you know, I was thinking first that we needed a special brig with a giant construction crane and some pulleys and stunt guys and that kind of stuff, but I like the creative live people just wouldn't let me go there. So so we're gonna I know we're going to have to think up something there so I would make a little note in my notebook that says, you know what we're going to do, how we're going to figure this out and, you know like the fact that I've flagged out for myself, you know, when I'm sleeping or, you know, in the shower, whenever I have ideas like something will come to me, hopefully I'm so why don't we switch back to the keynote? And um so now the other the, you know, kind of the next phase of prep after, you know, when you first show up is they're going to make you go to meetings or you're going to want to go to meetings you you know, the like, the main one on one meetings you have are with the director and the aids on then there, you know, you have, like, there there will be a siri's and you kind of get guided through this of, you know, production meetings with, you know, the various department heads, and then finally at the end of all that, there is the production meeting, which is kind of the last thing that happens before you start shooting and everybody talks their way all the way through either the schedule or the script, depending on how the assistant director wants to run it. And, you know, we make everybody make sure that they're all on the same page and I have some I mean, I know this is like it's a little nuts and bolts and not creative, but I have some you know observations based on being in these meetings you know, it's like I try to learn everybody's name on the whole set and I think that's you know, that's important I know their like there are a lot of cameramen that don't always do that on dh but it's like for me it's like, you know, you were all a part of the team so when you show up like you definitely want to know like in these meetings that you're at it'll be all the department has you kind of want to get, you know, get up to speed on who everybody is and what they do as quickly as possible you know, I'll make notes I'll just write down people's names as they introduced themselves to each other like anything I could do I'm terrible at names I'm really terrible at recognising faces like six months later so it's like anything I can do to help go that stuff into my head is good I was you know, you definitely want to come with you know, with the copy of the script, you don't want to be the goofball who is like you got a pencil can I borrow a pencil don't want to be that person um I try not to be the person who comes in like with their sandwich and unfolds, you know and like spreads out like a nice little meal in front of themselves like that. You know, drinks are okay, but, like it's, you know everybody's, their toe get something done and that it's just brewed. Um, bring copies of anything that you might have to hand out that's pretty straightforward and knowing went to sidebar something it's like that. I feel like the least productive meetings I've ever been is when it's a private conversation between two people that happens with an audience of everybody else going on it's. Like, if you if you if you find yourself in that situation, just say because I do that often too it's, like, you know what, we can talk about this later and then on my notebook, I write down, talk to that person about this later, you know, don't don't be the person on the phone and, you know, and definitely like again, I was like, it's, you know, try to be nice, um, which is sometimes hard, but, you know, I try to do it.

Class Description

Cinematographers need to do more than simply, “show up and shoot.” Preparing to film is a complex, considered, and artistic task and Cinematographer's Preparation with Jim Denault, ASC will teach you how to strategize and achieve the most creative, productive shoot possible.

Most filmmakers are in the dark about what cinematographic preparation truly entails. This class will give you with a step-by-step guide to preparing to shoot a whole range of narrative material – from the simplest moments to the most complex series of scenes. Jim will show how to break-down and analyze a script from an aesthetic, technical, and practical point-of-view. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Analyze a script aesthetically and technically
  • Evaluate and provide for the practical needs of a scene
  • Achieve maximum subjective effect within your shooting "strategy"
  • You’ll learn precise, effective, artistic, and technical approaches to shooting, which can be applied across all forms of filmmaking and length of material.

Working cinematographers, camera operators, and filmmakers will develop new skills for efficiently and beautifully conveying the artistic essence of their material.  


Zuhair Lokhandwala

Great class! Highly recommend to those starting out who are unclear about the process of getting the first job, meeting the director and keeping things organized so you feel more in control and have good clarity when you're at the shoot finally Thank you Jim!


This class is perfect for anyone who does not have years of experience as cinematographer ; it teaches everything a DP should do in pre-production, and is often not taught in film schools ! I'm freshly graduated and thus I don't have that much experience of pre-prod as DP, but this gave me everything I needed to know. It's also one of the few class of the genre online, and it's a fantastic one, thank you so much !

Christopher Lamb

There is nothing more valuable than learning from people that continue to work in their field. This course is priceless. To get into the processes and thoughts of a successful working Cinematographer -- there aren't words. Everyday I'm on set I think about the necessity of mentorship and this is the closest thing to that. Thank You Jim for agreeing to share your processes and techniques and to Mentor us in this digital age. Thank you CreativeLive for hosting this class and making it available.