Thursday, July 5, 2012

Director of Photography vs. Cinematographer

Only a minority of film festivals present awards for a film's Director of Photography (DP) or Cinematographer. And because most people use those job titles interchangeably, festivals that do honor the category at all, do so with only one award: It's either Best Director of Photography or Best Cinematography.

Pennsylvania's Terror Film Festival is the only festival I know of that honors both the DP and cinematographer as separate categories. In 2011, their Best Director of Photography award went to Matthew Mandarano for Banks of the Vltava, whereas Best Cinematography went to Devin Graham for An Evening with My Comatose Mother.

How does the Terror Film Festival distinguish between a film's DP work as opposed to its cinematography? What are the judges's aesthetic criteria?

The Terror Film Festival's Grace Peters explained their judging criteria as follows:

It is surprising that until now, no one has challenged the distinction between cinematography and director of photography as two separate awards in our festival. This debate would be an interesting one, with probably a varied poll of opinion as to why the terms are used interchangeably, and if the roles are one and the same.

I will tell you why the Terror Film Festival differentiates the roles. We developed an award process and selection criteria that is fair to every filmmaker, regardless of the film's production value. We have honed and fine-tuned it each year, but it is standardized, consistent, and academic. We have a secret formula that allows a $500 production to compete with a five million dollar production.

Which is why we decided to give two separate awards for cinematography.

Independent films have varying budgets and crew. Varying levels of experience and craftsmanship. With that come strengths and weaknesses of every facet of the film's technicality. Sometimes the director is also the DP and the cameraman. And sometimes a production has the luxury of having a [separate] DP, with camera crew and gaffers, etc.

The DP award is based on an aesthetic nature. The visual imagery and style of the film, lighting, and frame composition.

The cinematography award is based on the actual execution of camera (types of shots, camera movement, focus, etc.), and is a technical award for craftsmanship. We feel the person operating the camera deserves merit, whether it is the DP or someone else.


For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.

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