February 23, 2013

'Blue Valentine' DP Andrij Parekh: 'People See Movies for Great Performances, Not Nice Photography'

There is no question the director of photography is one of the most important jobs on set. The DP helps the director set the look of the film, and depending on their working relationship, may actually have quite a bit of influence on the final film. In the end though, the DP's job is to help the director get the movie "in the can" at all costs, even if that means sacrificing time for lighting and camera moves. Blue Valentine director of photography Andrij Parekh sat down with Craft Truck, a website that focuses on discussions with technical storytellers from the world of film, to talk about his career and how he sees the role of the cinematographer.

It's interesting that most of Blue Valentine was shot with mostly available light (except for the times when they used one artificial source). In my experience, the less amount of set that is getting in the actors' way, the less there will be to distract them from creating memorable performances. In some ways that is the advantage to lower budget productions, where you don't have the time or money for more lighting and more gear.

While plenty of DPs shoot because they love to make beautiful images, it's also important to remember that in the end, as Andrij Parekh says, the audience is there for the performances and the story, and if everyone is doing their jobs, they probably won't notice the lighting and shot selection. One of the other great lines from the interview is that as the DP, once you get on set and start shooting, it's not about the gear anymore. You can prepare yourself and learn as much as possible, but once you get there, the most important thing is that the director gets what they need to tell the best story possible. The audience will never see the issues or problems you had trying to get lighting perfect, all they will see is the actors on screen.

What do you think of Andrij Parekh's approach? Have you applied this kind of thinking in your own films?

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90 Comments

How so?

February 23, 2013

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Robert

So very true. What general audiences want is to be entertained.
But they don't know that they like good cinematography until its taken away. That's when you get responses like " that movie looks cheap" or " you can tell it looks low budget."
Cinematography is funny, when its good, general audiences don't see it. But they know when its absent.

February 23, 2013

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vinceGortho

I agree,

Entertainment is the main thing, but poor cinematography, audio, or editing take people out of a film. All those are vital to the story telling process. I think of it like hearing a story from a someone with a monotone and stutter vs hearing a story from Morgan Freeman... big difference.

February 24, 2013

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Tyler

Or maybe many of us are hearing this out of context?

February 24, 2013

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Tyler

Cinematography and audio are usually only noticed when they're bad - so better stay unnoticed by the general audience!

I'd say "people go see a movie for great performances, but they might leave the theater early for bad cinematography or audio!" ;)

March 4, 2013

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Heiko

Same with Typography, if you're reading something and you notice the text they basically failed haha

February 24, 2013

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Aaron G

Not sure how this thread got so out of hand, but the point is a simple one: if you are the DP, it is your job to make sure everything you do serves the story.

You will not always get your way, but that doesn't mean you aren't trying to do the absolute best job possible, either.

The cinematography absolutely matters, as does every other job on set. Everyone on set is there to serve the director's vision. Whether you like it or not, they are your boss, even though it is a collaboration, the buck stops with them. They will be the one who ultimately get blamed if the movie is not a success, and of course they are usually the one who gets credit if everything goes right.

Blue Valentine is a perfect example of this. Andrij Parekh and Derek Cianfrance, the director, settled on one light, instead of no lights. The two came together, and ultimately came to an agreement, and in the end, it's the director's call to make, because they have a vision of what they are trying to do, and everything has to fall into place to serve that vision.

The goal isn't to win awards with your cinematography, it's to make the best movie possible. Obviously no DP wants to make a bad-looking movie, but what you're doing is ultimately in service of the greater good of the film. I'll leave a few quotes from Academy Award Nominated Director of Photography Roger Deakins (thanks to Evan Luzi's The Black and Blue):

“Sometimes, as with the death row scenes on ‘Dead Man Walking’, it is better to compromise composition, lighting and perhaps even sound a little and shoot with two cameras in order to help an actor get their performance. Sometimes it is better to go wider to include a prop in frame than break an actor’s concentration.
When an actor appears on set ready to do a take it may be too late to change anything. At that time if I see a bad shadow or an eyeline that is slightly off I might talk to the actor or I might not. Perhaps I might think it better to change things for take two. If not then I judge it my mistake and I must try not to let it happen next time.
In the end a film can look lousy but work because of a great performance but not the other way round. That’s something always worth remembering.”

“I do have a problem with the ease with which you call what we do ‘art’. That is for someone else to conclude. To me it is a job, a creative job that I love to do but a job nonetheless.
The collaborative aspect of the job is very important but then so is the hierarchical nature of a film crew. Every film is the Director’s film and we must never lose sight of that.”

“As I have said before every director is different and may require something different from a cinematographer. The onus is on the cinematographer to find out how best to work for and with a director and with other members of the crew, for that matter.”

February 24, 2013

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Way-back in the 1970s an old DP told me that you have to match your work to the quality of the movie. For a Low Budget POS top quality cinematography will jsut call attention to to the fact that the story and acting suck.

February 24, 2013

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c.d.embrey

Hahaha that's hilarious

February 24, 2013

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Aaron G

As a trained actor, I greatly appreciate his commitment to protecting that work. There seems to be a lot of pissing and moaning on this thread that boils down to people saying, my job is more important that this other job. I really appreciate mr. Parekh's comments as well as the ones referred to from Mr. Deakin's and others.

This is my opinion, but I feel the discussion here is so centered on camera's and tech and the perspective of the Director and DP, (which in and of itself is not a bad thing) that we often loose sight of what the ultimate goal is. That is to tell stories. All art is storytelling. Not all art is narrative. Some stories are visual, some aural, some told more through the acting, some are told almost entirely in the editing room. But all those things that are contributing to the story telling are in a constant ebb and flow of importance. That changes from stage to stage of production, from moment to moment on set. But the Story is always the goal. I promise when the story is not the most important thing. When your performance, or how good you look is more important than the story. your art will suffer.

And I think it bears saying that I think this site could use a healthy dose of the actors perspective. I loved the comments earlier in this thread that essentially say, we've all seen great looking movies that have crappy acting, and there by are not good movies, or don't stay with you, or 'amount to something' if that phrase has any meaning here. And we've seen cheap badly shot movies with great acting, or mediocre/bad acting that perfectly serves the story, that we love and will never stop talking about or referring to.

I know as an actor I have a myriad of responsibilities, Sometimes the primary thing is hitting a mark so that the picture and camera moves work. Always It's to be ready when the time comes to be on set and director says "action". But my first responsibility is to the story and my characters place in that story. And if the director or DP or a Grip or Costume designer is trying to shoehorn some idea on top of me that every fiber of my being says is the wrong thing for this story, it's also my responsibility to serve the story and defend it from peoples "ideas" and ambitions and devices.

No one on set holds the story. The director comes closest, but if they are good, they know they don't hold it. It is something outside all of us, and our job is to work together to find it. When you are thinking about your self, or your performance, you aren't looking outside to find the story.

Everyone serves the story. or should strive to. And often that means serving the needs of the other people on set.

February 25, 2013

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I second that - total bullshit. Obviously the content and performances are what captivates the audience the most, but the cinematography is what sets the ATMOSPHERE.

If photography is something that audiences cared nothing for, whether consciously or subconsciously, then why not just shoot everything on handycams? Why even bother to shoot on RED and 16mm with Zeiss and Angenieux lenses like Parekh did for "Blue Valentine"?

And for those wondering where Parekh says the line in the interview, it's at 11:14.

February 24, 2013

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Voltaire

Where did he say cinematography didn't matter? He said performances are MORE important. Don't degrade the discussion by seeing everything in absolutes, "Voltaire" (said like the waitress in Swingers).

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Thankyou Koo.
Every time you post you make me proud that i contributed to Man Child

February 24, 2013

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Zacka

Thank YOU zacka! I love this interview, so… We won’t be having any “this is stupid” comments.

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Where did I say that he said "cinematography didn't matter"? He said "people go to the movies to see great performances, not nice photography", to which I made the point that cinematography is what sets the ATMOSPHERE - whether audiences are consciously aware of it or not. Of course the average cinema-goer isn't going to say, "I can't wait to see Skyfall, it was shot on Alexa!" - but if they did go to see "Skyfall", and it was shot on the latest Sony consumer handycam, they will be very aware, consciously or subconsciously, that something is off - audiences have become accustomed to high-quality photography when they go and see a film (whether it be via resolution, lighting, motion-cadence, and so forth) - that's why some directors, like Danny Boyle, employ a camera like the XL1s to make their audience's uncomfortable - to instil in them the idea that something is not right here - to set the ATMOSPHERE.

On your own Kickstarter page for your film, "Man Child," you state:

"I mentioned in the last update that I'd invested in a new camera, with which I plan on shooting Man Child...after all, I want to ensure Man Child film looks as good as possible."

That new camera is a Red Scarlet.

You then state in your latest "Man Child" update that "Hollywood spends $100 million on making a single movie all the time. So believe me when I say it’s going to be a challenge to make this for “only” $115k!"

Now, according to an article that you wrote (http://nofilmschool.com/2012/12/red-one-scarlet-epic-accessories-what-yo...), you priced a kitted out owner/operator Scarlet between $21,000 - $45,000.

So lets say the average kitted out Scarlet for shooting a feature, like "Man Child", is $30,000. That's 25% of your budget on one single camera alone.

If you're on such a tight-budget, which you are, and you firmly believe that performance super-seeds photography, wouldn't you think that it's wiser to invest in a cheaper camera, lets say a GH2/GH3, and lower your budget by $20,000 - $30,000? Or put that $20,000 to $30,000 towards things that will compliment or push the performance of your actors - such as set design, costume, location scouting/hiring, hair and make-up, an so forth?

February 24, 2013

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Voltaire

Voltaire,

You said "total bullshit." That's a pretty complete dismissal, and that's what I was responding to. It's also a fairly accurate description of everything that follows in your comment, which is to say, I have no idea what you're talking about.

Cameras cost very little if you have connections or own one. Especially when a camera is paid off. Plus I did not spend a cent of our budget on a camera, rather I invested in it myself and can now lend it to the production for free... thereby freeing up funds for other parts of the production (there goes your point out the window).

Cameras are also only a fraction of cinematography. So going off on some tangent about my own project just makes it seem like you have something against me (why?) as opposed to engaging in an intelligent discussion about any of the salient points that Mr. Parekh makes in his interview.

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Sorry I said "total bullshit", I shouldn't have been so childish with my words. I should have simply said "I disagree". Sorry for that.

Nothing against you at all, Ryan. As a fellow independent filmmaker, I wish you the best of luck with your project - truly.

How could you not have any idea what I'm talking about? I think I wrote it rather clearly and simply. I also think I raised some decent points, especially in my second post, which you seemed to have dismissed entirely rather than "engaging in an intelligent discussion".

I'm not trying to call you out, and I'm not trying to be a bastard, and sorry if I came across as one, but I can't help but feel that what you wrote in your Kickstarter statements contradicts somewhat what your saying in some of your points here.

Sorry if I offended you.

February 24, 2013

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Voltaire

Erm hang on - a complete dismissal is OK. It is sometimes what an opinion basically comes down to. You're asking this guy to sugar his opinion, to tart it up so it looks nicer. My original content was going to be expanded upon in a civil way, how many times between friends in a bar have you gone "that's bullshit" then continued the conversation? Yet online people get hoity toity about it and start speaking of POLICIES. For god's sake man. Maybe I could have said something less provocative like "That this 100% wrong" but then if you are going to go all politically correct and censor stuff, maybe I shouldn't bother having an opinion at all.

February 24, 2013

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I don't think I'll bother any more either, Andrew. None of the points I raised were intelligently discussed, rather, all my points were dismissed because I used a swear word to open my argument.

February 24, 2013

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Voltaire

This is bullshit! Don't back down Voltaire!

February 24, 2013

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vinceGortho

Our thoughts are falling on infertile ground!

February 24, 2013

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Andrew Reid

Voltaire, you said this:

"If you’re on such a tight-budget, which you are, and you firmly believe that performance super-seeds photography, wouldn’t you think that it’s wiser to invest in a cheaper camera, lets say a GH2/GH3, and lower your budget by $20,000 – $30,000?"

I responded by clarifying that actually, buying the camera (as I controversially did, and as Andrew wrote an entire article about on his own site and never bothered to correct) -- with my own money, and paying it off through rentals -- is actually a way of doing EXACTLY what you're talking about. Your assumptions were wrong, not as a matter of opinion but as a matter of fact . By owning a paid-off camera instead of renting one, I am saving money from the film's budget to spend on "set design, costume, location scouting/hiring, hair and make-up, an so forth" exactly as you say.

That said, I apologize for saying "there went your comment out the window." As you can imagine I get riled up when the comment section is denigrated with the likes of "this is total bullshit," when I think there about a hundred points that Parekh makes in the interview that could be discussed intelligently. I and most filmmakers I know would NEVER tell a DP or other filmmaker that their approach is "total bullshit."

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Andrew, if you're going to call an entire, free, generous interview given by a terrific DP "total bullshit" then please expand upon that in the original comment. We're not going to sit around and say, "oh, maybe he'll come back and say something useful later."

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

So I'm pretty sure that a camera does a better job of capturing a performance than hair and makeup. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that a better camera does a better job of capturing a good performance than better hair and better makeup.

February 24, 2013

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cows

I'm not sure why a lot of you guys think that he's saying that doing a crappy job of lighting and shooting is ok because cinematography doesn't matter. If you guys have seen Blue Valentine, you know that film is gorgeous in a very subtle and naturalistic way. Add to that the fact that he only used one light for the entire film, and you've got some very impressive cinematography on your hands. But, as he says, it's all in service to the fantastic performances from Gosling and Williams.

February 24, 2013

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Robert Hardy

What he says is that cinematography can't COMPROMISE acting, as it does in almost any shoot I've been to.

February 24, 2013

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11 minutes in, thanks. I actually suffered big time for the first 10 minutes due to the WAFFLING of the host.

February 24, 2013

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Andrew Reid

Please explain?
And if available, make reference to your body of feature work to back up your argument.

February 24, 2013

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Zacka

Andrew Sarris is one of the greatest film theorists/critics in history, and he never made a single film. And there are hundreds of others like him.

February 24, 2013

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Kenneth Merrill

And that was a response to Zacka. Oops.

February 24, 2013

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Kenneth Merrill

That's one reason for me not to delete comments -- when we do it messes up the threading, Good to know!

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Im really confused, my response was to Andrew Reids deleted comment.
oh well, i love the interview and love Blue Valentine, its so tragic and beautiful

February 24, 2013

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Zacka

I don't care if the audience doesn't notice how hard I worked to setup my lighting config, my lens selection, my composition, my camera movements, etc.

I WILL NOTICE. And other cinematographers will notice as well, especially if your film gets some attention at film festivals, or on the Internet.

February 24, 2013

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Robert

But those interested in film beyond the movie/story don't make up enough audience to push your film.
The audience doesn't care... unless its bad.

February 24, 2013

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vinceGortho

That's true, but you can't compromise acting for it. If you do, you'll end doing a bunch of beautifully lit mediocre films instead of a long string of good ones.

February 24, 2013

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In a way, it's true that if the audience doesn't notice anything "bad" with what's on screen, then the story and actors are a bit more important.

But have you ever seen a cheesy film shot on DV with bad sound and horrible photography, but the actors are really putting their heart and soul into their performance, because they think they're on a real high-end production, but they're not?

That's really the most painful thing to watch, and I feel sorry for enthusiastic actors who get duped into working with amateurs.

February 24, 2013

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Robert

"But have you ever seen a cheesy film shot on DV with bad sound and horrible photography, but the actors are really putting their heart and soul into their performance, because they think they’re on a real high-end production, but they’re not? "

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53vr9EiOH7g
pure timeless art by Mr. Lars Von Trier.
great actors in great performances.
But in a film shot with DV cameras, not RED or ALEXA or F65 or___________
And, i guess, also, with simple practical light.

in the end, i think what those cinematogaphers are saying is
that the performances and story and narrative structure is what,
in the hierarchy, comes first, in the case you have to compromise something. No?

February 24, 2013

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guto novo

I got duped into shooting with amateur actors once and it was horrible, too.
I think the end product was even worse - it looked like a satire on bad acting because the lighting and camera was fine but the rest was not....

March 4, 2013

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Heiko

... and that is why I absolutely avoid giving a lot of directions to normal people when I shoot tv pieces. Some cameramen and journalists love to make "movies" and give a lot of directions to people who have never been on tv before. It almost never works and it you end up with some horrible scenes that couldn't look more unnatural.

On the other hand working with good actors is a blessing. They never stop to amaze me with their ability to change their mood and feeling in a split second and it looks REAL!

March 4, 2013

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Heiko

Thanks for posting this, Joe. I caught this interview a week or two ago, and I was absolutely blown away by the stunning results that Andrij gets with his "less is more" approach to cinematography. I think that there's a valuable lesson to be learned for the technophile DP's out there (me as well) who sometimes feel that they can't do their jobs properly without a fully loaded grip truck and the latest camera. I think that Andrij's success, and the fact that he is incredibly "in demand" just goes to show that most of the time less actually is more, and that more is only better when it's in service to the story and characters. And in the end, isn't that what it's all about: using our knowledge of technology to create something artful and to tell a great story?

February 24, 2013

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Robert Hardy

absolutely xx great piece guys !

February 24, 2013

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sam mitchell

I've always said everything is everything in filmmaking. From the script, to the actors, to the cinematography, to the editing, etc. There are so many different parts that work together to make a great piece. So that makes room for more error and more places for things to get messed up, so it's definitely important to have everyone on their A-Game. "Everything is everything" is my all time motto. Performances are very important but the cinematography I believe is equally important because you are capturing that performance.

February 24, 2013

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Adam

I don't think censoring the message board is cool.

February 24, 2013

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vinceGortho

We have a very clear comment policy designed to keep discussions useful, if you don't like it, feel free to go somewhere else where people can vent and troll all they like.

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Great interview! I can't agree more with him. Look at Buster Keaton's work. The cinematography consisted of setting a visual stage for the actor to act in, with an occasional close-up. But it did its job, and it created a space that was perfect for the performance, which was the most important thing. Everything in a film should serve and enhance the performance--unless you have a really good reason for distracting from them.

But Ryan, stifling people's opinions because they're ignorant or *heaven forbid* they disagree with yours isn't a great way to interact with an audience. Maybe you don't care if the ignorant and derogatory minority of your audience sticks around, but as a member of the more open-minded, knowledgable, and happy portion of your audience, even I am hurt and dissatisfied when you handle differing opinions this way. Just a bit of constructive criticism to consider. After all, even you are wrong sometimes, and your love for something ought never to blind you to the fact.

February 24, 2013

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Kenneth Merrill

I deleted a comment that said "this is total bullshit." That was the entirety of the comment. It added nothing.

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

That's totally fair. I didn't know what fell in the category of "this is stupid"

February 24, 2013

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Kenneth Merrill

You definitely have the right. I just reread the comment policy. Yup. You're justified. It doesn't fall under "constructive criticism." At the same time, I would say your enforcement of this policy has been uneven. While "this is bullshit' is a pretty clear violation of the spirit of the boards, the vitriol thrown at diyfilmschool wasn't addressed (to my knowledge). I remember reading something along the lines of "dude can you stop posting on this site." It was a personal attack and I didn't see you rush in there to support him or apply the rules of the board. So I'm not sure in the end that I support the censure because the application is uneven.

February 24, 2013

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Dave

I missed that thread. Of course it's uneven -- I was off working on something else when that happened, probably. There is no conspiracy or intentional unevenness -- it is simply the real world.

February 24, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

"The audience is there for the performances and the story, and if everyone is doing their jobs, they probably won’t notice the lighting and shot selection."

Tom Lowe's work is all about the lighting and shot selection. So by this same token people shouldn't notice anything Timescapes puts out. In documentary work, there are no performances - it is reality on film. I am pretty sure I noticed Bowling For Columbine when it came out. With regards the story, not everything has a linear A-B plot (think Kubrick's 2001) or even any story at all. Just as some song lyrics are narrative driven and some are abstract.

That should be obvious to you as film bloggers.

What you guys are saying here is that if the DP gets on with his job in the background and lights professionally like a craftsman, then it's job done?

This is the part I call BS. There's far more to visuals than just propping up a performance or a story. The visuals and the lighting are often performances themselves. They impart emotion and feeling into the story. You don't notice that? Then you have no soul. Hey Roger Deakins give up! Why even take an artistic or poetic approach to lighting at all - because in the end the audience doesn't care about the lighting!

Try telling that to anyone who has memories of Blade Runner and the lighting there. Neon skylines, backlit characters, shafts of light through fans and smoke. That is pure poetry. People DO notice that and it serves the performances all the better for them noticing it.

So yes what you are saying is completely incorrect but hey - no hard feelings!

February 24, 2013

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