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Can you direct and DP at the same time? ( for a indie feature)
  • Hi guys, we have just made a trailer for a feature film idea, 

    Now, I was the director, DP, editor and writer for the trailer, I shot it using two GH2s and I had a sound recordists plus a grip. I know shooting a trailer opposed to shooting a full feature film is massively different. But I believe that the crew we have (possibly with more crew ie 1st AD/ AC) we could make this movie. But I have "industry" people telling me that if I want some funding or a "famous" name attached to the film, I can't do everything; I have to choose. I was told to that the director can't do DP because he/she has to focus on the story. Is this true? I guess if you look at successful directors in Hollywood, they don't DP on thier own movies. I know we're not on that level, but I keep going back to the guy who made monsters and how he made his first feature....

    Can I have my cake and eat it too? 


  • 58 Replies sorted by
  • imo its better to have more people, im one man army myself but ive come to terms that if you are doing more than one stuff you may do them great, but somethings may slip past you, otherwise if you are focused on one area the result will be better and that shows on the final product!

    i would say try to get some one willing to help you do DP, but if you cannot go ahead and put it in your best, try to have your diagram of light as established as possible on paper to easy of the work when shooting!

    btw trailer looks great very promising, i think i have seen on of the actors somewhere!

  • I always direct/DP my own stuff. I think it's easier, no delegating and no explaining, I just put the camera where I want and shoot.

    IMO, I think they should have always been the same job, but with film this just wasn't possible. You needed someone who knew the film stock, exposure meters, ect... it USED to be a full time job. So it made sense that this is where the DP position came from, but just seems out-of-date in next-gen production. I think one of the big advantages of digital is that it now allows the director to shoot his own stuff, yet so many people seem adamant on keeping them separate. The unions in hollywood want them to remain separate because then there are more jobs, guilds, and bureaucracy for them to take money from. So there's that. Then I think there is also support from the people that somehow fell into the director position, for some reason or another, and can't actually shoot their own films... so they pretend like a DP is a necessary position to cover up for the fact that they don't know what they're doing. This is most of hollywood unfortunately. Directing is apparently, and unfortunately, more of a "ceremonial" position than anything these days. Of course, there are the artuers and greats, like Kubrick, who have complete control and mastery over photography. This is the only pure form of directing if you ask me. I think that the title director should be changed to "story/performance supervisor". Otherwise, "Director" implies that one has complete mastery and control over all artistic/creative aspects of a film, when allot of the time they don't.

    I've herd more than a few times around hollywood here that if you want to direct... don't get good at anything else. This to me, is probably the most insulting and disgusting statement I've ever heard. Directors should be good at ALL aspects of film-making... not just people who hire others and then throw their opinions around.

    BTW, your trailer looks great! I wouldn't hire a DP and compromise your vision just because some people think "it's the professional thing to do". You know what you're doing... keep doing it!

  • I think it depends on the filmmaker, the kind of films they make, the way their process works. I would say choose what you think is best for you - if you've made it work, or you feel working this way is the only way you can work, you should keep it up.

    Some filmmakers are all about the frame on a moment to moment basis. Some stand off to the side and watch the actors. Some directors like to operate the camera themselves, but don't take a DP credit. I don't think there's any one right way to make a film, just the way that works best for you.

    I can sympathize with producers who might balk at a first time director also being DP, but if you've produced some good work in this manner and they're still not interested then I think you must look for better producers.

    I really do think filmmaking takes all types. Many of us who have come up on DV/HD/DSLR type cams running NLEs at home and even having the option to mix sound or color grade or do VFX work probably exhibit more of a hands-on, DIY philosophy.

  • Thanks guys for your great responses. Bwhitz; you hit the nail on the head. Thank you guys so much!

  • They are two distinct skill sets and the info in this thread is garbage. The only time you should try and do both is if you have no other choice. As Bwhiz says, Liman did it because it was his only option. Can you do it? yes. Should you do it? NO. A director should work with the actors and the script, not worry about lighting ratios and hot spots.

  • @brianluce: Exactly. I'm a professional DP, but I couldn't direct at the same time. As a director you need to focus on the story, script and always working with your actors. While the director can (and in my opinion, should be) involved with the visuals, they still shouldn't worry about something like we need to worry about, like negative fill, filtration or bounce. If one was to DP and direct, I think either side could be lacking (and if it is, then let it be the visuals, acting is still the most important), especially on a feature.

  • Stephen Soderbergh DPs many of his movies under the assumed name Peter Andrews. His films aren't shit. So I'd say if you have the talent you can do both.

  • The real question, IMO - does it make sense for you to do both? Can you benefit from dividing the roles, how could you divide the roles and who would you like to work with?

    For instance, If I were to direct and DP a feature simultaneously I would most likely try to find a) an assistant director that I trust or b) a lighting designer that I trust or most likely both. For me, the assistant director would need to have good eye for the story / scrutiny over what the actors do.. Similarly, the lighting designer would go about his work without me having to do any adjustments. In this instance (as director / DP) I would be more geared towards action that takes place in the frame and how it looks, rather than working on the actors' performances - hence a second eye / voice from a different perspective would be good to have. Another thing, I would need plenty of time for planning (shot by shot), and a plan that is good enough to stick with. It would take ages to get everything in place otherwise and most likely end up in chaos.

    Sure, the last part is much similar if you have separate director and dp - but there is more leeway to make on-the-fly adjustments.

    Basically - I don't care about established roles since long before, but I care about synergy. That each and every one involved can bring something good to the table. I think that is what you should consider, when drawing up the "roles". Industry standards are one thing, they serve a purpose - but those purposes might not serve the conditions for your production.

  • Another thing to consider: If you bring in a DP or a Director - Can you let that guy do his job or will you try to force your will upon him? (As it seems to be you who initiated the project)

    This also relates to trust and who to bring into the project, but this is a usual recipe for disaster (if handled badly). You may have an extremely difficult working situation, a bad end result, or both.

  • @rsquires And Bo Jackson played pro baseball and pro football. There are very few Bo Jacksons. Don't fool yourself.

  • @brianluce +1. There's a reason they call it a collaborative art. A good DOP will enhance and augment a Director's original vision, as will a proper editor.

  • @brianluce is without a doubt correct. The fact that they are separate roles is not an industry conspiracy. On a film set, there is a limited amount of time to get anything done, and it needs to be done at a high level of execution. Having different people focus exclusively on smaller constituents of the whole will make each area better. By communicating with the cast and crew, the director ensures that all of those individual areas are bringing what's needed to make the film he or she has imagined.

  • Great discussion. Touches on the heart of filmmaking. Can you DP and direct at the same time? Sure. The better question, I think, is should you? Obviously there are times, because of budget, that this question is answered for you. But let's talk about those other times, when having a DP is a choice.

    Making a movie seems to be a lot like parenting. You've got this unruly, chaotic thing in front of you. While you may labor under the illusion of having perfect control over it, this really is nothing more than an illusion. You can guide and instruct and hope, but in the end things, lots of things, happen outside of your control. But out of that chaos something magical and amazing happens - something comes to life before our eyes. A film becomes art. A child becomes the person they were meant to become.

    I'm raising two girls, who are now ten and six. It is F'ing hard work. The hardest work I've ever done. Could I do it by myself? Sure. But I'm very thankful that my wife is there with me. I think a good DP/director relationship is like a marriage. Ideally, you share the same vision of how you want your kids to grow up or the film you want to make. You each can take on slightly different roles - while parenting, we like to think both parents are the same, but they're not really. Good parents present a unified front to their kids and they have the same motivations and, as I mentioned earlier, the same vision, but they can each bring slightly different parenting skill sets to the table. This is good for the kids. Seems to me this is true of filmmaking as well.

  • At least since going digital, Robert Rodriquez has been his own DP, editor, production designer, special effects supervisor, writer....and occasionally caters, ;P. Seriously everything but the catering, he's said he does it because it saves money and he has the right vision for what he wants and it's fun to do all those jobs.

    Though, to be fair, you can't do all those jobs without something suffering, and in his case it's writing. He's not a very good writer, or at least he doesn't put as much time into writing as he should.

    He's said he does his own DP'ing because with HD monitors now, what he see's in the monitor is what he sees when editing so he just lights it until it looks good in the monitor. So, what kind of monitor will you use?

  • Why shoot yourself in the foot? If you are the Dp then likely you are focused on the lighting, shots, lens and look etc... Its just way too easy to loose sight of the actors and the performance aspect of the piece because you are busy worrying about the exposure or camera move in a particular shot. It's like driving and texting at the same time, you can;and just like this analogy I too am guilty of it--> but seriously you shouldn't do it.

  • I think Bwhitz summed it up best....its all about what you know. The more you know about every aspect of filmmaking, from the lighting, the sound, the actual camera work, etc the more versatile you will be overall, and the less people you will need to depend on. To say that a single man cannot come up with an original idea, create storyboards, interview potential actors, create the mood/tone of the film through creative camerawork and direct those actors involved is kind of self-demeaning. Give me one person who can effectively operate a boom pole and we're in business. If it doesn't come out that well, we'll do it again..after all, we're not shooting on film here.

    azza act, I like the idea of the movie, I come from a long line of Irish bare knuckle fighters. We are still one of the largest gypsy clans in Ireland. The boxing in the movie is a little Hollywoodish, but only a boxer would ever notice. The general public I am convinced likes to see non-authentic boxing as portrayed in The Fighter and Rocky...real boxing technique, while more effective at knocking people out, doesn't look as good on film. The filming is great, I love the freeze frame shot, reminds me of the movie Snatch. Good stuff!

  • I've directed feature crews of 40 people, one-man-band shoots, and about everything in between. What's best depends on the project. You should never underestimate how much value a talented DP brings to your shoot. However, there are also times when it's easier to just do it yourself than try to fight with a DP who may be talented, but is making a different movie than you are on some level. (Of course, the best is when it all clicks!)

    I've found that when it comes down to it, I can do about 2-1/2 jobs well at any given time. (It's extremely rare that I'm ever doing just one job on a set.) After that, things start to slip. That can easily be directing and DP-ing (plus that extra layer of producer/talent/client-management that always seems to be an extra 1/2 a job tacked on to the director's duties) if you can take other pressures off you elsewhere. As a couple of people have suggested, bring in a good AD so you're not also watching the clock constantly. Have a good AC so that you can hand off camera prep etc. while you talk with the actors between shots.

    Lighten your load elsewhere and you'll buy yourself a better chance at success. I've been on those shoots where everyone is doing too many jobs and though I've always gotten through them, I recall that my feeling throughout was always that I could have come up with better direction, better shots, and a better film if I'd just had the opportunity to focus on one thing more throughout the process.

  • Your cinematography and angles look great. I do both myself, but it can stress you. I usually make sure we have good rehearsals with the actors, so I don't have to do much once I am behind the lens. P.S. Cant wait to see your film. Great story and the trailer succeeds in pacing and building interest!

  • A lot of cynical people will tell you that the industry doesn't need both a director and DP and that it's "ceremonial" or that it's because of unions, and yes some of it might be true but my experience says that it's better to have a DP and a director as separate people. As the name suggests, a DP can focus on getting the best quality picture, and all that is included in that, while the director focuses on the people and performance. It's like any other business, you have people who are good at certain things and they do those things. Ask them to do something else and you're going to have problems.

    It's extremely tough to do both, even though some people like to do both because it makes them feel more close to the action or makes them feel more accomplished (pride, bragging rights, etc), but from what I've seen and experienced, it only makes things take longer on set and you miss a LOT of little things that would normally be noticed by someone who isn't trying to do everything. I always find more problems while peeping the one-man-shoot types of vids. My own included.

    Just think, if you are trying to focus, keep framing, watch the talent hit their marks, make sure they have the right expressions, keep their line timing, make sure it looks ok, make sure the boom mic isn't in the shot, make sure the battery isn't low, make sure the grip isn't going to push you off the track, make sure the jib isn't going to hit the ceiling, make sure the AD has the right scene/shot list, make sure the AC has the right card/film can/tape ready, make sure that the lights are metered, etc,etc,etc.

    I could go on and on.

    You can't possibly have a checklist that you go through every scene or else you'd never get anything done. For small trailers and music vids you might be fine, but for a real movie these issues compound real quick and you'll find yourself with too much junk and not enough good shots to piece together. My first longer length shoot was a disaster. Each scene looked fine, until trying to fit them together while editing.

    I think it breaks down like this:

    Too few people= missing details and a lot of hard work. Takes the fun out of it.

    A few people (who don't know what they are doing)= missing fewer details and less work as some people can hold bounce cards, fetch food, be taught to grip, etc.

    Right amount of people (who know their jobs)= everyone does their job without needing oversight, pressure is off and you can enjoy creating.

    Too many people (who know their jobs)= people sitting around eating all your craft services and wasting your money.

    Too many people(who don't know what to do)= missing details, wasting money and babysitting.

  • My opinion may not matter much as I am just in the middle of filming my first "real" project. But just in case, here's my opinion. You can do both, but its a lot more work and you have a lot more to watch out for, so something might slip past you without noticing. I think its best to have a separate DP. That isn't too say its not possible to DP and direct by yourself, like you said, it will save you the strife of having to explain, you can just do it yourself. But you do run that risk of missing something because you are so consumed by all the different jobs you are doing. I would just say, try doing it yourself and maybe have an assistant on hand to maybe keep an eye out. Best of luck, trailer looks great.

  • @azza_act Something missing from this discussion is the issue of personal satisfaction. Do you love DP' ing? Does getting a great shot fill you with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, a feeling that you've found the visual "truth" and beauty of that moment? I've seen your trailer and I think you're more than capable of doing the job. You never know when you're going to shuffle off that mortal coil so why deprive yourself of a beautiful & unique experience? If it's feasible for you to do it and you WANT to do it, I'd say forget what anyone else says and just do it.

  • Well, I guess I'll put it another way... Does it make sense that there are DP's? Yes. But, does it make sense, in the philosophy of filmmaking, that these jobs should remain separate... especially now when we're seeing cinema-grade images in real time with tiny cameras? Nope. I don't think so. If a director truly has a vision... aka see's the shots in his head... then there is no need. A director should be seeing the shots, edits, and music in his mind before they even start shooting. If you can't... well you're not a director then. Sorry.

    Many say that the director should just focus on the story and performances, but EVERYTHING effects these! Every angle... every cut... changes the audiences perception of the performances, so to say that a directors responsibility is only the "performances" and "story" is removing about 90% of what makes films... well, films. They aren't live theater. An oscar worthy emotional performance shot with a 14mm lens from 30 feet away at a 20 ft high angle with circus music is not going going to play to the audience the same way as a 70mm close up with a single violin music track.

    There are no performances. The visual aren't separate. The story doesn't stand on it's own. They are ALL ONE continuous stream of aural and visual information! To really "direct" you need to understand how they ALL work to make ONE experience. Sure you can hire the best of the best and crank out something that audiences will like, but this is kind of missing the point. There is a difference between having a VISION, and having an IDEA. Anyone can have an "idea" for something they would like to see, then hire a bunch of people to make it work. But it takes a specific talent to actually see a movie, before it exists, deliver that experience to others, and have them respond the way you did upon first visualizing it.

    I mean seriously... If you hire a great DP, oscar winning screen writer, the best actors, the best editors, have an amazing composer, and the best AD's and script supervisors money can buy... then I'd like to meet the person that CAN'T direct that movie. Sure, some people might botch it up. But I think those that could, would strongly outweigh those that couldn't. Because at that point, directing becomes nothing more than "opinion giving". I can't count the number of sets I've been on where the director just sits in a chair watching a monitor and telling everyone to "do another one" until they see something they like. As an aspiring director myself, I never want to be this person, and find it insulting to the artform that some just gets to sit on their ass while others slave to create a professional product for them to take credit for.

    There's a big difference between hiring an editor and cinematographer to save time vs. hiring an editor and cinematographer because you can't do those jobs. And, sadly to day, I've seen more of the latter. I've heard more times that I can count, people saying things like "oh I don't know how to shoot anything... I'm a director" or "Oh, I don't edit, I'm just involved with the creative stuff." These people deserved to get punched in the face. How they got to the director position is beyond me.

    Might just be the mind set of how people grew up and a cultural thing too. Back in the midwest and east cost, if you can't do something, you learn it... or don't do it. Out here in LA, if you can't do something, it must then be below you... and other people should do it for you.

    Wow, that turned into kind of a rant. Sorry guys... !

  • ^ agree 100% To this day it astonishes me that some top name directors hire the best and brightest illustrators to storyboard their scripts and then have no compunction about taking credit as being the brains behind the vision.

  • Wow... Didn't expect this response! Lots to consider. Thanks guys for you different view points and support. From my point of view, I guess I love doing both so it's a tough call but in the end of the day it's the story that counts. And what's going to be the best method of getting the story done.

  • "Wow... Didn't expect this response! Lots to consider."

    Yea, I think these days it's becoming more of a heated topic as technology and modern tools make jobs (that used to take lifetimes to learn) achievable in months. It's all becoming a different playing field... ;)