In the technological Xanadu we storytellers know as the present day it is easy for outsiders, and some insiders, to forget the person telling the story and somehow think that the camera being used impacts the quality of the story being told. I can’t tell you how many times someone has watched something I’ve shot or directed, and really only had one pressing question at the end. Did they want to know who shot it? No. Did they want to know more about the creative inspiration and vision of the piece? No.
They wanted to know what camera we used.
If you think what camera you shoot on is the answer to great storytelling, then I challenge you with this… Go make a big pile of money doing whatever you want; like a brilliant new app or an alternative energy source. Once you have the cash, you can buy the very best camera. Then you’ll be able to tell the best story, right?
Cameras don’t tell stories, people do. Since we can all agree this is the case, there is really only one thing you need to tell great stories… YOU. However, none of us are born knowing anything about the tools of the trade. In an effort to improve the one tool all storytellers have in common, their mind, a must-have addition to their library is Joseph V. Mascelli’s The Five C’s of Cinematography. I picked this book up a few years ago, and I have learned more from it than any other resource on the subject. I’ve been to courses, classes, looked to chat rooms online, and experimented by trial and error; but none of those things have come close to the pure undistilled story driven explanation of cinematography found in Mascelli’s classic book. In his own words from the introduction:
“On many occasions during the years devoted to preparation and writing of this book, I have felt that defining, explaining, clarifying and graphically illustrating motion picture filming techniques in an easy-to-understand way – is impossible – but not quite. Most professionals instinctively know the right way to film the subject – but seem unable to explain just how they do it.”
Almost 50 years after the publishing of these words, I want to reassure Joseph V. Mascelli that he succeeded in explaining cinematography in an easy-to-understand way. He did this by explaining everything about cinematography in five categories that have one common thread; cinematography functions at its peak performance when it serves the story.
So what are the Five C’s? They are Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups, and Composition. I want to share with you some of my favorite quotes from each one of the Five C’s. Consider this article the CliffsNotes version of the book; and, just like your English teacher, I strongly encourage you to read The Five C’s of Cinematography in it’s entirety in addition to this summary.
1. Camera Angles
“Camera placement is determined by narrative significance.”This is very important. Why are you looking at what you are looking at? Is it because it looks good, or because we need to see it to move the story along? It should always be to move the story along and never solely because it looks good.
“Good continuity encourages the viewer to become absorbed in the story-telling, without bothersome distractions. The prime purpose of a motion picture, whether theatrical fiction feature or documentary fact film, is to capture and hold audience attention – from opening shot to final fade-out.” This entire chapter breaks down the nuts and bolts of photographing action in such a way that it makes sense on screen. I haven’t come across a better explanation of “the line” (action axis/maintaining dynamic and static screen direction) in any other book.
“Always move players into and out of close-ups to allow cutting on action.” Cut on the action. This simple axiom of editing works every time. “It is possible to cut away to anything happening anywhere at any time.” Remember this. You are in the driver’s seat. You are the one putting one shot after the other. What do you want the specific series of sights and sounds you’re placing in order to mean? “Each shot should make a point. All scenes should be linked together so that their combined effect, rather than their individual contents, produces the desired audience reactions.”
Close-ups should be made to count. The stronger the motive for using a close-up, the more the close-up can help make the story-telling truly effective! The consistent emphasis throughout the five sections of the book is this; every shot must serve the story.
“Good composition is arrangement of pictorial elements to form a unified harmonious whole.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, when you are telling stories for an audience you are not the beholder, they are. The most important set of eyes belong to the audience. Make sure you are making images that look good to your audience, and above all else, serve the story.
6. The Sixth C
In closing, there is a sixth C of Cinematography I would like to mention: Compliment. When you are in the process of shooting or have just finished watching a story you think looked great, make sure you tell the person or group of people who created it. After all, none of us are telling stories just for ourselves. As you continue to strive to be the best you can be take the time to compliment others on their own successes along the way.
Oscar Wilde said it best, “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success”. The sixth C of Cinematography may just be the most important. Make sure you compliment others whenever you can. After all, we’re all creating for others, and we want to know if we succeeded in communicating our story.
If you liked this, you should also check out an old post, The most ridiculously cool Steadicam shot you’ll see this week.
Ran across this awesome behind the scenes snippet from the filming of Hugo. The Steadicam op Larry McConkey mounted a GoPro to his rig, and captured a long single-take scene. It’s a masterclass in deceptively-simple, thoughtful Steadicam operating, and you can see the intricate level of blocking and planning that went into this 360-degree scene (watch the wall move so they can slide in behind the chair). Also keep an aye on the audio boom guy…he’s working his butt off as well. This sort of stuff is just inspiring filmmaking. Watch below.
And here’s the finished shot, for reference.
Also, here’s s short interview with Larry about his career choice.
There’s a beautiful and informative series of videos over at Oscars.org that address the subject of writing for the screen.
It’s a compendium of short interviews with working screenwriters on the following topics; The misconceptions of being a screenwriter, Screenwriters on writer’s block, Identifying excellence in screenwriting, Screenwriters on finding an original voice, Highlights and challenges of being a screenwriter, and Advice from screenwriters.
And if you’re just getting started and looking for an introduction into screenwriting, the Academy has a teacher guide on the topic that will serve as a nice short intro to the art and process. Happy writing!
Lovely new music video from Director Jesse Rosten. Go. Watch.
The following is a guest post by Director Stewart Redwine. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Stewart several times on narrative short films and commercials. He’s a tireless, talented director, and an absolute professional.
More often than not, we are dissatisfied with our productions because we either don’t give ourselves enough time, or we don’t constrain ourselves to come up with an idea our time will accommodate. When I feel like time is the one thing I don’t have, I remember a phrase my old Gaffer from 36 Parables, Phil Eastvold, picked up from an electrician in LA, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” So I slow down, and go back to the basics.
I recently put this advice to the test when onetimeblind and 36 Parables, myself and co-producer John Schimke, teamed up for the third time to shoot 10 more mini-movies. We completed 8 pages on the first day and plowed through the remaining 16 pages on day two. The only way we were able to shoot 24 pages in two days was by sticking to the tried and true production practices that have been guiding our industry for the past one hundred years.
First things first, take the time to write down your ideas. And re-write them. And re-write them again. At this stage of production all you need is pencil, paper, and your time.
Pre-Production Pt. 1: Production Design & Camera Prep
Production Design – Leading up to your shoot, take at least a day to focus on Production Design. This means locate your costumes & props and do a Location Scout. Taking time to be deliberate about your Production Design choices will enhance your story without fail.
Camera Prep – The day before you shoot, set up your camera and make sure everything works the way you need it to. Test lenses, frame rates, and any other equipment or camera settings you’ll need during your shoot.
Pre-Production Pt. 2: Storyboard & Rehearsal
Rehearsal – If you can do nothing else in Pre-Production, take the time to rehearse. Rehearsal pays huge dividends on set because the talent will have already worked through the scenes and the story with the Director.
Storyboard – Even if all you have is pencil & paper, which I like to use, take the time to draw each and every shot you can visualize. You may not know everything you are going to shoot, but at least create some visual parameters for how you want to tell your story. Another approach is to take pictures at your rehearsal. For the onetimeblind shoot, John used Cinemek Storyboard Composer.
Block, Light, Rehearse, Shoot
If you embrace this approach to shooting you won’t go wrong — guaranteed.
Block – Have everyone on set stop what they are doing and watch the talent run through the entire scene you are about to shoot. Discuss any pertinent creative or technical needs for the scene and have the actors step off the set.
Light – Set up the lights, camera, and sound equipment for the entire scene starting with your first shot, preferably the widest shot.
Rehearse* – Bring the talent back in and run through the scene with the entire cast and crew.
Shoot – Shoot the scene. Start with your widest shots and work your way down to your tightest shots. This is called the Master Scene Technique.
*I asterisked rehearse because sometimes rehearsal demands even more time, and is worth it. Towards the end of our second day of shooting with onetimeblind we stopped work for an hour so the Director and actors could run the mini-movie we were about to shoot.
Better slate than never. The whole point here is to keep everyone and everything organized. When you slate every single shot you accomplish two things:
1. Ensure everyone on set knows what you’re shooting and why.
2. Provide your editor with the exact same information you had in the field.
Check out the basics here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clapperboard
Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy
As soon as we filled a card on our Canon 7D, we dumped it and made three copies. If you can’t make three copies, at least have two.
Limit Your Choices
It is a good idea to put some bounds on what you will and won’t do. For this recent collection of ten mini-movies, we limited ourselves to a white cyc. We wanted to shoot some of the scripts off the cyc but our schedule wouldn’t allow it. That being the case, our creative choices were severely limited by the location we were in. For the most part, we stayed on a dolly and were on one lens the entire time (Canon 16-35mm/f2.8 L). There were a couple of shots when we used a slider, one handheld shot, and I used a ¼ Black Pro Mist Filter to emphasize the style of one mini-movie. When you constrain yourself to one location, or one lens, or in our case both, you might be surprised by the creative solutions you come up with to tell your story.
Why are you there?
What part of the production are you? Director, Camera, Sound, Actor… all of the above? If you are a jack-of-all-trades this section won’t apply to you. The best advice I can give you I already have. If there is more than one person on your crew, you need to know why each person is there.
Is one person focused on sound, and the other on the visuals? If you haven’t already, you need to break the work up. If you don’t you are in danger of playing herd ball. Have you ever scene kindergarteners play soccer? Every player on both teams follow the ball where ever it goes. Everyone running to each problem and trying to help does not make for a successful day of shooting. You need to break up the work and then when it comes time to let some one solve a problem in their area, let them do it.
Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast
I was talking with John about the idea for this article and he made an excellent observation. It is easy to give yourself time to script and even time to edit, but it’s difficult to make time on set. Unfortunately, when time is cut short on set, the story suffers. If we provide ourselves time to write and edit, in order to refine our story, we also need to make time on set for the same refining process to occur. However, there is often so much work to be done it is difficult to see how slowing down and going back to the basics will do any good. You feel like you need to have a camera running all the time. Your feel like stopping for one minute will cost you the entire day of shooting. You feel like you can’t possibly move fast enough. At those moments you need to remember, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
You can find out more about Stewart Redwine at stewartredwine.com.
Nice feature over at Kodak.com on the Director of Photography for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Robert Elswit. One interesting note on shipping film caught my eye:
Wherever the production happened to be filming, Elswit utilized the regional lab for processing. “It’s really hard to ship film now,” he notes. “I lost some film once on a commercial—it wasn’t directly x-rayed itself, but it was kept someplace long enough that the x-ray machines that were working nearby fogged it. It’s better to process the negative where you are, and Kodak maintains the standards.”
Nice tutorial and examples of Reverse Key Lighting over at Evan Richards blog. A very useful cinematography technique indeed.
Here’s a short interview with Rodney Taylor, ASC, from Createasphere’s last Entertainment Technology Expo in Burbank, on what it takes to work up the ranks into the world of cinematography. Watch below…
Register for free for Createasphere’s Spring Entertainment Technology Expo in Los Angeles on March 1, 2012.
Several months ago, Christ in Youth brought me on as Director of Photography for a promo film project. CIY projects are always a pleasure to work on, because they understand the value of well-produced content that tells a clear message with compelling visuals. We shot this promo on the Sony FS100 using my Zeiss Contax lens set, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out overall.
Some of the challenges that we faced on this shoot were quite a bit of greenscreen and tracking work (the FS100 performed beautifully), potential brick wall moire concerns, shutter sync issues with the 16mm film projector prop, and a shoot day that nearly went overtime due to location audio noise.
You can watch the finished promo below, and I’ve written a very long, detailed article on the technical and creative challenges of the shoot over at my ClearCreek Productions filmmaking website.
The latest issue of Red Giant TV, Episode #68, has a nice, detailed tutorial on how to create a 2.5D comic book title sequence. Seth Worley shows you how, using After Effects and a few Red Giant tools. Watch below…
You can find more tutorials and cool recipes over at Red Giant TV.
Let me spin a hypothetical situation here: imagine you have a $430,000 USD budget, a 22-day shoot schedule, and a scheduled three months of editing time. What would YOU shoot it on? The filmmakers behind the feature “Olive” chose to shoot it on a Nokia N8 smartphone. Yeah. You read that right.
Why would they ever choose to shoot it on a 720p smartphone, given that they have plenty of budget for even the most rudimentary of camera systems? What faraway planet are these deranged people from? If money is the issue, I could rattle off a list of cameras well under $1000 that would have provided far better image quality and control using a 35mm adapter. Give me $2,000-$5,000 and I could find you even better options, several that wouldn’t require a cumbersome 35mm lens adapter system to achieve a filmic DOF. Surely you could move faster and more efficiently with ANY camera system that offered you even the most basic of manual controls and features. And more time on-set allows you to dig deeper into the nuances of each actor’s performance, bettering your story.
No, cost could not possibly have been the deciding factor. Clearly, these people chose a smartphone because they wanted the buzz, they wanted to be able to hype it later. I suppose it’s working…after all, I’m writing about it…but I have to say that it strikes me as incredibly manipulative, technically-stupid, and overall has actually tainted my perception of the film. It really rubs me the wrong way. They got their buzz, so good for them. But I will be avoiding the film as a result. If you feel differently, you can find a screening schedule on the official website.
Behind the scenes show how they mounted the camera on a 35mm lens adapter:
Here’s a promo that shows footage from the film:
FreshDV’s own Kendal Miller was part of a Pro Video Coalition discussion panel at the Createasphere Entertainment Technology Exposition in Burbank last month. For over an hour, a panel of six working industry professionals discussed the tech changes and challenges of 2011, and what lies ahead for the production and post-production fields. It’s a fascinating watch, and we think you’ll enjoy it.
The hour-long discussion is split up into seven parts, and I’ve embedded Part 1 below as a preview. If you enjoy this, you should head on over to the PVC post with all seven segments. And pass it on to a friend on Facebook or Twitter. Enjoy.
“Walter was in Cupertino when Final Cut Pro X was first dangled in front of a few editors. It was a beta version, and Apple highlighted things like 64 bit support. After that initial exposure to FCPX, he dove into making a film, and it wasn’t until June when FCPX was published that he revisited it. He quickly looked at it, and said he couldn’t use it, wondering where the “Pro” had gone. It didn’t have XML support which he depended on, the ability to share projects on a raid with people, etc. He was confused and wondered what was happening.”
Indeed, you and everyone else, Walter. You and everyone else.
I’ve had a lot of discussions with people about what else we could expect from GoPro moving forward, as they seem to delight in pushing the envelope. On such example…GoPro recently created a custom compact 48-camera crescent moon shaped camera rig that enabled them to link all these angles in post, for an effect that is reminiscent of the “freeze-and-rotate” effect seen in The Matrix. It’s a cool look, and you can see it in the teaser video that follows.
What interests me, is that I don’t see exposure shifts in the video clip. Obviously, these could have been cleaned up in post-production…but I’m hoping that GoPro is internally working on a firmware update that allows you to lock exposure and other settings. Pure speculation on my part, but something I’d love to see from them.
Which also brings up my next question…how will GoPro outdo itself? What’s next from them? Has the HD Hero run it’s course? I love my GoPro camera, but it is not by any means a perfect system. Manual controls would be incredibly useful, as would a more robust codec, and a cleaner, more sensitive camera sensor. Beyond these cool, creative uses of their existing tech, what’s next on the horizon for GoPro?
More info from the press release can be found below.
GoPro Camera Array used in Commercial Campaign
Building on Company’s 3D Synching Technology, GoPro Array Defines New Level of Camera Versatility
HALF MOON BAY, CA (October 10, 2011) – GoPro, the world’s leading activity image capture company, today released a new video for international surf brand, Rip Curl, that uses the first ever mobile, waterproof 48 camera array to capture never-before-seen perspectives of two time world champion surfer, Mick Fanning, doing what he does best in the warm waters of the South Pacific. The video highlights the capabilities of the GoPro Camera Array that was used for Rip Curl’s upcoming marketing campaign for its Mirage Boardshort and was shot in conjunction with the pioneers of camera array photography, Tim and Callum Macmillan. Additional videos for the Rip Curl campaign featuring this new GoPro Array technology will showcase Rip Curl surfers Owen Wright, Matt Wilkinson, Dillon Perillo and Dean Brady.
“At GoPro we’re always looking for new ways to use our cameras, new ways to leverage them to do something that’s never been done before in digital imaging. As an example, GoPro is the first consumer camera company to enable people to combine multiple like-cameras together to form a new type of camera. We first did it with our 3D HERO System which allows you to combine two GoPro cameras together to form a 3D camera, and now we’re experimenting with combining 48 cameras into a unique multi-camera array that enables entirely new forms of content capture. The results are stunning and it’s another great example of how the HD HERO truly is the world’s most versatile HD camera,” said Nicholas Woodman founder and CEO of GoPro.
Beyond the Third Dimension – The GoPro Array
Since the original inception of GoPro’s 35mm film HERO Camera, a wrist camera for surfing, GoPro has been changing the way people use a camera during their favorite activities. GoPro created a new category of image capture with its professional quality micro HD cameras and myriad of mounting accessories that make it easy to mount the cameras to anyone or anything imaginable. GoPro’s now famous image quality coupled with this versatility has led it to become not only a best selling consumer camera but also the world’s top selling small form factor HD camera for professional production. Other notable innovations include the 3D HERO System, an expansion kit for GoPro camera users that allows a filmmaker to connect two 1080p HD HERO cameras together with a synchronization cable to essentially genlock the cameras together for 3D video and photo capture. This same camera synchronization technology that is core to GoPro’s 3D HERO System makes it possible to connect and combine a potentially unlimited number of GoPro cameras into a GoPro Array of cameras. The potential is limited only by the imagination and the number of HD HERO cameras on hand.
After GoPro’s much anticipated release of its 3D system in April, GoPro teamed up with two experts in the field of camera array systems and began experimenting and pushing the limits of its 3D HERO syncing technology. Tim and Callum Macmillan, endearingly known as The Brothers Slice, were challenged with creating a handheld underwater camera array system for the launch of Rip Curl’s upcoming “Mirage” boardshort campaign.
“We are always looking to lead the way when it comes to camera array effects and identifying new ways to push the limits for creativity and to acquire unique shots,” said Tim Macmillan of Time-Slice Films. “We’ve been waiting for the ideal camera technology to come along to do the video array. It’s like waiting for a wave. You see the wave coming, you start paddling before everyone else and then it hits you and it is GoPro.”
The result was an astonishingly innovative development – the GoPro Array. The world’s first video array, which could be submerged underwater, operated by one man, and withstand the enormous waves at Cloudbreak, Fiji.
“The results and footage compiled from this campaign shoot is unlike anything anyone in surfing has ever seen before,” declares James Taylor, Rip Curl’s Global Creative Director. “We had the best surfers in the world surfing one of the best waves in the world in the ultimate performance boardshort and all captured by the most versatile water cameras in the business. It was an unbelievable experience!”
“No other camera could have enabled this shoot,” continues Tim Macmillan. “What makes the GoPro Array revolutionary is shooting actual video, not still pictures arranged sequentially. Multiple cameras shooting 720p at 60 frames per second all synched together opens up a multitude of possibilities.”
GoPro is fast becoming a standard in professional content production, with technologies ranging from it’s well known cameras and mounting accessories to its GoPro Cineform codec, an industry standard intermediary codec widely regarded as the best codec for streamlining post production workflows. Increasingly, GoPro is enabling many of the production industry’s most innovative content creators
- trey t on NAB 2013 – Schneider Full Frame Lenses
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- Wilson Laidlaw on Zeiss Contax Lenses – Part II: Resolution and Physical Characteristics
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- alan on Zeiss Contax Lenses – Part II: Resolution and Physical Characteristics