How many times have you watched a film that was beautifully shot yet left you empty as a drum at its conclusion?  Conversely, you’ve no doubt seen many that were photographically sloppy yet have retained their emotional power years after the fact.

            Director James Cameron addressed this dichotomy in The Toronto Star, April 27, 2018:

            “I don’t think you can just impress people with images.  It’s always in a context of the narrative and the characters.  Do you care?  Do you feel physically present and involved?  And then from there, now show me the magic.  You can’t just dazzle with a bunch of spectacular shots.”

            It would do us all well to think of this from time to time.  Beside cutting away the nonsense and getting to the real point of what we do, it implies a certain humility.  And I don’t know of any cinematographer – Oscar winner or hack – who wouldn’t benefit from a little bit of that!



  1. Words of wisdom! Cinematographers don’t work for their showreel, don’t shoot to create beautiful shots. Roger Deakins also said a similar thing: if your cinematography distracts from the story, you’re not doing a good job.
    Cinematography serves the story so the story is the first and most important element of a movie. Without a story (and the characters that are represented in this story) you don’t really have a compelling film that engage with the audience.
    The purpose of movies is to create a cathartic effect. I consider movies the natural evolution of theater, where the heroes and their journeys were meant to let the audience release emotions.
    Emotions are created through connections, so you have to connect with the audience and in order to do that you have to create a believable and interesting world.
    If then you make beautiful images, that’s even better. Most of the movies I remember, I remember them for their stories and their characters, not for the images. Emotions stay longer with us than images.

  2. CBS Sixty Minutes creator Don Hewitt would always say, tell me a story! That says it all, be it a news program, a documentary, a tv series or an Imax extravaganza, it’s always about the story. Recent example, HBO “The Gilded Age” — beautifully photographed, costumed and set decorated with writing I can only describe as meh.

  3. Once I was watching a film because I liked the work of the cinematographer who shot it. The visuals were great, but I couldn’t get into the story, so I only watched 30 minutes of it.

  4. I saw a period movie set during a war in Victorian times — the battles were mostly shot backlit or silhouette in slow motion… It was so hypnotic and dreamlike that I had to stifle a yawn, which is not really the sort of reaction you want from an audience member. Beautiful but bloodless despite all the fighting on screen.

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