Technology is ever changing, at what feels like an accelerating rate. Film-making has always been closely tied to this, you only need to look at history: the invention of film at the close of the 19th century, the transition from silent films to “talkies” in the 1920s, CGI becoming more prominent in the 80s and 90s, and most recently digital colour grading and 3D technology.
With improving technology, new styles and emerging trends arise; here is a list of 5 new cinematic techniques defining this decade of filmmaking, along with some filmmaking tips to get the best results from them:
- Impossible camera angles:
A seemingly crazy camera pan or track is a fantastic way a director can show off visual flair – if done correctly. We can all remember sweeping through Hogwarts, in through a tiny window and into the Great Hall; of course this wasn’t actually filmed, but was made possible through greater computational power allowing film-makers to more seamlessly merge real footage with CGI.
A particular favourite of mine is from Contact, a 1997 Robert Zemeckis film, and pioneer of the subtle merging of CGI and real life, as exemplified by the clip below. We see young Eleanor Arroway rushing upstairs, along the corridor, and then open the mirrored bathroom cabinet, where the perspective flips and it is revealed that all before was through the mirror, as if in the mirror world – which of course would be impossible.
2. ‘Diegetic’ Footage
This is simply a shot from within the film, from a camera in the film world – from CCTV, security footage, webcams, and handheld, and often includes the recording info around. This likely became more prominent simply as cameras became more common in our lives, with the advent of digital and smart phones.
As a helpful filmmaking tip and technique, ‘diegetic’ footage is useful for creating immersion and a sense of the characters place within their world. However, if over-used or used incorrectly then it can make your work seem amateurish.
3. (Very) Long Takes
Extended takes have always existed, from the birth of cinema, and have always been a way for a director to show off visual finesse – if done correctly. For example, it can be used to create tension, as in the 1958 Orson Welles film Touch of Evil, which starts with a winding 3-minute long take, ending in a bomb detonating.
However now with better technology, filmmakers are able to film incredibly long takes. For example Birdman, which looks like one continuous take when it is actually many digitally merged together. Or Irreversible, which is 13 long takes, in backwards chronological order.
What is even more impressive is a real-time long take; at is, a long take done with no digital special effects or digital trickery. 2 films exist as such; Russian Ark, a singular 99 minute long take; and Victoria, an uninterrupted 138 minute take.
4. Camera Interaction
This is when the camera may get rain, or dirty or blood even on the lens – it is interacting with the scene. This is distinct from ‘diegetic’ footage in that the camera is not part of the film, Steven Spielberg doesn’t want the audience to think the camera is real in Saving Private Ryan just because it gets blood splatter on it. Instead it is a way of breaking the 4th wall, and either creating or breaking immersion, which is something filmmakers are increasingly wanting to do. Camera interaction is a very modern filmmaking technique, you wouldn’t have really seen it before the 1980s.
A common, often unnoticed, camera interaction is when the camera itself shakes during an intense scene. This happens all the time, particularly in action films, for example in most Paul Greengrass films, from Captain Phillips to the Bourne Trilogy.
5. Text On Screen
Words on screen are nothing new, silent films had interstitials. But with the invention of mobile and smartphones, and with how prevelant they’ve become in modern life, filmmakers must face the challenge of presenting them on screen. Would you rather show the phone, close-up, to show the text, or just put the text on screen? Directors are increasingly choosing the latter, as there is no need to disrupt the shot by cutting to a close-up, and you can capture the actor’s reaction as in real time.
This technique is also being increasingly used in television, for example in House of Cards and Sherlock.
All 5 of these cinematic techniques are not new to our era, however they will be what defines this decade of filmmaking, what cinephiles will look back on and call “Modern Filmmaking Techniques of the 20-teens”.