Cinematographers know when they’ve got a great shot, but that doesn’t mean those always end up in the final cut. During Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Cinematographers panel, moderated by this author (watch above), Charlotte Bruus Christensen (“A Quiet Place”), Rachel Morrison (“Black Panther”), Caleb Deschanel (“Never Look Away”) and Robert Richardson (“A Private War”) revealed what they do — or don’t do — if they think the director used the wrong take.
“Maybe I’m the only but I have [thought that],” Christensen said with a laugh. “Those editors! And I tell them.”
Ultimately, though, the film is the director’s vision, and the “best” shot might not be the “right” shot for the story — or even the right scene. “The movie I just shot, the director texted me and was like, ‘By the way, the riot’s not in the cut,’” Morrison said. “It’s almost more when you have these scenes where your best work never sees the light of day and yet you know it’s for a good reason. I didn’t question why. A part of me knew even when we were shooting there was a chance it wasn’t going to make the cut.”
Richardson, who doesn’t like to see his work, agrees that any imperfection or issue is irrelevant if the final product is in line with what the director had envisioned. “You know you’ve done better takes, better work. Maybe there’s an issue with the focus, with the lighting, but if the director’s chosen the right piece he’s created, that’s it,” he said. “That’s the most important aspect.”
Added Deschanel: “There are a lot of things we care about that in the end don’t really matter as much as really getting across a story.”
In terms of working with the director to bring the story to life, all four prefer a collaborative process with lots of discussions and brainstorming as opposed to being given complete free reign or meticulous instructions. “You want to inspire each other to do the best work and you want to spit ideas out and try to mash them together and figure out the best way to tell a story,” Morrison said.
Still, a mix is not a terrible thing. Richardson revealed that after years of “collaborating quite intensely” with Oliver Stone, he walked into a completely different experience on ‘Casino’ (1995) with Martin Scorsese, who gave him a detailed script with every single shot listed.
“I shot every single shot he had listed,” Richardson said. “And so my job became one to operate and to light the shots. And so I just took my mind out of it. ‘OK, I’m going to try to help. Nope. I’m just going to shoot.’ It relieved me to some extent. Do I like to do it all the time? Not all the time, but I think when you’re working with a master and the master is Martin Scorsese and he’s nailing it, I’m very much a part of that. I love that. I like making good films with masters.”
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