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Cinematography page 2


DP: The Camera Crew

As the senior head of department, the DP is looked to set an example to the rest of the unit. It is often the personal style of the cinematographer that will get further work just as much as the quality of the photography. Time keeping, crew-behavior, dress and manors all come, at least in part from the DP and so they set the standard for the professional approach of the crew. DP's are responsible for all matters pertaining to the photography of the film lighting, exposure, composition, cleanliness, etc. are all ultimately, their responsibility.

DP's will more often than not nominate the crew, that is to say they will have put into the production office a list of first choice and second choice people to be offered the job. If a crewmember is nominated by the DP then the DP is responsible for them and in all probability have to fire them if they are not up to the required standard. The up side of this is that DP's usually get the crews that they want.

"Whenever possible, I will choose a man behind the lens over a mechanical and electronic device," states DP Michael Benson. "There us no substitute for putting your eye in the eyepiece. Doing what my instincts told me irritated a few people, but got me noticed and got the shots that the director wanted. A camera operator cannot rely solely on composition, he must have creative instincts, like that of a director."

"A camera operator plays one of the most important roles in making a film with the director. A premiere operator instills confidence in that director. There is a triangle of director, camera (and operator) and actor," Michael Benson explains. "When that triangle is broken, the communication line is broken. It can go in any form but the triangle is an important part of the film and the storytelling can be affiliated by it. The operator is the one who knows if a shot is in focus, not the video assist. The most important thing today is focus. Nowadays, if there is a screw up, there is technology to correct most of it. But, if the shot is out of focus, there is no technology to change the focus."

The grip: The grip is primarily responsible for the camera dolly and all the movements made by it. They are also responsible for moving the tripod to the next set-up: the focus puller will usually take the camera. One important thing to note is that a camera should never be moved while it is still on a tripod. The grip is also responsible for building, or supervising the building of, any construction needed to support the track or boards the dolly is going to run on. The leveling and smoothness of the dolly's working surface is vital to the success of a dolly shot. Front-line maintenance of the dolly and its kit are down to the grip. Very often they will have built or had built many special bits to enable them to fix a camera to almost any object.

you can learn more from looking at a shadow than you can by looking at the light. You can tell the direction, the softness, the intensity, and the fill-to-key ratio by looking into the shadows... Shadow is what gives you contrast and contrast is what gives you shape and drama
The gaffer: The gaffer is the chief electrician and works directly with the DP. Some DP's will set their own flags and barn doors and some won't- it just depends on how they like to work together. Very often the DP will be closer to his gaffer than to any other member of the crew. They are vital to his success.

From the first moment that cinematographer Ward Russell "stepped up" to Director of Photography, he gave his gaffers sound advice. "I always tell them you can learn more from looking at a shadow than you can by looking at the light. You can tell the direction, the softness, the intensity, and the fill-to-key ratio by looking into the shadows. 

Shadow is what gives you contrast and contrast is what gives you shape and drama. My exposures are always based as much, if not more, on how much detail I want to see in the shadow as on how bright I want the highlights. To me, once you have found the right spot for a light, the really creative process is how much of that light you then take away."

It is said that one very well known, much respected American DP when asked by a student what was the single most important thing they could do to improve their photography replied, "hire the best gaffer you can afford, even if you have to give them part of your fee." On a large crew the gaffer will plot the cable runs and how to fix and support the lamps- it is the best boys job to organize the lighting crew and actually move and fix the lamps. On most small units however the gaffer acts as his own best boy. 

The motion picture camera
Man has been beguiled by the movies for over a century now. One reason might be that it takes a disarmingly simple piece of equipment (as well as the cinematographers most basic tool), the motion picture camera, to record images straight from our imaginations. In essence a motion picture camera is a couple of boxes, one with a lens in the front and a mechanism inside capable of dragging a length of film down a specific distance at least sixteen times a second. 

The other contains a suitable length of film to feed the mechanism, with space remaining to take up the film after exposure. When the pictures from this device are projected by a similar mechanism they give a valid representation of the original scene with all the movements contained therein correctly displayed. 

This piece of precision machinery comprises scores of coordinated functions, each of which demands understanding and care, it the camera is to produce the best and most consistent results. The beginning cameraman's goal should be to become thoroughly familiar and comfortable with the camera's operation, so that he can concentrate on the more creative aspects of cinematography. The film movement mechanism is what really distinguishes a cinema camera from a still camera. The illusion of image motion is created by rapid succession of still photographs.

Producing moving images from a length of still pictures relies on what might be considered an alteration in the process of human vision. If an image is flashed upon the retina of the eye the person sees that image, briefly, in its entirety and then, over a short period, the image stays with the person while growing fainter or decaying. 

If a second image is flashed on the retina soon enough the person will see the two images as a continuous image without the first flash. A continuous process of flashing images will cause the brain to perceive the difference between the two images, as a continuous, smooth motion providing the time gap between the two images is short enough. 

The rate of image flashing at which the eye starts to perceive motion is around ten flashes per second, though at this rate a flickering effect will be very noticeable. Only at around sixteen or eighteen new images per second does the movement become truly believable as continuous motion and the flickering effect reduce to the point where it can be ignored.

At the turn of the century a taking frame rate of 16 frames per second (fps) was becoming common practice. At this time both cameras and projectors were still very much hand cranked and most were geared such that a constant cranking speed of 2 turns per second resulted in this frame rate, which was very convenient.

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