September 6, 2014 at 11:11AM

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Hiring a DP

Hi

If I were interviewing a Cinematographer for an upcoming project what are some key questions to ask? What is the crucial information I should relly seek to ascertain?

9 Comments

You would want to see their reel, to see the kind of work they have done and whether or not you like it. Everything else depends on you and your project. Have they worked on similar projects with a similar scope? Do you get along with them and do they understand what you are trying to accomplish? Do they know the kind of equipment you desire to use or will you leave it up to them to make the call on camera type, film stock (if its a film project), lighting setups for different scenes, and so on?

I've had clients ask me some basic quiz questions in the past just to see if I knew my stuff. One example was "In a three point lighting setup, what is each light called and what is its role?" I don't know if I would go asking cinematographers questions that basic. In this case that was a corporate client who was out of state and I don't think they had seen our reels yet. Plus in their defense they weren't looking for a DP specifically, they were interviewing various out of state vendors to accomplish a certain project. So that was a different kind of setup than something like a feature film.

September 6, 2014 at 11:35AM

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Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
760

I don't think it's too off base to request references as well. See if you can get some insight into how they are on set by talking to a couple people they've already worked with. In my opinion the Director-DP relationship is one of the most crucial to success on any project, so the more you know about them the better your chances of finding the right person.

September 6, 2014 at 11:46AM

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Douglas Henderson
Director/Writer/Producer/Actor
956

Just as Douglas and Mike mentioned up there, I think the key is looking at their reel. The main part of vetting a DP is making sure their visual style complements your vision for your specific project. I've worked with a certain director for a while now because he knows we see things the same and he can tell me what he wants to literally and emotionally establish and he knows he'll love what I give him.

In my experience, a cinematographer interview is less of a formal interview and more of a discussion of the project (think first production meeting). Maybe discuss your vision for the project and what they think they could add to that. This can be tricky because DPs like to keep their ideas on lock until hired, but most will happily discuss the creative side of projects.

September 6, 2014 at 3:34PM

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Aidan Gray
Director of Photography Assistant Camera | Gaffer
1498

Reels are important, as stated above. Questions for them are good to understand their thought process. Such as how would you build this shot (example from script) lighting and camera movement wise. Interviewing to make sure you get along and that you can work together to accomplish the project. Story:

I found I was once working with a D.O.P. who suggested using a jib as opposed to a dolly to accomplish the shot, and the truth is the dolly was the better choice. He then told me something wasn't possible to do, so I threw the camera on the Steadicam and did the shot myself. This is a D.O.P. I haven't worked with again, but what I learned was his reel said one thing, but he was defiant and didn't take direction well. That's why it's important to interview and talk with them beforehand. In the defense of the D.O.P. I had worked with him before this project as a gaffer and he was fantastic as a gaffer. It was when I promoted him that I found problems.

For me the key is that they know their camera tech, their lighting techniques, and then that they are fun to work with and easy to get along. And that they take direction well, but know when to fight for something they believe in in a respectful way. A lot of the great director/cinematographer relationships are build over multiple projects. For me the more you work with someone the more you start to understand how each works and you can start using short hand. So try and find someone that you'll want to work with on future projects.

September 7, 2014 at 1:56PM

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Tim Buttner
Multi-Media Expert (writer, director, producer, D.O.P., etc)
364

Working with a person in a smaller project (such as say on a short film, before using them for a feature film) is a great way to get a good feel for how the working relationship will be.

Plus of course as everybody as has said... check out their reel!

September 8, 2014 at 7:40AM

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David Peterson
Wedding Cinematographer
2307

The main things to look for off the top I think are:
A Demo Reel.
Possibly a couple projects that fit the genre or style you're looking for.
Their attitude and how they hold themselves during the first conversation (are they asking questions, are they just agreeing with everything, are they polite, are they friendly, funny, ect. this is someone you're going to spend a lot of time with you better like them)

Once you've short listed people:
The connection between the Director and the DP (this is huge, if they clash heads in the first meeting then things are a slippery slope down)
Their camera and lighting knowledge. (what is going to be best for your story, do they have experience with that sort of package)

One I get a lot is the connection to great crew. I always get asked if I can bring along a gaffer/operator/assistant/ect. I can see from a producer stand point on smaller scale projects that this would be a huge plus not having to source out additional people on their own.

Good Luck!

September 8, 2014 at 11:40AM

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Chase Axton
Cinematographer
1176

Hi Tom,

Yes the reel is definitely important. But, you also want to be sure you can work with this person, and that they understand your project (i.e., tone, look, budget).

I ask random questions like:
- Who's your favorite artist or photographer right now?
- What are you some of your favorite films or tv shows?

For me, the most important thing is to learn about them and identify strengths so they can bring that "umph" to the project.

September 9, 2014 at 11:02AM

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nic santana
Director
13

their personality is almost as important as their talent. Do they follow directions? Are they creative, nice problem solvers? Are they an artist or artisan - funny serious - good with actors, good with your vibe - go with the flow or more controlling. References are a good idea. Reels are one thing - working with them is another. We all have our personalities and the director/dp relationship is just like going on a date - some dates go well some don't. Meet with them.

September 9, 2014 at 5:10PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1669

I am producing a documentary about llamas right now with two of my friends from school and we wanted to hire on a DP because we really wanted to have a beautiful cinematic feeling to this documentary. We hired on someone we knew from school and we had really liked his work.

Something else that set him apart (that we didn't realize until we were shooting) was that he worked very well with us. This was very important because we go on week long shoots where we spend every single minute together, either filming llamas, driving, or sleeping in a hotel room. I think that because of that we were able to consistently have a positive energy while filming and have everything work a lot smoother.

So I guess what I am saying is when hiring a DP for a long term project make sure that they are someone you can work with and get along with. The best way to figure that out is go out to lunch with them or do something with them that takes away the feeling of a business interview and lets them be themselves.

This really goes for anyone on the crew really, but I can work with PAs that I don't care for a lot easier than I can with a DP.

September 10, 2014 at 5:34PM

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Aaron Allsop
Producer
260

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