The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Star Trek Into Darkness
Presidents Desk
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This issue includes a thoughtful Filmmaker’s Forum by Edgar Burcksen, ACE, who writes about the morphing of jobs in the motion-picture industry. He notes, for example, that when non-linear-editing systems began adding what had been opticals in the past — wipes, dissolves, fades, etc. — that work was lifted from the shoulders of artists at traditional photochemical optical houses and placed on the shoulders of editors.

In a similar vein, we note that local TV-news camera crews now drive vans with microwave transmitters and masts, and they edit their video footage in the truck on a laptop, erect the mast and then transmit the story. It is truly a one-man band, and all that work was lifted from the shoulders (and jobs of) a video engineer, a soundman and an editor.

I have observed in the past that the introduction and proliferation of computing has not only increased productivity in many professions, but also created many productive but not-so-good craftsmen. I am sure Mr. Burcksen will admit he is not as skilled at color correction as a professional colorist, an artist who does only that day in and day out. But Mr. Burcksen is right: This morphing is unstoppable and driven by the desire for a smaller number on the bottom line of production budgets.

Editors have machines that are essentially what we used to call “online,” and that term may soon be retired because editors will no longer have to match low-resolution and full-resolution copies through an edit decision list, but instead will edit only in the resolution to be output for final versions. Will there be color-correction suites, or will editors take over that work? They have already taken it over in the nonfiction arena, as Mr. Burcksen notes. We wonder what will transpire in the DI suites for other feature films, where cinematographers are finishing the image work they began during production. Throughout the industry, there has been resolute resistance to paying the cinematographer anything to be involved in post; this is, perhaps, a holdover from release-print timing, when the time to review the color-correction work was only about as long as it took to project the film. This bottom-line thinking fails to recognize that the color-correction time in a DI suite is seldom simply about polishing the image, but is instead about properly finishing work that was begun on set. In many cases, substantial time and effort are required to make the image fulfill the storytelling requirements.

We were chilled to hear of a recent comment made by a producer, who observed that if a scene were shot in 4K, he could ask only for a wide shot and then just pan-and-scan into the close-ups. Hello? Is this not the very definition of a jump cut? In many edit rooms, this ship has already sailed, and, as Mr. Burcksen notes, reframing the image happens often, sometimes with bizarre consequences.

It seems to me that the way forward for the cinematographer is to be a valuable collaborator from prep through post, from previsualizing images (whether with storyboard software or pen-and-ink), to planning workflows with the editors, to shooting with the powerful tools of the DI suite in mind, to the final color work in the post house. By maintaining a constant presence on the project from the earliest point possible, the cinematographer will, we hope, earn the producers’ respect, and will not have to fight to be involved through the end of post.

Determining the storytelling requirements of an image is the work of an artist, as is the shaping of those images by an editor. Cinematographers must strive to not be distracted by the technobabble that pervades our world. Instead, we need to take time to walk through museums, study images, and remember that our bottom line is not only about being responsible to the budget, but also about being responsible to the story and the director’s intent.

 

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