Add David Boyd to the list of ASC members who have turned their talents to directing. Like the others on that list, he says that his shooting experience informs his decisions in the new role.
David actually began directing began about seven years ago, on the TV series Friday Night Lights. Soon, he was directing three episodes per season, and since then he has added the series Men of a Certain Age, Bionic Woman, Revolution and The Walking Dead, among others, to his directing credits. Last season, he directed 11 episodes of television, including jobs in Vancouver, Chicago, Albuquerque, Atlanta, North Carolina, New York City, and Los Angeles. His most recent cinematography job was a couple of years ago, on Joss Whedon’s pilot Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“I don’t feel I’ve said goodbye to camera work at all,” says David. “I’m still the same person in my heart, but interest has taken me down the directing road, and it’s not slowing down any.”
He adds that directing jobs are appealing in part because of the time commitment. Shooting in the TV arena, the cinematographer’s choices are doing pilots or signing up for an entire season, whereas directing an episode requires a three-week commitment — a much easier assignment to take on. “Also,” says David, “at some point I started to feel like I was just giving these episodes to these directors, and they would fly home with them. I couldn’t help but think I’d have a head start on the directors who were coming in as guests. We welcome them, and that’s the way TV is set up, but sometimes they’re five days in before they realize who the set decorator is. I felt like I was [directing], anyway, so why not get paid for it and take the three-week rhythm instead of the eight-month rhythm? In the space of eight months, I can direct 11 or 12 projects, a dozen little journeys, and I really appreciate that. That feels pretty great. I still get to see many of my friends on the camera, electric and grip teams. It’s a lot of fun.”
David says that when he directs, his working relationship with the cinematographer is one step ahead right off the bat. When planning logistics, he’s never going to put the cinematographer in a difficult position. “We absolutely have a common language,” he says. “There’s never a bit of friction, and neither one of us can pull anything over the other’s eye. Plus, I get to see another director of photography work, which I never got to see before! I just directed an episode shot by Bill Wages [ASC]. I had heard about him for 25 years, and what a joy that was, just to see him go!”
In the TV-series world, decisions about camera and format have often already been made by the time the director gets involved. However, when possible and appropriate, David likes to pare things down to maximize mobility. He shot the Whedon pilot with a Red camera and Super 16 lenses, getting a roughly 15x9 frame at 2K, and he has recommended similar configurations as a director, too. “You’re sending less data along, so there’s less to handle in post, which mean it’s less expensive,” he says. “You get the advantage of a small lens. We used a 10-180mm Super 16 lens — not the best quality, but the ability to slam into a close-up without taking seven minutes to change [lenses] was invaluable, especially for the actors. There’s a certain amount of angst that goes along with acting, and if the cinematographer and I can go right into the close-up, that can make all the difference to the person in front of the camera.”
David also finds himself exerting control over the image through format choices. “Another benefit of the Red/Super 16-lens approach is that it degrades the digital image, which is too good-looking in the first place,” he notes. “It takes it to another realm and makes it more like film, I think. A cinematographer can record in 4K or 5K and plan to degrade the image in post, but we are often not around when those choices are being made later, or someone else has the final say. I prefer to create the look I want, something that looks a little bit more like cinema, from the get go.”
I asked David if his thought process is different when he’s directing. “I find myself doing the same mental exercise I do when I’m directing the photography: I think about the story that has to be told and what these actors have to do. How can I best capture their performances? I think about creating an atmosphere and a vibe and putting lights up that tell the story in the most appropriate way. I don’t see any line between shooting and directing; it’s filmmaking.”