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'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?



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • How so?

  • vinceGortho on 02.23.13 @ 11:53PM

    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.

    • 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.

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

      • 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!” ;)

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

    • 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.”

      • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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).

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

      • 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 (, 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?

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

            • 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.

              • vinceGortho on 02.24.13 @ 3:32PM

                This is bullshit! Don’t back down Voltaire!

              • 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.”

            • 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.”

        • 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.

    • Robert Hardy on 02.24.13 @ 1:39AM

      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.

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

    • Andrew Reid on 02.24.13 @ 6:41PM

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

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

    • Kenneth Merrill on 02.24.13 @ 2:12AM

      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.

  • 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.

    • vinceGortho on 02.24.13 @ 1:06AM

      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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • “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? ”

          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?

        • 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….

          • … 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!

  • Robert Hardy on 02.24.13 @ 1:22AM

    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?

  • 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.

  • vinceGortho on 02.24.13 @ 1:47AM

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

    • 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.

  • Kenneth Merrill on 02.24.13 @ 2:11AM

    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.

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

      • Kenneth Merrill on 02.24.13 @ 2:17AM

        That’s totally fair. I didn’t know what fell in the category of “this is stupid”

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • “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!

      • This is the part where people start making up crap like

        “If he does that now when will he ever stop? :O”


        “Oh god, what next? Legalized Animal marriage?

        OT: Cinematography needs to be priority during production, but the priority of it drops compared to performances during screening. It’s strange how something so unimportant goes un-noticed, but I guess its the way that it works…

        • Robert Hardy on 02.25.13 @ 1:07AM

          Dude, I’m telling you, animal marriage is right around the corner! Just you wait!

  • Like someone said, we might be hearing this out of context, but I don’t agree at all.

    If you ask people sure, they will comment on some actor being beautiful or acting well. Maybe they’ll mention emotions.

    But just like they’re saying: in a conversation with someone else the words only account for about 20% of what’s being “said” or transfer. The rest is ‘body language’: how people move, expressions… when they look when they say something.

    It’ similar with film. People might not know framing, editing, lighting, depth of field, perspective… but I’d say it will account for at least 50%. At least. When you’re talking about an actor’s performance you’re including his/hers body language, and if it’s a good performance it will count for a lot. But that performance in a mediocre frame would be just as distracting as super footage and poor performance.

    Moving images are all connected. I don’t think you can or should separate acting from photography.

  • I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, so I cannot judge Andrej’s work on that feature. I tend to agree with him in matters of what’s most important in a film. I would add direction to the story and performances, because direction -I believe- is the most important feature in a film. You can get good performances and stories in theater as well. Film direction though is something that can either take a movie up in the skies, or down the drain.

    So how important is the work of the technical dpt? Imaging and Sound? To my mind very important as far as the outcome is concerned. However I don’t beleive that you have to spend a fortune on the latest state-of-the-art equipment to get to a satisfactory result that would support the direction, performances and story of the movie. I think that the knowledge of light and the standards in photography is enough. Sure the Alexa or even better a good KODAK negative, can offer you perfection in a shot. But if you misplace the lights or the reflectors the outcome will be of low quality. On the other hand, if you light your set properly, then the result shooting with an Alexa will not be THAT better than shooting with a DSLR. At least not different enough for the average movie-goer to notice. And I can support that last remark with a shot I took at canon’s tv set at the 2008 IBC in Amsterdam with my tiny HV20, compared to broadcast cameras by Ikegami with canon lenses that costed as much as half of my residence. Of course the Ikegami produced a better image, but my humple canon hdv produced an image acceptable in every tv station, as well…

  • It’s honestly really annoying to see the comments get sired up on this site. NoFilmSchool puts out the best indie film content of any site i’ve been on, and it’a just frustrating when people get their feathers ruffled. everyone needs to chill out.

  • Folks definitely don’t care about photography, but they will notice it when it is bad. So its the dp’s responsibility to ensure he does a good job, and strive for the best.

    And of course great photography can add to the movie in many ways elevating it, audiences may not notice this too in the context of just photography, but it will have improved the final product and contribute to its success.

    This can be said for any of the technical and creative skills which go into putting together a film. Film making is complex and depending on budget a set of decisions, trade-offs or compromises are made, but nearly everything is important, to get it right.

    • I’ll have to admit that especially when a movie is really good, story, cinematography, editing, everything is just perfect – then I tend to forget all the stuff I know about filmmaking and just watch the movie like any other person.

      It is usually only in movies that are un-interesting in some way that I start thinking about the editing and cinematography all the time. Like when the story isn’t interesting enough, my mind wanders and thinks “how has this been lit, and why would they edit it like this…”

      So, I’d really have to say the less I notice technical aspects while watching a movie, the better it must be!
      And that does not at all mean I don’t enjoy good cinematography, but when the whole product is so good that it really takes me in, I don’t analyze anymore.

  • Peter Kelly on 02.24.13 @ 3:36AM

    You have left up worse comments then “this is bullshit” in the past. Have some consistency and it will make things crystal clear for everyone

    • We are not sitting awake 24/7 reading every comment so something will always slip through the cracks, but the policy is crystal clear.

      • Peter Kelly on 02.24.13 @ 5:38PM

        Yes, the words at the bottom of each article are clear, but the actions are not

      • Peter Kelly on 02.24.13 @ 5:51PM

        Sorry but thats a lousy excuse Ryan, you shouldn’t have the policy if you are unwilling to implement it in a fair and consistent way

        • If you can have a respectful adult conversation, then you have nothing to worry about.

  • Kinda getting tired of the editorializing of these posts. I find the content here really helpful and always really up to date, but I appreciate the straight forward presentation of article and not the “in my experience” baloney that is entering into the posts. There’s a real ego developing here amongst the writers and it’s fairly bothersome.

    • I don’t think you are reading that quite how it is meant. I’m simply saying that’s what I’ve found personally, but I am aware that the mileage of others may vary.

      Ego would be me telling you that you should keep a small set or your movie won’t be any good or that you are an idiot for having a full grip and lighting package for a small character drama.

      • Editorialising is fine when it is correct information. Saying stuff like the “the audience probably won’t notice the lighting and shot selection.” looks down on an audience and is plainly untrue. It angers me hugely when I read stuff like this because most people here want to learn about lighting and shot selection, and this is dismissive of it. Audiences know a beautiful piece of photography then they see it. It isn’t background music or wallpaper.

        • The quote is, “If everyone is doing their job.” That includes the DP. If you’re making a film where the cinematography is a character, fine, but the whole point of this discussion is that everything you do must serve the story. If it’s not a traditional story, or there is no story, or it’s a documentary, obviously it’s going to be a different situation than if you’re making Blue Valentine. If you do it well, the average person shouldn’t notice. Sure, they will subconsciously feel what is going on, but in a narrative film the goal is to serve the story, not serve your ego about making beautiful art.

          I also understand filmmakers in general are an audience that does notice these things. They usually make up an insignificant portion of the people who you want to see your film. A perfect example. I just recently watched Steve McQueen’s Hunger. There is one take of one unmoving shot in that film over 20 minutes long, and since I don’t like reading about those things and generally tried to avoid hype, I’d read nothing about this scene. I didn’t realize it was one shot and one take until 15 minutes into the scene. That’s because the actors and the story held my attention, as they should, in any traditional narrative.

          You’re acting like I’m trying to be dismissive of the craft, when mostly what I’m doing is quoting actual DPs who’ve shot narrative work.

          Speaking of Roger Deakins, here are some quotes that I’m posting again (in case you missed them) from the guy who has been nominated for Academy Awards more times than he can remember:

          “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.”

          • Andrew Reid on 02.24.13 @ 5:18PM

            Joe Marine -

            Deakins is flavour of the month isn’t he? However it’s not him I disagree with.

            I can see why balancing the performances with the practicalities of lighting a scene needs to be done. Hurlbut once tweaked a light in the middle of a performance by Christian Bale and suffered big time for it. You can’t distract an actor in the middle of a performance. I agree with Deakins wholeheartedly on that.

            Where I disagree is that you say that cinematography is always a SERVANT to the story. If anything it is serving the mood and the emotional feeling of a shot. The story is the story. A cinematographer does not put words onto the page. He does not write the script. The best cinematography I have seen adds poetic motion to an otherwise mundane piece of writing. Take the elevator scene in Drive. In many people’s hands the cinematographer would have “done his job” and not added anything in terms of poetry. The script itself does not describe the cinematography that happens in that film. In one slow motion shot he pulls her into a darkly lit corner, the lighting is incredible, you get a sense that he’s protecting her – it is more than a story or script can say with words. The cinematography is not just SERVING WHAT IS ALREADY THERE. It is ADDING to it. It is adding something unique that comes with the cinematographer and not with the writer. It is adding something that would change if a different guy was DPing it. You talk about Deakins… Well Skyfall is full of it.

            “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.”

            I just disagree. People do notice these things. Not subliminally but WHAM in your face beautiful.

            • He’s not the flavor of the month, here’s one from Wally Pfister:

              Q: What’s most important in shooting a film?
              A: What’s really important is storytelling. None of it matters if it doesn’t support the story.

              Here is David Fincher’s frequent collaborator Jeff Cronenweth talking about the advice he got from his father:

              There are so many ideas and concepts that he instilled in me that I don’t know where to begin. But in general I would say that ultimately your responsibility is in guiding the audience and enhancing the story through photography and composition, but never distracting from it. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the story.

              That’s all I’m saying – I don’t know where this nonsense is coming from that cinematography doesn’t matter. Of course it matters, of course it sets the mood for the film and helps tell the story, but it has to be motivated, and that has to be realized within budgetary and time considerations. I don’t know about you, but every film I’ve worked on has been a battle between making a film that looks good, sounds good, and has good performances – with the limiting factor in all of those aspects being time and money.

              On my last feature, we were trying to shoot about 10 pages per day, and while me and my DP collaborated on what type of shots we wanted and where we were going to put lights, in the end, we had to cut shots and cut lighting setups because making sure words on the page appeared on screen was the most important thing.

          • I think we shouldn’t forget in this discussion, that when Roger Deakins says he’d rather film a scene that looks “lousy” and get a good performance – that scene doesn’t look “lousy”. As he said before, there’s one shadow that’s a bit off or something like that. It will still be a pretty much perfect shot that many of us would be proud of.

            We are not talking about shooting something really “lousy” like in amateurish bad.

            The whole point of the initial statement was I think that you’d rather get a 100% performance with a 95% well lit scene than the other way round. Of course the dp and the grip and the set designers have to be really good to make a good movie. It is just that you should be MOST focussed on good performance, and not lose a good take because the lighting was only 95% good.

  • I regard filmmaking (in the sense I see it) as “editing” in it`s broadest sense – editing the story and dialogues until the viewer gets your intentions, focusing on the essentials, same with at the shoot, we have to “edit” down until the picture and the sound is what pushes the story forward. Awful cinematography is exactely the opposite: unfocused, thus confusing imagery.

  • Amen, if only all the nofilmschool users would read this

  • People see movies not for sound not for music not for set design not for awesome locations not for sfx not nice pictures and not for nice performances but all of these things. Neglect any one and you damage the story, but a story needs all these elements.

    Films can and have been made with focus on each of these specific areas of expertise. They all work as long as the story fits. Dogville and Manderly weren’t wildly popular even though they focussed mainly on great performances and only lacked locations.. but you wouldn’t say in conclusion people only go to the movies just for great locations. Film is collaborative, it doesn’t make sense to single out one area and say that area not why people go to see a movie.. my DP better believe that his job is all about nice photography, I’ll make sure the rest gets done.

  • Andrij Parekh is a champ! It’s so great to see a DP who understands and loves the acting process.

  • for those suggesting it’s bullshit, there is a brazillian movie made by a stage play director, the movie is called “cama de gato”. It’s ugly in cinematography department, it was shot with a canon DV cam, no lighting, all for U$5000, some great actors working for free with amateur actors too, it’s a fucked up story about middle class youth with lack of empathy and compassion, shock flick that hit the guts. It works mostly because of the story and the acting of the pro actors holding the movie together. You are drag by the sickness of the characters and you want to know how their story gonna end. Maybe a better cinematography would make it even better, but in the end it’s the performances to bring the story alive that matter most.

    Also, another film that I remember where the cinematography is functional but not that beautiful and the low budget characteristic of the movie is all over it is Ken Russell’s Whore. And it’s good to remember Ken Russell was also a hell of a photographer. It’s is his answer to “Pretty Woman” :D. The movie is almost like a narrative essay about a REAL street whore way of living. It’s low budget, low production value, etc, but has a vision (ken russell always has one), has some great performances, and an original narrative, not conventional, but honest to the core. Again, it’s the characters and the situations creating the narrative that matter most. And in the end the low-budget atmosphere fits the story being told too.

    • Andrew Reid on 02.24.13 @ 5:40PM

      There are films where the cinematography fits the content, this is one of them. Therefore the ‘crap’ image quality is perfect, setting the best mood for the performances. It adds to something which wasn’t there on the page, rather than simply serving what is there on the page as Joe suggests we all run out and do.

      22 Days Later another example. Danny Boyle, a fellow Manc and all round top bloke, knew what he was getting into by picking up an early Canon DV camera.

      Sometimes a glossy look isn’t the right one.

      • 22 Days Later? Not familiar with it.

      • Joe didn’t say the cinematography should serve every word printed in the script. It should serve “the story”. “The story” is the director’s subjective interpretation of the script and the vision of the film that his interpretation has given him.

        The way I see it, as a cinematographer, my job is to help the director realize his vision. This is fed by the script but is not entirely dependent on it. I can suggest things to the director but not tell him what I will or won’t do. If I’m not giving him what he wants I shouldn’t be there.

  • I’m definitely with Voltaire on this one, albeit I also understand where Andreij is coming from. The story is the most important aspect of the film and no amount of beautiful photography will save a story that is written or executed.

    Photography serves the story first and foremost; of course the more beautiful it is and the more inviting it is; the more the viewer becomes immersed into and drawn by the story. Obviously film is a “visual” medium and so these two things go hand in hand.

    Seems like an argument of semantics more than logic.

  • Parekh seems to have a pretty strong grasp on doing what the project calls for. It seems like, to me, he wanted to do the most he could for Blue Valentine considering his knowledge of the amount of time it took to make the project. That being said he understood that it’s a strongly character/actor driven project and as such had the humility and wherewithal as a DP to step back and let the actors have the space they need to perform. A very savvy and brilliant decision.

    As far as making films and lighting as minimally as possible, it depends on the project, but I’m a big fan of using available light and the atmosphere of good locations. He really let the actors shine and considering you have two of the best in front of you that’s a great idea. Great interview, very enjoyable and looking forward to seeing more of this DP’s work, both past and future.

  • Filipe Almeida on 02.24.13 @ 4:55PM

    Like my sound teacher said about the sound of movies: “the best compliment about the sound of the movie, is silence”. Nobody talks about the sound of a movie unless it is poor.

  • I like to think making a movie is similar to a god creating a world, which makes me think of this quote from the Futurama episode “Godfellas”.

    “God Entity: Bender, being God isn’t easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch, like a safecracker or a pickpocket.

    Bender: Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money.

    God Entity: Yes, if you make it look like an electrical thing. When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

    If you’re making a movie, you are playing god for that world. Every aspect is intentional, from that pen on the table there to the way it is edited together. Stanley Kubrick was the ultimate at playing god and his stories do a great job of showing epic cinematography, but it all fits perfectly into the story.

    If you’re looking for a good mindfuck read this analysis of The Shining, also check out the rest of this site, it’s amazing.

  • Totally agree with ‘everything serves story.’

    A film is much like a watch; if one piece is missing it will affect all other components and fail to function as it should (or as WELL as it should).

    Cinematography, acting, etc… All are TOOLS and the means to an end. None are more essential than the other as they’re just pieces of the same puzzle.

    Think of it this way:
    - If cinematography mattered as much as SOME think it is every single Michael Bay/high budget film would be a cinematic masterpiece. There’s an AMAZING amount of films that have lackluster cinematography and are absolute essentials in film. Look no further than Fassbinder and Casavetes.
    - If acting mattered as much as SOME think it does just look at any Oscar-heavy cast film that just doesnt work because of a lapse in the other aspects of the film’s craft. Great acting can’t float a film alone.

    Parekh’s work is unreal. He reminds me of Harris Savides work with Van Sant – minimalistic and gorgeous.

  • Christian Anderson on 02.25.13 @ 12:24PM

    It’s the same with editing. The better you are at it, the less people will notice it. Being behind the camera is a humble art, not for rockstar personalities.

  • Andrew Trigg on 03.1.13 @ 10:14AM

    This is a superb interview. I found it very inspiring to know that the atmospheres and moods in Blue Valentine were achieved with such a minimalist approach to lighting. I find it fascinating that they did such long takes for some scenes, letting the actors do their thing and filming what happened. I agree that as long as you have great actors this is an incredibly liberating approach and likely to capture something authentic and wonderful to look . And that’s what they got with Blue Valentine — a level of raw authenticity that was utterly engaging and truthful. It’s something that appeals to me as a filmmaker with quite a lot of experience acting and directing in theatre productions. I want to have a go at shooting in this way soon myself. So thank you for this superb interview.

    I’d also like to summarize my understanding of the entire argument above as: Both sides are right. Acting is vitally important and cinematography is really important too. Both serve the story, and you need a decent level of competence in both for a film to be good. I don’t think anyone was saying that cinematography was not important. Also, using a large number of lights and elaborate set ups is not necessarily a sign of good cinematography. Indeed, I think Andrij Parekh is a great cinematographer to get such wonderful results with such few lights.

    Another thought: The shaky, waving-the-camera-around cinematography of Paranormal Activity is well thought out and executed to support the story premise that it’s a home movie made by a novice. Lighting that film to perfection and using an Arri Alexa would actually have worked directly against the story. So for some films, “shoddy” cinematography can be the best way to serve the story.

  • Andrew Trigg on 03.1.13 @ 10:16AM

    I’d also like to thank you, Ryan for No Film School. It’s brilliantly informative and I love receiving your weekly summaries. Thank you so much.

  • Judith Henderson on 03.4.13 @ 7:59PM

    Great intimate interview. Interviewer knew his stuff. Which gives more depth. Really understood the process. Good job

  • Great interview too bad most of the comments were lost on translation lol