In the April 2015 Presidents Desk column for American Cinematographer, I wrote that we were living in a post-truth, post-common sense world. A more accurate description today would be a post-reality reality. Though objective truth never wavers, it’s scary when a willful ignorance of it has hijacked the culture. The mainstream media is much to blame for the situation, bereft as it is of decency and responsibility. Hollywood is also party to the decline, but out of necessity most of us have come to peace with that. Nonetheless, a new misconception is catching on that’s so far off the mark, it won’t show up on your GPS.
Some within the industry are claiming that what cinematographers do isn’t as thought-through and controlled as it used to be. To them, the digital camera is just a capture device that delivers flat, shapeless data that’s given its final look by other people – editors, post-supervisors and so on – after we’ve left the party.
This is nonsense. If we had an appreciable number of responsibilities during the film era, they’ve grown exponentially over the past twenty years. We’re coming aboard projects earlier and leaving later; the in-between is more intense and demanding than ever. Our spot in the pecking order has evolved, but the cinematographer’s primacy over the image remains unchanged. Every person on the crew somehow contributes to what we do; we’re fortunate to have their support. Film timers and digital colorists are also tremendous allies. But none of these talented, creative individuals are charged – as we are – with conceiving and executing the director’s vision for the story. Only one set of eyes can guide the image from prep through delivery – and those eyes belong to the cinematographer. To say anything else is a lie.
Many tech websites feature the ramblings of “geniuses without resume” who pontificate on cinematography while understanding nothing about it. Others are familiar enough with the calling to seem like they know more than they do. In any case, they’re not helping us. At this most dubious time in history, the need for truth has never been more urgent – and our biggest challenge to date may be in holding the industry accountable.