View Full Version : To DP or not to DP

03-23-2005, 10:22 AM
I assume that many of you who are directing DV films have a fair amount of experience with lighting and cinematography. How many of you use an actual Director of Photography when you are directing? And for those who do use a DP, are you looking for someone to just run the camera, or are you looking for someone to handle the cinematography and lighting of the film?


03-23-2005, 11:30 AM
I haven't done 'my own DV film', but I'd do directing and DP-ing as a very last resort. For one thing, I am pretty sure I'd suck at the former (not necessarily at the latter). But more importantly (and this comes from watching people with years of experience), the two activities require completely different mind sets (and skill sets). I don't think many people are that good at changing their hats during production, especially at this level of responsibility.

Short answer: don't do it if you don't absolutely have to.

Forgot to mention: even the people I know who are quite good at both don't do them simultaneously on a production.

03-23-2005, 11:59 AM
A DP isn't someone who just runs the camera, that's a different classification -- "camera operator".

A DP directs all aspects of cinematography and supervises lighting. On a big-budget set, the DP may never actually touch the camera, may not even look through the lens once. Seems wierd to a one-man-band perspective, but that's how it works.

That said, I love to have a qualified director of photography on my gigs. It totally frees me up to think about directing, and the DP is free to think about the image, and as a result we both do a much better job. There have been many, many, many circumstances where I had to do it all myself, but every time you can bring in someone GOOD to handle their department, your overall production will be better for it. You just have to make sure that they're good, and that you can work together. A primadonna "artiste" would be fired within thirty seconds flat, but someone who has skills, who's concerned about making sure that the "vision" is being accurately captured, someone like that is gold.

Neil Rowe
03-23-2005, 12:05 PM
A primadonna "artiste" would be fired within thirty seconds flat, .

haha! kick their rear out the door before they can finish saying "dutch angle"

..or "i'm feeeeling"

whichever comes first.

edit: not that anythings wrong with those things:thumbsup: .. just usually amounts to being the writing on the wall is all.

03-23-2005, 01:59 PM
Thanks for the input. Just to clarify, I am familiar with what a DP does as I have worked as a DP since 1997. My question was more geared to the idea of doing low or no budget projects. Working at this level of the industry many of us are required to do multiple tasks. Now, in the long run I would love to have a DP on set for every short film I direct, but most of the shorts I work on don't have the budget to pay a DP.

The other thing I've noticed from working on other people's low budget projects is that the person who is called the DP has little more qualification for the job then being the guy who owns the camera.

So now I'm getting ready to shoot a short film this spring. I can't afford to hire a DP although I know what a value they would be to the project. My options are to either DP the project myself while trying to direct at the same time, or to bring on someone who doesn't have experience as a DP and teach them as we go. I know that choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil, but which would you think would be easier to deal with?


03-23-2005, 02:14 PM
Have you considered a third option? There are quite a few people out there who are quite talented, already have some experience, but are still in that 'reel building' phase. Depending on where you are, you could find someone like that who'd be willing to help for little or no money.

03-23-2005, 02:14 PM
Oh, I totally agree with everything you just said. Yes, in the low/no-budget world, frequently you will do multiple tasks, sometimes all the tasks. And yes, on low-budget projects frequently the "DP" has either a) no talent but owns the camera, or b) has no talent and doesn't own the camera. Totally agreed.

For the situation you describe, I'd say ditch the trainee and DP it yourself. If you've got the skills, I think you'll be far more satisfied with the end project. Reason being, the whole reason you'd want to bring in a separate DP would be so you could ignore the DP job and instead focus on directing. If you bring in a trainee, you can't ignore the DP job, you'll end up doing that job, plus having to train someone, plus getting almost guaranteed sub-level photography (because you've got a trainee there) vs. just doing it yourself, and sometimes the old adage "if you want something done right, do it yourself" does come into play.

To each his own, of course, but for the circumstance you describe, I know what I'd do -- bite the bullet and do both jobs.

03-23-2005, 03:04 PM
Here is a question, then my suggestion.

When you are shooting your short...will you have a lot of time?

If it is a laid back schedule, by all means Direct and DP yourself. If it is a strict schedule I would try my damndest to find a DP.

I know lighting, I'm fairly good at it, but I need a lot of time to make up my mind and tweak the set-up. Having to do that AND Direct stresses me out. And stress leads to bad filmmaking.

Fortunatly for me I have filmmaking buddies. All industry proffesionals. We trade our talents and efforts on each others personal projects. It's a great system for no/lo-budget filmmaking.

My 2 cents.

And I'm new guys, so Hey!

03-23-2005, 03:12 PM
I am, like Barry, often a one man band. However, that being said I will look at the size of the project, time alotted and share the money if it will free me up to direct a better project. There are dp's out there that will work for $500 or less per day. The film industry sucks at this very moment and there are quite a few talented people out there for not much money, or that are at least willing to work with you on prices.

03-23-2005, 04:45 PM
Thanks guys. Being in Ohio my choices for DPs are limited to the guys who lense commercials. Not a bad thing necessarily because we have some very talented guys who have done national spots. However, I don't imagine too many of them would be interested in giving up three weekends in the summer to shoot for free.

I'm going to try a couple of these guys and see if they would be interested in helping out. If nothing else I will just DP it myself.


03-23-2005, 05:44 PM
I live by the old saying...

"It never hurts to ask."

Because, in the end, what's the worst they can say? No.

03-23-2005, 08:42 PM
If I were wanting to focus only on directing than get I'd a DP, otherwise I'd do as much as possible / that is comfortable and delivers the desired end product.

One approach to find a potential DP.

I would find someone with a Still Photography background and see i.f they're willing to learn. They'll already have a ton of practical experience and then they can explore the Motion part of photography. There a many still photographers out there that would love to DP, especially lighting scenes for mood and solving the technical problems encountered on locations. Many DPs have a strong technical background and are comfortable behind the scenes.

Directing is pretty overwhelming and too out front for many that simply love photography... because Directors have to be the circus ring leader, overall designer, critical eye of the production and therapist.

Look and you'll find those that just want to do the photography and you can prepare for a life of panic attacks, ulcers and popping blood vessels.

03-25-2005, 12:36 PM
For me, I can never see myself doing Directing and NOT DP-ing. Thank God for Robert Rodriguez breaking the oldskool Hollywood rule!!!! I'm just a creative person who has been drawing comic books forever, did still photography for 5 years, and taught myself Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, AE, basic 3D modeling, and how to handle cinematography. I watch a movie for the 1st time for enjoyment, then the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time to analyze shots. For all productions I direct/produce, I also storyboard, and edit, thus, I already see the film in my head before I get on the sets. Not to toot my own horn or knock anyone around where I live(Fairfield, CA), but no one in my area really has any basic photography or light knowledge to the point where I trust them with my DVX and compositing my shots. We ultimately live in a world where knowledge is power and you can't rely on other people all the time, even if you're rich(which I'm definitely not!!).

Some people can't do both directing, DP-ing, and editing, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Read the Rodriguez book and listen to his audio commentary on his movies to know what I mean. I love this business too much, and I don't see what I do as stressful if its something I want to do for the rest of my life and get paid for doing it. The only thing that stresses me out is working a shitty "regular" office job 40 hours a week just to pay bills in the meantime. But, that's just me.

03-25-2005, 01:41 PM
RR is on AMC this Sunday @ 11:00 am? PST answering questions. enjoy!

03-25-2005, 01:51 PM
Thanks for the input everyone. For this project, since we are limited on budget, I'm going to DP it myself. Thankfully though we have an experienced camera op who will be volunteering his time. He's not very good with lighting, but he definitely knows his way around a camera.

I'm also fortunate that my asst director is one hell of a key grip, so he will be leading the charge to get the lighting set up at my direction. I'm going to spend a lot of time planning the shoot so when we get on set I can give the AD my lighting diagrams and let him direct the crew, and then we can make adjustments as need once we rehearse the actors.


03-27-2005, 03:58 PM
my two cents:

I have thus far done my own "DP'ing" as it were.

I really don't have the patience for being DP and Director.... I would rather just direct a scene, but I have yet to hook up with a DP I would trust, well not trust.. but someone that is compitent..

I like having my work high quality, so I tend to try and do everything.. and my work tends to suffer because of this... I can only spend so much time directing my actors.. then checking my frame.. then making sure my blocking is good.. etc...

I prefer to Write/Direct/Edit vs. DP/Gaffer/Grip work... thats jsut me though.

I think it is definately worth it to have a capable DP... takes a lot of work off you as director..

03-27-2005, 05:05 PM
How about leaving the Directing to others then and DP'ing it yourself?

I would probably classify as type "a" (the guy who has no talent but owns the camera). I know my camera pretty well, but I've noticed from earlier shoots that maybe I'm not as clear in my communication skills as would be desired. So how then about choosing someone you trust with the direction, so you can go and DP?

I'd like your thoughts about that one...

03-27-2005, 05:38 PM
Okay all you hyphenates...
Here's my 2 cents' worth!
It's perfectly fine to hyphenate.
As long as you make it clear to everybody else which part of the hyphenate you are at any particular moment.

i.e. you gotta know to separate the hyphenate.

If you say "okay, speaking as the director..." or "the DP in me thinks.."
then the crew is straight and clear, and there's remarkably little confusion on set.

I'm a 5-way hyphenate on my own shows, but I have people who are used to me and the way I work. I have at least one person with whom I share an aesthetic sense (i.e. we share the same taste) who switches off with me when I'm doing something else, and basically protects the story. For me, that's the most important thing.

There are many successful actor/directors, and I'd say that to cross that line, let alone do it back and forth on a single production, is a pretty amazing feat. Much, much harder than directing/DPing, in my opinion.

I'd say if you were to DP and direct, at the very least you'd need that story guard I was talking about, a strong first AD, a good camera operator, and a really good script super. For me, my story guard is the writer, who is a writer/script super hyphenate.

Have this team around you, or a similar one that you know and trust, and Bob's your uncle, as they say. Then go out, breathe easy, kick some butt, have some fun and turn out some great footage!

(can you tell I'm writing a book about this very subject??)


03-27-2005, 07:56 PM
Thanks for the idea Polle, but I'm a director first. I do love to lense, and volunteer myself for as many projects as I can fit in my schedule. I've wanted to be a director since I was nine, so that is my first priority. In my drive to become a director I also end up being the producer, writer, DP, editor, publicist, distributor, so on and so forth.