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Greenlight Script Coverage

Greenlight Script Coverage
Filmmaking community, film School, Hollywood filmmaker and Film Trailers

American Gem Short Script and Literary Festival


Cinematography page 8

If a reading is taken with the meter turned directly away from the sun, but still in the same place as where the sunlight reading was taken, the light reaching the meter will be that reflected off the clouds and the atmosphere itself, and this will be bluer than the direct sunlight reading. In the deep shadow there will be no direct sunlight and all the light will be reflected- it will therefore be bluer still. This is useful in that getting those colors right can give a powerful message to the audience as to the time of day of the scene.

There are two reasons for meticulous preparation of all the equipment and stores needed for a shoot. The first is clearly professional pride and the need to pack equipment in such a way that the crew can find any piece of equipment quickly and efficiently, even in the dark of a night shoot. Also, it is essential that all the equipment start the job in the finest possible condition.

The second reason, and indeed the reason for some of the more obscure test procedures, is that the production companies raise completion bonds and are insured. The bond company will require hard evidence that all was well before the filming began. A completion bond is a form of insurance taken out by the production company in order that they, the production company, will be reimbursed any expenses incurred due to unforeseen circumstance. For instance an artist might become ill during production and delay shooting for several days. The completion bond company will then be responsible for all additional expenses incurred.

Another example might be if several rolls of film were found scratched after development. The bond company might have to pay for a re-shoot. Obviously it is in everyone's interest to be able to prove that none of the camera bodies nor any of the camera magazines were scratching when first loaded onto the camera car at the beginning of shooting. For these reasons everything must be checked and, where possible, physical proof of a successful check must be available.

A minimum of three days should be allowed for testing. This is always a hard idea to convince with the production office that frequently profess to see no reason why it can possibly take more than a day.

The third day of testing is required because this world is not perfect and it is very rare for there not to be at least one piece of equipment, and there will often be more than one, that is not up to standards.

The reason for three days is simple. The first day will be very busy and long, as all the testing requiring film to be run through the camera must be done on this day. All other matters are put aside. The morning of the second day (assuming no major problems were found on day one) is put aside for the careful inspection of the test dailies. 

The third day of testing is required because this world is not perfect and it is very rare for there not to be at least one piece of equipment, and there will often be more than one, that is not up to standards. This will be maintenance or replacement and will then require a further film test. This test will be shot on the afternoon of the second day and viewed on the morning of the third day. Tests that involve shooting film include camera steady tests, the frame leader, scratch tests and fog tests.

From the various originators of the motion picture camera came nearly as many ideas as to how a piece of movie film should be laid out, what the picture size should be and what type, if any, of perforations should be deployed. In 1907 an international agreement was  reached stating that the film should be 35mm wide, have a picture size of .980 x .735 of an inch and should have four perforations to each frame on both sides of the frame. This format is now referred to as a full aperture or as using an open gate. It is sometimes also referred to as the 'silent' aperture.

Many pictures require specific, detailed research, particularly if they are period pieces, or if the director asks for a certain style or look. With the runner-up and preparation times currently being scheduled however, there is often too little time to research the subject properly. It is therefore useful to accumulate a store of reference material or to have a good idea where such material can be found. 

This can help not just with preparing for a shoot but also with an initial interview for a picture. Discussing a script only received twenty-four hours earlier with a director who has been living with it for months can be a lot easier if there is an understanding of the script's context and the cinematographer can knowledgeably refer to images that relate to that script. While it is the DP's job to interpret the script and the director's vision of that script, it is an immense help if they can base their imagined pictures on reality- it brings a greater believability to the finished film.

There will be much discussion on a director's scout as to the costs and facilities needed for the various scenes. The cinematographer should make the director aware of scenes that may require out of the ordinary equipment and labor. It is not uncommon for the director and the DP to discuss the value to the story of individual scenes as this relates to their costs. 

They need to make sure they are spending the budget on the important scenes rather than find they are spending huge amounts of cash to solve problems on scenes, which do not necessarily warrant that investment. Only when the primary locations have been seen can the DP start to put the images together in your mind. 

As schedules get tighter and budgets decrease, perhaps the most effective way a cinematographer can reclaim lighting time on the set is to invest time in preparation. Without good preparation too much time on set will be spent answering unnecessary questions and trying to steal time to make arrangements for upcoming shooting days which are not, as yet, fully organized. Thus, with good preparation, a DP's time can be better deployed.

The most effective way of releasing time is to publish, before the first day of principal photography, a series of documents, which allow anyone connected with the necessary arrangements to quickly, and easily, refer to the DP's requirements and make their contribution without further reference to the cinematographer. Two things need to happen for this to be without trauma and to be effective. 

Firstly the cinematographer has to give the time to the project; and secondly, they have to have a system in place to produce the documentation efficiently. There are four publications production should be provided with, all serving a different purpose: the camera equipment list, the lighting equipment list, the film stock breakdown and the technical schedule.

A motion picture is made up of many shots. Each shot requires placing the camera in the best position for viewing players, setting and action at that particular moment in the narrative. With experience, decisions can be made almost intuitively. There is no "right way" to prepare to shoot a film. Some read the script first and decide if the ideas and emotions interest them and evoke images in their mind's eye. Others talk with the director to get his general sense of the script and characters. 

"The cinematography should reflect the emotion of the film," states cinematographer Peter James. Neil Roach finds that it I easier to start with the limitations, as opposed to coming up with a preconceived notion of how he is going to make a project look good. "That can make for disappointment, because you get all enthused about what you can achieve, only to find you don't have the tools to achieve it. 

I have to see the locations, find out what the director wants, and read the script of course. Then, I create a template in my mind. That's pre-production for me. It helps me maximize what I have to work with, in a minimum amount of time. I can plan a 12-hour day, and still work the 12 hours and nothing more. The bottom line- don't get in the way of the performance or the word."

in order to bring the script to the screen, the cinematographer has to be aware of the up-to-date technological advances and how and when to use them. You also have to know good people in all the departments with whom you can work creatively in friendship.

As things develop, you have to be ready to listen to, recognize and implement ideas that may come from the director, producer, cast, or any of your trusted crewmembers. Most important, one always has to remember that good photography cannot make a bad picture good. Choose projects with some humanity. 

This is what Neil Roach loves about filmmaking, it is the pure adrenaline rush of making something work. "You have to be clever," he says, "especially when you are up against bean counters who don't care about creativity, but just about the bottom line. You have to know what you are doing, and know what you can make-work. I do know that, once in a while, you get involved in a project that goes sour. It's your call, just how much you take before you get out. The trick is to keep going and not let what happened get to you. I know, it is easier said than done sometimes."

Like most cinematographers, Roach feels he is trained and experienced in many types of productions. He feels that whatever venue he shoots- television, features, commercials, industrials, even inserts- the challenges drive him, and success rewards him for the hard work. "No matter what boundaries are placed on us, we still have an infinite number of choices to contemplate and deal with. How well you use the resources you have will determine the success or failure of your endeavors. 

This is certainly true in life in general, but most particularly, in the endeavors of a cinematographer. No matter what venue I work with, however, I love what to do. I get to travel to a lot of places- challenge myself (climbing glaciers or hanging from a harness)- and learn about different people and different approaches to life. Now, who can tell me that isn't a great way to make a living."

Dante Spinotti has come to believe that each movie speaks a specific language. It is as if one film speaks Spanish, another English, another Italian. "The language of any particular film is determined by all the decisions and choices made from the time the first word goes on the paper, to the screening of the answer print. The cinematography is an important part of the language.

Photographing a movie means understanding that particular language."
John Schwartzman recalls advice given to him by cinematographer Vitorio Storaro, "don't try to be friends with everybody in production. When the movie comes out, no one will remember you were a nice guy. But, everyone will remember the film. That lives on forever. You fight for the image you believe in. He also told me something that is very hard to follow but I try. It's more important to say 'no' than 'yes.' Cameramen are so thrilled to do what they do, they want to do everything. It is the project that you choose that's important. You can only be one person, not three people at a time. You have to turn things down."

In cinematography, you have choices. You will use what is right for the tone of the picture.

Every time a cinematographer shoots a film, they are trying to create an experience for the audience. They always have something in mind. "You aren't there to shoot the pages, you are there to let the feelings you have come out," states Schwartzman. "The work is all about going for that gut level. As a cinematographer, we only have ourselves to offer. That is what makes our work unique from each other. Sure, when you are doing projects like Armageddon, the Rock, or Pearl Harbor, there is a lot of preplanning. However, you still have to have the freedom to create and improvise on the day you are shooting. That's what our work is all about."

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