Director of Photography

January 22nd, 2014

I’d already ‘been through’ four. Four different Directors of Photography. People joked that I burned through them like a middle school girl burned through boyfriends. They were just being ridiculous.

The four DoP’s (Directors of Photography) that I worked with didn’t work out, but it wasn’t my fault. The first one didn’t understand the concept of having a director, didn’t understand the idea that I was the one in charge. He thought it’d be a great idea to direct the actors according to his own guidance, his own ideas. Several times he literally gave direction that was the opposite of what I had said. And that was not going to work.

The second DoP that I worked with hardly knew what he was doing. He was a complete embarrassment to himself and to my crew.

I worked in independent film, short films, commercials. It was cut throat. People put their reputation on the line every time they worked. Every person they worked with had a voice in their next job. Everybody who was somebody was connected with somebody else. You just had to make sure that somebody had a good opinion of you, or that the person they would ask would have a good opinion of you, or you probably wouldn’t get the next job.

The third DoP, she was a little bit of a different story. She could shoot beautifully, and had a vision for cinema like few others that I’d met, but she was looking for something else between the Director and Director of Photography relationship that I wasn’t interested in. I should have known better than to work with a female Director of Photography.

The fourth Director of Photography had no voice of his own; he added nothing to the set. Having him as DoP was like holding the camera myself. When I finally decided to let him go, I got a lot of shit about it.

“He did everything you wanted him to do, what else are you looking for?”

“I don’t know.” I would say.

But I did know.

I was looking for someone who did more than just what I wanted him to do. Or someone who did what I wanted him to do, but in a way I would have never expected. So many of my team members laughed at me and swore that I was being too narrow minded, too picky.

Until I met Alix.

The first shoot I worked on with Alix was a total accident. And after the shoot was over, I swore to never work with him again. I’d told him to shoot the final shots at 400, 60mm, and by the time the shot was set up and ready, it was anything but 400 at 60mm.

“What the hell? What are you doing?”

“Trust me.” he smiled. It was so disorienting, seeing him smile. A film set isn’t really a place to smile. I never smile.

“I can’t afford to trust you right now, I’m just trying to get the shot.”

“I know.” He smiled again.

That bastard.

After the shot, I swore it looked horrible, but he kept saying:

“Trust me.”

That night I crashed on my couch, cracked open a beer, grabbed a sandwich, and plugged my laptop into my TV to watching the dailies.

There was no way that shot looked the way I wanted it to. Alix had totally screwed up my shot.

I clicked on the file and watched it.

Once it was over, I watched it again.

And again.

And again.

That bastard.

Maybe he did know what he was doing after all.

And that began it – We worked together on another project, a short film. Then a music video. Then he asked me to take the reigns on another short film. Then I asked him to hop on a commercial shoot.

We saw things differently. I don’t think there was a single shoot in which we didn’t yell at each other once or get in the other’s face. I would say wide angle, he would say narrow. I would say shallow depth of field, he would say wide. I would say high key, he would say low. We rarely saw eye to eye, but neither of us could say we created better work with anyone else.

We were like two different cameras, seeing the same actor with different lenses. We were like two actors, reading the same script, making the audience cry in one performance, making them laugh in another. It was cinema, but it was also war.

We were like two cold irons battling against each other, hurting, but sharpening until we could both slice anything around us.

I booked a music video and immediately called Alix, knowing that he’d wanted to do a video for this artist for a while. But he said he couldn’t do it.

“What?”

“I can’t do it. I didn’t know how to tell you. I booked a job, a journalism job. Travelling to the Middle East.”

“Well, when are you gonna be back? We can schedule around it.”

“I’m gonna be gone a while.” I could hear what he was about to say in his tone of voice. “I’m gonna be gone a year.”

“A year?”

He left LA for a yearlong journalism documentary project in Cairo. I tried to tell him that the food is bad in Cairo and that the women were even worse, but there wasn’t much I could do to change his mind. I tried to tell him there was no money in it, but that was the least of his concerns. I tried to tell him that travelling was a bore and that nobody would enjoy it, but even I didn’t believe that one. He smiled, and said:

“Trust me.”

“Bastard.” I cracked a smile.

I never smile.

If you’re lucky, maybe, once in a lifetime you’ll work with someone who helps you see the world through a different lens.

He waved, and that was the last I saw of him.

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