Responsibility - You and your professional life

Hey there Escapists, today I was elected by a group of my peers for an important position in the final student film for my first year of film school. As of 11AM today, I am a Director of Photography (known as the Cinematographer in American productions). For those of you who don't know the nuances of how a film set works, I am now the man responsible for how light falls on every scene that is recorded and how the camera is set up to capture the Director's vision.

This is a big deal for me because I have looked at my life and everything leading up to where I am now and I cannot see myself ever having success in another industry. I may eventually plateau at the position of Camera Operator and not ascend to this position in real life but in school the DP and the Cam Op are the same position so I had to strive for the position of more authority to get to work with the camera. Lighting is a challenge and so is doing everything to a shooting schedule. I'm ultimately the one who will be the one responsible for the actions of five other people and the final look of the short film we're doing.

That's a lot to take on for the first time but I know I'm never going to learn by staying in safer, lesser roles. I need to know what it feels to be under that kind of pressure to see if I might eventually live the life of a DP. It certainly fascinates me as a challenge but on the other hand there are the expectations of all my fellow students who chose me to perform this role over someone else. This is going to be the most important work I've ever done educationally, it may determine how the rest of my class (both as potential employees and employers) value me after this year is over. Most importantly, this is the highest paid position I could ever hope to achieve in the camera department, the only part of the film crew I feel most comfortable working in.

Redlin, what does that have to do with this thread?

Well, everything really. You see we come to moments in our lives either in education or out in the workforce where we are handed the reins of power and responsibility over something a lot of people are invested in. If you're a manager of a restaurant, your employees are invested in the fact that the place won't be shut down due to health issues so they won't lose their jobs because of you. In the film industry it is a little different. The crew will still be paid if the final product turns out terribly but the final product, a watchable movie, is something they've been eagerly striving for. For all their hard work to be squandered by a lack of vision is both disheartening and infuriating. We all want to take pride in the work we do, being able to say "I was a part of that.". People don't go to work in the film industry because it's always fun. Set life is fast paced, hard work with no time to spare for jokes amongst co-workers. Everyone understands that the real payoff from the experience (besides the wage) is being able to sit down and watch all those hours of work translate to a movie experience that is enjoyable. That's why a lamp operator will, without complaint, move the same light over 20 times until it hits the actor's face just perfect in the eyes of the DP. He/she knows that work is going towards something bigger.

That's why getting this position has got me thinking. I'm going to hold some power over the final result of this short film's payoff for those involved. I'm not solely responsible for how it turns out, the Director's decisions override mine on set and how the time is managed depends on how quickly the crew carries out my orders but they are still my orders. I've never been granted this kind of power before so the stakes, personally and professionally, have never been higher.

I'm going to put my heart, body and soul into this film. Otherwise it is impossible to justify being out here, away from everyone I love back in my home province. Life is short and you have to make the most of it. I've been given a chance to show what I can do so I'm going to apply myself to this test like never before. That includes probably giving up all video games, limiting my internet (Escapist) shenanigans and my writing when I hit production. I'm also going to have to fight my usual instinct to follow/work collaboratively and start issuing well thought out orders.

So yeah, that's what's going on with me professionally. I just wanted to make a thread asking if anyone else has taken on responsibility like this. So I'll just write the questions.

Have you ever been in a position where your peers have trusted you to produce results for everyone?

Have you ever in your work life been in a position where the results of your efforts (and everyone who works under you) is being directly judged by those who hold greater responsibility?

How do you feel about managing people, whether for creative or corporate reasons?

And for those of us who do have a background in film:

How do you feel about being responsible for crafting someone else's creative vision?

I know this is just a thread that will sink faster than most (because reading is overrated right?) but questions like this are important to ask yourself when others are putting a lot of faith in you. I owe them, and most importantly myself, the best work I can offer.

I leave the thread to you.

Redlin5:
And for those of us who do have a background in film:

How do you feel about being responsible for crafting someone else's creative vision?

As a screenwriter I have the exact opposite dilemma, which is how do I feel about delegating craft to someone else.

This is from an interview I did with Tomas Mauch, Werner Herzog's DP in a number of films (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, etc.)

Do you try to print a personal style in the movies you work on?

No. Each movie has a style of its own. I don't like bringing "my style" to each one of them. That's not very good... story is what's important, not my personal thoughts. Maybe they are, but my style isn't. Like I said before, I don't want to be the "lonely poet"... the auteur. I don't like that thought. I'm something like, let's say, a servile genie.

I mentioned that because you've worked with several directors known for their style. Critics usually know them as auteurs - Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Christian Wagner these past few years...

I'd like to add something, and that's that I met Herzog before he made his first movie, the very first time we worked together. That was great because it was up to the both of us to come up with his style. Until then he had no idea how to face the making of the movie and I brought up a number of things that, I think, were good for it. Herzog isn't... of course he's submerged in his own ideas, but it's practically impossible to argue with them... This one time I told him, "Look through the viewfinder", back when directors and DPs looked through the camera and not video assist. I said "Please let me know if this is alright, I want to do this and that and then cut in this direction. What do you think?". He would say something like "sure, sure" or "eh, maybe we could go this way...", but we never had a big argument about aesthetics. never. We never had such discussions. I've had a lot of those with other directors though.

You don't like those discussions?

Sometimes. It depends on the director's style. Herzog's bored by them. íHe is! He just wants to check out the shot. And then we decide whether it's goor or not, period, no discussions. It's funny, when I read Herzog's screenplay (for Aguirre) it turned out it wasn't even a screenplay. Herzog never writes screenplays, for any of his movies. Not in the normal sense of the word. They're very poetic. Sometimes you read a phrase that lets you capture the atmosphere of the scene. But never such a thing like "wide shot, slow camera".

Have you ever been in a position where your peers have trusted you to produce results for everyone?
In the United States Marine Corps, leadership is expected from everyone. Marines have a reputation of getting the job done no matter the task and we all hold each other accountable.

Have you ever in your work life been in a position where the results of your efforts (and everyone who works under you) is being directly judged by those who hold greater responsibility?
I have the luxury of being low enough on the chain to know that my every action and inaction can and will be evaluated by those appointed over me. Similarly, I am responsible for both the good and bad conduct of the Marines subordinate to me and I also reserve my own judgments concerning them.

How do you feel about managing people, whether for creative or corporate reasons?
Managing people will always be difficult for me to do, due to problems that I have connecting with others on a personal level. I do well with assigning difficult tasks to those who can handle it and am not above assigning the same tasks to those who may have trouble accomplishing it. It has always been my parallel goal to grow my Marines into stronger and more well rounded individuals.

I do not have a background in film, though I have done some stage acting in the past. I would imagine the two be similar in a lot of ways. There is something to be said about becoming enraptured by the passion the director has for his work. At the end of things, it isn't so much of crafting a single creative vision but merging different ideas into an inspiring collaborative piece.

 

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