The digital revolution is causing angst among two key groups in the film and TV industries.
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25 Jun 2012 - 10:19 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 6:30 PM

Australia's cinematographers have launched a campaign to try to protect their role from being eroded during the digital post production process. They complain they are often being excluded from grading film prints, the vital stage when they adjust the colour of images they've shot.

As 35mm increasingly is being supplanted by digital, some producers are supervising the grading, usurping the cinematographers' traditional role, they say.

In a similar vein, the Australian Directors Guild is concerned that directors of TV dramas are being given less time in pre- and post-production as a cost-saving measure. The ADG will soon press its case to production companies.

The Australian Cinematographers Society's awareness campaign kicked off with ads in its magazine and in an Australian trade publication. Similar ads will appear in the US and British cinematographers' magazines.

“What we do as cinematographers is under threat, and in question, not only because of technology but also because of the people who make final decisions about how we do things,” ACS president Ron Johanson tells SBS Film.

“We feel we need to make our feelings known to a wider section within our industry, as there are some who do not know or fully understand the role of the cinematographer and what they bring to a production.

“It's important that all cinematographers, not only in Australia, be encouraged, not discouraged, that they be valued and not devalued. There are many who already have a clause in the deal memo which allows them to follow the project right through, but sadly this does not exist across the board. Whether it be a lack of knowledge at the producers' end, or something else, we don't know.”

Veteran director of photography Peter James (pictured) supports the campaign, in part to inform young, budding cinematographers that their responsibilities should include being involved in the final grading. Writing in the ACS magazine, James said, “Cinematography is being undermined and devalued at an alarming rate. Just because you have a Canon 5D MK11, it doesn't make you a cinematographer.”

After nearly 40 years in the business, shooting films such as Caddie, Driving Miss Daisy, Black Robe, Meet the Parents and Mao's Last Dancer, James concludes, “The next time that film is remastered into the next generation of digital or a yet to be invented medium, I will probably be dead, and buried along with me will be my vision for it. It's probably our fault as cinematographers, the nice guys on the crew, for not kicking up a fuss, rocking the boat and pointing out to everyone that we are in charge.”

ADG general manager Kingston Anderson says directors' creative input is being reduced in the majority of telemovies and miniseries as producers strive to reduce costs. “That is short-changing the quality of the program, diminishing the product,” he tells SBS.

“One problem is that TV drama directors are often viewed as journeymen, unlike feature directors.” Also causing concern, he says, is the fact that pay rates for directors for that type of TV work have stagnated in the past 10 years.

“We are working on an agreement to present to all the production companies, seeking to set standard pay rates, address the copyright issue and improve working conditions,” he says.

Asked if his guild supports the ACS campaign, Anderson responds, “Totally.”