With the rise of tentpole films and less production overall, the world's best cinematographers don't have as many opportunities to make movies.
Roger Deakins, Rachel Morrison, and Bradford Young...names like these excite us when we learn that they'll be behind the camera of a new film. However, they're not getting those opportunities as much anymore. Why? The rise in tentpole filmmaking means that less mid-budget and low budget movies are being made.
Fewer movies mean fewer opportunities for cinematographers.
Especially picky ones.
That means we're running into a bit of a crisis.
The World's Greatest DPs are Running Out Of Movies to Shoot!
I know what you're thinking, both Bradford Young and Rachel Morrison have done tentpole movies in recent history. Morrison tackled Black Panther and Young was all over Solo.
But both those movies had specific looks and worlds they had to adhere to. And when Young tried to play around with that in Solo, people thought it was too dark.
DPs are looking for more work where they can express their vision without being beholden to anyone or anything, but those opportunities are few and far between.
Recently, IndieWire reported that Morrison had boarded her first feature as a director. It's called Flint Strong, based on a Barry Jenkins script, for Universal. Morrison said the move was partially inspired by her lack of cinematography options in the open market:
“I love shooting. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and if they were still making $100 million dramas, then that’s what I’d be doing...I never saw myself as a director, but it was sort of a combination of enough people that I respected being like, ‘You would make a really good director,’ and then also feeling like I don’t know what to shoot. There’s so few big dramas being made that if you miss the two phone calls, either because you aren’t available or ’cause you know Greig Fraser get them, or Deakins get them, then it’s a choice between big movies that aren’t as good as ‘Black Panther’ or small movies that aren’t as make-able as ‘Mudbound.'”
Morrison is not alone in her limited options. Deakins was recently interviewed at TIFF regarding The Goldfinch and 1917 and had this to say:
“I’m so thankful for both these two films because they are such a rarity these days...I haven’t got anything, if anybody has any work out there that’d be good...It’s a different world. There’s much fewer of that middle budget range. There’s a bunch of lower-budget films, thank God, so people get to experiment, and then there’s these huge tentpoles, big-budget action movies and superhero movies and there’s less and less like ‘Goldfinch,’ it’s really sad.”
So, if there aren't enough movies for Deakins and Morrison, what are the rest of us going to do?
At this point, the only answer we have is to keep creating.
The only way the market can find a boom or even just reach stasis is to have more great movies to make. The rise in streaming and steaming wars hopefully means that even if the studios are not making as many of these movies, the digital producers will.
As much as people lament the small screen, it might be the best place to see unique DPs, as well as established vets jumping at the opportunity to express their own visual stylings.
But let's debate all this in the comments!