Future

THE FUTURE..

Further Q&A's on his topic on the
Film versus Digi page.

2001

Do you think that a young wannabe cinematographer should learn all the stuff about shooting with film (is film gonna be a thing of the past?) or concentrate his energy on video?
--PA
This is a very tough prediction to make, as you can see by reading the many articles about "the future" and digital etc. However, the good news is that if you learn to shoot with film, you wonít have any problems shooting with video, as it is a "reduction" in skill requirements. This is what I mean by this.
1. Whatever image making/recording technology you use, the skill of selecting compositions and lighting them remains the same.The skill of working with the Director and the Actors to determine the shots stays the same.
2. The Lighting requirements for video are mostly a question of lowering the contrast to the point where video can deal with it. The dymnamic range of film is something like 10 times that of the best currently available Digital Video format.
3. When you learn with film, you learn to "pre-visualise" the result since it not available to you on the set.You do this by lighting something, imagining how it will look, then when you see it the next day, compare what you got with what you imagined.Slowly the two will come closer together. Then if someone wants you to work on video, you can light the scene by eye, then look at the monitor to confirm what you are doing, as opposed to "lighting by monitor".
4. When a Lighting Director from TV wants to go into shooting films it is a very traumatic process as they are suddenly cast into a world where the result is not available.This tends to make them very nervous! When the reverse happens, a DP finds it a breeze to shoot with a monitor available as when, for instance, you can see no detail outside a "hot" window, you just reduce the lighting outside until you can, or put some ND on the window.

Real Film is a passion: once you shoot on it, youíll never want to let it go.

2004

I read in your essay briefly about the future of DPs. What does it look
like for them in the future? Will they be obselete? I am thinking of
becoming a DP and going to film school for it. What are some jobs (i.e.
editor, producer, etc.) that will stay or will make a new place?
--C.F.

This question is very topical right now.What is certain is that we will continue to make stories: the question is ? will they be made using film as the medium?
For me, the present profession of Director of Photography only applies when film is used.This is a controversial statement ? some would argue that the position is "the same" even if the medium changes ie shoot digital.I would argue that there are too many other "tweaks" to the image when digital is involved to make the work unique to the Cinematographer. Even if the Cinematographer isnít aware of it, the very public nature of making the image will inevitably change the way the internal lighting process happens.Lighting is the one thing that is rarely discussed on a film set: the reason is that no-one except the Cinematographer knows how it is going to look.And even the Cinematographer is making a leap of faith.The nature of a Film Camera is Secretive, the nature of a Video Camera is Public.This essential difference is misunderstood by those who maintain that the "gathering medium" has no influence on the result.There are many pressures on a film set, one of the many is that Actors love to look at themselves on the bad-quality replay monitor. Criticism of the "lighting" can be easily deflected with the "it doesnít look like that" statement.Once the monitor reflects the true look of the result, the image is open to public debate, which will inevitable result in images becoming even more cosmetic than they are already. The other problem is that the job itself will not attract the kind of person who is presently attracted to Cinematography.
Most of the other jobs will remain more or less similar: the "growth" area is clearly visual effects, the "shrinking" area is large location sets and putting up large crews on location.Many years from now I expect there will be Arthouse cinemas will a sign outside which says "Real Film Here".
As I have said before, if you go to Film school and learn to shoot film you wonít have a problem making a transition to shooting video. The other way round is much harder.

2007

Is "pure cinema" the ideal for movie making? By "pure cinema" I mean the story being told visually, so that the viewer may understand what is happening if the sound were to be turned off, as Hitchcock believed. Or is it now a more visual/ audio experience using both to maximum advantage?
Angus

Whatever "pure cinema" was it is clearly in the past! However, I was thrilled to see Almodovar's magnificent film Volver the other day and to be reminded of what constitutes great film making: but I certainly would not have understood the film without the sound as the plot was fiendish?

I have to go back a bit to think about what I thought was the ideal kind of movie making. My heroes were Kurosawa, Goddard, Truffaut and Rivette. Later on I came to appreciate John Ford and some of the American Greats but for different reasons. Nowadays I am just confused as cinema is so commercial and the ideals of "great cinema" seem to have taken a back seat to thrills and spills. If "thrills and spills" were what you mean by visual/audio experience then yes I would say that both are being used to maximum advantage all the time, but not to very good effect. The fact is that the louder you shout the less people hear. Humans shy away from noisy things because they are threatening: the reason for the cinema of the senses ("action films") is that it an opportunity to put oneself in the firing line without getting hurt and this can be fun for awhile. However, it has nothing to do with "pure cinema" or indeed the cinema of ideas. It's a fairground ride and that is a legitimate part of the movies, but it is not the only part as Hollywood wants us to believe.

I think films will start to divide into "real films" and "computer films": it's almost like that already. I'm not against computer films - I just hope that real films continue to attract sufficient audiences to make it possible to continue making them. The heads of the major studios are more and more marketing men (and women), and they want to pour money into sure-fire sequels and blockbuster hits. The money available for "pure cinema" is likely to continue to shrink, unfortunately.

What do you think is the current state of film in general (2008), and how it compares to that of the counterculture awakening from that of the early 70's?

I think we are at a very exciting crossroads in film-making. uTube and the cheap availability of all the film-making tools has resulted in an explosion of films and shorts. Of course most of them are terrible, but that is not the point. Teaching people to read and write has not resulted in a huge increase in great writers: it is the same with the fact that all babies born now will be able to make moving images with sound just as easily as they can type of a key board. The problem at the moment is not the ability to string pictures together: it's the ability to HAVE THE COURAGE TO THINK! Mass media has resulted in mass hypnosis: what I am waiting for is the younger generation to start showing the rest of us the kind of startling documentaries and fiction films that will alter the course of history... Tall order? Maybe, but I am optimistic.. Freeing the distribution network from the clutches of the corporate giants is the first and most important step...

THE FUTURE IS HERE... FINALLY (12/2010)

I sent this off to the cinematography.net website and it wound up in the Local 600 online magazine.
I guess that's good: here it is.

Well the future is here, finally. And it's not looking good for film, I have to admit. Recent developments by all the manufacturers means that most of the limitations that previously existed in Digital Photography have gone away and film is starting to look like yesterday's technology. Some DP's are being encouraged to remove things shot on film from their reels as it looks "old fashioned..." So the future is here, finally.

What has made the difference? Mostly a lot of small advances, mainly in relation to highlight clipping - always the "signature" of digital but now a thing of the past. It appears that both advances in sensors, dynamic range (with HDR looming..) have enabled this to come about. Both Alexa and Red supposedly have a dynamic range "greater than film...". Of course, what is on the tin is not necessarily in the result, but I am seeing work that indicates astonishing range of tones and colours and all the other hallmarks of "modern" photography.

So where is all this going? Plainly for the "next generation", learning film might be a thing of the past, or just a teaching tool. A number of teachers have written online that they want to continue teaching film for as long as possible: not for the "result" but for the process. "Pre-Visualisation" was an essential tool of film which is also an important part of learning to fashion images. This would seem to make sense if Cinematographers are going to continue to have a job: Directors can, after all, just hire a technician to take care of the camera and "work flow" and then do their own lighting, as many do. So what will be the role of a Cinematographer in 2020?

A pessimist might argue that since the control is plainly slipping from "on-set" to Post Production, it is more likely that the final image will be controlled by the Director and the Colourist. But I think this is to miss the point of what a DP for feature films is actually doing... There is a long "job description" on the ASC site which is worth reading because it reminds everyone about both the overall aim of the job as well as the minutiae. So does this "DoP" job have a future, and if so, what is that future?

I have noticed recently an increasing number of "announced features" on IMDB which list everyone except the DoP. I can only conclude that these are films where the Director has assumed the role of DoP also, since Gaffers, Operators etc are on the list but no DoP. This has come about through the de-mystification of the image making process. No longer do you need to understand the Zone System, ASA and Films Stocks - now you can see the image on a Monitor and, if you like it, Shoot It! (well, assuming someone has lined it up properly). As others have pointed out on CML, the new cameras are like different film stocks - choose a camera and you've chosen your "stock".

I actually found that most of the hundred of stock tests I have done were of not much interest to the Directors I worked with. They would participate in the process - even express some enthusiasm for the differences (if they could see them!) - but in the end almost always go for my preference. Why? Because they TRUSTED me to do my job: Cinematography. If we did a Casting test and I offered a comment about a particular actor, they might agree or disagree, but in the end make their own decision - because Casting is the Director's job. Cinematography is the DoP's job and whilst it is a "team job", the team has a leader and the leader needs to show what he or she is made of to have some influence. So in 2020, will we still have a job?

YES is the answer, providing we continue to show strong leadership in the collaboration with Producers and Directors. We DO have to know about the Cameras, the Post-Process, the Lights because without the Knowledge of what is going on Producers and Directors will think: Why do we need this Guy? They do not have the time or the technical expertise to REALLY know how it works, but they will be keen to "posture" a position and influence you down the cheapest path. Our job is to DO IT RIGHT. This, in the end, is always the best option because that is how you make money for the Producer, and make a great looking picture for the Director - by DOING IT RIGHT. On a picture with a budget of over $10M, the Camera budget (whether Film or Digital) represents 6% to 8% of the budget. So when a Production Manager starts splitting hairs about this or that Camera costing "less", the overall affect on the Budget will be fractions of 1%... for a choice that will affect the ENTIRE LOOK of the picture. In these situations the DoP has to be "as one" with Director in these choices, and then the choices will be the right one for the Film.

When Scorcese chose Richardson to shoot his current picture (2010), he did not choose him because "he knows about 3D" - which I am sure he didn't! He chose him because he has worked with him before and he is an exceptional and brilliant DoP both in terms of lighting and framing as well as, and most importantly, Collaborating.

Good Directors will almost always return to DoP's they have had a good experience with: obviously they have to like what they did with the Camera and with the Lighting, but the most important factor for a Director about working with a DoP is - do I TRUST him/her to get WHAT I WANT? Collaborating is a very different thing from "Agreeing" which is never going to be very interesting for a Director. It's more like a Debate and might sometimes get rowdy or adversarial, but if it leads to Doing it Right then those altercations will be quickly forgotten. In the wider field of Education, the brightest minds are focusing on the fact that Creativity is probably the single most important quality in the education of the next generation because one thing is for sure: we have NO CLUE about the world of 2020. So in our little specialist world of Making Pictures, Creativity will be the one single quality that future DoP's can continue to offer.

A Director I worked with a while back would come in at 7.30am and look at the set and announce he wanted to start with a high wide shot in the corner. He would mumble this whilst cursing the late arrival of his coffee. I would say something polite, knowing it was better to fight the good fight after rehearsal, and the actors would come in and start work. Once the scene was nailed down, a series of shots would present themselves to me and I would discuss these with the now woken-up Director. We never did shoot that "high wide-shot" despite the fact that he mentioned it every morning. That's because there was a always a better, more appropriate shot that came from the scene, and not from laziness. A Director who elects not have a DoP on set might, like Stanley Kubrick, actually know what he is doing with the camera and get a good result. But a Director, like Stanley Kubrick, might also benefit from bouncing his ideas off the likes of John Alcott.

The Cohen brothers story-board their work - so why do they continue to use Deakins when they could have a Gaffer and an Operator do the job? Need the question even be asked.....

So if we DoP's are going to be out there in the world of (3D?) film-making (I guess "film-making" would be a very retro term in 2020!), we need to continue to provide the same essential ingredients that we have been doing for a century or so. Creativity, Collaboration and Inspiration. Talking about technical stuff might be OK amongst our selves and our equipment suppliers, but don't bring that to the Director/Producer Meeting. By then you need to know what you are recommending and why...

And if the Director fires a technical question at you, which they will.. and you don't know that particular arcane bit of work-flow modernism, just reply how interesting it will be to figure that out together during pre-production and make sure (if you get the job!) that you are fully informed when it next comes up! There are new technical ideas on a daily basis - I even heard of an iPhone app that removes the Rolling Shutter effect... how FABULOUS is that! There are bleak days when I cannot understand a single thing written about the latest "tech idea" - but I know enough to know who to call when I need to!

Our challenge - as DoP's - is to continue to make ourselves INVALUABLE in the process of Making Movies. There's lots of other jobs out there that use MovieCameras (and iPhones..) but the one I love, the one I have been doing for 30 years is being a DoP. So all of you who are doing that job now, or would like to do it in the future: Make Sure your Opinion is Heard.. otherwise... it won't be required. Producers and DIRECTORS sometimes know a bit about your job, but they will never know enough. It's a bit like Patients who turn up to the Doctor with an armful of internet print-outs. The Doctor (DP) listens, nods, agrees and then prescribes what they consider appropriate, based on years of experience and training. Not many Patients get rid of their Doctors (although some do!) and so it will be with our profession.

We are at a crossroads: time to Stand Up and Be Counted!

2013

Well the future is here, finally. Fuji has stopped making film for motion pictures and Kodak looks sure to follow suit in the not too distant future. The Arri Alexa somehow struck the right note and DP's who had been reluctant to embrace digital suddenly became it's biggest fans. Film is still being shot by a few die-hard holdouts (like Stephen Spielberg) but even he will have to give up when the last lab shuts it's doors - which Technicolour is doing this year in the UK.

Am I sad? Yes. Is it a disaster? No. It's always tough to face the end of an era, and there is no doubt that it what this is. Film is Dead, Long live Film! From the perspective of the audience, they barely know that anything has happened in the Cinema: they think that projection looks better and the sound is much better.. but under this perception are some haunting truths. Sound has indeed got better and the new "space" system being rolled out this year is going to make it better still. For the picture, we are still struggling to reach the exquisite beauty of 70mm projection: 2K projection is nowhere near it and 4K which is coming now is better but still nowhere near it. Forgetting the arguments about projector weave and grain being "more like life", 2K digital projection has really been a backward step from 35mm, but one could argue that 4K more or less brings it up to scratch. When digital projection was first introduced there was a lot of talk about No More Scratched Prints and Crappy Projectors, but, of course, the standards of Digital Projection also vary widely and although I have not personally seen anything terrible, there are plenty of terrible stories. When the film broke in the gate, the projectionist spliced it back together and carried on.. unfortunately you can't splice a hard drive back together.. you just go home and call in a very expensive technician.

I am not too concerned about the technology: I am more concerned about the content. In the Cinema we see less and less interesting movies and more and more "Dead Cert" blockbusters. Any Agent will tell you that the films being made either cost under $10M or over £100M with very little in between. Unfortunately this is where the interesting films were, but the perception from the financiers is that they are not a safe bet (they are, no doubt, absolutely right). Rates of pay for all crew are going down as unemployment in the sector creates a Buyers Market and scriptwriters have fled to TV as the only place they can actually get their scripts on the screen without a whole bunch of college kids advising them on how to improve their writing. The whole industry is undergoing a massive shakeup and out of it will emerge the "new cinema" - different but the same..

The blazing light in all this change is distribution which now goes straight from the film-maker to the audience via the internet. No more narrow-aminded distributor to tell you what you can watch: film-makers like musicians can just post their films onto the net and find an audience. U-Tube has shown that a multi million strong audience can be found very very quickly for the right film, although so far that film seems to be a girl in bikini washing her car in LA. Quite why millions of people around the globe find that fascinating beats me..

Today the 12th April 2013, "How Animals Eat their Food" has 11 million hits (in 3 days!) - it's a very funny short video made by 2 comedians. It's fun to watch but of course makes very little money for the film-makers.. but.. they get to be famous and then what - fortune? The point here is that the whole process of film costing millions of dollars to make is breaking down: anyone can make a film and distribute it on the internet.. and if the work is strong it will find an audience and once you have that audience the money will flow. It's a very different way to do things and for a while both the old and the new will exist together: right now the studios already pay to show their trailers on the front page of U-Tube because they know this is where their potential audience is (ie not watching TV). For the moment we have a bit of a golden age of free stuff, but one can sense the advertisers and corporations doing there best to harness this massive audience and make us pay.. one way or another. And soon enough governments will start viewing the internet as a taxable item and will, no doubt, start to slap massive taxes on ISP's etc. So NOW is the time to use this transition stage to best effect - take the tools that are there and FLY! There's no excuses anymore..

Practicing what I preach, I went out last year and made a film on my own. I've enjoyed making it and I think has some value: it's not designed to find a massive audience because it's not that kind of movie. It was something I just wanted to make for myself: it's challenging and very different from working as a "gun for hire" DP. IF you'd like to see it, it is posted here: VEGA. Password is: Olivers (Because of music rights )

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