Cinematographer vs Director


From my research online as well as from reading the book ‘From Reel to Deal’, I have tried to really differ between the roles of a cinematographer and director. Throughout the project, it felt like Aaron (director) and I kept stepping on each other’s toes and he kept saying that certain decisions were his but these decisions came under the look and framing of the scenes and I felt like that was my job. The problem was that I did not know how to explain it to him and for once, I wasn’t sure myself of what fell under his jury and what fell under mine.

So, after reading all that text, blogs and finding forums where people had similar problems, I have made the following distinctions that I plan to take onto my next project as guidelines of clarity between the two roles.

  1. The cinematographer is the head of the camera and lighting crew. The director is the visionary, who brings the script to screen. This means that the vision is always the directors and he in pre-production explains this to the cinematographer, who then plans accordingly and makes it possible.
  2. On set, the director focuses on the actors and whats happening on the set. He does not dabble into what the camera man is doing or how the set is lit. That is the cinematographer’s job. The cinematographer makes the shot composition according to his previously discussed vision of the film with the director.
  3. The cinematographer is the communication between the director and the rest of the camera and lighting crew. On set, the director does not involve himself with them and only communicates with the cinematographer.

In conclusion, a film set is a funny place where everyone knows each other’s jobs. One man may be able to do everything but a successful film is a collaboration, a team effort. If one man actually had to do everything, it would be a disaster, wouldn’t it? The secret to success here lies in specialization and trust. And that is the relationship between the director and cinematographer. The cinematographer has to trust in the director’s vision and the director has to trust the cinematographer’s work.

And I thought it was all the Director’s Job!

Every time someone asks me what I want to do, I say I want to direct a film. But I had no clue how absolutely small and meaningless my understanding of that line really was. I thought I would get to choose my cast, choose how I want the cameraman to work, how my lighting would be, what kind of sound I have going on, and of course direct and edit the whole damn thing. I mean I would be choosing my locations and the look of the character right down to that mole on her cheek, right? But after reading the two articles on crew roles, I realized what I was really looking at was at least a gazillion peoples’ jobs!

Who would have thought? Now I say, I want to try being in different roles and see what I’m good at so I can decide. Hopefully my course will help me through that. The Director and Assistant Director roles still sound really good. But, I like the idea of being in the positions of UPM, Art Director, Production Designer, any of the photography roles and I love the job of the Documentary Videographer who is ultimately the man enjoying from the back seat.

Having worked in Advertising as a script writer before, I understand that most of these roles have blurry lines and for smaller projects like ad films, the crew is much smaller where most of these roles are merged into one man. I also am very familiar with the concept of chain of command as we always worked with a hierarchy. I am not going to say I always loved it, because it can get in the way when your immediate senior is a pain to get along with or an almighty know-it-all. Having said that I understand the reason for it and the chaos that would be created if this was not in place. Work ethics is pointed out as obviously being a huge part of every role’s responsibility, which I think is really important for the ultimate success of the film. You do end up being each others best friends and family for a while there, working on the film with all the wierd and late working hours. I practically lived in my office!

I loved how the different roles have been given their own set of personalities. That was the most fun to read, specially when words like ‘formidable powers’ were thrown my way. It was fun learning about these roles, all in all and it does leave me a lot to think about when planning my future in the industry. One step closer! A billion more to go.