Outline of duties: director of photography by Jost Vacano

Film visualization as a creative profession
 
1. Foreword
This outline of duties has been developed as audiovisual media expand worldwide and as all those involved attempt to gain a greater stake in the increasing use of their works. It testifies in particular to the part played by cameramen and -women in filmmaking. Since the individual pursuit of copyright claims is not possible, and, increasingly, companies conclude flat- rate remuneration agreements for the works they buy, this outline refers to the activities and arrangements characteristic of filmmaking by a creative team. In particular it describes those duties in the director of photography´s area of responsibility that can be regarded as typical of the profession. These duties have changed considerably during the history of film and have also been influenced by regional differences. Here, the current situation in Germany serves as the point of reference, some variations abroad are noted as well.
 
2. Definition
The concept of cameraman covers various professions whose areas of activity can be categorized as follows:
 
a) News and current-affairs reporting, sports events, etc. of a journalistic nature (analogous to a photojournalist), and
b) Artistic creation of the images in staged film, television and video productions,generally for feature films,television plays and series as well as advertising, etc.,but also staged documentary and industrial films (analogous to a photographic artist). The duties outlined here relate only to the latter category. However, even within that category, the German term Kameramann covers widely divergent activities and areas of responsibility: Is a Kameramann any man (or woman) behind a camera, is he on one of the many cameras in an action shot or television taping? Is he only the operator who moves a camera on command, or is he the director of photography, who is solely responsible for creating a film´s images, is accordingly named in the credits, and has other cameramen working under his supervision? Unfortunately, the German job title offers no clarification. Internationally, however, this responsibility is clarified in other language. The "first cameraman", responsible for creating a film´s images is known as:
 
    •    Director of Photography (DoP in England, DP in America),
    •    Directeur de la Photographie (France),
    •    Direttore della Fotografia bzw. Autore della Fotografia (Italy)
These can be roughly translated into German as "Bildregisseur", "Bildautor", or "Bildgestalter". Thus, the world´s most important film nations have terms for Kameramann that are nearer to his actual importance, and recognize him as a co-director. A distinction is drawn here between the director of photography and the other cameramen and members of the camera crew, who work subject to directives under his leadership, and whose main area of activities is in the secondary technical/manual sphere. They may be called assistant cameraman, cameraman, operating cameraman, operateur, or operatore. In German, these titles correspond with Assistent or Schwenker, although the latter is often also mistakenly called Kameramann. (It is typical that "Kameraführung" ="camera operation" is often praised in reviews or awards, although people are speaking about film visualization rather than the camera operator.) Thus, German makes no linguistic differentiation between the chief- cameraman and the "cameraman" of an occasional additional team. The German language clearly has problems with this profession. Within the framework of a camera crew, the director of photography determines and supervises the artistic and technical parameters for filming: in particular, lighting, visual composition, and camera operation (the latter undertaken partly by himself, partly by camera operators or additional crews). The following describes the director of photography (DoP) only in this sense.
 
3. Outlines of duties - the basics
3.1. Area of responsibility
The DoP´s area of responsibility in filmmaking encompasses both artistic and technical collaboration (no matter whether these "films" are on celluloid, magnetic tape, videodisk, or other storage systems. In the following, the medium referred to is generally film.) The DoP´s duties consist of creating and being solely responsible for film visualization, in collaboration with the director.
 
3.2. Creativity versus technology
Film visualization is a distinctive result of creative imagination, and the DoP exercises a determining influence here. Nevertheless, this profession is often, and mistakenly, regarded as primarily technical. This was probably accurate in the early days of cinema: the "man with a camera" = "cameraman" was usually a one-man show, the equipment was unreliable and hard to control, and it often originated from his own workshop. Nowadays, the equipment is just the starting point; it is now reliable, with camera and lighting assistants (camera and lighting technicians) present in every crew to do the operating and technical supervising. Of course, the technical foundations of camera work are more extensive than those for direction, for example, but the DoP is no longer standing "between art and technology" - he now has almost unlimited possibilities for artistic expression, precisely because of the present-day range in technology.
 
3.3. The DoP on the creative team
Generalizations about the artistic involvement of DoP´s in the creative personnel (direction, camera, production design, editing, etc.) have to be based on the specific characteristics of each position. There are certain important areas where the DoP´s influence, responsibility, and authority are, as a rule, given. But since the areas of influence in artistic teamwork can never be delineated exactly, overlapping in fringe areas is also the rule. With film visualization this overlapping can arise in the areas of production design and direction. The fundamental responsibility of the director is the realization of the staging of a film, while that of the DoP is its breakdown, composition and lighting of each shot. The transition is fluid: the DoP influences the film´s mise-en- scene as much as the director does its visualization. The degree of this mutual influence depends on the personalities concerned, and is determined by experience, trust, working methods, and the partners´ egos. Yet neither is free in his work, since both are subject to a directive: their responsibility to the subject matter and/or the screenplay. It is only when people heed this heteronomy that a unified work, and perhaps even a mutually inspired creation, will come about. Of course, the screenplay requires the director´s interpretation, which has to be binding on the rest of the creative personnel, so that all concerned have a unified approach. Within this framework, the DoP can then act autonomously.
 
3.4. Expert authority and competence
The DoP is the final creative and technical authority before shooting. His decisions, based until then on visionary intuition and conceptual preparation, really take shape only after shooting starts. During shooting, he is responsible for the first critical checks of the finished product. The creative and technical efforts of the whole crew of often over 100 people come together under his responsibility, as though passing through the eye of a needle. He is even responsible for the audience´s emotions: their empathy, their focus of attention, which characters they identify with, their fear, and the suspense of a scene. The success or failure of a film can thus be influenced significantly by a DoP´s decisions.
 
3.5. Credits
In accord with his importance, the DoP is also regularly named in the opening or closing credits. The name will appear in the "creative block" (direction, screenplay, camera, production design, editing, music, etc.), usually immediately before or after that of the director. Along with the misunderstood term Kamera, the term Bildgestaltung now tends to be used more frequently in the credits (in English usually Director of Photography).
 
4.Primary duties and responsibilities
The DoP´s sphere encompasses all stages of film production, from preproduction through principal photography to postproduction. The DoP is one of the crew members involved in a production the longest - from the initial talks through the approval of final prints.
 
4.1. Preperation
This phase usually begins several weeks before shooting. Here the basic artistic principles for the film´s structure are worked out, and decisions are made on finances, technical equipment, and personnel.
 
4.1.1. Studying the screenplay
This step includes getting acquainted with the subject matter, reading any background literature or the original novel, noting the structure, breaking down the script, and considering particular problems and special techniques.
 
4.1.2.Discussions with the director
These discussions concern the screenplay and possible alterations to it, the dramatic and stylistic concept, budget, casting, etc. 4.1.3. Discussions with the producer
These talks cover the budget, shooting schedule, equipment, and personnel.
 
4.1.4.Discussions with the production designer
The discussions are about exterior and interior locations, and sets as well as their artistic and technical realization, and the quality and arrangement of natural and artificial sources of light as well as the general color composition.
 
4.1.5. Discussions with costume- and make-up artists
Topics include the colors of costumes and the make-up to be used.
 
4.1.6. Scouting and choosing locations
The director, DoP, production designer, and producer narrow down the choices and make the final selection of locations. At each location, the first concrete talks take place about the breakdown of scenes, preferred perspectives, individual shots, and possible location changes. The DoP starts work on a concept for the lighting and sets the time of day for the shooting of individual scenes based on the sun´s position.
 
4.1.7. Determining the technical equipment and laboratory
Here the decisions are made on cameras, filmstock, dollies, cranes, lighting and laboratory.
 
4.1.8. Determining the technical personnel
The DoP selects camera crew, additional units, key grips and electricians, and specifies their respective responsibilities.
 
4.1.9. Shooting tests
The DoP performs shooting tests of cast, costumes, make-up, sets, and locations.
 
4.1.10. Technical tests
Here the cameras, lenses, filmstock, and laboratory are tested.
 
4.2. Principal photography: This phase, in which the film is planned and executed down to the last detail, shot for shot, may vary in length depending on the type of production.
 
4.2.1. Breakdown of scenes
This is one of the most important phases in film production: a scene-by-scene analysis of the dramatic and visual elements of a screenplay and the style in which those elements will be photographed. Each scene is broken down into a series of individual camera set-ups and movements. The director and the DoP begin working together on the structure of the scenes at this point. From which perspective is the cinemagoer to experience this scene: from the point of view of the person committing the crime, for example, or from that of the victim? Should it be a hectic succession of several rapid shots or a slow, gliding, revealing movement through the set? Should it be told in close-ups or with a long shot? Should shock cuts be used, or should one aim for effects through special camera movements? Many essential elements of the sequence, timing, rhythm, and pace of the scenes and sequences are thus predetermined in these early discussions already, (although the editor will still have sufficient freedom for his work).
 
4.2.2. Determining the individual shots through the choice of:
    •    camera angle and height (low-angle versus high-angle shots make the image larger or smaller, more imposing or more vulnerable),
    •    camera movement (dolly, crane, or hand-held) affect identification, timing, and suspense,
    •    lens (telephoto, wide-angle, or zoom lenses) draw the audience into or distance them from the action,
    •    focus versus out of focus, depth of field (to emphasize, extend, or narrow a selected image),
    •    framing and composition,
the audience´s visual and emotional response can be influenced in areas such as:
    •    dramatic and emotional atmosphere,
    •    dramatic enhancement of the cast, including the appearance and impact of the stars,
    •    spatial and dramatic relationship between characters,
    •    ambiance and characterization of the sets and locations, and
    •    perspectives and three-dimensional effects (the illusion of the missing third dimension). To achieve these effects, the set must often be adapted to the photographic requirements. Such changes can include anything from rearrangement of the props and lighting fixtures to the removal or alterations of walls.

 
4.2.3. Lighting:
Light is one of the most important and creative tools of photography. It is not for nothing that the cinema used to be called the Lichtspieltheater (light play theater) in German. The creative deployment of light and shadow; front, side and back light; point source lighting or diffused illumination; hard or soft light; contrast, high-key or low-key lighting; and the use of color provide diverse creative possibilities that affect the:
    •    dramatic, emotional, and aesthetic atmosphere required by the scene,
    •    dramatic enhancement of the cast, as well as the appearance and impact of the stars,
    •    visual enhancement of the locations and sets through the effects of space and depth; threedimensional feeling; and overall atmosphere;
    •    concentration on the action and emphasis on or suppression of scene elements,
    •    evocation of seasons and times of the day, and
    •    special lighting effects that can go beyond the technical standards.
The lighting is the sole responsibility of the DoP to the extent that it is often considered his most important duty, as for example in England, where the director of photography is also called the lighting cameraman. The gaffer (chief electrician or Oberbeleuchter) organizes and supervises the lighting set-ups, but the creative decisions are exclusively in the hands of the DoP.
4.2.4. Colouring and filtering
The dramatic and emotional effect of an image can be altered with colour and filters. The effects can be achieved by colouring the light with gels or by using whole or partial filters on the camera.
 
4.2.5. Photographic special effects
Various effects can be achieved both during filming and in postproduction. In the past, special effects work was done preferably in the camera. As the technology has improved, more effects are done in postproduction these days.
 
4.2.6. Dailies or rushes
On a daily basis, the DoP chooses (or notes preferences) special "takes" for preferred inclusion in the final film, in collaboration with the editor and the director.
 
4.2.7. Supervision of the laboratory and the equipment
The DoP is responsible for supervising the film laboratory´s processing and printing work. The DoP also supervises the work of the assistant cameramen, who continuously monitor and service the cameras and other equipment, including film tests.
 
4.2.8. Supervision and training of the camera crew
As head of the film crew, the DoP acts as a teacher for its secondary members. They must have additional training in order to qualify for higher positions. It is the duty of the DoP to see that his crew members receive that training so they may continue to advance in their chosen profession.
 
4.2.9. Budget monitoring
During a production, the DoP also carries part of the responsibility for seeing that the costs in his area do not unexpectedly exceed the budget.
 
4.3. Postproduction:
After shooting is complete, the last phases of production are the editing, the special effects, and eventually the digital image-manipulation. The DoP is involved only sporadic during this stage until approval of the final print or until the film is transferred to video, his duties may include:
 
4.3.1. Supervision and consultation:
The DoP supervises eventual any additional photography for models or other special effects, which is often carried out by a separate unit. With the increasing use of digital image-manipulation in postproduction, an new field of responsibility opens up for the DoP. Since digital post is an important part of the creative process, it is mandatory for the DoP to supervise, or at least, to have the right to approve the results. Screenings of the various rough cuts can often lead to consultation among the DoP, the director and the editor. Occasionally, the DoP will be called in to answer particular questions during the editing.
 
4.3.2. Color timing (or color grading)
Before release prints are made, the DoP must adjust the color and the brightness of the individual scenes so that they flow together smoothly, since the order of scenes in editing is never the order in which the scenes were shot. By adding or subtracting certain colors at the printer lights, some final creative decisions can still be made at this stage. This is the conclusion of the creative photographic production process.
 
4.3.3. Print approval
The DoP gives his final approval to the prints or to the video transfer.
 
5. Training
Director of photography is not officially recognized as a profession for which one can undertake a special course of study and training. Until now, on-the-job training was recommended for someone wishing to become a director of photography:
    •    apprenticeship as a photographer,
    •    apprenticeship or practical placement in a film laboratory in order to gain a comprehensive knowledge of all stages of film processing and printing,
    •    practical placement in a rental service in order to gain knowledge of camera systems, or
    •    several year´s experience on various camera crews as a clapper-loader ,second assistant, first assistant, and operator.
Recently different German educational institutions have added programs from which one can graduate as a DoP. Some of them seem to offer really comprehensive training, while others are meant only to train people in the areas of news and current-affairs reporting for the TV networks. It is also possible to receive basic training towards a DoP at some of the other film- and art schools, but only as part of other courses being offered. Only the future will tell us if such a "diploma" can fully prepare one for the daily rigors of a professional DoP. In any case, it is essential that theory-based training be supplemented by extensive experience in the field of professional and commercial production.

In addition to this technical experience, it is absolutely essential that one has good eyesight, the ability to take physical and psychological stress, a good general education, a pronounced sense of style, wide technical knowledge, the ability to assert oneself, an organizational talent, diplomatic skills and leadership qualities. Finally, a course of study in theater, history of art, architecture or other artistic endeavors would be useful.
 
6. Employment
Two types of employment are possible:
 
6.1. Freelance
This includes varied short-term employment on independent film, television and video productions at home and abroad. Prospects for promotion are unlimited, but top positions are filled only via the open market. The economic risk is great and employment is determined by supply and demand. In practice, the working conditions are largely unregulated.
 
6.2. Permanent employment
This includes television stations or private production companies. The economic risk and the prospects for promotion are limited. The working conditions are largely regulated.
 
7. Conclusion
As is true for almost all artistic professions, there has been no official outline of the duties and responsibilities of the Director of Photography. In 1983, the bvk Bundesverband Kamera e.V. / German Society of Cinematographers, thus decided to draw up such an outline on the basis of current production practices. The Bundesverband der Film- und Fernsehregisseure e.V. (the German Directors Guild) was consulted before publication so as to avoid objections from directors based on differing interpretations of those overlapping areas that affect both artists. Therefore this outline of duties is not the product of wishful thinking by a professional group. It is a documentation of widely recognized areas of activity and influence of the director of photography in film, television or video production.
 
1992,1995 Jost Vacano ASC/BVK

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