Chapter 9 of 32 from Ron Howard

Working with Cinematographers

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The language of photography can overwhelm new directors. Ron talks you through how to find the right collaborator, rely on them, and work with them to define your movie’s visual tone.

Topics include: Find Creative Compatibility • Rely on Your Cinematographer • Let Them Stretch You Visually • Don’t Be Intimidated

Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing

Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.

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Outside of the director, there is no one else on a project who has more impact on what the filmmaking approach is going to be and what the tone of the experience is going to be, the pace of the shooting and the mechanical problem-solving of getting-- getting that-- getting those moments into those frame lines. You have to feel like there's a creative compatibility. And if there isn't, you shouldn't go there, because that compatibility is vital. And I think the way you determine that has to do with listening to that cinematographer early on when you're in that interview process or you're just having coffee and a conversation, talking about other movies-- not movies they've done, other films-- and understanding on a basic, personal level, because cinematographers are filmmakers. I mean, they're living and breathing it every bit as much as the director is. If there is a disconnect between what they're seeing and feeling, well, you don't want to talk them into your way, because even if they do it, they're not going to fully understand it and feel it. And you actually want the cinematographer to be feeling the movie in the same way you want your actors to be feeling the scenes, you want the composer to be feeling what that music is going to be in relation to the movie. And you, as a director, want to feel your way through the movie as much as apply your intellect and your experience. So if there is a disconnect, I think you need to hear it, understand it, and as much as you might love that person's work, find someone else to collaborate with. [MUSIC PLAYING] I rely very heavily on cinematographers, not so much to decide what the shots are literally going to be or what the coverage is going to be, because I also think editorially. So it's very, very important to me to have the building blocks to take into the editing room that give me confidence and make me believe I'm going to have control over the moments, the scenes, the sequences, and ultimately, the movie. But I have learned more from cinematographers than probably anyone else in the big collaboration of making movies and television shows. And I have some cinematographers who I worked with many, many times. But I always cast the movie with the cinematographer, to the cinematographer, and vice versa because I want them to bring something of themselves that I think is going to be additive, stimulating for me, and sort of organic and significant for the movie itself based on their taste, their aesthetic. A lot of it is looking at the cinematographer's work, obviously. But those conversations are very important. And I've never chosen a cinematographer without having a script for them to read. So they're reacting to something tangible. It's one of the times when I really try to shut up and let them talk as much as possible and not say, here's what I'm thinking. I imagine it ought to look this way. I really try to fold my ar...

Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 22 days with $602,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes the craft of directing like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen—whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.

Watch, listen, and learn as Ron Howard breaks down directing in his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Ron will also answer select student questions.

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Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing