Picture Perfect: The Relationship between Director and Cinematographer

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It’s common knowledge that the director is responsible for the film’s visual integrity.  Directors must work simultaneously with producers, writers, actors and crew members to properly move a film through its various phases of production.  In the Pre-production phase, Directors work closely with screenwriters and producers to have their project green-lit and budget approved.  In the Post-production phase, directors, and editors and after effects crews turn the raw materials into a finished, viewable storyline.  In the Production phases, the words of the script are turned into the moving image, the success of which relies heavily on the director’s relationship with the cinematographer.

The Cinematographer or Director of Photography (DP) is responsible for the quality of the film’s picture.  That’s a pretty big deal when one considers that movies are essentially moving pictures.  The Director takes the script and plans which kinds of shots will be used at what points in the film and the DP executes them.  Therefore the cinematographer must be well versed in the principles of still photography as well as the language of film photography, since lighting, location and movement are all to be considered during the shooting of a scene.   For this reason, most, if not all cinematographers hold Bachelor’s Degrees and many of them also attended Masters Programs.

In much the same way a director will favor an actor or group of actors for use in their films, good Directors stick by their cinematographer from project to project.  The most successful pairing of Cinematographer and Director in terms of box office gross are Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski; who’s been Director of Photography on all of Spielberg’s films since Schindler’s List (1993). Robert Richardson not only has the privilege of being the chosen DP of  Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, but is one of three cinematographers to win the Best Cinematography Oscar three times.  Jeff Cronenwreth’s work can be seen in any David Fincher film (Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).   Christopher Nolan, who is red/green color blind, owes much of the look of his film to the skills of Wally Pfister.

In 2014, Wall Pfister is set to make his directorial debut in the film Transcendence, with Christopher Nolan executive producing and starring Johnny Depp.  Indeed, mastering the craft of cinematography is another path to the much coveted director’s chair. In addition, the titles of their guilds sound more illustrious than most: the American Society of Cinematographers and the British Society of Cinematographers; gives a whole new meaning to” high society”.  Having a keen eye for the way words in a script are translated into image and passion for beautiful photography, even if the image is simple, makes a cinematographer indispensable to a director and the films they create.

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