The DP Spectrum and “By the Sea” with DP Christian Berger

In this episode, we breakdown the “DP Spectrum” and define the different steps along a DP’s journey and career. We also interview Oscar nominated cinematographer Christian Berger about his work on “By the Sea,” that was directed and stars Angelina Jolie.  Christian also provides some valuable insight on the Cine Reflect Lighting System, that he invented and used to light “By the Sea” and his previous films.

Show Notes / Overview

01:40 Matt: Every DP is on a journey.  The DP Spectrum is a way to understand where you are on that journey.

02:15 Matt: DP#001 – You can picture yourself as a DP and you want to start your journey.  You may be a student, PA, crew member, or someone who works outside of the film industry. You are a DP in your mind, but not in reality.

03:30 Matt: DP#002 – You are a DP and you’ve shot a couple of jobs and you are hooked.  You are considering becoming a full time DP.  You want to choose Cinematography as your major, or stop working as an AC or Gaffer, or quit your day job to pursue being a DP full time.

05:24 Matt: DP#003 – You are an established DP in your market.  You are shooting consistently and you have a website and are building a good reputation and reel.  The stakes are higher for you and your are used to a certain lifestyle and you need a certain amount of income to sustain your lifestyle.  The competition is tougher.

06:55 Matt: DP#004 – You have been given your first BIG project.  A movie, a TV show, a big campaign or music video.  You are now competing at a higher level.

08:30 Matt: DP#005 – You have done a great job and you need to continue to work at that level.

08:48 Matt: DP#006 – You have been at the top of your game for a while.  You’ve won awards and doing really well.  You’ve found success with a certain style but the market has changed and you need to reinvent yourself.

DP Spectrum

10:49 Matt: Each progressive step up the DP Spectrum is harder than the previous one.  You may think that it will be easier once you have a reel, once you’ve won an award, once you have an agent.  But the truth is that it’s harder.

11:45 Matt: the DP journey is a marathon, not a sprint.  It will take many years and it doesn’t get easier at the end of the journey.

12:10 Matt: the first step is easy, get a camera and shoot something.  Now you can call yourself a DP.  This is easier than it has ever been because of access to quality digital cinema cameras.

12:50 Matt: the next step is get your first jobs.  Your employers are looking for someone that can capture an image and not mess up the process.  If you can do this, you will improve and move up the spectrum.

13:40 Matt: once your are established you need a higher day rate.  Your employers are more decreeing. In some markets the gear that you own might make the decision.  How does a DP stand out from the crowd once you are established.

14:50 Matt: You shoot your first breakout project.  You have an agent and you are up for some bigger jobs.  You need to be ready to go up against established DPs.  You are a small fish, in a small pool, with much bigger fish.  How do you compete as a new DP on a big agency?

16:05 Matt: You’ve awards and you have a career that has gotten you to the “top.”  But things have changed, people have retired, and you need to adapt and evolve.  That is the hardest thing to do.

17:35 Matt: At any point in your career you can brought back to the beginning.  And that is not a bad thing.  Every point along the spectrum is an opportunity to prove yourself again.  And you will have to continue to prove yourself over and over again throughout your career.

18:30 Matt: The path to success is not a straight line.

Interview with Christian Berger

Photos: Universal Pictures
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  • 19:26 Matt: I read that Angelina contacted you after seeing your work online and that you had a special approach to lighting that she thought would work well her film.  Can you talk about your first conversations.
  • 20:39 Christian: Angelina called me and said “Hi this is Angelina” and I said “Hi, I’m the emperor of China.”  At the first meeting I got the script and liked the story.  I admired and respected their courage to make a film about that subject.  It was quite risky.
  • 21:43 Christian: They saw the documentary “River of Light” and that was the trigger.

 

  • 22:13 Christian: She wanted to have the atmosphere from Nouvelle Vague.

The New Wave (FrenchLa Nouvelle Vague) is a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_New_Wave

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  • 23:36 Christian: The Hotel and Cafe was built on a cliff, I called it “Studio on the Rocks” because it was an interesting mixture of location and studio work. It was forbidden to place any light in front of the house because it was very steep. So we had to invent a special rigging that allowed us to move in and out 7 meters from the roof. To control the daylight and the sun and to add our own light. It was quite complex and a challenge but I loved it.
  • 25:00 Christian: The best compliment that I received was people saying that “Ahh, he used no light, it was only daylight.” Of course this is not true. Very often we had to shoot day scenes in the night.

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  • 26:10 Christian: Both of them [Angelina and Brad] were really delighted. They really felt liberated to perform and they could move all around the room. And in 10-15 minutes we could changes from early morning to late afternoon. Always with a free view to the outside while the high contrast levels.
  • 27:00 Matt: Angelina stated that “By the Sea” wasn’t a traditional commercial movie. To me that was exciting.
  • 27:29 Christian: I appreciated that very strongly. They wrote the script for both of them because they would never be cast for those roles. They wanted to come free from that and to let loose and to make something experimental. I loved it. It was a very free shoot and I was able to follow with my department into a new situation.
  • 28:30 Matt: Your approach to lighting and the Cine Reflect Lighting System, if that allows the actors more freedom I can see why Angelina was attracted to that.

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  • 29:22 Christian: For smaller movies it’s really a great reduction in gear and setup time.
  • 30:30 Christian: I’m not a fundamentalist. It’s not a religion. If you need another style those tools exist already. The main thing is to preserve and protect the beauty from natural light. From early morning to deep in the night. With the Cine Reflect Lighting System you don’t feel the source or the effect. You forget the lamps.
  • 31:57 Christian: The lamps only provide the requested lumens or light level. The reflectors control the quality and shape of the light. The lamp is just to feed the reflectors.
  • 32:35 Christian: [with traditional lighting techniques] you need 10,000 watts and in the end you only get 1,000 watts because of flags and diffusion. I don’t need that with my system, because I choose the right size and quality reflector. Each size provides the quality I need and it’s controllable.

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  • 34:05 Matt: Does the system work as well on a studio/stage job?
  • 34:44 Christian: Ludwig, one of the largest European productions in 2011, about the Bavarian king. And we had a big studio and the background was light conventionally with 450,000 watts. But for our set that was a large winter garden, we used 25,000 watts and used the Cine Reflect Lighting System.
  • 36:18 Christian: The White Ribbon was also shot with the Cine Reflect Lighting System. The new system will be made by Dedo Weigert. Both a small HMI unit and a halogen/tungsten unit.

 

By The Sea Trailer

17 replies on “The DP Spectrum and “By the Sea” with DP Christian Berger

  • Jayson Wilkins

    This was a really insightful first podcast. I never really thought of the career path as a dynamic “spectrum” before. and it really helped put where I am and where I want to be into perspective. I’ve been in a rut as a digital content producer for a manufacturer for 2 years (which also makes me the DP, Editor, Distributor etc.) and this episode encourages me to re-define my goals and methods by which I pursue those goals. Thanks for the great episode. I look forward to more coming out.

    • Matt Workman

      Hey Jayson,

      Thanks for writing and for sharing your story. I’m going to put everything that I’ve learned about the business of being a DP into this podcast.

      Cheers,

      Matt

  • Axel

    Hey Matt,

    thanks for this great podcast. I’m currently at the end of my first year as a full time DP and it’s been an experience. Especially since this is industry is entirely different from any other business. (Hard to explain to family and friends.)

    This spectrum really gives some perspective as to how the grand scheme works and as to what timeframes one is talking about.

    I look forward to hearing about how you and your colleagues took the steps and what challenges you faced and how you overcame them.

    Cheers, Axel

    • Matt Workman

      Hey Axel,

      Thanks for writing. I know exactly how you feel, I moved to NYC right after college and I don’t think my family or friends understood what I was trying to do. Can I ask what market/city/country you are working in?

      Cheers,

      Matt

      • Axel

        Hey Matt,

        thanks for replying.
        I’m based in Dresden, Germany and do most of my work in commercials/music videos, either as a DP or a Director/DP. Berlin isn’t very far and I’ve done some jobs there as well.

        Cheers,
        Axel

  • alan lukatela

    hey Matt, loved this podcast as i do all the material on your site.
    i’ve been using shotpro since i saw your review of it and am now
    thinking i should take the leap into the abyss that is Maya.
    i can’t wait to listen to episode 2.

    thank you for building this great resource.

    • Matt Workman

      Hey Alan,

      Thanks for writing. I’m always trying new platforms for Cinematography Design but Maya is the best thus far. Check out my new video on using Photoshop + Fuse in the video section.

      Cheers,

      Matt

  • Michael

    Thanks Matt, Good stuff.
    You’re certainly right about a DP feeling like a re-set is needed. For me, after working in the business for some 12 years I’ve realized I need to get out of my comfort zone and bring it to the next level.
    I also found the Interview with Christian Berger to be incredibly insightful. Have you tried the Cine Reflect method in your work yet. It really seems to make a lot of sense.
    Cheers!
    Mike Bedik

    • Matt Workman

      Hey Mike,
      Thanks for writing. It’s easy to get stuck in a mindset, especially if it’s worked for you and you are making money! I’ve had to “wake up” a couple time during my career. It’s hard at first, but better in the long term. At least I tell myself that 🙂

      I haven’t used the Cine Reflect Lighting system yet but I use similar lighting techniques, especially in the tabletop world where “normal” size lights don’t really work.

      Cheers,

      Matt

  • Ron Gesualdo

    when you are going thru a journey without any guidance, podcast like this are a beacon of light, thank you so much for this, for putting things into perspective and for letting me know that some steps and setbacks are ok, for them to happen is part of the journey!!!!

    • Matt Workman

      Hey Ron,
      Thanks for writing, I’m glad that you were able to take something away from the first podcast. I remember vividly what it was like to be starting my career and being very lost. I hope that by sharing my stories and things that I’ve learned (the hard way) I’ll be able to help others.
      Cheers,
      Matt

  • Joe Gunawan

    Yes! Really love this podcast! Thanks again for all your work Matt. Really enjoy your videos and now I can add your podcast into the mix. This one is especially good and I started to look into the CRLS, too. Do you know if they’re available to rent in Los Angeles, by any chance? Information about it seems to pertain more to Europe.

    Best,
    Joe Gunawan
    DP-Camera Op-1stAC

    • Matt Workman

      Hey Joe, thanks for writing and for listening. I don’t know if the CRLS is available in the US yet. I believe there is actually a competitor that is on the market. I forget the name sorry! Cheers, Matt

  • Guillermo Garza

    Hello Matt!
    Congratulations on a great episode! Im very happy I ran into this. Ive found myself going across some of the steps of the DP spectrum a couple of times and can totally relate to it. Its a great way to look at it… also, I had never heard of CRLS and it looks like a great tool and philosophy of approaching lighting. Thanks for taking the time to do this. Keep it up. I will surely keep listening.

    Cheers,

    Guillermo Garza DP

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