The major finding of a recently released 2011 Writers Guild of America survey was that “screenwriters believe their status in the industry has significantly deteriorated over the past several years.” We are not surprised. I’m sure writers know that soon, there will be more drones in the U.S. Air Force fighting fleet than real planes with real pilots (the kind that can wear scarves around their necks), and that in some cases, pilots no longer pilot passenger jets, but “input” their instructions through phony levers to computers that actually do the flying.
In the world we live in, computers are seen by many as a democratizing force, but computers are also changing traditional crafts. What about the craft of cinematographers? Well, some upsetting stories came across my desk over the summer. One concerned a cinematographer who was not informed when a studio feature that he shot for a director he had worked with many times before was to be colorcorrected; the director, not the cinematographer, was in the DI suite. Another story told of a big-budget TV movie that was re-timed by the director and editor over the protests of the cinematographer and the network.
It is upsetting that those two directors did not respect their on-set collaborators enough to continue collaborating through postproduction. But we are more concerned with the notion that cinematographers are merely pilots (with or without scarves), camera guys and gals whose job begins and ends with on-set cinematography.
In fact, cinematographers learn a tremendous amount by staying with a production through color correction and all the other stages of the DI. We learn not only what worked in our imagining of the film, but also how we can make production better by making post better, faster and cheaper. In the coolness of the DI suite — computers like it chilly — there is time to look at the image closely, and to consider with our director what we might have done differently. With the help of the colorist, the cinematographer also learns how the image is altered as it goes to various display devices.
Anyone can enter a DI suite and say, “I know what I like,” just as anyone can tour a museum and say the same thing. But color correction is not just about deciding on a look you like, just as exposing a digital image is not only about lighting and calculating exposure while watching a monitor. Color correction is about scene-to-scene consistency — of skin tones, of props and locations no matter what time of day they were captured, and, of course, of noise levels.
Directors who do not collaborate with their cinematographers through post seem shortsighted to us. They do a disservice to their films, their producers and their profession, and a disservice to the notion that our community of filmmakers makes better films when all of us are well informed throughout the process.