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Ryan Domis
Was I asked a trick Question?
on Jun 13, 2008 at 2:52:05 pm

I was on set directing a scene in my Directing II class. We all take turns directing a scene every few days, with all of the other students in class acting as crew on eachother's projects.

After we built the set, the cinematographer and I began to discuss camera placement/composition, along with the placement and blocking of the actors. We didn't even have our camera set up yet, but I had a general idea where I wanted to place it. I told the cinematographer that once we had the camera turned on and put in the right place, we will move the camera from their in order to determine the right composition.

Then,...the gaffer comes over. He asks me, "What's our focal length of this scene?" As a Directing Student, I didn't know much of the details we were talking about. The cinematographer stood silently, and I replied with "We haven't even gotten the camera set up, yet. However, the camera will be placed between 6-8 feet away from the actors." He quickly replied to me harshly...saying " That's not what I asked you. What's your focal length?" As the cinematographer still stood their without an answer, I then replied with, "Look, we're going to figure that out in a second." (The camera wasn't even set up.) The gaffer responded by giving us a dirty look, shaking his head and walking away.

1. Now, first of all...I was originally taught that focal length was the distance between the focal plane on the camera/lens to the Subject in focus. If I am wrong, I apologize, but this is a film school! We are aloud to fail. If I wasn't correct, someone please correct me.

2. How could we have determined focal length without a camera set up? We dont have any viewfinders in our class.

3. Was it right for the cinematographer to just stand there and allow me to be embarrassed? He never asked about the focal length.

4. Why does the gaffer need to know the focal length?

5. Was the "focal length question" a serious, innocent question of importance? Or did this gaffer ask simply to throw me off base? He never asked anyone about focal length before. Why was he so concerned? Is focal length EVER determined before the director or cinematrapher even turns on the camera and puts it in place?

Yes...this was for a class...and no....the professor was not on set.


Yes..I was embarrassed..because I've never talked about focal length while Directing a scene before. I thought that it was the cinematographer's job to figure that out, but I'm in no way dismissing the importance of it.

This class is full of competitive sneakiness that makes me sick to my stomach. People have been contradicting and disagreeing with eachother solely for the purpose of ego, with nothing to do with "right or wrong." the size of ego's and the amount of thick headedness in our class is absurd for a film school.


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