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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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