President’s Desk: Number “8”

Kees van Oostrum, ASC (Photo by Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC)

The other day, the usual group of collaborators and I walked into a residence to scout a location. Greeting the homeowner, the location manager introduced each of us in turn: “This is the director, Mike; the producer, Anette; the production manager, Charles; the production designer, Mary-Lou,” and on and on, with the continuous shaking of hands until they got to me. “And this is Kees, the DP.”

Of course, my name had to be repeated several times before it registered with the homeowners, and even then they continued to look at me with compassion and sorrow, following me around unrelentingly, cautioning my steps, moving furniture aside, and even offering me their arms when we moved our scout upstairs. It was not until we piled back into the 12-passenger van that it dawned on me what had caused the homeowners’ helicoptering concern over my perambulations. Right in front of our vehicle, a car was parked in a handicap spot, with a license plate that read “DP” next to an image of a wheelchair. They’d thought I was a disabled person!

I laughed, but at the same time I began to wonder how many times in the past cinematographers must have similarly been mistook when introduced as “DPs.” Certainly the abbreviation must have been misinterpreted before. How can we expect an outsider to our industry to understand that “DP” is simply short for “director of photography”? And isn’t it ironic that our commonly used abbreviation suggests dependency and a need for help?

Such a conundrum isn’t unique to our industry. A few years ago, when IKEA started to expand its business worldwide, the company ran into some trouble with the names of their furniture. As you probably know, the company’s furnishings frequently bear Swedish names like Friheten, Slattum, Neiden and Kvot, to name just a few. Unfortunately for IKEA, some of those names have mirrored rather vulgar words in different languages. In Thailand, for example, products were marketed with names that sounded an awful lot like Thai words for “sex” and “getting to third base.” The list goes on with words that are a bit too “blue” for me to translate here. Needless to say, as Ikea moved into new markets, that naming strategy didn’t always work out. You might have noticed that, in recent years, IKEA has begun relying more on numbers.

So, too, a potential solution to how we identify ourselves as cinematographers might be to rely on numbers rather than abbreviations. Instead of “DP,” we might assign ourselves a distinct number. After all, according to Pythagoras, “Numbers rule all things.”

Obviously, the number “1” — signifying leadership — would be taken by the director, and number “2” — meaning partnership — would naturally go to the producer. But what about “7” or, better yet, “8” for the cinematographer? For one thing, it could serve as our lucky number; according to Chinese culture, it signifies fortune and good luck. And anyway, we are usually introduced after six or seven other people. The number “8” would have made perfect sense to the homeowners at the location scout!

Yes, I see the Canadians and the Aussies raising their hands to speak up.
They might suggest that they’ve figured out a better solution, as they refer to the cinematographer as “DOP,” a more complete and correct abbreviation for director of photography. However, “dop” in Dutch refers to a reusable bottle cap! So it seems there’s no way to win the name game. 

Instead, I think we would be a whole lot better off calling ourselves number “8.”

Kees van Oostrum
ASC President

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