Filmmaking: Finding a Director of Photography

Finding a Director of Photography (shortened to D.P. or D.O.P.) or Cinematographer can be complicated. Do you go for someone you know who may be able to do the job or do you look further afield? In the beginning when you are starting out, it’s probably easier to use the contacts you have but as your projects become more sophisticated, you may have to employ a seasoned professional.

DP’s generally fall into three categories:

  • those who light to make it look good.
  • those who light to make it look good and tell the story.
  • those who say they can but actually couldn’t light their own granny, (Luckily, few and far between but they do exist!)

All things being equal, you want the guy or gal in the middle. These are the people who will use their understanding of cinematography to express all the elements of your story and it’s characters. They may be more or less than wholly successful but their intention is the right one.

How then do you go about deciding who is the right person to work with? Here are some tips:

  1. Obviously, view the show reels of prospective D.P.’s/ this will give you an good idea of their work.
  2. Send a script before meeting. People are busy but D.P.’s, if interested, should be able and will want to read a script pretty quick
  3. Meet informally to discuss the film, choice of styles and creative issues.
  4. Be prepared to answer questions about characters, motivation etc .A good D.P. will have suggestions and won’t just be a ‘yes man’. This is a creative role and they will most likely be ‘thinkers’ and leaders. They will often challenge the way you think a about certain things.
  5. Be aware if someone just agrees with your every idea, this could denote a lack of ideas or confidence or leadership ability.
  6. Based on your answers a good D.P. may choose not to work with you! They have a reputation to protect/build and wont work with just anyone. (if you do have a poor script/personality you better have a lot of money!).
  7. References: Contact other producers and directors who have worked with the same person and get their view.
  8. Make sure you can get on personally. You will be working very closely together over a number of weeks of the shoot both before and after in pre-and post production so be certain you can work through any disagreements or differences of opinions amicably and maturely.

Finding a D.P. to work with is something all aspiring and established film makers have to deal with at some time. Ideally you will find someone you can work with again and again on different projects and thereby create a successful relationship of mutual respect and admiration.

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