#WomenCallAction: How to Deal with a Jerk Cinematographer


Dear Rachel, 

I’m a new director having a hard time working with macho cinematographers who think they know better than me and want to boss me around. How do you deal with jerks like this?

Thanks, Directress in distress


Hello New Director,

I’ll have to assume that someone other than yourself hired this Bozo. As is often the case when you are a director for hire you won’t have a say in who will be shooting your picture. When this happens you can be paired with people who come from different backgrounds and have varied perspectives. I’ve had my fair share of horrible DPs who have tried to undermine my authority and second-guess my decisions, so I know how stressful this situation can be.

First of all, YOU are the director. Shot choices, camera placement/movement, lens size – these are ALL YOUR domain. A director of photography is there to COLLABORATE with you, not be your boss. Often, the cinematographer will have great ideas and want to help you bring your vision to life. Be open to hearing their ideas. However, if they are simply shutting you down and disrespecting your process then you will need to have a private, off-set conversation with the him. Explain that you are not happy with the communication that is going on and try to rectify the issues between the two of you. Try not to bring the producer or anyone else into this orbit. Listen to what your D.P. has to say. Try to pinpoint the exact nexus of complication. Don’t be defensive; perhaps he has some good ideas that can help you learn how to be a more effective communicator. Try to work out a concrete plan of action and then stick to it. Have lunch with him and his crew, get to know them, and try your very best to make this work. This is part of the job and sometimes we work with people who have a very different style of communication that what we enjoy.

If that doesn’t work then it’s time to bring in the producer. Perhaps there is a backstory of which you are unaware that might have an impact on the situation. Perhaps she can explain your problem more clearly than you can. Hopefully, now that the producer is aware of the problem she can help the two of you figure out a constructive way to move forward. Do not gossip about this with your allies; keep this professional all the way. If there is no way to make this better than you will have to figure out a way to communicate clearly about what you want and keep the emotion out of it. The set should always be drama free, especially of YOUR drama.

In the future, I hope you have the opportunity to hire the D. P. yourself. Hopefully this negative experience will at least help you know what you want in the future and give you the opportunity to develop a cinematic vocabulary that will grow from show to show.

Another thing you might do is to start paying attention to female cinematographers. There are many great, experienced women out there and more and more coming up all the time. Certainly gender is not a guarantee of finding a great match, but many women do communicate in a fashion that is easier to be heard by other women. The statistics for camera-women are even worse than they are for directors. I would suggest that you take the time to learn about women who shoot and do your best to support them.

I hope that helps.