Cinema, Movie, Film, picture … whatever the nomenclature be, it remains as the eternal entertainer for the mass since Lumiere Brothers gifted it to the mankind. The magical, mysterious and nostalgic form of art enchants all of us. Can we call it as an art form? Yes, of course, though there are exceptions for this statement. But I should say that it's a synergy of all art forms - Literature, Music, Acting, Dancing, Photography - Cinematography plus a lot of technical and managerial elements like editing, mixing, dubbing, sound recording, planning, organising, controlling, budgeting, costing, co-ordinating, marketing etc. The director can otherwise be described as a top-level executive who controls, directs and administer a lot of things. He even acts as a marketing professional most of the time, especially during the post production period to promote his creation. But he is commonly hailed as a creative personality since he combines various art forms, visualise, design, demand and extract the very best from the performers. Sometimes he becomes an actor, a writer, a co-ordinator, a musician, an organiser and what not. He is a jack-of-all-trades and masters it too in due course. The filmmaker's profession should be treated as the toughest and most versatile job ever done by a single man.
Let's look into a few things behind the camera, just for the heck of it. Just think about the pain and efforts behind each shot, next time you watch even a mediocre movie.
Start .. Lights .. Camera .. Action …. Camera rolling on….
The first step : To obtain a great screenplay
The story is vital and is at the top of this list for a reason. Without a good story , all your filmmaking efforts will be fruitless. Beautiful lighting, creative camerawork and smooth editing are pointless if the story isn't compelling. Why else would anyone want to watch the movie?
If the screenplay is weak all your other efforts will be in vain; excellent filmmaking technique is necessary but not sufficient. People watch movies because they want a journey, human warmth, and catharsis, not because they like your editing or lighting. If your screenplay has a believable, compelling character who has a difficult problem to solve, you're in good shape.
Screenplay tips | Three-act structure
Structure is the key to a successful screenplay. Almost a century's worth practical filmmaking experience has shown that effective screenplays have a three-act structure: act 1 is the beginning or the set-up; act 2 is the middle or confrontation; and act 3 is the end or resolution.
Set-up, confrontation, resolution: movies that capture our hearts tend to have this structure. The three act-act paradigm is nothing new and was masterfully explained by Syd Field in his book "Screenplay," which I strongly recommend you to read.
The duration of each act is not cast in stone, but the ideal lengths are half an hour for the first act, an hour for act two, and half an hour for act three. The major turning points, or plot points, occur at the end of acts 1 and 2. In practice, however, if your film doesn't have famous actors or another major selling point, the first act would better be not longer than twenty minutes, unless the premise is so exciting that it buys you time for a slightly longer set-up.
The three-act paradigm is sometimes criticized, especially in Indian circles, because it is imposed by the Hollywood film industry. Critics of the 3-act structure cite famous plays as examples of successful scripts that deviate from the model by having a different number of acts.
I wholeheartedly disagree with this viewpoint. It is quite clear to me that these plays do in fact conform to the three-act paradigm, and do so at a fundamental level; their two, four, or five acts are not true acts, but merely artificial subdivisions that the playwright had to impose for set-design and stage-management purposes (i.e. to allow the opportunity for set changes and intervals).
I contend that good stage plays that appear to have one, two, four, five or any other "unconventional" number of acts do in fact conform to the three-act structure, even though the playwright may not have been aware of it. To illustrate my point I will use two famous and immensely effective plays that appear to deviate from the three-act structure: Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" (four acts) and William Shakespeare's"Macbeth" (five acts). These plays are sometimes cited as evidence in arguments against the three-act structure.
Not in the order , but other important steps. Film lighting
The way you light your film significantly affects how your audience perceives it. Using moody lighting with dark shadows in a teen comedy is not advisable; by the same yardstick your film noir is unlikely to work if there are bright colors and flat lighting. Imaginative and tonally appropriate lighting is crucial to successful filmmaking. Avoid the flat look, regardless of whether you're shooting an interview or an ambitious epic. Avoid lighting your subject directly from the front with a single light source.
A popular technique in professional lighting is to use a soft (diffuse) light source from the front and a stronger, more directional light from the back, so that your subject has a hot edge. The soft frontal light is known as the fill light; the strong light at the back is known as the backlight.
You can arrange the lights in such a way as to leave darkness between the area illuminated by the backlight and the area illuminated by the fill light, depending on how moody you want the shot to be. This tends to work very well.
The most important one… Good camerawork
There is good camerawork and poor camerawork. Your filmmaking will suffer if your camerawork is poor. Good frame compositions will work wonders for your film, I am convinced. There is evidence of this in every film - that imaginative camerawork will increase the connection between the audience and your story, whereas weak, bland or unmotivated camerawork will actively hamper the story. Just make sure
that your choices are motivated by the characters and the scene, not by a self-defeating lust for wacky camera angles.
Plan your shots. Draw storyboards. Use your camcorder to experiment with different focal lengths and develop your own visual style.
Focus on your subject's eyes, unless you specifically want something else to be in focus.
Whatever you want to be in focus, use this technique:
New filmmakers are usually told to avoid zoom shots, but the truth is that zoom shots can be extremely cool if done properly. Two outstanding movies with plenty of good zoom shots are Ridley Scott's Hannibal and Steven Spielberg's Munich (this was a significant departure for Spielberg, who never uses zoom shots).
There is a fine line between a zoom shot that is tacky and one that is visually compelling. The difference lies in the execution and in the context. Combining the zoom with translational motion (tracking) can work very well.
Ridley Scott has come up with a wonderful technique that he sometimes uses: he sometimes zooms in as a subject approaches the camera, and simultaneously tilts up, since the camera is quite low down. It is quite striking because the zoom, which has the effect of magnifying the subject, is combined with the subject walking towards the camera, which also has the effect of enlarging it in the frame. There is one such shot in Gladiator, in the scene in which Commodus demands loyalty from his sister after the conspiracy against him is foiled; and there is another one in Kingdom of Heaven, when Richard III approaches Balian late in the film. This zoom technique is powerful and it is not a coincidence that he reserves it for powerful characters in extraordinary situations.
Very slow zooms can work extremely well. James Cameron occasionally uses zoom shots, but they are so slow and smooth that most people are not even conscious of them. An excellent example of a James Cameron zoom shot is in Terminator 2 - as Dyson is dying and holding a piece of junk above the detonator, the camera zooms very slowly on him. The zoom then stops, Dyson exhales his last breath, drops the piece of junk onto the detonator, and the Cyberdine building blows up.
Zooming has been much maligned in recent years, but in my opinion this is an over-reaction to its excessive or incorrect use. There is still plenty of room for zoom shots in filmmaking and they are far from obsolete, as demonstrated by the masterful zoom shots of Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg, among others.
As with imaginative camera angles, camera movement should be used to draw the audience into the story. This means that camera movement should be motivated by the action and by the characters, not simply whether the actors are moving or not. Camera movement can add a lot to your film. To move the camera you can use a dolly (essentially a wheeled platform on tracks) or a Steadicam® (or, if you are shooting on DV, whichever "prosumer" equivalent you can get hold of).
Use the Steadicam only when you cannot achieve the same shot with a dolly. Due to tight shooting schedules, even high-end TV shows are sometimes guilty of using the Steadicam when a dolly would have produced better results.
James Cameron uses the Steadicam judiciously and to great effect. The Steadicam was also used masterfully by Terrence Malick in his masterpiece "The Thin Red Line".
Remember that tracking in on a subject produces a radically different look to zooming in.
When you zoom in, you are optically magnifying the subject; when you track in, the perspective changes (the subject increases in size faster than the background, as it is closer to the camera than the background is).
Zooming in can produce an eerie look, and this effect was masterfully used by Ridley Scott in Hannibal; tracking in on the actor tends to produce a warm, dynamic, "you are there" kind of feel. Steven Spielberg is probably the master of such tracking shots, with many fine examples in every one of his movies.
Cranes are used to achieve vertical camera movement and can add a lot of production value to your project if used in the right context. Excellent results can be achieved by using Cobra Crane II. It needs only one person to operate and it works beautifully.
As with all camera movements, crane shots work best when you have foreground objects parallaxing in the frame. Parallax is the visual phenomenon in which objects that are closer to the camera move across the field of view faster than objects that are further away.
Record good production sound
Poor sound is a major weakness - maybe the major weakness - of independent films. Some professionals claim that audiences can put up with poor image quality if the story is good, but they will never bear with poor sound. I am inclined to agree with this. Accordingly, you should take the sound recording issue seriously.
Avoid using the camera's onboard mike at all costs, as the sound will be full of echo and will make your project sound like bad newsreel footage.
The two worst things that can happen with your location sound are:
A) Distorting (over-modulating) when recording sound digitally (I don't think sound is recorded on analogue tape anymore, so this applies to all shoots now).
B) Failing to place the microphone as close to the subject as your framing will allow. If the microphone is kept at a safe distance from your subject, the shoot will be much easier but the audio quality will be poor.
The best way to record great location sound is to hire a competent sound recordist!
Casting is another issue you cannot afford to get wrong. Casting can be a real pain, but it is worth the effort as the actors are supposed to breathe life into your characters and miscasting your film can irremediably compromise its success. When casting the leads of feature film, assuming you have some money to spend and have a compelling project, you have two options: hire a familiar face /famous actor in the hope of giving the film some prestige, or hire an unknown actor who is at least as talented, if not more. Casting Directors agree that casting a talented, hungry actor in the lead will produce far better results than casting a familiar face. The reason is simple: the famous actor will have a whole range of demands. He or she will work on the days you agreed upon and then vanish.
Conversely, an equally talented but new actor will be absolutely thrilled to be cast in your movie and will perform beyond the call of duty. These eager actors will fall over themselves to give you what you want, and if you need them to perform extra work such as ADR after principal photography, they will generally be delighted to help. When you cast a new actor in the lead in a feature film, it's literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Continuity refers to static elements (such as an actor's costumes in a particular scene) or dynamic elements (such as a cigarette becoming progressively shorter in successive shots of a scene). Continuity supervisors ensure that these elements are controlled in such a way that they are consistent with the story when the film is finally edited. This can be a major issue if the film is not shot in chronological order. Most films are shot out of sequence and continuity is an issue to be taken seriously.
You should have someone (the continuity supervisor) who takes Polaroid snaps of actors, locations, etc. to ensure the continuity of makeup, costumes, arrangement of props and set pieces, the level of water in a glass and many such things.
There is also the issue of continuity in acting - instruct your actors to be consistent with sipping drinks, smoking a cigarette and other gestures. In other words, if an actor is doing a smoke-and-talk scene, instruct him to take puffs at specific points during the dialogue and to repeat the timing for every shot.
This may seem excessive, but I guarantee you will be glad you made the effort when you edit the movie. If the actress takes sips from her glass at random during the scene, cutting from one shot to another with no continuity errors may prove very tricky indeed. She could be drinking in one shot and when you cut to a different angle, she could be taking the glass away from her mouth - an obvious continuity error. You've been warned.
The world of your film must be conceptualized in advance, right down to the color scheme, props, furniture and costumes. You don't turn up to a location and put up with whatever's there - you must decide in advance what color everything should be, what style the furniture should be in, and so on, and prepare accordingly - that's real filmmaking. The reason for this is that the appearance of everything in your movie will affect the viewer's perception of it, and tells the world about how you see things as a film director.
Controlling your Color Scheme
One of the things that really set professional work apart from home videos is the control of color scheme. The color scheme is simply the collection of colors in the film or video: cloths, backgrounds, props, makeup,locations, etc.
Deciding on a color scheme before you shoot and sticking on to it in production will work wonders for the production value of your project.
Don't film your actors against a white wall, especially if you're shooting on video. If you really must have a white wall as a background, make sure it is not lit flatly: dappled light will make it look a lot better.
Make sure the costumes work well with the background (set or location) and with the people wearing them.
If color schemes are not your thing, an art director and/or production designer will do the trick (for most projects you should have them anyway). A talented production designer can add a lot of value to your project; a few well-placed props of the right color, a fresh coat of paint or some well-designed set-pieces can make the difference between a terrible location and one that looks like a million bucks. Production design is one of the aspects of filmmaking that are mostly neglected by independent filmmakers; you have a lot to gain by enlisting the services of a talented production designer.
Editing - the assembly of different shots aimed at creating a coherent sequence - is an artform that is unique to filmmaking. As a film director you should be totally on top of how film editing works, because if you're not, the film will be a nightmare to edit and will be full of inconsistencies, jump cuts and other distracting mistakes. If you don't understand film editing, the way you shoot scenes and move your actors is bound to cause major difficulties in the editing room. The very best directors have a comprehensive understanding of film editing. They plan and direct shots in such a way that they can be cut together smoothly and coherently. Ambitious filmmakers would therefore be well advised to study the art and science of editing (I strongly recommend "Grammar of the Film Language" by Daniel Arijon.
You should generally cut on action, especially if you are cutting from a wide shot of a subject to a tighter shot of the same subject on the same visual axis. Cutting on action means that you cut from one shot to another just as an action is performed, such as an actor taking his hat off. When you join the shots, you use the first part of the motion in the wide shot and the second part of the motion in the tighter shot (you have to experiment to find out exactly where to cut for the smoothest results - it depends on the shots).
If you do not cut on action and the two shots are along the same visual axis, the result is a jump cut. Jump cuts are jarring and disconcerting, and pretty much unacceptable, unless that is the effect you want for narrative reasons. Steven Spielberg sometimes uses jump cuts to punctuate the drama of a scene, and he always uses the technique masterfully. An example is the scene in which Carl Hanratty sees Frank Abagnale's photo in the school yearbook in "Catch me if you can." Another example is the gas station scene in "Duel."
Jump cuts can also be used to compress time (Spielberg used this technique in "Schindler's List," in the scene in which Schindler is choosing his future secretary while his new office is being painted), but again, it should have a very specific look and the director must plan the scene very deliberately to make it work.
There will not be a jump cut if you:
a) cut on action, or
b) cut from one angle to another angle that is rotationally at least 20 degrees away from the first one, or
c) cut to another shot and then back to the first shot, or a shot of something else.
The middle shot in (c) is known as a cutaway. You should shoot plenty of cutaways, especially for interviews and documentaries, where you are not able to direct things precisely and need more insurance shots for post-production. Cutaways can be a shot of the interviewer nodding, or a shot of a glass of water; anything that you can cut to. Cutaways are also known as B-roll shots.
Jump cuts: Bear in mind that they don't only happen when cutting along a visual axis without action; if you cut from one shot to another shot that is perpendicular to it and in which the subject is framed in excatly the same way, that's a jump cut - perhaps an even more irritating one than when you cut from a wide shot to a close-up with no action. For example, if you cut from a frontal medium shot to a medium shot that is framed from the actor's side, that's a jump cut, even though there is an angular difference of more than 20 degrees between the two shots. Avoid it like plague unless you are seeking a specific effect and are sure of how the audience will perceive it, which is not always easy to predict.
Remember that jump cuts are perfectly acceptable in music videos. The human brain seems not to find jump cuts disconcerting in music videos, which is pretty interesting.
You should also bear in mind that it takes approximately 2 film frames (1/12th of a second) for the human gaze to switch from one side of the screen to the other. You should allow for this when cutting your project.
When editing sound and picture, you should stagger the cuts. This means NOT aligning the video and audio cuts - they should be separated by at least a second. If the cuts are aligned, the change in background noise when you cut from one sound clip to the other will be simultaneous with the visual cut; this breaks the illusion of continuity and will make your project look amateurish.
Shooting a variety of angles and editing them together smoothly enhances the cinematic illusion, an effect known as "superior continuity."
The big implication here is that you must take all of these editing issues into account when you produce your shot list. A director's weaknesses become grindingly obvious when the time comes to cut the movie together smoothly.
Technical directing tips
Follow the 180° rule - don't cross the eyeline unless you know what you're doing. Make your actors walk in and out of shots. Make shot sizes match. It is probably the most basic rule in filmmaking. When two actors are talking to each other, there is an imaginary line between them variously known as the eyeline, line of action, line of continuity or line of interest.
Whatever you like to call it, the camera must not cross that line when you film the other actor (unless, of course, the camera is actually moving). If you cross the eyeline, when you edit the scene both actors will be looking in the same direction (e.g. from left to right), and it will look as if they are both talking to a third party when, in fact, they are talking to each other. In the heat of production, sometimes even A-list directors make this mistake, which is ugly and potentially very confusing for the audience.
Conversely, if you shoot all of your setups on one side of the eyeline, one actor will be looking from left to right and the other will be looking from right to left, and the scene will make sense.
It is possible to cross the eyeline correctly, by using a third actor (or an object) as a pivot. Suppose you have three actors: A, B and C, and suppose that for some reason you want to cross the eyeline between A and B. To cut from a shot of A to a shot of B taken from the other side of the eyeline would be incorrect.
What you can do is cut from a shot of A to a shot of C and then to a shot of B taken from the other side of the A-B eyeline. When you set up the shot of C, you cross the A-B eyeline without crossing the A-C eyeline. This bridges the gap and ensures that the eyelines are correct at all times.
Let your actors walk in and out of shot. Regardless of whether you actually want to use the entries and exits in your final cut, this will allow you to avoid jump cuts if the edits you had in mind don't quite work the way you expected.
Shoot establishing shots (wide shots of the location) and cutaways.
Role of the 1st assistant director
The director cannot worry about small things. Like the actors getting stuck or some hiccups during the shoot. the actors getting struck. You need an ultra-competent 1st assistant director who will schedule the film shoot according to a sound rationale, push the crew to keep its momentum, and manage problem-solving during the shoot.Film and video shoots are so complicated that you expect problems to come up. Having a competent 1st assistant director, who is a troubleshooter, will help solve unforeseen problems more quickly and will take a huge burden off the director's shoulders. A good AD will also keep the shoot's momentum going and get absolutely the best out of crew, ensuring that there is as little downtime as possible in between setups.
For an ambitious project - regardless of whether it is a 30-second TV spot or a 3-hour epic - the AD should be a pro, or at least a reliable person who really understands the job.
The 1st AD attends the technical location scout with the director, DP and other department heads, and will warn the director about possible problems. For example, the AD might warn the director that clean sound recording might be a nightmare; there are many factors that can make a location impractical, and the tech scout is done partly to assess these difficulties in advance.
The most valuable qualities of assistant directors are energy and field experience - it is not uncommon for a 1st AD to be older than the director. For a young director shooting a serious project, even if it is a 30-second TV spot, an experienced 1st AD will be well worth the fee you have to disburse and will ensure that your production values are deployed with maximum efficiency.
Now, can you now imagine the efforts behind a movie or even a ten second TV commercial ? Let's salute the people behind them and stand with them with a very selfish motive, WE NEED ENTERTAINMENT TILL THE LAST BREATH !
Long Live Cinema and the masters behind it!
Please do write me, nothing other than cinema since I breath cinema though you have never heard of me as a tinsel town buddy yet!.