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Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 2 of 16

What Are the Basics to Know?

Jim Denault, ASC

Cinematographer's Preparation

Jim Denault, ASC

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Lesson Info

2. What Are the Basics to Know?


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:06:20
2 What Are the Basics to Know? Duration:28:35
3 Prepare to Get the Job Duration:39:18
4 How to Do the Meeting Duration:14:32
8 Essential Documents Duration:12:06
10 How to Prep for the Tech Scout Duration:11:25
11 How to Go on Tech Scouts Duration:32:43
12 The Basic Gear Package Duration:23:03
13 How to Set Up the Camera Duration:11:38
14 How to Camera Test Duration:03:50
15 Audience Q & A Duration:12:23
16 Parting Words Duration:02:20

Lesson Info

What Are the Basics to Know?

So what are the basics to know? So you know when when they asked me to do the workshop I thought all right, well, you know, cinematography workshop it's going to be you know, uh actors sitting on a stool and some guy's going to walk around with the light and say like that we could shine the light from this side we can put some diffusion in front of it we could put a bounce card and I kind of felt like I had seen that workshop before and I you know, I might have something to add to that, but I wasn't quite sure what I was going to say, you know that that would move the conversation forward and I was talking to one of the crew people that was working with and they said, well, you know, we never know what you do before, you know before we show up you know, we show up and you kind of got all this stuff ready, but we we never go through the process of you know, I like I don't understand what you've been doing for the past four five weeks, you know, before we came in and I said, okay, well t...

hat's interesting like that's kind of, you know, because nobody ever told me that either when I you know, I started out as ah as an electrician's and you know, so I would I would come on, come in and a certain amount of work have been done. But I had no idea how anybody got there or even why the director of photography had I made certain decisions about how to do things. So this for me, is kind of like, all right, I can tell you what I figured out the hard way over the past. I don't want to say how many years, so, you know, so I'm kind of over the over however long I've sort of the hard way figured out a system for doing things like, you know, it's interesting when you work when you work in a film shoot, the assistant directors have a very, very specific system, you know, they come up with certain paperwork and, you know, people have their own takes on it, but it all pretty much looks the same, you know, from the crew person standpoint, you everyone understands the system and from the assistant director's standpoint, they all kind of understand how you know how it all works and it's it's, very organized and very regiment. But for, you know, for, you know, for the dp and for the camera systems, you know, there is a very specific system of filling out camera reports is very specific system of inventory everybody's got their system except I felt like I didn't have my system, you know, I had no idea like, you know, walking and it's like I'm here at the office not what am I supposed to do, you know? So I think it's important for you, for everyone in that position you have to like in the absence of any other kind of way to organize yourself, you kind of have to create your own structure and it's a little bit like, um, you know, it's it's a little bit like, you know, you're in school, you've got your notebook like here's, my spanish notebook here's my math notebook and you you you you figure out how you're going to do things so that it's organized so that you can find what you're looking for so so that you're not wasting time looking for things rather than, you know, creating things so that's, you know, that's why I want to do the workshop um and so I, you know, just teo give you a sense of where I came from, I went to school for still photography, I thought I was going to be ansel adams are edward weston or something like that? And I realized, like, you know those guys probably couldn't have paid my student loans either on dh and you know but towards the end of I went to rochester institute of technology and towards the end of my time there I you know, I got really interested in film it was the time when jim jarmusch and then vendors and spike lee we're making these little independent movies that were really cool and you know it all of a sudden seen this though like oh, you know, I could actually do this like you don't have to be born into a dynamic stick family of cinematographers you can go out and just start shooting things so I um I got my start when my friend jane who was working for the rochester city school district you know, got me on shooting packages for the school district's cable access channel we would you know, go to the classrooms and and and, you know, shoot teachers that were doing special activities and added together our own five minute packages, which was a great education and you know, then I got into doing industrial videos and finally, you know, got started working on independent features so you know, my my goal in all this was always to be the cinematographer I never I never really thought I would be a director I never really thought I was going to do anything else it's like I've been fascinated by photography since I was a little kid and you know, I really just wanted to you know, I wanted to shoot and you know, it's important it's important to remember that stuff sometimes because you know, it'll be the middle of the night, it will be freezing and you'll be out there, you know, the director won't like this shot that want you to change it on you know, and you know, somebody will be complaining that the light is not in the right spot for them or whatever and, you know, and you just have to say, like, you have to be able to save yourself like, yeah, but all right, but this is where this is, where I always wanted to be, like I wanted to be here this whole time and now I'm sitting here behind this camera doing this thing so these people who are, you know, asking me to change things that I don't want to change and asking me to do things that I don't want to do like this is this that's the job and, you know, and you're here and you're doing it like that's, you know, it's the you have to sometimes it's easy to forget, like when you are actually living the dream so that's what, you know, that's that's, kind of like for me, that's, why you have to have a goal, you have to be ableto remember why you're there, remember what you're doing and keep yourself focussed on that? Um and so, you know, it's like the the part I like, the photography part is definitely important to me, but I'm just this interested what? What brought me from still photography to movies? I thought, like, you know, in the still photographs like you could you could look at them and you could see that there might be a story behind them, but I felt like there was, you know, there was more like I wanted to know more about the characters that I was photographing, I want to know, like, you know, one of my heroes when I was when I was in school with duane michals, who if you look at his photographs, he makes sequences and, you know, that have a specific tone and mood, and you know that that kind of stuff I felt like, you know, that cinema has had just that much more to give from it, so I'm interested in telling stories with pictures. So now what? What brings you guys here? I'm I'm just curious about about who you guys all r and you know why? Why would you come to this workshop? What what are you interested in hearing about? We'll start with you, jean hi, my name is eugene could barack I'm from ukraine crimea and I do a little bit of cinematography and I really want to get a good career in like making proper feature films and that's why I'm interesting to be here cool. What kind of things do you do in crimea? I was short movies. I do our music videos and I do what in videos louise hi, my name's lisa ciara andi I'm from puerto rico just moved to the area not that long ago. Uh currently I'm doing video editing, but uh my and indie films on the side. My main goal is to make it the hollywood making big budget movies that's that's where and jessica I'm jesse cheers from the bay from io about six years ago I guess I really just want to get into screenwriting I've done some production and television production but my heart's in screenwriting my name is shawn I'm from san francisco, but past five years I was living outside of san francisco going to school for medicine not medical school but on that path but last year I decided I wantto follow my passion so I moved back and here I am just looking at all the different opportunities cool joy I'm charlie um I I'm just getting into filmmaking and I'm interested in the screenwriting directing cinematography and hoping tio either figure out which one is most for me or how they all fit together really cool yeah I'm alina and I go to san francisco state university and a film major and I have to choose an emphasis soon and so I need to know if I'm like more indiscreet uniting our cinematography and how I couldn't work with it all cool morning my name is victor ten born raising the bay area uh my interest is just adding on to different skill sets whether it's a photography photography which I do love you whereas a talent so I think the more tools you have a better right to whatever it is they're doing I'm courtney I'm from new jersey who just moved here to the bay area last month and I am diving into cinematography have been doing it for a bit and I'm really interested in telling people's authentic stories and also indie filmmaking what kind of projects have you been working on? I've been doing a lot of started with weddings and I did small business promoters and slowly trying to get into more interviews one on one with people who really like that conversation cool so so yeah we kind of talked about this a little bit it's you know, mostly what I the kinds of things that that I have to talk about that my my main focus I've been doing narrative film and you know whether it's television or feature films that's that was really my main interest I've done a little bit of documentary stuff when when I was an electrician's I did some music videos and commercials as a you know, as a gaffer and an electrician's but really I knew what I was interested in was was narrative film and so I kind of very much focused on that and you know which when at least when I was starting out like I meant that I wasn't making that much money but for me that was, you know, my interest was more in the storytelling and the narrative part, and I realized if I was, you know, if I kind of headed off the other way, I probably wouldn't be happy so, you know, in the end it like that, you know, the money comes but, you know, happiness is one of those things that it's hard to find, so um so that's, you know, and so hopefully that's something like that is what you guys want to get out of the course so here's a little bit of job description like, what do you do it when you're when you're the dp? Well, you're interacting with the director you're making sure that that you you're listening to them first of all in understanding what they're trying to tell you that you know that there is this, you know, the overall vision for the movie has to come from from the director, and what you have to do is like the creative part for use the cinematographer is trying to solve the director's problems and, you know, and kind of amplify what they're having to say it's not like you can come in with you around vision, but really it's, you know, if you're not aligned with the director that's, when that's, when you get into, you know, into conflict and friction, so you have to make sure that, you know, and part of that, like, we'll get into it, but you just want to make sure that that you've picked the right project for yourself. So you listen to the director, you come up with good suggestions for them that kind of move along in the same direction that they want you help them solve, you know, just the actual physical problems of how, you know, they have an idea for a shot, they have an idea for a mood and the tone like, how are you going to help them pull that off, you know? And then you are you're kind of the person who, you know sits next to them during most of the production and you helped organize the you know not only the camera and lighting and grip department but you know you'll help the onset dressers put, you know, arrange the furniture the way it needs to be you help the props people you you kind of helped communicate what needs to be done teo to the rest of departments along with the assistant director and you know and you execute the director's vision you make sure that what they're asking for you know, shows up on the screen so the other people that the other person that you've mainly in interact with is the producer and, you know, it's it's like the bigger the project, the kind of mme or the more weight that the producer will will pull so to speak like, you know, on an indie movie a lot of times the director is the main producer and so you're but you're dealing with him in two different roles like you khun you know they could be doing there one hundred thousand dollar movie and you can say we need a fifty foot techno crane and you know, somehow those two facts are not going to reconcile with each other so you have to be able tio you have to be able to solve the ideas or tow, you know, execute the idea is that the director has within the means that you've got and that's like for me, that's, the most interesting part of the of the creative process is you've got a limitation and you've got you've got a vision and how do you make those two things work together? Teo toe make something interesting, and often the limitations are what? You know what? Overcoming those limitations and solving those problems is what makes the project interesting. So so, yeah, you need to be able to solve problems creatively, you have to be flexible. You can't think that there's only one answer to any problem you have to be ableto find a process where you can, where you khun, brainstorm with other people and come up with something that answers that the question that the director is asking are, you know, solves the problem that the director wants to solve our, you know, puts the idea that the director wants to put up on the screen, you have to find a way to make that happen within the resource is that you have, um, it's I think it's being responsible and not wasteful is actually really important because everything that you, everything that you that you asked for that you know that your look that you, you know, in terms of resource is equipment crew. If you're if you're not using that fully that's that's taking away from something that you could actually put on the screen, you know, it's like, if you spend money on something and then don't use it, that that's money that could've been spent, you know, painting a wall, the color that you want that teo to be or, you know, getting, you know, getting a better location than the one you're with like you, you're it's all abounds and if you were, if you're able to work with the producer that way, you can you know, you can come up with something where, even if it seems like you're giving something up like you're giving away a light and you know, but you get a better location that's, you know, that's a good thing, and so you need to be you kind of need to be aware of the hole situation of the movie that you're in the movie that you're working on and that, you know, understand its genre and everybody's expectations is that's kind of that's a key thing, especially when you're working on, say, a horror movie or you're working on a thriller, something that's that has a very specific genre to it, you know, being able to know like, okay, well, this is, you know, this is how you know, a one million dollar horror movie usually works this is how you know the low budget science fiction movie works this is you know, these are the things that people expect from it this is you know and how how can I work within that and and then push it um when you're working with the production designer in the costume designer, you know, there's they're like you'll hear interviews with certain cinematographers who you say like, you know, I like the color green and everything's going to be green and you know, it's you know, which is great as an idea, but then you've got you actually have a production designer and a costume designer who are also kind of responsible for what color things are and, you know and where they know what, what things air, what locations air being chosen, what, what costumes are being put on them. So you like it's important to remember that they're kind of on equal footing with you? They also are are speaking to the director and you know that you kind of not only do you have should you respect their positions, but they so often when you know you'll see the difference between, you know, two movies that are both very well photograph but one of them may have outstanding production design or outstanding costume design and, you know that all of that makes it look even better like if you don't have anything great to photograph your you khun b the best lighter in the world and you still haven't photographed anything great so finding those people and and uh trying not to second guess them but trying to support what their you know what their vision is it will make everything more harmonious you have to find a way into the to the design process with the production designer and the costume designer and find a way to speak to them where you can you can suggest and get things done but you need to be ableto also remember that they that their creative professionals as well um usually the hair and makeup artists will you know you don't see them until right before you're getting ready to shoot it's definitely it helps to keep your eyes open for you know if there's a hair out of place if you see a little makeup that's you know that's not quite right and, you know, again remembering that there that they're also the you know, creative artists who have their thing to do and you know, but you wanted just especially if you're on a lower budget movie where you're operating the cameras well it's you know, being a second set of eyes for them and you know, being ableto watch their backs a lot of times when I when a hair person or makeup person comes to you and you know and says, well, you know this this actress needs a little bit more light coming from below our you know, she's you know, she needs a little bit of help with some aspect of you know, her face it's not the makeup artist who's talking in that situation it's the actor who's asking the make up artist to be the sort of the buffer between themselves and you so just when you know when you get those suggestions or or comments it's you know think of it as somebody asking you for a favor rather than somebody getting in your rice bowl I tried to anyway, um and you know, and then when you do that just you it's, you know, you have to it's a it's a delicate line to make sure that that especially in beauty close ups with women that you're that you're making it look like they're shot is part of the same movie that everything else is part of, you know? And you know, especially if you if you watch older movies, you'll see you see a movie that's like beautifully photographed with you it's very sharp and clear colors and then there will be you'll cut to a close up of the leading lady and it looks like it's through, you know, five hundred pounds of vasa lean and, you know, all of a sudden it's, you know, it looks like it's from a completely different movie and that's it's something it's a delicate balance, you want to be ableto like them beautifully, but you also want to keep it part of the same movie, and I think that's, you know that is that that's the tension between the dp and the hair and makeup people? Um, when you're working with the sound mixer, the boom operator, especially when you're operating it's like you just have to remember that they're you know, what they're doing is is really important as well. So, you know, as when you're lighting, you definitely give them a place to put the boom, you know, set flags for boom shadows, and the other thing that drives him nuts is if you're doing a big, wide shot and a close up of the same time, the microphone has to be way up high for the wide shots of the close up sounds like, you know, echoey and and wide so it's that you really only run into that when you're doing multi camera television shows and that sort of thing, but it's something to keep in mind, so the main people that you work with are the camera department and the lighting and grip department, so and this is this is kind of for me that essence of crap you want to be able tio let them know what you expect in advance when I when we walk into a location and you know at the morning of the shoot all the time but you know anything that we could have gotten done beforehand any decisions that we could have made beforehand gives us more time to actually shoot this scene if you can you know and if you can have people that have come in the day before or earlier that day to move in equipment and you know where that equipment supposed to go that you know and you have communicated it to the people who you know probably woke up before you are you know came in today before while you were at some previous location, you know, if you if you were able to communicate it that you like it just will make your day go so much faster so and then there's like you're you're also kind of the leader of this group so you know you you have to you know you have to set some high expectations you have to encourage people to you know teo teo give you suggestions and you have to encourage people to take initiative but without kind of like going off in different directions like that's the that's the tricky thing and you have to you should always be thinking one step ahead if you can and I guess that like this is one of those things that I you know, you experience it from the other side like young and people does not make them go any faster like when you know, when I was an electrician's especially and you you know, you hear through the walkie talkie where is that thing? And you know, it's like, I'm going this fast as I can, you know? And you know, and it's like when I was first starting out, you know, you shoot movies for free at the beginning, you're lucky if you're not paying them to shoot their movie and then, you know, and then what I was doing toe make money was working as an electrician's and so I go from the situation of being, you know, like running from the truck carrying I'm a piece of equipment saying, where is that? Come on, get in here and then to being sitting by the camera saying, where are those guys? Where is that piece of equipment that I asked for? And I realized, like, oh, that's, what the person at the other end of the walkie talkie when I was, like, running as fast as I can sounded like, you know, and I tried to avoid sounding like that myself, um so how do you become the dp that's like that's? The the other question I get asked a lot and you know, I don't think you're very rarely promoted to the position it usually you know, whatever other job you've been doing in film production it's nobody comes along and says you you should be the dp you you usually have to go out you have to actively do something tio you know, make yourself but the dp you know, when I was starting out, I I shot student films in that kind of thing and one of the pieces of advice that account man who's just a little bit ahead told me was that I should buy my own camera and I thought at first like that, well, you know, dps on their own cameras and I realized, like usually for when you want to start out what you have access to, what people will will ask you to shoot our indie films, you know, low budget projects and things where they can't even afford to rent a camera, they don't have the resource is don't have the money. So if you're serious about about, you know, shooting it makes sense to own a piece of equipment that that you can bring on, as you know, in a way it's like they're they're hiring the camera and they're bringing you tow to run it because they need the camera it's that's a weird way to look at it but that is what it is and you know but what having that camera does like when I when I started out I bought a at on sixteen millimeter package which at the time that was one of the that was what you would shoot low budget movies on now it's you know, it's all digital but back in the olden days it was film and you know, but what that what having that camera let me do was go shoot stuff by myself like if I could afford the film and processing and I could usually figure out how to do that like scare up some short ends from another project or you know, you know, bring some stuff in with my friend who was doing a music video you know? I could go shoot stuff by myself, you know, for my really are you know, for practice and so I think it definitely makes sense to have a camera it definitely makes sense to even when you don't when you don't have a project to work on that you give yourself assignments that you go out and make little short films make music videos make you know um like one minute youtube clips now you know, I mean anything that you can think up tio give yourself something to practice shooting is important and the last thing the most important thing how you're going to get the job is from a director the director is the one who you know who ultimately says yeah, I want to work with you I want you know, like I like some of the things I've seen you do you know I'm like I think you would be the person to shoot my movie so you have to figure out how to meet directors the way I the way I did it was I put my name up on the bulletin board at columbia university and why you and you know gotta few got to shoot a few student films that way I I had met a few film students there I didn't go to school in either of those schools but I'm at a few film students and one thing led to another and you know, at the end of the year when they had this do the film festival people would say who shot your movie and then the next year I would get calls from even more students and kind of it kind of grew like that and they're still there still student said, I you know that I worked with kimberly pierce who directed boys don't cry I'm met because of her student film on dh you know they're like those relationships from the film students have have grown into young people that I still keep in contact with

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.