The Cinematographer as Co-Author
Amsterdam, 2019-05-09 - Hans Beerekamp
While cleaning up his archive film journalist Hans Beerekamp found several editions of the (small-scale published) Dutch film magazine Cineécri. In the third publication from 1965 he found a contribution by the late Robby Müller NSC, BVK (1940-2018). Just graduated from the Dutch Film Academy in 1964 he writes about the collaboration with directors. Given the still actual content we have translated the article for a wide audience.
Robby Müller in front of the camera for a student short film 1962-'64
Cineécri: Publications about Film 3
The good or not so good cooperation between director and cinematographer, is variable and depends, for example, on the extent which the director acts in a controlled or dictatorial manner.
But whether it is an ideal collaboration, the cinematographer contributes in a direct, independent manner from the director to the final film.
Apart from this direct, constant contribution from the cinematographer, they always continue to influence all aspects of filmmaking.
As far as it concerns photography, the director has to rely almost entirely on the cinematographer: there is no time to discuss gray tones and lighting set-ups. The cinematographer does this based on their own intuition; not only the exposure but also the choice of the lens.
The most useful staging description seems to me: a director determines which actors appear in a scene and LIMIT their actions, till only the most essential remains. The cinematographer who naturally knows each part by heart, places them in the frame. It is therefore necessary that they know exactly what will happen. During rehearsals they do not have to 'rehearse' through the camera constantly, but step aside next to the camera and pay attention to what kind of actors they have to deal with, their tempo, and so on. They know what to expect because they do not remain 'isolated' from the cast who were accidently out of the frame and also had their contribution. So they can come up with suggestions for placement and movement of the actors.
Their participation is therefore so imminent that they exactly know/feel what they can afford when it is shot and recognize THEIR understanding of camera movement and framing, even if something unexpected happens, so it does not result in 'useless' movements.
In case there is not so good team play between director and cinematographer, too much thought is going out during principal photography that editing is there for fixing. That is what you often see: the inability to reproduce the essence in a shot.
Using the zoom lens gives more or less the same problem of 'useless' movements. The advantage is that one can isolate a detail from a long shot in a more easy way. Moreover, the scene does not have to be interrupted, which is necessary for making an intermediate shot. If someone chooses a zoom movement or an intermediate shot depends on the character of the film. However, in my view a zoom lens can form a more concentrated point of attention, if made on the rhythm of the acting performance (contrary to the editing rhythm) since then it confines it in the biological rhythm of the scene.
This may cause complications for the director during editing because they may have preferred to see a completely different detail; a good cinematographer or at least one who got a clear idea through the director of what is happening on a dramatic level, must have seen that essential moment. The cinematographer always remain to keep certain freedom of action with which they can put their trademark on the scene and so later on in the editing.
In Voce it is important that the cinematographer does not just work from start to finish, but they remain on a constant level, so you always have editing possibilities WITHIN a shot or scene. Given the influence a cinematographer can have, it is not enough to inform them per individual scene, but the director has to go through the entire film with them so they know the script/screenplay on forehand. In this way they can discuss expected shortcomings of the scenario.
In order to achieve good interaction, the director should not choose a cinematographer only based on craftsmanship (proper exposure, smooth movements, etc.), but if their mentality suits them; someone from whom they can expect a creative contribution; a kind of co-author.
"Cineécri was a film magazine founded by former Dutch Film Academy student Frans van de Staak around 1961-‘62. This magazine was more philosophical oriented, aimed at an audience that had more interest in Husserl, Heidegger and Merlau-Ponty than in film. Van de Staak would later exchange the academy for studies in psychology."
source: Tee, E (2002). Passion and Profession: The History of the Dutch Film and Television Academy. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Dutch Film Academy.
Pictures by courtesy of Hans Beerekamp and family Müller
English translation by Vincent Visser & Herman Verschuur
Special thanks to Hans Beerekamp