This is a testimony from my good filmmaking friend Damian Falana, a man of great courage and with whom I have been delighted to collaborate with on several projects this year. Enjoy!
So it was two days before the start of production for my undergrad thesis film. I was standing outside of the equipment office, waiting for them to track down the camera I reserved. That’s when the turning point came.
Ok, a little backstory. During my hunt for a DP (film speak for director of photography), I prayed to God to show me who I should bring onto the project. I had recently heard a message at church about Gideon and the process God took him through so he’d have only the best soldiers for the army he was to command. In the end it came down to a process of filtering out individuals who bore the wrong natures (Judges 7). So I had that in mind when considering my 3 DP choices:
1. Mr. Beautiful was a cinematographer that my producer recommended for his beautiful images, but he wasn’t interested in talking with me about anything. He just wanted to review my script and see my film reel before even discussing getting involved.
2. The Spaniard was a hot-blooded auteur in his craft. He knew what his strengths were and was confident about his personal style. He also loved to carefully plan out what he does, which runs against my by-the-spirit attitude. I feel that the relationship between a director and a DP is equivalent to a vision and the expression of that vision, and being at odds about methodology is harmful to the health of such a creative symbiosis – not to mention that this DP could be explosive on set and impatient with crew members.
3. Old Faithful was enthusiastic about talking with me and getting to know what I wanted to accomplish and how he could help me achieve that. His many videos were mostly documentaries filmed on-location, so he could go with the flow and allow unexpected things to happen, which is often how the spirit works. But the images he made were not impressive at all. He was considerably behind the quality of The Spaniard.
Nonetheless, I initially brought Old Faithful on board without even strongly considering the other two. But then, later, the Spaniard convinced me that I should not place the role of DP in the hands of a person who just makes “ok” images (as opposed to the Spaniard’s, which were really good). The Spaniard’s basic message was image skills over people skills. So then I brought the Spaniard on board instead. However, I hesitated to tell Old Faithful that his services were no longer necessary. Something didn’t really seem settled about The Spaniard’s involvement.
So, back to the equipment office: The Spaniard and I were suddenly told that not only does the camera department have only one camera lens (not good), but also only one light for us (definitely not good). So we started chatting about gorilla-style lighting setups just before The Spaniard stepped out to “drop his car off”. He and my lighting technician were then supposed to come back together so we could finish our discussions.
Ten minutes after he left, I received a text message from him stating that he “respectfully” backs out of the project because it seemed “too impractical.” At least the lighting guy came back. But now I had to find a new DP in 48 hours. Then, to add to things, the equipment office told me that the camera I reserved can’t be found and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Needless to say, I was in the deep end. I had to find a new camera and new DP immediately, or the equipment I was checking out would be useless and the shoot would have to be cancelled.
In that moment of abandonment, I realized a peace. Up until that point, I was forcing my round, improvisatory self into a DP-carved square hole of careful planning, that just wasn’t me. Now I just had to relax or sink, kind of like doing a back float. I realized that by being relaxed and worry-free, answers to problems would more readily come through the mind from the spirit and into the body.
Someone eventually gave me the number of a company who rented equipment at student-friendly rates. As it happened, the rental package I found included a camera and a lens kit The Spaniard would have died for, and I received this camera package ten minutes after receiving The Spaniard’s “back out” text.
I then gave Old Faithful a call back – after a month of the directorial affair with The Spaniard. As it turned out, Old Faithful never knew I was looking elsewhere to fill his position. He’s been my faithful DP for the whole shoot and created some really stunning images.
Lesson learned: God knows the human heart and the true nature of all things. Whether you are hunting for a director of photography or a spouse, God will make sure you have the right guidance to find the right people when you pray and build an understanding of His ways of answering your prayers.