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5 Tips to Ensure a Great DP and Director Relationship

Tanner Shinnick

One of the most important relationships on any set is between the Director and DP. When these positions are in-sync on the vision of the project, morale is high and the final project turns out much better. Her are five ways DPs can create an excellent relationship with the director.

Cover image via Shutterstock

As a director of photography, some of the most important relationships you’ll make in your career are with directors. By forging a great working relationship, you can create a powerful shorthand and that will end up getting you hired again and again.

Here are five ways to develop a strong relationship with your next director.

1. Work with the Director

5 Tips to Ensure a Great DP and Director Relationship – Work with the Director

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When I describe the role of a DP to non-film people, it’s always as simple as this: It’s the director’s job to decide what they want on-screen, and it’s the DP’s job to make it look good.

As a DP, you are a key creative collaborator on any project. But don’t forget that the director is always in control and has the final say. Your job is to translate the director’s vision into something on-screen that conveys the intended emotions of their creative vision. Don’t go into a project intending to create for your demo reel or to try something you saw in a music video. This is their rodeo.

2. Use Visual References

Visual references are key to any Director and DP relationship. They help unify the creative vision for a film, and they provide qualifiers for ambiguous descriptions like “moody” or “organic” that might get thrown around on set. Visual references, lookbooks, and examples from other films are a launching pad to help you and the director craft your own universe as a creative team.

As a DP, when I approach any project my first question to the director is usually, “Which shows or movies do you see this looking like?” From there, I can clarify the specific aspects of those movies or shows that the director gravitates towards. After several references, I can usually find a through-line that adequately displays the look they want. If you and the director can find this connection together, it will create a stronger creative relationship and a stronger vision for the project.

 3. Provide Ideas as Suggestions

As a DP, you’ll have lots of ideas about how to accomplish a certain look, or how to best capture a scene. Always present your ideas to the director as suggestions; don’t say definitively to them, ‘This is what we should do.” For example, if you’re leaning toward using Cooke lenses, simply give your reasonings and ask for their opinion as well. Introduce an idea in a softer manner of suggestion. Through your expertise and experience, you can provide the director with plenty of information to make the final call.

4. Be Enjoyable to Work With

5 Tips to Ensure a Great DP and Director Relationship – Be enjoyable to work withåç

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This sounds simple, but it’s so essential. No one wants to work with a jerk or an elitist. A good attitude will not only help strengthen your relationship with the director, but it will also spill into the attitude on set. Sets can easily become tense with emotions running high. As a leader on any set, it’s your responsibility to try to dispel negativity and create a great work environment for the cast and crew. When people talk about you outside of a set, make sure they have positive things to say.

5. Communicate

The most important thing a DP can do is communicate, especially to their director. If you don’t see a scene working like the director imagined, then say something and suggest what might work. It’s important that you don’t just bring problems – also bring your ideas for possible solutions. Have a plan and show that plan. A strategy instills confidence in your abilities and in turn allows the director to focus on other things.

Being conscious of how you manage your director and DP relationships can help any project or set become more successful and ultimately help you become a better DP.

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