Directors of Photography publish their Image Charter

La Lettre AFC n°150

[English] [français]

The AFC has just published the Image Charter, designed to re-specify the responsibilities and obligations incumbent upon a Director of Photography. This document will be used as a basis during this period of changing technologies and working conditions.

AFC Image Charter English version

The French Association of Directors of Photography (AFC) met on Monday November 14th at La fémis to launch its Image Charter.

A large audience assembled in the school’s screening room, with several highly reputed personalities on the stage : Pierre Lhomme, director of photography ; Philippe Schwartz, production manager ; Benoît Jacquot, director ; Luc Barnier, head grader ; Françoise Piraud, post-production manager and Éric Guichard, director of photography and Chairman of the AFC. The discussions were led by the journalist Antoine Guillot.
The main idea was : how to preserve the whole cinematographic work as it was intended by the director ?

The Charter comes in the shape of a twenty-page blue booklet and its aim is to “back up the director in his creative task and to provide (directors of photography) with the means of defending the integrity of the work with regard to its visual aspects, from the point of view of the audience and of its creators.” The Charter also specifies that it must “permit the search for - and implementation of - the means necessary to, and compatible with, the economics of the project, in collaboration with the producer.” The document reminds of the definition given to this function by the CNC (French Film Board) : the director of photography is in charge of the artistic and technical quality of the images in a film. The Charter lists all his responsibilities, especially concerning the management of light, recording images, technical trials, the follow-up to rushes, forming teams... along with the director and the producer.

Technical mutations and professions

Quite obviously, technological mutations, the arrival of new equipment and changing working conditions mean that certain directors of photography are wondering what is going on. The AFC has therefore codified the fundamentals of the profession, bearing in mind that it is essential that the cinematographic work remains intact.

As soon as he started speaking, the director Benoît Jacquot disconcerted the audience by asking against whom the Charter was written ? From that point on, rather than hearing theoretical speeches, a discussion quickly ensued with the audience, which comprised directors of photography, cameramen, representatives from laboratories, post-producers, camera manufacturers etc. Pierre Lhomme pointed out that filming and production conditions are getting worse. And he denounced the disappearance of certain key stages such as screening rushes on a large screen : “screening dailies is a crucial stage that bonds a team and allows each member of the team to adjust their approach depending on the images produced”, he explained : “The first week just allows the team to find its bearings and as shooting progresses, team members become more daring. It is not possible to be adventurous if one cannot see the results of one’s work on a full-scale screen.”

A discussion ensued among the audience, some of whom launched a scathing attack on the use of DVDs for screen rushes whereas others emphasised the practical nature of this technique. Many people regret the absence of prints and the screening of rushes during shooting.

The increased workload for directors of photography was discussed at length and the 13-14 hour days were criticised, since they tend to include more and more grading sessions. Hence the idea of a new profession, that of Assistant DP which would lighten the DP’s workload, especially during grading. “I quit this profession because the virus that came from the United States, that consisted of working ridiculous hours, ages you prematurely. It removes all enjoyment from the job”, added Pierre Lhomme. “I stopped because after 12 hours on the job, I’m not interested in making films any more. In view of this, filming teams must be reorganised.” The fact that the DP loses control of the images in a film, because of the ever-expanding possibilities of broadcasting it (Internet, mobile telephones, DVD, digital TV, etc.) “without the DP having any say in the matter” was also discussed. Films made for a cinema screen are more and more often created using a small screen, shot in front of a monitor, cut and graded using computer screens prior to the DVD being engraved...

The Image Charter is published just as many questions are coming to a head in this profession. Professions evolve, responsibilities change and the scope of competence becomes more ambiguous. directors of photography are more and more present in grading sessions. And among those present, a question is heard : “What if the grader went to the DP rather than the other way round ?” This is now open to discussion.
(Lionel Ollier, Sonovision Broadcast n°502, December 2005)