Production Archives - Blog
In 1992 Francis Ford Coppola filmed Bram Stoker’s DRACULA with no CGI or digital VFX. He fired his Visual Effects team that said the shots he wanted could not be accomplished without modern digital technology. He hired his son Roman Coppola (only 24 years old at the time) and together they shot all the visual effects with either in-camera and on practical sets. The relied upon tried and true techniques that went back to the birth of cinema. The results were beautiful, organic and surreal while using every trick from the previous 100 years of filmmaking. What could have been done digitally was instead created practically by skilled craftsmen that are slowly becoming obsolete in Hollywood.
I hope that day never fully arrives.
Here are the practical techniques used to create the visual effects:
His second feature film as a director was The American starring George Clooney. The story of an assassin hiding out in Italy for one last assignment is the short version of a much more layered tale.
Corbijn chose to use epic wide shots to help balance the internal conflict of the lead character and at the same time show his place in the greater scheme of things as microscopic. One of my favorite cuts as a film editor is to go from a close up to a majestic wide shot. It signals a change. Often it is a dramatic change of thought / point of view / location or story point. When done purely through visual means it creates a moment so that you can absorb what just occurred and prepare you for what may yet come.
Corbijn uses wide shots as connective tissue to bridge scenes but to also release tension and remind the audience of the beauty of the Italian locations. Here are all his massive vista wide shots in chronological order:
Until next time…
In more and more prestige TV series, an odd aspect ratio is popping up on some of the most popular and well-reviewed shows.
The 2.00:1 aspect ratio has stealthily wormed its way into our viewing experiences without any of us knowing it.
Here’s how and why it was created.
Technically, the first use of the 2.00:1 aspect ratio was in the RKO SUPERSCOPE format for the 1954 production of VERA CRUZ.
A Split Focus Diopter is a half convex piece of glass that attaches to the front of a camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. This lens can focus on a plane in the background and on a foreground element at the same time. To effectively apply this cinematographer’s tool a filmmaker has to plan out each shot so that both the foreground and background elements will be in focus.
The Spilt Focus Diopter creates a hyper-real visual effect that logically shouldn’t happen but somehow it magically delivers a striking and visceral image that resonates in the mind of the viewer.
SPLIT DIOPTER shots are most often attributed to Brian De Palma but director Robert Wise incorporated them into many of his films as a visual style and storytelling device, often using them more than 100 times in one film.
His split diopter shots became an integral part of the story and not just a stand-alone visual trick. In THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Robert Wise used 206 split diopter shots…the most in any feature film I’ve researched.
Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane. That alone is most impressive. He then went on to direct: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Run Silent Run Deep, West Side Story, The Haunting, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 35 other feature films. On THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Wise teamed up again with DP Richard H. Kline, one his favorite cinematographers. They went on to film Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 which had over 100 split diopter shots as well.
The Shooting Ratio in filmmaking and television production is the ratio between the total duration of its footage created for possible use in a project and that which appears in its final cut. In the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930-1959), it was normal to have a 10:1 ratio. A 90 minute feature film would have have shot roughly 25 hours of film. Certain directors like Alfred Hitchcock were known to have a 3:1 ratio so he could control the edit by leaving the studio no other options.
The shooting ratio has skyrocketed over the last 20 years. Due to the relative inexpensive nature of digital filmmaking, cameras often shoot for extended periods that cover several takes, resets and everything in-between. Film has always been associated with a more disciplined style of shooting with the camera rolling only between “Action” and “Cut”…well technically between “Speed” and “Cut”!
I have edited 9 feature films over the last 15 years and I can attest to the fact of getting more and more footage into the edit bay on every project. Here’s an infographic that compares 8 films shot over the last 35 years to give you an idea of the actual numbers and ratios.
Until next time…
The 6th Street Bridge was built in 1932 by architect Merrill Butler and is currently the longest bridge (3500 feet) in Los Angeles. On January 27, 2016 it closed down and will be demolished in the upcoming weeks. The concrete has become unstable and for safety’s sake it must be rebuilt. The 6th Street Bridge has been an iconic staple in Los Angeles motion picture history and has been used in hundreds of productions.
The last chance for the public to cross the bridge occurred January 26th.
I had the pleasure of shooting a film on the bridge in 2010 and the visuals and angles of downtown Los Angeles make it evident why so many filmmakers have shot this location.
No more films will be shot on the historic bridge. We only have the imagery of films such as: Terminator 2, To Live and Die in L.A., The Mask, Drive, Point Blank, Grease and hundreds of others to remind us of this beautiful bridge.
Enjoy this video with my favorite films to feature the 6th Street Bridge.
Until next time…
Enjoy the experimental film 6 shot exclusively on and under the 6th Street Bridge before it was torn down.
This beautifully executed shot from Tinker Tailor Solider Spy by DP Hoyte van Hoytema was filmed with a 2000mm lens. This massive telephoto lens compresses the foreground and background so they appear to be very close together. The mile long runway allows the approaching plane to act as the agent of impending doom as a critical secret is revealed in the plot. The 2000mm lens keeps the actors and the plane at relatively the same size and adds incredible tension to the scene.
I don’t know exactly which lens was used…but here’s a Nikon 2000mm f11 lens from 1970 as an example.
It is 2 feet long and weights 39 pounds. This one sold for $32,777 on eBay.
Creating tension and dramatic moments in filmmaking can be accomplished in many different ways. Lens choice and cinematography are the tools used in this specific example. The take-away is to put some extra forethought into your own choices before you shoot…so on the day you can confidently create impactful shots, story points and dramatic moments.
Until next time…
The average film has around 1250 individual shots. Action films and Blockbusters often have more than 3000 individual shots. This can be attributed to the ongoing trend of Chaos Cinema and the tendency to create false pace and momentum by simply cutting so frequently that it constantly bombards the viewer with new shots and information. This can become overwhelming and it creates a disconnected and jumbled viewing experience that assaults the audience. The frenetic pace exists but the audience can become exhausted as the eye and brain try to make sense of the imagery.
My most popular post of 2015 was MAD MAX: CENTER FRAMED which explained the cinematography and editing techniques used in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Even though it had roughly 3000 individual shots, the action and story is comprehensible and digestible while still viscerally effective. Fast editing and ASLs (Average Shot Length) of around 2 seconds does not have to be a visual debris tornado that hammers the viewer. Properly planned shots and diligent editing can result in an energetic AND quickly paced film that tells a coherent story.
To make this point even more evident…I have compiled 5 films that average 2 seconds per shot and average 3000 shots per film. They are being played back in their entirety at 12X speed. The resulting video is 10 minutes long. Only one of these films remains comprehensible at this speed. You don’t have to watch the whole video…feel free to scroll through and view different sections and compare the films. You will see that the painstaking craftsmanship of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD survives the massive speed up.
Enjoy the video:
This bird’s eye view at high speed is something I often use as an editor to help judge the pacing and visual variety of my own work. By pushing the boundary of human information intake, it helps me spot trends, patterns and gives me an overall feeling of the visual mosaic I am creating at that moment. By speeding up the footage I can literally see WHERE in the frame the energy and emphasis exists and I use that information to my advantage.
Congratulations to editor Margaret Sixel on her 2016 Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing!
Until next time…
Sometimes creativity can be triggered by one seemingly irrelevant thing. Sometimes that one thing can be right in front of you…hidden in plain sight. In my case that one thing was a stretch of winding road by my home that has thousands of reflectors on the median. I’ve driven this road hundreds of times. At night, the reflectors whiz by in a frantic blur and it suddenly reminded me of a video game I played as a youth…Atari’s NIGHT DRIVER. Read more…