“TMI”

I’m writing this the day before Cine Gear Expo in Los Angeles, an annual celebration of new technology that’s also a prime opportunity to reunite with colleagues we occasionally see throughout the year. Mirroring the family-reunion feeling, as we amble around to see vendors and their new gear, are panel discussions that often try to solve the many issues this amazing new technology creates for film and TV production crews.

Our ICG-sponsored panel this year – New Workflow Choices and the Director of Photography – will feature reflections and insights on that very subject. And by the time you read this editorial (roughly one month after the panel has taken place), many more new workflows will have been introduced – that’s how quickly things are changing.

One aspect of the ICG panel that is truly momentous for Guild members is the idea that the new technology on display at shows like Cine Gear has given cinematographers and their teams more control over the image than we’ve had in a very a long time.

I experienced such benefits myself in my last project, Amityville, shot these past few months in Los Angeles. Being able to work with a talented digital imaging technician and assistant cameraperson, I was able to have more control over the image than ever before. It was a revelation to see how people responded to this kind of magic we create on set! Direct and immediate control of what you and the director intend each shot to look like is a stunning breakthrough. We have been given a new and more complete set of tools, and it’s our choice how far we take these new tools forward in the production arena.

Of course other breakthroughs – such as the relentless drive toward higher resolution capture, no doubt spurred on by ultra-HD displays in the home – create options of a much different kind, and we must be careful what we ask for. Our job in narrative filmmaking and short-form work (commercials and new media) is to allow the audience to suspend disbelief. But thanks to the resolution wars – 2K, 4K and beyond – that task has become much harder.

So we now turn back to more traditional skills that have shaped cinematography for the last century – the quality of lighting, lens selection and optics, the use of filtration and/or diffusion in front of the glass. Digital cinematography (in the early days) pushed us away from these proven methods. Remember how once upon a time, every DP had a “kit” that included different kinds of diffusion filters, nets, and pieces of material that could alter the image coming into the camera in a more emotionally compelling way?

Ironically, we are running back to that “old school” approach because ultra-high-resolution cameras highlight every single imperfection in the human face. Watch any news broadcast these days, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. TMI – too much information – is a detriment to the creative subtlety needed for cinematic storytelling, and it’s fallen to the camera department to sort it all out.

That’s because Guild crews know best how to make new technology “sing” in a way that will not disrupt suspension of disbelief for audiences. And the fact that we are experts in these many new workflows means we are vital to every project we are involved in. An accomplished first assistant can manage a crew so that the transparency of the technology for the director of photography is constantly maintained, while a skilled digital imaging technician can help translate the look of a movie in ways we’ve never seen before. A talented operator can allow us to study the frame in ways that can’t be done when our eyes are up to the camera. Every element of every frame informs the audience, and it’s the camera team (now working off digital monitors of the most leading-edge quality) who help to realize the design concepts of the director of photography. It’s our members who transform TMI – too much information – into just the right amount of technology each cinematic story needs.

 

Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600