Why do we talk about Cinematography without acknowledging Cinematographers?

One of the questions I ask myself a lot when it comes to films is the title of this blog post. “Why do we talk about cinematography without acknowledging the cinematographer? And I’m going to try and answer that question today.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is cinematography and who is a cinematographer?

Cinematography is defined in this article as ‘The art and craft of making motion pictured by capturing a story visually.’ Masterclass defines it as ‘The art of photography and visual storytelling in a motion picture or television show.’ Essentially, cinematography is the creation of images you as the viewer sees on the screen when you watch a tv show or movie.

A Cinematographer (also known as the Director of Photography) is also defined in the Masterclass article. It states ‘A cinematographer or director of photography is in charge of the camera and the lighting crew. They are the person responsible for creating the look, colour, lighting and framing of every single shot in a film.’ They are the ones who actually shoot the movie and without them, the movie would not exist.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, time to look at the question I asked at the beginning and what I think the answer is.

Before I started this post, I went ton twitter and searched the word ‘cinematography’ and these were some of the tweets I saw.

What do all these tweets have in common? They mention the cinematography but not the cinematographer. I picked these tweets specifically because they were the first 3 I saw that weren’t from ‘One Perfect Shot.’ (they don’t count because they always talk about the cinematography AND the cinematographer.)

Now, these three tweets don’t count for twitter a whole especially when you factor in #FilmTwitter but I can confidently say that they are pretty on par with that I see on my personal twitter that isn’t dedicated to movies. They also aren’t wrong, the cinematography in all the projects mentioned above IS stunning but again nothing about the people who did the work.

I went on the Academy website and searched the database for the winners in the Best Cinematography category in the past decade and there are names that I consider recognisable like Seamus McGarvey, Roger Deakins, Alfonso Cuarón, and Robert Richardson.

I think the answer to the question I posed is a simple one… the average moviegoer doesn’t stay for the credits and when they do they don’t really watch it. A good example is with Marvel movies, you go watch an MCU movie and any Marvel knows to sit through the credits to see the end-credits scene but the person who isn’t a fan and is watching the movie because they wanted something to watch, doesn’t know that. And even those people who stay aren’t always watching the credits, they’re mostly just waiting for it to be over so they get a sneak peek of the next video. When it comes to non-superhero movies 99% of the people walk out and I can’t really blame them. Not many people want to sit through 5 minutes fi credits to see one particular name (unless you’re me of course). A lot of the time you remember the scene because it’s a visual medium that leaves an impression but by the time the movie ends, you’ve checked out.

During the opening the credits (if the film has one) the cinematographer after the production designer and with the end credits, it’s the reverse meaning that the cinematographer usually comes before the production designer. That is so to say that their names are right there if you choose to look.

Without cinematographers, you would not have a film to watch. They are the ones who take the directors idea and makes it show up on film and are usually involved in every step of the process from pre-production, to post-production. They serve to tell the story. And it’s very interesting hearing them talk about those challenges. In an interview with Collider for Jon Wick 3, the cinematographer, Dan Lauststen says this in response to being asked. “Has there ever been a shot where you’re like, ‘We actually can’t do this?’ Do you always find a way?”

“I always find a way. There’s always a way. We have a lot of challenges and a lot of problems. At the end of the day, it looks fantastic, and Keanu is running around. You know, just push everybody as far as you can. That’s what we try to do on each shot. We try to push ourselves as hard as we can, and a lot of the times it’s a challenge, but I think we’re doing really well. “

I noticed something very interesting while I started the research for this post. You tend to have directors and cinematographers who have made a few movies together and constantly work together. For example:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Elswit
  • Darren Aronofsky and Matthew Libatique
  • The Coen Brothers and Roger Deakins
  • David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth
  • Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski

I think the constant collaboration comes from a good working relationship. John Bailey had this to say about cinematographers working with directors.

“It needs to be collaborative. I’ve always found that you absolutely must have a good, trusting, open relationship with your crew.”

Even the worst films can have good cinematography. Take The Last Airbender, a film that I absolutely despise has moments where it looks good. There are a few examples I could give but this one stood out to me. Andrew Lesnie was some who knew how to use landscapes, and it’s evident here with this shot. And not only does it look good, but it also captures a feeling. When Katara and Sokka wake up to find Aang leaving they’re worried and the slightly darker, cooler colour palette reflects that.

Without further ado, here are just a few cinematographers that are masters of their craft and some of their notable works, as suggested by my brother and my friend Ijie.

Robert Deakins.

Blade Runner 2049

Skyfall

Sicario

Fargo

Emmanuel Lubezki

Birdman

The Revenant

Gravity

Wally Pfister

Inception

The Dark Knight

Memento

The Prestige

Robert Richarson

Once upon a Time in Hollywood

The Hateful Eight

Shutter Island

Django Unchained

The Aviator

Jeff Cronenweth

The Social Network

Fight Club

Gone Girl

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

So you see that with every shot you see, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into it. The next time you watch a movie and think “This looks stunning.” I want you to think about the people who worked tirelessly to turn an idea and concept into the stunning movie that you watched.

I’m going to leave you with this, a quote from Conrad Hall.

“Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities… much more so than music or language.

Originally published at http://www.thecinematicaficionado.com on April 23, 2020.

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The Cinematic Aficionado

The Cinematic Aficionado

Just a girl who gives reviews on some movies that she’s seen. Some may be old, some may be new. There’s good and bad too. http://www.thecinematicaficionado.com/