How Should A DOP Prepare For A Shoot? - Roger Deakins Answers!

By Arun Fulara. Posted on July 10, 2015

Another set of great answers on the forum on Roger Deakins site. The questions revolve around picking the style & look of the film and how a DP prepares for the shoot.

Q: How do you pick the style of the film you're doing? How do you pick the colour, look, composition, camera movements? Is it something that comes organically from reading the script and speaking with the HOD's or is it something you find by looking at other films of the same genre and 'borrowing'?

Roger Deakins: For me, the overall style of a film always comes from the script and from talking with the director. Whether the camera is an observer or is actively involved, the choice of camera and the general approach to lens length, the philosophy behind the lighting, these are all things that I usually work out with the director.

Colour and 'look' involve the designer and as well as all the other departments so much of what you ask is developed in the pre production period through scouting and discussion of sets and costumes etc.. I will often look at other films but only as a talking point.

I wouldn't say I consciously 'borrow' anything but I'm sure we all borrow all the time without thinking we are doing so. How can you not borrow in a medium that, in some way, always builds on the past.

Q: Roger, Is there any specific rule of thumb a DP should have when stepping onto the set and approaching a shot? Not in a confining sense but a kind of "mark " one should be going for? When approaching a shot obviously the director has his POV or vision for that scene which is paramount. But would say thinking along these lines be a decent rule of thumb?:

1. Shape - Blocking/framing/composition of the subject(s) to tell story
2. Light - Source/quality/exposure/continuity/contrast or effect
3. Color - Temperature/balance/tone

Roger Deakins: First off, I do my best to concentrate on the development of a scene from a story telling perspective rather than from a technical point of view as it is the story that must always take precedence. However, there are all sorts of technical considerations that do come into my mind when I see a location or when I watch a blocking rehearsal and they must influence what suggestions I make to a director.

An obvious one is where to stage action relative to the source of the light, whether natural or created on set. A wide shot that is planned in a room that is so small as to not allow space for the camera might require a wall to be demolished! Although almost any technical issues can be worked out after a scene has been blocked everything has a price.

If compromises need to be made, either because of the limitations of the location or the time it might take to set a certain shot, such compromises will undoubtedly have an adverse impact on the way the scene will work on screen. These issues need to be considered sooner rather than later. I always like to see a location or discuss set designs with the Art Director well in advance of a shoot. It's not always possible but time taken in advance to think through the issues is time well spent. It's all a balance.

As I have often said, everything you do as a cinematographer is a compromise in some way or another. The trick is to minimize such compromises and allow the story it's best shot


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