The Model Life
Steven Soderbergh has posted a thought-provoking exercise on the importance of staging as it relates to filmmaking and storytelling. To help you focus on the staging and shot composition alone, he removed the dialogue and made the film black and white. Doing this forces you to focus on what you can see and not what you are told or made to feel through color. It is an innovative way to make a really great point on the importance of carefully choreographing your actors' movements and using creative composition. It is worth noting that one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, started out by making silent films---this improved his storytelling skills on a purely visual level.
Here is an excellent tutorial on how color is used to focus your attention on the actors, contrast them with the background, and bring them to life, quite literally. Once you become aware of this color style, you will start becoming more and more aware of just how prevalent it is. This color grading style does make sense on many levels, but eventually, a different style will no doubt come into vogue. In the meantime, it is good to be aware of color theory and how colors can be used in combination to create contrast and direct a viewer's attention. It is worth mentioning that DaVinci Resolve Lite is available for free. Another excellent tutorial is available here.
We thoroughly enjoyed this local production featuring surfing phenom, John John Florence, who is really showing himself to be a renaissance man, that is, he has more skills than just surfing. We were equally taken by the quality camera work (filming surfing isn't easy!) and the sharp editing by Blake Vincent Kueny, who appears to have a promising future. Notice how the music and tempo in the beginning creates a nice contrast with the bulk of the video that follows. It sets the stage for a high energy piece. If you want to emphasize something such as the excitement of riding waves, then precede it with something of the opposite nature, e.g., to emphasize hardcore precede it with light and playful. That is what is done in this piece and it works perfectly. And of course, a little slow motion here and there never hurts.
This short film shows that an interesting thought can be conveyed in a simple, yet elegant, manner. Along with the right color palette, composition, and music, the final result is surprisingly moving. Also, notice how the framing accentuates the theme, especially how placing the subject above the horizon line creates a sense of freedom of thought. And how this stands in juxtaposition to the sense of isolation and loneliness by using a single subject and wider long shot. The result creates a real sense of contemplation.
We were reminded again today about something we take for granted and that seems counterintuitive for most students learning about lighting and that is the importance of always having a fill light available. As you can see from this picture, even though the sun is setting and there is plenty of light, once the weatherman, Guy Hagi, turns his back to the sun and the camera operator gets a proper exposure for the background, Guy will be underexposed and darkened by his own shadow. And as you can see from the photo, there is a high-powered light standing by to fill in that shadow. With today's digital cameras, it is easy to shoot in available light and not bring any additional lights, but if you do that, you run the risk of either getting a proper exposure on your subject AND blowing out the background OR getting a proper exposure on your background AND underexposing your subject. This problem is solved with a fill light. The rule of thumb is to get a proper exposure on your background, then bring in a fill light to get a proper exposure on your subject. There is an old joke about a cinematographer who said he shoots with available light. He said, "I shoot with available light. Whatever is available in the truck." We are also reminded of another filmmaker who said, "If you are not thinking about lighting, you are not thinking about your film."
You might have heard the news about Blackmagic Design dropping the cost of their Cinema Camera from $2,995 to $1,995. And while that is exciting news, you should know that you still need to turn around and spend all the money you saved, plus $500 to $1,000 more for additional and required equipment. We don't really like to focus on gear that much, but since this is such a remarkable camera, we felt it necessary to go over some hidden and not-so-hidden costs for the benefit of our students.
First of all, you are going to need SSD cards to store your footage. These cards are not exactly cheap. Blackmagic Design (BD) has a list of recommended cards. Your best bet is probably the SanDisk Extreme SSD 480 GB , which is currently selling for around $329. And since you probably don’t want that to be your only storage unit, you can expect to spend $329 x 2 or get a smaller unit as an emergency back-up, the 240 GB one, for $200. Either way, plan on spending at least $500 on your SSD drives.
USB 3.0 CARD
If you are working with raw files, you are going to need a faster way to transfer your SSD files to one of your computer’s hard drives. This will necessitate getting a USB 3.0 connection. These are not that expensive and are easily installed. However, it is an additional cost. This is not the same as a Thunderbolt connection, which is about two times faster. However, Thunderbolt has not really taken hold in the PC world and is more of an Apple or Mac solution. If you own a PC, you will probably have to go the USB 3.0 route.
You are going to need a way to plug your SSD card into your computer and more than likely, you are going to need a SSD Port for that. These are not terribly expensive, but it is an added cost.
NVIDIA GRAPHICS CARD
One of the selling points of getting the Cinema Camera is that it comes with DaVinci Resolve, a color correction program, and that’s a great added bonus. However, be advised that DaVinci Resolve requires a CUDA card and in particular, you are going to need an NVIDIA card.
For the cost of the camera and all the accessories you are going to need, you are looking at a $4,000 to $5.000 investment. You will definitely want to protect your investment with an extended warranty. These can cost $100 to $200 but it is definitely worth it.
The battery that operates the camera is internal and only lasts for approximately 90 minutes. Chances are you are going to need more juice than that. Plan on getting the Switronix system that can increase your running time up to four hours. However, be sure to get the kit because the battery by itself does not include a charger.
Unfortunately, you cannot see the LCD screen in daylight due to reflection and glare. This requires the use of a hood screen. There is a hood included with the camera, but it does not work. This requires that you purchase a screen hood. Fortunately, Hoodman now makes a screen hood specifically for the camera, but it will set you back $100. It is available at Adorama or B & H Photo, Model # HBM1. Some recommend getting an electronic viewfinder, but seriously, the cost is almost as much as the camera. Another possible option is to consider getting the Hoodman Loupe Kit and the 4" riser. This would let you look directly at the back of the lcd screen in broad daylight through an eye piece. However, you would not be seeing the entire frame, so you would have to double check the lcd screen periodically to make sure you were getting what you wanted. You will also have to get a straight shoe bracket in order to attach the Loupe Kit to the back of the camera. This solution would be around $200.
STABILIZATION AND COOLING
The camera has an internal fan with vents on the bottom. It is not advisable to block these vents; therefore you are also going to need a specialized base plate designed for the camera so you can accommodate the ventilation system. Fortunately, IKAN makes a base plate for the camera for $99 and has a couple affordable rigs. Also you might need to make additional adjustments to your shoulder rig as the camera is bulky and rather hefty.
One of the selling points of the camera is that it has an EF mount that allows you to use your existing lenses. However, please note the sensor has a huge crop factor of 2.5. This means that your 50 mm lens is now a 125 mm lens and that your 85 mm lens is 212 mm. If you want to shoot with a wider angle, perhaps 20-40 mm, then you might actually need to buy a new lens or two. For instance, the Tamron AF 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 lens, which sells for $499, would put you in the range from 25 mm to 60 mm. This is definitely a consideration as many of your lenses might work great for telephoto purposes, but not for wide angle. The Tamron lens also comes with a six-year warranty.
Is the Cinema Camera a technological breakthrough? Yes
Is it a poor man’s RED camera? Yes
Does it have many limitations? Yes
Is it a good deal? Probably, but be prepared to pay almost as much for accessories as the camera costs. Or in other words, the camera is not a cheap date.
TOTAL POTENTIAL COSTS:
SSD Cards: $500
SSD Port: $40
USB 3.0 Card: $30
NVIDIA Graphics Card: $200
Base Plate / Shoulder Rig Modifications: $100-$300
Screen Hood: $100
Approximate Total: $3,800 - $4,000
It seems strange to be speaking about the power of combining shots when we just finished posting about the power of the cut. We still believe in the power of the cut but are also pragmatic in how we approach filming.
While cutting from one shot to another allows the audience to connect the dots themselves, the reality is that every “cut” requires a “new shot,” and a new shot requires its own set-up, which means more work and interruptions for everyone, not to mention more time in post production. In addition, if you are thinking in terms of shots, you might be missing interesting angles and movements that could actually combine two or more single shots into one continuously staged, well-executed shot.
Thinking in terms of a continuous sequence of shots versus a series of single shots also allows actors the chance to work with less interruption and allows the crew to work smarter instead of harder.
So how do you do this? How do you change your mindset from a series of single shots to a continuous sequence of shots?
Some suggestions are:
When you are mapping out your story initially and have identified your key shots, ask yourself if there is any way to connect the shots by either smoothly moving the actors or the camera. If the move makes sense, then combine the two shots into one. And keep doing that until it makes no sense or is not practical to keep combining shots, for example, a complete change of location.
Another trick is to start at the end, that is, start with the last shot in the sequence, then work backward connecting shots from that end point. This seems like an unnatural way to think, but the end result is that when you start shooting, your camera and actors will now have a clear destination and everything will flow purposefully toward the last key shot.
And finally, as a general rule, you should not switch to any new shot of the same subject unless the new camera position is at least 45 degrees different AND the subject changes in size, either pulling out or pushing in. (We should note that pushing in is not the same as punching in---punching in is getting closer to the character by using a longer lens.)
Thinking in terms of single shots might be helpful initially when you are drafting out your story, but in the end, it is not an efficient or natural way of working. Think in single shots if you must, but then get creative and figure out how you can combine them without having to cut to the next position. Cutting from shot to shot definitely has its place but so does creatively connecting shots to one another.
The sign of true genius is not in complicated explanations about how the world works but in taking the complicated and making it understandable. David Mamet's book, On Directing Film, is only 107 pages but in it he explains an important dynamic on making a good film---one that engages you, keeps you on the edge of your seat, and leaves you wanting more. Mamet's take (no pun intended) on movie making is different from what most seem to preach and very different from the way Hollywood likes to make movies today. It also doesn't sit well with some Steadicam operators.
What he does is take the most basic storytelling premise of all time, SHOW, NOT TELL and adds a critical twist, which is to SHOW THE STORY AS YOU WOULD TELL IT. This twist, in our view, is extremely important to understand.
According to Mamet, you create a good movie by intelligently sequencing seemingly unrelated, concise images and by doing that, you are not only respecting the intelligence of the audience, you are allowing them to put the pieces together in their own minds, and as such, they will participate with the story in a much deeper and gratifying way.
Taking excerpts from page two of his book, Mamet states it this way:
"This method has nothing to do with following the protagonist around but rather is a succession of images juxtaposed so that the contrast between those images moves the story forward in the mind of the audience....You always want to tell the story in cuts. Which is to say, through a juxtapostion of images that are basically uninflected. Mr. Einsentein tells us that the best image is an uninflected image. A shot of a teacup. A shot of a spoon. A shot of a fork. A shot of a door. Let the cut tell the story. Because otherwise you have not got dramatic action, you have narration....If you listen to the way people tell stories, you hear that they tell them cinematically. They jump from one thing to the next, and the story is moved along by the juxtaposition of images---which is to say, by the cut."
It is for this reason he later states that Steadicams were not necessarily the best thing to happen to filmmaking because they often follow a chain of actions and deprive the audience of making those internal connections. We don't believe that Mamet is against intelligently planned Steadicam shots, just against those that roll too long and force continuous imagery.
We translate Mamet's thinking into two basic rules:
1. SHOW, DON'T TELL THE STORY.
THAT IS, DON'T NARRATE!
2. SHOW THE STORY THE WAY YOU WOULD TELL IT, IMAGE BY IMAGE, CUT BY CUT!
As with all things, there might be some who do not perceive Mamet as a genius and might find fault with his thinking, but at the very least, his approach forces you to really think about what you are doing and how all the pieces fit together. His approach is respectful, thoughtful.
When creating stories, we believe that too many times we tell instead of show because we want to make sure we get our point across but that can come at the cost of losing metaphors and symbolic visuals. And at other times, it simply might be too difficult to visually represent an idea, a feeling, or an abstraction. And finally, much too often, we also put more in a shot than is necessary.
Mamet might be wrong about some things, but he is absolutely correct in respecting an audience's ability to connect the dots; as filmmakers, we make the dots, and the audience should connect them. By creating gaps and cutting from image to image, we actually invite the audience into our story as creators themselves. And that's the power of the cut.
We were looking over our growing library of books on filmmaking the other day, and someone asked the question, "Which books do I really need to read?" Our immediate reaction was: "All of them!"
But then, we asked ourselves later, if we really had to narrow the list of books down to what we consider to be the best of the best, the books we would grab if the building were on fire, we looked again and picked out what we consider to be the top ones. We were only going to pick ten, but ended up going with the top twenty.
We realize this is only our opinion and not everyone might agree but such is life! You might notice that many of the books feature interviews with the professionals themselves and that's no coincidence. We find the most compelling books have interviews with the cinematographers and directors themselves---who better to learn from?
The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video (second Edition, revised)
Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know
Cinematographer Style - The Complete Interviews, Volume I
Cinematographer Style- The Complete Interviews, Vol. II
Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors
Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics
Directing the Film: Film Directors on Their Art
The DSLR Filmmaker's Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques
Film: A Critical Introduction (3rd Edition)
Grammar of the Edit, Second Edition
Make Film History: Rewrite, Reshoot, and Recut the World's Greatest Films
On Directing Film
Moviemakers' Master Class: Private Lessons from the World's Foremost Directors
Shot Psychology: The Filmmaker's Guide For Enhancing Emotion and Meaning
The Art of Black and White Photography
The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition
The Steadicam® Operator's Handbook, Second Edition
The Visual Story, Second Edition: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media
We recently reviewed the book, Hitchcock (Revised Edition) by Francois Truffaut, published in 1985. The book contains what has come to be known as the Hitchcock rule, which posits that the size of an image in any given frame should be equal to its emotional importance or story value. We didn't want to put words in Hitchcock's mouth, so we decided to post his "rule" and some of his best advice from the book exactly as it is written.
We always found it more than disturbing that Hitchcock never won an Oscar for best director and feel this reflects quite negatively on the Academy; however, in 1967, he was awarded a "memorial" award, but that, unfortunately, seemed like too little, too late. Perhaps that is why Hitchcock didn't have much to say after receiving it, or it might have simply been an elegant understatement.
1. The ability to shorten or lengthen time is a primary
requirement in film-making. As you know, there’s no relation
whatever between real time and filmic time.
2. A film cannot be compared to a play or a novel. It is closer to a short story, which, as a rule, sustains one idea that culiminates when the action has reached the highest point of the dramatic curve.
3. And never to embark on a project unless there’s an inner feeling of comfort about it, a conviction that something good will come of it.
4. Understatement is important to me.
5. Our primary function is to create an emotion and our second job is to sustain that emotion.
6. By the way, Young and Innocent contains an illustration of that suspense rule by which the audience is provided with information the characters in the picture don’t know about. Because of this knowledge, the tension is heightened as the audience tries to figure out what’s going to happen next.
7. The only answer to that is that a film-maker isn’t supposed to say things; his job is to show them.
8. I’ve learned from experience that whenever the hero isn’t portrayed by a star, the whole picture suffers, you see, because audiences are far less concerned about the predicament of a character who’s played by someone they don’t know.
9. THE HITCHCOCK RULE
The mobility of the camera and the movement of the players closely followed my usual cutting practice. In other words, I maintained the rule of varying the size of the image in relation to its emotional importance within a given episode. (page 180)
10. No doubt about it; films must be cut.
11. You’ve got to use an approach you’re completely sure of. I mean literally, that whenever there is confusion or doubt in your mind, the first thing to do is to recover your bearings.
12. We’ve already mentioned that total plausibility and authenticity merely add up to a documentary.
13. People don’t always express their inner thoughts to one another; a conversation may be quite trivial, but often the eyes will reveal what a person really thinks or feels.
14. Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.
15. I’ve always been interested in establishing a contrast, in going against the traditional and in breaking away from clichés.
16. Thank you…very much indeed. (Acceptance "speech" after receiving the lifetime achievement award in 1967.)
Special thanks to Charles and Cathy Temanaha for letting us film their group while they were practicing at Ala Moana Beach Park in late October 2012. The group can usually be found there on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after 7 p.m..
Ponderlicious.com recently posted a brief analysis of the viral music video, Gangman Style, that we thought was informative and enlightening. The article touches on some of the key elements needed to create dynamic visuals. As of today, Gangman Style has more than 220 million views on You Tube and has no doubt helped launch the artist's career.
TTThe Atlantic recently posted this short video on
what makes a great story. It features an interview with
Ken Burns who is known for making documentaries with
still photos. We thought Mr. Burns advice was definitely worth five minutes of our time.
In the first part of this year, we had a lot of much needed rain in
Hawaii, and like a lot of things in life, there was a good and bad side to it.
First, the good news was we got rain and that helped to resupply the aquifers, water plants
and trees, and rinse everything off. The bad news was it caused flooding and some
damage here and there. But overall it was a great thing! One of the really neat things
is how green certain areas of the island are now. On Oahu, the western and southern
sides of the island are normally parched and dead. On the eastern and northern sides,
the opposite is true. We were recently down by Koko Head and the Ka'iwi Shoreline and were struck
by how amazingly green most everything was. It makes the island really feel tropical for
a change. And we know from experience, it is only a matter of time before it changes back to
normal, so...we went out and shot some footage of what Ka'iwi looks like
after it gets a lot of rain! Hope you enjoy it.
We laughed so hard filming this that we had to do a couple of
extra takes. But
the point of this video is to actually illustrate the use of the close push or
what some might call pushing in. When done correctly, a close push is meant
to signify that what the actor is doing or saying is important and meaningful.
If done without any motivation, a close push can just be absurd or silly.
That's the point we were trying to make. Thanks to Alex Denny
and Janette Nielson for doing a great job with their parts.
Just when we think we've seen the best of the best, someone is doing something even better.
In a way, you can say that DSLR photography is being pushed to new heights everyday because
everyone now has a shot at creating something spectacular. This video really caught our eye. It manages
to use creative movement, color, editing, and time lapse in a way that really brings Moscow to life. This
is a joy and an experience to watch. It exudes life and energy.
We were excited to see Hawaii Five-0 filming right down the street from us today. They literally took over the entire neighborhood with no less than six trucks packed with every kind of gear imaginable. It could best be described as a military operation fueled by Starbucks. From what we could gather, it looked like they were setting up to film an interior day scene that could go into the night. Initially they had the diffusion screen up (as pictured above), but when we went by later, it was down, and they just had a diffusion gel directly in front of the light. We see Hawaii Five-0 filming all over the island and realize it is a nice gig if you can get it. They don't seem to appreciate the production being photographed or filmed, even if it is taking place in public, and you happen to be across the street on public property. In our case, we had planned to take more photos, but we were politely asked not to. It is a small island, so we always try to be respectful. It is interesting how much attention a little t2i can draw once you put a matte box on and place it on a tripod.
Filmmaking is probably one of the most complicated art forms there is, and it is one of the few art forms that relies so heavily on technology. But even beyond that, being a filmmaker is a little like being the conductor of a
street orchestra. And what this means is that you have a lot to
focus on with a lot of background distractions too. With so many
things going on at once, it is a wonder great films get made at all, and no wonder so many bad ones do. There is no comprehensive text tying everything together yet, but generally speaking you can say that a film has at least seven layers to it with each layer taking years of practice and study to master. Before listing the seven layers, we would like to clarify that this is just our perception of things. These layers are by no means the only way of seeing the filmmaking process; it is just how we see it. After listing each layer, we will briefly discuss each one.
Again, quite by chance, we came across this short. It immediately impressed us with its beauty,
style, and grace. And again, without ANY dialogue, notice how it reels you in and takes you on an emotional journey. And it is no one thing. It is a combination of lighting, story, focus, color,
pacing, camera movement, editing, and music. When all of these elements are pulled together in the right combination, you can draw
people into another world and make them feel emotion, and that's what people are looking for. Something
emotionally meaningful, something that reaches in and makes them realize more fully the life we are all living. According to the filmmaker,
this short took six days of filming, but the end result sure paid off.
We recently stumbled across this video quite by chance, but it quickly reminded us
of why we love making movies, especially shorts. This one, A Thousand Words, is about
as good as it gets. It has all the ingredients perfectly balanced and blended.
We don't know Ted Chung, but we know good work when we see it and this is it.
The Hawaii Film School is a film school without walls, an ohana of serious amateur, professional, and student filmmakers who want to perfect the art and craft of digital filmmaking. Through lectures, forums, and workshops, filmmakers from a variety of backgrounds share their expertise and time to help each other create the best films possible. Filmmaking is an art that requires many skills beyond what most individuals possess. By drawing on our strengths and passions as a community, we know it is possible to create something truly great, something beyond ourselves. That is what we believe. That is our mission.