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Bad cinematography (to you) that everybody else seems to think is great!


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#1 Jeremy Drake

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 10:02 PM

I was talking to a friend of mine about Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. I generally think this is a horrible movie with horrible choices by the DP. Nearly every shot seems to be from exactly the same distance from the actors, who are always lined up on the right side of the screen, even during shot/reverse. Everything in the film, no matter where the shot took place (int, ext, bathroom, etc) - EVERTHING is lit with the same nasty yellow kicker that had no real motivation for being there.


It bugged the crap out of me the whole time... not the mention other horrible things about this film.

Anyways my friend things the movie is great and said "come on! you gotta at least love the cinematography!"

I was just wondering if anybody else out there had the same experience with either a friend or the masses thinking something (mostly the DP work for the sake of this forum) is great but you can't seem to understand why its so great or generally just think its bad.

Edited by Jeremy Drake, 07 May 2008 - 10:04 PM.

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#2 Brian Rose

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 10:30 PM

I had a similar experience watching Spiderman 3. There were so many rack focuses, foreground, background, foreground, background. Drove me nuts. It has its place, but I hate feeling like I'm being prodded along. Just let me watch the scene!

I've actually been really disappointed with what has been done with my cinematography. On a recent shoot, I spent a lot of effort working out these complex camera moves. The idea was to go the path of Welles (cir. Kane and Ambersons) and go for long takes in which the scene would play out, and composition and camera movement would be utilized rather than cutting back and forth every time a reaction shot or something was needed. I was really proud of it, and then when I viewed a rough cut, they'd all be cut up and mixed in with inserts. So disappointing. I felt like it diminished my work, and came off a lot more student filmish. But I guess that's happened to everyone. It's the director's call, but you wish the director was more decisive.

BR
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#3 Dan Goulder

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 11:06 PM

I've actually been really disappointed with what has been done with my cinematography. On a recent shoot, I spent a lot of effort working out these complex camera moves. The idea was to go the path of Welles (cir. Kane and Ambersons) and go for long takes in which the scene would play out, and composition and camera movement would be utilized rather than cutting back and forth every time a reaction shot or something was needed. I was really proud of it, and then when I viewed a rough cut, they'd all be cut up and mixed in with inserts. So disappointing. I felt like it diminished my work, and came off a lot more student filmish. But I guess that's happened to everyone. It's the director's call, but you wish the director was more decisive.

BR

Some filmmakers intentionally avoid filming inserts and cutaway shots in situations where they don't want anyone to tamper with the master shots.
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#4 Brian Rose

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 10:58 AM

Some filmmakers intentionally avoid filming inserts and cutaway shots in situations where they don't want anyone to tamper with the master shots.


Good point. This was a thesis film, so the director was, to some extent, was bowing to pressure from the thesis committee. Still a shame. THe film looks a lot more conventional because of it.
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#5 Tom Lowe

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 11:00 AM

In terms of major movies, nothing really jumps out at me. But you can see tons of terrible "cinematography" on the Sundance and IFC channels. It mostly involves handheld "indies" with disgraceful lighting.
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#6 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 11:15 AM

I would like to second Jeremy's opinion of Eastern Promises. I had heard a lot about the gorgeous cinematography in that film and was utterly unimpressed. It was one of the first movies I watched on my new HD projector and I remember thinking that it was particularly bad and caused me to try and calibrate my projector and check the contrast and black levels. When it turned out my projectors settings were all fine and other films looked totally normal, I had to accept that it was just a bad looking film. It was nothing like Cronenbergs Crash which had a lot of texture and mood. Just goes to show that you can try too hard not to glamourize the material and end up with a film that's as ugly as your subject matter.
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#7 John Holland

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 11:55 AM

I think that was the idea ugly nasty film matched by the images . So many people have been brain washed by pretty Michael Bay type pictures which are full of terrible violent images but as long as there is no grain and loads of HMI backlights its nice !! :unsure:
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#8 Tom Lowe

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 12:19 PM

I would like to second Jeremy's opinion of Eastern Promises. I had heard a lot about the gorgeous cinematography in that film and was utterly unimpressed. It was one of the first movies I watched on my new HD projector and I remember thinking that it was particularly bad and caused me to try and calibrate my projector and check the contrast and black levels. When it turned out my projectors settings were all fine and other films looked totally normal, I had to accept that it was just a bad looking film. It was nothing like Cronenbergs Crash which had a lot of texture and mood. Just goes to show that you can try too hard not to glamourize the material and end up with a film that's as ugly as your subject matter.


Wow, really? I thought the photography was excellent on Eastern Promises. I saw it on the big screem. It reminded me of films like The Good Shepherd, Michael Clayton and Mr Brooks, where the photography is just very solid, but doesn't draw attention to itself.
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#9 Jeremy Drake

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:46 PM

"Wow, really? I thought the photography was excellent on Eastern Promises. I saw it on the big screem. It reminded me of films like The Good Shepherd, Michael Clayton and Mr Brooks, where the photography is just very solid, but doesn't draw attention to itself."



I thought Michael Clayton had amazing cinematography.. I agree about how it doesn't draw attention to itself. I never once didn't believe the lighting or the composition and mise en scene overtly tried to signify something going on in the scene. Not that I'm against those things.. I loved American Beauty for just those reasons.. but Eastern Promises still bugged the crap out of me.
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#10 Rich Hibner

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 05:10 PM

I thought Clayton would've gotten a nom for it's photography.

Edited by Rich Hibner, 08 May 2008 - 05:10 PM.

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#11 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 09 May 2008 - 07:13 PM

I wasn't really expecting Eastern Promises to look like Transformers and I get that the goal of Cronenbergs might have been to deliver a gritty film in honor of it's subject matter but I question the choices made toward that end. I don't think the use of short lenses for closeups worked toward the mood. I found the lighting a little flat. I thought Cronenbergs Crash looked amazing with elegant camera movement and gorgeous lighting and I don't remember anyone hyping the cinematography in that film. Peter Sushitsky shot both films and won Genie awards for both of them but I happen to think that the choices made for Crash worked better than what he did with Eastern Promises. It's only my opinion and I think that I may have overstated when I said it was ugly or awful. It's not like it's bad cinematography, it's just something I didn't like.
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#12 David Sweetman

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 03:36 PM

In terms of major movies, nothing really jumps out at me. But you can see tons of terrible "cinematography" on the Sundance and IFC channels. It mostly involves handheld "indies" with disgraceful lighting.

gallery art vs. street art

stuff sucks on both sides, but there's also stuff flat-out amazing on both sides. Why should disgraceful lighting be avoided?
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#13 Tom Lowe

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 04:18 PM

gallery art vs. street art

stuff sucks on both sides, but there's also stuff flat-out amazing on both sides. Why should disgraceful lighting be avoided?


By disgraceful I mean amateurish; basically, like porn lighting, or worse.

I'm a disciple of Malick, Kubrick, Lubezki, etc, so I prefer natural light, but there is a difference between good natural lighting and the crap lighting and "handheld" camera work I see on a lot of "indies" on the Sundance Channel and IFC. You say there is crap cinematography on both sides - major studio films and indies. I don't really agree. With enough money, a studio can basically buy itself a competent DP who will deliver a good product in terms of picture. The same cannot be said for many indies, especially when the director and dp are trying to over stylize the film.
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#14 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 06:41 PM

"The Departed".

Scorsese's camera work might be great, but I hated Michael Ballhaus' lighting: it's as flat as uninteresting as most of his work (even his period work on "The Age of the Innocence" and "Gangs of NY" did nothing for me).
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#15 Walter Graff

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Posted 10 May 2008 - 07:02 PM

Very simply it's a matter of taste. There is no such thing as good or bad only what is good or bad to you. I never thought Ansel Adams was much of anything special. A lot of people think he's the bomb. They are not worng. Just different tastes.
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#16 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 02:07 PM

You say there is crap cinematography on both sides - major studio films and indies. I don't really agree. With enough money, a studio can basically buy itself a competent DP who will deliver a good product in terms of picture.


But it's still lipstick on a pig cinematography, or if you prefer whitened sepulchure cinematography.

Not to say indies aren't guilty. But then most indies are studio wannabees.
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#17 Glen Alexander

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 02:54 PM

Very simply it's a matter of taste. There is no such thing as good or bad only what is good or bad to you. I never thought Ansel Adams was much of anything special. A lot of people think he's the bomb. They are not worng. Just different tastes.



A blind man stumbling around Yosemite could have taken those Ansel Adams photos.
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#18 Glen Alexander

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 02:57 PM

Incidentally, in my opinion, both the film I worked on and X-MEN 3 were good films regardless of their photography.



ah the CYA statment, interesting..
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#19 Jim Keller

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 04:09 PM

Very simply it's a matter of taste. There is no such thing as good or bad only what is good or bad to you. I never thought Ansel Adams was much of anything special. A lot of people think he's the bomb. They are not worng. Just different tastes.


It's important to remember that Adams and the rest of Group f/64 were radically rethinking how to take a photograph. Personally, I could do without the hordes of Adams wannabes still working today, but Adams himself deserves to be highly regarded whether you find his stuff aesthetically pleasing today or not.

I think we really need to divide "good" cinematography into two parts:

1) Is it aesthetically the right choice for the project?
2) Is it innovating or otherwise pushing the limits of the medium?

If you can't do both, I feel you should do #1, but a cinematographer that does #2 at the expense of #1 will probably have hordes of followers citing him/her as an influence years down the road...
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#20 Mike Williamson

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 04:45 PM

"The Departed".

Scorsese's camera work might be great, but I hated Michael Ballhaus' lighting: it's as flat as uninteresting as most of his work (even his period work on "The Age of the Innocence" and "Gangs of NY" did nothing for me).


I have to agree with you on that one, Ignacio, I found the lighting very uninspired and below the level of what Scorsese and the actors were bringing to the table. I think the flat lighting diminishes the film's impact considerably, the story still works but it's less engaging than it could have been.
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