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'Frozen River' DP Reed Morano on Shooting Movies: 'It's Not for You, It's for Someone Else'

There was quite a bit of back and forth regarding the role of the DP on a recent post about Andrij Parekh, much to the surprise of myself and a few others. The DP is one of the most important people on a production. The real purpose of the last post was to hear from a working professional that the cinematographer has to be a collaborator and must serve the story. Now we’ve got another Craft Truck interview from Jeff Glickman, this time with Reed Morano, the director of photography on Frozen RiverIn the video below, Reed talks about her process and her career, and how she’s risen up through the ranks.

If you haven’t seen them, here are some clips from her recent work:

There is some NSFW language in this Craft Truck interview:

I think it’s great to hear about the tricks they used to actually make it look like they were shooting on the ice during Frozen River. Those sorts of decisions are necessary for independent films when money and time are in limited supply. I’m sure many of you have faked a location or an effect at some point, as it’s one of the easiest ways to keep your costs down when going to the real place or when shooting on location is just too expensive.

The title of the post refers to her remark about DPs being a different kind of control freak. When you really step back and look at it, the DP has tremendous control over the film, but if you’re making a narrative, the buck still stops with the director. As Reed says, “It’s not for you, it’s for someone else.” While there are exceptions, the best films usually result from a great working relationship between the director and the director of photography. It’s important that the two are in sync, because most of the creative decisions filter down from them to the rest of the crew, and if you’ve got a director or a DP who refuse to cooperate or can’t seem to get along, you’re going to have problems on set, and it’s going to set the tone for the rest of production.

Reed was also featured in the recent documentary Side by Side, talking about her love of film, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t seen it already.



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  • The DP is technically a below the line, as is the assistant director and UPM.

  • Robert Hardy on 03.8.13 @ 12:41AM

    All I got from this is that Reed and Spike Jonze need to have an arm-wrestling showdown. Seriously though, she is fantastic. I watched her reel and that gal can really shoot, especially as a handheld operator. The shots from Autumn Blood are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen from any DP ever. Mad respect.

  • Well for example, lets put the same DP with different directors….one for real, and one hypothetical for the sake of argument.

    1) Wong Kar Wai / Chris Doyle. Chris’ sensibility is all over the image – however the work bears WKW’s ‘stamp’ above all – just examine Chris’ work with other directors and its quite clear.

    2) Penny Marshall / Chris Doyle. I would bet Chris would have full reign over all visuals. That’s not to knock Penny – but just making a wild guess.

  • Reed Morano, marry me.

  • I love the idea of this video series and all the people they’ve been interviewing, but the interviewer seriously needs to stop interrupting the guests.

  • She is great, but I have to disagree with her philosophy. I still believe the DP/cinematographer was born out of technical necessity, rather than an artistic one. The director of any film is the author, he/she SHOULD have own signature look and style. A director SHOULD be able to craft the look themselves given enough time on set. The DP is supposed to be then a master of “matching styles” and preforming “delegate-ive” work, as the director turns their attention to other areas. If a DP is providing a signature look however, that a director COULD NOT perform on their own, the director is simply NOT the author of the film then, as the films “perception” in the end is no longer a product of their “vision” alone. Film is PRIMARILY a visual medium, regardless of how much people claim it to be drama. Drama is obviously a huge part, but it’s drama told through VISUALS. Live theater is PRIMARILY drama, and visuals second. A director that wasn’t a writer, and is not editing, nor shooting. Is not really doing much at all then, influence wise. And certainly not enough to be considered a author. Whats to stop ANYBODY from simply “choosing” pre-filtered work options set-up by professionals and call themselves a director? Literally anybody could do this.

    I’m sure in the next few years, when cameras are even easier to operate and shoot, with even more control in post. The only directors that are going to be competitive enough (financially, creatively, and efficiently) to be getting work, will most likely be doing all their own cinematography… and rightfully so. The technical barrier that DP/cinematographers filled in, is closing quickly. Not that I don’t respect current cinematographer’s work though, they are very talented, it’s just something that a director should be doing when the barriers finally come down and allow it. It’s always still grinds my gears when I see a really crappy director that has no idea what they’re doing, or has no objectively quantifiable skills, that simply “falls into” a great editor and great DP… resulting in great work that they really have no right to in the end. This just shouldn’t be happening in the future…

    • I’ve heard people like Tarantino mention philopshy along these lines as well. He says he still set’s up every shot himself because “he’s a Director” not a “Selector”…

    • Woody Allen is known for not liking shot lists so I guess he’s not a director. Theres no one way to make a film, directors producers and dps works with different levels of control on different sets. The key is finding a balance that best suits the filmmakers style and approach. An Actor who becomes a director, who knows how to communicate with actors on a deeper level but doesn’t know camera, is no less of a director. Its just a different style.

      I also guess that producers will be replaced by ipad 4s as well. The advance in cameras makes barely anything more simple or easier in achieving quality cinematography, cinematography is 90% lenses lighting and composition and 10% camera.

      • I don’t think we can draw any conclusion that producers will be replaces by ipads… producers perform a very important job of organizing and overseeing the financial areas. I don’t see the same arguable creative-overlap that exists in the other areas.

        “The advance in cameras makes barely anything more simple or easier in achieving quality cinematography, cinematography is 90% lenses lighting and composition and 10% camera.”

        Really? There are a TON of advances that make it easier! Yes, you still have to light… but it’s MUCH cheaper and easier if you know what your doing and not simply assuming that what you might have seen on multimillion dollar shoots is the only way. What about in a few years when cameras are capturing 10k images with 25-stops of dynamic range and full 3D depth-maps allowing you to light virtually in post? (oh this will be real, it’s quite obvious too) Lighting with “real-lights” will seem like crude cave-man like approach in the future.Things are going to change DRAMATICALLY in the next 10 years. It might be a whole different industry altogether. That’s why I think it’s more important to discuss the “philosophy” of film-making and the various positions instead of just pointing to examples in the past or present.

    • If the director is not shooting and editing, the DP’s and editor’s names should appear next to the director’s in the credits.

      • Yep, totally agree. People don’t come to watch “one particular area” of a movie… they come from the experience it ALL creates in the end. Not just the performances, not just the cinematography, not just the editing. If you are only working with actors, you have no claim whatsoever to the creative-authorship of the product in the end IMO.

        • Wow, that’s interesting — “you have no claim whatsoever to the creative-authorship of the product in the end.” Really? Out of thousands of working directors, only a very small percentage both shoot and edit…

          If you were talking about the “A Film By” credit, that’s different and I understand that line of thinking a bit more.

        • Your views on filmmaking are childish.

    • I couldn’t disagree more, although I totally understand the theory.

      I don’t subscribe to the “auteur” model of filmmaking, where the director has the one and only vision that everyone must follow. Film *can be* a very collaborative process; my vision has always been enhanced by the different perspectives of others. Of course, I don’t just take any suggestion, but I don’t believe I’m a bad director just because my vision isn’t perfect or the one that always prevails.

      I generally believe that any film is enhanced by two or more well-versed, cooperative and intelligent professionals working together. For me, that’s what the Director/DP team is all about when crafting the visuals for a movie.

      • Well, I actually see your point as well, totally see where you’re coming from… YET… here is the big catch to the “collaborative” model… no matter how many separate “visions” make it to the final product, the director STILL get’s all the credit. I have no problems at all with film being collaborative… but the credit system MUST reflect it then. If you choose to make a film totally collaborative, with the “director” picking and choosing from others that are arguable “more” talented in areas than he/she… there should be no director credit. There should be a main writer and producer, and then maybe instead of “director”, use something like “performance supervisor”.

        The person who said there is no “one way to make a film”, is also correct. But, no matter what model you subscribe to… collaborative or auteur… the final say and the credit ALL still reflect the auteur model. So if you ask me, those who are not acknowledging and working according to the auteur model… are taking HUGE advantage and unjust credit from the other main creative positions.

      • “my vision has always been enhanced by the different perspectives of others.”

        I’m not trying to knock you style or anything… but if you are taking the “director” credit in the end. Which still “implies” creative-authorship… then you’re kind of taking advantage of others’ talents. It’s also not “your vision” if it’s enhanced by others in any other way than time/efficiency-wise.

        Again, not trying to stir things up… just trying to make an objective analysis of it all.

  • Talented, confident, down to earth, and spunky. Can imagine her impressing people when she takes those Hollywood meetings. Looks kind of like Hilary Swank…

  • One thing I have noticed from the cinematographers that I have interviewed – they all realize that as much as they love what they do and must give their creative input (after all that is what they have been hired to do), in the end of the day they must let go of their egos and serve the vision of the Director.
    It’s a balancing of act between being a lonely solitary artist with complete creative freedom and delivering other peoples vision. This way of looking at it has been consistently the vibe and rhetoric I have been hearing from all my interviews with cinematographers.

    (As a cinematographer, I secretly was hoping that other cinematographers would tell me something like “I’m good, they hired me because I’m good, so they listen to what I say and that’s that.” Wishful thinking on my part of course. But again, it’s a balancing act and a smart Director will give his DP freedom to express himself – in the end that’s why the Director hired a specific DP and not somebody else.)