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Shot compostions on locations


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#1 Vincent T Sharma

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 01:45 PM

Sometimes when we have to choose locations within our budget constraints, we feel there is nothing interesting to a particular location, nothing special. In these situations, of course, in ones where there is no availability of funds, there is not much choice except going for the available ones and making changes in the script accordingly which is a different topic altogether.

What I mean to ask is, when we scout a location, how do we bring this extraordinary or visually interesting touch to our compositions? Well, this also includes "How do we compose a visual interesting shot?". For instance, the first thing I look for is a diagonal. It helps me make a shot visually interesting even when I shoot a homevideo or something.

What are the others you know, you learned from experience? Please be general as composition of a shot depends on personal taste a lot of times.

Thanks
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 05:11 PM

It's hard to speak in the abstract because partly you are judging the location on how it serves the story and the mood you need dramatically, so just because it looks cool, for example, doesn't mean it will work in context.

But generally I look for elements that justify being there on location, especially if it is not conveniently located. I also look for ways of establishing where this location is -- for example, if it needs to be a beach house yet you can't get any good angles that see the ocean (unlikely I know, why would anyone build a beach house that way?) But you know what I mean -- you don't want to drive miles, live with the sound problems of the pounding surf, and hardly ever see the water in the shot.

You want to make sure that what is interesting about the location will be in enough camera angles. So often I've seen locations that the director loves, only to discover that the only thing good about it is the ceiling, for example, which will be off-camera 90% of the time. Or the floor for that manner. Generally when you start covering mid and close, what you most see are the walls and windows behind the actors. So you generally hope for some visual interest there, even if it just a nice window.

Another issue is practicality of lighting. For example, if there are a lot of day scenes and some of them are scheduled to be shot night-for-day -- yet the ground outside the windows is a rocky steep hillside sloping down, or someone else's property that you won't have access to. So putting big lights out those windows will be problematic. You may have to tell production "either we shoot with mostly natural daylight... or we find a location that I can light more easily."

Conversely, you don't want a location that is wall-to-wall curtainless windows IF you won't always be able to shoot day scenes during the day and night scenes during the night. Even if you could physically tent all of those windows, it would still look lousy or boring with all of that black draped out there. Nor would covering all those windows with tracing paper and blasting them with light look very realistic.

So you are looking for the right combination of visual elements and ease of production. And sometimes you will put up with an inconvenient location if it offers some amazing visuals. But you shouldn't put up with an inconvenient location if it is also uninteresting to shoot as well.

The phrase I hate to hear is "the location sucks but David will make it look great with lighting." No, probably I would just be able to make it look adequate with a lot of time-consuming lighting, whereas if you gave me a better location, I could make it look even better with lighting in half the time. In other words, it's a waste of time to fight the location too much.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 07:42 PM

Sometimes when we have to choose locations within our budget constraints, we feel there is nothing interesting to a particular location, nothing special. In these situations, of course, in ones where there is no availability of funds, there is not much choice except going for the available ones and making changes in the script accordingly which is a different topic altogether.

What I mean to ask is, when we scout a location, how do we bring this extraordinary or visually interesting touch to our compositions? Well, this also includes "How do we compose a visual interesting shot?". For instance, the first thing I look for is a diagonal. It helps me make a shot visually interesting even when I shoot a homevideo or something.

What are the others you know, you learned from experience? Please be general as composition of a shot depends on personal taste a lot of times.

Thanks


You've just described my life. The work that I do now is primarily for studio marketing, which means that (supposedly) there is limited budgeting and we are asked to work with what we have available.

The normal scenario for any Videographer seems to be that we are called to do a job "somewhere" at "sometime." They'll get back to us later. Usually all the Producer has managed to do is A) book a crew and B) book a talking head/location. It isn't often when a Producer has asked for anything beyond "the biggest room you have" or "whatever you have is fine." All that means is that we have to figure it out within 30 seconds of arrival.

As I've made a living at this for a few years, I've gotten pretty good at lighting in very small spaces. I don't want to do it, but I don't have the luxury of refusal unless the location is absolutely unusable.

In any case, like I said, I have to figure something out almost immediately upon stepping foot on location. If I'm on a Day Exterior, I have to first find a background that is relevant. If none is available, then I go for something attractive. If that doesn't exist, I opt for trying to knock my background out of focus as much as possible. Of course the other consideration is light and how much is falling on the background. With video and HD, I don't have unlimited latitude or a 40 footer and 4 guys backing me up with a 10K. So I have to find a background that isn't in full sun but still looks interesting and hopefully relevant. I usually carry an 800w HMI Joker, but that's good enough for a soft fill out there. Once I've flagged or silked off the talent, it's all about that Joker and whatever I can reflect. Due to time constraints and other parameters that conspire against us, maybe 20% of the Day EXT shots aren't optimal, but are still usable. The rest I'm fairly happy with. Nothing is perfect when you're working without a full-on support system.

On interiors, I generally aim to shoot into a corner of a room for the angles. If I can pick off a piece of a window that I can control, then I'll try to include that as well. These things aren't pre-set ever and nearly every interview that you see done for an EPK or quality industrial has been Production Designed from scratch by the Videographer. Sometimes we do get some help from the Art Dept, but that depends on what they have laying around and if they have time to deal with us.

Unlike narrative film where you are shooting whatever is set up, in nearly everything I have to shoot, its a box with a head in the foreground and a space behind them that I have to make visually interesting in some way. I can't just let the background be "whatever" because we're going to cut away or because the talent will be walking from A to B.

You can see a variety of examples in this featurette from We Are Marshall... http://www.apple.com...hall/featurette I shot all of the video except for the archival footage of course. You'll see some decent shots and some not so great. (all shot with the F900... 59.94I)

I wasn't happy with the Director's interview at all, but due to several factors that I had no control over, I had to pull the trigger on it.

Matthew Fox's Day Ext interview is what Mc G's was supposed to be, but I don't always get what I want.

Jack Lengyel's interview was shot from up in the stands to get an overview of the field. I liked the activity in the background but threw it out of focus so that it didn't distract too much from the talent in the foreground.

Red Dawson's interview was also shot from up in the stands, but it was pouring rain out which helped give the Night Exterior an interesting mood. I keyed him with a 650 Chimera and let the DP's Muscos backlight Red for me. :)

McConaughey's interview is an example of being shoved in a back corner of the working stage and being given (we are always grateful for that) some set pieces to work with. This is more typical of how we have to shoot these things.

Straithern's interview was better than I had hoped. I asked the Art Dept for a small flag to put in the background and the next thing I knew, there was a crew of three completely redressing a plain office for me. I was able to alter my lighting to better reflect the new room. Looking at it now, I would probably knock the overall background down a stop, but it turned out okay. I'm into dropping "highlights" into the backgrounds whenever possible. You'll see that on the book and the lamp. It's a case of using the "limitations" of video to work for me instead of fighting against them.

Anyway, it's all about making the location work "somehow" no matter what is going on. I don't get to pick the time of day nor the location so being ready for everything is probably the biggest part of the job. I don't know what I'd do if I ever get to shoot where I want when I want. For better or worse, I have to let the location guide my framing choices and then I work from there. Part of the fun is the challenge of figuring out an impossible situation. Having it too easy would get kinda boring. B)


Oh, feel free to critique the crap out of the Marshall piece too. I know what could have been better :( , but I always like to hear other opinions. Thanks! :)
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 11:29 PM

One thing I always look for in an interior location is what is called "the long axis" -- the camera position that will see the most depth, often a diagonal. Too often I see inexperienced directors and DP's find a nice location and then stage everything looking right into a wall with the depth of the whole room behind camera.
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