10 Things Inexperienced Cinematographers do that Annoys the Rest of the Crew


No one is perfect and we all make mistakes on set, but there are some things that cinematographers do that drive the crew crazy!

Let’s talk about some of the most common things that Cinematographers do on set that tends to drive their crew crazy.

Things Cinematographers do That the Crew Hates:

1. Re Lighting Every Shot

It has always bothered me when DOPs do this. Not because I don’t want to do the extra work, but because it’s a waste of time and in a lot of cases the lighting will not match.

Once things are set in the master shot, is it actually necessary to change everything around completely?

Tweaks, cheats, additions or subtractions make sense, but I have experienced Cinematographers that literally swap out every single light for something else.

Do not waste the crews time, think about all your coverage while you are lighting your master shot and then make decisions based on that.

DO NOT tackle each shot individually.

2. Asking for Every Toy

This one isn’t so bad for the technicians on set since we love to play with toys, but the production team will hate you.

Inexperienced DOPs will ask for absolutely everything as if they can’t make a scene work without all the fancy gear.

It is the truly talented and professional Cinematographers that understand what tools they need to aid in the telling of the story and make their decisions based on that.

3. Setting up Lighting or Grip Gear

It is one thing to help out when things are going nuts and the technicians desperately need a hand, but I have worked with DOPs that will just walk away from the camera and just start randomly setting up a light as if it’s no big deal.

Why Is This Annoying?

1.  It is just not your job, plain and simple. The lighting technicians are paid to do this, the cinematographer is paid to direct those technicians.

2. Chances are you are going to set up that piece of gear incorrectly which a tech will then have to correct. This wastes everyone’s time and the technicians will resent you.

3. If something goes wrong with that piece of gear who do you think everyone will assume is to blame?

Don’t be one of those Cinematographers, allow your crew to do their jobs.

4. Not Communicating Their Goal

The more experience you gain as a technician the less you will need to be walked through things. You will just know what needs to happen and why things are being asked of you.

At the start of your career it can be quite frustrating though.

Often times on smaller sets the DOP and/or AD will decide that a crew blocking is unnecessary or a waste of time (don’t get me started on how moronic that is, but it happens).

Because of this many DOPs will just call out positions of lights and technicians will be left having no idea what these lights are doing and what you are trying to achieve.

This very frustrating and in many cases causes the technicians to hate working for certain DOPs.

5. Talking Down to PAs or Inexperienced Technicians

This is just bad set etiquette in general, but it happens often.

There definitely is a certain amount of hazing that happens to new people on film sets, but it is all in good fun.

What isn’t cool is when people treat Production Assistants like they are useless, or expendable.

That PA can be producing a project a couple of years later and they sure as hell will remember you yelling at them or embarrassing them in front of the whole crew.

I myself have been guilty of this, but not to the extent of some people.

I have witnessed someone make a PA cry! Later that same production assistant was questioning whether or not they wanted to continue a career in the film industry.


6. Using the Wrong Tool for the Job

There are some recurring jokes in the lighting technician word. I never really thought much about them until I sat down to write this post.

The Joke: What do you call a light with two doubles and a single in it?

Answer: The Wrong Light.

Personally I don’t believe in that joke. I’m a firm believer in using bigger light sources scrimmed down, just in case you end up doing high speed.

That brings up a good point though. Use the right tool for the job! I have been asked to do some pretty odd things in my time and it can get very frustrating.

Some situations require a source 4 over a fresnel or a book light over a diffused kino flo.

Study the gear and know what tools you will need to achieve the look you are going for. It is your job!

7. Asking the Wrong Person to do Something

This one drives me crazy!

Occasionally I will work with someone who has no regard for job roles or just doesn’t know any better and will constantly ask people to do things they have no business doing.

It is ignorant, insulting and can make the set a very dangerous place.

I have had DOPs ask the Key Grip to run power for something while I’m standing three feet away from them.

I might have been busy at that moment, but it is still my responsibility and when something goes wrong, a cable is in shot or a breaker pops everyone is going to look at me, not the Cinematographer and Key Grip.

8. Deciding a Crew Blocking is Unnecessary or a Waste of Time

This one is as much the 1st AD’s fault as it is the Cinematographer, but I see it happen all the time.

There are very few times where allowing the crew to see a blocking is unnecessary or a time waster and if you think otherwise – you are wrong, plain and simple.

Technicians need to know what is being seen, not seen and what the planned coverage is. How are we expected to light and run cable if we have no idea what is going on?

Don’t be an ignorant Cinematographer, there are enough out there already!

9. Making Tweaks to Gear with out Letting Anyone Know

I believe in communication on set, sometimes to a fault.

People need to know what is going on, what has happened and what will happen.

Often times if I tweak a light I will let the people under me know what I have done.

Why? Think about it like this: The more information people have the better and faster everyone will work.    If several changes are made and no one is aware but the cinematographer, what happens when that cinematographer asks for a light to be reset?

If they don’t communicate tweaks the technicians will hate working with them because they spend their whole day in a state of confusion and always feeling like they are trying to catch up.

It is no way to work and build relationships with your crew members.

10. Not Being Grateful for People’s Work

A big part of set etiquette is just shaking someones hand and thanking them for the work they did for you that day.

There are hundreds of cinematographers that don’t care about that and actually treat you like you’re a piece of meat. There is this sense of entitlement, like they are the end all be all of film making.

They are not and neither are you!

 

What are your pet peeves on set? We all have them, lets share. Comment below!

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Iggy

Currently a Digital Producer for a Television Production Company. Igor also works as a Cinematographer & got his start in the industry as a Gaffer.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great list! Great to be reminded. I’ve been guilty of some of these. My biggest challenge is resisting the urge to tweak a light or a c stand myself. It is much more efficient time wise to remain at the camera or monitor to watch and guide the results. But when the crew is small and the lighting set up is larger, the temptation to jump in… When I was a gaffer, one of the things that drove me crazy was when DP’s made lighting choices that were overly complicated and unnecessary because they had fallen in love with a specific technique and wanted to stick with it in every circumstance. A book light is a perfect example. In the right circumstances, it is a beautiful and appropriate light source. However, it just doesn’t always work logistically for keying a wide master shot in a smaller room – especially if the walls are white. A lot of time can be wasted while the grips try in vain to tame the super soft spill light off the walls. DP’s need to be flexible with different techniques and realistic about time management when approaching lighting design and execution. They need to listen to gaffers / key grips and at least consider alternate approaches when suggested.

    • says

      Thanks Randolph. When I shoot I tend me make these mistakes and it was mainly myself I was thinking about when I wrote this blog.

      I have been very lucky with the 3 main Cinematographers that hire me though. They happen to be very collaborative and always take the time to think things through and listen to the concerns of the Gaffer and Key Grip. I couldn’t imagine working any other way!

    • says

      That is annoying, but I can understand it to a degree.

      Developing a relationship with the Producers is sometimes necessary to ensure a call back.

      I think the key is to balance your time and not favor one over the other.

  2. says

    Correct. And not only for DOP, bud good manners are good for every crew member. Tha’s why we really need to be a TEAM!

    Bud fact: Many crew members don’t care less to what’s happening (true, I’ve seen many) and that destroys the work of everyone else. And in many cases, you can’t change your crew.

    • says

      That is something I have definitely noticed with a lot of younger people as well as old timers.

      Younger people that haven’t been trained properly just want to sit around until something is asked of them, they don’t actually care about the project or building relationships and in turn a long a fruitful career.

      Then there is the opposite. The old timer with 30+ year of experience. They have seen it all and don’t care anymore.

      I see it the most with lighting technicians and I just don’t get it. It is not the way I was trained and it is not the way I train young technicians.

      • says

        As DOP/1AC, I just love being with the crew.

        That INCLUDES being with then until the end of the day and not just leaving when your “job” is done like many Producers and Directors I’ve worked with: Event ends – No one finds then. Like ghosts.

        I’ve met a DOP that made a “A” players crew of friends for a low budget commercial. And he asked then just do indicate younger ones at first contact.

        That’s what’s really priceless.

  3. Kacey says

    The DOPs that doesn’t read scripts or storyboards, coming on to set and asking the PA what are they shooting today.

    • says

      Whao, That happens?!? The list was based on the personal experiences of myself and friends of mine. That is just insane, I can’t believe anyone would ever be that ignorant, and then to ask a PA when you could just talk to the AD department.

      How did they even get the job without reading a script in the first place? It sounds more like an issue that would come up in the student world, not the professional world.

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