Dattner Dispoto celebrates 20 years of nurturing DPs

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When producer Garrett Grant approached Dattner Dispoto and Associates for a cinematographer for New Line's "Hairspray," he was looking for someone who could not only create the rich, glossy look of classic MGM musicals but also bring a "unique style and different vibe." While most agencies would make the obvious recommendation for a lenser with experience in song-and-dance films, Dattner Dispoto chose to put forth Bojan Bazelli, who had a slew of interesting credits (2005's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," 2002's "The Ring" and 1998's "Dangerous Beauty") but had never shot a musical.

The agency's bet paid off, with Bazelli giving the well-reviewed film just the right vibrant color palette and cheeky 1960s aesthetic.

"Dattner Dispoto thinks out of the box," Grant says. "The big agencies just copy you with 20 submissions for one position, and Dattner Dispoto tries to be specific to the project. Bojan was a phenomenal talent who brought something very special and unique for an unbelievably beautiful look."

A success story like Grant's is precisely what the agency stakes its reputation on. Not a boutique and not a huge conglomerate, Dattner Dispoto -- founded by Fay Dattner in her New York City apartment September 1987 -- thrives as a hybrid, says partner Bill Dispoto, holding closely to its philosophy of choosing clients carefully and nurturing each career with personal attention. "We're excited by creative, talented, artistic people," he says. "We make sure they're the right fit into our family at the right time and that we have the ability to help them flourish."

Although the 20-year-old agency's fundamental approach remains true to Dattner's original vision, the company has evolved right along with the business, adding producers and production designers to the client mix in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

"We got tired of saying, 'No, we have no one to send,'" says Dattner, who notes that company attorney Richard Caleel opened the producer department. "Cinematographers love that we represent producers, because that's complementary to them. We're still very selective. We're not going to throw a bunch of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks. We want to make sure the people will work very well together. We're in tune with it being a creative combination."

"You have only one opportunity to connect with a production," Dispoto adds. "We wanted to have a variety of reasons for productions to work with us."

Technology is a major way the agency and its clients distinguish themselves. Most notably, Dattner Dispoto cinematographers have been at the forefront of employing new high-resolution digital cameras. "It's one more tool to be an artist and be creative," Dispoto says. "The more knowledge you have, the more you have in your bag of tricks, the more opportunity will come your way." Client Paul Cameron shot Michael Mann's moody 2004 film "Collateral" with the Thomson Viper; Claudio Miranda and Jeff Cronenweth both experimented with the new cameras in commercials; and Miranda is wrapping up director David Fincher's 2008 Paramount release "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," also shot with the Viper.

In addition to keeping up with changing tools, Dattner Dispoto always emphasizes matching the cinematographer to each film's or TV show's creative vision, which has endeared the agency to the production community. "I knew that I could go to them with the budget level I was at and that they would respond not just to the budget but the creative aspect of the show," says producer Callum Greene, who used Dattner Dispoto cinematographer Lance Acord, ASC, on 2003's "Lost in Translation" and 2006's "Marie Antoinette." "With most agencies, you go to them with $1, you get their $1 list of cinematographers, and if you go to them with $10, you get their $10 list. Dattner Dispoto may suggest people who might be out of your budget range simply because of the creative aspect of the project. It's refreshing, and it's more than professional." Dattner sees her agency's role as much more than a matchmaker between filmmakers and her clients. "One of the things that was most important to me was helping people reinvent themselves," she says. "How to re-create yourself or someone else every day is a keynote in life. Someone who does the same old thing will find themselves out of step."

The examples of Dattner Dispoto clients "reinventing" their careers abound. Dispoto points to Tami Reiker, ASC, with whom he has worked since her early days as an indie cinematographer (1998's "High Art"). Slowly but surely, Dispoto guided Reiker's career into high-end commercials and feature films, and in 2004 she was the first woman to win a best cinematography ASC Award (for HBO's "Carnivale").

Though the landscape for cinematographers is more competitive than ever, Dattner and Dispoto are bullish on the future for their clients and the future of the agency itself. "The biggest goal, and hardest thing to do, is to maintain the level of excellence," says Dattner. "The caliber of the client is really important -- keeping the criteria high, keeping the taste level of the films high. It's important for Bill and I to keep making stars."
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