Prepare to Get the Job


Cinematographer's Preparation


Lesson Info

Prepare to Get the Job

So now you've gotten some director has reached out to you and you need to figure out how to be the one who who they decide to pick for, you know, for their project um so you get ready to get the job so you think all right, if it's, you know, if it's a film student, you're obviously not going to be able to do that much, but let's say you've gotten a little bit farther along and it is somebody who has made a couple of movies, you know, you can find out what they've done before usually now it's, like people will have their films up on demeo people will have their films on youtube or whatever, and you should be able to, you know, you gotta look at at things that they've done before, maybe if it's a bigger production that that director didn't call you up themselves although, like in the beginning, that's who you get the phone call from, like, just out of the blue somebody'll say, hey, I'm directing a movie, but if there is somebody else that contacts you like, ask them and this like it's, d...

efinitely this is definitely more important a little later, but you ask them, you know what? What is the director interested in what what kinds of things have they articulated about their movie that they that they want to look like maybe there are already some you know they've already said well it's supposed to look like a cross between a cross between badlands and beetlejuice or something and you'd try that so you would go if you haven't seen those movies you you watch them you you try like whatever bits of information you khun glean from the person who called you up on the phone use that and figure out how you can come in you know, on the same wavelength with the director and you know if you can see their movies you should try to watch them so yes just really quick I love tto I'd love to ask the audience was a couple of people here who was a director off the top your headless like go to every people that you would love to work with you if you're given is that from the right away go right uh nolan ok and how come I just like his subject matter and how he just pushes all his movies great jessica ivan reitman okay courtney you got one oh my gosh, you just put me on the spot I don't know it's hard right and, uh classic yeah yeah that's that yeah, those are all really interesting, you know and different choices yeah, yeah, yeah, very diverse so so yeah so here way have to figure out there's like for me I feel like we have to find the way tio teo to talk about jessica's script and act as though there is a director in the room so here's the script it's called a glimmer of hope it's you know it's very interesting like the thing I liked about it when I first read it was you know it takes a very interesting twist at the end and but it's you know it's full of clues about the mood and the tone of the movie and there's there's a there's sort of a supernatural element to it as well and you know, maybe I'm reading more into it than you or maybe I'm reading something different into it than what you intended but that's like for me that's what's interesting is you you know somebody can look at something and you know and try to draw some draw their own ideas out of it so like when I read the script it's not important that you read what it says here because I can't even read what it says but like you know it's like for me it's it's really important you can read it you've read it once through just to understand the story to understand where it's going but then I usually will be the second time you know even when it's a read the script and you know kind of make notes I'll keep a note pad tongue me with places where I can write down what my reactions are two things you know I'll write I'll keep track of who the characters are but also keep track of you know where the plot goes and what I feel the mood and the tone and if I in my mind I picture any certain shots at a certain place I'll you know, keep track of that because it's easy, you know it's easy to imagine that stuff in the moment and it's also easy to forget it as soon as you turn the page and go on to the next moment so I it's I feel like reading with a pencil especially the second time is is important you want to be able to organize your thoughts and articulate them and and you know when you're getting ready to go meet the director, you want to be ableto talk in a way that you know where they see oh, not only have they read the script, but they understand it even if they don't I have exactly the same ideas that I have about the script because you know it's like, what are the odds that that's gonna happen anyway? Nobody no two people are going to have exactly the same ideas, but if you if they know that you're talking about the same script that they're reading, you know that you're actually comm person and articulate in it that's the most important thing so so that's and you know I went you know and so when they say, well no, I was I was thinking that this scene would be you know, you read the script and it says the room is bright and calm and for me that's like that's that's a certain mood in a certain tone for for this scene and you know, I could go into the director and they're thinking yeah, yeah, but I was thinking it would be kind of dark and shadowy and there might be, you know, one little a shaft of light coming and I was thinking it would be it's probably better as a night scene because there is like there should be something scary about it and you can say, oh that's you know, all right, fine, I can go with that you still you're still talking about the same script, but all of a sudden the director has kind of switched the way you're thinking and if you're if you if you kind of have digested the script that way you're able tto go with wherever there wherever they take you if you're not quite ifyou're not solid on how the whole script is put together it's you know it makes it harder in the meeting so that's so you know for me it comes down to making notes I underline things and I you know it's forces my brain into, you know, actively analyzing the script so there's the other part of it is you have to decide whether you want to do this this movie you know, is the script any good like when you're reading it, do you like it? Why do you like it or why don't you like it and that's that's important to you? I think we'll get to that a little bit later too, but one of the things I there are a couple of books these this is by no means an exhaustive list, but they're a couple of books that I read, you know, the key points that really helped me in being able to talk to directors on in director talk rather than, you know, rather than making them come to me and, you know, understanding how a script you know, how a script is put together and why it works this syd field book and robert mckee books were really important for me and so, you know, this kind of brings up it brings up the general topic of how, you know, how do you get yourself ready? And, you know, of course, there are a lot of great cinematography books it's, it's really interesting, interesting to read about how cinematographers do their thing, but I, you know, I feel like reading about how director is how production designers you know how the rest of the crops work is justus important like you you want to be able to understand and who you're who you're talking to and you want to be able to speak their language so the the acting in film book by michael caine is invaluable and it's full of very practical advice just you know, even in terms of like how to help actors hit their marks if it gets down to like, you know that kind of physical reality and you know it like when you're talking to the actors when you're speaking with them you know, to be able to understand the film set from the actor's point of view is, you know, it's really helpful and you know, the jew with western book also very good for understanding how a director well read a script and try to put their you know how how they try toe form opinions about what the where the script is taking them and where they want to take the script so why would you want to do it? Maybe you like the genre maybe you've always wanted to do a science fiction movie and, you know, set in outer space, you know, maybe there's something yeah, exactly maybe there's ah, maybe there's something about the interpersonal relations ships in it maybe there's you know you you've always felt like an outsider and this movie's about an outsider you know the way that the characters connect with each other there's you know, there are a lot of times when you read a script and you know it will be a profoundly moving experience you know? I was talking to a friend last night I had dinner with him who's working on a movie here and he said he has read the script five times just for enjoyment like and you know, so you you every once in a while you get those movies where it's just you you know you love the subject matter that much um maybe maybe it's not so much the script that you're after but there's some other growth opportunity that you're getting out of it you're you know you've always won of the shoot, you know, car chase sequences or, you know, are big theatrical rock'n'roll lighting set up or you know, something like that, you know, you love singing and dancing and want to dio do a movie that has a lot of that and, you know, somebody just called you with all that jazz too that's you know that you know it's even even if the you know the story line isn't that great? Like the opportunity to dio teo to do that sort of material is something that you're after, but I feel like you always have to toe you always have to have something like that in the script it can't just be like well, mantis do and these guys have a little bit of money to pay me that's if you're doing it for that reason it's you're not gonna have fun when you're doing it and nobody else is gonna have fun not that fun is that beyond and all but it's you're not going to be able to bring the you know your best creative vision to it and in the end you're going to end up missing like the movie that you didn't want to do is going to come along but you're not going to be available because you're doing you're you're doing the movie that you didn't want to do because you thought you had to make some money I think it's there's a conrad hall had a quote where he said, well the cinematographer should be able to you know, to have enough money that they can turn down work just really easy for him to say but it is a goal like you know especially at the beginning tto have some other job that you can do to be ableto if you're working as an electrician for in my case or a camera system or some other job in the movie business where you are you're able to keep the rent paid even when you're when you're not shooting and be able teo you know be able to pick the projects that you want to do and you know if you read the script and you really don't connect with it, you shouldn't do it just because just because there's money in it so in order to you know when you want to go in and talk to the director you need to a form you need to form an opinion about about this script you need thio sometimes it helps you know like for me it helps if I if I pick a scene or a specific scene, you know, usually something important and just try to like visualize it I'll draw I draw little storyboards I I shot list I think you definitely drawing is is uh it's an important tool for any visual artist but especially cinematographers if you could draw a little sketch of the shot that you that you want to be able to explain it to a director when you're sitting at a table and not at the location that can be really convincing it could really help. And so like for me drawing has been an important it's been an important tool and it's something that I wasn't always good at I'm still probably not that good at it but it's you know I can at least, you know, get my ideas across that way um you want to be able to describe what the lighting stylists and which is it that's it it's one of those things it's it's a little difficult to talk about unless you can you know, unless you are able to reference art history unless you're able to pull out you know and say, well, I think that this should be more like a corbet painting and less like matisse and you know, I have be able to understand the you know, the difference between the two being able tio toe you know, go, like have enough knowledge of art history that you can that you can visualize paintings that you've seen before when you're speaking through a director be able to know where to go if you want to pull out tear sheets teo teo bring into your meeting but, you know, having having some sort of a concrete painting or a photograph some some kind of visual reference it's actually helps like for me anyway it helps me to sort of cement my vision about what the what the shoot's going to be, what the you know what the movie is going to look like and what and what where I want to go with it you know, it's one really good exercise is to take a painting or a photograph and try to recreate it somehow there was that movie tim's vermeer where the guy actually figured out how to recreate a vermeer painting including the lighting and andi I think that that going through that exercise is really helpful for you to like if you take a photograph and say all right, where is the light source coming from where you know and how did the how did the photographer create this mood and how can I reproduce this it's it helps you when you're on the set because usually you have to make you know, quick decisions, you have to have a kind of you have to have a plan in place and but but be able to very quickly without a lot of experimentation get to a certain mood in a certain style like because eventually the clock runs out when you're shooting and you you just have to stop and if you if you haven't had a but clear vision in mind, you'll never know when you got there and you'll never know how your you know what the path is to get there so sometimes you know, sometimes the clear vision is you reading the script and you don't quite know how to take it and that's where like using brainstorming techniques like company thinking of adjectives, you know, connecting words together, that kind of thing helps you teo, you know, to get past that that block I think that, you know, for me this is all kind of important too, you know, getting ready to go in and it's kind of like loading your brain up with knowledge so that when you go in and talk to a director you have you have something to talk about you've got you can you know if they that come in you know when you go in there you you have some information prepared so it's you know and like doing that kind of background research it's like it's a continuous process you wanted you know, keep going toe art book stores I you know, I have a wall of you know, coffee table books and it's you know and you want to be ableto just went you know, in your spare time whatever that is and be able to kind of you know, just absorb what's going on in the world what other artists are doing what other photographers there doing? Um you know, you read comic books I have some favorite blog's the lens scratch particularly lately has been you know, one of my go to blog's um there's your new york times photo blogger is really good. I really I also have been lately have been really inspired by theater lighting design books like these guys when you know when you think about what theater lighting designers do, it really is it's it's a lot like us they walk into a room that it's black there's nothing in it and you know they have a script and, you know there's a director and there's some actors but if they don't do anything, nobody is going to be able to see the actors so you know all of the mood and the tone that is in a theater piece is created by the lightning designer and the set designer from you know, from nothing like they don't for us we may walk into a place and there's a beautiful window that's facing north and we say oh it's great it's like look what look what this location just gave me for free they don't get it for free and so when you when you look at the pictures of what they do and you know kind of read about the process of what they do like for me that helps that's that's really helped me teo kind of refine my own process the theater lighting direct designers also have a very specific process for, you know, planning through the way they go through a script and I think it's, you know, I've gotten a lot of insight into what I do from you from meeting those books the in particular the light fantastic book is, you know, it's really good I, you know, high we suggest that just for the just for the pictures, so here is a little activity slide, so give you know, I don't know that you have to pick one from the list that I've got, but I sort of feel like it is important to you that you find a book from somewhere out that is in the cinematography book, but that somehow relates teo that's. So I'm gonna throw out one that I just had sort of write off the cuff. How do you do? You have advice for how to enjoy going to see a play or going to see a movie and not be thinking about your career, your work at the same time? Oh, man, that is a really good question, you know? It depends if the if the player, if the movie especially is really good, I can't help but forget about my you know what my part of it like, I feel like if you especially the first time I see a movie, if I am noticing the cinematography, then I feel like it's, not a successful movie like I, you know, I love the fact that films are, you know, this completely immersive experience and, you know, and if if I feel myself like saying, yeah, I don't know about that shot, then I, you know, I realized that the movie itself has lost me, and, you know, I can kind of tell when you know when the pace has gotten a little slack or the story has has wandered off a little bit when I find myself thinking about the technique the first time so when I get when I watch one of those movies where I really absorbed I just let myself go the first time and I know well I can always just go back and watch this movie again and you know and often the second time I'll try to do it on video or you know, if it's still in the theaters, I'll go back to the theater but watching on video I can stop and say, hey, wait what what did they just do here? What is this cut? Do I enjoy analyzing um films that way? But I don't know if you're I don't want to blame the movie like if you're if you're having trouble keeping focused on the story and all you're doing is paying attention to the cinematography or you know, whatever aspect you like the first time you watched the movie, it seems like the movie hasn't quite engaged you that makes sense yeah great great answer and one mohr and if anybody has questions in the studio fee guys feel free now's your chance one more from our chat rooms how many years did it take you of practicing filmmaking and where you felt like you were really ready to become a professional director of photography that is a really good question. I'm still not sure I feel I still, you know, like part of me feels like, what am I doing up here talking to you guys? Because, you know, what do I really know? Um, it's, I feel like it do it once I alright, I started shooting, you know, industrial videos and that kind of stuff. In the mid eighties, I shot the first feature film that I did in nineteen ninety three so that part of it took me eight or yeah, eight years, probably. And then boys don't cry was in nineteen ninety eight so that was another five years, so maybe fifteen years I feel like by the time I got the boys don't cry I kind of knew I knew what I was doing and so yeah, fifteen years is that that's a pull the number right out of the air that's a good I think that's really and er give you a really solid background. Yes, exactly, but not to say like you know what sorry there's what's really interesting for me is that, you know, there are people and this is what's encouraging about this too, like, I know people who have come right out of film school and because you know one of their but he's in film school was a talented director you have started shooting feature films when they were twenty five and you know you still the learning process happens however you know kind of wherever you start and however however you do it you still you're going to end up going through the process somehow maybe it's more accelerated it's more or less painful but you know everybody is going to take their own their own trip to get there and it all depends you have to be able to play whatever cards there are dealt to you that way so now you're going to go to the meeting and you want to kind of like we've already talked about the sort of things that you think about beforehand so you wantto you want to come in with your homework done so you'll you know it definitely helps to have some references you don't want to overwhelm them but but you don't wantto come in with what I've heard described as an explorer post it note explosion in an art bookstore you just you want to come in with a couple things that show like you know the impressions that you got when you read the script what you know and kind of what the director might expect if they turned you loose on their movie right now um you you you well when I say don't sell the competition it's like it's it's hard to you know if I say well, you know I want that I want this to look like such and such a movie that was shot by some other dp and it's like, well, why don't I just hire that guy because you know he did the movie so it's like he did the movie that you're referring to, I feel like it's you know when you're picking references you should find things that kind of come from outside a world of movie making you should find things that are, you know, bring something new to the conversation rather than referring to another movie especially like a recent popular movie you know it's tempting to do that because you know things do run you'll see styles you'll see trends like you know all of a sudden everything is very shaky hand held or then you know and then the next thing everything is very symmetrical and composed and dollar shots only move in and out and you know, there are certain certain kind of cliches that happened partly because filmmakers tend to referred to other filmmakers and I think it's you know, it's helpful too, you know, from for me anyway, I find it helpful to try to find things that air from outside the world of referring teo movies and, you know, thinking about music as I didn't put this in here but I realised like thinking about music is another way on another another way to talk about mood and tone and tio help to say like what would you think the soundtrack would sound like and that you know that informs the camera movements as much as you know what the camera movements are informed the composer afterwards um so do a little mental rehearsal with yourself before you go in you know, like pretend that you know, pretend that the that the director has has asked you what you're going to do you know and be able to you know, come up with a little pitch you know be able to describe like in you know, in the case well, we'll talk about this movie in a minute um but you want to have a very clear vision of you don't want to you don't want to be vague about what you what you plan to do you want to be able to articulate to the director you know, if they if you showed up on the set today what could they expect and not to say that that's what you're going to actually end up doing but I think that people are directors especially lee like feel good when they know that that somebody else has some idea anyway even if it doesn't perfectly agree with there is you know, the next step is to is tio you know is to listen to what they have to say but you'll get but you know you need to be able to describe how you would shoot it and using like I like adjectives and I think that that's, you know, be like and I like the thesaurus as a prep device because it just like it leads you down a little paths that maybe you didn't know you were going to go down before, but it helps like, for me, it helps kind of spark images in my head it sparks sparks ideas. I think all these sort of like brainstorming techniques are really, you know, it's really useful to do that before you, you know, before you go into the meeting, so we've got a glimmer of hope so briefly, the this story is I'm just going to run through a brief synopsis, hopefully, I don't butcher it too badly, jessica, but, you know, there are two scenes in the first scene we're in we're in an office of workspace, and we see dan who's sitting at his desk and he's looking at a blank piece of paper and drinking some tea and and barely eaten pomegranate, and he seems to be frustrated by by what he's trying to write but can't when his phone rings and he gets a phone call from a woman and she says some cryptic things and then tells him that she's going to be right over and then uh then you know when once they once she's spoken on the phone down realizes he's written a lot of things on his pad and you no hope it turns out her name is hope comes and visits, and then they go. They go out on the roof of dance building, and it seems like everything's going well, when suddenly dan goes over the edge of the building and, you know, it seems like hope has touched him. And when she picks up his note pad that he's been writing on the ground are sorry is she pulls out her note bad, and signs her name, death. And so I, you know, my my approach, this is that there's, a surrealist element to it that you know, and that it's, you know, it's, not that the woman hope is kind of a symbol is much is an actual person, and that you know that, or maybe it's a ghost story. It's definitely has some, you know, some connections, teo, you know, the supernatural is, you know, is death when you know, when she shows up that that to me, you know, hope and death having kind of the same persona is, you know, there's there's an interesting tension there, and you know, maybe it's a dream maybe down wakes up after he's fallen off the edge of the roof but we just haven't gone along that far in the story but you know so I kind of I wrote down my own sort of responses to this just you know like this is this is kind of what I wrote on my no pad and a starting point and you know and just as you know as a thought process so so I you know and I'm thinking to myself like all right so what is the what is the genre like if it's a civilised or or a supernatural story then which is just kind of where I'm going with it and you want to be ableto for me what's most important is that I just pick something you know, some direction to run to run with and not just say well I don't know I'm not quite sure how I respond to this you know it's I think it's important that you find in yourself some response to it if you can't then maybe it's not the right script for you but you have to be able to pick some sort of point of view you have to be ableto teo and be able to articulate it so you know so I picked it it's a surreal that there's a surrealist element and a ghost story element and you know and so what are the expectations? Well there's there are certain u think like alright, we'll get into that and then the the the other aspect is you know, when you know when you have those certain expectations for the genre and certain certain elements for the story like how do you how have you that the you know, the story in the script drive your decisions about where the camera goes, what the lighting looks like this is a cz the cinematographer. You just have to keep remembering that that's what that's what you're you're part of it is is that you you create the mood and the tone of the images by how you light it, where you put the camera, what your lens choices are and so you think, all right, how how does this how how do we use the expectations of the genre? How do we use the the ideas that have come before in these sort of movies? Teo, you know, to make those decisions and then, you know, in this case, if you no, if we say it's a it's a ghost story, usually that suggests darkness that suggests, you know, something murky and obscure and, you know, but the script gives us a bright, cheerful room, so I think that that's what's interesting is that that kind of, you know, all of this but you know, death comes and visits in broad daylight that to me was an interesting it's an interesting choice that we can kind of amplify in a certain way so you know in terms of those genres all right where where does it lead in terms of you know, references that I might want to bring to the director and so I mean the first thing is jean cocteau's orpheus you know where death is a woman she drives in a black limousine she takes orpheus through ah landscape you know there's some really interesting visual effects that cocteau used in that movie you know, driving in the limousine through a landscape that turns negative death moving in and out of our world through a mirror that's really a pool of mercury so that like watching watching a movie like that can really help you on uh unlock your mind from from reality then there's like the japanese ghost movies like in particular what jumped into my mind was was ju on the grudge where you know there's a mood and tone of foreboding that happens in that movie like there? I think one of the creepiest shots in that movie is a shot looking up at some trees going down the street just a little dolly shot that moves down the street and how you know, how did the how the director get a certain mood out of the movie that you know that resonates for me with this script just from a shot dolly shot of trees um david lynch obviously you can't mention the surrealist without david lynch you know and then in terms of their two painters that that came to mind partly because when you look at their paintings their very bright and you know not shadowy there there's ah, but there's ah a um it's a nun reality to them but it happens kind of in broad daylight and so agreed and george tucker who if you don't know his paintings it's that he's a really interesting guy to look at very a sense of of uh you know, like alienation in bright sunlight and or bright artificial light so what if I missed how, um I'm not do we have any questions right now? Eugene you have something before, like show it it was about your background. Okay, I had a question like you said that he started with the still photography yes, and I wanted to know about your transition off. You know, how did you make this transition toe moving photograph? Because I know that the type of thinking is very different when you take a still shot and when you make a moving shot yeah, and I feel like I'm still working on that which is which is interesting like because so it's I do find that like thinking about movement and on camera movement in particular is it's one of those things that it's not first nature to me I I always have to think about like ok what am I forgetting like how can you how can we make this move um but I know when I I did it from watching other movies I I you know and seeing how those how those directors and how those photographers did it I know you you think about something you know a movie like stranger than paradise jim jarmusch is movie where the camera is basically still the whole time like he you know he set up shots where you know the camera hardly moves it's you know you just on a tripod and the whole scene just kind of unfolds in one set up and for me that was like that was kind of still photography and then a few years later I saw wings of desire the inventor's movie where the camera is constantly moving and I you know I'll be last like oh this is like this is how you you can this is how this works like you can decide all right the camera can be very still or the camera can move it's it's a it's a constant process of watching other things and then you try them out yourself you say all right like what makes this dolly shot work you know when if the camera and the actor are moving along the same way you know, nothing changes there you know it's it's so that the shot seems very still in the background moves but if the camera and the actor are approaching each other, then you know it becomes very dynamic and if you do pans around like this and that it can be you know it can it can make things dynamic romantic you know, you think about the camera movements that you know, I watch movies like last tango in paris you know, any bird lucci movie where the camera movement is so so fluid and romantic and you know, and emotional and so it's I learned it from watching other people you know, watching other movies and then working on film sets where I saw directors and directors of photography do that kind of stuff and, you know, and I was able to make the connection how do you provide your ideas to director in terms of camera movement? You saying you break it down to, like, dolly shot? Oh, yeah, and I usually will I'll I'll try to talk about it in terms of adjectives like I'll say, you know, this should feel very still and you know, so maybe we for this moment to be very still and you know, I don't want t be very dynamic, but the the persons walking down the street so maybe we you know, we track parallel to them or you know, this is a very you know, this should be very dynamic this should be exciting so maybe we do something where the camera and the actor are rushing towards each other and and you know, so I'll you know, I can present my idea is as little drawings on a piece of paper if we're if that's where we're working or aiken you know, lately I used my iphone and disco you just do a little movie on your iphone like, boom, you know, make and you know, and say something like that, you know, they'll either say yes, sir that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen you don't show me that again and you know, but you you're at least having a conversation and you like, you take whatever tools you've got that and and what I think is but I think it is it's like, you know, this is something that that I didn't have when when I started out, but I like being able to make movies on your phone it's like this great little sketch pad and the the device is so easy to move around you khun you don't need any special equipment and you know, you can you can make stuff up that like you haven't seen before. And you know that, like it's, you know it's, a great little invention and a communication tool.

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.