Who's the boss?
Hey ladies and gents,
I had lunch with a mate yesterday, who is a very talented Operator. And he was telling me about a really interesting situation he encountered on a recent feature (well, 'interesting' to me, incredibly awkward for him).
Basically, throughout the shoot his DP was always asking him to frame tighter. However, at one point, his Director slipped up alongside him and asked him to ignore his DP's requests and hold his original, wider compositions. 🤐
Now (to my great, good fortune) I've never encountered a situation to date, where I've been at such loggerheads with a Director over compositions, that they've gone over my head to an Operator directly. But I'm fascinated to know if others have encountered this before (either as an Operator or DP)? And if so, how you've responded?
Who does an Operator ultimately owe their loyalty to in a situation like this?
On 4 May 2018, at 10:35, Mark Kenfield <mark@...> wrote:
Loyalty to the DoP but ultimately is the director’s film, the director calls the shot.
The problem is that DoP and director should have ironed out composition beforehand, not end up disagreeing while filming.
The operator should be frank with the DoP, the DoP should work it out with the director.
Franz Pagot AIC
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I was put in this position on a feature, where I'd operated first unit and then, the last day, was sent off on a splinter unit with a different DP to try to preserve some continuity.
Sadly, this DP was... how do we say this politely... a dick. While we had a style that we'd established, he came in and tried to change everything. On top of that, he insisted on sitting at the camera and lighting everything while looking through the lens, operating the rehearsal, and then turning the shot over to me for the take. And then he'd complain if I didn't nail it perfectly the first time in the way that he wanted.
After the first time he did this, the director came up to me and said, "What are you doing? This isn't the way we've been doing it." And, given that this was the last day of the shoot, and that DP had already insulted myself and my assistants within the first half hour of stepping on the set, I just ignored him the rest of the day. He'd set up the shot, "light through the lens," operate the rehearsal, and then I'd change it up for the take.
I never worked for him again, but that was fine. It was astoundingly amateurish of him to walk in to an established situation and try to change things up. The director was understandably annoyed with me until I refused to listen to the DP anymore.
On a feature, though, normally I'd listen to the DP, and if the director asked me to change the shot I'd ask them to work through the DP, unless he and the DP decided that I could work things out directly with the director. I'd be very respectful, but say that I'm getting conflicting information and I can only follow one set of instructions—and it's up to them to decide which set. Although, in the feature world, I'd normally be brought in by the DP, so I'd do what they wanted until instructed otherwise, but I'd work very hard to get out of that situation by making them work out their own issues instead of blaming me for not getting what they want. That way, if I end up having to listen to the DP, and the DP gets fired, I might be able to keep my job. (Slim chance, but possible.)
I do know someone who was fired off a TV series a while back because he worked out shots with the director that the DP didn't like, and when the DP subtly hinted that the operator should do the shots that the DP wanted the operator chose to honor the director's wishes instead. That was his last day on the show, as you don't mess around with the DP on a TV series.
I've run into situations on commercials where I have an operator who gets instructions from the director that I don't like, but I opt to stay out of things and keep the director happy as I get more paychecks that way. I don't like them making their own project, because ultimately I still have to light it, so I make sure I'm involved in those discussions, but if the director really wants something then I give it to them and make the best of it.
I'd be less amenable on a feature to which my name was prominently attached, as presumably the director and I would have worked out some mutually agreeable terms before shooting started (which would have been the point of hiring me anyway).
Bruce Alan Greene
The operator is responsible to…. The person who hired them. When I worked as an operator, I was sometimes chosen by the director rather than, and sometimes over the objections of the DP. This did cause mis-trust with the DP. That said, the Director is the Boss.
There were also DP’s that chose me, and asked me to ignore the directors instructions. Gulp!
You know, operator is really tough job politically on the set :) :) :) The really great operators are masters of human relationships!
Bruce Alan Greene
DP Los Angeles
bart van otterdijk
Not an easy position.. Lots of politics.. . .
I’ve operated B-cam on quite a few features and TV-series now and every job/show and director/DOP combo is different.
Some expect you to be very pro-active and go looking for and bring them interesting shots and angles, others just want you to do as they tell you to do, shoot the shots they imagined with the lenses they tell you.
Some DOPs give you the stare of death if you even talk to the director, others want you to work with them while they light the set.
Moving props to get a better shot, get a flag in for some negative fill or a little reflector for some nice bounce same story.
Some expect you to do that, others freak out if you ask ‘their’ electricians or set dressers for your B-cam shot :-)
I’ve had a big run-in with one of my closest friends/DOP I had been pulling focus for for years like that. I was operating the B-cam and my shot would only stand for about 15’ in the beginning of the scene while A-cam kept rolling.
Then I saw this great profile 2-shot I could make from my camera position and I knew it would cut nicely into the scene and was ok light-wise too so I panned over and made the shot.
The director was super happy with it and wanted to reposition the actors just a tad for the next take to make it even better.
DOP was not amused :-(
After the scene he asked me to follow him outside and I got a good preaching about Who’s the Boss..
Well ok, in a way he was right.. I should have checked it with him first as I’d always would and his main concern was time management I learned then.
When I made that shot the sound guys did freak out and wanted to put in an extra mic and put down a carpet..
I just saw a nice shot that could help tell the story. I learned a lot that day and yes, we’re still good friends.
Also I’ve operated B-cam on 2 historical epic action/fighting loaded movies where the director was also the DOP and operating A-cam. He would give us operators clear instructions on let’s say 1 or 2 shots he wanted per sequence and expected us (the C-cam operator and me) to give him as many cool angles as possible -without getting into his shot of course. A tighter profile-ish shot of his A-cam angle or a shot of the bad guy in the background taking in the conversation for example. He’d also sent me off to shoot 2nd unit stuff with extra’s and when I asked him for a brief he’d say: 'just do what you always do, It’ll be great’
On another feature I operated B-cam the DOP was often so very close to the main character with a 27mm on a gimbal there was no shot to be made for B-cam.
Then you try and look for a good shot but in the end decide not to shoot not to slow down things or not to waste precious time on a B-cam shot that wouldn’t make the edit or worse even compromise lighting or framing for A-cam.
So to answer your question.. I don’t know. It really depends on the situation, the DOP and the director.
My first reflex would be to be loyal to who gave me the job. Often the DOP, sometimes the producer, sometimes the director.
In any case I always go for the best approach for the project and to tell the story but in the end you don’t want to get caught between ego’s on set!
Also I’ve been on the other end of this where I was the DOP and trusted my B-cam operator a bit too much.
We had talked a lot about the style, the framing and the scenes together with the director and the scene in question was very long and because of our small lighting package quite a challenge to get in the can in the time we had because I had decided with my gaffer to shoot the angles around the table with the position of the sun.
12 actors on 1 long table and some 15 extra’s.
I had no time to check b-cam framing on the day and I almost fell off my chair when I saw the rushes later :-(
B-cam had been shooting big close ups of 2nd or 3rd line actors while I on A-cam would always ‘let it breathe’ a bit.
I wanted to keep the big close ups for the more dramatic moments later on in the story..
Yes My B-cam operator did check it all with the director and he was happy with the shots so I don’t hold a grudge against the operator but I felt I let it slip a bit there.
We had a good talk about it afterwards and all went well for the rest of the movie.
My 2 cents on Operating and ‘Who’s Boss’..
Bart Van Otterdijk
. . .
i will spoke about commercial works.
well, just do your job, get your money and get home soon as possible. the set is not a relationship
if you step with people who work in cinema/video/photo/art/advertise with the purpose of beeing a boss, of beeing the one who talks, the one in charge, etc
for me i work like this:
"others want you to work with them while they light the set"
i ask for cam operator work with director in framing options, and if they found good stuff, we are done.
2018-05-04 11:59 GMT-03:00 bart van otterdijk <bartvanotterdijk@...>:
diretor de fotografia
11 96635 0917
Whereas actually he probably earned extra kudos from the director and producer who thought “he’s good and knows how to find talented people”.. . .
bart van otterdijk
Maybe so Michael... . .
He did hire me again on B-cam after that :-)
I’m old school.. Been at this for over 20y now. Did the whole way from trainee, loader, 15y of pulling focus and learned from the best.
Happy to be operating B-cam for DOPs like that. I learned loads from this guy
and yes, I did have a good talk with the director afterwards.. maybe next project??