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.
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”.
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.
Your first feature will likely be made on a shoe-string budget, however, just like how some of the best meals are made in a pressure cooker, some of the best films are made under incredibly challenging circumstances – it seems to push out the best in everyone involved. Take these 10 low-budget films as an example; they pushed their directors to be smart and learn a lot from the whole process, leading them all into incredibly successful filmmaking careers.
Monsters (2010, UK)
Writer/Director: Gareth Edwards
Budget: £ 15,000 est.
With Monsters, writer and director Gareth Edwards both celebrated the forgotten film genre and created a monster movie “set years after most monster movies end”. The film follows a journalist and an American tourist as they try to make it back to safely the American border through an alien-infested Mexico. Just watching the trailer, you wouldn’t believe this film was shot on such a small budget.
Edwards demonstrates what you can achieve by being resourceful – driving your crew around different locations in a van and learning to use your laptop for editing and to create special effects. The specific budget is a rumour on the Internet: “around £15,000”. But even Edwards likely doesn’t know the exact amount. Nevertheless, it led the director to great things (we all know his latest feature is the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One).
Paranormal Activity (2009, USA)
Writer/Director: Oren Peli
When released, the film was marketed as “one of the scariest movies of all times”, and although the style has now been beaten like a dead horse, Paranormal Activity remains a fantastic film for its inventive use of two classic indie movie techniques: one location and handheld camera.
The film tells the story of a couple who move into a new suburban home only for a ‘paranormal’ presence to begin haunting their nights. Writer and director Oren Peli used his own house for this. Also eliminating the need for a camera crew by making the camera ‘diegetic’ (i.e. actually in the film), as the couple films their own hauntings and discussions – something that only increased the film’s believability. The film also focuses on the raw ‘scare factor’ rather than on gore and action. Thus working to contain the budget and establish empathy and a sense of “familiarity” with the audience.
The Blair Witch Project (1999, USA)
Writer/Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Most low budgets gather an audience based on word of mouth, but this film used the new and emerging technology of the Internet to create a viral campaign. This led many people to believe the events in the film to be true, as they portrayed it as a true documentary. The film grossed $248 million in the end, making it one of the films with the highest ratio of box office sales to production costs. It also managed to inspire a new wave of horror films, using handheld footage.
Pi (1998, USA)
Writer/Director: Darren Aronofsky
Pi tells the story of a quest to find the meaning of God through numbers. However perplexing the film is, it is masterly crafted and wonderfully filmed by ones of today’s most prominent art house directors, Darren Aronofsky. As the paranoia and obsession of the main character takes hold, the film follow suite, surging through mind-bending metaphors and sequences. Aronofsky, determined to see the project through, sold shares to his family and friends, which managed to fund a majority of the project.
Living in Oblivion (1995, USA)
Writer/Director: Tom DiCillo
This meta-film shows filmmakers that their struggles making a low-budget film could be so much worse. The film follows a director having to deal with intoxicated actors, script changes, and just about everything going wrong. Shot in only 16 days, and completely financed by the friends and family of DiCillo, goes to show that when you have a strong enough idea, everyone is willing to help out – the actors of the film even worked for free, and some in fact contributed to it initial funding.
Clerks (1994, USA)
Writer/Director: Kevin Smith
Clerks tells the story of a group of friends, set mostly in the humble setting of a convenience store. Crafting a script full of humour and witty dialogue, Kevin Smith chose to shoot his film in black and white to bring his writing to the foreground. Young and unenchanted college students and adults were drawn to this simple slacker comedy; it being a truer reflection of their own lives than any big blockbuster. Smith did everything he could to finance his film, from maxing out all of his credit cards to selling most of his comic book collection. The risk was worth it in the end. Since its debut in 1994, Clerks has led Kevin Smith to a extensive career in writing and filmmaking.
El Mariachi (1992, Mexico/USA)
Writer/Director: Robert Roderiguez
The lowest budget of this list is Robert Roderiguez’s pinnacle of independent film, El Mariachi, famed being funded by drug trials Roderiguez went through. The film follows a mariachi band player who is mistaken for an infamous Mexican criminal. In Roderiguez’s book, “Rebel Without A Crew,” he details how he was able to produce a film ‘without a crew’, explaining that, along with Roderiguez, the other actors in the film would operate the film equipment when they were off camera. The film’s ingenuity and creativity continues to be an inspiration for independent filmmakers.
Mad Max (1979, Australia)
Writer: George Miller and James McCausland
Director: George Miller
Budget: Australian $350,000
Hearing that a film can be made for less than half a million dollars, and go on to earn $100 million world wide, and spawn two sequels, is madness (unless you’re talking about Mad Max or Paranormal Activity, or The Blair Witch Project).
Set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, and focusing on the collapse of society helped to launch the careers of both lead actor Mel Gibson and director George Miller. Also helping to open up the global market to Australian film scene.
Eraserhead (1977, USA)
Writer/Director: DAVID LYNCH!
David Lynch’s debut feature sets an appropriate tone for his oeuvre, it being perplexing and revolting and fascinating, no matter how many times it is viewed. The story behind the film almost just has surprising; because of shoddy funding the film took about 5 years to complete filming. Lynch’s friends (like actress Sissy Spacek) and family helped to finance the remaining money not covered by the American Film Institute. But the long delay was well worth the wait as the film produced remains the most iconic “midnight movie”.
Aguirre: Wrath of God (1972, Germany)
Writer/Director: Werner Herzog
Conveniently chronological order has left the most incredible film until last, also made under likely the most incredible circumstances of any film – ever!
Werner Herzog wrote the script in only two and a half days, and whilst traveling on a bus with his football team. The film depicts a Heart of Darkness-esk story of the insane ‘Aguirre’ as he travels through South America. Just as life imitates arts, so too did the filming begin to become insane; the use of stunt men and special effects not in the budget; the crew had to deal with moving all the equipment around in the extreme heat and dangerous landscape of the jungle; and the temperamental main actor Klaus Kinski actually shot off the finger of an extra.
The film later inspired Apocalypse Now, which (yet again) famously suffered many disastrous setbacks.
Tripods may not be incredibly exciting just as they are, but they can help produce incredibly exciting shots.
Do you appreciate anything near the full potential of your tripod? If not, don’t feel bad; imagining the creative and cinematic possibilities of such an unspectacular and uncinematic piece of gear is a challenge. Luckily, Film Riot and Ryan Connolly took the time to come up with eight tripod tips and tricks you can use to help your films to look smoother and more creative.
We’ve summarised Film Riot’s video below, detailing the 8 Tripod tips and techniques they recommend:
- Smoother Pans – elastic bands?
Unless you have the bottomless pocket of Hollywood, you won’t be able to invest in film equipment that produces seamless and smooth pans – but you can use rubber bands. Pulling your tripod handle with one of these acts as a shock absorber, eliminating any of the wobble of the human hand, and producing smoother pans.
- Smoother Tilts – use gravity!
Just loosen the lock on your tilt and allow Newton’s law of gravitation to do the work for you. Of course you will have to adjust you drag to get the speed you want, but this is a zero-cost way of getting super-smooth tilts.
- The Tripod Steadycam?
Just shorten the centre column of your tripod and extend out the legs perpendicular to get a pretty good steady shot. Hold the tripod column near the top and allow gravity to help you stabilise you shot.
This is also helps you steady your shot in post-production, having an initial smooth shot to work with.
- Smooth Low angles:
Just turn your tripod steadycam upside down to get some sweet low-angle shots. You’ll probably remember to rotate the footage in post, as it will be upside down!
- DIY SnorriCam:
Angle the legs of your tripod against your waist while holding the center column, and it acts as a harness similar to those used in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.
- The Tripod Dolly:
Shorten one leg of your tripod and tilt on the other two to create a sweet tripod dolly. Can be used to create dynamic pushes in or out, or you can pan whilst moving to create a beautiful Dutch shot.
Works best with a heavier tripod, like the Benro BV10 used in the video.
- The Tripod jib:
Turn your tripod dolly into a jib by extending the legs and stabilizing them with sandbags. This can be used to create beautiful high-to-low or low-to-high movements. Just make sure the legs are secure, otherwise they will slip.
- Top Down shots:
Strap your tripod to the top step of a ladder and point your camera down.
This creates a Birdseye view shot, which can be very difficult to do smoothly without expensive equipment.
- “Jump Over” shots:
Very common in sports films or commercials; just secure your tripod on top of a couple boxes and pan when your subject jumps over the camera. You can pan the camera in place and it will follow the subject jumping over.
So those are the top 8 (or 9) Tripod tips and techniques you can use to create smooth and dynamic shots, they are all super-cheap so you can try them all out with no more investment than your time well spent.
Thanks again to Film Riot and Ryan Connolly for providing the video.
Smartphones are incredibly useful for documentary filmmakers as they are excellent cameras for “cinema vérité”: an increasingly popular style characterised by its realistic capture of events, often as they are happening – a la improvisation. In fact, there is somewhat of a revolution happening in cinema with smartphones, as discussed in another one of our articles.
However, one major challenge faced by smartphone filmmakers is the limited hardware; how can you keep shooting with limited battery life and storage space? This may sound paradoxical, and it kind of is. If you need more battery life and storage then just use a ‘proper’ camera, right?That’s not always an option though, as those who choose smartphones often do so because of how cheap and lightweight they are – so they wouldn’t want a bigger camera anyway. Luckily, there are now plenty of accessories sold which resolve, as well as stuff to super-charge your smart-phone: rigs, apps, and lenses.
The Helium Core is one such rig; a chassis for customizing your iPhone camera rig, which when used alongside the Moondog Labs lenses, can produce a result that is visually appealing and costs only a fraction of a DSLR rig – especially if you follow our guide on how to get a cinematic look to your smartphone footage. Take a look at the results!
As far as fixing storage space and battery life, you can also follow these smartphone filmmaking tips to optimise your device:
- Use a Portable Charger
This is a necessary for everyone thinking of filming on a smartphone. You can quickly and easily pick up these, they usually charge via a USB port, and the high-end ones can actually store 5 or more of your phones full battery life.
- Clean out your Smartphone!
This is less obvious, but if you’re serious about filmmaking, then you’ll need to remove a lot of the baggage from your phone. Whether that be old iMessage conversations, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and other social media platforms which suck up your storage with their caches, games of course (apart from maybe Sudoku for your coffee break), and so many other unnecessary apps you have.
It is also a good idea to export your camera roll before each day of filming – not only freeing up space, but allowing you to better organise your dailies, and avoid the catastrophe of ever losing footage.
Nb. Also make sure your phone is updated! Sometimes there is just half GB updates sitting in your storage, taking up space, waiting to be installed.
- Bring your Laptop and External Hard Drive
This helps with both previous points, you can charge your phone off your laptop if necessary (although only as a last minute thing), and export your footage to it or your external harddrive.
If you use an android then luckily you will likely be able to use microSD cards to store everything in, although it is still advisable to bring something with TBs of memory – you don’t want to have lots of microSD cards everywhere, unorganised and easily lost.
- Record what you can ahead of time
If you are forced to record the interviews and B-roll all in one day, then you don’t always have to record the full interview. It will take up a lot of storage space on your phone.
Instead you can record just the audio of some of the interview (using the voice memo app most smartphones have) and edit your B-roll footage over it in post-production.
A good camera and a natural eye will get you somewhere, but if you really want to go far and achieve great things in filmmaking you’ll need to nurture a few keys skills.When you start filming, everyone needs to know how to do these key things: how to shoot, how to use different pieces of gear, how to edit, and (hopefully) how to write a compelling story. Beyond that (and only really gained through years of experience in the field, and years of mistakes, failures and learning from them), there are really valuable skills and mind-sets that will help you get noticed.
With the hope of passing on what he has learnt over the years, Darious Britt, who runs the YouTube channel D4Darious (which has almost 200,000 subscribers), has created a video listing the 9 skills he thinks are most essential.
Each of Darious’s points touch on a different aspect of being a filmmaker, a real filmmaker, with all the ups and downs and unglamorous failures that come with that. Here we have reviewed his list, summarising each point, into a list of Top Tips for student filmmakers.
(Also check out another of our articles “Turning Filmmaking Dreams Into Reality” where we detail a similar set of qualities which will really help you go far in the industry.)
This is really about being pragmatic. The chances of you making your debut film and it skyrocketing you into being the next Denis Villeneuve or Damien Chazelle are near-zero. You can’t rely on the luck a few others have, the meteroric success stories are like winning the lottery. You need to take the small jobs, the projects that you will need to sacrifice your precious “artistic integrity” for – whether that be commercials, training videos, adverts, wedding videos even. This point, above all, is that you can’t afford to be full of pride – as that won’t get you far.
- Business savvy
This is about economy. Don’t aim to write the biggest, most action-packed blockbuster to begin with, and certainly don’t waste your breathe trying to get a studio to pick it up. Instead write and make 5 smaller films for the price of that one. Think about what studios will actually pay for, and also what audiences will pay to see. Know your audience and again (the same as before) be pragmatic.
- Know how to learn
This just goes for life. It’s certainly not something that can be ‘taught’, as such, but instead something which you need to nurture within yourself, and that takes a good knowledge of oneself, and a lot of tenacity. It doesn’t come from filmschool, which is becoming increasingly less important (as discussed in another of our articles here). Make the most out of everything that happens to you. You succeed? Good, learn from it and move on. You fail? Too bad, but you have to be able to learn even more from it, and you have to learn to move on.
- Technical Expertise
Filmmaking is more of a technical subject that most give it credit for. There is a vast amount of not only technology you need to become acquainted with, but also huge amount of regular practices which you need to adopt – whether that be marketing, Photoshop, special effects, or even understanding the physics of a camera.
- Story Analysis
They say that some are just born with a naturally brilliant genius for voice, the written word and story – think Oscar Wilde or F. Scott Fitzgerald – and that others will never achieve the same knack for storytelling, even with all the training in the world. This is a lie (mostly). There is a science you can learn, and from that the art will come: story structure, fundamentals of drama, character development.
For this there are 3 books:
- Story by Robert Mckee
- Screenplay by Syd Field
- Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Also read more. This will help so much more than you will think; if anything this is actually more important to making movies than even watching movies.
- Film grammar
Like all languages, film has grammar, and hence rules in place, although the rules are slightly less strict than with written language. You can subvert various rules for a desired effect, but you still need to know the rules in the first place to be able to do this.
Filmmaking is the most social artform of them all. You can’t get away with being a recluse or ‘just-not-a-people-person’. You have to learn to communicate with everyone in your crew, and work well with them. This involves management, motivation, and empathy. A huge part of empathy will be knowing what each persons jobs actually entail, and their responsibility as part of the whole working machine that makes up your crew.
- Critical thinking
This ultimately comes down to being logical about what works and not being overly sentimental about ‘your baby’. Tone and pacing a hugely important and if you find out that a whole scene doesn’t fit in your film only after you’ve started editing, you still need to chop it.
- Talent and hustle
Everyone loves talent; it’s the one skill that gets all the praise when something great is achieved. However what is forgotten are all the skills which helped talent get there – and without which, talent would have gotten nowhere.
Hustle is actually much more necessary, and will actually get you further – as Darious said “Talent rarely beats hustle when talent don’t hustle”.