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The Cinematographer and the Director

"Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities...much more so than music or language." Conrad Hall

There is always such a sense of achievement when the full stop is placed at the end of that script.  As a writer and director, that script has already been played out, but how to relay to the cinematographer exactly what is in each shot?   Con Filippidis is a cinematographer with over twenty years experience.  Together we have completed two films to date: 25.12 and Lifting Clouds.  Both films required lots of planning in pre production that entailed shot lists, recces and storyboarding.  I asked Con a few questions on his experiences as a cinematographer and the responsibilities that come with it, which in so many ways make it "infinite in its possibilities."

1. How does the cinematographer work with the director to create a film?

As a cinematographer it is important to spend as much time as possible in pre production talking about and analysing the script with the director. This usually happens weeks beforehand to nut out a shot list. Days if not weeks are spent breaking down each scene in the script to a visual form or syntax. Characters and scenes are discussed, analysed and revealed. This is the time to work things out and have the discussions on how to shoot the scene.  The more planning and input in pre production the more it pays off during the shoot.  We usually go for our wish list and don’t censor ourselves in coverage. That’s usually the 1st AD’s job.  By the time we have finished the shot listing process the director and I have played the movie in our head already. It is important to give the editor all the pieces of the puzzle so they can further the intent of the director. The editor can’t cut shots that are not there. Having knowledge of editing and knowing how shots are constructed are both very helpful in shot listing and shooting.  David Lean started out as an ace editor before starting a directing career.  If time and budget allows, a storyboard is the next evolution of the shot list. This can really clarify to everybody how the film will actually look.

As the cinematographer I aim to put up on the screen the vision of the director. This entails technical and aesthetic skills.
It is also important to pick the right tools for the job and the budget. Then the style or the look comes out of the days or weeks of discussions with the director, art department, wardrobe, makeup and other departments. The director is steering the ship at all times and making sure everyone contributes their awesome talents and stays within the vision of the director.

Filmmaking is a collaborative artform. When the talents of many people come together to realise the directors vision there is a very special film/story to show people.

2. How important is it to be a visionary?

It is important to have a vision for the story, an intent, and be consistent with it. Sometimes this comes organically, other times it presents itself clearly during the shoot. I take chances and try new things. Each film is different and requires a unique approach.  I'm not afraid to venture into something new. Not to be reckless but still put in as much preparation and testing necessary to make sure it is going to work and is right for the film.

3. What do you specifically try and work with the director to help create the director’s vision?

For me it’s the shot list and the discussions that arise from it. This puts us on the same page regarding how we see the film, the characters and what the overall story is about. If we are in agreement to all of this then we can proceed to the shoot. If, as a cinematographer, I have not clarified with the director the above, then we are both going to clash, heading in different directions. It is therefore vital and important that everybody on the shoot is on the same page and understands the direction the director wants to take us. 

4. What, in your experience have been the best cameras to work with and why?

We live in very interesting times as filmmakers. We are still in a transitional phase from 100 years of shooting on film to now shooting on digital cinema cameras. I think the dust has settled a bit but as a cinematographer the advancements in camera technology keep coming every few months or so. It is hard to know intimately every camera that is out there but alas thus is the reality and expectation of people hiring. As a cinematographer I feel it is important to know what’s out there and to have experience shooting on as many cameras as possible.
Unfortunately these days we are told what cameras we are shooting a project on rather than being asked ‘what camera package do you think we should shoot on’? At the end of the day the cinematographer has to use the tools they think will help them achieve what is asked of them according to the budget. They need to be confident with their tools and know it will deliver. 

I have used many cameras over my career including Sony, Canon, Arri, Red, Black Magic and Panasonic. At the moment I am loving the Panasonic Varicam 35 which was released a year and a half ago and the Varicam LT which got released 3 months ago (this is the camera we shot “Lifting Clouds’ with). I love the Panasonic colour palette which is subtle realistic colour tones. Both cameras boast dual native ISO of 800 and 5000. This has got me out of trouble on many dusk shoots. Also the Varicam LT comes with a native EF mount which means I can start shooting straight away with my Canon glass and other EF lenses. It also can be swapped with a PL mount so you can use higher end glass like the Cooke Xtal Xpress 2x anamorphic lenses (which we used on ‘Lifting Clouds’).

As a cinematographer I should be able to shoot on anything and everything. I approach each job on it’s own requirements, budget and use the appropriate camera for it.

I also like the Sony F55, F5, FS7 cameras as they are very prevalent here in Australia. The Arri Amira is also a very good camera I have used. I especially like it’s easy menus and Pro Res codecs. Black Magic cameras are very affordable and a good upgrade path from shooting on DSLR’s. I’m thankful to say we have all moved on from shooting on DSLR’s. There is so many better choices out there at varying price points and features that give us that look. Canon C300 is also a camera I have used and like the fact that you can use EF glass and is good in low light. Not a fan of the form factor though.

Con Filippidis can be contacted via his website:

Stella Dimadis
July 2016


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