Lenses can be a complex and confusing part of filmmaking for new students. There are so many variables and pieces of jargon to learn, and knowing which lens to use for which shot can be mind boggling at first. Thankfully though, there are some easy ways to teach the basics of what different lenses do, and why they do it, and we’ve put together a simple exercise for you to try with your students. It’s dealing with the basics, so it’s maybe best not to do it with advanced students, but even so, it’s useful knowledge no matter what.
The exercise will deal with giving your students information on what the different types of lenses do in relation to field of view, which is essentially how much stuff you can fit into frame, and which lens fits which shot.
● Ultra-Wide-Angle – Focal Length 16-23mm. Even wider than wide-angle, these lenses give a dramatic sense of distance by exaggerating the space between the foreground and the background. Great for highlighting objects close up, or for giving that “fly on the wall” documentary feel as they move smoothly.
● Wide-Angle Lenses – Focal Length less than 35mm. These lenses give a field of view wider than the human eye. They’re great for master shots as they can fill the shot with information without any distortion at the edges
● Standard Lenses – Focal Length 35-70mm. These lenses provide a field of view that’s very similar to the human eye. They’re great for natural looking perspectives such as medium and head-and-shoulders shots, but tend to be distorted at close range and can’t focus too well at long range.
● Telephoto Lenses – Focal Length above 70mm. The field of view of these lenses is narrower than the human eye. They’re great for isolating subjects from the background and making them stand out. Also useful for flattening perspective, which makes portrait shots look better. Most modelling shoots are done on these lenses.
Find a variety of shots from famous films shot on these different lenses, and ask your students, using the information on the lenses provided, to match the lens to the shot. It’s a fun little test that will not only get them thinking about what lenses do, but also can open up the discussion about what effect using those lenses has on the cinematic narrative of the film.
How does the director’s lens choice change how we see what’s in the frame? What are they drawing our eye towards? What information are they trying to include, or exclude?
If you want more information, this brilliant video by Youtube creator Darious Britt can give you everything you need and more:
Gone are the days where smartphone cameras would take grainy, out-of-focus snaps that only worked under the midday sun. With the advent of high quality cameras in our smartphones, however this is a thing of the past, and an entire industry has popped up in support of giving smartphone photography accessories to make it even better.
The iPhone has always been the frontrunner with camera quality, and the iPhone 7 is no exception with its unique and buzz generating dual camera system that has separate lenses for wide-angle and telephoto pictures. Now it’s been out in the wilds for a little while, the folks at KAMERAR are the first to bring third party accessories to the table with a dual lens, snap on lens kit. It looks like something that any budding photographer, or film-maker for that matter, will want to get their hands on.
Called the Kamerar ZOOM lens kit, it features:
- A snap on mounting case that also acts as a protective case for the phone,
- A Fisheye/Telephoto combo lens
- A Macro lens that uses both of the cameras to take high quality Macro shots
The cool thing is that you don’t need any glue or special mounting points on the phone to attach the lenses a la the iPhone 6. Instead there’s a slot which the lenses slide into and lock into place, which then means you can change them in a matter of moments. This, obviously, expands the already wide possibilities of the iPhone 7’s photo capabilities, but, it also allows it to become quite a viable little film camera too.
Youtube link to the product demo ad:
With the ability to snap lenses on and off quickly, the Kamarer Zoom bring a huge range of potential visual options at your fingertips and a real ability to push your smartphone film-making to the next level. Imagine being able to switch between a wide angle fish eye shot and a close-up macro within just a couple of seconds, and the creative possibilities that brings. All of this, and only $45.
As, however, this is the first accessory of its kind to use the dual camera system, it might be worth waiting to see how other manufacturers approach the problem. Still, it’s an interesting step towards empowering budding film-makers with many of the tools that used to be so far out of their reach due to price and bulk, and it’s almost a guarantee that sooner rather than later, someone will be using this kit to make something that most of us never even thought possible.
Teaching young filmmakers can be a tricky business. It’s a huge discipline that requires knowledge of a wide range of mediums, and a combination of practical skills unlike anything else. Not only that, but the media industry, as a general rule, is a hard one to break into. What can you offer them now that will be most useful down the line?
Here are our top 5 suggestions to start you off:
1. Keep Creating
When it comes to applying for jobs in the industry, entering competitions, or just to see how far they’ve come, having an expansive showreel is only going to be a benefit for a young filmmaker.
Not only will it show that they have the work ethic to consistently make new things, it also acts as a constant learning process that will teach them practical lessons which can’t be taught in the classroom.
2. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and fail
As Chuck Jones once said “Every artist has thousands of byoung filmad drawings in them, and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.” and this is true for filmmakers too. No great director, whether it was Spielberg, Nolan, Hitchcock or any other you care to name, started great.
They spent years making bad films, and every time they failed they learned a little more. That’s why you should emphasise that experimentation is a good thing. Even if it doesn’t work, the lesson learned through that failure will be invaluable.
Whether you see it as a bad thing or not, the film industry operates just as much on a “who you know” basis as a “what you know”. Any young filmmaker should be encouraged to make as many contacts as they can, both inside and out of the industry.
You never know when that one good conversation a few months ago could result in a phone call from someone in desperate need to fill a position, and then you’re in.
4. Try not to specialise too much
Despite every aspiring filmmaker having a dream job within the industry, and also areas they are good at, that shouldn’t stop them trying to learn as many different positions in the production chain as possible.
Just as knowing people can help them get an in, so can being able to put their hand abley to many different positions. Once they’re in, then they can move towards their dream job, but sometimes it means going in though the side door.
5. Perseverance is everything
Ultimately, getting a start in filmmaking is going to be an uphill battle. Your pupils will get knocked back more times than they’ll care to count, and you need to tell them that not only should they keep going, but it’s also just part of the process.
No one working in the creative industries today got there because they gave up at the first rejection. They tried again and again, taking multiple setbacks along the way, to the point
Filmmakers are subject to a very real and scary threat because their cameras do not include encryption. Having un-encrypted media seized is such a key threat that action is being taken by the Freedom of the Press Foundation. They have asked leading camera brands to release cameras with built-in encryption to protect their media. The only secure method that filmmakers and photojournalists have to protect their media is to load their work onto a computer with password-protected files. Being able to consistently load and protect work in the middle of filming isn’t always viable.
Filmmakers working with sensitive or private material live in fear of their media being confiscated. The seizure of cameras and film happens so often “that we could not realistically track all [the] incidents,” says Freedom of the Press Foundations activism director Courtney Radsch. Filmmakers and photojournalists often risk their lives to get groundbreaking footage of information and events. Frequently, there are people in direct opposition who do not want sensitive information to be released. Criminals, local police, or intelligence agents can seize memory cards or cameras, leaving the filmmaker empty handed and sometimes in danger. Filmmaker Andrew Berends was forced to swallow his SIM card to prevent police from identifying his informants in his documentation of the conflict in the Niger Delta. Many filmmakers and photojournalists have gone to extremes to protect their media, none of which would be necessary with encrypted cameras.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation is taking action by appealing to leading camera brands such as Canon, Fuji, and Nikon, to come out with encrypted still photo and video cameras. They have written a letter explaining the necessity and 150 filmmakers and photojournalists have signed it. Some of the signees include Academy Award nominees such as Laura Poitras and Joshua Oppenheimer.
Smartphones such as the iPhone come standard with encryption, so it’s easy to see how the next step will be adding this feature to cameras but some technical kinks are still being ironed out. Cameras will need more powerful processors and the issue of physical limitations of buttons to type in passwords will need to be addressed. While no encrypted cameras exist on the market as of yet, this move would be a much needed security feature for filmmakers and photojournalists alike.
Political and social revolutions all over the world are coming to a head, causing some pretty significant changes in the film and media world. Most of these have been brewing for a while as key issues like discrimination and diverse representation are becoming more prevalent in culture and media alike. 2017 is set to be a big year for the film industry to embody the emotions of the public and shine a light on injustices everywhere. There are tons of predictions about what will be hot in filmmaking over the next year. We’ve narrowed it down and summarised some pretty extensive lists for you (such as JWT Intelligence’s “Future 100”) so you can hop right into the important trends.
Recently, the trope of the leading role belonging to a Straight White Man has been changing. In the past, films that featured a strong leading female were praised for their bravery. These films are now becoming the norm. Baptiste Charles-Aubert from Raindance claims, “We’re in the age of female characters not necessarily being ‘liberated’ or ‘vehemently independent’: they just had to [exist], beyond the now tired trope of being a ‘strong female character.’” While the role of the classic leading man will not suddenly disappear in 2017, the move towards equality between genders where roles are concerned is rising. People are frankly getting tired of the leading man. Critic’s choice movies, such as Mad Max and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, continue to show that that gender equality doesn’t affect the quality of a film.
It’s not just gender that’s getting a shake up. There was backlash in Hollywood last year regarding representation in films and at many awards ceremonies. 2017 will hopefully see some major improvement in the ethnic diversity of casts. Many indie filmmakers are already becoming more inclusive in their films and the rest of the industry is sure to follow as consumers demand more diverse films. BAFTA has even set a new diversity standard for movies, ensuring that films have on-screen representation, industry inclusion, and even accessibility to under-represented audiences. 2017 will bring a host of diverse casts to the big screen and taking part in this effort is an important political movement.
Technology is ever present and with the introduction of Virtual and Augmented Realities, it’s no wonder that new high tech devices such as VR are seeping into the filmmaking world. This trend is less about what’s included in films and more about the process. Technology needs to be embraced in the film industry. Distribution and consumption of film and media alike have changed and filmmakers are realizing they need to get with the times in order to keep up. Even simple iPhone videos are attracting the current audience. Why not create with VR? What about interactive media? This year is the time to use your resources on cutting edge affordable technologies.
It’s the festive season and students are starting to relax for the holidays. Now is a great time to set them a challenging exercise to keep them creatively producing all the way through to spring term. Christmas brings us a unique opportunity to reflect on life. We’re seeing relatives we haven’t seen all year, writing up wish lists, and doing our gift shopping. From the first Christmas advert all the way up to Boxing Day, Christmas presents us with a set structure.
Structure drives everything – video games, books, good and bad films. It’s inescapable but often difficult for students to come up with on their own. Setting your class the task of creating a Christmas documentary allows them to get creative with a set structure. The arc of the festive season becomes ingrained in us as we grow up. The story seeds are ripe for the picking. Will brothers and sisters get the gift they want? Will relatives get too drunk at the dinner table? How about snow – will it be a white Christmas? These are all things that a student can document in a short film. They are scenes that snap together. When there are things to unwrap, there’s inherent tension. It’s also a great time of year to practise interviews as most people aren’t swamped with work.
Screening some documentaries in class can help everyone understand what they’re trying to do. Finding scenes that are intercut with relevant one-on-one interviews are the right skill level for early filmmakers to emulate. Having everyone start the planning stage while they’re still at school will help ease them into the project. They might want to highlight things to look out for. Perhaps their brother has always wanted a Playstation – and will Santa bring it? Drawing up a list of characters (or family members) can help spark their imaginations. Who has an interesting story to tell?
You may want to introduce your class to B-roll footage. Falling snow, busy shoppers, or public decorations are great for setting the mood. Establishing shots shouldn’t require much travel as almost all of the documentary can be filmed inside of the home. The fixed structure of Christmas means that editing shouldn’t become overwhelming. Advanced techniques – such as voice over narration, video effects, and sound editing – are up to the skill level of your class.
- Ask your class how they would define a documentary. Screen excerpts from chosen documentaries that include techniques that you’d like your class to consider emulating.
- Explain the basics of structure. Talk your students through how they can follow a story strand from the beginning of the holidays all through to the New Year.
- Introduce the aspects that complete a documentary. Such as: establishing shots, B-roll footage, text overlays, intercut scenes.
- Remind students to backup their work because one day they will enjoy looking back on their films!
At a time when the boundaries between cinema, video, and television are being blurred, it’s interesting to note that the line between film theory and film practise is ever present. There have always been theorists that also make films but despite technological advances this number isn’t growing.
A wide range of British Universities offer practical filmmaking as a course but they separate it from film studies. Many students who are interested in film find it hard to choose between the courses and certainly don’t appreciate the wide divide in the middle. The equipment needed to produce short films is now readily available to students in the form of their smartphones, and yet, film studies courses still don’t incorporate many (if any) creative modules.
Dr Eylem Atakav, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia, recently directed A Documentary Film on Child Marriages: Growing Up Married (2016). Julia Wagner, writing for the Huffington Post, said that Dr Atakav “credits making this film with immeasurably strengthening her understanding of the medium, which she’s taught for ten years: doing something helps you to understand it better.”
Dr Atakav went further to say that she wants more films to be made in the academic arena – to benefit not only the students but the institutions too. She said: “encouraging scholarly activity that turns theory into practice helps institutions to engage with the public and policy makers more efficiently and in a way that has impact on society and culture particularly in the context of Arts and Humanities.” Wagner also pointed out Dr Joshua Oppenheimer as another filmmaker rising out of academia. Oppenheimer is the director of heavy hitters The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014) and is a Reader at the University of Westminster.
One of the responsibilities of university is preparing students for real jobs. Popular complaints about film studies, and the humanities in general, is that there aren’t many practical applications of the topics being learnt. Many say that these subjects are just preparing students for further study and jobs in academia – in a kind of unproductive circle. These students stand to greatly benefit from the practical use of filmmaking and editing technologies either to broaden their learning or to get a few student films onto their C.V.s
At the opposite end, students graduating from practical filmmaking courses and heading towards the industry need to know about cinema history. At a time when the classical methods of producing and disseminating films are being turned on their heads by the likes of Twitter, Snapchat, and Netflix, students deserve to have the knowledge of where we came from so they can start to understand where humanity is heading.
The amount of video content being consumed by the public is at an all time high. The meteoric rise in popularity of online video essays mean that film theory is just as relevant today. (see Every Frame a Painting for a shining example.) The historic split between theory and practice deserves to be made whole. In the coming turbulent years, hopefully educators in academia and industry will learn to see what the others have to offer.