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How to achieve a "documentary feel"


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#1 James Noble

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Posted 09 May 2009 - 11:00 AM

Hello all,

This is my first post. I was wondering if some of you might be able to give me some help with how I might be able to shoot something that has a realistic or documentary feel. I am talking about movies like "Lost In Translation" or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".

It seems like those DPs shoot handheld and light with very few backlights and keep the lighting very subtle, as if the lighting is not deliberate. More than that, though, I can't think of. For a project I'm shooting I'm trying to articulate how I'm going to achieve this look, but can't think of much more to say besides that I want a documentary style.

Might anyone be able to help me elaborate? What length of lenses do they shoot on? What other ways do they light to give it that look, etc?

Thanks a bunch. I look forward to being an active member of this forum!

James
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#2 Martin Solvang

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 06:40 AM

Hey !
I don´t know all the artists tricks, but i can tell you what I did on my latest project, a short film, shot on S16.

First of all, I spent a lot of time with the director discussing what he felt about a "documentary" look, and
what a docu-look can be. There are a thousand different ways to go, but we decided to specify a bit more, refering to
what we wanted as realistic, naturalistic and un-polished look.
After reading the script with the director, and looking at what it was really about, we found that applying a look to our film
was not the right way, but to really look for what the script was asking for and working based on that. It might sound a bit self-explainatory,
but I often find that the hardest thing in what I do is understanding the essense of the story I´m telling.
If, and when I understand (or at least think I understand), the look and feel of the story "comes by itself".

OK, enough with the semantics.
Shooting on S16 I decided to go for as little grain as possible (based on the lighting setup I knew was available, I chose 160T)
I wanted to go for strong colors, so I tested different stocks and colored lights, and ended up using Fuji Vivid. I sometimes feel that fuji
has a little to much magenta for caucasian skin-tones, but in this case, that was just what I was after, I even enhanced it by using
flourecent practicals on location that are basically full magenta. Most of the scenes where lit with practicals. I also mixed colors and divided rooms into warmer and colder areas.

I lit the film with color, but without heavy contrast (there was alot of it in the stock), I even front-lit some caracters trying to get things somewhat flat. When the story called for it, i back-lit scenes, but I basically gave the film a stronger visual feel when the story was slowing down. When there was action and dialouge, I trusted actors to deliver what the camera did not. It was an interesting little game between us.

I don´t think one has to, but I ended up doing the whole film hand held. I worked with an Aaton and with a canon zoom (working at around 25-50mm), at some points I even pulled the focus myself. I guess I put myself in a situation close to that of an news camera-man. The difference being that I knew allmost everything that was going to happen.
At a point I found that I knew to well what was going to happen, and I had to make things more accitendtal-looking (interresting stuff).
We allso did pretty long takes for the actors to get into their thing, and for me to improvise my way into the story as a sort of character.
I guess what helped me alot when operating the camera was really getting into the mind of the observer, "what is important to me right now."

I uploaded some frame-grabs from the film to my flickr-account: http://www.flickr.co...57616174904170/

When I´m describing it , I´m hearing what you could call a video-look, being described. Well, mabye that was it,
what ever you called it, it worked pretty well for the story, and that´s what it´s all about for me.
Off course my job is only a small part of getting to that documentary look. It has to be there in the acting (at least on this project), casting, and especially in the editing. Our editor ended up jump-cutting between takes and in time to get to the best result.

Good luck!
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#3 Serge Teulon

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 07:53 AM

I would recommend watching the wrestler
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