Page 1:  From First Cameraman to Director of Photography

                The Art of Cinematography

                What Is a Director of Photography?

Page 2:  Film vs. Digital Video

Page 3:  Oliver Stapleton: So You Wanna Work in Movies?

Page 4:  What It Took to Create 'Collateral'

Page 5:  Bleach Bypass  -  Digital Intermediate  -  Steadicam  -  Louma Crane

Page 6:  Cinematographers-Turned-Director:  A - F

Page 7:  Cinematographers-Turned-Director:  G - Q

Page 8:  Cinematographers-Turned-Director:  R - Z

Page 9:  A History of Aerial Cinematography

One hundred years have passed since the motion picture camera and the motion picture projector were invented.

The cameraman was the technical [and often creative] key to the movie-making process, providing his personal camera equipment and the overall technical direction of the recording process. He would set up his camera, load film into it, set the exposure functions, frame the action, crank film through the camera at a given rate, set fades and dissolves and irising, unload the film, develop the film, print the film, and, when early story films required moving the camera from place to place, he would edit and splice scenes together, print and then project the final result, a veritable one-man band.

By 1899, story-telling techniques developed. Scenarios were written. Film presentations were one reel [1,000'] in length, approximately seventeen minutes at 16 fps. At 8 frames per turn, the cameraman-operator would crank film through the camera at the rate of two turns per second in order to maintain that 16 fps rate.

By 1904, the static camera instead of recording the entire production from a single position, began being purposefully placed at varying distances from the action or subject matter. Somewhat later, the camera was placed on a mobile platform and moved while filming from a long view to a close view, while panning and tilting to hold the action in frame.

In the USA, two cameras were being used during production. The principal, or first camera, operated by the principal, or first cameraman, was placed in the optimal position with respect to the blocked action and was used to expose the more important domestic release negative. Next to it with the same focal length lens and similar coverage, was placed the second camera, operated by the second cameraman, which was used for the foreign release negative. [During this period there was still difficulty in producing a good copy negative from the original negative. Two negatives were required so that the second one could be expeditiously sent to Europe for that concurrent movie market. Often two cameras were operated at the same site so as to generate two original negatives.]

Director Maurice Tourneur [left] with his 1st cameraman Lucien Andriot and 2nd cameraman John Van den Brouk on the set of 'Poor Little Rich Girl', Paragon Studios, Fort Lee, New Jersey, 1916.

It was the first cameraman's responsibility to determine the position of the camera[s], the lens, the f-stop, the focus, the lighting balance and to adjust the muslin and/or to have the studio rotated to maintain proper relationship to sunlight. When sodium vapor lamps were adapted to motion picture use, it made it possible to film on sets in studio interiors. The first cameraman had to spend much time adjusting or supervising the adjustment of the lamps in order to properly illuminate the studio settings and balance the lighting on the actors. With these heavy lights, he was given an assistant, a chief electrician, to place, connect and adjust the lights. The chief electrician would often save himself the trouble of using a ladder to adjust each light by using a boat gaff stick to reach up and tilt, turn or swing each light to a desired position, or to switch a light on or off; hence, the term, gaffer.

With the advent of sound in 1926 for major studio production, lighting procedures, handling large crews and the multiple-camera requirements of sound recording finally divorced the first cameraman from operating a camera. Each camera had a constant-speed electric motor set to run at 24 fps but, because the silent era did not require silent running, produced an unacceptably high noise level for production-quality sound. In addition, the strong lights made the studios extremely hot and uncomfortable.

Compounding the problem, the recording of production sound required that all cameras and their operators be enclosed in soundproofed, non-air-conditioned cabinets [called 'hot boxes']. Up to ten cameras, two to a booth, were used to film heavily-rehearsed sequences in one full-load take [up to 11 minutes per 1,000' load]. In order to avoid this torture, soundproofing blimps were soon developed to contain the noise of the silent-era production cameras and self-blimped cameras were promptly put on the drawing boards.

Microphone and boom shadows were everywhere and had to be controlled. The first cameraman, now called the director of photography, had to be on the floor to be able to see what was happening, monitoring his lighting and the action, ready to take immediate corrective action. The responsibility for operating the camera, and keeping microphone, microphone booms and their shadows out of frame, fell to the second cameraman to whom the title, camera operator, was applied.

The camera operator, the person looking through the viewfinder, has always been responsible for framing the action and including essential parts of that action in frame. In the days before video assist, the camera operator saw the framed action first and was the only one able to say accurately whether the take was pictorially acceptable or not until dailies were looked at the following day.

The heavier, bulkier precision production sound cameras with their gear heads required assistance to move, set up and operate. What had been possible for a camera operator, operating a smaller camera on a friction head - making adjustments while panning and tilting such as, focus, shutter angle, irising, sliding diffusion, etc. - became impossible or impractical to accomplish with both hands on the control wheels of a heavy-duty gear head. So the camera assistant became the first assistant camera operator [focus puller] and the second assistant camera operator helped the first assistant and slated scenes, while a loader kept film magazines loaded, downloaded and exposed film properly identified. [From article by Bill Hines, SOC, in the Spring 1993 issue of 'The Operating Cameraman'.]

Charles G. Clarke, ASC

[From article by Charles G. Clarke, ASC, in 'American Cinematographer', May 1967.]

As some confusion exists about the title 'director of photography', perhaps a brief summary at this time would be in order. Since the inception of the movies, there have been cameramen. Then, as the peculiar technique of cinema was developed, the cameraman became the cinematographer. As the industry progressed, cinematography took on specialized fields. The cinematographer now devoted more of his talents to composition and lighting and left the mechanics of the camera to members of his staff. Today he directs and supervises the efforts of a large crew of workers, and is known as the director of photography. He selects the composition, sets the exposure, conceives the lighting, and designates the filters or other photographic controls to be employed.

One of the great problems of motion picture production is securing stories for the screen. Several hundred productions are turned out annually by the industry, and any author will concur that no such number of new plots exist. The studios are therefore obliged to revamp many of the old reliables, give them new casts and dialogue, a change of locale, and depend heavily on new photographic treatment. This continual search for a new photographic approach is one of the most exciting aspects of the industry.

That the director of photography will contribute his share is taken for granted in Hollywood. Every production attempts to be different from another, and each presents a challenge for a new photographic approach. The director and cinematographer work as a team, and exchange suggestions about the lighting and staging of scenes. Whenever possible, the style of lighting is varied from sequence to sequence so as to add interest and impact to the photographic effects.

At all times must the players be photographed to their best advantage. The studios have made tremendous investments in building their stars. Every effort is expended to display them most ideally. As no retouching is possible on movie film, our stars must be very carefully lit so that they appear their most glamorous. The science of lighting is therefore highly developed among the directors of photography, and is an art that is constantly being refined.

We strive to obtain photographic interest combined with a sense of reality, yet being on guard that the photography never detract nor overpower the story being unfolded upon the screen.

The economics of motion picture production invariably fall on the director of photography. He is expected to utilize more tricks and lighting devices to cover lack of actual construction, yet create the illusion that such construction exists. More and more of our scenes call for process photography, whereby a still or motion picture is projected from the rear on a translucent screen. To effect a composite scene realistically, ingenious lighting must be devised to illuminate the subject naturally, yet keep the screen in darkness.

In recent years, there has been an increasing tendency to utilize natural interiors for motion picture settings. Many of our current productions transpire in some courthouse, private home, or public building. This has given our productions a sense of authenticity, but in doing so it has presented new problems to the cinematographer. To light such interiors and the players therein to the standards expected of us is a challenge. To meet with these conditions, huge filters often need to be placed over windows and doors to balance exterior light with that available inside. As lights can seldom be placed overhead, horizontal sources must be employed. Reflections from glass, marble and other shining surfaces add to the complications of natural reproduction.

As action is the motivating force of the cinema, the majority of our scenes today require the mobile camera technique. Our cranes, dollies and camera mounts are wonders of engineering and construction. Few realize, however, the difficulties of lighting these moving shots. The actors must be well-photographed under all conditions, yet there can be no shadows from these traveling monsters.

The ever-present microphone constantly hovering close overhead, darting here and there as the actors speak, creates a shadow problem of no mean proportion. To cope with the microphone situation in sound films, a whole new lighting technique had to be devised.

Our sets are broken up with light patterns that stay clear of the microphone. We use dimmers for incandescent lamps and shutters for arc lights to bring their illumination into play where needed. The sound blimp encasing the camera is a bulk in itself that is an obstacle to lighting. and in moving shots it is a shadow-maker. Thus, many moving scenes cannot entirely be pre-lit because of shadows cast by the equipment. Until the precise moment shadows are clear, offending lights remain out. They are then brought on, and dimmed out after they have fulfilled their use.

With color taking over more and more as the preferred photographic medium for both theatrical and television filming, the role of the director of photography has become even more important. He has had to adapt his camera techniques and lighting methods to keep abreast of the requirements of production in color on an industry-wide scale. He is being aided, of course, by the development of faster and better color emulsions, advanced laboratory processes and innovations in camera, lens and lighting equipment. But in the end, it is his own individual creativity that is the most important determinant of the artistic result.

The technology of motion picture production is undergoing a dramatic revolution as new and more efficient tools of the cinematographer's trade are being developed. He has the responsibility, not only to the film industry, but to his own integrity as a camera artist, to keep pace with these innovations so that he may use them to photograph motion pictures as artistically and economically as possible.

Indeed, the modern director of photography is in the very vanguard of the research and development from which this new technology is evolving. He assists in new technical development by suggesting improvements and by testing new materials before they become commercially available. We invite cooperation from all sources that will enhance that miracle of the modern age - motion picture photography.