Art & Business Make Strange Bedfellows

Article excerpt

This is not a pleasant tale for me to tell. Ironically, I feel a little of the victim's guilt about the incident. I feel there must have been something I could have done to prevent it, but to tell the truth, I don't even know how to prevent it from happening again, to me or to any cinematographers who may be reading this, which is the reason I have chosen to publicly discuss the incident.

I was engaged to photograph a network M.O.W. Over the years, I've developed a few techniques to ensure quality tape dailies. I dictate copious notes into a cassette that is sent to the telecine timer daily. I shoot a color chart and gray scale, often through correcting colors, for each lighting change. I telephone the timer each day and watch ¾" or Beta dailies at lunch. In short, my dailies more or less accurately reflect the "look" I am going for. On this particular job, a number of flattering calls from the executive producers and the network convinced me that everyone was happy with the look we were creating.

We were to make a low-contrast 35mm positive print from which the final telecine tape transfer would be made. I arrived at the timing session to watch the first trial print and was surprised to see one of the executive producers (whose background was financial, not technical) sitting there. Not only was he present but he immediately instructed the timer to make this serious drama "Light . . . Light!" I told the producer that the movie wasn't shot to be "Light . . . Light!" He replied that it was his movie, not mine, and that he didn't want any arguments.

What followed was a nightmare for me. The producer, who, to the best of my knowledge, had never before been involved with a timing or color-correction session, decided he didn't like shadows. He had a very light print struck and then made an even lighter telecine transfer. I made an effort to have my name removed from the credits, but was dissuaded by the director (before he had seen the damage). When the show hit the air, it looked to me like everything had been overexposed and lost highlight detail. Frankly, I hated the way it looked. I hoped nobody would see my credit on it.

Clearly, a producer lives with a picture for a much longer time than a cinematographer, and also takes a much larger financial risk. Furthermore, a producer carries an obligation to the investors to safeguard the commercial viability of the film and must therefore have rather broad authority over the project.

On the other hand, an artist, whether actor, cinematographer, writer or director, signs each of his works in the form of screen credits and is therefore given credit or blame for that aspect of the film. …