Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Bristol International Festival of Cinematography: five days of masterclasses and panel discussions with a range of DPs from Oscar-winners like Chris Menges, ASC, BSC and Billy Williams, BSC, OBE to emerging cinematographers like Rina Yang. It was fascinating to watch the likes of Williams lighting the purpose-built set and explaining his decisions as he went. I learnt a huge amount, so I decided to share some of the opinions and nuggets of wisdom I collected.
- Everyone agrees that the role of the DP is being diminished. Films are more collaborative than they used to be, often with lots of input from the VFX team right from the start.
- You have to create your own luck. (Rina Yang)
- Going to LA parties and schmoozing helps. (Roberto Schaefer, AIC, ASC)
- Each clip on your showreel should make the viewer feel something. (Matt Gray, BSC)
- Director Philippa Lowthorpe and Gray, her DP, spent weeks of prep getting on the same page when they worked together – chatting, exchanging photos, films, and so on.
- Spend as much time as you can with the director in the early stages of prep, because as you get closer to the shoot they will be too busy with other stuff. (Schaefer)
- Start with ten ideas about how you want to approach the cinematography of the film. If you hang onto five of them throughout the shoot you’re doing well. (Gray)
- Hire a gaffer who knows more than you do. (Schaefer)
- On Gandhi, co-cinematographer Billy Williams, BSC, OBE was granted only half of the lighting kit he asked for. That was a $22 million movie which won eight Oscars!
- Schaefer usually carries a 24’x30′ mirror in his kit, in case he needs to get an angle from somewhere where the camera won’t fit.
- Schaefer doesn’t used OLED monitors to light from, because the blacks are richer than they will ever be seen by an audience on any other device, including in a cinema. He won’t judge the lighting by the EVF either, only a monitor calibrated by the DIT.
- Focus drop-off is faster on digital than on film. Hence the current popularity of Cooke lenses, which soften the drop-off.
- Nic Knowland, BSC uses a DSLR as a viewfinder to pick his shots. He also likes to record takes on his Convergent monitor so he can review them quickly for lighting issues.
- You have to give the actors freedom, which may mean compromising the cinematography. (Nigel Waters, BSC)
- Gray would never ask an actor to the find the light. The light needs to find them! As soon as actors are freed from marks, they can truly inhabit the space. [Note: in my experience, some actors absolutely insist on marks. Different strokes for different folks.]
- On digital, everyone wants to shoot the rehearsal. (Schaefer)
- Digital encourages more takes, but more takes use up time, drains actors’ energy and creates more work for the editor. Doing fewer takes encourages people to bring their A game to take one. (Williams)
- Director Philippa Lowthorpe prefers a DP who operates because there is no filter between the ideas you’ve discussed in prep and the operation of the camera.
- Sometimes when you start lighting a set, you don’t where you’re going with it. You build a look, stroke by stroke, and see where it takes you. (Knowland)
- Williams advocates maintaining the same stop throughout a scene, because your eye gets used to judging that exposure.
- Knowland relies more on false colours on his monitor than on his light meter.
- Schaefer often foregoes his traditional light and colour meters for an iPad app called Cine Meter III.
- Knowland will go to 359º on the shutter if he’s struggling for light.
- It’s worth checking the grade on a cheap monitor or TV. That’s how most people will watch it. (Schaefer)