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Disagreements with the Director (6 replies and 4 comments)

2 years ago
jordanwarren 2 years ago

This question is unsurprisingly aimed at Roger though i'd welcome any responses from fellow forum members too!

Roger, you've made it clear that a cinematographers job is to enhance the storytelling visually and little else really matters; something I think is fundamentally important and often overlooked.

So this got me thinking, what if yourself, as the director of visuals on a project, disagree with the director in how a scene should be shot?

I find it somewhat paradoxical considering a DOP is supposed to direct the overall 'look' of the film but the director maintains really the final say!

I assume a lot depends on the relationship between yourself and a specific director? But then surely even though you've worked with Denis and the Coen brothers on numerous films you must not always see eye to eye on a particular shot?


I look forward to your thoughts.



2 years ago
dmullenasc 2 years ago

You make the best case for your point of view, you present your arguments, but it's the director's call.  And you have to have enough humility to know that you might actually be wrong.

In television shooting where the director is not always the final word, the showrunner is, you do find yourself sometimes at odds when the director wants to do a shot that, for example, would be unflattering to your lead actor in a way that doesn't help the story, and considering you'll be there for episodes with that cast after this director has left, and in a sense, your job as cinematographer is to protect the cast while maintaining the established look of the show, you can run into some conflicts but most are minor, you find a way of satisfying everyone.

The key motivation really has to be the needs of the story and performance over anyone's egos, yours included.

But ultimately, the director has the final word.

2 years ago
Wouter 2 years ago

I agree with David. 

One thing I might add: it might be good to talk these sorts of issues out prior to shooting. Make sure that you and the director see eye to eye. 
The best way to do this is to talk a lot about the story and then some more and establish good previsualizations and develop a common sensibility to treat the matter in a sort of consistent way.

You have to remember: the director also wants the best for the project. So if you have a disagreement, first really try to see it from their perspective and if you still believe that they are wrong, make sure that your arguments are solid. 

Oftentimes we're fighting without really understanding the true intent of the opposing party. 

Again: only rational discussion can sort these things out. Emotions are best left out of these sorts of matters. 

Of course, if you're really passionate about a specific argument, by all means, give it your best shot to try and explain your point of view but as David already said; in the end it's the director's responsibility. If they want to bang their heads against the wall and won't listen to your advise.. then let them hit their head. That's probably the best way for stubborn people to learn humility. 

2 years ago
jthomsg 2 years ago

Richard Brooks once told a young Conrad Hall "If you want to be a director, direct your own picture, don't direct mine."

That pretty much sums up the relationship between the cinematographer and the director, there shouldn't be any antagonism, because you're all in the same boat, and as Hitchcock once said "quarreling, feelings between people is wasted energy and non-productive." 

As a cinematographer you require tremendous discipline to be a good collaborator, and unless the director asks for ideas, then you're welcome to give your input... otherwise.... Richard Brooks.

2 years ago

I'd say a lot of directors and DOP are specifically looking for an antagonistic relationship though. Because if all parties involved are actually able to put ego aside, antagonism basically functions as a questioning of one's self.

Of course, by the time that you're on set, you should probably all on the same wave length.. but prior to that is the time to question everything and everyone.

I think it is important to think out every possible possible angle as much as possible; follow every thought line until you hit a wall until you follow that one thought line that doesn't hit the wall: that's an indication of being close I think.

Roger Deakins
2 years ago
Roger Deakins 2 years ago

It is very important to establish that you and your director have the same perspective on a project before you take on that project. 

It seems to me that the 'look' of the film is largely set during prep and it is the cinematographer's job to see that this 'look' is maintained from the beginning to the end of the process. It's all about trust. Of course, shots are discussed on set and opinions may differ but every shoot and every relationship is different. In my experience, it is not generally the practice that a director will suggest the lens for a shot or suggest the way a scene is to be lit. That is why the cinematographer is hired. I know I am in a position of some experience now but I say this in regard to the films I was shooting 35 years ago as well as more recently.


2 years ago

I'm curious. What was you and Villeneuve's relationship when you worked on your first picture. Of course he had done a handful of films before, but surely he had some nerves in anticipation of working with a great cinematographer such as yourself.

That said, do you find it strange or challenging working with up and coming "green" directors?

How do you adapt your usual routine? Because I would assume you are in a sense showing them the ropes at times so to speak. Or do you find they often know exactly what they are doing?

2 years ago
DaggerLily 2 years ago

Sometimes it's also trying to learn what the director is trying to accomplish when he is suggesting a shot you don't think will work. If you find out, for instance, that he feels his shot will create more of a sense of threat, then you can perhaps find a compromise that you feel is photographically better but also conveys that sense of threat. And probably does it better!

As Roger has said, prep is a very important opportunity to get on the same page as the director which helps a lot when things like this come up in the middle of a stressful shoot.

2 years ago

I completely agree with your advice, James,
I try to avoid disagreements with a director, when there are different views of how to approach a scene, I'll try and understand the general concept the director is trying to achieve and advise on how to achieve that (better).
Disagreements are often counterproductive and mood defining moments on set. A cinematographer's job is to turn these moments into moments of positive and creative thinking, instead of "fighting for ones own ideas".

2 years ago
DaggerLily 2 years ago

I think the most important thing I want in a director is passion and enthusiasm for his/her project. If he or she is willing to put out as much as we do during the shoot, it's fantastic. If their technical expertise is a bit less than a very experienced director, it's alright - you can work that out together. If they have passion, however, they are willing to "get it right" and you don't feel that you are "shooting the schedule" instead of the film.

When we first worked with Denis on PRISONERS, it was a great match. He knew what he wanted from the story and looked for collaboration. We became great friends off the set as well as on, which was a nice side benefit. We had great communication with him which is so important during the movie.

Working with "green" directors can be a wonderful experience. It will generally mean a smaller budget so there are many more challenges but it's worth it if you have a director who is in the trenches with you and is willing to try different things. The most important thing to us is telling the story which hopefully is the focus on set.

2 years ago

Thanks for that response! I realized I had put my questions under your comment instead of Roger's. However, I am equally interested in your response as it is often other crew members who more easily notice these relationship dynamics as it is often their job on the set to notice these things.

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