Visual Authors

Just the Cut

That’s what we are. We create the images that are remembered for those moments in a story. Ideas are bred and conceptualized. Story arcs are established and words go onto paper. As a cinematographer you are handed an idea and asked to adapt them to moving images of color, contrast, and exposure. This is why I am a filmmaker. Being able to take an idea and paint with light is what I love. In preproduction you iron out the details long before you spin cameras. You test the proper camera systems and lenses. You figure out what type of filtration you will using to achieve the look in-camera. Will you be moving the camera or will it be static? Handheld or on a dolly? And if you will be shooting for post production color correction you will want to establish a color palette consistent to the production design, wardrobe, and mood of the film. This is all part of the process to allow the cinematographer to become the visual author of the film. But how do you maintain it? A true master says it best:

- In the audio-visual oeuvre, the Cinematographer must choose the best way to film and combine scenes inside a logical sequence. The camera can, and in fact, must, be described as a “narrator of the story”, of figurative composition of the audio-visual work, of the way in which one “sees” the narrated story in images, of figurative imagination, of the new and fine signs of luminosity. Of writing, hence, through the light.

-The Cinematographer manages to transform the literary-dramatic-transmitting language in a figurative one. His work is similar to that of an artist, by painting through the light and the colours derived from it, and his task can also be compared to that of a writer, by writing the story through light, story which, before him appearing in the scene, couldn’t be expressed cinematographically.

- Light is a form of Art, specially when that form of Art is created through a language of images and, hence, it can’t exist or even have a name without Light itself. The space that the film director determines and the co-authors complete, wouldn’t be “visible” in any way by the human eye without the Light, without the contribution of that person that stablishes the quantity and quality of it necessary to visualise each single image, each scene and each film as a whole.

- The Cinematographer is the alpha and omega of the photographic process and, thanks to his conceptualisation-execution-creative communication, inherent to each image, he is as responsible as the director of the film for its creation. The concept of lighting and composition, which requires of a vast knowledge, a great sensitivity and a high doses of creativity, is a task and responsibility of the Cinematographer on his own.

- Cinematographers create the visual structure of a film throughout the conflict-harmony between light and shadow. The “mise en scène of the light” portrays each single image and the sequence in which it appears. The “dramatics of the colour”, exploring the different blends of it, allows the Cinematographer to emphasise emotions and feelings.

- The Cinematographer is the only person that develops and is responsible for the concept of lighting as a channel to create a figurative structure, which is not just a way of watching, but an “architecture of the light”. He creates a way of writing with specific and individual Light that is part of his own artistic expression.

Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC
Huelva Congress Manifesto – 2004 (via :http://www.imago.org/)

This is not easy to do. The job of the DP does not end when the last shot is taken. You have to make sure that when your images make it to post they are consistent with the looks that were established prior to photography and what was captured on set. This is how you preserve all the effort you did in cooperation with your gaffer to expose the scene true to the story and what is happening to the character(s). You may ask, “Can you really change the look of a film that much in post?” Yes. Hands down yes. With the power of todays non linear editing (NLE) software and color grading suites you can completely change the look and feel of the original material dramatically. And with film being a business of collaborative efforts you will have to place this in the hands of another person. Ask questions before you get to the point of no return. Talk with the powers that be on the production to be present in color grading. It is the worst feeling when you are screening the final version of your film and you wince at every cut because the images on screen differ drastically from what you captured in camera. Your original canvas has be kept or the actions, beats, and feel of the story may not translate well compared to what was intended by you the cinematographer.

Maintain your visual authorship.

Chris Marino
Chris Marino is a cinematographer based out of San Francisco. Being also an editor, he also writes about post production for the site. Most of his work has been on commercial spots and short narratives. Follow @chrisMmarino