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Reality vs. Film


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#1 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 26 May 2006 - 09:21 PM

I'm in prep on a feature to be shot this summer - the entire premise is that the movie is found footage; it's been culled from multiple sources (surveillance cameras, home videos, news broadcasts, security cameras, etc). The director is absolutelu keen on having the footage feel completely real and I'm really loving doing something away from the norm (ie, purposefully destroying my own definitions of beauty - for example, we're shooting a portion of the film on an old VHS camcorder because of how bad it looks).

I have all of my own ideas about what qualities "real" footage have (police videos, reality TV, etc), but I'm curious to hear how everyone else interprets what those things are that separate reality from fantasy.

Any and all thoughts and opinions are graciously requested and welcome.
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 26 May 2006 - 09:50 PM

Well, I think Blair Witch Project is a prime example of what you're describing, although it mixed only two formats. One of the problems that came to bear with that film was ultimately there is ONE display format, which alters the appearance of the others. Even when the movie is viewed on DVD, it's from a film intermediate -- so the interlaced home video stuff ended up progressive and with film texture.

But I think the "gimmick" only holds up for a limited amount of time. As soon as you start to get involved in the story, the form kind of falls away. The "reality" of the material becomes less apparent as the narrative takes over, and the moviegoer in us kicks in.

I noticed this while watching The X-Files episode that was done like an episode of COPS. It was shot on interlaced video and in ride-along style, with completely natural-looking lighting. It was extremely well crafted and well thought out to hold true to the logic and documentary style of COPS, yet part way through the episode you forget it's video and you're just watching The X-Files.
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#3 Mike Williamson

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 04:30 AM

I agree with Michael Nash, in that eventually your film is going to separate into reality vs. unreality/movie. No matter how carefully you construct those two looks, eventually that's how the audience is going to perceive them.

That being said, the thing that really spoils voyeuristic camera angles for me is camera movement, where somehow the totally invisible camera moves to follow the action. It works better for me if the camera is static, as though it was planted ahead of time and left to record whatever events unfold. So unless there is a strong narrative reason for the camera to have an operator, you might think about locking off some of the shots to feel more observed.

Good luck with the film, hopefully it goes well, best of luck!!!
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#4 Mike Williamson

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 04:31 AM

I agree with Michael Nash, in that eventually your film is going to separate into reality vs. unreality/movie. No matter how carefully you construct those two looks, eventually that's how the audience is going to perceive them.

That being said, the thing that really spoils voyeuristic camera angles for me is camera movement, where somehow the totally invisible camera moves to follow the action. It works better for me if the camera is static, as though it was planted ahead of time and left to record whatever events unfold. So unless there is a strong narrative reason for the camera to have an operator, you might think about locking off some of the shots to feel more observed.

Good luck with the film, hopefully it goes well, best of luck!!!
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#5 Mike Williamson

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 04:33 AM

I agree with Michael Nash, in that eventually your film is going to separate into reality vs. unreality/movie. No matter how carefully you construct those two looks, eventually that's how the audience is going to perceive them.

That being said, the thing that really spoils voyeuristic camera angles for me is camera movement, where somehow the totally invisible camera moves to follow the action. It works better for me if the camera is static, as though it was planted ahead of time and left to record whatever events unfold. So unless there is a strong narrative reason for the camera to have an operator, you might think about locking off some of the shots to feel more observed.

Good luck with the film, hopefully it goes well, best of luck!!!
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#6 Alex Wuijts

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 05:45 AM

I noticed this while watching The X-Files episode that was done like an episode of COPS. It was shot on interlaced video and in ride-along style, with completely natural-looking lighting. It was extremely well crafted and well thought out to hold true to the logic and documentary style of COPS, yet part way through the episode you forget it's video and you're just watching The X-Files.


that was one scary episode!

I think the comment by Mike Williamson is interesting, because that's (static camera) exactly what Haneke did in Cache as a reality effect which worked VERY well.
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#7 Filip Plesha

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 06:25 AM

I think film can also be quite real when presented in a certain way

I think what gives this distance from reality with film is the use of such small image area (35mm), which gives grain and affects colors in a certain way (doesn't look smooth like say a 4x5 negative), plus the print gives it its own character, not to mention telecine gives it a whole different twist etc.

But a MF or LF transperency on a lighttable can give you that same feeling or in-your-face realism, though in a different way than a video camera of course, but still things are so clear and 3d that you can almost touch them
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#8 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 04:14 PM

For the surveillance camera and home video stuff you could play with the exposure a bit. Make it over or under-exposed just like it would be in real life. Imperfections are the key I think.
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#9 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 07:33 PM

To really sell the authenticity of any "fake," you have to pay attention to every single detail of the logic of the thing. Right down to the logic of where said camera would be placed, how it would be operated, as well as the technical nuances like what Brad mentioned. The broad strokes let you understand what it's supposed to be, but it's all the subtle nuances that make you believe it. Think of CGI -- a basic rendering will make you go "it's a CGI dinosaur;" but a really refined model just makes you simply see "dinosaur."

I've done quite a bit of multi-format stuff and spoofs in the style of various formats, and I have to say I've really enjoyed picking apart the subtleties of different techniques and technologies. It makes you think analytically, but still lets you think creatively.

Regarding security camera stuff; the camera needs to be placed in a position where there logically could be a camera. And the action shouldn't necessarily be framed right in the middle -- in reality the action might off in the corner, or partially outside of frame.

It always made me groan on the original Star Trek series when the characters viewed the "ship's recording" of earlier events, and the screen showed a perfectly "cut" sequence from eye-level cameras on the floor of the bridge (lifted right out of the episode). I mean, come on!

Consider shooting on the "real" format whenever possible; a broadcast camera for news, a real security camera for surveillance, etc.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 10:57 PM

Remember that we're not talking about "realism" per se, but mimicking documentary filmmaking situations and their photographic artifacts. We only think it is "real" because it resembles news and other reality-based shooting, not because it looks more realistic (naturalistic, immersive, etc.)
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#11 Hal Smith

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 11:15 PM

Remember that we're not talking about "realism" per se, but mimicking documentary filmmaking situations and their photographic artifacts. We only think it is "real" because it resembles news and other reality-based shooting, not because it looks more realistic (naturalistic, immersive, etc.)

The Master speaks: Akeelah's photography was so appropriate to the action (IMHO) that I entirely forgot to "take notes" and just enjoyed the story. Intellectually I knew in advance from reading your "In Production" blogs what it took to get "Akeelah and the Bee" on film but watching the movie I think the only cinematography thought I had was noticing the dinos on the balcony at the back of the final Bee location - and at the time thinking to myself; well, that makes sense, there are TV cameras present.
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 11:22 PM

I stole that idea from "Bulworth" where Storaro dresses some locations with his Jumbos in the shot deliberately, since they are media events (although the media tends not to use huge multi-banked tungstens...)
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#13 dd3stp233

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 11:46 PM

The George Lucas film "THX 1138" uses a lot of shots from security camera's and security moniters watching the characters. I can't say that Lucas was going for realism but it is interesting to see how those shots were incorperated into the flow of the story.
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#14 peter orland

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 02:32 AM

I'm in prep on a feature to be shot this summer ... The director is absolutelu keen on having the footage feel completely real


I'm sure that if you sifted through real footage that has been shot over the course of the last hundred years you would probably be able to edit together an example - in some sort - of just about every cinematic technique that has ever been used.

For me the only thing that can REALLY make it feel "real" is the acting. If the acting isn't absolutely naturalistic then it's all over, no amount of pseudo naturalistc film making is going to convince the audience.

Very hard to do.
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#15 Michael Nash

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 04:28 PM

I think editing helps a lot, too. If the flow of cuts on action is too fluid and perfect, it again starts to feel like a "movie" and loses the unpredictable quality of reality. Maybe screen Godard's Breathless to see how jump cuts and condensed timing can create a sense of spontaneity, even if the action is scripted or contrived.
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