Friday, 29 August 2014

A Cinematographers look at the Designer..

Cinematography-Film Through The Pan Glass Part 3

This will be an irregular and hopefully humorous look at the TV and Film world through the eye of a busy Director of Photography…Me..

Lets take a look at..

The Design Department.

We are about to enter a Fearful, Fantastical, Magical World.

Where everything is possible.


Above the door of every Design Department there should be a sign that reads…

I bet you think I am kidding…afraid not..!

As you enter the palace of design you will probably spot the holy one (The Designer) sitting at the far end of the hallowed chamber behind a huge desk which will be littered with scripts and various knick knacks, toys, catalogues, brochures, etc.

He will be surrounded and protected by the Praetorian Guard:

 The Assistant Designer (the right hand person);

 the Graphic designer; the graphic teccy person;

The Production Buyer and several hangers on from the construction crews and set dressing crews.

They tend to growl at you as you enter the perceived sacred space.

The designer will wait just a moment too long before he beckons you forward for your (Brief) audience.
 He pushes to one side some of the ten untouched latte cups that spread across his desk.

Me “Hi, just wanted to know what colour you are going to paint the main hall to the house”

Him (Pursing of lips) ‘Hmm, (looks across to the Assistant Designer) Haven’t quite got round to that one yet Dearie,..but probably navy Blue.’

Me ’Right….lovely… So very dark then?. And the door will have some glass panels?..Just to provide a light source…It is a major part of the scene…In the hallway…at the front door.’

A gets longer.

Him (very pursed lips now that slowly break into a forced smile)’Glass Panels?’. .Another look across to the Assistant Designer. ‘Don’t think so Dearie, thought it would be nice to have some Antique, hand carved, Thai temple doors, seen some and they are so divine, cost an absolute fortune, but they are so cute.. but bugger the cost… Unfortunately they don’t have glass panels..’

The Assistant Designer is now nodding so vigorously at this that she almost dislocates her head.

There is a murmur of approval from the now attentive assembly. The odd cough and the words  " fifties" can be heard.

Him (Cont) ‘Will that give you a problem Dearie ?’

Me. ‘Yeeess, probably..’

Him.’Dont worry about it I’ll think of something, maybe some Chinese candle holders on the floor in the corner… keep the oriental theme…or something…Ok ?.. Anything else Dearie.. Got to move on ..very busy..’

Me. ‘Thanks for your time. I am sure it will work out..’

It usually doesn’t..

More soon….

Richard Dodd is co founder of Reelshow International and a Director of Photography.

The Big Guessy Game.


A coupla years ago I wrote the following for Reelshow Mag.
The sceeners for next years Oscars will soon be winging their way over to of the great things about being a voting member of BAFTA...and the great guessing game begins.
See how accurate I was with my choices below 
Ok..we have had the rest now try the best..Its the BIG one


Male Actors.
Bardem….Beautiful….wonderful performance, as always. This fella can really act and is probably among the top ten globally.

Bridges….True Grit…Another screen giant he always seems to fill the screen with his personality and in this role he had a legend to portray..He did it as well as anyone could…Even Wayne.

Eisenberg….Social Network ,..A very difficult role with what should have been a very boring story, but Eisenberg made it something else…not an Oscar winner tho…maybe it had something to do with the SouthPark delivery.

Firth….The Kings Speech…Never been a fan of Mr Firth ..I always thought he was playing himself all the time. I was reluctant to watch this date I have seen it at least three times…Maybe Firth was born to play this particular role.

Franco..127 Hours…I never saw this movie so cannot judge but the accounts from other sources give Mr Franco a pat on the back.

Result….Firth…..He is bloody brilliant..

Leading Actresses.

Bening…The Kids are All Right….ok..but it did not grab me…no real highs or lows.

Kidman…Rabbit Hole same as above…forgotten the movie already..Usual solid performance from Nicole tho..

Lawrence…Winters Bone…didn’t see the movie.

Portman….Black Swan…If there was ever something designed to make me want to blow my brains out it is films about ballet dancers..this is a good example of that. Portman does it well tho..

Williams…Blue Valentine….I don’t think I managed to stay for the entire movie.

Result…By a country mile…Portman

Supporting Actors.

Bale…The Fighter…Bale was acting his heart out with this…and it showed…its not supposed to..

Hawkes…Winters Bone….Didn’t see the movie..

Remmer…The Town…cant remember him..

Mark Ruffallo…The Kids are All Right… He got lost in the crowd here..

Rush…The Kings Speech…Wonderful…simply wonderful..


Supporting Actresses.

Adams..The Fighter..Hmmm.

Bonham Carter…The Kings Speech…made the old Queen Mum quite sexy..Played it well.

Lee…The Fighter….Hmmm.

Steinfeld…True Grit….made the movie for me..

Weaver…Animal Kingdom…Didn’t see the movie..

Result…Steinfeld….by a short nose..


How to train your Dragon…Loved it..

The Illusionist….didn’t see the movie..

Toy Shop… usual..and therein lies the problem

Result…How to train your Dragon


Aronovsky…The Black Swan…Excellent work…made even ballet dancing seem entertaining…some nice sex scenes …scary stuff.

O Russell…The Fighter…Competent..just did not get to gonad grabbing level..

Hooper…The Kings Speech…This fella took a story about someone’s speech impediment…yes that’s what its about.. someone who cant speak properly..and has made a block buster out of it…How Fecking clever is that…and it looks brilliant..

Pincher…Social Network…very good movie..wrong year..

Coen Brothers…True Grit…why did they feel the need to bother..competently done as usual. but hey…go look at the original.

Result…The Kings Speech..Tom Hooper…for its sheer chutzpah..

The Academy may see things somewhat differently to me…surprise surprise..They won’t be too keen on another Brit film picking up the top awards so there might be a little partisanship creeping in..Thats OK its their festival…but we will be back…dadum.

Richard Dodd  D.O.P

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Cinematography, Through the Pan Glass, Part 7.

Cinematography-Film Through The Pan Glass Part 7

Richard continues his unique and hopefully humourous look at the film industry.

Ok . Lets see who we can insult this week..

Sorry,. that should read…

”Who’s Job can we define this week”

I know this will land me in a lot of trouble but hey..who cares…Eeny Meeny Miny Mo..


Have you ever been swimming in the Ocean ..not too far from the beach, and suddenly the water starts to bubble and froth up..shoals of fish appear on the surface..a place they would never normally be seen…what caused then to do this you may ask.

At this point you really know the answer but have abruptly gone into total denial.

It is something big and nasty and eats you…and you cannot see it.

The beach, which until a few moments ago was a leisurely swim away is now seemingly miles away and between you and its safety is a shoal of frenzied fish…trying to get away from a monster that you know is eyeing you up for lunch..and you know the day is not going to be a good one.

That is the feeling I sometimes get when some stone faced harridan, clutching a monumental stack of files grumpily pulls up a chair beside you at your exclusive Director of Photography monitor and proceeds to settle in…within seconds your private and secluded space resembles a gypsy encampment, with apologies to most gypsies,..

The files are stacked on the floor, blocking your way, the ten scarves/sweaters are thrown over the back of the chair..the coffee cup…personalised.. is placed on top of the monitor and a mumbled statement that “it is impossible to sit with the Chatterati and do her very difficult job” is the excuse for this intrusion..

For Chatterati read Make Up , Wardrobe and possibly the Art departments, who have their own monitors. Which is also the place where the Script supervisor should sit.

Let battle commence…

Remove the coffee cup..A one pound/one dollar cup of coffee can destroy a $20.000 HD monitor in seconds..

Adjust the blackout curtain, which has been arranged for your own personal viewing.

Take a couple of her sweaters from the back of your chair and put them on the floor, out of your way, remove her pens and pencils from the place in the front of the monitor where you have carefully arranged your copy of the script/newspaper/novel or crossword.

Then introduce yourself..

This is also a good time to explain the ground rules..

Basically they consist of a number of bribes.

Coffee can only be near the monitor if it is accompanied by another cup for the D.O.P.

Chocolates are a given..and must all be soft centred.

If she wishes to join you under the viewing blanket during a take then a shower is a must.. on a daily basis at least.

No arriving smelling like a wet Old English Sheep dog..Hair must be dried in the morning.

There will be no recounting of the previous evenings revelries with the sparks and prop lads…that is not conducive to creative thought.or any kind of thought…And I do not want to know how much her new leather boots cost..

Be quiet.

Do not spit or chew baccy..

What is their job?

They seem to listen to the dialogue..a lot, onto the set waving a script..mutter about the timings, sharpen her pencils and scream abuse at the Chatterati in the next room for breathing too loudly when she is “Trying to do her Fucking job”..

This is of course my own prejudiced view..based on wide experience..some times the idea of being a sea monsters lunch is quite appealing.

Perhaps a real SS out there might like to give us another version of what the Script Supervisor actually does


It just doesn’t sound right does it..

We are used to hearing quite the opposite. “Lights, Camera, Action”

Those famous iconic words that signal to all concerned that a Take is about to begin. On the film set.

To the uninitiated that’s how it seems to take place, some magic formula has been swirled through the studio doors and everything just seems to happen… and in three exotic words it all unfolds.
Sorry folks. it aint like that at all.

Before we get to the Action bit let us just backtrack and delve into the mysterious world of the people who are concerned about the Lights part.

I will skip a number of the technical bits and probably leap over the hours spent in discussion with the Heads of the various departments who are concerned or involved in the shooting of this particular scene.

Let us move to the involvement of the person at the top of the Lighting Department
The Director of Photography.

This revered person is also known by several other names, they fall into two categories. The ones that are used within his/her earshot and those that are not.

The ones that are used within earshot are usually smarmy and nauseating but are music to the ears of the Boss….Guvnor….Sir….God….I want to have your babies and how many sugars in your coffee…

The others consist of some of the more rude versions of lack of parenthood or the child of some feral animal..or…well you get the picture….Just be careful you use the right ones in the right place.

Ok, So what does this person do?.

If a stranger walks onto a film set and is asked which of the many jobs he/she would like to do they will usually point to two people…the Director and the person next to him/her…the D.O.P.

Why? Because they are usually sitting down in comfy chairs with their own monitors, drinking copious amounts of beverage and waited on hand and foot..they never seem to do anything, except perhaps whisper into a walkie talkie and have their feet massaged by some unpaid slavering intern..

Fooled ya..

Like the Director most of the D.O.P’s work will have been done beforehand, reading the script, discussing it at length with the Director, talking to the Costume department, the Make up department, the Design department, gauging the look of the scene from reading the script and the input from the other departments.

 He/she will have talked to the actors concerned and listened to their wish list about how they want to be portrayed.

 He/she will have walked around the stage/set…If it is a studio he/she will have noted height and width…what scene is playing before this one, are they interconnected…and what scene follows..will it be a continuation….if it is an outside location he/she will already know where the sun rises and where it sets and at what time…he/she will have contingency plans if the weather is a little capricious.etc

Then he /she has to dive into the underworld and talk to the sub-humans..the Sparks..AKA the Electricians.

I have the fondest regard for this tribe of aliens, They all look like extras from MAD MAX …but they are all up to speed on what is required and will deliver something wonderful within minutes of their predicted time.

The leader of this ragtag band of scallywags is known as the Gaffer…never cross swords with the Gaffer..

The Gaffer is the physical enabler of the D.O.P’s vision…The right hand person….priceless.

So how does the D.O.P. get to this exalted position.

There really is no shortcut. .some are lucky at film school and produce great showreels that enables them to get an agent and away they go…some are destined to flog their way through the usual dross of TV and low budget ads..etc.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

You are 100% safe they said..they lied


Another nautical tale…

Many years ago I was filming a documentary on Air Sea Rescue operations at a Base in Scotland. The programme was eventually shown on ITV.
We did mock runs with the helicopters and fast rescue boats atc, and everything was going along quite well until a Royal Navy Officer suggested I should do the bird’s eye view of a rescue operation.
In this case he specifically meant the view a downed pilot would have as his rescuers, in the form of a helicopter and crew, would swoop across the ocean and pluck him from the jaws of certain death.

After he had been forced to ditch into the sea.

A good idea, very visual..

The Navy at that time were very pleased about a new pilot survival suit they had with a newly developed rescue beacon that was much more powerful and detectable than anything they had previously.

It gets better. The chances of a rescue for a downed pilot wearing this suit were almost 100%
Reassured, off I trot like the sacrificial lamb to get kitted out in one of these survival suits and some basic survival techniques where it was explained to me that the master plan would be to drop me off in the Atlantic Ocean somewhere off the coast of North Scotland.

The rescue services would then be alerted that there was a pilot down and be given a rough search area. With approximate absolute doddle…they said..

So far so good..

What a fool..

So…Kitted out with a natty flying suit and a waterproof camera I am whisked away to a remote spot on the globe and dumped into the ocean…The helicopter hovered for a few minutes to make sure I was ok and then off they went back to their warm officers mess for tea and biscuits no doubt..

Meanwhile I am now bobbing about ..quite comfy and absolutely safe in the knowledge that in a few minutes ..maybe thirty at the outside, I would be located and saved..with some good footage of the operation…back in time for the bar opening..

The sea began to get a little choppy.

The survival suit was beginning to chafe a little as I was tossed about on the surface.

After a couple of hours I was violently seasick.

After four hours I began to get a little concerned.

My rescuers were nowhere to be seen.

But wait..That is a Nimrod aircraft at zero level about five mles away..It seemed to be doing criss cross patterns across the sea.

 Occasionally as I rose to the top of a swell I could also spot a couple of helicopters in the same area.

Now I was cold, had nothing left to vomit and hey…the sun was about to set..

The massive golden ball was hanging just above the horizon and glinting across the water .

This is it I thought. How many hours did that instructor say the survival time was. How many hours had passed and how many were left.

Some business men on a flight from Northern Ireland were crossing over to Scotland for a meeting.

They were in a hurry and their chopper was flying low. They went straight over the top of me, continued for a couple of miles and then banked around for a closer look.

The chopper circled, the pilot waved and then they went on their way.

Within a few minutes my rescuers arrived. The winchman dropped in and looped me up.I got great footage and they were very embarrassed.

It turned out that the superdooper rescue beacon had “Malfunctioned” and they thought I was on my way to Nova Scotia or somewhere equally exciting.

The Navy were almost about to announce that they had just killed a film cameraman.

But they didn’t.

Moral of the story…There isn’t one really..these things just happen but don’t take the experts word as gospel every time and carry a back up beacon..or get a job as an accountant. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Magical World of ..What If..FILM STUDENTS,LISTEN UP!.

The Magical World of ..What If..Film Students, Listen Up!

It could also be the magical world of ”If only”

One is wishful thinking and the other is a lost hope..We all do it, every one of us.

What if I won the Lottery..If only I could win the Lottery.

You can apply the same thinking to everything in life, absolutely everything and everybody at some time in their life has had a thought along those lines..

Would it help in our personal ambitions if we could just forget those two rather forlorn thoughts and adapt a much more vigorous, robust approach to life..would it help us to achieve what we want in life.

I personally think it would.

An individual has to have some sort of personal need not be grand, it should be achievable though.

There are exceptions in every case of course, for instance take a couple of famous actors from the forties through into the nineties. Cary Grant and say Mickey Rooney.

Cary Grant was Tall (+) Handsome (+) Talented(+) Women around the world adored him(+) He became a Hollywood legend (+) He became immensely wealthy (+)

Mickey Rooney was very short, under five feet (-) Fairly ugly(-) Talented(+). Women around the world adored him, I believe he was married eight times(+) He became a Hollywood Legend (+). He became immensely wealthy, he needed to be with eight alimonies to pay.

One day as young men they both took a look in the bathroom mirror and declared “I am gonna be a great and rich actor in the movies”

I am not a gambler, I never bet but if I had been offered odds on only one of these two gents making it, which one would you put your dosh on..

I guarantee it wasn’t the little ugly fella.
So how did they both achieve that remarkable life result..

I don’t think either one was lacking in self confidence, quite the opposite..I suppose you might think that Cary Grant had an easier ride than Mr Rooney, not so ..Mickey started as a child actor and never really looked back, he just went for it and must have thought so many times “What a lucky bastard I am”

Whereas Mr Grant must have occasionally thought “What lucky bastards everybody else is, they all get to look at me”

OK..where is this going..We have examples of two very different people coming at acting from two very different angles with massively different attributes.They were both extremely successful.
I don’t think either one was much given to saying, “If Only”…”What if”

I don’t have any knowledge of the characters of the two fellas mentioned but they had burning ambitions and complete and total determination to succeed in a very tough business.

It is this quality that all film students must have.

If you are prone to be a “what if” or an “If only” sort of person then change and change now..

The only person in the world who should be your guiding light is …wait for it… got it…ITS YOU.

Change the “What if” into” It will”…and the” If only” into “It can and I can make it”

This slight mental change is immensely positive and it will seep into your subconscious over a very short period of time..

You can and you will succeed..Stop waiting for the lottery win or the mysterious parcel of money left on your doorstep.

C’mon, think Like Cary and little Mickey…both winners..they played to their strengths..find out what yours are and exploit them, ruthlessly..