The Free Forbes Film School

Below are a number of articles, snippets, quotes, and all sorts of things that will help make you a better, more professional filmmaker.

As someone who is self-taught by experience, and by watching others, I wish I had had this opportunity to read this stuff when I was younger. I feel it is my duty to pass this knowledge on to younger filmmakers.

I will add to it from time to time.

Suggestions welcome.

The Responsibilities of a Cinematographer

A: Preproduction:

1) Conceptual Research & Design (Prelim talks with director, analyse script, story structure & characters, research period,events,subject and appropriate design elements, and devise visual style and approach and agree on all this with director/prod designer).

2) Practical Research & Design (Ascertain budget, scout & approve locations, plot sun positions, check local weather/tide tables etc, review set plans & stages, and approve props, vehicles, miniatures etc).

3) Technical Research & Design (Visit lab to calibrate, customise and evaluate exposure system for image capture, and establish developing, printing, set timing and transfer protocols, visit equipment vendors, explore new equipment and familiarise with it, invent or have made new equipment, create & approve storyboards and effects bible, design/approve lighting fixtures & design lighting and rigging plans with gaffer and grip).

4) Quality Control (Choose & approve crew, film stock, lab, equipment, second unit and visual effects crew, supervise manufacture and testing of new/modified equipment, visit construction of sets, checking lighting fixtures crew, walk locations & stages with all departments and approve set & costume textures & colours, approve makeup & hair, generate & approve lists for camera, electrics & grips and check dailies screening room for correct standards).

5) Implementation (Cast stand-ins, train crew to use new equipment, walk locations with director and devise shooting plan, make list of special equipment for prod manager and indicate number of days, work with AD to produce shooting schedule, estimate and order film stock, generate and approve rigging and shooting manpower and days, assist other depts in getting equipment, manpower & tests, answer questions by other HODs, mediate inter-departmental problems, check loading & shipping, visit rehearsals, advise & back-up director on any problems, help producer solve any production problems)

5) Testing (Shoot tests for style, lab, lighting of principal actors, camera & lenses, wardrobe & make-up, and for any special effects, rigs, props or methods).

B: Shooting

1) Planning (Check and approve all call sheets and shooting order of the day’s work)

2) Blocking (watch rehearsal, devise shot list with director, choose lens and composition and get director’s approval, ensure composition and movement fulfill scene task, solve mechanical problems with operator, grip, dolly etc, set any camera movement cues, place stand-ins and rehearse & fine-tune, ensure proper coverage for editor, work with AD on background action).

3) Lighting (Design lighting to show set/location to best advantage relative to story, style and dramatic content, light each actor to reinforce and reveal character, ensure mood and tone of light help tell story, design light for minimum reset time between setups, utilise standby painter for control of highlights, shadows, aging, dusting down etc, set and match light value, volume, colour and contrast of each set-up (exposure), and set any lighting cues, dimmers spots, colour changes etc).

4) Preparation (Work out any sound problems, or other depts problems, check, set and approve all stunts with coordinator, set any additional cameras, double-check safety with all concerned, show shot to director to make any final changes & get actors in for final mechanical rehearsal, solve any outstanding problems).

5) Photography (Photograph scene, approve or correct take, check parameters and reset for next take, shoot any plates, shoot any video playback material, move to next set-up).

6) Administration ( Define first set-up in morning and after lunch. Ensure stills are taken of scene, see that “making of” crews get needed footage, ensure script supervisor has any special camera or lighting notes,  check raw stock inventory, try to shoot up short-ends, ensure camera logbook is updated, complete day’s work, discuss first set-up of next day, ensure camera, electrical and grips crews get all copies of rental equipment or purchase orders and approvals before accountants pay vendors, take care of any future or ongoing production issues, answer any questions about future problems, visit production manager and producer at end of day, check for return of all unused equipment, ensure exposed footage gets off to lab)

7) Quality Control (Call in for lab report, view previous day’s work in dailies with director, producer, editor and camera crew, discuss and approve dailies, consult with wardrobe, make-up, production designer and AD about dailies, view discuss correct or approve second unit or effects dailies, order reprints if necessary)

8) Training (teach beginning actors movie techniques like hitting marks, size of frame, lenses etc, and train camera crew for next job up the ladder).

9) Contingency (If director is disabled, finish day’s shooting for him/her).

C: Post Production

1) Additional Photography (Discuss & be aware of all delivery dates, photograph or approve any additional scenes, inserts, special effects or second unit footage).

2) Timing (Time and approve trailer for theatres and TV, approve all optical and digital effects composites, time the picture, retime until correct).

3) Quality Control (Approve final answer print, show to director for OK, approve IP, IN and release prints, approve show prints from original negative, approve all blow-ups or reductions).

4) Telecine/Colour Correction (Supervise and approve film or digital original transfer to electronic or film media, and same for digital intermediates, supervise and approve all letterbox, pan & scan, or reformatting of film, supervise and approve tape-to-tape colour correction and any other media, and show electronic transfer to director for OK).

5) Publicity (Do any publicity, newspaper, magazine, internet, radio, TV, DVD commentary etc).

6) Restoration/Archival (Be available for any future reissue, archival reprint or electronic transfer of film).

“Photography is the daughter of painting.”

– David Hockney

What is cinematography? It is “the art of making motion picture films.”

– English Oxford Dictionary.

Studying the work of painters and photographers is essential for every budding cinematographer. Find artists who influence you and help you create a unique style of your own.

“All great films are a resolution of a conflict between darkness and light.”

– Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC (the youngest ASC Lifetime Award Winner, and winner of three Academy Awards).

The 7 Questions to be answered in any proposal:

1) What are we trying to sell?

2) Why are we doing this film?

3) How? (Production strategy and framework)

4) When? (Schedule)

5) How Much? (Budget)

6) Who is doing it? Creative Team

7) What is your financial plan?

The 7 issues looked at by a broadcaster:

1) Content

2) Length

3) Slot

4) Series

5) Cost

6) Rights

7) Security.

Rights issue is negotiable with broadcaster, self-marketing, SABC marketing system. 15% markup, 3% insurance.

Presales from foreign broadcaster.

Distributors usually take 70%, Producer usually gets 30%.

The 8 C’s of Communication:


Context     – sender (provide participation and feedback)

               – receiver (must confirm and not contradict)

Content     – meaning

               – relevance

Clarity       – talk their language

Continuity – repetition achieves penetration


Channels – use one’s receiver respects

Capacity of audience – least effort required to understand, means its effective.

Banks don’t venture capital.

Internationalise doccies

Storyline driven.

The 6 Guidelines to Watch for when Editing:

Film’s emotion or performance 51%

Plot 23%

Rhythm, 10%

Eye trace 7%

Two dimensional space 5%

Three dimensional space 4%

On Directing

Director needs to have a clear vision of WHERE to take the story.

Luis Bunuel on directing: “Directing a movie is very simple. You do a compromise a minute, and save the essential.”

“During all the time you thought you wanted to direct so you could have control, you never realised that the director is at the mercy of every single person and every single act of God in the Universe. You have no control.” – Christopher McQuarrie (Academy Award winning screenplay writer after directing his first feature film).

“From the moment a phone call gets him out of bed in the morning, until he escapes into the dark at the end of shooting to face, alone, the next day’s problems, (the director) is called upon to answer an unrelenting string of questions, to make decision after decision in one or another field. That’s what a director is, the man with the answers.” – Elia Kazan, Director.

“The act of filming is a heroic act. For a moment, the gradual destruction of the world of appearances is held up. The camera is a weapon against the tragedy of things, against their disappearing. Why make films? Bloody stupid question!”

– Wim Wenders.

Necessary qualities for a director:

“An obsessive desire, and an ability to understand what your vision is, and to communicate it in a collaborative spirit.” – Michael Tilkin, Indie director.

“The director is the conductor of an orchestra. You don’t necessarily know how to play all the instruments, but you know what you want from them.” –  Carl Franklin

On Relationships

“I  always had a good relationship with my cameraman. Fritz Lang told me early in my career: ‘Look for the good shooters, there are some special ones’. He was right, and I was very lucky.” – Billy Wilder.

“The main job of the AD is to build an environment on the set that allows the actors and director to create, and the cameraman and crews to work efficiently.” – Jerry Zeismer (USA)

“Cinematography should complement and enhance a script. This is the essential job of the cinematographer, as visual storyteller and the relationship between the cinematographer and the director is very much a partnership where creative ideas are exchanged to this end.”  – Billy Williams, BSC.

“ . . . the director’s function is to get the actors working along the level of the story . . . . in the end the visual image is the lighting cameraman’s, and I’m sure that even those directors most associated with a personal visual style, like Hitchcock, or Welles, or Bergman, would acknowledge this.” – Douglas Slocombe BSC.

Cinematographers must protect the director’s intended images, as the DOP you are responsible for the final image (provided you have control in post production!).