Working with Actors: During the process of making a film, the cinematographer is setting up lights and devising camera shots, managing the crew and communicating with the sound department … and working with the director, amongst many other tasks. But when it comes time to roll camera, that moment is ultimately for the director and the actors. The relationship of DPs and directors can range in many ways and one needs to establish your working rules before you begin rolling (for instance, some directors prefer all communication on set to go thru them, etc.). When appropriate, I feel it is my job to communicate with actors and crew members and help everyone understand how our work with the camera is playing in the scene.
Often, when things are moving fast on set, you can see a look of confusion in an actor’s eyes as the camera rolls (i.e. “Is this a wide shot or tight’? “”Can you see my hands in shot?”, etc.), so I try to provide framing information and any other important tips that may help them to work better within the scene. Warning: There is a fine line here of not stepping on the director’s toes and creating confusion for the actors. You are not the director … you are just adding a few bits of information, when needed, to make sure everyone understands the frame you are recording. For our production, Director Pat Gilles allowed me to chime in with the actors when needed.
In my workshops, I explain that the job of an on-camera actor can be more difficult if they don’t have the proper information about framing and the scene. More experienced actors understand blocking and framing better, but for a less experienced cast and crew, the set can be a confusing blur of bodies and frantic energy. One of the more valuable things a DP can do is to stay near the director during blocking and rehearsal time. When working quickly with a small crew, the DP can often be found doing everything but watching rehearsals. Valuable information can be gained by listening to their interaction and watching the actors during lines. It can also be your time to help to solve potential lighting or shot problems by suggesting adjustments to the actor’s blocking or positions on the set. This process can help you to keep the production running smoothly and on time.
Additionally, there can be long periods of downtime on the set (for lighting adjustments, make-up or wardrobe changes, etc.) and actors may not informed of what’s going on. On bigger productions, the line of communication is usually much better. But, if there has been a lack of communication, I try to talk with actors and fill them in on any delays. In my experience, the actors always appreciate it. The better your relationship with the actors, the more trust they have in you and your crew … and ultimately, that can allow an actor to relax more and deliver for the director and on-screen.