Director or DP?

Having worked on numerous sets, from big to small, I must admit that there seems to be some confusion when it comes to this question. In my upcoming book, you’ll learn about the differences with more clarity. But for now, let me explain what I’ve seen and where it should be.

So, you arrive on the set and discover that the Producer — who is also serving as the Director — has brought on a Cinematographer or Director of Photography (DP, for short). Or maybe you even discovered that in pre-production. Either way, when the production gets rolling, you notice that the Director/Producer is also telling the DP what shots they want. They craft intricate shots and get upset when everything begins falling on their shoulders. I understand that the Director has a vision, especially on really small crews, but you’ve got to let the DP do their job!

There is a distinct separation between what the Director is supposed to do, and what the DP does. The DP gets all of the beautiful shots through careful planning and timing, based on skill and knowledge. The Director is supposed to craft the art, artists (actors), and story into one vision. The Director can suggest something for the DP to shoot, mostly because they have something they would like to see, but NOT THE WHOLE MOVIE! The DP is there to do their job. The Director needs to focus on their job and stick mostly with that… Especially if there is a DP on the set making it look beautiful.

Any Producer worth their salt can tell you, if you’re going to bring certain crew on to the set, do some checking and find out about them. Don’t just rely on what the person is saying over the phone the first time you talk with them! Check out their resume; their reel; their references. Understand where this person has been and make sure you know who you’re bringing to the party!

So, to all future Directors: You really need to determine if you’re going to have a DP or not. This is done in pre-production. Not before, not after. And, during the pre-production time, you need to make sure the vision of the movie is conveyed then and there. Storyboards, locations, written shot lists (which the DP is responsible for, technically), floor plan layouts, lighting schemes, etc., etc., all need to be processed during pre-production, not during filming.

If only the Directors of the world doing indie productions could understand and appreciate that, they would take a whole WORLD of stuff off their backs (and chests) and be able to focus solely on the way the movie is crafted.