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Film professions. How is it and how could it be?

Film professions. How is it and how could it be?

We want to use a system that is adapted to the current momentum of technology development. This momentum often leads to the fact that the number of professions in film production is increasing rather than decreasing. There are professions, inscribed in the current system, which often have nothing to do on the set. For years I was making German films where the cinematographer’s team consisted of two people. I did the filming and operated the camera. My assistant, Henryk Jedynak, managed the focus, loaded the cassettes and was the driver of a car in which we had all the equipment. Films made today on the same scale require, apart from the cameraman, cinematographer and his assistant, the DIT, who sometimes is also responsible for archiving (but not always) and is for the video (video assist coordinator) previewing and the second operator’s assistant (clapper loader) responsible for cabling, reporting and clapping.

Another example: The role of a costume designer in contemporary film is often limited to the fact that he visits the actor’s apartment before the film begins and in such actor’s closet chooses their private belongings as a costume for a scene. In a small-scale contemporary film, this is the end of the costume designer’s work, because all the rest of his duties connected with costumes are taken over by a wardrobe assistant. Of course, there are films in which the role of a costume designer is significant, but does this mean that we have to involve them in every film?

Gaffers, Grips, Key grips.

As it is
Everyone sees it. Some work and others do not. On the outdoor set, more work is done by dolly operators and grips. The gaffers are sunbathing. In small interiors it is exactly the opposite. Each of the lorries of these film departments holds the same tools (ladders, platforms, magic arms, T-stands, ropes, camouflage nets, shovels, etc. Itd.

As it could be
We want to use the Mexican model where there is one technical department which is responsible for all the work on the plan (lighting ,gripping – driving, cranes, construction works) This will undoubtedly influence the optimization of work especially in case when we want to use the second team (as described below). It also cuts down on the means of transport and the quantity of tools transported to the set.

Sound Operator

As it is
It is rare for the Sound Operator to be interested in the preparation work on the film. He usually appears when a large part of the preparatory work is completed. Such approach leads to the following:

Often the filming objects that have been selected prove useless due to noise coming from the outside, which do not allow to make a direct sound recording.

Lavaliers are never or hardly ever placed in an actor’s costume before the filming actually starts. In this way, when everyone is ready to start filming, the Sound Operator starts to install his equipment. By the way, he often comes to the conclusion that the costume rustles and it is not possible to install a microphone on it. Waste of time throughout the entire filming process may add up even to one full shooting day.

The Sound Operator records a lot of “sound effects” that nobody exactly listens through in the process of editing and post-production. Audio postproduction prefers to choose the effects from an archive, because it is a quick choice.

Discussions on the set (sometimes this is necessary) on which is more important in a given scene, sound or image, are often devoid of context, because the sound engineers do not study the script from the story line and drama point of view.

As it could be
The sound in the film is just as important as the image. And the effectiveness of the Sound Operator’s work should not slow down the shooting process. We propose that one person should be responsible for the whole sound engineering process.

  • To do so, the Sound Operator should start his work much earlier. His duties should not be confined to technology.
  • We propose that this profession should evolve more in a creative direction (Sound Artist). The sound, like the picture in the film, should be designed and made (supervised) by one person.

– We want him not to finish his work after the filming is done, but to personally perform or, if this is impossible, oversee the editing and sound editing process (Re-recording mixing). He has one orientation, which he recorded additionally during the shooting. What are the effects and background effects.
– Editing on the set will make it easier to select valuable sound material on a regular basis.

  • We suggest that placing lavaliers in costumes takes place at the beginning of the shooting day and is the same standard operation in the daily schedule as the make-up.
  • Selection of filming objects should always take place in the presence and with the approval of the sound artist,
  • The sound artist should be involved in the discussion on the style of the future film. Previs should at least be discussed with him from the standpoint of the audio needs of the future film.


As it is
I have already written a lot about it, so I’ll make it brief. Nowadays, the images (shots) that make it to the editing room are still semi-finished products which require further processing. The editing room becomes the decision-making place concerning the shape not only in the structural sense, but also in the visual sense. The amount of filmed material allows to collate many different editing versions of the same film. A captured image can be subject to any visual modifications and additions.

Due to the development of technology, film editing is a much more important profession than it used to be. (The amount of the material filmed)

Currently, the editor is editing the film away from the plan. Often due to the excessive responsibilities of the director, he takes over some of his functions (material selection, for example). It happens that an editor appears in a film after the cinematography is finished, which is an even worse situation.

The current model of this profession does not allow to control the quality of film production already in the course of its realization. And that is what we want to do.

As it could be
Editing on set, where scenes in previs are replaced with those edited in a working mode. You can imagine a model in which the editor continues to work off-plan, and his assistant makes a preliminary selection of the filmed material and pre-edits the scenes directly on the set. All this is done under the supervision of the director and the rest of the team, and the effects of his work (pre-edited) are available on every portable device (smartphone or tablet).

The film’s eyes, i. e. the professions responsible for the image.

At the beginning of this essay I wrote about the mess that reigns in the “visual” departments of a film, and here we propose a major change. We want to replace the current system of distributed authorship with one-man responsibility. We want to create a system where one person (in agreement with the director) takes over responsibility for the whole visual side of the film. Things have become so complicated and the development of technology has brought such a significant revolution that it is not worthwhile to think about how to refresh something that has been buiding up for years and there is no chance of cosmetic changes anymore. A general renewal should take place.

The cinematographer

As it is
This profession is defined differently in different countries (different scope of responsibilities). In Poland, in comparison with other local industries, a there is an individual model of doing this profession. The cinematographer in Poland is more of an artist, and in Europe and especially in the USA more a technician. Due to the development of technology, the reputation of this profession is deteriorating. New professionals have emerged as a result of the development of technology, whose impact on the image is often greater than that of the cameraman (design specialists in previsualization, CGI and computer graphics artists). There is even a new profession – the virtual operator, i. e. the specialist in filming in the virtual environment.

The cinematographer’s influence on the image is becoming ever narrower and even the traditional cinematographer’s domain, i.e. the light, can be completely transformed in the postproduction process (virtual light). To save themselves, the cinematographers flee into the world of new tools and gadgets, which are not always necessary to make a given film. If we don’t get ready to revise the definition of the profession of the cinematographer, it will cease to exists the same way that the cobblers did.

As it could be
The cinematographer-artist (Visual Director) is ready to take on many more responsibilities, but at the same time to become an artist responsible for the overall visual shape of the film.

Thus, we want to create a new profession. Visual Director is the person who will be entirely responsible for the visual side of the film. It is not important whether the origin of this new specialist will be in set design or cinematography. It is important for them to redesign their approach to their previous profession so that they can face new challenges. In a sense, a Visual Director would be a continuation of the position they once held in the Polish system as the Cinematographer.

Visual Director

The scope of responsibilities of the Visual Director:

In small movies, Visual Director will be responsible for both cinematography and set design. In other words, they will be responsible for the visual side of the film from the very beginning to the end of the post-production process.

  • Defining the film style agreed upon with the director.
  • Take or supervise photos for the previs (This is not mandatory)
  • Selection of iconographic materials (photos, videos) as visual references for the future film.
  • Supervising or creating a story board, animatics (if necessary)
  • Performance of visual tests of the future film (including CGI manipulations)
  • Preparation of set design and selection of filming objects and locations
  • Lighting in the film and deciding what part of this work will be done in postproduction
  • Working with the camera
  • Post-production (colour correction, other image processing)
  • Supervision of CGI effects.

Set designer

The model we write about relates to small-scale films and the idea of merging the professions of cinematographer and set designer may be used only in small productions, where the filming takes place in natural objects/locations with usually no set construction. It should be remembered that at present a lot of films are made in this way and this is particularly true of first-time filmmakers.

As it is
The set designer is somebody who builds the world in which the action of the film is to take place. Nowadays, not everything is being built in the world of film and there is an icreasing wave of bankruptcies among big film studios, because the funds for the production of films are getting smaller and smaller (Alwernia). More and more often the role of the set designer is limited to the selection of existing objects or locations and their possible modification. (Furnishing and repainting). In addition, a significant part of the set design is taken over by post-production CGI. What we see behind the windows of our set constructions or filmed locations is “added” after the completions of the filming. The same is true with the multiplication of objects or their deformation, not to mention the filming of scenes in a completely virtual environment. The set designer in the current system is somebody who rarely visits a film set. Their task during the shooting process is to prepare subsequent objects for the filming. Due to their scope of duties (definition of their profession), they are educated and experienced only in stage design. There is no professional training to prepare them from the filming perspective, e. g. in the area of lighting. Having no drama education, they often build or prepare elements of set construction that won’t be of any use in the film. Their vision of the future film often differs significantly from that of the cinematographer. The reason may of course be on both sides, but this is why we encourage the use of this model especially for small-scale films, where these two professions merge into one – the artist responsible for the visual side, Visual Director. I would like to stress once again that it is not important whether the origin of this new specialist will be in set design or cinematography. In the current system, the sets are prepared from the stage and boiling them from the lighting side begins with the start of the photographs, which is a colossal loss of time.

As it could be
See above for Visual Director.

Interior designer

As it is
The right hand of the set designer. In small-scale films he has more work than a set designer, as the sets are rarely built from scratch. The interior designer proposes changes in the arrangement of filming objects and locations. They introduce changes in furniture and decoration of walls and floors, preparing these objects for the filming. They introduce new furniture, if necessary, by hanging paintings, lamps, carpets and other props. They are also responsible for bringing the object to its original state prior to being rented for filming.

As it could be
The interior designer in the new system should be the closest associate of the Visual Director. Their responsibilities will remain similar, but will become part of a transparent system, or at least the part of it that is responsible for the visual side of the film.

The scope of their duties will not differ significantly from those currently performed, and the system in which they will work is described below (Second Team)

Costume designer

As it is
In contemporary film their work is often limited to the choice of private clothes from among those that hang in the actor’s wardrobe.

As it could be
Not every film needs a costume designer. The director, together with Visual Director, can take on this role.

[Extracts from the Essay “How to make films cheaper and better” by Sławomir Idziak.]

More film professions in the following episode. There will be something for directors and producers too. We  are waiting for your comments. Stay tuned!

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