A Day in the Life of a DP

On the new and up-coming feature film, The Judge, directed by David Dopkin, starring Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga, Melissa Leo, Dax Shepard, and Vincent D'Onofrio.

You can imagine my excitement when I was invited to their last day of shooting on Monday. But amongst all these larger than life stars I was most looking forward to seeing the legend Janusz Kaminski perform his masterful art of cinematography. I was invited by the master himself to shadow him for the whole day. If you don't know his name you are definitely a fan of his Oscar winning work, such as Schindler's List, Jerry Maguire, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, War Hours, and Lincoln. This list goes on and on, classic after classic.

INT. WARNER BROTHERS STUDIOS - STAGE 29

A tram of tourists visiting the studio drives by Stage 29.

TOUR GUIDE
On your left you will see the largest sound stage WB has. This is a hot set right now as they are filming WB Oscar promising ‘The Judge.’ Oh look there’s someone walking onto the set now!

LIBBY steps onto the live sound stage. The red light is flashing and for once she doesn't need to sneak on. The whole stage is filled with a thick smoke. AD's walk by ordering actors to their second change in hair and makeup as PA's run around bringing people their coffee. BILLY BOB THORNTON walks by onto the set. The buzz sounds. Things get silent.

BOOM OP
Sound! Speed!

FIRST AD
Picture up. Last look!

CAM OP
Rolling!

DOPKIN
And ACTION!

Walking onto the courtroom set, I was like a kid at Disneyland with free food and no lines! To see the Panavision cameras, lights, track, and Dopkin and Kaminski in the flesh practicing their DP05-300art and creating a masterpiece, I felt like I was in a dream. I got to watch over the director's shoulder as they filmed Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Downey Jr. in a dramatic scene. Robert Downey Jr. even smiled at me on his last take! Unreal!

DP03-300My mind was blow though when Kaminski came over to me yelling my name without ever even meeting me. You don’t just get to talk to this guy and there he was being such a real and genuine person. He even asked about my film Lucy and where he could see it! I set my expectations low as this was a man that didn’t have the time to watch some girls little movie. In my mind, he would never watch it. Who cares! I got to meet him and shake a legends hand and observe him work ALL day. Dreams come true? I think so!

The grip team floored me as well. This was the most efficient crew I had ever laid eyes on. Each person knew the order in which things were being filmed and when they were done with one scene, only a word was spoken from the director and everyone was changing. There was so little spoken between switches that I had a hard time knowing how everyone knew what to do. They all had the day memorized. This was the big leagues. Kaminski never even had to look through a lens. He knew exactly what the room needed to make the image perfect. Right where to move a light or how much smoke to add to the room. He had a perfect eye!

When lunchtime hit everyone was clearing out of the set and Kaminski came up and sat next to me saying how much he loved Lucy. “The cinematography was great! What did you use? How did you get such a shallow depth of field?” I could see the people in the room stop what they were doing and look over at who Kaminski was talking to. Talk about intimidating! I was so impressed that he took the time to watch not only Lucy but the Making Of right then! This is what true professionals are made of and this is why he has been so successful. He was firing off questions about Lucy and different scenes, budget, actresses, story. “I loved the story of Lucy. I didn’t know what was going to happen and then I loved where it went.” He also gave me some great career advice.


“Know what you want to do and do it! Don’t get stuck!”

- Janusz Kaminski


DP06-175I was also able to talk to him about the next project I’m working on. A trailer for the Chaplin feature I have been writing. The Entertainer. He loved the ideaDP07-300 so much that he offered to have his apprentice be involved and DP. AMAZING! Later Kaminski’s Key Grip for the past 25 years came up and said, “He talked to you? How’d it go?” He also said he’d love to work together! And to top it all off I ended the day with meeting another legend, Robert Downey Jr.! To have the amazing opportunity to meet these beyond talented people and see them work, I will never forget. I have learned so much in just one day and I am so grateful for the amazing generosity and genuine conversations I was able to have with people I admire so much. I have to thank my dad for being able to let me go with him on set as he was acting as Vincent D’Onofrio double on this project. Thank you so much dad for opening your mouth!

Don’t forget to see The Judge coming out in November!