August 2013 - Blog
Every Filmmaker owes a debt of gratitude to the people in “The Industry” who have come before them. Every creative or technical decision you make on your film, TV show, webisode, short film or documentary has probably been made a multitude of times in the past. The “Bolt of Lightning” idea that struck you in the middle of the night has most assuredly been thought of and implemented during the last 100+ years of Filmmaking.
We stand on the shoulders of giants and I take every chance I can to learn more about the history of filmmaking. The Media History Digital Library has just launched their search platform Lantern which contains 800,000+ pages of digitized texts from publications of film, broadcasting, and recorded sound. Brew some coffee and timewarp into the past to learn more about every aspect of Filmmaking than you could possibly imagine!
In filmmaking, sometimes the simplest solution will be the cheapest, most realistic and easiest. This doesn’t happen often…but when it does, embrace it and enjoy it. In a world where CGI seems to always be the first choice…models and miniatures offer realism and immediate feedback in-camera to let you know if you got the shot. There is a rich history of miniatures and practical visual effects in Hollywood and it will always be a major component of filmmaking at every level. In ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, Steven Spielberg used a model ship in the Mojave Desert of California to double for the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. By placing it close to the camera and using a wide lens with deep-focus…he sold the size and scale of an impossible scenario that visually awed the audience. The secret? Forced perspective…No green screens or computers needed.
In a previous post, I discussed the power of the “long take” during two scenes in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. This time around, let’s focus on the opposite…fast edits and how Steven Spielberg “cuts in camera” to tell the story quickly, efficiently and visually. He basically pre-edits on the set and that requires proper planning.
This technique of shooting only pre-planned and essential shots has been around since the early days of Hollywood. Sometimes, directors didn’t have enough time or film and would just shoot the barest essentials needed to convey the story. On the flip side, Alfred Hitchcock (and others) often filmed only the shots they needed so that the Studio would have no other choices during the editing. Let’s take a look at how Spielberg “cuts in camera” to introduce Indiana Jones during the opening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
David Fincher‘s wonderful House of Cards is very dark. Dark in content, dark in tone and especially dark in visual aesthetics. Characters are shrouded in low light levels even in direct sunlight. It’s ominous, dread inducing and spectacular. It also bucks the trend of high contrast, blue/teal blockbuster looks that have been almost unavoidable in Films and TV for the last 10 years.
I recently completed a color grade on Zombie Night, a feature film starring Darryl Hannah and Anthony Michael Hall in which I applied a similar look that emphasized a darker feel with reduced highlights and color casts to set the tone. Here are some examples from Mr. Fincher’s last 3 films that showcase this look…and a color palette board from the film I just graded.
Cinefex is an amazing quarterly magazine that came out in March 1980. Growing up…I remember trolling my local bookstore in Detroit and always hoping that the new edition of this square magazine had arrived. It was my first opportunity to see behind-the-scenes photos of current movies and in-depth interviews with the filmmakers involved. The techniques and secrets revealed in Cinefex are as relevant and useful now as they were 30 years ago. Every filmmaker should get their hands on a copy…and now it’s going to be easier to do that.