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Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 7 of 16

Learn the Director's Priorities


Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 7 of 16

Learn the Director's Priorities


Lesson Info

Learn the Director's Priorities

So now you're in your one on one meeting with the director and you wantto figure out what it is you've had you know you had the initial meeting you got the job so you probably have some idea of what the director wants to do with their movie how they how they wanted to look how they wanted teo you know how they want to approach it but now you're in you're in a situation where you're going to go through the script with the director and you know, for me the they're kind of two ways that this gets approached either you started seeing one and you just work your way through and you you know, either they show you the shot list they prepared or you're making the shot list as you're having the conversation but I think for me this is these are the most valuable things that happen in prep because it's it's kind of like it's like a mini rehearsal for the day you're shooting it if you show up on the set and it's the first time you you know you talked about it with the director like it's going to be...

a long conversation with a large audience and you know and you're not going to feel it doesn't feel very creative like but when you're sitting around the office like drinking coffee and scribbling things down you know it's much more conducive to teo creativity so if time is short, I definitely tried toe try toe in my notebook I will have picked out the scenes that are going to be complicated that you don't seem like they have obvious answers that you know that that seem like they're going to need some attention and you know and I'll say, you know let's talk about the falling off the roof scene you know, I feel like we could deal with the office later but you know, like time's short, so can we can we talk through the roof and you know, like try tio guide it that way because the roof is something where maybe I'm going to need some I'm going to need some special equipment I'm going to need to be able to pay attention to something and I'm going to need a little bit more elite time to get it done where the office it's probably gonna be pretty standard equipment that's probably going to be pretty standard method so so it's, you know, you have to kind of be strategic about it that way and this is the trickiest part like sometimes, you know, some directors the ones that aren't particularly visual if you start trying to nail them down on things like they can feel a little bit like any of us when you when you are being asked about something that you don't exactly know the answer to um you can feel like you're put a little bit on the spot like I I tried to be sensitive to that situation and you know, just like remember what would you know or think about imagine what it would be like if you were in that inn in that situation talking to somebody in like you feel like you really need to know the answer to something, but they just don't have it like you have to kind of go through a process to help them arrive at the answer or arrive at something close enough to an answer that you can at least proceed with, you know, with planning so that you know, the morning when you show up to shoot the falling off the roof scene there is some you've got something you've got something to work with and, you know, it's a it's, a delicate dance, but and then the other thing I've definitely found there's like sometimes they'll block out like a whole day for you to sit with the director to talk through this stuff and, you know, the first two or three hours will be great and, you know, by the end of the day, you're just like, yeah, two shot to shot, you know, like you blow through it it's definitely one of those things where you want to alternate it with other activities because you know, it's hard to it's hard to think that long, at least for me, I can't think for that long, so then you'll talk about the shooting style, you know, how they want to do it, they wantto know, is it everything going to be three hundred sixty degrees with handheld, or is it going to look like a rembrandt painting, or is it going to be both at the same time? Um, you know, I had for maria, full of grace, you know, josh marston had been watching ken loach movies, and that was that was a really influence, even though, like we talked about, you know, ken loach has a method where he doesn't even want to see film equipment when he walks into this set, like the actors there, like all the trucks and everything, have to park somewhere else, there can't be any cable running down the hallway, you know, the actors when they walk in have to, you know, like they're walking into a real space, which is, you know, makes the lighting really interesting, there's no, they don't also don't stop for big lights. And so what they will do is maybe rig some kino blows up in the ceiling and you know, they switch one off and the other one on and then when they turn around, they'll flip another switch but it's, you know that once you're in there, the there's no moving equipment, so all of these sorts of things are, you know, like, they're considerations like, for whatever reason, when I was writing this down, I was thinking about the law respond tree or movies, centro, pa and then and I'm breaking the waves where is entropy? You watch that movie and you can tell every frame of that was was figured out in advance, partly because of all the projection elements and everything had to be figured out in advance for it to work, and then, you know, he did breaking the waves where it seemed like nothing was figured out in the events and everything was very spontaneous and, you know, and it goes, he went even farther than that, and so you think, like, even with in one director, you can have these two very different approaches and, you know, your job is to sort of understand what you know what that director is trying to get out of out of each thing and, you know, and why they're making the decision, what the what the purpose of the scene is what you know and how that's going to affect the lens choice in the framing and the you know, the guiding style and the moon in style and then the other thing that you're going to find out from the director is what they've been talking to the production designer and the costume designer about because you know, that's like you you kind of have to be aware that there's this other parallel stream of conversations so so then you'll sit there with the director and like I drew this little storyboard because I felt like I needed some sort of art work to put there but it's like that's the kind of that's all you really need to do to kind of suggest what what the shot is and like it's not that great of a drawing but like being able to do that teo help visualize you know, for yourself and to to explain your ideas to somebody else is, you know, I think it's a really useful skill um so mostly what you what you want to get out of it is a sense of where the director wants to go with the scene and you know, and then from a practical standpoint you want to be keeping in your notebook where you've broken everything down you're going to be flipping back and forth because as you go through the script you know it cuts between different locations but you want to make sure that you make your notes for each set on the page that it belongs on so that you so that you're ready for you know whatever crane shot steadicam shots high speed visual effects and you know whatever whatever he is saying that he wants for that you want to make sure that you keep it straight and your breakdown quick question if you don't mind I would love to ask the in studio audience if you guys have any questions for jim about how to talk with the director and I've got one okay when you when you disagree when you disagree with a certain things have audio how do you broach that like you would in any other I think yeah I mean there's two ways to look at it there you know you can always remember who is always right and you know and you know somehow reconcile yourself to that but I think it's I've had you know you have to also be ableto argue your position you have to be able to say look, you know it's not that I think you're wrong but I think that this might be more right you know that that you know I'm I'm worried about how like whatever you have to be able to articulate your specific concerns about why you disagree and you know and see if you can convince them but yeah, I tried you know, basically I tryto art the way I do it is articulate my concern I'll make sure that they heard what I said and then I forget about it like that, you know? And sometimes my idea resurfaces sometimes late sometime later sometimes it doesn't and you know, whatever it is is long as I I feel like I've done my job if I if I've articulated what I have to say, I don't sit on it, but I also don't beat it to death or you going to say that these have ever been in this situation where you disagree with a director so much or or just some store situation where you split ways in the middle of project or maybe in preproduction no, like I definitely like definitely earlier on the process was not a smooth for me, partly because nobody had the conversation that I'm having right now with me then so like and this is yeah it's like a lot of my motivation for doing this is like, you know, I have definitely grown in the past thirty years and you know, like you learn some stuff and you wish people would pass it back but no it's never it's never gotten to the point where, you know, we just said no there's, no way I can work with you and I think it's you know it's partly you yeah it's probably in the end like you realized that you know what would you how would you want if you were that director you know and like it's not it's not I feel like you know that I need to be a robot who just you know, like they're controlling me with a little remote controller and you know, go set the lights moved the camera it's you know, you know, I don't want to work with robots like the gaffer and the key grip like, you know, if I say something you know if I tell them you know let's put this light up over here and the copper says I don't know that's you know, like maybe it would be better over there like you want somebody who's goingto who's going to talk to you and give you advice and maybe you say, you know, I thought of a better way we could you know we could solve the problem like that I think so you if you think about it in terms of like here's a problem that we have to solve it if the director can you know and or you or anybody else can like state the problems say what it is and then you realize that there may be several different solutions to the problem then you know that becomes easier than that if you say here is the solution here is how we're going to do it without really addressing what the problem is and yes oh sometimes for me like mentally what I have to do is say you know, if the director says I want a wide shot that's going to be high right here and I think this is an emotional scene or whatever and I you know I have to back myself into what's the problem that they're you know what like what is it that they're trying to say with that rather than you know rather than saying that's not what I would do like you really have to figure out what they would do is question does the order a matter for you and when you make decisions about the set I mean like you know, you can first decides that someone who wears a special custom and it effects lighting yeah you affect lighting effects my camera yes so how they approach the order? No, but you prepare for this that's a really good question because it's definitely one of those things where I you know, I visualized a shot one way and then walked into the set and realized like, oh, this is what they've done here or this is you know, this is what the costume is and I have to think about that, you know, everything feeds back on itself and you know and it never presents itself the same way twice either you never like you you can see like you will have seen a lot of the costumes because you shot some some wardrobe tester you've gone to visit the costume designer in their office and everything's pinned up on the wall and you know and you see that, you know, you see what colors they've got, you see what they've been thinking about and you've gone to the production designers office and you've kind of seen, you know, their photos and what they're thinking about and then you get to the set and when those two things come together and the actors in it, you say, oh yeah that's not what I was visualising and then, like so much of what the job is being able to say, alright, we'll know what we're going to do like I'm here it's now somebody's looking at their watch, you know, we have to you know, we're gonna have to go soon like, how do I know? How do I change this situation to, you know, to make it work for me and it's? I don't know that's where that's, where the like all the kind of comes in because you've you've filed all this information away and you can say, well, I know what I want the picture to look like and this is what we've got right now, like what do I just do I make do I need more contrast? Like is it because the the costume is dark and the wall is dark and they're blending in so maybe I need to put more light on the back wall or maybe I need to put an edge alight on the costume like, you know, and which of those two is the right answer for this particular movie is that, you know, is the other thing maybe one of the rules that you've cooked up for yourself, one of the things that you've I wanted to do, teo, to make your your project stand out is eliminate back lights you don't want to use any backlight because it's, you know, like, you know, it's like candy, right? It's like sugar, you put too much sugar in something, and, you know, it can be really sweet and really tasty, and, you know, but then maybe too much is too much. And so now for this movie, no back lights, and so now you've got the dark costume against the dark wall. How are you going toe? How you gonna solve that without a back light? Well, maybe we put some sort of light on the wall, but each, you know, for each of those situations, you've, you've thought through what you're you know what your approach is, what your processes. And then, you know, you have to solve the problem. Kind of within your, you know, the parameters that you've set for yourself.

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.