Do you have a video or film that you’d like to make?
Be prepared. Be professional. Be cool. Be efficient. Pay close attention to what is happening, capture the moment, stay in my lane, be thoughtful, responsible and be careful. It’s video! It’s fun and nobody needs to get hurt.
I. Get to the point.
I agree with the philosophy of the legendary screenwriter turned director, Richard Brooks (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958, In Cold Blood, 1967), who learned his philosophy of directing from legendary silent film cinematographer turned director, Karl Freund (Metropolis, 1927, I Love Lucy, 1951-56), who subsequently learned his craft of directing in his early filmmaking career as an adult film director, who said:
“Many times you will be thinking, where do I put the camera? Up there? Shoot down? Maybe under the table? At some moment you’ll say, what do I do with the camera? This is the first lesson in directing: GET TO THE F**KING POINT!”
II. Respect the art.
Before shooting a film project: I usually always re-read the chapter, Mise-en-shot from the book, Lessons with Eisenstein, by Vladimir Niznij. The chapter recounts a discussion between legendary film theorist and director, Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin, 1925) and his first-year film students, which outlines how a film director and cinematographer might approach making decisions when staging a scene for the camera. Eisenstein explains: I propose to take a scene from Fyodor Dostoyevky’s novel Crime and Punishment. In it, Raskolnikov, after long and profound psychological cogitations decides at last to do away with the old moneylender. How he came to her, how he climbed the stairs, what he saw on the various floors, how he rang the bell-- with this we shall not deal. We shall start the portrayal of our episode with the moment when Raskolnikov comes into the room…
Eisenstein goes on to read the short passage, which includes Raskolnikov entering a room and killing the old woman with a hatchet, hidden in his coat. Read the passage here.
A rule is made by the director at the outset, which was to film the scene in one single-shot, from one static position. The purpose of this teaching exercise is to discover the maximum planning possibilities within one single camera angle, without breaking up the scene into shots. For several weeks the class discusses at length, how to shoot the scene, which includes making 22 decisions, such as lens, shot margins, scene elements, character blocking, et al (which I’ve outlined here). Funny enough, the first decision they discuss is the camera angle: i.e. Where to put the camera?
1. Camera angle = slightly above
S.E.: “Suits the theme of the humiliated and insulted.” The downward “compression” lets us to some degree communicate the sense of stifling.” p.98
2. Lens = wide angle
S.E.: Heightens the contrast between foreground and depths of the shot; allows characters stepping three or four paces away from camera to become visible full-length and approaching camera to come into close-up; embraces a greater space in the shot. p.98
3. Field of View /Shot margins = C
S.E.: Var. 3: Corner with the floor dominant to wall-- conveys the sense of stifling, “all her windows were closed in spite of the stifling heat.” Pictorial elements must be found to convey this idea, as to render stifling directly on the screen is impossible. p. 103
The remaining 18 decisions are each contemplated based on what would best express the written idea from the author.
I read this to remind myself not that I must meticulously plan each fragment of each shot that I film, but rather that I respect and honor the form and the craft of film, as it exists in a single frame, with its own rules and guidelines, its own power and possibilities, which are unique to film and different from that of the stage, painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, and all other forms of art. And to remind myself of the moment when I realized that film was art.
III. Think visually.
I always attempt to achieve what Conrad L. Hall (Cool Hand Luke, 1967, American Beauty, 1999) talks about in the opening of the documentary, Visions of Light. He says, “I think visually. I think of how, if you turned off the soundtrack, anybody would stick around and figure out what was going on. Just of every technique visually… There’s a language that is far more complex than words.”
With every project, regardless of whether or not it includes dialog, music, or sound, I try to think of how to communicate the idea solely through images and cinematographic techniques first, rather than relying on the other elements as means of expression. So, I always re-read a basic chapter on elemental cinematography and lighting, before starting a new project, because when I look at the mechanics of a film camera at its basic form, I always get ideas about what parts I can play with, relating to the project. And when I remind myself of how light works and how it can be manipulated, I’m equally inspired to try new things. With digital cinematography advances and new technology in lighting, this is especially important because many parts of cinematography and lighting have been replaced or altered, since its origin, and of course this opens up even more possibilities to attempt something that has yet to be explored in film.
Overview: I own 4K video/photography equipment with professional audio, high quality photography lenses, as well as vintage 16mm film lenses. I have all of the equipment needed for professional documentary film production for a clean and crisp look or softer vintage quality.
Camera: Panasonic GH5s w/ Panasonic DMW-XLR1 XLR Microphone Adapter — [MOV/MP4 4:2:2 10-Bit, DCI 4K (4096 x 2160, UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/24p/25p/29.97p [150 to 400 Mb/s], (HD, up to 240 fps for slow-motion playback)] 2x Blackmagic Pocket HD Cinema Camera.
Lenses: Voigtlander primes f/0.95 - micro four thirds (10.5mm, 17.5mm, 25mm) Kern Switar primes - super 16mm - c-mount (10mm, 16mm, 25mm) Cine Zoom: 17-68mm T2.5 angenieux (c-mount) [all lenses have variable ND filters]
Support: Sachtler FSB8 Tripod, RedRock Micro Shoulder Rig, Mechanical Stabilizer
Camera Accessories: 5-inch on-camera HD monitor, Follow Focus
Audio: 2x Wireless Lav mics, Shotgun, Portable Recorder.