Great filmmakers have great stories to tell, which they demonstrate repeatedly for our pleasure. Let’s not forget that storytelling exists in a myriad of formats though, starting with the oral tradition and the written word, long before we cracked how to project images of light against the wall of a darkened room.
Its inevitable then that the great storytellers in film also have a thing or two to share with us in just words. Here are a few of our favorites…
Everything is in place – you have a great concept, the script is locked down, the talent and the equipment are on the way and you even have the shotlist laid out. But there are still plenty of elements of the production you need to consider – how is the film actually going to look on the screen? How are you continuously going to draw your audience’s attention to the screen and keep them fascinated?
Cinematography is more than just knowing where to point the camera for each shot or where to put the lights. There are a number of cinematography tips and camera techniques in filmmaking that will give the finished work a truly cinematic look. Without these, no matter the quality of the script or the talent, the look and feel of the film could end up appearing more like a local news report than an engaging piece of visual art.
Filters are one of the easiest and most inexpensive cinematic techniques to employ to lift the picture and give it real depth. But filters can also be a daunting prospect to a new filmmaker so here are some basic filter types that can be used on even the most inexpensive cameras to produce great results.
Neutral density (ND) filters – these allow you to shoot outdoors in bright daylight or indoors with strong studio lights without having to reduce the aperture of the lens. This is important because maintaining a wide aperture means you can use a very shallow depth of field and hence gain that professional, cinematic look. ND filters do this by reducing the overall amount of light across all wavelengths coming through to the lens without altering the colour of that light. ND filters come in a variety of densities to suit different conditions.
Polarisers – when it comes to cinematic techniques, polarising filters can produce some of the most dramatic results. They can darken the blue of the sky and greatly increase the contrast of the clouds. They can reduce the surface reflection on water so reveal any detail underneath and polarising filters can also help to eliminate reflections in glass and on metallic surfaces. Overall these filters can give a scene an almost hyper-real look which will elevate it above the mundanity of the news broadcast.
Diffusion filters – the image sharpness of modern digital cameras can detract from the idea that you’re presenting life through a lens to your audience, so this is where diffusion filters add to the toolbox of camera techniques in filmmaking. They’ll soften an image without reducing the detail within. Diffusion filters will bloom light sources and highlights, raise the image contrast and pick out shadows. By smoothing skin tones and giving a virtually unnoticed glow to actors, this type of filter greatly enhances the gorgeous quality of a shot to keep an audience enthralled.
Post-production software can produce some of the results described here but there’s nothing like getting the look you want up front. Filters are a relatively inexpensive and it’s not difficult to experiment to get the right look for your shot. Check out Premium Beat’s blog for more examples of camera filtration techniques.
Producing a film can be one of the most effective ways of striking a chord with audience, starting a social change. This is because films can uniquely, as an art form, evoke emotions from the audience, whilst educating and persuading, and all at a mass scale – which speaks volumes of the importance of documentary films.
As two academics, a filmmaking career may seem like a strange direction for P.J. Marcellino (Canada) and Hermon Farahi (US) to go in. However, this is exactly what they decided to use to amplify their voice and present an emerging cultural context through indigenous musical storytellers and culture keepers across Canada.
In an interview Marcellino, speaks of 3 links between documentary filmmaking and social impact, as well as on how films can be used to gain a greater audience and evoke a response in a more profound way:
- People need to see your message for it to stimulate change,
The exposure one can get through film and digital media – whether at a film festival, local cinema screening, online or through education – is magnified compared to many traditional ways we try to incite change, such as street campaigns, protests, and petitions.
Festival exposure and awards often attract press attention, which is the best way of increasing your exposure, next to exploding on social media feeds.
As two forward-thinking researchers and policy analysts, most of Marcellino and Farahi’s usual academic/policy work never get the public and government exposure their documentary has achieved. Marcellino commented:
“My role was to provide policy-makers with information to allow them to make decisions in an informed manner. I often wondered if they ever read what me and my colleagues wrote – or if our reports ever got to the desks that mattered.”
- People need to feel your story for it to inspire change
Data drives decisions every day in what we do, but data alone doesn’t resonate in the part of our brains that can fathom complex issues, and hence move one to action through the emotional brain.
Put simply, data might tell us what to do but story tells us why we should do it.
“As a field researcher, I felt like I had a grasp of the human scale that was being missed by so many conference presenters, and when addressing a room of policy makers, I made an impassionate appeal to remember that when they’re distilling 100 stories into one spreadsheet, the human level of those stories is being lost in translation. That was the first time I remember feeling that film may well be a better tool to bring these dramatic stories to a broader audience.”
- You need to actually make something (and release it into the world) to inspire people:
In our world, the role of filmmakers is more than simply a creative one. We also need to share ideas and information – the beginnings of all change.
Whilst there are reliable and traditional channels of change, there are also channels that cut more directly into the core of who we are in this evolving society.
Marcellino comments: “Documentary film is perhaps the most ‘edited’ form of film there is. Of course we are filming reality, but how the director chooses to present it, how the narrative is crafted, shapes a new reality. So, the fine balance then becomes how to represent the ‘real reality’ truthfully, while also creating an engaging narrative with a story arc, that audiences can engage with.”
“If done right, film can be one of the most powerful tools to convey strong feelings to an audience. You can see faces, you can look in the eyes of characters, you can feel their emotions (which, of course, a filmmaker can enhance through colour and music). All this offers up a dimension that is unachievable even in the best reports packed with lively interviews. Sometimes you find similarly impactful pieces written by frontline journalists (think New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair), but film certainly has a power that is unmatched today.”
With ever advancing technology, it is also an ever more exciting time to be a filmmaker! Digital cameras are getting smaller, cheaper, and more powerful each year. Even smartphones are beginning to use 360-degree recording! We have already seen digital overtake film both in TV and cinema. All these new technological advances in film are sure to bring new revolutions to cinema, and make currently expensive equipment and methods affordable to independent filmmakers.
Whether you’re looking to enter the film industry or are already a pro, it’s essential to keep up with the latest tech that might be affecting the industry.
The following are seven of the most promising and hence impactful latest technological developments in cinema.
4K+ 3D Technology
4K and 3D technology have been available for years now, however only affordable for regular consumers more recently. Combining the two technologies into a viable filmmaking solution has been a dream for years, until now with Lucid VR’s ‘LucidCam’, touted as the “first and only 4K 3D VR live production camera”.
Also on a distant (and currently very expensive, $17,000) horizon is the Google-supported Yi Technology ‘Yi Halo 16-point 4k 3D action camera’ – quite a mouthful! Featuring sixteen spherically aligned 4k action cameras (plus a few extra facing upwards), this foretells some incredible technological advances in film to come – check out more on the Yi Halo website.
Dual Camera VR
With augmented and virtual reality becoming one of the new emergent visual technologies of 2017, new VR cameras will soon be commercially available. The ambitious Kickstarter-project ‘Two Eyes VR’ is one such new VR camera. The team behind it believe immersive 360 viewing and recording is the way of the future – it is, after all, how we experience the world daily.
While there have been supposed “autonomous” drones on the market for years now, in truth, they have simply been a sensationalist, play-toy beginning to what true fully-autonomous drones are going to be: sentient drones with knowledge and algorithms on everything from filmmaking techniques, such as shot sizes, viewing angles, and screen positioning, to obstacle avoidance and even open source technology available to developers wanting to create the drone cinematographers of the future.
This may sound like a ‘SkyNet/terminator’ kind-of future, but the only thing these drones will be shooting is footage (hopefully).
Smartphone Filmmaking Gear
To film purists, the idea that entire feature films will be shot on Smartphones might seem dystopian. However, it has already happened, multiple times, and to great success!
In fact, the market and industry has already begun to shift to accommodate up-and-coming smartphone filmmakers, offering new, cool and innovative gear and technologies.
The idea behind drone goggles is basically combining a regular VR headset, like the Oculus Rift, and a controllable drone into one single package. The hope is that this will allow the users to see the world through the eyes of a drone, and as with any device, this will bring technological advances in film as filmmakers come up with innovative ways of using the equipment.
DJI recently unveiled their current drone goggle offering, at NAB, now on the market. Although there are significant limitations to many of the the current products available, POV drone operation is growing in demand, and hence investment in the technology is increasing!
3D Printing Your Own Gear
3D printing has been a very exciting area for many years now, with promises of revolutionising just about everything! The hope is that there will come a day when shipping gear across the world will be a thing of the past, however currently speed, quality, and affordability, all limit that dream.
That said, small and simple items for filmmakers, like follow focuses, lens rings, tripod plates, will soon be easily obtainable and even customisable through new 3D printing technology.
Likely the most abstract and least known of these new technologies is algorithmic editing technologies. MIT researchers are developing this new software, which may replace many film and video editing jobs or, depending on how you look at it, will simply make those jobs much less tedious. Regardless, the breakthroughs in facial recognition, automatic labelling, and idiom-appliance may seem frighteningly innovative, and all bring into question the role of technology in filmmaking and how technology has changed the film industry.
The title may be a misnomer – the revolution is already well under way, digital is mainstream and is everywhere. All aspects of our lives now contain some hint of digital. From grocery shopping, weather forecasts and transport to every facet of entertainment, there is some part of it that relies on and benefits from digital connectivity.
For younger generations, this is the norm – those born since the mid-nineties have not known a world without the World Wide Web. Children born in the last 10 years have grown up with the sum of all human knowledge at their fingertips. For those of us who were born in earlier times and who have seen these changes happening, it is an unfamiliar concept to try to hold to.
We may wax lyrical about the time before digital but let us not allow this to distract from what is in the here and now. Broadband speed and quality has been added to the list of essentials to check when moving house, not just gas, water and electricity. Digital has allowed us to enhance what we as humans have always done – communicate, collaborate and create.
Education is a sector that has not been the quickest to embrace digital technology – but it is now catching up and fast. Many educational establishments are using online learning platforms for schools as standard and interactive whiteboards are increasingly found in every classroom from primary school upwards. The children being taught today are already as savvy with this tech as their teachers and all levels of education must keep up with the pace of development or risk being seen as irrelevant by their students – it’s a difficult enough task to hold a classroom’s attention without this added burden.
This is why digital learning platforms and more specifically virtual learning environments are key to giving educators the best opportunities to engage and teach their students. There are things that a digital education platform can just do better than a traditional one. Channels for communication between student and teacher are part of the package and this is paramount when so much of a teacher’s time is taken away from students with non-teaching duties. Completed work is instantly accessible to teachers without students having to physically hand it in – all backed up and safe from hungry dogs. Dynamic digital learning platforms allow instant feedback for students with adaptive learning to give help where and when it’s needed. They also allow for seamless changes to the learning material and presentation for teachers. And don’t forget all that human knowledge can be embedded in most online learning platforms for schools as well as external links created to whet the appetites of the more curious so they can explore further.
More specifically for those teaching filmmaking – digital really does have to be the platform of choice. Get your students used to working this way from the very start – after all, almost every part of filmmaking happens in a digital environment, the only analogue parts happen in front of the camera.
iOS 11 has continued Apple’s iPhone and iPad’s evolution with improvements here are there, but one aspect that is notoriously difficult to crack and where Apple might still be beaten by foes at Amazon or Google is in Voice Recognition.
Siri may not always get it right, but he/she does fortunately have a sense of humour, and fear not cinephiles, we have our own special corner in her silicon heart. Next time you’re having a chat with your iOS device, try some of these famous movie inspired prompts:
Siri, I am your father
Beam me up Scotty
Are you Her?
What is Inception about?
Open the pod bay door
Blue pill or the red one?
Do you follow the three laws of robotics?
When is the world going to end?
And inevitably for Game of Thrones fans:
And Is winter coming?
Does a Lannister always pay his debts?
we’d like to thank MacWorld for these!
With the latest release of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, Apple has also announced a new update to its mobile operating software, iOS 11. This happens annually, as if the company works by solar cycle, which can be both a blessing and a curse for filmmakers who rely on the iPhone or iPad – whether as a camera, editor, computer or all three.
Whilst Android is the most popular smartphone OS in the world, with an 80-90 per cent market share as opposed to the 10-20 per cent market share (other operating systems barely register). Yet iOS remains the platform of choice of most major broadcasters, including the BBC, mobile journalism, and filmmakers.
More efficient storage
One of the biggest changes is in new storage options for photos and videos, albeit only for the newest iOS devices. Apple claims that this new compression will allow photos and videos to retain their “discernible” quality whilst having half the file size: Photos will have the option to not be in .jpg but instead can be in HEIF (High Efficiency Image File). Likewise, there’s an option to record videos not in .mov but in HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding or H.265).
This is obviously fantastic news for filmmakers, who will in theory be able to store twice as much footage on the device before exporting it to a laptop or hard drive. Check out our article with filmmaking tips to make the most of your storage and battery too!
You will also now be able to remove apps, freeing up essential film footage space, however when you re-download them, the app is fully restored, unlike before – with all the documents and data you had before.
New Camera features!
There are many changes to the camera app, however the most useful changes for us filmmakers will be the feature to include the ‘rule of thirds’ grid for video now too, where it was only for photos before. This will be helpful when lining up a shot or trying to keep horizons level, excellent for helping you get that cinematic look with your footage. For photos, also gains a levelling feature that shows when an iPhone is being held perfectly level for an overhead shot.
There’s also now a document scanner built into the camera, within the Notes app; scanned documents can then be annotated and saved as a PDF.
New photos and video features!
Now whenever you capture a new screengrab, each new screenshot will be shown after at the bottom left of the screen. This gives you the option to share with another app instantly, or tap briefly once to adjust it. Previously, it took eight taps to access the options to edit a screengrab; now just one. This will be particularly useful to filmmakers looking to take quick screenshots of their footage to share!
The video camera is finally able to pause during recording (although this has been a feature long available in third party apps). However, one disappointing thing, the native iOS camera looks like it will continue to only record in 30 frames per second (fps) or multiples of that. This is great if your footage is to be broadcast in North America but not for those of us in many other places which use 25 fps.
With more and more budget indie filmmakers empowered by iOS in the world (and by some excellent Android cameras as well, of course!), particularly in countries with little legal press freedom, one new feature in iOS 11 is very welcome: the ability to lock the device quickly and prevent it from being easily re-opened. Depending on the laws of the country where you work, police officers can demand you unlock your device with your fingerprint, however they can’t demand you use your passcode. Apple has used this to its users advantage, as now they have given their phones the ability to disable Touch ID simple by pressing the on/off button five times – it can only be re-enabled with a passcode, which of course you can decline to give.
Saving the best till last, the new AR Kit is Apple’s way of introducing the possibilities of Augmented Reality (AR) to their audiences. The iPhone camera will map objects onto the world it can ‘see’ for the user to view on the screen. Whilst this may see like a gimmick at first, with the modern ingenuity of filmmakers over the globe, we can bet that this will be used in exciting and inventive ways.
The oft-used phrase “show, don’t tell” is one of the first filmmaking tips that anyone beginning to learn their craft will be taught. After getting onboard with the basic steps of filmmaking, show don’t tell is the mantra that every filmmaking student should have embedded in their psyche from the the very start of their pursuit of filmmaking as a passion as well as a craft, as well as an educational qualification to strive for.
Cinema, after all, is a visual medium and sound is there only to enhance what is on the screen. Music can rouse the emotions and explosions can excite but some of the most powerful filmmaking tips and tricks use silence to grip the audience.
Silence does not necessarily mean a complete absence of sound. In cinematic terms, it is usually taken to mean no dialogue or music. In the quietude of a scene, subtle ambient sound will anchor the audience to the arena in which the moment is playing out. It gives a context to the experience, whether that be an emotional revelation or a tension building setup. Don’t neglect the soundscape of the piece – lack of noise doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about it. You still need to place those inflexions of sound that will lift the story beats in the scene.
There are plenty of filmmaking tips and tricks on using sound but too much noise throughout a film, like profanity in dialogue, means the effect of it is lost when it is needed most. Let’s take Ridley Scott’s masterfully constructed Alien as an example of these filmmaking tips and techniques. This genre-blending story is quiet – the opening uses music sparingly and mixes it with the ambient sounds of the ship to lock the audience into the arena. Despite being science-fiction, the sparse, mechanical sound effects and realistic, minimal dialogue give the film a naturalistic feel – which sets the stage perfectly to gain maximum impact from the unnatural horror of the film’s subject when it’s revealed.
When there is very little sound, and especially no dialogue, it allows the audience to work through the scene themselves. This is part of the movie that is happening off-screen, in the watchers’ imagination. In the quiet, the audience has the opportunity to come to its own conclusions and feel smart in doing so – something every filmmaker should be aiming for.
Take a look at PremiumBeat’s blog for more filmmaking tips and techniques from some of the best uses of silence in cinema.
So, you have the equipment and script for your next project, why not try this: – remove the dialogue from the script and ask yourself does the film still work? Does it still convey the intended emotion and dramatic irony? If the story falls flat, then revisit the structure and composition of the visuals, the pace and the script itself. Ask why the audience doesn’t connect with your film and the answers will come in the form of missed opportunities to “show, don’t tell”.
More and more universities and schools are choosing to use Virtual Learning Environments, or “VLE”. (For those uninitiated on what these are; virtual learning environment platforms deliver learning materials to their students via the Internet. The main famous examples include Open University, Coursera and Google Classroom)
With this increasing demand in Virtual Learning Environments for teachers, we need to be weary, especially as the industry is always changing, due to how quickly technology itself is changing. Many teachers are coming up with inventive means of using VLEs, which in theory are a good way to engage with your students; they enhance the construction and reconstruction of knowledge as well as the formation of habits and attitudes, all within a framework which is increasingly common in both our personal and professional lives, the Internet!
However, as it is such a recent area of education, many studies are still investigating whether students are benefitting (in real terms) from this shifting learning landscape. The Polytechnic Institute of Bragança and the University of Minho recently conducted one such study – with the aim to find a quantifiable correlation between the use of virtual learning environments for students and those students’ performance.
Using a sample size of 6347 students, researchers investigated relations between the number of accesses to the VLE and students’ performance (quantified through 3 numerical results: the number of course units the student passed or failed, the total number of units they were registered for, and the mean of the marks they obtained).
The main findings from the report:
- The number of accesses to the VLE were diverse, ranging from 0 to 1532 per student
- There is a positive moderate correlation (0.6) between the number of accesses and the number of course units passed (i.e. The more a student accessed the VLE, the more likely they were to pass)
- However, for those that didn’t pass, there was a very low negative correlation between the number of accesses and their mean marks.
Separating the 6347 students into 5 percentile groups, based on the number of accesses to the VLE, also yields interesting results; for example, the higher the mean of the group’s accesses to the VLE, the higher:
- The number of course units in which the student is registered
- The number of units they passed
- The percentage of units they passed relative to the units they are registered in
- The percentage of course units the student passed.
It was also found that the higher the mean of the group’s accesses, the lower the percentage of students who failed all the course units is.
In must be noted that these results cannot be over-generalised, as the sample concerns only one higher education institution. However, these results show almost unanimously the positive correlation between VLE use and performance.
Read the full report here.
A high-end, high-price cinema camera will not make a great filmmaker. Knowledge of the craft, a deep understanding of the language of cinema and the creative flair of the individual will make the next generation of filmmakers shine.
They all have to start somewhere and today’s image capturing technology is making that start more and more accessible. Of course, the professional kit is there – RED and Arri are out there and it’s tempting to think that a project is not going to be up to scratch without such 8K monsters. But audiences want to see a good story and nowadays a good story can be captured on and increasing number of affordable devices that allow student filmmakers to flex their burgeoning creativity.
At the higher end of the student budget the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera comes in at just under one thousand pounds and is becoming the go to camera body for the serious low-budget filmmaker. It’s small, easy to handle and produces excellent results. Just remember to budget for lenses, batteries and digital storage.
A step up from this is the URSA Mini 4K EF, also from Blackmagic. Another thousand pounds adds a 4K sensor and 12 stop dynamic range for that close to professional polish.
Perhaps the most popular format for those learning the craft is the DSLR. These are widely available and offer enough flexibility to allow even the keenest student to apply the latest filmmaking tips and techniques. Take a look at Adorama’s favourites in this field with the Canon 70D as the best all rounder for an easy to handle, robust camera that produces good results. Paired with the right lens it can produce great results. Again, remember to budget for batteries and storage.
There is another factor that the student filmmaker must consider with these budget cameras and that is sound. A big caveat with any of the units listed here is that a separate sound recorder will be a necessity – audiences will forgive picture definition being slightly off from perfect but loss of sound track fidelity is something that will seriously distract from the emotion that is being created for them. Try the Zoom H6 Handy Recorder, an external digital sound recorder with plenty of features and flexibility.
Traditional cameras are all well and good but let’s not forget that technology is moving forward apace such that now every filmmaking student will have the means to capture a visual story already in their pocket. Almost all filmmaking tips and techniques can be executed on the current generation of smartphones – check out Sean Baker’s Tangerine as proof. The ever evolving iPhone and Samsung S series are the pick of the crop that can handle 4K and 60fps footage.
One last branch of camera engineering that requires mention is that of drones. Costs are coming down and quality is going up. The Mavic Pro comes in at a thousand pounds and for that you get a 4K camera with 3-axis stabilisation. It’s not just the grand, sweeping aerial shots these machines create – they allow for crane shots and ultra-smooth tracking shots over the roughest terrain.
Once your students have the equipment that can further enhance their creativity, they’ll be free to apply all the filmmaking tricks that their emerging imaginations will want to express on the screen. Combine this with Quickclass.net’s filmmaking tips for student filmmakers and the next wave of visual storytellers will be on their ways to proving themselves.