There are so many times in my career as a Director of Photography that I have been left out of the color correction and post production phase of a films creation for reasons ranging from the the political, the financial or sometimes I fear, just simply out of ignorance. It’s frustrating beyond belief to see a “finished” product that is not complete or graded in a way that doesn’t take in to account the original intent of the lighting and choices made on the set.

Alone_Yet_Not_Alone-Suttlefilm-James_Suttles 14For example, on a film I did a while back, my team and I devised a look for all of the exterior night scenes that included the use of HMI’s gelled with 1/4 CTO (Lee 206) and 1/2 Straw (Lee 442). This was a specific look that I used for a warmer color saturation with a slight yellow shift for all of the large exterior night sequence’s moonlight. This color temperature was chosen for the balance it would provide with the tungsten units and flames from the practical torches & lanterns used throughout the film. In post, I intended to pull out some of the red tones, allowing the moonlight to shift to slightly warm “white” light but still retaining the warmer saturation of the tungsten and firelight. It took a good amount of prep and hard work from the G&E crew to facilitate placing numerous 18K HMI’s with this particular cocktail of gel in condors sprinkled throughout the woods and fields of our locations but in the end, the look of the film was not what was intended on those bitter cold nights. Not only was it time wasted on set but there was an expense of around $12oo.00 spent out of our expendables budget purchasing the gel we used. By not color grading the footage as intended, the effect was lost and in turn the expense was wasted. Perhaps not to the general audiences’ eye but to mine it was and the reason I was hired was to insure the quality of the photography.

When is a Director of Photography’s job done?

In a world were the final image is manipulated and finalized more and more in post, where does the Director of Photography’s job end?

Often in conversation with other filmmakers, the argument comes up that the director is the author of the film and that their opinion and preferences are the only thing that matters regarding the final version of the film. I understand that argument well, I’ve directed 2 features and am currently prepping my next one and as the person in charge of the overall vision, I do take full responsibility for the end product in a way that the other collaborators do not, yet, I recognize that it is a collaboration. On the two prior films I directed, I also served as the Director of Photography so that inherently made the image my exclusive domain to a point I guess but on my next film, Seven Days ‘Till Midnight, I will be working with my business partner, Greg Kraus serving as the Director of Photography. This is a first for me and a collaboration I’m looking forward to. But where is that line? Where does the role of the Colorist begin and does it ever merge with the Director of Photography with the collaboration of the director? Is the colorist an extension of the Director of Photography’s resources or is it an autonomous department that should be relegated to a Director/Colorist only collaboration?

IMG_2970With film acquisition, the Director of Photography’s influence was closely guarded by the technical limitations of others influencing the “look” on set and in post. But even with film, the introduction of the Digital Intermediate (DI) started changing that dynamic. Now that the vast majority of projects are being captured in digital RAW formats, that manipulation has become easier, more accessible and less technical causing a disruption in the definition of collaborators position’s and causing the walls defining one’s creative influence to fall. But how do we keep the quality of production high, the through-line of creative choices from pre-production through distribution and the visual style consistent when so many hands are touching the final product?

Personally, I think it is as simple as the filmmakers remembering that film is a collaboration. It does not serve the production to have a Director of Photography do half their job and fostering a strong relationship between the on-set visual artist and the post production artist should be a top priority for any producer and director.

Final Thoughts

Digital has introduced an era of democracy in filmmaking but at what point does the democracy only cause the mundane to succeed and the true filmmaking voice to be muted. I don’t believe this is only an issue with the photography of a film. I’m seeing it in other areas of the craft as well.  One of the biggest arguments from film purists is that the Digital Revolution has created a glut of mediocre content.  Is that the case? Has availability and affordability caused the true creative voices to be muted?

At the end of the day, I think the Digital Revolution has created more of a reason for anyone entering this field to consider with great care who they choose as collaborators and realizing that your work will always be influenced and affected by those that you surround yourself with. It doesn’t matter if they are above you or below you in the peaking order of the call sheet, everyone influences the end result.