Great films start with great writing, but the trinity formed by the director, director of photography, and the production designer create high production values – Giving rise to excellence. Without the trinity, films can’t surpass the quality of an average B movie.
Cost cutting methods used by many independent films includes the merging of the director and the DP into one person, leaving out the production designer all together. While a few films lacking a trinity have been remarkable, most can’t compete in the marketplace. This is due to the low production values and shortcuts that occur because there isn’t enough manpower.
When a creative trinity is a part of a production, the focus on detail plays out in the following three ways:
DIRECTOR: The director owns the vision for the film and needs to have a strong opinion on what the film will be. He is responsible for how the story is told visually with a specific point of view. He must have a strong sense in how to translate the written word (screenplay) to the screen cinematically. His focus covers the story, characters, motivation, technical and aesthetics – The over all look and feel of the film. His point of view will determine how the tools of the trade are applied to the story. He also collaborates with the department heads and makes all final decisions on design and photographic elements.
PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Being the head of the Art Department, the designer is in charge of the physical environments: The creation, construction and selection of sets and locations. He also oversees the costume designer, wardrobe, hair and make-up. His team focuses on the period, space, texture and colors. In preproduction, he collaborates with the director to understand his impression of the story and how he will pull it together.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: The DP or Cinematographer is responsible to capture the director’s vision on film/video. His collaboration with the director and production designer is for the purpose of creating the look and visual style of the film that best serves the director’s vision. He oversees a team that covers the camera, composition, lighting, and movement. The choice of equipment, lenses, processes, and digital enhancements determine the perspective, color and visual texture of the story.
The trinity sometimes uses previs, a tool/technique to pre-visualize scenes, to make sure they clearly understand the same visual story elements. Some trinities use software for pre-visualization, others use storyboards or animatics, and some use models and miniatures. I’ve actually used a combination of tools, not to mention my own technique for camera placement within my blocking charts.
Whenever the exact right combination of artists forms the trinity there are normally a lot of award ceremonies that follow. The amount of high quality detail is also talked about by the audience, which typically generates a buzz that leads to an increase at the box office.