Ever since I was young I’ve had a love for movies. Just the idea of telling a story where you can actually see the events playing out in front of you has fascinated me. Not only that, but the fact that you have the opportunity to make your audience feel every emotion imaginable is incredible. However, when I was younger, I thought the director did almost everything. I tended to ignore the thousands of names that roll during the credits and instead I only focused on that name in large print that always showed up first. While the director’s job is a big one (that may be the understatement of the century), it is most definitely not the only job. From continuity to sound design, there are just so many jobs to choose from for even a single short film. With all these choices, I’ve begun to find it hard to set my sights on the director’s chair alone.
Nowadays, I’ve begun to realize I think about practically everything I see as if I was looking through a camera lens. I think within the rule of thirds grid, I think about headroom, lighting, the sounds I’m hearing, and how to capture whatever I happen to be doing at that time. Ever since I began focusing on my films, and cinematography especially, it’s all I think about. Some new story or scene is always playing through my head and I am always thinking about where I would set up my tripod, or some fancy gimbal I wish I had. The truth is, as I’ve experimented with my skills more and more, I’ve begun to realize I want to be a cinematographer or editor more than anything else.
Although a director has the power to create characters, and present them in the way that they imagine in their head, a cinematographer has the responsibility of telling their story. Now I know the points can be argued that the director is the one who portrays the story through the actors, or that the screenwriter is the one who wrote the story in the first place, and these arguments are somewhat correct. But the cinematographer is the one who decides what to put in the frame, what to show the audience, and how to stitch the shots together to form the story that everyone is trying to tell. If the cinematographer misses something, everyone misses something. If you can’t see someone’s facial expressions or their environment, you cannot get a read on the situation or the character’s emotions.
A Director of Photography, the head cinematographer, has a large part during post-production involving how to edit the film together, the color palette that should be used, and basically, how the story should be told on screen. A cinematographer has so much power over the story in a way I never realized. Of course, many jobs are essential to putting a film together, but whatever a cinematographer sees, the audience will also see. Whatever a cinematographer illustrates in their shot, the audience will understand. That influence is what can make or break a film. You can have a great story and an amazing director, but if the shot, or scene is not captured right, how can you have a great film?
Of course, a cinematographer is not everything. A finished film is about teamwork. The amount of time and energy that is put into any type of film is astounding. I mean, even low budget films have at least two minutes of credits. Name after name after name will scroll down your screen, and usually, all we think about is the director. Being an amazing director comes with fame. Being a skilled cinematographer doesn’t really. I think that when I was younger I wanted to receive that kind of fame. Now, I think I’ve come to realize that it’s your work that really matters. The fact that you can say you shot that emotional scene or that intense fight sequence, or that short film, or that blockbuster movie. What really matters is the fact that you can admire your hard work even if others might not recognize that it was you who pulled that off. Being a cinematographer is an important job, but you must stay behind the scenes, or out of the spotlight. However, sometimes it’s okay to stay “Off The Script.”