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HomeNewsCinematographers want pay for DI duty

Cinematographers want pay for DI duty

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The rapidly increasing use of the Digital Intermediate process during postproduction for finishing feature films is embroiling cinematographers in complicated questions of compensation and also control over the final “look” of a movie.With some exceptions, studios remain reluctant to pay directors of photography for the extra time they are having to spend on the DI phase, which can stretch into weeks and even months. A touchier and more ambiguous issue is the right of the cinematographer to be present and sign off on a DI, and also to be protected from subsequent meddling.This latter point has led to a falling out over the DI of the two Kill Bill films between the cinematographer, Robert Richardson, ASC, and Quentin Tarantino, the director.In a DI, a film is scanned at very high resolution and digitized, creating a single computer file. That file version can be changed in real time. In effect, a DI is a highly souped-up version of software like Adobe Photoshop that is today widely used to manipulate still images.The DI computerizes the traditional color-grading process, which involves the director of photography working with a lab colorist to come up with a final version. On top of nearly limitless color correction and image creation (including the adding of effects), the DI also allows the cinematographer working with a colorist to adjust the contrast, sharpness and grain of the image. The final digital version can be mastered for delivery in any format required, from that sent to theaters to subsequent formats like DVD.Traditionally, DPs have not been paid for the extra few days of work that photochemical color grading has entailed. They’ve been expected to fulfill this obligation as part of their overall compensation for prepping and shooting a movie.But with the DI stage stretching into weeks and, in some cases months, the issue of getting paid for this extra time has become a sore point between cinematographers and studios.Both Local 600 of the International Cinematographers Guild and the American Society of Cinematographers—the union and professional society respectively for DPs—have addressed and discussed these problems in general, but have not yet been able to get studios to agree to new work rules or pay schedules for DIs.Some highly regarded cinematographers who top directors regularly seek out have been able to swing their own deals with studios for the time spent in DIs. But whether compensation for all cinematographers during DIs will become a bargaining point between the ICG and the studios the next time they negotiate is still up in the air. Bruce Doering, the executive director for the cinematographers union would only say that “it’s still a work in progress.”In the present environment, the task of hammering out dollars and cents deals has largely fallen to agents who represent cinematographers. “I wouldn’t say there is any standard, whether a studio will pay for one week of these services or five weeks,” says agent Spyros Skouras of the Skouras Agency, whose client list includes DPs Allen Daviau, John Mathieson and Bob Richardson. “It is a negotiating point, and is being handled on a situation by situation basis.“The DI involves totally new technologies, a whole new work arrangement,” he adds. “We’ve been trying to convince the studios that this is not the same as traditional timing and shouldn’t be viewed as equivalent. The studios are also realizing cost savings from DIs which they should be willing to share in part with the cinematographers.”As for the falling out between recent Oscar winner Richardson (for The Aviator) and Kill Bill director Tarantino, Skouras says: “We’re involved in a dispute resolution process that could end up as a legal proceeding. Bob and I believe that Quentin Tarantino disrespected the normal process that goes on between the DP and the director by doing things behind Bob’s back.“The bottom line is that the DP doesn’t have the equivalent of the final cut,” he says. “But the DP, as far as the deals we make, always has a right to go in and supervise the color timing, and these days the timing of the digital intermediate. Quentin tried to do it without Bob’s participation. We’ve very unhappy with the way Quentin handled this.”Cinematographer Allen Daviau had a far more positive experience on the DI for Van Helsing which wound up taking two months. The decision to use a DI was decided in advance as was the agreement to compensate Daviau. Universal, director Stephen Sommers and Daviau were all on the same page as to the need for an extensive DI stage.“We couldn’t have done the movie without a DI,” says Daviau. “We used eight special effects houses and some of their work was coming in at the very end.” The DI allowed the effects-laden film to visually knit together for a single look.“There are executives and accountants at studios who think cinematographers are asking to get paid twice for the same movie for the time they spend on the DI,” observes the DP. “But if you’re going to block out a substantial amount of time to be available for the DI, you have to be paid something for that. It’s not a matter of a few days like an answer print was.”Such issues should be put on the table, Daviau feels, because they are becoming an integral part of a cinematographer’s assignment. “You’re there at the beginning when the look of the film is conceived with the director and designer, and you need to be there at the end when you’re taking the digital version and going out to film and making prints.”Former ICG president George Spiro Dibie also addressed these issues in a commentary in ICG Magazine, January 2004:“What happens to your film if you aren’t there and the ‘colorist’ is making decisions on their own or with third or fourth parties? What happens when a cinematographer is committed to another project and isn’t able to participate in timing sessions in a digital suite?“How about human factors? The reality is that it is pretty easy, and even tempting, for a ‘colorist’ to say to a director or studio executive, ‘Do you want to see how much better that looks if I make it a little brighter.’”Such concerns about having their work diminished or sabotaged by others twiddling dials on a DI may seem overstated. But cinematographers are genuinely worried that they could be marginalized if they don’t participate fully during the DI phase. And since all the other technicians working on the DI are being paid, why shouldn’t they?“The attitude is not that we want to make a whole lot of money,” says former ASC president Steven Poster. “But by having some form of compensation, we expect the producers will take us more seriously.”

Written by Jack Egan

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