Every once in a while the DP of choice becomes the DP Diva, and then the shoot becomes absolute agony. Speaking from personal experience, it’s a situation that makes you want to open up a yogurt stand and forget you were ever involved with television production. From requesting last minute lenses, lights, and dollys to being nasty and even yelling at the crew, a situation like that can be untenable. But this is where you have dig deep into the center of your producer soul, strap on a pair of balls and get the show produced with the least amount of collateral damage.
When the DP is being unreasonable or demanding, never let him see you sweat. If you’re lip quivers, if you appear indecisive, if you’ve got beads of perspiration running down your neck you might as well hang a sign on your forehead that says, “Come and get me,” because you’ve just lost control. You must remain calm, don’t yell back, don’t lose your temper. Believe me; they’ll only remember you were the one screaming your fool head off. Find out what he wants, hold a small, brief conference with the director present, and see how you can accommodate his needs while staying in budget. Make him and his creative vision as right as you can, but hold the line on money, find a compromise and a way to work around the situation.
Have several conversations with the DP before you shoot. This may not always be easy; typically your DP is shooting other jobs before he’s scheduled to shoot yours. Make an appointment to either meet with him in person or speak by phone. Send him the script and or story boards well in advance. Ask questions. Make sure he sends you via email every possible piece of equipment he thinks he’ll need and then go over the budget to see what you can give him. If there’s a piece of equipment you can’t afford it’s time to have a conversation with the director and the DP and find out what equipment will satisfy their needs within the budget.
The DP is going to be one of the hardest working people on the set. The vision is in his hands; how he shoots it will be what you end up with. So have a heart make sure he’s had something to eat, offer coffee or water, or whatever will make it easier for him. Show him respect.
Be in Control
Without making the entire crew physcotic, make sure everyone is on schedule. Don’t hover like a landing craft when their setting up the lights and the shot, but keep an eagle eye on the schedule and make sure it’s moving as fast as humanly possible. The truth is, if you let him, a DP will spend way more time lighting the shot than you’ve allowed. So stay on top of it, without being annoying.
You control the financial bottom line. The footage you end up with at the end of the shoot is your responsibility. If you’re dealing with a difficult DP, you’re going to have to suck it up and get the shot, because at that point you are stuck. So make sure you don’t get upset, don’t yell, and for goodness sakes, be a bigger person than he. Be professional. You’ve got an entire crew waiting to see how you’re going to react, they’ll take their cues from you. Show you care, you’re in control and that you can be creative and work around any situation that comes up on the set.
In my career I’ve worked with many terrific DP’s, and have had some wonderful experiences, but one day you may find yourself with a Diva on the set.