Kino Flo Lights Are A Cheap Kino Flo Alternative

12.8.16

kino flo lights

With the low-light spy camera known  as the Sony A7S,  it is easy to forgot about the importance of lighting. But what type of lighting do you use if you don't have that camera? And why are lights  so expensive?

In terms of lighting options, you have the sun, which is great because it is free, but it is bad because it is unpredictable and hard to control. You have LEDs, which are cool to the touch and low power, but they tend to be expensive and the quality of the light varies depending on the manufacturer. Full spectrum LEDs are even more expensive. You have incandescent lights, which are affordable, but they get hot and are warm in color, which may or may not work for your scene. You can apply CTB gels to cool the color off, but that greatly reduces their efficiency. And, of course, you have HMI Par lights, which are still the standard in most of the industry, but they are expensive, get very hot, and usually require portable generators. And this leads us to our last option, which are fluorescent lights, which are similiar to LEDs, but generally, much less expensive. But like most LEDs, the color quality is not full spectrum and they can cast a green hue and also flicker.

One company that has addressed the shortcomings of fluorescents lights is Kino Flo, which has a very good reputation in the filmmaking industry. Kino Flo lights are flicker free and have a near perfect spectrum of light. However, like LEDs, Kino Flo lights are not cheap either, so it seems you are back to square one. Or are you?

One alternative to the more expensive Kino Flo lights is...well...Kino Flo lights! That's right. You can actually get Kino Flo lights with a screw-in base and turn ordinary lamps and fixtures into Kino Flo lights.

These lights, which cost about $25 each, have the output equivalent of a standard 100 watt lightbulb, so just a handful of them could provide plenty of quality light for any given scene. The advantages are these lights are cool, flicker free, and provide a nearly perfect spectrum of light. And since you are only paying for the lamps and they can fit in any standard lamp fixture, they are an affordable way to light your scene. The truth is you can get all the quality light you need for less than $200 and still honestly say that you use Kino Flos with a wink.

Crew Member Needed

11.30.16

We are shooting an ultra-low-budget feature-length film and are looking for a  reliable person who is interested in helping out with sound, lighting, and camera assisting. This is not a paid position, but it will be a tremendous learning opportunity for anyone serious about learning the craft of filmmaking.  This is a dramatic film about a struggling artist.

The main requirement is that you must be reliable and willing to commit to the shooting dates, of which there are twelve. You don't need to commit to every day, but we need someone who can at least commit to six, so we can plan to have enough hands on deck. We will also provide training if and as needed before the shooting schedule starts. We will help you with transportation to and from set if you need it too.

SHOOTING SCHEDULE

  • 1/15/2017 Sunday
  • 1/19/2017 Thursday
  • 1/20/2017 Friday
  • 1/22/2017 Sunday
  • 1/26/2017 Thursday
  • 1/27/2017 Friday
  • 1/29/2017 Sunday
  • 2/5/2017 Sunday
  • 2/12/2017 Sunday
  • 2/19/2017 Sunday
  • 2/26/2017 Sunday
  • 3/5/2017 Sunday

Besides being a tremendous learning experience, you will also receive the following benefits:

  • A chance to network with local actors and filmmakers
  • An opportunity to earn money if the film becomes financially successful
  • Developing relationships with people who can help you on your own projects
  • A copy of the final DVD
  • Full title credits and acknowledgement on IMDB
  • Free food and transportation to the set
  • A chance to be part of a first-class story and project

If you are interested, please contact us at admin@hifilmschool.com.

Mahalo for your interest.

The Case for Zebras

10.24.16

This is one of the best tutorials we have ever seen on using zebras to get a proper exposure. Getting consistent exposure among your shots means that your shots should generally match each other in post production. In other words, inconsistent exposure is the biggest reason why shots are often mismatched. Using zebra patterns can help ensure consistency. 

And speaking of skin tones, it is worth noting that the color temperature of light also makes a difference depending on skin color. If someone is light skinned, then warmer lights around 3,200 K are flattering and give a warmer glow to the skin. Daylight colors around 5,600 K can make light skinned people look pale and washed out. Interestingly, the opposite is true for dark skin. For darker skin, daylight temps around 5,600 K (aka sunlight) provide nice facial highlights while warmer colors (aka 3,200 K or incandescent lighting) will appear yellow and unnatural.

4k Is Coming, But High Definition Isn't Dead Yet

10.5.16

Technology is changing faster than many of us can keep up with, not only for digital filmmakers, who tend to be on the front edge of many changes, but for everyday consumers. One question that comes up a lot is the necessity of shooting in 4K (Ultra High Definition, 3840 x 2160) versus High Definition (1920 x 1080).  Note : Ultra high definition is double the  resolution of high definition, that is, 1920 x 2 = 3840, and 1080 x 2 = 2160. There is no question that 4k televisions are here and soon those will be the only type of TV sets you can buy.  But the real question is: If you shoot in 4k, will you be able to deliver it in 4k and have it be seen in 4k?

For now, 4k is primarily delivered by way of streaming services. There are virtually no 4k DVD players and no 4k discs. So, if you shoot in 4k, the content will have to be streamed or played directly into the TV from the camera itself or through a hard or flash drive.

Ostensibly, the primary reason to shoot in 4k or ultra high-definition is for greater detail and the ability to crop in on a shot without losing resolution. If you film a project in 4k and it is destined for Blu-Ray or the Internet, then it will have to be downconverted to 1920 x 1080 any way. Some filmmakers swear by 4k and others are continuing to get good results shooting in high definition alone. Interestingly, Vegas Pro now has an upscaling function that allows you to convert high definition footage into 4k. We haven't tested it yet, but we suspect more and more video editing programs will allow that capability. If upscaling looks good, then that is just another reason to stay in the high-definition world for now.

There is no question that 4k is coming and the TVs are already here now. However, outside of streaming services, there are no discs to play 4k and only a couple of players capable of playing 4k content. There is certainly no harm in shooting in ultra high-definition and downconverting to high definition, but it does not necessarily give you any tremendous advantage over shooting in high definition as it exists now.

If we had to look into our crystal ball, we would say that by 2025, 4k will probably take over Blu-Ray as the next standard in digital playback. However, we are definitely in a transition right now and there is no reason to abandon high definition just yet, especially if upscaling delivers satisfactory results.  It is also interesting that some filmmakers say that they don't like look of true 4k and complain that it looks too clear and real, but we suspect this feeling will change as more and more films display at a higher resolution.

KICKSTARTER As A Funding Source

5.8.16

If you are looking to fund an independent film or project, then you should take a look at crowd-sourcing the project through a site like KICKSTARTER. However, if you are requesting funding for shooting a film, then there are two things you must keep in mind.

First, you must do a promotional video. Prospective backers want to see a video of your proposal and statistically, promotions without a video do not get funded. It is as simple as that.

And second, your video must be well done, authentic, and convey a sense of your passion. Especially for a film project, if you can't shoot a halfway decent video, then how are you going to expect backers to think your film will be any better?

There are a couple of downsides to all this. One is that you must reach 100% of your goal or you don't get anything. For this reason, many consider INDIE GO-GO as an alternative because you don't have to reach 100% of your goal to get the funding. The other issue is the disappointment that can come with not reaching your goal and getting funded. Just remember that doesn't mean your project is not great; it just means, that for whatever, the stars didn't align for you, so don't take it personally and keep pursuing your passion.

On a side note, we recently stumbled across a KICKSTARTER promotion for DARKFALL and thought it was quite well done. However, it doesn't look like the creator, R. Paul Wilson, is going to meet his goal. Again, that does not mean his project is not a good one.

The Value Of A Web Series

5.3.16

Paradise Justice is a collaborative project by a group of actors and filmmakers who are attempting to use a web series to tell their stories and hopefully, reach a larger audience. As of May 2016, no episodes have been released but there is a trailer on You Tube. As noted in this interview, there are distinct advantages to doing a web series as opposed to shooting a feature film or even a film-festival short. One unique advantage is that a web series allows you to use union actors who might not be able to work on the project otherwise. Other obvious advantages include flexibility, independence, and the chance for monetization through Ad Sense. It also provides an incredible opportunity for networking and can be a springboard for other projects. So, if you have a story to tell, want to collaborate with other professionals, and build an audience for your work outside of the mainstream media, then a web series is definitely worth consideration.

Muvizu For Previsualization

2.2.16

 

As the world turns it seems that more studios are turning to previsualization (previs) as a way of saving time and money. How so? Well, instead of shooting a film first and doing test screenings on the back end to see what's wrong, they are doing previs screenings on the front end and then shooting the movie. In short, they are trying to get it right straight out of the gate. Of course, the quality of the previs screenings is nowhere close to the final product, but it is close enough to let an audience weigh in on the story essentials.

Previs has earned its place as a legitimate tool in filmmaking as it allows you to test shots without the hassle and expense of shooting them, and it allows you to find problems you might not have considered. However, some previs software is expensive, and storyboard artists don't come cheap either. One option that we recently stumbled upon is Muvizu. And get this: It's free. And the unlocked version only costs $30, which you can install on up to three computers. The main drawback is that the scenes and props are limited and the characters have exaggerated features and  limited movements, but for what it does, there is not much to really criticize. And on the upside, it allows you to place up to four cameras in 3-D space and move the cameras and characters in any direction. It is an amazing package for what it does and what it costs.

We have only recently been playing around with it, but so far, we like it a lot and are planning on using it for previs and teaching basic camera and lighting concepts. So far, here are a couple of tips on using it.

1. If you get the unlocked version, be sure to install the program as the administrator. Right click on the installation and click Run As Administrator; if you don't, it won't accept the license key.

2. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for moving around in the workspace; it is much faster and easier than using the mouse.

3. Render your footage as a .png sequence. So far, we haven't had any luck in rendering .avi uncompressed video, but the image sequences work fine and provide the highest quality. We are still experimenting with some of the codec options, but so far, the quality is not anywhere close to the .png sequences.

We really like this software program and feel it has tremendous potential as a teaching and previs tool.

Know Your Pick-Up Patterns

1.21.16

This video does an excellent job of explaining why a cardioid pick-up pattern is probably your best bet for an on-camera microphone. There is a world of audio knowledge in this short video, and it is well worth watching if you are a one-person crew or doing run-and-gun style shooting. And speaking of worthwhile, Juiced Link also has a great little e-book on recording quality sound. Recording professional quality sound is what separates the amateurs from the professionals and usually we can tell within seconds of watching a film if the sound was recorded professionally or not.

Four Tips for Making a Short Film     

1.16.16

BY JOHN MONTANA

Making a short film or any film for that matter can be a lot of amazing fun, but it can also be stressful and filled with problems. I recently made a short film, Hungry, which was based on the idea of consumerism and greed during the holiday season. The script took about three months to write and iron out the kinks. I was able to shoot it in early February 2015, and I have to say even though I had prepared for everything, or thought I had, the shoot was rough. Here are the major issues that came up and how I worked through them.

LOCATION
Location needs to be your first consideration when shooting a film. My film took place in a used clothing store, and I wanted the store to seem like it had been there for decades. I went location scouting because I knew beforehand that my budget was NOT going to allow me to build a set on a soundstage or even rent a soundstage, so I set out to find the perfect location. It took me a week of driving around Los Angeles and looking at close to 15 shops. There were two that I thought might do but nothing that reached out and grabbed me until I happened upon the shop I ultimately shot in. It was an amazing location. I knew immediately it was the one. The takeaway is to take your time and really look for the location that you want. Do not settle for less unless you absolutely have no choice.

EQUIPMENT
This is where my shoot became a nightmare, and ironically, I didn’t know it until I got into editing. There were some shots I wanted to film that my director of photography (DP) felt would be perfect for the Ronin, a smaller electronic version of a Steadicam. Unfortunately my DP was not experienced with this piece of equipment and because there was no way to hook it up to a monitor, there was no way for me to catch any mistakes that might have made it into the frame. As a result, almost a quarter of the shots were severely compromised because there were lights, stands, and all sorts of equipment in them. And no matter what I tried to do in editing, I just could not clean up the footage. This forced me to do a reshoot in other locations, including my own garage! The moral of the story is two-fold. First, always make sure that your crew knows what they are doing with the equipment. And second, always have a second set of eyes looking at the frame. Do not rely on just one person to make sure it’s right.

COMMUNICATION
Another major thing that happened was a lack of communication with my hair/makeup artist beforehand to let him know exactly what I had envisioned for my leading lady. After I was done setting up the first shot on the first day, I went in the dressing room and saw my leading lady in a wig and make-up style that was  clearly not what I had in mind. I felt as if I had been sucker punched, so now I was two hours behind and hadn’t gotten my first shot in the can yet. Instead of panicking, I just let them finish and went outside and calmed down. I tried to think of a way out of this. Using the situation to my advantage, I ended up adding a scene that showed her removing the wig and make-up and worked it into the story. And it totally worked! If you see the film, you will see what I mean. And I have to say that this was the magic that occurred on this shoot. I don’t mean to sound silly or superstitious but there has been a little magic that has happened on every one of my films, so now I actually look forward to seeing what will come my way during each project.

PATIENCE
After all is said and done, there were some major things that really messed with my head during the making of this film, but I have to say that by trying to relax and not go berserk in the face of these challenges, I was able to get through all the problems. And it ultimately worked out because even though it took me almost four months to edit the film, I was able to create something that I am really proud of and love. And the best part of it all is that the film has been well received at festivals and has won two awards so far.

CONCLUSION
No matter how much planning you put into your film, nothing will completely prepare you for all the challenges that are bound to arise. But with patience and staying calm you can come up with solutions to these problems when they come up. And often the solution will be so much better than the initial idea. Just trust in the magic that always seems to come to those who create.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Montana is a professional actor and filmmaker living with his wife in Los Angeles. His award-winning film Hungry has been shown at numerous film festivals internationally. Check out more of his work at No Title Production Films.

Filmmaking Books

12.16.15

Tom Antos shares some of his recommendations for filmmaking books. In case you don't subscribe to his You Tube channel, we highly recommend it. He produces solid tutorials on almost every aspect of filmmaking. We especially like that he is sensitive to cost and often creates affordable and practical solutions to shooting on a low or limited budget. In the past, he has built dollies, aerial drones, and car-mounted rigs. His philosophy is simple: Work with what you have. You don't need expensive gear to succeed. He really is the MacGyver of filmmaking. It is nice to hear from a professional filmmaker that books are still relevant in today's digital age.

Codec Confusion

11.20.15

Of all the technical marvels, probably one of the most underrated and misunderstood of all time is the science of video compression and decompression. If you know anything about video compression and decompression or CODECS, you know that it is extremely complicated. And the fact that humans figured out how to do it is nothing short of amazing.

But on a practical level, most people probably don't take the time to understand it as fully as they should. This can really hit a beginning filmmaker hard when he or she goes to render footage that they shot and are presented with a long list of possible options and don't have the slightest clue about which one to use.

We were recently reminded of this when a student went to render footage out of Da Vinci Resolve 12 on a Windows-based PC. As it turns out, Resolve isn't licensed to output Pro Res 422 HQ on a PC, so even though the footage was shot and encoded as Pro Res, it cannot be rendered out in that format, and so, another format has to be chosen. But then the question is which one do you choose?

Just under the Quick Time option in the Render settings, there are 29 choices, 19 of which are flavors of DNxHD. Well, as it turns out, if you make your way through the choices selectively, the list of 29 soon gets smaller and smaller until you are only left with perhaps 3-4 choices.

In this case, the search for a Pro Res 422 equivalent landed us on three possibilities:

DNxHD 220 1080 p (the winner for PC Users)

H.264 (good considering the small file size)

Cineform YUV 10 bit (very large file size)

 

And since we believe in experiencing things versus reading about them, we rendered out the Pro Res 422 HQ in each one of the three formats, burned them to a Blu-Ray disc, got some popcorn, watched the footage, and took an informal poll. 

Our findings were as follows:

1) For casual viewing, all the codecs produced acceptable results.

2) DNxHD 220 was the crowd favorite and deemed as providing the best results.

3) Cineform YUV was not appreciably different from DNxHD 220 and had an extremely large file size by way of comparison, almost one-third larger than the file size of the original source video!  It uses different frequency domains.

4) H.264 looked good considering it had the smallest file, nearly half the size of the Cineform file.

5) If you are using Da Vinci Resolve on a PC and need a ProRes 422 equivalent for rendering, DNxHD 220 1080p is probably your best bet.

6) If you want to try Cineform YUV, you must download Go Pro Studio, then restart your computer; otherwise, it won't be a render option. But be warned, the files are huge.

A Soft Source From The Side

10.12.15

Occasionally we are asked the following question: If you could only use one lighting source, what would it be and where would you put it? Now this question is a bit a of set-up because lighting really should be based on the needs of the story you are telling, and as we have said many times before, if you are not thinking about lighting, then you are not thinking about your story. In fact, if there is one thing that concerns us about new low-light, high ISO cameras is that there is less of a need to think about lighting. In some cases, this is good, but in others, it is most certainly bad.

Any way, with regard to the question of how to light a shot with only one light, we would suggest a soft source to the side. This type of light is diffuse and will not only provide key lighting, but will gently wrap on the shadow side and provide some fill lighting as well. This is the standard way we typically light interviews and depending on the type of lighting you use, it can convey either a warming and inviting mood or a cooler, commercial mood. Again, hopefully you match the lighting to the subject of your story, and put some thought into your productions.

Christopher Nolan On No-Budget Filmmaking

4.5.15

Christopher Nolan discusses his first film, Following, which was made on a very low budget. He notes that he learned to quickly light a scene and made use of available light as much as possible. The style of working he developed early on stayed with him, even as he moved into making full-length feature films.

Sharing Knowledge

2.1.15

shane hurlbut

Learning filmmaking is a bit like learning to be a magician. There is skill and practice involved, but also, and perhaps most important, is knowledge. Much of that knowledge can be acquired from experience, but it can also be acquired from others who already have the experience. The problem is not everyone freely gives you the depth of their knowledge. Like magicians, it seems some hold secret what they know. Maybe they could be thinking that since they had to work hard to learn what they know, it seems wrong to give it away for free. And so, you often have to start from scratch, figuring things out for yourself and learning the hard way. Maybe you intern somewhere, attend classes, read books, or even pay to go to film school. And so, it is always refreshing for us to see professionals in the field who give openly of their knowledge. We have three notable examples of this. Two are cinematographers in the ASC: Shane Hurlbut and  Ron Dexter. Both of these individuals are approachable, accessible, and share what they know through their websites. The third is Tom Antos, a filmmaker who produces thoughtful and informative You Tube videos on all aspects of filmmaking. We appreciate their passion and openness about sharing their knowledge, and they should all  be commended for it.

We encourage you to visit their sites. See our Links section on this page.

The Model Life

1.12.14

The Importance Of Staging

1.7.15

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.

Cinematic Color Correction

12.23.14

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.

Begin Again

12.14.14

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. 

Internal Prospection

11.4.14

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.

The Importance of Fill Light

2.20.14

Hawaii News Now

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."

 Journey Jolley

1.3.14

Hidden Costs of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera

8.16.13

cinema camera

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.

SSD DRIVES
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.

SSD PORT
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.

EXTENDED WARRANTY
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.

BATTERY LIFE
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.

LCD SCREEN
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.

LENSES
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.

SUMMARY
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:
(conservative estimates)
Camera: $1995
Warranty: $100
SSD Cards: $500
SSD Port: $40
USB 3.0 Card: $30
NVIDIA Graphics Card: $200
Battery: $350
Base Plate / Shoulder Rig Modifications: $100-$300
Lens: $500
Screen Hood: $100

Approximate Total: $3,800 - $4,000

The Power Of Combining Shots

5.28.13

CSI Miami

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 Power Of The Cut

1.18.13

mamet

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.

The Best Books On Filmmaking

1.12.13

cinematographer at work with RED CAMERA

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 (Screencraft)
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
Making Movies
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 The Cut
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

The Filmmaking Wisdom Of Alfred Hitchcock

1.4.13



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.



ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S FILMMAKING WISDOM

 

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.)

Te Vai Ura Nui

11.10.12

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..

The Addictive Charm of Gangman Style

09.19.12

gangman stylePonderlicious.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.

Telling A Great Story: 1 + 1 = 3

05.16.12

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.

Ka'iwi Shoreline

03.28.12

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.

kaiwi from Hawaii Film School on Vimeo.

Malasada

02.26.12

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.

Dazzling Time-Lapse Video With Motion

02.16.12

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.

Hawaii Five-O

02.14.12

hawaii 5-0
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.

The Seven Layers Of Filmmaking

02.02.12

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.
 

STORY DYNAMICS

SPATIAL RELATIONS

MOTION

GEOMETRY

LIGHTING

COLOR

SOUND


STORY DYNAMICS
Story dynamics is about what roles the actors are playing. What are they saying and doing and why? This is a subject in its own right. Robert McKee has already written about this in great detail, so there is no need for us to go over that again. But we will say that story is about the increasingly difficult choices a character makes as increasingly difficult obstacles surprise and prevent him from getting what he wants. Stories that sell put someone we can relate to against an opponent we don't like, and in the end, the good guy wins, but at a higher cost than anyone expected. And all of this plays out against political and social backgrounds too. For our purposes, you might think of story as the CONTENT of your film and the other six layers as the FORM. The story layer is what your film is about. It is the message. The other six layers are the FORM or how that message is conveyed.

SPATIAL RELATIONS
As a filmmaker, you have to understand spatial relationships and what these mean. Are things close or far apart? Are things big or small? In every scene, the choice is yours to make. The relationships between objects in three-dimensional space should, in general, match the content of the scene. However, you can add complexity and depth by misaligning CONTENT and FORM, but you should know why you are doing this. For instance, if you have a married man flirting with another woman, and he is doing it from a distance, what are you saying? If he is genuinely attracted to her, then he should be close, but if something else is going on, maybe you want him farther away. Another example might be a person who is depressed and is feeling like his world is collapsing on him. Do you put him in a wide open field of flowers or do you compress him into a tiny apartment? The answer seems clear, unless you are trying to make another point. Lens choice is one of your tools for controlling this dimension.

MOTION
This is a big one. You have to be aware of what certain movements mean. Are you pulling in or out? Up or down? Sideways or at a Dutch angle? Fast or slow? Left to right or right to left? There is a whole psychology of movement, but the body of knowledge on this subject is sparse. Some books on cinematography have touched on this, but it is largely a subjective feeling you learn over time. Generally, moving in conveys intensity and drama. Moving out has a distancing or good-bye effect. Your tools for managing motion are dollies, tripods, cranes, sliders, hand-held rigs, and Steadicams. Of late, we have seen so many people using slider shots for no reason other than they must have just bought a slider and think it brings production value. The general rule is not to move your cameras unless there is some reasoning or purpose behind it.

GEOMETRY
This could almost be a sub-section under spatial relations, but we feel it is important to warrant its own. By geometry we are really referring the shapes of objects in your film and to how multiple objects, taken together, might form a shape. Shapes, as do motion and spatial relations, carry emotional connotations. A triangle might show conflict, dominance, or aggression; a circle, harmony and union; a square, stability or foundation. The psychology of shape is again an arcane art not well understood. Again, many of these are subjective feelings that are not easily put into words. But again, it is something to be aware of as a filmmaker.

LIGHTING
When we talk about lighting, we are also talking about shade. Lighting creates shade, and of course, lighting conveys a wealth of information and is also a way of directing a viewer’s attention. We light what we want you to see and put in the shade what we don’t. The psychology of light and shade is a little easier to grasp than that of space, motion, and geometry. Light connotes purity, cleanliness, and good. Dark connotes mystery and the unknown. In Star Wars, evil is straight out “the dark side.” The fear of the dark is visceral and no doubt embedded deep in our psyches. Your choice of lighting is huge because it will convey the mood, what is important and what is not, what is a mystery and what is not.

COLOR
If you can only buy one book on color, it should be Color - Messages & Meanings. This book will give you a general idea of what colors mean and the emotional tones they convey. Some of these are fairly obvious. Red means blood, passion, provocation. Blue means oceanic, calm, peaceful. Green is growth, renewal, hope. What is even nicer about this book is that it goes over what certain color combinations mean. As a filmmaker, you need to be aware of colors and what they mean. Do the meanings support your characters and the theme of your film? Unless you have some understanding of what colors mean, you will never really know for sure. The point is to learn the rules, then break them if you want. But know that you are breaking the rule for an artistic reason. Again, you might deliberately choose to give a contradiction in color. For instance, you could have a happy character always wearing black, but then again, this is still saying something about the character, isn’t it? Is the character not who he pretends to be? He says he is happy, but wears black. That’s a contradiction. It just depends on your story and what you are trying to say.

SOUND
If you must know one thing about filmmaking, you must know that sound is incredibly important to your film. We used to think of sound as simply an audio track, a flat line recording what people were saying and doing and what was going on in the background. It was only after years of study did we learn that sound is at least 51% of your film and should not exist as a flat line. In your story or film, you should be using sound to reinforce what is important, what is not, and what the message of the scene or sequence is. Sound can help get your audience into the mind of your character or the theme of your movie. For instance, we know that certain sounds bother certain people (think fingernails on a chalkboard!) while that same sound might not bother someone else. Let’s say you have a character who is a walking time bomb. Is everything he hears the same volume in his mind? Probably not. Maybe he hears water dripping and it irritates him. Maybe the dog barking next door is really loud and annoying to him but not really that loud in reality. But how would we know that, as an audience member, if all the sounds in your movie are the same volume and tonal quality and you don’t accentuate them? Sound does not exist on a flat line and you, as the filmmaker, need to figure out which sounds are important and which are not. For the sounds that are important and significant to your story or character, then you need to record them well and emphasize them in post-production, giving them the attention they deserve.

AN EXAMPLE
living room
So let's say that you are going to film a conversation between two friends in this living room. The story dynamic is that one of them feels neglected by the other and is going to bring this issue up. Now considering what we have been talking about, how would you proceed if this room is all you had to work with? What about the space? It is cluttered. Is that what you want? How will the characters enter and exit? Where will they sit? Do you see any shapes or use of shapes? What about the lighting and colors? Would this scene work better at night? And the main thing---sound. What sounds would you want to emphasize? What about using no sound and silence? You can see, from this example, that there are countless possibilities and no one that is necessarily right over the others. It just depends on the story and what you want to convey. How can "the layers" of this room be used as a supporting cast? 

The truth is most of the items in this room will have absolutely no relationship to your story. It is just a random room with random things in it. What are the odds that this random space would support the theme of your story?  Slim.

What you will have to do is creatively focus on the 10% or less of those things in this room that might be helpful. Your job is to figure out what those are. The reality is that you might not even be able to create what you need from this room, all of it might just be one big distraction. The easiest solution might be to simply move in close on your actors with a shallow depth of field and blur everything else out. But as the filmmaker, you have to have the artistic confidence to know to make that call. 

Another solution might be to remove the clutter to make the room feel barren, take the items off the top of the book case, get rid of the covers and pillows on the chair and couch to emphasize black, and take the center panel out of painting on the wall, so you have two panels oddly separated from each other (supportive of theme, yes!). You could black out the windows with a blanket, turn on a lamp, and with shadows create a more dramatic tone. You could also use a wide angle lens to create more of a sense of distance between the actors. For sound, you could have pauses between the dialogue and perhaps record ambient sound with a cricket chirping or just the sound of a fan.  

SUMMARY
This has just been a quick overview of the layers involved in the filmmaking process. If you can begin to see the complexity and the interplay between the layers and dimensions, you will be on your way toward becoming a great filmmaker. Think of it this way. Nothing exists as a flat line or inert object. When you are looking at a scene, you are looking at a potential supporting cast of characters. Space, motion, shapes, colors, lighting, and sound exist in every scene. The challenge is that 90% or more of what you are looking at has no bearing at all on your story. Your job, as a master filmmaker, is to figure out what supports the story and what doesn’t and to draw attention to those things that are truly important to your theme. That’s the challenge, and the true mark of a master. In short, you have to cut out 90% of what you see and hear, and with the remaining 10%, you have to showcase and accentuate it, with the tools you have, in a way that supports your message. It is as if everything you see through the camera lens or monitor should go through an audition. You can imagine the chair showing up to a casting call and saying, "Hey, I want to be in your movie?" And you, again, would have to ask yourself, "But why do I need this chair? What does this specific chair add to the story?" Or the sun shows up to the casting call and says, "Hey, I want to bounce some light through the window in your movie?" And you, again, ask why do I need sunlight for this? Maybe you need shadows, not sunlight! A lot of what you see matters very little but a little of what you can hear matters a lot! More than anything else, your job is to figure that out.

Best of luck with your filming!

Poetic Three-Minute Short

01.08.12

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.

This is it.

08.02.11

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.

A Thousand Words from Ted Chung on Vimeo.

Join our ohana!

06.1.11

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.

Want to help?

05.22.11

Please check out our Opportunities page. We are constantly on the lookout for interns, shooting opportunities, and other filmmakers who are willing to share their knowledge and experience.  If you would like to give a lecture or participate in any way, please contact us at admin@hifilmschool.com.