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DP discussion panel

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By John Calhoun
In the digital age, directors of photography face an uphill battle to retain control of the image. That was the overriding theme of “The Cinematographer’s Art of Lighting,” a seminar presented October 23 at Hands-On New York, the trade event presented by PERA (Production Equipment Rental Association) at New York’s Splashlight Studios.
The 90-minute discussion was sponsored by International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600 and moderated by guild president George Spiro Dibie, ASC, who directed the focus to a consideration of film vs. digital technologies.
Opening with the hypothetical statement, “Shooting with a digital camera, you know exactly what you’ve got, but when you shoot film, it’s like shooting with your eyes blind,” Dibie turned the floor over to the panel of cinematographers, who included Giselle Chamma, Ron Fortunato, ASC, Ellen Kuras, ASC, Sol Negrin, ASC, and Sandi Sissel, ASC.
None remotely agreed with the theory. Kuras, whose mini-DV features include Bamboozled and Personal Velocity, pointed out that transfer of digital formats to 35mm, along with the interceding possibilities for color and image manipulation in post, undercut the notion of predictability. Fortunato, who shot the Sidney Lumet series 100 Centre Street in 24p HD, added, “As a good cinematographer, you know what you’re going to get when you’re shooting film. In video, you’re much more dependent on the technician; if you don’t have the monitor set up right, you’re not clear on what you’re going to see.”
The panel also touched on many technical matters, including the challenge of achieving and maintaining focus while shooting digitally, and the problem of aliasing. The panel also dipped into such aesthetic issues as collaboration with the director, or in Sissel’s case, as second-unit DP on the Peter Weir epic Master and Commander, with primary director of photography Russell Boyd. Negrin, a TV series veteran, talked about the difficulties of dealing with rotating directors and relentless schedules in episodic, and Chamma discussed her experiences in the super-low-budget realm.
But regardless of the seminar’s title, discussion centered much more on the cinematographer’s role in post than in lighting and other production tasks. The growing use of digital intermediate processing for film has raised a number of questions, according to the panel members. Often, said Kuras, studios don’t commit to a digital intermediate until the last minute, which means that a cinematographer who is counting on the opportunity to fix something in post can end up “screwed.”
Another issue is the old sore point of pay, which few DPs receive for seeing a film through post. Though Sissel feels that 50 percent of her job takes place after shooting, she said, “I’ve never gotten paid for it. But with digital intermediates, when post begins to take three months instead of three weeks, it really begins to infringe on your career.” Fortunato, who recently worked on another HD project with Lumet, said, “Sidney stood up for me: ‘He has to get paid, he has to be at post.’ But they know you’re going to go anyway. That’s where they have us. You’re not getting paid, so you’re not going to care what it looks like? It’s never going to happen. We’ll always be there.”

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