November 13, 2013

How to Become an Artist: Legendary DP Christopher Doyle Talks About the Artistic Process

Christopher DoyleHere at NFS we've shared plenty of Christopher Doyle's enlightening advice, as well as a cinematography masterclass from the legendary Hong Kong DP. At this point, it's pretty safe to say that Doyle is one of my absolute favorite cinematographers. Maybe it's his fabulous hair style, or his unique sense of camera movement and light. Mostly though, it's due to the fact that he is one of the few cinematographers working in narrative features today who is a legitimate artist in every sense of the word. He uses cinematography as a vehicle to express his singularly fascinating worldview, which is one of the things that sets him apart from the crowd. Now we've got a fantastic piece of insight into Doyle's unique artistic process in the form of an interview from thefilmbook. Check it out below.

First and foremost, for those of you not familiar with thefilmbook, it's an excellent source of cinematography-related content that comes from one of the contributing authors of American Cinematographer Magazine. You should check it out every now and again because there's some delightfully enlightening content published there.

Now that we've got that out of the way, here's the always enigmatic Christopher Doyle on the artistic process:

As usual, Doyle is absolutely spot on with his advice. Perhaps the main commonality with all of his other advice is his insistence on people developing their own unique worldview. That is the primary thing that will affect how you create art and how that art will be perceived by the people who view it. It's something that you have to constantly work on and strive towards, however, because it's a process of observing the world around you and analyzing/contextualizing those observations.

That's not to say that becoming an artist is as simple as figuring out that you have something to say. As Doyle points out, that's only the beginning of the process. The next step is to force yourself into constantly making and being engaged with your work. Waiting for the inspiration can be a destructive process. Just like most writers have to sit down and force themselves to write, filmmakers should set time aside in which they'll be actively engaged in their craft and working to define their voice.

Of course, you can't really go out and shoot a quality narrative film whenever you feel like it due to the fact that it takes a small army of organized people to effectively make that type of film. However, you can always shoot b-roll footage for a documentary or even make experimental films in order to constantly be working to better yourself in your chosen field.

Doyle's process of becoming an artist is clearly not for everyone, but for people who are serious about taking their work to a personal level, and therefore differentiating their work from everyone else's, Doyle's advice might just be the starting point for a fruitful career of making meaningful content.

What do you guys think of Doyle's take on the artistic process? Let us know in the comments!

Link : Christopher Doyle video interview (part 1) -- thefilmbook.net

Your Comment

22 Comments

I still love Doyle for this:
http://tinyurl.com/mt89dxj

November 13, 2013 at 3:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nick

AAAAAND.... that just made my day.

He's not only brutally honest but also right about Life of Pi.

November 13, 2013 at 6:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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He's a prick with couple of good points. CGi backdrops still counts as part of cinematography, darling, as it's the DP still framing the stuff, working with real and VFX lighting with the team. I bet he has no problem with painted backgrounds and all-in-studio sets in the old movies, as expected from retrograde.

Reminds me of anti-digital luddites. "Baaah it's not real films, it's home movies!!!". Get with the times or die, simple as that.

November 14, 2013 at 10:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

Life of Pi visuals, breath taking nonetheless, should not have been nominated in this category at all. The magic of the visuals were created primarily via visual fx. It won the oscar for it, rightly so. I listened to Claudio's interview recently on American Cinematographer podcast and he said that he was brought in to Pi because of his work on Tron and Benjamin Button.

People like Doyle have strong philosophies about cinema. We should respect their opinions, they have earned it.

It breaks my heart to see Deakins nominated 9 times over the years and not have won even a single oscar.

November 14, 2013 at 6:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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That's right, Raj. Life of Pi had at least two of the most beautiful shots I've ever seen in any movie but they were mainly created on a computer.

I don't think this work should go unrewarded, but when the Best Cinematography award was invented, the definition was for creating images in a manner that much of this movie does not adhere to. Whether that means this type of work should just be lumped in with VFX, or have a new separate category created, I don't know. Best Visual Effects Cinematography?

November 15, 2013 at 4:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nick

You're obviously of the millennial school of lazy, lack of creativity mindset.
Today's film world of CGI ,and all the other tech crap is why there are very few good movies in the present.
Getting with the times is a laugh.
For as far as we've gotten, films should be smarter and more sophisticated, yet they're pure crap.
I'm sure you fall into that category

December 2, 2016 at 1:09PM

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martin woyzeck
Actor, writer, acting teacher/coach
208

Interesting interview, but I personally dislike this kind of mystification creativity, and I just can't help but question the sincerity of an accomplished cinematographer who compares his process to that of a novelist.

November 13, 2013 at 4:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

* mystification OF creativity

November 13, 2013 at 4:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

Although he relates it to some mystical practices, I think his answer is actually very down to earth. He acknowledges that the creative process is different for everyone, that some people for example need to intellectualize everything, but for him personally, it's just a matter of doing. Do it regularly, live it, be engaging with it so regularly that you eventually find your own voice in it. This really isn't any different than ever so practical adage of "practice, practice, practice."

I don't understand your beef with him comparing it to writing. He's just saying be open and passionate when you're working. Let ideas come. I worry about cinematographers who aren't this way. If you've ever seen footage of Doyle filming handheld, he looks as though he approaches it as a dance. Which may seem a bit too fanciful for some, but look at the work that comes of it.

I get the criticism of the traditional heroic artist imbued with some kind of magical force unavailable to the majority of people. I think that's bullshit too. But I don't see that with Chris Doyle. He just seems like an extremely passionate, active person. In a recent interview he said he's shot something like 80 films. Working as hard as he does, naturally the dude has acquired a strong voice of his own.

November 13, 2013 at 5:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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brent

Creativity is a mystical process..

November 13, 2013 at 8:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Erin

If you're an amateur maybe. Not if your job is dependent on repeating the process over and over again.

November 14, 2013 at 10:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

Mystification creativity?!
That is why there's not good films today, zero creativity
from directors, DP's,etc.

December 2, 2016 at 1:11PM

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martin woyzeck
Actor, writer, acting teacher/coach
208

Doyle is a genius. A true artist.
He lives and thinks like the genius' of old - Hemmingway, Van Gough. Channeling art into his being.

I absolutely love the man and his work. Chunking Express is one of the greatest films ever made.

November 13, 2013 at 5:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

Chris Doyle is the Keith Richards of Cinema.

November 13, 2013 at 6:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Bolex16

Hahaha.

November 14, 2013 at 2:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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LostFeliz

There's a video of him (on Vimeo, I think) giving an hour long lecture to the students (and some faculty members, I presume, as well) of VGIK in Moscow. I believe it was done in 2009 on the 90th anniversary of that Russian film school.

November 13, 2013 at 11:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

how to 'become' an artist
LOL!

November 14, 2013 at 8:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jake

Last week there was a business article indicating creativity was best in group efforts (not sure as a solo songwriter, I agree) and that fiat, inspiration, blah blah, has little to do with it. I disagree, the expression and vision are the process, and once the elements are in order (lights, camera, action) that vision is and can be replicated but, the script is key and wether or not that is collaborative, is not the issue, nothing happens without a shooting script.

That he expressed just keep doing, is correct, especially for solo art efforts, getting out for B roll, who knows when these can be melded with under bed music, narration or expressive subtitles to manifest as product.

November 14, 2013 at 5:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Robman2

Who did the audio for the video?

June 26, 2014 at 12:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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D

I've was privileged to have seen Chris and WKW working up close and personal when I was living/working in Hong Kong 10 years ago (as an occasional/wanna be actor/extra/whatever), Like all people of an artistic nature he has a few quirks (hint: I never saw him without a beer can in his hands) but the guy is an absolutely brilliant cinematographer; When he's with Kar Wai it's like the two of them are connected (via telepathy), the shots/angles they put together on film were unlike anything I've ever seen other DP's consider doing. (10 years on I've never seen better) - he's supremely gifted.

June 26, 2014 at 1:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Matthew

Damn right

June 26, 2014 at 1:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Matthew

Chris Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin are probably my favorite cinematographers of all time and the most in touch with cinema as an art form and not a technical process that meets a directors criteria.

Of course Atsuta Yuharu (Ozu's cinematographer) is the daddy for me - the closest to impeccable there is.

June 26, 2014 at 6:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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