Some things in life are natural pairs:
Peanut butter and jelly.
IKEA furniture and unbridled frustration.
And of course, directors of photography (aka DP) and gaffers (lighting maestros).
Sure, maybe it’s because their language of lighting love is nearly unintelligible to outsiders: “Hey, you don’t need to move that stand—I’ll frame it out.” (Chills.) But the relationship between this dynamic duo boils down to three vital components:
As the DP visualizes the next shot and commiserates with the director to frame it up, the gaffer, relying on their no-words-necessary bond, instinctively gathers the tools needed to bring that vision to life. It’s like a no-look assist. But with sandbags.
While an overall look is established in pre-production, a gaffer who’s empowered to come up with interesting solutions will constantly introduce new lights throughout the shoot. This offers the DP options, mobility, and an easier workflow that makes the work eminently better. Allowing the space for play should always be A-OK. (Great mantra, amazing rhyme.)
Finally: the gaffer needs the DP to tell them where they should be in the frame, or how intense the key light, fill light, or backlight needs to be. Similarly, a DP needs the gaffer’s guidance, even if those words of wisdom are hard-to-hear truths. Both parties have to cultivate an honest give and take to ensure a well-developed project. Symbiotic relationships: not just for plankton!
If you ever want to see this combo working in concert IRL: feel free to join us for a shoot.
And if you want to know a little secret, you can basically replace “DP” and “gaffer” with “brand” and “agency,” and the importance of trust, creativity, and collaboration still applies. How’s that for movie magic?
Have a beautifully-lit weekend, everybody!
—Your filmmaking friends at Brokaw