Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Ethics of Replacing a Colleague, and Other Thoughts

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Ethics of Replacing a Colleague, and Other Thoughts

Article excerpt

The late, great cameraman Harry Wolf, ASC used to say that no one could call themselves a journeyman cinematographer until they'd been fired at least once.

Directors of photography joke amongst themselves about being fired, but often they're laughing through tears. It hurts to be fired, and the more pride you have in your work, the more it hurts.

There are many reasons why a director of photography is replaced (to use the euphemism). A director of photography almost always works under at least two intense pressures: to do beautiful and meaningful work and to do it within a predetermined and generally tight schedule. Failing to do either one, of course, can jeopardize your job, as can any gaffe in the politics of dealing with stars, producers, etc.

Altogether too often, and for reasons known only to the producers themselves, cinematographers are the last to know they are being dismissed. It is common for productions to summon another director of photography, negotiate a new contract, screen footage and ship the new cinematographer out to location without even notifying the outgoing cinematographer that a problem exists. Perhaps the producers fear that the dismissed director of photography will have a temper tantrum or attempt to sabotage the production. In my experience, directors of photography are far too proud of their work and too loyal to the film medium to even think of such nonsense. Cinematographers generally get so absorbed with the shooting itself that they become unaware of the politics.

At a "bull session" for cinematographers held at the ASC Clubhouse on Monday, January 31, sixty or so directors of photography held a lively discussion for over an hour on the ethics of replacing another director of photography. There seemed to be a unanimous mandate for telephoning the cinematographer one is supposed to replace before accepting the job. You may help to save his or her job. Failing that, you can at least hear both sides of the story and gain the benefit of any advice.

The group unanimously agreed that the first responsibility of a director of photography should be to the colleague in trouble. This seemed to me an especially courageous position, given the high rate of unemployment among cinematographers these days. It is not easy to put abstract concepts like honor and loyalty above getting a job you want. I was proud of the high ethical standard of the directors of photography that night and felt honored to be among them.

There seem to be far more directors of photography than jobs these days. Breaking in has always been tough, but lately one sees experienced, wellproven, and even greatly honored cinematographers going longer between jobs.

Given the current economic crunch, the higher price of experienced cinematographers is probably a large factor. …

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