The Infinite Learning Curve

A gel test on the cyc wall

It’s impossible to spend a day on set and not learn something. I’ve had a good run of projects recently, and here’s a quick recap of some of the more salient lessons. The crazy thing is, I feel like I’ve already learned these same lessons a hundred times over.

  1. It is critical to develop a strong creative relationship with the director before photography begins. No amount of Skype calls and emails can make up for time spent together in-person talking about the film. Production is just too intense (and too expensive) not to have that trust already established.
  2. Cyc stages are deceptive in their complexity. I’ve lit or helped light hundreds of cyc stages over the years, so I thought I could get away with not having the right personnel (a gaffer and his team) or the right gear (spacelights, a scissor lift, etc). I couldn’t. It was a rookie mistake.
  3. With an Irish accent, the English words “good” and “cut” sound remarkably similar to the American ear. I spent the first two hours of a shoot thinking I was doing really great work. The director loves it! In retrospect, she must have thought I was crazy.
  4. Beware the production that thinks the DP is a technician. The DP isn’t a technician: he hires technicians. Yes, he has to be savvy enough to manage them, but at the end of the day the DP’s job is to develop and manage the visual architecture of the project. This isn’t possible if the he spends all his time personally troubleshooting technical issues. Production may think it’s saving a buck by refusing to hire sufficiently experienced crew, but if you cut too many corners with personnel it can jeopardize the entire shoot. I need to find a better way to explain this: sometimes the message doesn’t seem to get through.
  5. At the end of the day, people will remember how you made them feel more than how you shot their movie. This seems obvious, but it often gets lost in the shuffle of production. It is extremely difficult to get a good product from a bad relationship.

What’s next?