Cinematographers are artist\scientists, with the emphasis on artist.
Every ASC member is an expert who can create appropriate moods for any type of production. Though the craft relies on technology, command of the tools is only part of our brilliance. History shows hundreds of examples in which refined practice has resulted in artful images – and they’ve lasted for good reason. What we do is more about the application of taste than anything else, and that comes from the heart.
This means we’re not interchangeable. Our talents and sensitivities are as peculiar to each of us as our handwriting. Just imagine a hundred cinematographers tasked with shooting the same scene. There will be a hundred different results, all of them correct. Any preference for a particular version proves the point: How we use the medium is what matters most.
Our job is to get inside the director’s head and render their vision of the story in concrete terms.
Cinematographers turn thoughts and feelings into something real that others can relate to. Rather than impose our views, we collaborate with our directors from prep through final color correction. While every relationship is unique, communication is vital to them all. Under ideal circumstances, we help discern and combine ideas that lead to something better than originally imagined.
Toward that end, we manipulate light, composition, color and movement. We also supervise delivery of the final look in the lab or digital mastering suite.
Though the director’s role is often compared to that of an orchestra conductor, only one set of eyes can guide the look of a film from start to finish. With so many post-options available, it has never been more important to protect the integrity of the original intent decided on with the director. Producers should demand our participation during post-production – and show how important it is by paying us full-rate for the effort. The time and budgetary savings will make it well worth the outlay. To not do this trashes an essential part of what we do in its most critical – and vulnerable – moment. It disrespects the work of everyone involved.
We are also leaders and business people…producers, in a sense.
Beyond the obvious duties, cinematographers carry an enormous fiscal and managerial responsibility. The quality of the work depends on how well we balance the money-time-equipment-crew equation. Regardless of budget and length of schedule, the challenges are similar every time out. It’s in our interest to set a good example, treat people decently and work with production to solve any problem.
I’m sure there’ll be more to add as comments come in. Until then, for those who should’ve known but didn’t…consider yourselves informed!