You wanna be a better filmmaker, so you wake up early. You drive to set. You spend the next twelve hours shooting. The next day it starts all over again and, if you’re lucky, this pattern repeats itself for years and at some point you find yourself with a career in film. But this is also a recipe for the destruction of your creative process. Read on for some alternative ideas on how to improve yourself as a filmmaker. Do yourself a favor and break the pattern. It is important to also look outside the set for ways to become a better narrative filmmaker. Here are seven things to do that don’t involve holding a camera and each serve only to make your work better: 1) GO TO THE THEATRE: Look at the image of the theatre above. The rectangle around the stage is called a proscenium and it should remind you of something. Looks like the frame of a camera, doesn’t it? We have the Greeks to thank for the last 2,500 years of theatrical productions, as their work spawned nearly all current art forms. Go to your local theatre, choose a drama, not a musical, and watch the blocking and lighting. As a DP, I am always fascinated by gorgeous lighting design in theatre. If I want to move a 1K on a set I can move it, but in theatre this is a complicated process. The results that designers get in the theatre are often extraordinary and can inform your field lighting work. Because of factors such as sightlines, but also the nature of the medium itself, theatrical directors are forced to focus carefully on the blocking of characters as they move about the stage. Directors in theatre always have an eye on composition, and the natural frame of the stage can instruct your work behind the camera if you are open to it. In film and especially TV, I see too many scenes where the character will walk into a room, stand there to deliver dialogue and march out of the room when the scene is over. Movement in all art forms needs to be organic, purposeful and driven by reason. There is a great deal to be learned from plays, but how to realistically block action is one of the most important takeaways for filmmakers. 2) VISIT AN ART GALLERY: Painting is concerned with all the 10 attributes of sight; which are: Darkness, Light, Solidity and Color, Form and Position, Distance and Propinquity, Motion and Rest. – Leonardo da Vinci As filmmakers, we get 24 frames per second to tell our stories. Painters get one. When planning your next production, try to put yourself in the mindset of the painter. Ask yourself: can I do more with less? Can I tell the story I want to tell in a minimal way that leaves the audience space to think and to interpret. Paintings leave a great deal of power in the hands of the viewer. Consider that the time may be right to shift the power back to the audience viewing your work. 3) BREAK YOUR HABITS: Picture: Toni Lozano The film community, at least in indie film, is a wonderfully tight knit group of struggling artists, all working towards a common goal of getting. their. film. made. This like-minded community can be limiting at times precisely because it is so like-minded. The single perspective may promote a cohesive production if you are making films for a select audience. It may make for a congratulatory atmosphere if you are discussing films with your peer group. What it does not do is serve creativity. Change things up. Listen to a lecture from a point of view that is the polar opposite of yours. Submit your project to a festival that is far off the beaten path and travel there if you are accepted. Guide your audience at the Q&A to ask better, different questions that force you and your team to think and ask them questions. Do you have a favorite shot? Don’t use it on your next project. Favorite camera? Shoot with something different. You get the idea. Habits and robotic sameness are the death of the creative process. Change up your routine in all aspects of your life, not just on the set. 4) WATCH TED TALKS: All of them. 5) WATCH DOCUMENTARIES: Documentaries are an incredibly freeing storytelling medium. You don’t need a crew of 40 people and $500,000 to create one and they can tell gripping, personal stories that are every bit as engaging as narrative. There are also pacing lessons to learn from doc projects. Which moments in a person’s life do you dwell on and devote valuable screen time to, and which do you skip? What is and isn’t relevant to the central story? Docs have been known to tell stories spanning centuries in under 90 minutes, and somehow these stories are coherent and engaging. Find similarities in how docs tell their stories and apply them to your work. Docs are limited to the footage they have available to them and they find all sorts of clever ways to use non-literal representative b-roll to tell stories. Don’t have the budget to film the car crash? Perhaps there is a way to show the car crash without needing to flip over a car at high speed. Docs very often have these problems figured out. Watch documentaries for the technique and not just the story. 6) TRAVEL: Traveling — it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. – Ibn Battuta Meet new characters that will find a way onto your page. Make friends that are outside of the film industry and gift yourself the opportunity to experience the world by plane, train or automobile. Understanding different perspectives on life is a valuable skill, and it is a skill you won’t gain without travelling a few thousand miles. 7) GO TO REAL LIFE: Your life shouldn’t be defined by your career, and I myself am guilty of forgetting this from time to time. Look for ways to deepen your work in the world around you, but don’t let the work consume you. While not always possible in this deadline-driven industry, some of my most rewarding creative breakthroughs have come after setting aside a project for a week or two. Coming back after a break gives you valuable perspective and a distance to the work that helps puts you in the mindset of the audience. What do you think? Are there other off the set activities that you think can make you a better filmmaker? Comment below!Read more
Long takes are a rarity these days. Shooting them introduces many challenges during the production stage. But the result might be just what your film needs in order to stand out. Director Christopher Nolan’s new teaser trailer for Dunkirk was released last week, and it looks fantastic. Apart from being an effective teaser, we also might get a hint as to the overall pace of the film — specifically with a long take (by trailer standards) at the very end of the teaser, which you can find at around the 33 sec mark. Seeing a director willing to use restraint and hold a moment with a single shot is an enjoyable rarity these days (unless your name is Inarritu), especially in a war movie like Dunkirk. I love a good long take, but some productions shy away. It’s certainly not the easiest route: shorter takes give you much more control in post to cut up the action and hide flubs. There are also creative teams that simply prefer it. Most action movies rely on shorter shots these days to build suspense and give audiences higher energy viewing experiences. The Bourne Supremacy, for example, has an average cut time of 2.4 seconds. Personally, I think that is too fast: it’s a good movie in a great franchise, but the pace of The Bourne Supremacy can be distracting. I’m not saying a quickly cut movie can’t be masterfully crafted. Look at Mad Max: Fury Road, where George Miller reportedly had the camera team “keep the crosshairs on her nose.” This was a rapid paced film, but the composition of each shot kept the pace from being disorienting. More and more, I’m seeing feature action films cut so fast that the action can be almost incomprehensible. Let’s slow things down, and give the power back to the audience with longer motivated takes. Watching the Dunkirk trailer brings me back to my first time watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope. Hitchcock, with cinematographers Joseph A. Valentine and William V. Skall, works throughout the film to give the sense that the camera never cuts. However, technological limitations of the time (namely the 10 minutes worth of 35mm film limit) meant that there are actually multiple cuts in the film. They are hidden by doorframes, actor’s backs or lines in the wall – techniques that are now very often used in modern cinema. You can see the different hidden cuts within the film Rope in the excellent video below by Jim Lynn. Today, we see the long take both as a tension-building device and as simply a way to let the actors truly work. It demands more of the audience and it demands more of the crew shooting the project. Just think about it: how do you hide lights when the camera might see 360 degrees of a scene? The long take has it moments in modern cinematic history, but blockbusters these days choose to fast cut the action to hide the possibly dubious fighting abilities of the actors, or to simply amp up the excitement of the scene in an artificial way. Action is extremely difficult to block, but can it be done in a long take? Sure. You can find proof in this long action scene in Children of Men, by director Alfonso Cuarón. When you are blocking your scenes, consider if the story would be better served by a long take. However, bear in mind that they often present a host of new production hurdles to overcome, such as: BLOCKING: The movement of the camera and audio team now becomes even more essential and the possibility of failure is increased, as the reset on a seven-minute scene is long. TALENT: Are the actors comfortable working this way? Long takes are often more akin to theatre within the acting world, and they require patience and rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. LIGHTING: As mentioned above, finding spots for lighting instruments is now more complicated. Consider mounting in the ceiling, or bumping up practicals if it’s an interior. EQUIPMENT: Often, long takes demand additional gear requirements such as Steadicam or the ever-popular 3-axis gimbal. You also usually need to feed video and audio wirelessly to Video Village. CREW: Keep in mind that you should give your crew, especially operators, breaks between long takes. Don’t just reset and go again without giving the Steadicam Op a moment to rest his or her shoulders. It’s important to understand what you are giving up with a long take. It’s also important to know the why of a long take. For example, “I don’t want to give the audience a break from what this character’s experiencing.” It could also be that you want the viewer to experience a moment in real time. The real point is: don’t do them just for the sake of it. Ask yourself when it’s best to compose a scene in camera, and when it’s best to cut it together in the editing bay. If you’re going for a long one, you’ll lose control in post, giving up your freedom to mold the scene after the fact… unless there’s no dialogue and your editor is a magician with jump cuts. But, fear not; give yourself license to slow your film down. A slower movie doesn’t necessarily need to be a boring one. What is your favorite long take in cinema? Comment below!Read more
As part of our aim to strengthen the connection between us and our readers, we decided to give our talented audience out there a stage to express themselves and share their success stories in our new weekly TALENT FEATURE. We hope that with time, these guest posts will become a source of inspiration to our colleagues wherever they are. If you are interested in participating, please upload your video to our VIDEOLOG and follow the rest of the submission process by reading the information here. (Intro by Johnnie Behiri) I am a Vancouver-based documentary-style filmmaker, specializing in cinematic short-form videos. My wife is also a photographer and a filmmaker. Together we run our own business with a focus on weddings, which occupy most of my weekends. During the week, I find myself all over the Greater Vancouver area filming documentary shorts which feature the artisans and business owners who make this city so vibrant. I also have the opportunity to travel abroad to work on a variety of projects, and my experiences living abroad allow me to bring a unique angle to my stories. Name? Aaron Nathanson Age? 29 Currently based in: Vancouver, Canada Language(s) spoken? English, Japanese, Spanish Occupation? Filmmaker / Photographer How did you get started in our industry? I often feel like I sort of “fell” into this line of work, like it chose me or something. But looking back, it makes a lot of sense. I found my dad’s old Panasonic PV-950 camcorder under the bed when I was a child, and would often run around the house with it, focusing on different things, experimenting with camera movement, zooming, etc. It started as child’s play, but I didn’t realize that in fact it was practice. I lived in Japan for three years. It was my dream from a very young age. When I was there, I found that video helped me to connect with the world, especially the people around me. I found that I was more passionate about video than anything I’d ever done before, and I jumped at every opportunity to film, whether it was the cherry blossoms in full bloom, or a master artisan in deep concentration at her craft. For me, using a camera for video is like a form of meditation: holding my breath, moving my feet, pulling focus… it all really brings me into the moment. I currently run a production company, Koyo Photography, here in Vancouver with my wife, Lindsay. I’m also head of production for a Sydney-based production company that specializes in short films for businesses. I always find myself at some new and interesting place filming during the week, and weekends are occupied by weddings. I go back to Japan for work about twice per year. What is your dream assignment / job in our industry and what are you really passionate about? My style has always been driven by natural light, and I favour handheld movements with a documentarian feel. I’ve been watching Chef’s Table Season 2 on Netflix, and I know I’m not alone when I say this, but I absolutely love the style, and the way it’s both raw yet refined. There are so many shots that are risky in terms of nailing the focus or exposure; the timing, the setting, the fact that it all comes together the way it does really leaves me with a sense of awe. Being a camera operator on a project like that would definitely be my dream job. Of course, it’s also my dream to return to Japan on a permanent basis, but it’s hard to get residency there, especially as a filmmaker. In the work that you are presenting us, now that it is done, what would you have done differently throughout the production? I really wish I would have gotten a great video portrait of our narrator, Mr. Kubota, outside in the garden. I only had an hour with the master brewer indoors as it was freezing outside, and I did not have a lighting crew with me. Any shots under the fluorescent lighting in the office of the sake brewery would not be usable. So, I decided to focus on getting some great soundbites which I would use to craft the story later. What current camera, lenses and sound equipment do you use? I currently shoot with Sony mirrorless bodies, the A7SII, A7S, and A6000. I have an assortment of Canon L glass, with some Sigma Art lenses thrown in the mix, and I adapt them with a Metabones IV adapter. I roll as light as possible, preferring to go handheld most of the time, but my go-to support is the Manfrotto 561BHDV monopod for a wide variety of movements. What’s is your favorite lighting equipment, and why did you choose that kit over other solutions? I like the Aladdin Bi-flex lights. They’re super easy to travel with, are nice and soft, and are just really reasonable overall. I’ve used a simple three-piece setup for interviews and they work a treat! Do you use drones/gimbals in your productions? If so, what is the most effective way you’ve found in deploying then? I absolutely love that stabilized look, and I’m really amazed at how fast motorized gimbals are progressing. For now, I tend to just stick to my trusty Manfrotto Video Monopod for most of my tracking shots, and I’ve learned that good form and a little post-processing magic can create the effects I want without adding to my physical setup. What editing systems do you use? I use FCPX. It’s the most intuitive NLE for me. How much of your work do you shoot in Log and what is your preferred way of colour correcting? For me it is important to keep things as simple as possible, and that extends to the grading process. I rarely use S-LOG, and instead shoot a flat cine gamma, usually Cine 2 or Cine 4 whether I’m indoors or outdoors. For the grade, I find that a combination of Filmconvert and a secondary LUT, such as James Miller’s or VisionTek, tend to get me to the right jumping-off point. For colour correcting, I mostly find that the built-in FCPX tools do the trick. How frequently do you travel, and do you have any tips when it comes to packing your gear? I am travelling around the Pacific Northwest regularly for jobs, and I am in Japan about twice per year for work. I also used to live in Hong Kong, so sometimes I am back there for work as well. When it comes to packing gear, I always make sure I’ve done my checklist and packed my Think Tank Streetwalker Hard Drive bag. I’ve tried a multitude of bags from various manufacturers, but this is the best-designed bag I’ve found by far. They key is to have a capacious bag that doesn’t draw any attention at the airport. Plus, it’s really comfortable, which seems like a monumental achievement given how much gear I can cram into it. If you want to learn more about Aaron creative’s work, head over to his homepage. Participate in our initiative: share your talent and creative work by following these steps.Read more
We only send updates about our most relevant articles. No spam, guaranteed! And if you don't like our newsletter, you can unsubscribe with a single click. Read our full opt-out policy here.